January 26, 2014

AVC Parts Have Been Ordered, the Workshop Has a (Small) Workbench and Internet Access

While I continue to work on the workshop (progress is being made and an update will be posted soon), I went ahead and ordered parts for my 2014 Sparkfun AVC entry.

My robot is going to be built on a 1/16 Turnigy R/C car from Hobbyking.This platform has received a decent set of reviews from the R/C community and is hopefully going to be large enough to do what I need it to do.

In addition to the remote controlled car chassis, I ordered a three channel transmitter/receiver, some batteries and a battery charger. The three channels are going to be used for throttle, steering, and a selection between manual and autonomous control. In case my robot starts heading off a cliff or onto a six lane road under autonomous control, I'll be able to throw a switch on my transmitter and bring it back under manual control. For this I bought an R/C multiplexer from Michael Shimniok, a veteran AVC competitor who sells stuff on Tindie at very reasonable prices. I added a snarky comment when I placed my order that he and his robot had better watch out in the 2014 AVC because I was comin' for him, and he added a friendly note on the packing slip with my order and suggested that I join the DIYRovers Google Group where he and other AVC competitors discuss their designs. If all the other folks in the community are as friendly as he is, I like this crowd already!

I'm planning on using an ST32F4DISCOVERY board as the microcontroller for my robot brain, and I ordered a GPS and a 9DOF intertial sensor from Adafruit as my sensors. I have had success getting an Eclipse/GCC/OpenOCD development environment running for the STM32F4 under Ubuntu; keep an eye out for that blog post soon. Ultimately, I plan to create a custom circuit board with an STM32F4 controller and the sensors on one board, but that's going to be down the road a bit.

While I wait for my two orders to arrive I've been writing some code on the STM32F4. I've attempted to graft the FatFS embedded filesystem driver with ST's SDIO card sample code in the peripheral library. I haven't tested it yet on hardware, but I'm cautiously optimistic that I can develop a logging subsystem with relative ease by using these two libraries. The other code I've been working on is a library to drive the servos. I know that I have an earlier post in this blog claiming that I got servos running on the STM32F0DISCOVERY, but it seems that I may have reverted the virtual machine on which I developed that code to an earlier checkpoint, because I haven't been able to find those files anywhere. I believe I've rebuilt that code but I won't be sure, again, until I test with real hardware.

In the workshop, I bought a large U-shaped desk on Craigslist to be my new workbench. It's missing some fasteners, so I'm currently looking for some replacement parts. Until then, I did get one leg of the U assembled and I got Internet connectivity in the workshop today. That's enough amenities to begin hardware hacking out there. I need to dig out an oscilloscope and my Saleae Logic logic analyzer and I'll be able to make progress on my robot while I continue to clean up out there and get the parts needed to finish my workbench.

November 18, 2013

Updates on the Workshop

It's hard to believe I started this workshop project almost a year ago. The hot Dallas summer led to a lot of inertia, with the unfinished workshop needing attention and all of the stuff that should go into the workshop sitting in boxes in the front of the garage, which meant that Supermodel Wife and I had to park our cars in the driveway or in the street.

For almost a full year.

My goal was to get both cars parked in the garage before the temperature went below freezing. Well, I looked at the forecast last week and was spurred into emergency action by a forecasted cold front. Over the past month or so I'd built some shelves, and Hacker Dad helped me hang some wall cabinets that I'd salvaged from a home that was undergoing renovation. So, with a frantic burst of activity I managed to store some of my stuff in reasonable locations within the workshop and I dragged the remaining full boxes into the shop, and managed to get both cars into the garage before the cold arrived.


Currently the shop is a mess. Supermodel Wife can park in the garage but I'm rewiring all of my fluorescent light fixtures with electronic ballasts in the space where my car belongs. (They currently have magnetic ballasts and therefore they hum when powered on.) That will free up some floor space and light the shop, so I get a twofer out of this work.

I have three fixtures wired up and at least six more to go. (What can I say, I like a lot of light in my workshop.) I'm hoping to average one fixture per night for the rest of the week.

After that, it's a matter of finding a home for all of my stuff in my new space. I'm already finding that I don't have as much room as I'd hoped to have. I'll have to tell the wife we need a bigger house.

August 30, 2013

Workshop (lack of) Progress Update

It's been another hot Texas summer, which has really been demotivating to my efforts to work on finishing up the workshop. Between that, and a job, and a wife, and two young kids, not much progress has been made. All the 'stuff' from my workshop is in boxes in the garage, so the wife and I have been parking in the driveway/on the street.

