Browsing Posts published in October, 2010

Halloween Bash!

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Come on down to LEAF Saturday the 30th for Halloween and celebrate with us!

As usual, we’ll be there from 10.00am for a normal Saturday Session, but in the afternoon, the fun starts for the kids, culminating with food to share and the official unveiling of ‘Plot Power’ as we electrify our allotments with power an light supplied by pedal power.

You can download a poster to put up here.

See you then!

Is that it?

Yesterday afternoon and evening, for me, went with a strange sense of anticlimax.

Nearly everything went according to plan!

Amazing and somewhat off-putting.  This is not how things normally go for a ‘Big Switch On’ on a Wardian project.

Things just worked.  Nothing blew up, there were no tell-tale plumes of blue smoke; there were no bad smells of burning silicon; there were no muffled ‘crumps‘ as something big and expensive died.

So, as the title today suggests, I’m sat here, with a slightly dazed feeling.

How could it all have gone so well?!

Yesterday, I got back from that meeting much later than planned -I’d been kept waiting for over an hour, and there were still a couple of soldering jobs to finish -I had to re-solder the 9-pin serial connector, the power switch and the programming switch so that it would all fit in the box.

Diane texted me saying she’d be round imminently, leaving me barely half an hour to finish it all off.

This was how a project ought to go!

But by the time she’d arrived, miraculously, I’d just about done.  While she made herself a cup of tea, I finished it off, screwed the lid down and switched it on.

Flashing lights, and briefly getting on the bike and pedaling to confirm the PWM was working, yes, it was.

Strange!

Diane took the box, the bike holder and the lights over to The Plots in her car while I cycled over.  This was fun, as the back tire is a ‘slick’ (…to reduce noise when pedaling…), and luckily the roads were quite dry.  Had there been any rain in the air, then I’d have been kissing the backside of a bus as the back tried to catch up with the front when I touched the rear brakes.

Claps and cheers as I arrived (…Thanks, Diane!..), and there were quite a few ‘Junior Plotters’ about.  I’d come down on my bike, was there any chance that the we were having a demonstration of the power project?  Yes, there was.

Initial shouts and cries of disbelief were quickly quelled as I explained that Diane had all the bits in her car.

So myself, Sara, John and Gary put up the three gazebos in an ‘L’ shape, then tie-wrapped the legs together where they met.  Junior Plotters were bouncing around, obviously keen for me to set up the bike, so I eventually gave in and set it up.

Then I had an idea.  The recent light frosts have meant that the nasturtiums on the mound have now mostly died back, but they’ve left their seeds.  You may recall that I pickled a jar’s-worth a few weeks ago, and I was keen to get some more for another pickling session.

So, I told the Plot Kids that I’d only let the taller ones have a go on the bike if they picked me enough nasturtium seeds.  Well, they set off as if possessed, eager to bring me as many of them as possible.  Kyle in particular was very anxious to ‘have a go’.

Is this enough?

Is this enough?

Here he is with the bowl.

After a cursory scout round myself; “You missed this one!  And this!”, I finally, ‘reluctantly’ gave in, and we all went over to the bike.

I switched it on, and yes, as Kyle had requested, they could see the blue LEDs!

I got on, started pedaling, and more lights came on -to show that the PWM was working and that charge was being put back in the battery.

The ‘Grown-Ups’ heard all the commotion and came over, and quite soon, quite a crowd had gathered.

Kyle cycling to keep the lights on.

Kyle cycling to keep the lights on.

We were also celebrating Chloe’s birthday, and various cakes and pastries had been brought to share, so we set them up under one of the gazebos, and here you can see the interest is pretty evenly split between the food on the table and the bike.

In the meantime, nearly everybody ‘had a go’, and here’s Gary doing his ten minutes-worth.

Go for it Gary!

Go for it Gary!

John and I had positioned the lights such that three of them were on the pillar where all three gazebos me in the elbow on the ‘L’ shape with the fourth light shining directly down on the bike itself.  Well, it was centre stage!

Also to note was that there were a couple of comments about the height of the saddle, and Diane in particular found it quite painful to be so low because she has problems with her left hip.  So, before the next ‘outing’, a quick-release adjuster for the height adjuster will be bought.

Another comment was the fact that the bike was positioned so it was ‘pointing uphill’ on the driveway.  This was to counteract the fact that the back wheel is slightly raised by the frame in which it sits, so it ended up being fairly level to ride, rather than feeling like you’re going downhill all the time.

