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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Goolsby's Sausage Patty Melt

Man, oh man, do I love a good Sausage Patty Melt!

My wife, The Queen, made me great one today!  I've just finished it, and it's better than any I've ever had at Waffle House!

In case you aren't happily familiar with Sausage Patty Melts, it consists of fried sausage, on toast, with a thick slice of onion, coated with mustard, along with a dash of Tabasco sauce, and topped with cheese.  Man, oh man...

Today she made her's with Goolsby Sausage, which has become our favorite sausage, bumping out previous first place go-to sausage king Jimmy Dean Sausage.  See my other Goolsby's Sausage recipe here.

Here's the recipe:


  • 4 patties of Goolsby's Sausage.  We buy ours at Costco.
  • 1 thick slice of onion
  • 2 pieces of bread, preferably thick slice Texas Style, but any will do.
  • 2 pieces of sliced, extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • Mustard
  • Tabasco
  • Cooking pan with lid
Cooking Instructions

  • Cut a thick slice of onion.
  • Use cooking instructions on box for Goolsby's Sausage.  These sausages are preformed and frozen. 
  • Once sausage is done, reduce heat and remove sausage from pan.
  • build up the patty melt
    • Place slice of bread onto plate.  
    • Place all four pieces of cooked sausage onto bread.  Some overlapping may occur, but that's OK.
    • Cover sausage with mustard.
    • Add any desired Tabasco sauce.
    • Place onion onto mustard
    • Place cheese onto onion
    • Cover with remaining slice of bread
  • Transfer back to pan
  • Set temperature of pan to medium.
  • Cover pan with lid.  This will help the cheese to melt.
  • Cook until toasted on first side.
  • Flip to other side
  • Cook until toasted on second side.
  • Remove and serve with strong, black, coffee.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Banjo and Wife Take Tai Chi Lessons

What my wife looks like doing Tai Chi
My wife and I have recently started a Tai Chi class, attending once a week. She never looked better. She manages a grace that, so far, has eluded me.  I don't let that bother me.

Our instructor plays flute music. All Tai Chi instructors appear to do this. I think they do this to cover up the grunts. I played music all through high school and college, so I enjoy music. But this music doesn't appear to have a beginning or an end. It's always in the middle of whatever piece they are playing. It never goes anywhere. It starts in the middle, meanders around, and ends in the middle. Who thinks up music like this? I think they need some BBQ, then they can get somewhere, and have a start, middle, and end, instead of all this wandering around.

What I look like doing Tai Chi
We do things with our arms. And then we do things with our legs. The music facilitates this, as arms, legs and music are all wandering. Sometimes I just stand and stare at my arms – they are doing things I don't remember issuing commands to do. Sort of like autonomous arms, I guess. I don't know if this is good or bad, but I'm keeping an eye on them just in case they start to do something embarrassing or illegal. I don't think I'll be able to stop them, but I'm keeping an eye on them anyway.

I have to remember to keep my mouth closed. All this wandering about makes it want to gap open.

It's important to keep your toes pointed in the correct direction.  Mine want to wander.  Some people go barefoot, but I keep my shoes on so all my toes are forced to go in the same direction.  It's also important to use your head.  He hasn't said why yet, but I can tell by his looks at me that this is important.  Someday I'll figure this part out.  In the meantime, I'm busy keeping my toes pointed in the right direction, my head doing something as yet unknown, and my gaped-open mouth closed.  This all keeps me pretty busy.  My wife is not amused.  A husband can tell.

Sometimes we stand on one leg, and for some reason, yet unknown, we extend that leg. I'm glad nobody from my old hometown can see me like this. We don't go any where with it, just put it out there, then bring it back in and put it right back where it was before. We do it s-l-o-w. Then we do it again, except with the other leg. At least, I think we do.


