new phone, new e-waste

I really enjoyed my iPhone 5S, to be honest. I liked that it was small enough to fit into any pocket I had. Part of Apple’s business plan appears to be to force older products into landfill by prematurely making them obsolete. And one aspect of that plan seems to be to strong-arm carriers like Comcast to not allow transfers of service onto older phones like mine. It’s too bad, really, because the phone otherwise works well for me.

The reason behind the carrier switch

I’ve recently moved and my Metro PCS (now T-Mobile) service is terrible here. And at $45/month that’s just not something I intend to keep.

Comcast’s up-sell attempt

So in Comcast’s retail store, the guy’s telling me that they can’t won’t transfer my phone number to an iPhone 5. “So how much is your used iPhone 6?“, I ask. (They want $450 plus tax which is so not going to happen.) He then gives me the hard-sell by suggesting that he could only give me the $100 transfer rebate by the end of tomorrow.

Somewhat-frantic used phone search

The next couple of hours involved me trying to find a local business which would sell me a used or refurbished iPhone 6 (noting of course that the iPhone X is the current model). I managed to find that Fry’s Electronics at the local branch had a refurbished one. And of course the sale ends by the end of that same day.

The purchase

So in this world-wind period I immediately jump into my car and visit Fry’s. Indeed, the sale ends on the same day so I’m reasonably forced to make the purchase on-the-spot. Of course, the phone has zero charge so I can’t even really verify that it’s not bricked. The price tag out the door is something like $180, less than half what Comcast would have charged me.

Metro PCS

I get the iPhone 6 home, charge it up (“100%”) and the next morning visit Comcast Metro PCS. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t just go straight over to Comcast. Because Comcast won’t just help me in this situation; they insist that the iPhone 6 be provisioned by my losing carrier first. So the Metro PCS people must be told by me that I’m innocently just upgrading my phone on the day before my new payment is due. I’m charged $15 for the changeover.

Comcast

Next stop is Comcast again and they can transfer the phone number. While the number is transferring, the iPhone dies from lack of battery charge. Er, what? It was 100% when I left this morning and I’ve barely used the phone. The iPhone 5S would go days before needing a recharge.

Research time

Back home—and with the phone on the charger again—I discover that Apple had a recall and a class action lawsuit regarding this particular phone with respect to the battery. I contact Apple Support to determine whether or not I can get the battery replaced for free. They indicate that they won’t pay for it but they can assist getting me into the service queue for the local store.

Apple Store

So I arrange the support visit at Apple only to find that I and many other people will be sitting here waiting to be helped for some time. I took the option to drop off my phone and to pick it up the following day.

The next day arrives and I find that I and many other people will be waiting some more to be helped for quite some time. I find it odd that a simple pickup like this took well over an hour. What I find even odder is that Apple would replace a battery and not charge it; the phone arrived with literally 0% charge and no way to determine whether the battery’s health was verifiable. The overworked support person—holding literally four products at once to deliver almost simultaneous to four customers—essentially put me on “ignore” when I indicated that it would be nice to know if my phone was working after the service-related activity. I think I paid $45 plus tax to get out the door.

New phone

So, now I have a new, working iPhone 6. Honestly, I didn’t need a new phone. I felt coerced into the upgrade to be honest.

Of course, then, I designed a new-and-improved holder for this one using Autodesk Fusion 360. It will clip onto the shoulder strap of my laptop bag and suitable for playing music while walking somewhere. I’ll print it on the 3D printer as soon as I get that unboxed and back in action.

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What next? (a.k.a. Combating e-waste)

I really have a hard time with this disposable-technology mentality. If we’re tied to a single operating system like iOS and it’s under Apple’s Machiavellian business plan then we’re left with two viable options: throw it away or change the operating system.

Having searched the Internet, I see no solutions in which someone has replaced iOS on an iPhone with anything like Linux. In theory, an older phone could be hacked as an amazing IoT device of some kind since the camera technology, RAM, processor and storage is killer compared to a Raspberry Pi, for instance. The street price two years ago for a used iPhone 5S was a mere $100 as I recall. So today, the street price of an iPhone 5 should be sub-$100. (I’ve just reviewed an eBay iPhone 4 ad which asks $7 as the price!) Imagine the supercomputer which you could build from a boxful of discarded iPhone 4’s and 5’s.