All too soon it was going dark.

Now, on a ‘normal’ Plot Day -as much as one ever can be normal, we always treat the dusk with a ‘groan’ for it means that very soon we have to stop work, but yesterday, we couldn’t wait!

People had started to drift off, but there were just enough of us left to put down the gazebos and stow the equipment away ready for its first ‘official’ outing on Saturday for Halloween.

Control box and cables, lit as it goes dark.

Control box and cables, lit as it goes dark.

Here, you can see a final shot before we packed it all up with the plain black control box, surrounded by the lighting cables, bathed by the light of some of the spotlights.

A suggestion was made that for a future version.  I should make the top out of clear perspex so interested people could look inside.

Of course, people are ‘spoiled’ by ‘Star Trek’  and other sci-fi where there are lights behind all the panels, so if I do make a clear lid, I’ll have to make sure there are plenty of flashing tell-tales.

Of course, people will then ask what each LED represents, so I’ll have to get creative with the various functions inside.  Words like ‘plasma flow injectors’ and ‘wave-guides’ will have to be thought up.  ‘Manifold’ will have to come into is somewhere.

Oh, and there’ll be blue LEDs.

I promise.

Yesterday.

…Was utterly manic.

After I’d posted that last post, I carried on.  And on.  And on…

Diane, who’d got business around Sheffield with a meeting over the bees and many other jobs to do kept popping in to see the progress, and I think she was as amazed as I, when every time she came back and asked ‘How’s it going?’ the answer was ‘Fine!’.

Overnight, I’d painted the lid and touched up a few other places that needed it, so the case was just about dry to work on when I came to it.

So, amongst other jobs yesterday, I had to wire up all the lamps with all their power plugs, individual switches and long cables to connect them to the box.  This took forever, and I’d forgotten just how time-consuming and ball-aching wiring can be.

Then came work on the box itself as I wired up the power lead from the bike, then wired up the power outlet plugs and leads for the lights.

Then came the crunch time as I wired up the indicator LEDs on the new display board.

I then sprayed the board black -being careful to mask off the LEDs, then I masked off the top panel with coloured paper dots corresponding to where the LEDS were beneath.

A couple of coats of some excellent black spray Diane had bought, fifteen minutes drying time, then the little dots came off very very carefully with a scalpel to prevent damage to the surrounding still-tacky black paint.

Then I wired up the display board to the main processor board.

Then I wired up the ‘grunt electronics’ mounted on the box’s end cheeks to the processor board.

Then, after checking things though again, I said a quick prayer to whichever Gods may have been listening, and got on the bike.  And pedalled.

And lights lit, and there was definite resistance to my pedalling -meaning the PWM was working.

Well, I couldn’t quite believe it.  It had worked first time!

Anyway, I’d better get off -I have a meeting down in sunny Hillsborough this morning, then I have to come back and finally make sure everything’s ship-shape before Diane comes to pick me up with all the gear to take me down to The Plots.

Today is one of our ‘Junior Plotters’ birthday, and to celebrate we’ll be putting up a gazebo or two, wiring up the new lighting and singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her this afternoon under the lights of our new, totally green power and lighting system!

Oh, and there’ll be cake as well.

Mmmmmm.  Cake…

Remember the swan?

Its been quiet this last couple of days on this website, but thats not because we’ve not been doing stuff!  As I’ve said before, like the swan, LEAF sometimes goes awfully quiet, yet underneath…

Yet more stuff on the board.

Yet more stuff on the board.

So, here you can see the board as it currently stands.  You may notice the new resistors running down the right hand side of it below the smoothing capacitor then ‘vero pins’ to the right of them.

These are the various outputs that will very soon connect to another board that will have indicators on.  And yes, due to popular demand, there will be blue LEDs.

While all this has been going on, I’ve also been working on the box to house this in, along with the battery.

I had made a box some months ago, but in the end, never used it ‘in rage’.  Well, it was time to resurrect it and make a new lid.

Old box, new lid.

Old box, new lid.

Here you can see it in my kitchen (…also known as ‘The Workshop’…) with a new lid, not yet painted with the awful blackboard paint I seem to have been given.

You’ll also notice that there is a square hole (…with rounded corners!..) in the top of the new lid.

Underneath this is a clear perpex panel.  This panel will be sprayed black from the underside later this afternoon and there will be small circular ‘dots’ left unpainted through which you’ll be able to see the various LEDs mounted on a display board underneath.  Also on this top panel will be the on/off switch, the 9-pin serial socket to connect to the computer and the little ‘programming’ switch to tell the board I want to program the chip inside.