Sometimes my arms do something like you might think a propeller would do, if a propeller had arms. It's been my experience, making buzzing sounds while doing this doesn't appear to be part of the approved plan. My instructor has a bald head; when he frowns, like when I'm making buzzing sounds, it goes up all the way from his eyebrows, up over the top of his head, and down his neck to his shoulders. You can see it. It's like one of those Chinese dogs – Sharpies, or something like that – the one with all the wrinkles - whatever. It's almost worth the price of admission to see that. But, seeing it once was enough – remember when they told you, as a kid, not to cross your eyes, or they might get stuck - so I don't do that any more – I don't want him stuck like that.  Did I say my wife was not amused? A husband can tell.

We do other things, all of which have names, but none of which appear to have anything to do with the names given them. We do brushing knees, first one, then the other. We brush them without touching them. It reminds me of how I cleaned my house when I was a bachelor.

We do parting horses manes, first the horse on one side, then the other horse. It's never the same horse, so I don't try to learn the horses names. It's probably better that way. It'd be my luck to get a frilly horse, one with ribbons that wants me to use a comb, when what I was really wanting was a Mustang, snorting and … oh, never mind.

We also push clouds around. Then we stand on one leg, push it out, then the other leg. But we don't go anywhere.  I can't tell if I'm pushing the clouds right or not; I can't see them.  I'm apparently the only one that can't see them, because everyone else is doing this with great enthusiasm.  I don't let that bother me either.

Sometimes, while doing things with our legs, we twirl our arms. At least, I twirl my arms; my wife appears to be doing some sort of smooth, silky ballet, performed with grace and elegance; what I do reminds me of hanging tobacco in barns to cure when I was a boy. No body accused me of dancing ballet then, nor are they likely to do so now.

Everything is done deliberately. There appears to be two speeds: slow, and real slow. I thought at first we were going slow so we could learn better, but I think the more we learn, the slower we are going. It might be the music.

I have to say I'm excelling at breathing. People are turning to stare, so I'm taking quite pride in that. It's apparent they think I know what I'm doing, and hope to learn from the master. I can also stand on one leg pretty good now, then the other. But I never seem to go anywhere.

I think things would work better if they got some new names for the different moves. I even wonder if they got them translated right. Wouldn't it be funny if, instead of parting horse's mane, it really meant baiting a hook?

Here are some names that I think would work better:

  • Pushing off a seat on MARTA. This would consist of lowering oneself onto one leg, while extending the other, to gently push off nappers so you can sit down.
  • One legged twirl. You extend one leg, holding it by the toe with one hand, while extending the other arm up in the air, all the while hopping on the other leg. I think the Russians have a dance similar to this, called the Putin Vodka Punch Roll.
  • Parting Lion's mane. This would consist of a quick forward thrust with one arm then the other arm, on a sleeping lion. This time, the legs are picking up and putting down as fast as they will go, and you are going somewhere, or else you're dinner.
  • Bowling clouds. Left arm comes up to your chin, where it grabs a cloud and moves it aside. Meanwhile, the other arm is coming up to do the same thing. Where these clouds are coming from, nobody has said, nor where they are going. However, with one leg in the air, turn, squat, and lay that sucker down the hall for a strike.
  • Old man grunt. This is where you extend one arm up high, do something with the palm, count your thumbs; turn real slow, sweep the floor with it, grunt, and repeat until you no longer grunt, or death, whichever comes first.
  • Saturday Night Fever. In this one, you try to look like John Travolta. Or in my case, you just try to stand with one arm up high, and the other is down low, with the finger pointed. Shake your hips some. It's hard to find a beat with that meditation music, but I never let not finding the beat get in my way before, so I'm not going to start worrying about that now.
  • One Quack Waddle. This is where you pick your leg up s-l-o-w-l-y, then semi-squat on the other. Then, with one hand in the air, and the other hand stretched out in front of you, with your palm up, wiggle your hips while scooting forwards. It works better on a wooden floor; unfortunately, our floor is carpeted, so I keep pitching forward, doing face-plants. That's OK, because everybody appears to enjoy pointing and laughing, and you get bonus points if you quack while falling forward s-l-o-w-l-y.

There appears to be a correct way to do everything. So far, it has eluded me.  I'm not holding out much hope for the future either.