[Assuming that we’ve replaced iOS on each…] imagine the supercomputer which you could build from a boxful of discarded iPhone 4’s and 5’s…

  • I’m sure the average phone retailer has a stash of these in their back office and would be delighted to remove them from the playing field.
  • You wouldn’t need it to be a phone anymore or to have a carrier.
  • At it’s heart, the average (old) smartphone is a very fast computer with lots of RAM and an amazing camera and hard drive.
  • In the average supercomputer scenario, you wouldn’t worry about batteries since it would be tethered to power. Most battery-related issues could then be ignored.
  • In theory, you could create low-cost projects which involve sending multiple old phones up into the stratosphere via a helium balloon, collecting a 360° views and transmitting them back.
  • Similarly, you could create a drone submarine with a dedicated old phone at every porthole to capture and forward live, streaming video.

I’ll continue to look into this as an option. There has to be a way of hacking these phones. Just imagine the possibilities if you could.

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old-fashioned milk bottles meet iot

If you remember from my last post on the subject, I’m into those old-school glass bottles of various sizes. Here’s the typical size and lid type that I’ll be talking about:

quart

The lids seem to come in a variety of colors and are probably made from ABS plastic—they work well and last a while. Everything cleans up nicely and I’ve had quite a few of these in my pantry for the last five years now.

Identification

There are times, though, when I wished that it were easier to tell what’s what. I honestly have a variety of things which kind of look the same: masa, ground corn meal, pancake batter, semolina flour, etc. They’re all vaguely yellowish. The same is true for the many flours which I buy.

My usual routine is to put a small Post-It type of note of some kind on the front of the bottle. But sometimes these fall off. I have been known to tape them on.

It would be nice if I had a way of easily identifying the contents of the bottle as well as preserving things like nutritional information or the instructions that you might find on the back of a Cream of Wheat box. I could also record the date of purchase and/or the expiration date but I’m not that fussy.

High-tech version

Today’s creativity involves the idea of self-identifying bottles. I’ve just purchased some tiny RFID tags which I hope to embed inside my own self-made bottle caps. I’ve just spent an hour designing the cap in Autodesk Fusion 360 and it’s now getting a test print to see if it fits. When the tags arrive I’ll carefully measure one and then design an internal cavity to accommodate the tag inside the cap. Given that the tag is completely embedded, it should be waterproof as well and should stand up to being repeatedly washed.

 

The usual tactic with respect to printing these with an embedded object is to create two jobs out of the part (1st half, 2nd half) and then insert the tag in between the print jobs. My own GetToDahChoppa project would be the way of chopping that. For this project it will be easier to just insert a pause command at the magic moment in the gcode file so that the printer pauses, alerting me to insert the tag and then I’ll manually resume. As long as I don’t include internal supports, this technique should work fine.

I thought I’d create a NodeJS-based server which sits on a Raspberry Pi computer which minimally includes an RFID reader. It would host a database of the RFID numbers and their corresponding information for each bottle in service.

The system should include a mechanism for simply reporting which bottle is being held up to the reader as well as several convenience features to include fetching the nutritional information given a UPC symbol. I’m guessing it would be nice to have something which actually scans UPC symbols but that’s not strictly necessary since it doesn’t take much to just type them in.

I guess I’ll have to type in the instructions or include a photograph of the box’s instructions.

Interface choices

I guess now, I’ll need to determine what kind of interface this will have. I could include a TFT panel. I think this would be the normal way of communicating things back to the user. In this way, you could click tabs on the screen if you wanted more information. I would assume that this would use Kivy as the graphical interface. It’s possible but I’d have to have somewhere near the pantry with power and the correct orientation, distance and lighting for the panel. And it must also work out with respect to the distance of the reader.

At the moment, though, I’m thinking that it might be interesting to push the report information to an Echo Dot that’s in the same room. In theory, you would hold the bottle’s top to the horizontally-mounted reader. There would be a delay of perhaps three seconds and then you’d hear Alexa say “Cream of Wheat”, having initiated an Alexa Skill of some kind. I’m guessing then that I might have to say “Alexa, read the instructions” to have her then read from another topic.

Given the way Amazon’s Lambda functions work, it feels like it will be problematic unless I host the database in the cloud otherwise the function wouldn’t easily have access to that information. I dunno, but I kind of like the idea that the database just lives on the Raspberry Pi itself.

I could use a simpler text-to-speech project from earlier, requiring a speaker on the Raspberry. The sound quality is basically similar to listening to Stephen Hawkins reading your panty list. I’ve also been successful using the Snips home assistant interface for doing something Alexa-like without the cloud. The quality of the output voice isn’t as slick as Alexa but it’s good enough.