The main circuit board will be mounted under the lid on the opposite side from the display board, and the ‘grunt’ electronics which handles the raw power coming off the bike is mounted on the end cheek you can see with the handle visible.

'Grunt' electronics on the end cheek.

'Grunt' electronics on the end cheek.

This shot shows a close-up of just some of the connectors to this section.  The two larger ones to the left are from the bike and to the battery, while the line of smaller ones feeds the individual lamp outputs.  You can just see the start of the big sensing resistor block towards the right and the choke/inductor is the circular round thing screwed down towards the middle.

Of course, I could have shown you a full shot of the entire electronics mounted on this end cheek, but anyone with any electronics knowledge would see what I’ve done and be able to copy it.  While we’re all for ‘shared knowledge’ and the rest, we feel that given the amount of work we’ve put into this, then anyone copying it should at least talk to us before attempting this.

Anyway, I’ve wittered too long.  I’d better get on…

Sold(i)ering on.

Today, I’ve been putting the finishing touches to the new board, viz:

New board complete.

New board complete.

If you compare this with the last shot of it, you’ll notice a new 8-pin i.c. (Integrated Circuit) on the right handside, and if you’re really eagle-eyed, you’ll notice more ‘gubbins’ in the shape of another transistor nearby, then over to the left of this shot, you’ll see yet another transistor with associated dividing resistors.

The first transistor is the main FET switching transistor, while the last one is a ‘range’ selector which sets the input range for sensing the input voltage coming from the bike.

Now, I just have to fabricate another ‘adapter’ for the pratty little 8-pin SOIC current sensing chip (…A MAX4080 if you’re interested…) so it will fit in the empty socket.

When that’s done, I have to make another sensing resistor bank, then…

…well, its in the box with it.

Then test it.

Gulp.

Some of the First Fruits (apples from Meynell School grounds) these were taken to Early Days Centre at Palgrave Road.

Well we had another good morning of harvesting today with another couple of trees from a garden near Yewlands Technolgy College. A small but merry band (me, Angela and the two children to be precise) managed to collect just around 40-50llbs of cooking apples …. we’re hoping to go back later this week and finish the job by harvesting the eaters from the other tree.
All the apples are safely stored for the time being at Mount Tabor Methodist Church, and will soon be distributed on the estate through the usual sources.
Priority for next season is getting ourselves a fruit press so we can juice those apples that aren’t at their best anymore – and of course more of the jam and chutney making that has been discussed in the past. So if there’s any keen amateur jam and chutney makers out there – please get in touch. I’ve got the apples, and the jars, we just need you!

A good day.

So, when all’s said and done, yesterday was a good day.

Not only did I manage to resurrect Diane’s laptop, but an HP printer came up on ‘FreeCycle’ -an ‘old’ HP LaserJet 2100M that was being ‘retired’ because the owner had bought himself a shiny new colour laser to replace it.  I’ve had experience of these printers, and apart from the odd paper jam, I’ve never had one go down on me.  The only thing was, I was very late in seeing it -it’d been posted for at least a couple of hours.  It had to have gone.

Still, undeterred, I sent in a reply saying that our project would really love it, and gave this web address as an example of what we do, but all the while aware that in all probability, it had long gone.

Several hours later -about 8.00pm last night, I got a call on my phone from the printer’s owner.  Did I want it?

Does The Pope wear a pointy hat in the woods?

The absolute kicker was that the chap said he’d bring it round to my flat!  So, a half hour later, and we’re now the proud owners of an HP printer.

The only slight downside is that it has no USB connection, but a quick look at Amazon.com, and sure enough they sell a USB to parallel connector.  Its on order!

Comms away!

Comms away!

On the right here you can see the latest board I’m building.  As I’ve wittered on about before, this board will effectively replace the PIC programming board I’ve been using.  If you click a couple of times on the photo, you will hopefully see the circuitry I’ve soldered above the big PIC.  These five transistors, associated diodes, resistors and a green LED are the programming bit which ‘glue’ the PIC to my PC.  They provide all the comms between the two.

So last night, Diane was here, and we were just ‘winding down’ from the day’s excitement, and I thought I’d finish this board off while we were talking -just the regulator and the 9-pin serial socket -that’s the plug on the end of the short length of wire to the left of the photo.

