The Jimternet


James Stewart - Making Stuff

How to Build Inexpensive Garden Boxes From Fence Palings

Spring is almost upon us and all around Australia garden beds are being prepared for the coming season.

Garden boxes built from fence palings are inexpensive and easy to make. They also look great and best of all they will last for years.

watering boxes 1

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SparkCC is Open For Business

Posts to The Jimternet have been a little thin on the ground in recent months. Of the myriad reasons behind this shortage of missives, one of the most exciting is the birth of SparkCC.

sparkcc logo

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Open Source: The Journey from Project to Product

In their seminal work Getting Real, 37 Signals talk about scratching your own itch when looking for a new project. Well I was itching to brew consistently tasty beer. And brewing consistently tasty beer requires reliable temperature control.

Sure there were thermostats for sale on Ebay for 100 bucks that could keep fermentation temperature consistent. But I could see the limitations of these and knew that a software-based solution would provide the flexibility to do so much more.

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Introducing Braubuddy - A Temperature Management Framework

Today I'm very pleased to make available the first beta release of Braubuddy.

Braubuddy Dashboard

Braubuddy started as a simple Python script to monitor the fermentation temperature of my home brew using a Raspberry Pi and a USB thermometer.

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Boost Your USB WiFi Signal Strength for Next to Nothing

In my workshop I have a Raspberry Pi whose primary function is to control the temperature of my home brew using Braubuddy.

Said workshop is part of a detached garage, so I planned to employ a USB WiFi adapter to connect the Pi to my home wireless network. This would allow me to:

  • Update software on the Pi without unplugging and taking it inside.
  • Monitor the temperature of my home brew remotely.
  • Stream music while I make beer and build things.

But as it turned out, the WiFi adapter's tiny internal aerial wasn't capable of maintaining a reliable connection to my Wireless Access Point. On the rare occasions that it did manage to connect, data transfer was hideously slow due to packet loss. Inevitably the link would drop out altogether as Linux' WiFi connection manager gave up in utter despair.

I had resigned myself to buying a USB module with an external aerial until I stumbled across this article in my Twitter feed. The author describes a similar predicament to my own as well as his solution: a home-made, foil-covered dish mounted behind his Wifi adapter.

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Learning is Never a Waste of Time

Do you remember learning trigonometry in high school? If so, you might also remember the moaning...

"This is a waste of time. When am I ever going to need this?"

I felt the same as everybody else. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I was reasonably sure it had nothing to do with sin, cos and tan.

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How to Build a USB Powerboard and Control it with Python

I previously blogged about the tosr0x, an inexpensive USB relay controller board which I'm using as part of a computerised thermostat.

Having creating tosr0x.py to control the tosr0x' relays using Python, I required a device which employs these relays to switch a pair of mains sockets. This device will essentially be a programmable mains powerboard, switching power to a refridgerator and heat belt to regulate the temperature of my home brew.

This is a reasonably simple project. It essentially involves wiring together a handful of components and mounting them inside a box. For the sake of neatness I take the mains input from an IEC socket rather than wiring a cable directly.

The finished product is a mains powerboard which can be plugged into a USB port and controlled by anything that can speak to the tosr0x.

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The Hammer Of Doom: Building a Gigantic Warhammer

Introducing... The Hammer Of Doom:

Hammer Of Doom

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Switching The Jimternet From Wordpress to Pelican

I've just finished migrating The Jimternet from Wordpress to Pelican, a static blog generator written in Python. There are already plenty of posts extolling the virtures of Pelican and static blogs in general, so I'll simply share why the static blog paradigm makes sense for me.

For the uninitiated: dynamic Content Managemnt Systems such as Wordpress re-generate html each time a page is requested, (caching notwithstanding). The web server hosting the site in question does this by executing scripts, which in turn read content from a database backend.

This is a powerful paradigm which allows for almost infinite complexity. But by their very nature, blogs are relatively static websites. A blogger composes a post, publishes it and then nothing changes until the next post is published.

Recognising this, Static site generators such as Pelican produce a website composed entirely of html files. Content is authored in either Markdown or RST and the site's configuration is maintained in a single file. When a new piece of content is added, Pelican re-generates the entire site from scratch. The result is a directory of html files, ready to be uploaded to a web server for hosting, (those old enough to have created a website in the 1990's may feel a vague sense of deju-vu).

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Book Review: James Altucher - Choose Yourself

Choose Yourself

On the evening that I finished reading James Altucher's new book Choose Yourself, the nightly news lead with the story of 260 employees at Target's Geelong headquarters being made redundant.

Footage showed these newly-unemployed leaving what used to be their place of work. Most were visibly upset, many were crying and some stopped to express their frustration to waiting reporters:

"I can't actually believe it's happened. I've worked my whole life since I was 15. I've never lost a job. And I've got a mortgage to pay and, you know, all the bills to pay. I need a job."

"I moved down to Geelong specifically to put my heart and soul into Target and this is how you get rewarded, so it is disappointing, yes."

Only weeks earlier Ford announced the closure of its Australian plants, a decision set to cost 1200 workers their jobs. More recently, IBM and several others have announced mass-redundancies as Australia's burgeoning economy finally enters its inevitable slowdown.

Economic cycles are nothing new and organisations will inevitably hire in good times and fire in bad. However the Information Age has rendered many of the old paradigms of employment obsolete for both employers and employees alike. Those who fail to adapt may well be left behind, but a new age of opportunity beckons for those willing to embrace a fresh approach.

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