Taking flight for a change

No big surprise, I haven’t sold much in electronics since I sold my house in the Heights district of Houston and “mothballed” NanoHawk. Originally it was supposed to be brief while I moved, bought a new property and built it out/remodeled. Fast forward a few years and I put it back online, but no sales.

Maybe, it’s an issue with Tindie, the maker marketplace. Maybe not. Meanwhile, Eagle shape-shifted and became part of Autodesk. I’ve not had time to re-learn it and frankly I still have other priorities.

In August of 2017 I got pushed out of my day job as the CIO / IT Director of a non-profit. Cost cutting led them to think that they could lay off our junior developer, run the CIO out the door, and retain the part-time services of a non-degreed, non-certified help desk entrepeneur to oversee the enterprise and cloud infrastructure. lol. Good luck with that.

I started to make a fresh start on a new t-shirt company, which will remain nameless. That would give me income, feed me, and let me continue to tinker with electronics on the side. Soon after I signed the lease, Harvey happened to Houston. I was not directly flooded, but nearly everyone else was in Houston. It escalated my costs and delayed the buildout, burning precious cash. The offshore development team I was using strung out the site development and that burned time causing a miss to a cricital Amazon holiday window. No worries, I figured I’d pick it up on the back side of Christmas. After Holiday 2018 ended Amazon shape-shifted with draconian licensing requirements for each brand you sell. That meant that to sell Hanes t-shirts I’d need a letter from them. That effectively killed 75% of the revenue I had projected for the business.

I made a good dash for marketing and sales, but it wasn’t going to work nearly fast enough to show results before I burned through the cash I had left. So I made the difficult decision to pull the plug on it. When your airplane blows an engine on take off you hit the brakes if you can… and if not you come around and land.

I opted to become an Independent Insurance Adjuster as this would largely keep me in the field, let me help people, and keep me out of Corporate Bull By-Product. I’d had enough of that in my 5 years of running IT for a non-profit based in Houston.

Being an Independent Adjuster, or IA, is like being a permanent temp. It pays well, the work is ad-hoc, and you better have a few side gigs. When you are not “deployed” aka on-assignment, you work your side gigs or you burn cash. I decided that being a Notary and getting my 107 Drone License would be my side gigs.

I considered running them under a different business entity, and then realized that NanoHawk was a perfect name for a Drone Photography business. I’ve not given up on electronics, but it’s now just a very small side gig that I’ll mess with as time permits. I have some projects on the drawing board. I’ll continue to run them as open-source. But it’s going to be in the Electronics Section moving forward.

In the meanwhile, the site is going to be primarily about the drone business. As time permits, I’ll blog about my journey to becoming a 107 pilot. The FAA is a bureaucracy in the worst possible sense of the word. See also: Pit of Hell. While a great deal of regulation is necessary and prudent to protect manned aircraft operations, the current drone regulations are stupid. The vast majority of drone photography can be done below 100 to 200 feet and no manned aircraft should be flying that low over populated areas.

At any rate, I hope that this long explanation is helpful in understanding the changes that have taken place recently.

Self-Hosted Again

Bye Bye AWS. So, I decided to come down from AWS EC2 and RDS this month. Mostly over cost. It just didn’t make sense to be spending $50/mo to host EC2 and RDS when I had an Intel NUC laying around with 8GB of ram and a commercial Comcrap internet connection. My IP has been stable for over 6 months so I figured it was safe to host on it. Commercial accounts can host without penalty, but Comcrap likes to overcharge $20 for a static IP. It’s worth pointing out that this used to be much cheaper but a combination of a gouging opportunity, limited availability, and scooping by larger organizations is just too much to pass up for their sales zombies. I call them sales zombies because they aren’t smart enough to screen their mailing list against existing customer names and addresses. Same thing for their call list. I regularly get calls that go like this “His this is Seth Zombie with Comcrap. I’m calling to see if you are stupid enough to talk to me about my over-priced VOIP, Commercial Cable, or high speed internets.” “My manager hates me, please call me back so I can mark you as a victim in my spreadsheet….” Too bad they don’t put the same amount of effort in to customer service. That’s a totally different call. Fortunately I haven’t had to deal with them in a while.