I was told tonight to extend my left arm, to put my left palm facing me. I would know that I had done it right because the thumb on my left had would be pointing to my right. Meanwhile, stand on one leg.

Try as I might, I was unable to put my left palm facing me, and have the thumb on that hand be on my right. My dumb left hand's thumb just kept ending up on the left when I had my palm facing me. I must have the wrong thumb on the wrong hand, or the right thumb on the left hand. Or something like that. I'm not even sure what that means, I'm so confused.  My wife is concerned.  A husband can tell.

So far, I can say this with authority: my wife looks good doing this, and I can stand on one leg. I'm not sure why yet, but I'm doing it. Along with breathing and grunting.

APPLE (AAPL) - This is what a Flash Crash looks like

Today, at 10:57, Apple (symbol AAPL) had a whopper of a drop, with some systems (CNBC) showing a 9% drop, while my service (Think or Swim) is showing it dropping 1.3% from 598 to 590 .  This was not a high volume dump of the stock - instead, it was a regular volume trade.

Some media reports, (CNBC for instance are calling this a Flash Crash, and saying: Apple Flash Crash: Stock Halted After Trade Causes 9% Plunge.

My chart (see picture), which is showing data from "Think or Swim", shows a drop from 598 to 590, which is 8/598, or 1.3%.  So, I don't know which report is correct, since the math appears to be different between the two systems..  Of course, the system I use for stock trading, Think Or Swim, may not have captured the whole move.

Also, I don't see any evidence that the stock has halted trading - have a look at the picture yourself - it's still moving around as I post this.

Anyway, here's the picture!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stock Market - interpreting volume

I watch $UPVOL - $DWNVOL (NYSE, up-volume is trading volume for shares increasing in price, while down-volume is trading volume for shares decreasing in price.  $UPVOL minus $DWNVOL is the difference in trading volume.  On market-down days, the difference will be negative, while on market-up days, the difference will be positive).  I have watched it for a long time, but today I gained more insight.

What I realized:

  • Constant slope means:
    • - No rate of change, no acceleration, constant speed.
    • - The rate of things changing is staying the same.
  • The size of a bar
    • - shows the amount of accelaration
    • - or rate of change
    • - continued acceleration down, changing slope down, shows panic
  • Downward direction means:
    • - The difference in the volume of stocks,  upVol vs dwnVol, is more down vol.
  • A change in the direction (e.g., slope up instead of down) of the slope
    • - shows a change in the sentiment

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Using Arduino to read embedded AVR

If you are needing to communicate with an embedded project, then this may be the solution you need!

Building a stand-alone device such as a Multi-channel Thermocouple Reader with Datalogger is an ambitious project for a hobbyest.  Since it is my own design, it means, on my first cut, there isn't a PCB - everything is hand soldered - thus multiple opportunities for problems.

Being a stand-alone, embedded application (not built around Aruduino board, but instead built using the ATMEGA328P chip that is used on an Arduino) means Arduino's useful USB connection isn't there.

Program updates are pushed onto the ATMEGA chip via a ISP header I placed onto the board, using a programmer (in this case, I'm using the USBtinyISP programmer from Adafruit).   The ISP interface, which makes use of the MISO/MOSI interface, does not provide a way to communicate directly with the Arduino IDE Serial Monitor directly, so there's no easy way for me to observe data from the embedded ATMEGA, like there is on the Arduino (via Serial.print() statements).

I programmed some 'blink()' status LEDs, and that worked, but it is slow.  At some point during the build, I had enough working that I could output data directly to the SD Card, but to read that data entailed shutting down the power, pulling the card, inserting it into the PC, opening the file and reading it.  Reverse to put the card back into my project - slow....

I began to wonder if there wasn't some way I could use a separate Arduino UNO to serve as a communication hub between my embedded project and the PC running the Serial Monitor.

Looking around, I spotted this, which is using an Arduino to push a program onto an embedded chip.