The good news is that the weather should be cooling down some and the kids are back in school and I have lots of vacation time stored up. I'm building some shelving and making other preparations to move my stuff back into the workshop area. More progress reports soon. I hope.

March 10, 2013

Workshop Construction Update 5, and a Triathlon!

Today, my body is beaten and bruised (either that, or just plain old) after doing my first sprint triathlon. I was woefully underprepared for this, and boy did my results show it! Other than the biting cold (I'm guessing high fifties/low sixties) and gusting winds (I'm guessing 20mph+), and you know, running across the parking lot naked and wet in those conditions after the swim, and trying to bike uphill into a headwind while not being able to feel my toes, it wasn't all that bad.

So weather conditions were far from perfect, but the sun did start to come out just as I was finishing the bike course and it was a lot of fun. (At least, it was a lot of fun in hindsight.) I was fortunate that the turn-around point for the run was in my neighborhood. Supermodel Wife and the Hacker Kids came out to cheer on daddy as he did his run. That was a lot of fun. Now that the weather is warming up and a project at work is winding down, I'll have to do some training and get myself into shape and try a few more tri's this season.

In workshop news, Hacker Dad, Hacker Father-in-Law and I have finished hanging the drywall, taping the seams and bedding all of the joints. It actually looks like someone built this room on purpose! I have to sand down the joint compound and paint the room before I can move my stuff out of storage back into the shop. If Supermodel Wife will allow me the time I'll try to get that done during the week this week. Then I can move in next weekend before another bill at the self-storage place comes due.

Hacker Father-in-Law beds a seam in the drywall while I stand around being useless.

Hacker Father-in-Law beds a seam in the drywall while I stand around being useless.

Hacker Dad examines his work.

Hacker Dad examines his work.

It's amazing what some edge banding and drywall mud will do.

It's amazing what some edge banding and drywall mud will do.

March 3, 2013

Workshop Construction Update 4

Yesterday, Hacker Dad, Hacker Father-in-Law, Hacker Brother, and Hacker Nephew came over to help hang drywall. I really, really wasn't looking forward to doing this work. As it turns out, the work really wasn't all that bad. It took a while, but wasn't as backbreaking or as tedious or as totally boring as I feared it might be. I am extremely grateful for their help. We wrapped up about 8 hours after starting. It honestly didn't feel like we'd been working that long at all.

We didn't get as much done as I would have liked. (I had hoped we'd be able to hang all the drywall and get the entire room taped and bedded.) However, we did make substantial progress. Two walls are fully covered in drywall, and the other two walls have significant progress made. There's still a few hours' of work left. After the drywall is up the entire room will have to be taped and bedded. Then paint. Then electrical. Then an inspection. Then I can move in. (Ugh. Each time I write about it the project plan seems to grow!)

We encountered quite a few issues because the garage framing wasn't square. (Clearly, the garage has settled some since it was built.) I think if we had aligned the drywall with the ceiling (that is, the framing) instead of the floor (the foundation), we would have avoided some of these issues. Cutting pieces to fit in spaces smaller than a full sheet of drywall was challenging as a result. Regrettably, there are some fairly large gaps that will hopefully be covered by taping and bedding.

This is the best 'before' picture I could find.

This is the best 'before' picture I could find.

Would you hire these guys?

Would you hire these guys?

Hacker Brother and Hacker Father-in-Law tackled the back wall, while Hacker Dad and I worked in the near wall. I think the other team was both quicker than my team and did better quality work.

Hacker Brother and Hacker Father-in-Law tackled the back wall, while Hacker Dad and I worked on the near wall. I think the other team was both quicker than my team and did better quality work.

Hacker Nephew learning valuable life lessons.

Hacker Brother got better results with a keyhole saw than I did with the Rotozip.

Hacker Brother and Hacker Father-in-Law mark cutouts for outlet boxes.

Using the Rotozip to make cuts for outlet boxes yielded mixed results. Perhaps with more practice I would have been better at it.

Using the Rotozip* to make cuts for outlet boxes yielded mixed results. Perhaps with more practice I would have been better at it.
(*And by Rotozip, I do of course mean "Cheap Harbor Freight knockoff of a Rotozip.")

As drywall is hung on the outside of the partition wall, insulation goes up on the inside.

As drywall is hung on the outside of the partition wall, insulation goes up on the inside.