Hot off the printer

While I’ve been thinking about all this, the first draft print has finished. It’s very nearly identical to the hand-measured original lid only that inner insert seems to be slightly too wide for the bottle. The PLA plastic I’m using is more rigid or I’ve made that wall too thick; it will need a slight adjustment and another test fit before I advance to the next step. It lacks subtle details that aren’t actually necessary on the original lid like central spokes and outer ribs.

FirstVersion

I’ll tweak the design and reprint it. And I guess I have to wait for those RFID tags to arrive in the mail before the next phase of this.

file management for 3d printers

I use the software OctoPrint to control my 3D printer. It’s an excellent web service with a rich collection of methods in its REST API. The software was designed, coded and is maintained by Gina Häußge.

I’ve just created my first plugin for OctoPrint. It should allow those who need version control to pull their sliced files from a github repository as selected. The interface and concepts are simple enough: identify the repository and press the button to pull the latest from that repository.

settings

 

buttonfiles

Update:

My new plugin is now listed and published on plugins.octoprint.org. Yay, me.

plugins.octoprint.org

quadcopters and me

[Apologies for my infrequent posts here lately but this should explain why.]

On the day I purchased my 3D printer, I also bought a print-it-yourself quadcopter kit. It was technically a mistake on my part because the designs in the kit aren’t compatible at all with the 3D printer which was literally kiosk’d together and a mere foot from each other, suggesting otherwise. So the kit’s been sitting here for a full year now.

Rawr…!

I design things. I should be able to design a quadcopter myself. Having been a former software development contractor for the actual company which sells and distributes these kits I can say with 100% transparency: they have no evidence of one of these quadcopters ever successfully taking to the sky. It never worked as designed.

So I’m designing a radically-new quadcopter. I knew a few things about flying since I was in the Air Force once upon a time. It took a few iterations for the propeller mounts but that part is now perfected and the four printed/assembled.

Next up, the enclosures for each propeller had to be created. I spent a fair amount of time on this stage and have the sixteen related parts all printed; they look great.

Sourcing Parts

I may need to source and replace the underlying controller board which would normally go into the copter itself. I note that the “new” part in my kit shows signs of having four strands of LEDs soldered, then summarily clipped off at the board. This is not a new part at all. Initial testing shows me that it doesn’t respond to the remote. I must assume that the vendor who sourced the parts to the aforementioned company just packaged in used/refurbished materials. They must have assumed that nobody would be the wiser.

I note that the “new” part in my kit shows signs of having four strands of LEDs soldered, then summarily clipped off at the board. This is not a new part at all.

Step by Step…

All in all, it’s coming along well. It’s a sexy beast and I’ve got things modular enough to be able to tweak it later when the need arises.

Sorry that there are no pictures but I’m in stealth mode on this one.

a level playing field

I still haven’t chucked the original Robo C2’s plastic print bed. You’d have thought that I’d changed that out by now since an uneven print bed is a recipe for poor adhesion. But I did just make a very good upgrade and still stayed with that stock part: manual leveling in each of the corners.

IMG_0063

For this upgrade, there’s more than meets the eye. There are actually 36 new parts here on this one. At least you can see two of them from this first photo.

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I designed/printed the two blue pieces (per corner) and other than the aluminum hex bolt, the rest came from Ace Hardware. I made all the springs by cutting down a longer one of the correct diameter.

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Both sides include a spring to keep everything tight. The acorn nut is stainless steel so that it can attach to the stock print bed’s magnets. Tolerances are exacting since there’s a mere 8.6mm space below the platform before hitting the chassis itself and the z end-stop adjustment is impossible on this printer.

IMG_0056

I’ve just combined this upgrade with a new Manual Bed Leveling plugin by jneilliii, for the win. Having just manually leveled, followed by the printer’s standard IR-based auto-level routine, it’s now much better than before. Fortunately, today’s upgrade doesn’t get in the way of the Cantilever Stability Upgrade from before. They both coexist in the same space.

I designed a test part to fill the printer’s available space and when it started, was able to tweak the settings again for perfect adhesion of that critical first layer. Normally, I’d accept poor quality of a raft’s first layer as just part of this printer. But it’s behaving now and I’m glad I put the work into it.

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what’s up, dox?

Earlier yesterday, I visited the Amazon Bookstore and saw one of these DOX things.

DOX

So, of course I thought, “I can do something like that”. Returning home, I immediately designed a base for the Echo Dot and sent it to the printer.