There are two key things to take away from the schematic for the UNO:

  • The USB on the Arduino has an additional ATMEGA chip that enables communications, and sits between the USB and the ATMEGA328P that we program our projects onto.  
  • The TX and RX connections are used between these two chips for communications.
So, since these two chips are communicating, which is what I was wanting to do, I thought I should be able to emulate this connection.  I was getting all complicated with this before I spotted the statement: "To do, you remove the microcontroller from the Arduino board ", which meant I could pull out the Arduino's ATMEGA328P chip, then connect to my project, using the Arduino's RX and TX header (D0 & D1 on my Arduino).

I had been careful to keep the RX & TX pins unused on my project board, so it was a simple matter of soldering in two wires that I could then plug into the Arduino's RX & TX header.

Then I added some Serial.print() statements into my embedded project, and cranked it up and .... nothing appeared on my IDE's Serial Monitor.

So I reversed the wires, because this is a common issue with RX & TX - RX on one board has to connect to TX on the other board, and vice-verse, and you never know how it's been defined between the two boards, so always try swapping if it doesn't work.  


It worked!  I was seeing my Serial.print() statements streaming by from my embedded project, using the Arduino as the communications hub!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Arduino - COM USB Unknown Device Problem

Every once in a while, while working on my Arduino stuff, I get this really aggravating problem, whereby my USB suddenly disappears.  This means I can't upload code to the Arduino, and I can't access the Serial Monitor to see what the Arduino might be printing out.  Windows, after working with it for weeks, if not months, suddenly decides it doesn't know what this device is!  It also decides that it will load a device driver for you.  And of course, once it's loaded this bad device driver, you can no longer talk to your Arduino.

To add insult to injury, you may have gone to the Control Panel -> Device Manager -> USB devices, and selected the 'Unknown Device', as Windows has labeled it, and attempt to update the device driver.  And that's when things really get pissie - Windows now tells me that it's using the right driver, so it's not going to do anything.

There are a lot of entries out in the web-o-sphere, where people are looking for answers to this.  Some of those answers will work, for some of the people.  Other peoples' problems might be too severe for those treatments, and so they are still looking for a solution - and I hope the solution I'm going to give you below is the one you need to make it work again!

First, try the other solutions you might find.  Only use these if those solutions haven't worked for you!!!

First, go to the Control Panel -> Device Manager, and delete every entry you see within the higher level USB entry.  In other words, in the Device Manager, enter the USB devices area, then in that area, delete everything.  Then shutdown (hard shutdown), to make sure all of the power is off of the motherboard and parts.  Now boot up. The system will start loading and defining the USB ports.  This might be all you need - it was for me a couple of times.  Try out your Arduino IDE software now.

If that didn't work, then go back and delete everything again.  Then, using a Registry Cleanup tool, like the one that comes with Symantic's Norton 360, run the Registry Cleanup.  This will remove any hanging port definitions that Windows changed when it decided it was going to help you earlier.  Shut down, boot back up, and see if things work.  Hopefully, you can stop here.

If you still aren't working, then make a backup of your sketch folders - you should have placed them somewhere else other than in the folders that hold the Arduino binaries anyway.  Then delete the Arduino binaries - the whole directory structure, from the top of the Arduino folders to the bottom, but remember - your sketch stuff and 3rd party libraries should be in another directory structure if you set things up properly.  Now download a new instance of Arduino, and install it (unless, of course, you still have the zip from your previous download of Arduino, in which case you can just install it again).  You are doing this because Arduino isn't currently 'installed' into the Windows program environment, so you can't 'uninstall' it either - you've got to delete stuff.  Now do the stuff you did earlier - USB deletions, Registry Cleanup, etc.  Now install the complete Arduino package.  See if your stuff works.  I hope it does!

If it doesn't then open the Arduino IDE, go to FILES, then open the 'prefereneces' - it will give you the file location, in the AppData directory (it may be hidden, in which case you'll have to override Windows and make it visable).  Now rename the preferences.txt file to something like presferences.txt.old.  Now restart the IDE; this will recreate the preferences.txt file.  Now try to see if you can access the port.  If not, then do everything from beginning to end, including the deletion and recreation of the preferences.txt file, and see if it works...I hope it does, because this has been the answer to all my problems that I've encountered!