Anyhow, back to AWS. I set up the latest LTS version of Ubuntu. True to form they’ve introduced some annoying new changes to networking that throw everyone’s documentation out the window. Thank goodness they haven’t been acquired like the sellouts known as RedHat. Red is right….. as in red light, like whores that they are. Anyhow, the config was relatively uneventful. Took a few minutes to get the Firewall setup. I’m using a SonicFall (Sonicwall) Pathetic piece of shit firewall. I stopped paying ransom for support last year. No, I will not pay $200/yr for support on a $250 device. Apparently neither will anyone else because they are cheap as hell on fleabay. To their credit, India will help you configure it. Of course wouldn’t it be easier if you didn’t need to ask for help to set the damn thing up? Even Cisco isn’t this difficult to use, and they are notoriously obtuse so that you can pay a CCIE to cut and paste a config into your router. CI$CO can burn in hell.

WordPress Migration is really simple. Tarball your site, download it, unzip it, set permissions and chownership. Export your DB, tarball it, copy it down, un tarball it, import it. Config the DB location and username. Load the page and try your luck.

Between a decent firewall and Wordfence it’s pretty safe to host WordPress on your own server. Of course, the average person shouldn’t do this, but if you are an IT person you should be able to. It helps to also reduce the attack surface on your WP site. Things like using .htaccess to restrict access to certain directories help. I will continue to use Cloudfront for CDN along with Amazon’s DNS service. Both are rediculously cheap and scaleable, which limits the ability of script-kiddies to pull a DOS attack on your site. They might chew up a few $ of data, but no big deal. Good luck trying to crash an Amazon DNS server. lol.

That’s the update for now. I have some stuff in the works for Nanohawk. More to follow eventually.

Eagle and KiCad

I’m finally getting back into designing boards.  I just ordered some test boards from OSHPark.  Love that site and there low minimums and affordable pricing.

I have been working with Wemos D1 Mini units and need to build a carrier board that supplies power and holds other components.  I drew up the pin outline in Eagle and sent it off to make sure it’s right.  I find this saves alot of aggravation when drawing my own parts.

Now that I’m designing PCB’s I figured I should look at an upgrade of Eagle.  Ruh Roh!  Autocad bought them.  Autocad makes nice stuff, but the baby from the marriage of CadSoft and Autocad is likely to need time to grow up.  They seem to have stopped selling Eagle and are talking about something new.  Branding and messaging is a mess and there is annoying pop-up all over Cadsoft’s site.  Messy Marketing makes it look like a Walking Dead website.  🙁

Well, that’s as good of an excuse as any to survey the field and see what’s out there.  Altium seems okay, but I’m not ready to throw $1k at it and I don’t want a product filled with gotchas and fish-hooks trying to upsell me.  I already have Quick(sand)books for that.

Enter KiCad.  It’s open source, GitHub friendly, and has a huge number of users.  It’s also multi-platform.  The price is right, just bits from Comcast which are $120 for 1 TB/mo.  300MB later, I run the installer.  There are some features to be desired, like auto-update.  It has it’s own set of vexing issues, but the documentation and YouTube videos are really good.  There are a number of things that are fundamentally easier to do… such as part design/layout.  Other things are awkward at best, such as the inability to set defaults or work with Design Rule files for various fabrication houses.    One particular nice thing is that Eagle was always picky about design scale i.e. units/millimeters and was notorious for leaving wires disconnected.  KiCad seems to have a more intelligent UI that avoids this issue while being far easier to share design files etc.

Like all PCB design tools, learning curve is a modest description…. I prefer to call it a learning cliff.

Orange Pi Setup Video

I completed my video editing and have created a video to help you get up and running with an Orange Pi Zero.

This video rolls up everything I’ve figured out in the last 30 days to help you get out of the box, configured, and video and wifi running.

You’ll need Armbian’s Debian Jessie distro on an SD Card.  Get it here

Configuring OctoPrint on an Orange Pi Zero – using Armbian Debian Jessie Distro

This is the second half of setting up an Orange Pi Zero.  These are the steps I followed to configure Octoprint.  I’m annoyed that it has to be started manually, but it does work and stay running.

—- OctoPrint Config —- (adapted from http://www.orangepi.org/orangepibbsen/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=594)
**add user and configure permissions
sudo adduser octoprint
sudo usermod -a -G tty octoprint
sudo usermod -a -G dialout octoprint
sudo adduser octoprint sudo
sudo visudo

**clear password for user
sudo passwd octoprint -d
** install packages
sudo apt-get install python-pip python-dev git python-setuptools psmisc

set memory on Python otherwise you can have issues: (or create 256M of swap, see above)

sudo su octoprint

** setup pyserial
cd ~
wget https://pypi.python.org/packages/source/p/pyserial/pyserial-2.7.tar.gz
tar -zxf pyserial-2.7.tar.gz
cd pyserial-2.7
sudo python setup.py install

** Obtain Octoprint
cd ~
git clone https://github.com/foosel/OctoPrint.git
cd OctoPrint
sudo python setup.py install

exit (stop being SUDO)

cd ~/OctoPRint (you should still be there, so this is just in case you did something else)
./run (it should start)


Setting up a Orange Pi Zero using an Armbian/Debian Jessie distro

Here are my notes on building the initial config.