I’d initially decided to use the new GP3D FLEX filament I’d bought earlier but it’s so amazingly flexible that it adds challenges to the process:  1) it really adheres to the print bed so well that it refuses to pop off from it, it must be peeled off instead; 2) when the bowden pulls on the main filament roll, the material is stretchy rather than delivering like you’d expect; 3) the diameter of the filament is too inconsistent and gets caught up in the PTFE tubing.

That said, I turned back to my standard PLA filament and proceeded. The part finished last evening and it fits perfectly. It wants some light sanding where the supports were but it’s very functional, directing the downward-facing speaker toward the consumer and lifting it from the table by 25mm.

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IMG_0039

 

the braille project

Yesterday, I designed a Node-based program to generate a 3D mesh file programmatically from the input text to create a braille message.

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The concept is easy enough to grasp. Braille is a simple combination of raised dots. If we can know that combination, then it should be easy enough to design a 3D CAD object which uses tiny spheres to render the scene.

But I didn’t want to laboriously design this in Autodesk Fusion 360 and I’m sure few people would. Everything has to be precisely placed and that’s just too much manual work. Even if you did, it’s not very easy to maintain. If you did catch an omission, just think of all the work you’d have to do to move things around! I’m relatively certain that this is currently how people create braille-based printouts as seen on an ATM machine, for example.

3d-braille

So yesterday, I designed and created a program for doing this. Generating the STL file was then painless and took less than a second. Printing it then took five hours so I got to see it as a finished part this morning.

IMG_0038

saving the day for thirsty students

The place where I work has a refrigerator in the kitchen. The water dispenser in the door is wonky and before yesterday, it wouldn’t turn off automatically. Perhaps at one time, there was a spring which makes that tab want to stay forward but it was broken a long time ago. Most new students were initiated to this when they accidentally spilled at least a cup of water on the floor.

dispenser

So of course, I decided to fix it using the 3D printer at work. This was made more difficult since I hadn’t brought a digital caliper with me nor a ruler. I used earlier-printed parts to measure the tab (since I did know their dimensions) and then went to work.

Autodesk Fusion 360

The first step was to design the part in a CAD program. Imagine this then fitting over the tab with the extended “spring” resting against the back panel of the refrigerator. I had to plan in the amount of force required as well as that necessary to keep the part from sliding off as well as the internal play required to fit this over the tab.

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FlashPrint

Next, it was necessary to “slice” the model file into a toolpath file for the printer, a set of instructions which it needs to create the part. I used PLA filament since it’s easy to work with and decided to orient the part sideways on the bed so that the spring part wouldn’t be an overhang (which sometimes causes problems). This meant that the printer at the end would need to bridge the two walls it had created with a 5mm gap between them.

Flashforge Creator Pro

I transferred the toolpath file to the printer and got it going, noting the time. I made some guesstimates about when it would finish and it was done about five minutes after my shift completed. It bridged that 5mm gap without a problem, finishing the “roof” at the top.

While it was still hot, I put the part in place on the refrigerator and it fit, working perfectly and solving the problem. Use a glass to push against the tab, water dispenses. Release and the water stops. No more huge spills on the floor as a result.

Refrigerator

logistics for the black pearl lcd theme

I decided to add more to the earlier Black Pearl Conky theme for my 3D printer’s TFT screen. It turned out to be a lot easier to do since I’d just finished a new module for OctoPrint.

octo-client:  A node-based module for directly talking to OctoPrint to gather raw information.

octo-conky:  A Conky script for returning that information in a pleasing way.

The new information is there after the “Black Pearl v1.0.1” line where it pulls the version and temperature from the printer.

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edit gcode externally

I’ve been making some updates to a command line interface (CLI) program lately. I wrote it in the Go language and it’s useful for editing 3D printer gcode files.

A GCODE file is a set of toolpath instructions for both 3D printers and CNC machines.

GcodeEdit

The program is called GcodeEdit and it can so far do the following:

  1. Update the hotend’s temperature, useful for changing the filament material you’d like to use for the part
  2. Show a variety of information from the file, like number of layers and the slicer software which was used to create it, for example
  3. Remove all heat-, fan- and extrusion-related commands so that you can watch the printer go through a “dry run” without wasting any plastic
  4. Repeat the indicated layer but without extruding any plastic, suitable for “ironing” out the last layer and useful during the first couple of layers, for example

I intend to keep adding options to this program and I use it myself, for what it’s worth.

Repository