Appears like the Wind is from the West

Appears like Wind is From the West

Maddie the Coon Dog

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Banjo - On Controlling Remotes

We've been married for 36 years. Thankfully, they've been wonderful years!
There was a time when I couldn't imagine being 30, let alone being married more than 30 years. 
I wanted to impart some of the wisdom I've discovered that have helped make this feat possible.
The most important thing in a marriage, as we all know (at least those that have been married more than two years), is … who controls the remote. It's popularly known as the 'remote control.' That's not entirely correct – it's actually the 'who controls the remote' remote-thingie.
When we were first married, we didn't even have a remote. I had seen remotes; I even had an uncle that owned a furniture store, and who actually owned a remote control, back in the 60s. This was a big, heavy thing made by Zenith. It was gold colored, and had a wire-grill on the front where the radio waves would emerge to turn the channel.  To change the channel, you pointed it at the TV and pushed the 'up channel' button or the 'down channel' button - there was no way to select individual channels. But that was OK, because there was only three channels anyway, and you were never more than two clicks up or down ever.  And it changed the channel by this little motor on the TV; it would go, sorta slow-like: 'ca-didge, ca-didge, ca-dige', and you had just gone through all three channels. 
Well, we didn't have a Zenith remote control, and we sure didn't have a furniture store either, so we made do.
What we made-do with was a black-and-white TV that I had 'repaired' by replacing the 'on/off' button. Only I couldn't find an 'on/off' button that looked like the one that was already on the TV, so I had to make do with what I could find. And what I could find was this BIG RED (that's in caps because it was BIG and it was REAL RED) that I mounted on the top of the TV.  If there's another one of these out there anywhere, it's probably on the TV set of Larry The Cable Guy.  
That wasn't just an ordinary BIG RED switch either; it was PUSH-BUTTON!  The way I figured it, that put us somewhere ahead of the rest of the people that made do with some sort of BIG RED TOGGLE SWITCH.  It worked great, but you were never quite sure, when you pushed it, if the TV was going to come on or you were going to launch!
We didn't realize it, but we were actually quite ahead for our times – this was not only a TV with a big RED launch button, but it was also an e-x-e-r-c-i-s-e machine! It was a simple exercise machine; the idea was, you waited around long enough until something came on you didn't want to watch, then you jumped up, ran the eight feet across our 'big' living room, and you CHANGED THE CHANNEL by twirling a knob; then you twirled another knob to 'fine tune it'. Then you sort of swaggered back to your seat on the couch, to gratitude from your mate. YOU were the channel-changer-remote-thingie, not some dumb plastic thing that only offers impersonal service; this was 'husband-to-go' and TV remote all rolled into one.
But. That's not what I learned that I'm trying to teach you about being married for a while.
What I learned is: how to tell how long a couple has been married.  And you don't have to be an anthropologist to do it.  
It appears that marriages start out where she's changing the channels for the two of you, and she does it with a smile ;-) too!
Then it becomes, he's changing the channels for the two of you, and he'd better do it with a smile :-O too!
Then technology advances; if you are lucky, you get a new remote; if not, you get divorced!
We were lucky; we got a new COLOR TV because I wanted to GRAPH MATH FUNCTIONS and see them in color on a friend's Apple II!
Yup, that actually pretty much sums me up – I bought our first color TV because I wanted to be able to see different equations in different colors. Since this was pre-computer monitors, this meant a color TV. And, since we were living in the future now, with computers and cassette players, that TV came with a remote! Best of all, you didn't have to own a furniture store to get one!
But I've been wandering around without getting to the point. So let me see if I can get back to the point.
When the marriage starts out (in the old days before Facebook), each one of the young marrieds gets up to change the channel.
Then, when you get the new color TV (were talking tubes here, not LCD or Plasma), and it comes with the remote, the guy takes charge of the remote.  I know some of you are busting-a-gut over that wording, but that's pretty much it.
The lasts until about the time the kids graduate from high school. Once those kids are gone, there's a new power structure – suddenly, the wife is in charge of the remote!  I think, best I can figure out, is that this is probably the first time she's had to actually sit down to watch TV since the children have been born, and by golly - she's dang-sure going to watch what she wants to watch!  
Fair enough. 
So, I'm sitting here tonight watching reruns of Everybody Loves Ramon, which was shown new in 2004. I'm watching it because I don't have charge of the remote. Of course, I could get up to change the TV manually, but first, I'd have to get up. Second, those little dim gray-on-black buttons that are flush on my TV – I can't see them without a flashlight. That's OK, because the price of those new LED flashlights has dropped so much, I get a pack of three every time I go to Fry's. I have one in my pocket still from last night's storms in case we lost power – they are just the thing to see those dim buttons.  But, as I said, I'd have to get up.  
So, what's a guy to do? She's got the remote.  She's in charge of the remote.  I read sometimes where guys say they've got charge of the remote, but either they are single, newly wed, or just a short-step away from divorse, if the kids are gon; if the kids are still home, there still some time left to pretend.  
It may be that she's got it because she's the only one that can find anything – I'm always setting something down and dang-it, where did I leave that? But she knows, or maybe she's hiding it, but anyway, she can find it so she's in charge of it.
For a guy like me, that's keen on technology, in addition to math equations, that means just one thing: I'm building my own remote control using an Arduino, and I'm going to mount it to my belt buckle. And, I'm going to make sure mine has brighter LEDs, so I can override hers!  And, if we don't get a sun-tan or convulsions when I stobe it, we may just be watching Nova next!