Orange Pi Zero Build Docs
** find it using IPscan etc…. ssh to it and add:
Sudo nano /etc/modules

simply add tv to the last line of the file, exit and save ofcourse

shutdown -h now -r (reboot) to bring up the terminal

** then run these via ssh or terminal

apt-get update
apt-get upgrade
apt-get install localepurge (set to all 3 US)
apt-get install mailutils
apt-get install libsasl2-modules
apt-get install postfix
– nano /etc/postfix/sasl_passwd
-[smtp.gmail.com]:587 username@gmail.com:password
-chmod 600 /etc/postfix/sasl_passwd

postmap /etc/postfix/sasl_passwd

nano /etc/postfix/main.cf
relayhost = [smtp.gmail.com]:587
smtp_use_tls = yes
smtp_sasl_auth_enable = yes
smtp_sasl_security_options =
smtp_sasl_password_maps = hash:/etc/postfix/sasl_passwd
smtp_tls_CAfile = /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt

service postfix restart

Setup additional Swap:https://www.cyberciti.biz/faq/linux-add-a-swap-file-howto/

Orange Pi Zero and VGA

So… I learned a bit about RCA and VGA today.  VGA is a component input, RCA is a composite input.  What does this mean?  RCA has the signal all on one wire and the devices that use it separate it electronically.  This compromises fidelity, or information density which is why it’s great for 640×480 and TV but not for 1080p or 4K.  VGA on the other hand is a component signal, red/green/blue, vertical/horizontal sync etc.

Here is a great image of VGA, courtesy of Instructables: (click to view the article)

I’m not sure how well this would work… it’s a little too good to be true.. but it gives you an idea of what is going on.

Here is a better illustration of the VGA pinout: (courtesy of stackexchange, click to view source article)

Here is a schematic that backs up my hunch that the instructables is too simple.  Courtesy of Next.GR (click to visit)

This circuit only generates greyscale…. or black and white video.

In case you were wondering how hard can a video signal be?  lol…. it’s complex.  Really a marvel of radio engineering.  Courtesy of Field Effect LLC, click to follow to article.

I have other objectives than engineering this solution…. and I only need one…. so I bought this on Amazon. (click the image to go to the product)

It offers these modes:


Orange Pi Zero

I picked up an Orange Pi Zero recently.  It’s an interesting Single Board Computer (SBC) with a quad core Allwinner H2.

You can see the full specs here: http://www.orangepi.org/orangepizero/

I found a very nice pinout diagram on the Orange Pi forums:

The best part is that this is a $7 system.  $3 for shipping.

It has 26 pins for GPIO, 9 of which are Ground and 3.3/5v power.  That leaves 17 for fun and games.

It also has a dedicated audio in/out, USB header, IR in, and TV out.    All bundled to a quad core 1080P chip with wired and wireless ethernet.

It still needs a microSD card, but an 8GB unit can be had for $3.50 from AliExpress.  You also need a micro-usb power source.  no big deal.

The OS can be downloaded from Armbian.org here https://www.armbian.com/orange-pi-zero/

default user/pass root/1234

The Armbian image is based on Debian Jessie and needs about 1.2G of storage.

I was unable to get the video out to work, but I think it’s a driver issue.

WordPress Sleeping Database connections solved

I ran into an issue where I had many sleeping database connections that were chewing up server capacity.  It came down to a file called XMLRPC.php which is used for inter-site wordpress communication.  Blocking it disables the sleep commands it was generating.  🙂

adding this to the .htaccess file dealt with it.

<Files “xmlrpc.php”>
Order Allow,Deny
deny from all

That also breaks some trackbacks, etc…. but I can live with that.

Sorting with UV light

2016-04-18 20.42.04

I ordered some 1 Watt and 3 Watt LED’s from AliExpress.  They were cheap, like 10 cents each.  Free shipping.  All good till they showed up mixed in an envelope.  In regular light they are identical in appearance.  Fortunately I had a small UV flashlight I had ordered.  I thought it was interesting and had ordered it for $5.

It turns out that the LED’s are vastly different in appearance under UV light.  This enabled me to quickly sort them.  You can see the 3 Watt LED’s on the left and the 1 Watt on the right.  I know the size based on the quantity I ordered.