February 28, 2013

Workshop Construction Update

Well, the move-out date on my self storage unit is fast approaching, which has had me motivated to finish the shop.

As of tonight, all (well, almost all) of the insulation is up and the workshop is (mostly) ready for drywall. I've had a few contractors out to the house to bid on hanging the drywall. So far, none of the bids have been low enough to convince me outsource this work. (Which is rather disappointing. Cheap labor is not hard to find in the Dallas area.)

Hacker Dad and Hacker Father-in-Law have volunteered to come over on Saturday to hang drywall, provided I have everything ready to go. While I really, really don't want to do this job myself, I can be an inveterate cheapskate and the relative merits of build-vs-buy are favoring a sore body this weekend.

Here are some pics of the current state of the workshop. As always, click for a full size version.


First wall, fully insulated. Framed out for an exterior door with paint on the floor to tell me where to tear out drywall in the future.



Back wall, fully insulated. Location of studs marked in white paint on the concrete lip at the floor.



Third wall, almost fully insulated. That cavity with the plumbing is larger than a 16 inch on center cavity. I quit to come inside and spend time with the kids.


Subpanel will be fed from a 90 amp breaker on the main panel. Many thanks to Hacker Brother, who helped me run that 2-2-2-4 aluminum cable through the attic.

Subpanel will be fed from a 90 amp breaker on the main panel. Many thanks to Hacker Brother, who helped me run that 2-2-2-4 aluminum cable through the attic.


Is 24 hardwired Cat5 runs too many for a 21 x 21 foot workshop? Yeah, that might be overkill. The white cable is Cat5 to the patch panel in the house where the internet connection is. The outlet box is for a network switch and wireless access point.


February 18, 2013

Inspection Passed!

The inspector came by today and green-tagged my rough electrical and framing. Now I need to pull Cat5 cable, install insulation, and hang drywall.

February 2, 2013

Workshop Construction Update 2

Supermodel Wife took the kids to her parent's house today, leaving me time to work undisturbed.

I finished what I feared would be the most difficult part of wiring the new workshop. I was correct: it was the most difficult part. Hacker Dad came over and fed some cable to me from the ground while I pulled from the attic, and I ran some cables through some headers in some very cramped quarters in the attic. The good news is that it's all done and it works.

I'm almost ready for my rough inspection. The only thing I have to do (and it is the only part left) is to run the feeder cables from the main breaker box to the subpanel. I'm running three runs of #3 THHN in PVC conduit, or at least that's the plan. I might have an electrician come over and help me with that. Not because the wiring itself is difficult, or even that I'm scared of a 100A circuit. I just don't know how I'm going to run the conduit with all of the obstructions I have in the way.

My body is telling me that I'm not 18 any more. I'm gonna go kick back and watch some television and unwind.

January 19, 2013

Workshop Construction Update

Sorry, folks (that is, the two of you who read my blog), it's been a while since I posted anything. Between the holidays, a family vacation, cold weather, everyone getting sick, and well.. you know the drill.

I haven't made as much progress on the workshop as I'd hoped I would by now, but progress is being made. The wall is framed, I have the subpanel mounted, and I have most of the new branch circuits wired in the workshop. I still have to wire ceiling outlets for the lights, and I have to finish up some minor odds and ends with some of the branch circuits. I then have to run conduit between the main panel and the subpanel and run the wires to supply power to the subpanel. I had hope to do that this weekend, but it turns out that we're babysitting my sister's special needs son, so time in the workshop will probably be little-to-none.

I'm looking into air conditioners and have pretty much decided on ordering a mini-split system off the Internet. There appear to be plenty of shady retailers out there willing to sell me cheap junk. And I'll probably go that direction, even though the little voice inside me is warning me not to.

After the electrical is run I'll have the rough inspection. Then I'll install the insulation and invite a handyman out to hang the drywall and tape and bed the seams. I'll look for cheap shelving and other fixtures on craigslist.

November 24, 2012

Building a Real Workshop

Despite the title of this blog, this hacker currently has no dedicated workshop space. With recent approval from the Executive Finance Committee (aka Supermodel Wife), construction on a real workshop has begun. The original owner of my house was an amateur race car driver, and when the house was built he had the builders make the two-car garage twice as deep as a normal garage. He used the back half of the garage to work on his race cars. I got building plans approved by the city to install a partition wall halfway back into this space and to turn the back half of the garage into an air-conditioned workshop. (more…)