Banjo - Regarding the Arduino

I'm pretty serious about BBQ. It represents one of those things the South is known for, and it can also taste great, if you are lucky enough to find a restaurant, or friend, that is skilled at making it.
When I was first starting out making BBQ, I didn't have a clue where to start (see this previous articleon BBQ for more insight), which certainly made for interesting dinners! However, with a patient wife and smart children, we all benefited – although the suffering endured may have been a little intense.
At some point, I realized the main ingredient was missing. No, I'm not talking pork here. I'm talking about information. That was the key ingredient that was missing. With no mentors nearby, and with it being pre-Internet, information was hard to come by. So that meant one thing: tests.
Cooking BBQ means you are dealing with several things, all of which will affect the outcome:
  1. Temperature of the cooking chamber (oven) – influences time
  2. Time at temperature – influences temperature
  3. Size of the meat (weight, dimensions) – influences time
  4. Source of heat (wood, gas, electric) – influences flavor
The two that I was struggling with the most were: time and temperature.
So, if I was going to run tests to collect information, then I was going to focus on time and temperature. The time was pretty easy to keep track of, but the temperature was a little more difficult. In your typical home-style offset smoker, it has two chambers – the combustion-chamber (the firebox), and the smoke-chamber (the oven). There were several temperatures of interest: there was the temperature of the combustion-chamber, the temperature of the smoke-chamber (and this could be different in different areas), the temperature of the meat, and outside air temperature. In other words, a lot of temperatures!
At first I tried just plugging a big meat thermometer into the meat and leaving it in, where I would occasionally reach in and take a temperature reading. But this was problematic – it let heat out of the smoke-chamber, the face of the dial became black and difficult to see as smoke residue built up on it, and I wasn't too sure that the metal probe wasn't conducting enough heat, over time, to influence the meat temperature near the probe. Because of these issues, I also tried an 'instant read' thermometer. But that didn't work too well – it still let heat out of the oven, and the placement of the probe was never consistent, so I could never be sure I was getting an accurate reading - since heat migrates into meat from the outside in to the middle, the portion of the meat closest to the outside will be the hottest, while that in the middle will be the coolest – at least until all the moisture has cooked out; a dried, hard piece of meat will have a consistent temperature throughout.
What I needed was some sort of device could take all of the different temperatures and then record each of these different temperatures for me.
I knew from my work in process control at nuclear plants that thermocouples were a good choice for obtaining the temperatures: they were accurate enough, they were robust enough to take the combustion-chamber temperatures, and they could all be collected together outside of the cooking environment, which meant I didn't have to place the recorder into the smoker.
However, thermocouples can't be used directly; they require an amplifier, and another device to measure the ambient temperature in order to derive the temperature under sample.
At first, I thought the most obvious solution was to buy something that would plug into my computer that was capable of taking the temperature samples and then recording them in my computer. Not a bad idea, but it turned out that this was way-too-expensive for a hobby!
Researching led me to microcontrollers. In particular, Atmel's AVR line of microcontrollers. A microcontroller is an integrated circuit – popularly known as a 'chip'.
A microcontroller is an interesting thing. It can be programmed, so it has the benefit of being capable of running software. Nothing much new there, except the software is all in the chip, instead of being on a hard disk, like it is on your computer, which is then transferred into your computers memory before being read into your computer's CPU. The microcontroller also has direct capabilities to interface with the physical world, in the form of sensing voltages, and can also send out voltages, on different pins on the chip. This meant it could interface with a thermocouple. It can also communicate directly with another computer, which meant it could send the data to the computer where it could be recorded.