Diane was in the kitchen doing something or other, so I thought I’d just plug it in, just for the look of the thing, and maybe see which bits of it didn’t work.

I popped a PIC16F887 in, plugged the board in, checked for smoke, then loaded up the various programs to run it all.

No smoke, but the green LED was lit.  …So far so good…

I then tried to load up a PIC program in the programmer, and…

It loaded fine.

This was extraordinarily good.  Normally, if you forget to even switch the programmer into ‘program’ mode (…thats the switch on the black flying leads to the right of the photo…), it will bleat at you.

So I hit the ‘Program!’ button.

And it only programmed perfectly!

A real and proper; ‘Whose Cat!!??’ moment.

Diane came rushing from the kitchen.  ‘Whats wrong!?’ she exclaimed.

‘It only works!!!‘  I was dumb-founded.  Gob-smacked.  This little circuit that I’ve been putting off building for days because it was such a ‘toughie’ had just worked the first time.  Those five transistors may not look like much, but trust me in this, building analogue electronics on ‘Veroboard’ is no walk in the park.  Digital’s easy by comparison.

So, I’ll carry on with the rest of it.  By tomorrow I want this circuit to be doing what the previous one does -monitoring and controlling, but with the added Party-Bonus in that I don’t have to take the PIC in and out of the board to be able to program it.

Yes.  Definitely a good day.

Slogging it out.

Its been a bit quiet on the ‘Power’ front this last couple of days because I’ve been too busy doing other things.

Still ‘LEAF’ related, these ‘other things’ involved the repair of Diane’s laptop, without which LEAF would be severly compromised.

Her laptop, a Sony Viao (…a truly gorgeous machine…) running ‘Vista’ (…a truly awful operating system, but there we go…) decided that it’d had enough, and consistently ‘locked up’ soon after power-up.  The only way to get it to ‘power down’ was to either hold the ‘on/off’ button down or remove the battery.  Not good.

And the reason for all this misbehaviour (…apart from the operating system)?  Would you believe that the heatsink compound used between the processor and the heatsink had ‘perished’ and was only making partial contact?  The result was that as soon as the machine got warm, it started making silly gibberish (…well, more gibberish than we can normally expect from a machine running anything remotely resembling ‘Vista’…), splattering data all over the hard drive randomly.  Yak…

…Now Diane uses this machine for, amongst other things, email.  Two accounts.  The first, an old ‘Virgin’ pop3 account, the second a much newer one I’d set up myself using IMAP.

“Okay, enough blinding us with techno-babble!  So what?” I hear you shout.

Aah, Dear Reader, therein lies the rub.  The IMAP account stores mail on the one.com server, only pulling it down to read.  The Virgin account ‘pops’ the mail down onto the machine and doesn’t save a copy on the server.

So, the long and short of it is that I’ve been able to resurrect both accounts -and most of  the 20+GB of photos she had stored on it (!!!!!), but alas, all the mail that had been ‘popped’ down from the old Virgin account has now disappeared into the ether.

Still, she has got herself a shiny, new laptop with all new software thanks to those awfully nice Sony people and their recovery disks!

NOW, I can get back to what I was doing.

I was just finishing the serial bit for the new PIC board I’ve been blathering about this last few days.  I’ve just got to connect up a switch and a 9-pin socket, and it should just fire up and enable me to write to a PIC directly without the cumbersome programming board in the way.

Much more fun than laptops!

Abundance Harvesting

Hi Everyone …..
Here is the first entry for a blog recording the progress of the Abundance Project in North East Sheffield. In case you don’t know, the Abundance NE project was led this summer by PXI- Parson Cross Initiative (an inter church partnership project) as part of our “Green Church” project.

LEAF were early partners in the project, now the project continues to grow with additional involvement from places like: Early Days Children Centre, Chaucer BEC, Southey Green School, Healthy Cross as well as local people who have offered both time and fruit.
The plan for this first years harvest (as stated at the meeting on 18th August) was to complete a nominal harvest so we could iron out any start up issues etc. Amazingly we have harvested and distributed around 100lbs of fruit (mainly apples and pears) which I think is a great achievement in this first year.
The harvest hasn’t ended yet – if anyone fancies helping out, we’ve got two more apple trees to do this weekend at Grenoside. If you want to get involved ring Nick Waterfield on 07539 770946.

Abundance in North East Sheffield

This is where members of the Abundance North East Sheffield can put what they’re doing.


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