So, I built a multi-channel temperature sensor and data logger, using one of Atmel's microcontrollers. It was a little bit of a challenge, but the results gave me data on all of the items I was interested in, at a sample rate of once-per-minute. I could have gotten more samples (e.g, one per second), but this seemed enough. I programmed a small dedicated web-server that would display time and temperature on the internet so I could pull it up at work to see if I needed to head home over lunch to make any adjustments. And, once you've got all of this, you may as well hang an inlet-air valve on the smoker and controller the smoke-chamber temperature with the microcontroller so you can do something else all night, like sleep!
A lot of time and effort went into this – but not much money, as all of the items were inexpensive. The effort was in acquiring the knowledge to put everything together. I was fortunate, in that I already had an extensive electronics background, as well as an extensive software programming background, but even then it took a while.
Which leads me, after a long segue, to the Arduino.
There is some confusion as to what an Arduino actually is, so I'm first going to explain it. It is an open-source hardware electronic board. Being open-sourced, it can be manufactured by many companies, or even yourself. It comes with various chips on it and hardware connections to make it easier to interface into the real world, for everyday hobbyist. There are different boards available, but one of the newest is the Arduino UNO. The main chip on the board is an Atmel ATMEGA328P – this is the microcontroller. It also has a voltage regulator, a couple of LEDs (light emitting diodes), and places where different devices can be plugged in. This board runs around $30.
The Arduino is also a software programming environment, known as an IDE (Integrated Development Environment), that runs on your computer. This part if free. (
The Arduino was developed with the objective of making microcontrollers available to artists, fashion designers (clothing like the lighted cloths worn at this year's Super Bowl half-time show), and everyday hobbyist. Therefore, a lot of the things that I struggled with (above) have been simplified, with the result that whole companies (, are now up and running to supply items that can plug into this Arduino (known as 'shields'). One of those shields available, for about $20 from adafruit and/or sparkfun, is a thermocouple reader. This means, for about $50, any hobbyist can make a small investment in time, and have a BBQ Temperature Sensor and Data Logger!
An Arduino is a perfect solution for taking BBQ temperature data from tests run, among other things. It has program memory, for the software, and data memory (for the data), all on the chip. This means the data is stored directly in the Atmel chip. It also means it's directly available to transfer into a computer for graphing or other use. And, again, it can also be programmed to interface with an inlet air valve to control the smoke-chamber temperature, while you do something more constructive, like sleep.
Well, once you've got an Arduino, that old saying comes into play: to a boy with a hammer, the whole world is a nail! Well, to someone with an Arduino, the whole world, every device, seems like it needs one!
Here's how I'm currently using Arduino's around our house (a link to my Sous Vide Controller for crock-pot):
  • A thermostat to control the gas heater on our porch, without interfering with any of the heater's built in safety devices.
  • A precise crock-pot temperature controller. Want to use a crock-pot as a small, inexpensive, Sous Vide device? No problem!
  • Run time vs. temperature tests on meat in Sous Vide
  • Automatic watch winder. Did you know these things are $100 - $3000!
And here's what I've got under development :
  • 4 or 8 channel thermocouple datalogger to 4 GB SD card.
  • Better watch winder. This sounds so easy, but the issue is that each watch manufacturer has different criteria on how to wind their watch. Rolex requires about 600 revolutions per day, alternating clockwise and counterclockwise; Breitling requires abpit 800 revolutions per day, all clockwise. For the Breitling, that's about 1 revolution every 15 seconds, followed by a pause of about 1.5 minutes.
  • Inlet air valve for large smokers.
If you've got a teenager that needs an interesting activity, have a look at Arduinos. They are inexpensive, fun to work with, and very educational. In the Alpharetta area, both Fry's and Radio Shack carry Arduinos.
I'll be writing more about this interesting device in the future.
Here's some interesting links:

I MacGyvered it!

The new patio heater's pilot light just wouldn't stay lit.

I was doing everything that should be done; I was holding in the throttle valve while striking the lighter.  It would light; it just wouldn't stay lit.

I held it in for 30 seconds per the manual.  Didn't stay lit when I released the valve.

I held it in for 1 minute.  Didn't stay lit then either.

Held it until dooms day; still didn't stay lit.

What's a Banjo man gonna do?  His wife had SPECIFICALLY said her shoulders were hurting from working on the roses in the garden, and SHE WANTED SOME HEAT from that patio heater we had bought to pour down on her shoulders.

Damn thing just would not stay lit.

So I gave up on the BS technology safety features that were built into this device, and I MACGYVERED IT!

I BYPASSED that SOB that was causing all the problems.


Now, we're listening to some Blues!  And feeling some HEAT!

Righteous!  Knowledge of Electronics Rules!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Banjo on - Discovery Channel's lack of Science

A couple of things really bug me, and when it occurs on the Science Channel or Discovery Channel, it bugs me even more.  The fact that it happens on the Daily Show isn't a surprise at all.  And of course, all channels are guilty - it just seems to me that those channels that infer they pertain to science, should make a better attempt to do so.

Here they are:
 1 - When showing a sunrise and/or sunset in the Northern Hemisphere, they show the sun rising/setting at the wrong angle.  Here's what I mean by that: In the Northern Hemisphere, on every day of the year, a picture of sunrise will show the sun traversing at an angle to the right.  Sort of like this ___/ ___  , where I'm trying to show, by the '/' the correct angle the sun takes as it rises above the horizon.  If you are watching some dumb show and it shows sunrise like this ___\___ (traversing to the left) then you know they don't know their butt from a hole in the ground.  Conversely, when they show a sunset like this ___/___, instead of the correct setting angle of ___\___, then again they don't know their butt from a hole in the ground.  What they are doing is being lazy.  They don't want to get up and set up early enough to show a real sunrise, so they film a sunset and run it in reverse, and they are either too stupid to realize there's a difference, or else they think you are too stupid to notice.  In either case, they are pushing inaccurate information at you.

2. On the daily show, and occasionally on other shows as well, they show the earth rotating in the wrong direction.  When you look at the typical globe (and as done on the Daily Show), the Northern Hemisphere is shown at the top of the globe (note that in space, if you were looking at the earth, depending on where your head and feet were, either pole could be at the top, so the Northern Hemisphere is shown at the top by convention).  So, with that in mind, if you were oriented in space and looking at the earth so the North Pole is at the top, then locations on the earth will appear to you to be moving from the left to the right.  If you were looking down on the earth from directly above the North Pole, then the earth would appear to be turning counterclockwise.  The Daily Show opening has the earth spinning clockwise, and moving from right to left.  So, is this a political statement from the Daily Show, where they show everything moving from the right to the left, instead of the accurate movement from left to right?  Or are they simply too stupid and too lazy to check it out before publishing it in front of millions?