Dan

Home Repairs and Nest

A little different than the normal tech posts I do, I am going to talk about the week of repairs I have done on my parents house. I came home from college, to find many little items needing fixing around the house. Including the broken dishwasher, now back in January I had a broken drier that after a afternoon with a voltmeter I found the broken part and fixed.

Dishwasher

Being that the dishwasher is over 10 years old with no warranty on it, I thought I would attempt repairs before telling the parents we need a new one. The system was not draining, so I got out the wet dry vac and cleaned all that out. Thats when I learned that it also was not filling and the circulation motor was not working. I am now much more informed of the entire system of my model dish washer, to say the least. I have found in repairing these appliances, and other installations such as the Nest, taking a lot of photos with my phone along the way helps; for if I have to recall which wire goes where, a photo is a life saver.

First I wanted to fix the motor because it smelled like it was burning itself out trying to work. It turned out that several whole almonds had made their way down into the drive of the circulation motor and were causing it to not spin. After several minutes with a screw driver they were removed and the motor was working again. Next water was not entering the system, I ended up replacing the intake valve using my local appliance store (marcone.com, I mention the name simply because of the great service they gave me). The final touch that got the machine working was filling the bottom with a gallon of water and a splash of vinegar. Now the machine is working and running several cycles to make sure it will stay happy for the foreseeable future. The last part I need comes in tomorrow, it is the “non-return intake valve”; a part that makes sure water that is expelled from the system does not return. The old one disintegrated over time.

Nest

Now that we don’t have to clean dishes from hand, I got a new toy for the house. The house was built in 1945, the land used to be a victory garden, and has used the same thermostat for the last 20 years. The house has a heat pump, as well as a oil burning furnace; for this house the furnace is much more efficient on a dollars basis. The problem with ever replacing the thermostat to a new model was that with the two stage heating we didn’t know which models would work with all the settings the old thermostat had. After going through the compatibility checker on the Nest website it said our system would work. And I took it upon myself to try a self installation. In theory the Nest should save power (the internet seems to say it can go up to 20%) as well as give us more convenient control over the system.

Below are some photos of the old Honeywell thermostat, before I did anything I cut power to the house to make sure nothing was live. As I removed the plate of the old thermostat, the wires were clearly labeled. The Nest came with stickers to put on each wire while disconnecting them. Then I just had to put the Nest base in, put all the wires in the holes and turn the power back on. Some of my wires did not have matching places to put them on the new system, but after a quick Google search, I found answers on Nest support forms. The setup was fairly simple, yet I had to go in and tell it what the different wires did and what heating/cooling systems the house had. Over all the setup was not too difficult, just a little nerve racking changing the center for climate control in the house.

The Nest rebooted several times with updates once on the Wifi. One feature my father was insistent on was that it never activate the old heat pump and always use the oil furnace, the online Nest tool let me change this setting easily. So far the system has worked well, but with it being around 70F most of this week we have yet to give it that much to do. If this system works well we may exchange other thermostats in the house for Nests as well. The newer part of the house has radiant heating and in theory Nest knows how to handle that efficiently. I will post some updates as time goes on, I am interested to see how Nest does with the big old house, and the power bill; once it gets up and running it gives power reports for the house, these will be interesting to see.

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Windows Sudo

I am back at RPI, finishing up my degree. Recently I have been working on hour tracking software for several departments at RPI.

Recently I have run into a minor annoyance where I am in the command line in Windows and need to elevate a command or program so that I can do a administrative task. (Such as moving a file to the system32 folder), the normal solution is to right click command line short cut and “Run as Administrator”. While that works its not fast, I’m sure there are other solutions out there, but I wanted to quickly build on in .Net. I did this a while ago for Vista and called it elev, but never saved it and since I am trying to make the transition between Windows and Linux easier I called it sudo.

All you do is put this in your %windir%\system32\ folder, and then at the command line type “sudo cmd” or whatever command you want. Commands like “dir” are actually part of cmd not a separate file called so “sudo dir” wont show anything, it will output the .Net error.

Link to exe: https://github.com/daberkow/win_sudo/blob/master/sudo/sudo/bin/Release/sudo.exe

Link to project: https://github.com/daberkow/win_sudo

Friend Blogs & IT Jobs

Blogs

Two friends of mine at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) have blogs as well, one is about college food, http://collegefoodie.com/; the other, is for Wine and related foods, http://quintessenceofmediocrity.blogspot.com/. The college food blog run by a contributor for this blog, Kevin Ung, @kevinung.

Jobs

Now that it is senior year of college for me, the job hunt has started. This year there was a good turn out for the Information Technology (and Web Science) program at the RPI career fair. There seems to be two types of companies at the career fair for IT, some know they want IT and what that entails; the other are companies that want Comp Sci but say they want IT. The latter, in their interviews tends to ask questions such as algorithms.

Many companies have rotation programs for IT students, these are designed to start with a generic student and train them in the organizations method and technologies. These programs tend to be 2-4 years, with 6-12 month rotations; ranging from databases to networking. Most of these programs also focus on creating managers out of these students, going back and forth between technology classes as well as management skills.

To any new IT students, I would recommend knowing what path you want to go down early on, do you want to be closer to general (broad) IT, or focus on the computer science components

OpenAFS @RPI Client

Recently I was told “I can’t remember anyone getting OpenAFS to work on their own”, by a staffer at my school. I took it on myself then to figure out how to get this working for students. And in the end I wrote an app that will automatically download and install the AFS client, then configure drives for you. This was an experiment in threading and using WPF instead of Windows Forms.

First the app goes and downloads the OpenAFS client, if it is a 64 bit machine it grabs the 32 bit tools first then the client. While downloading and installing these things it connects via SSH to a school server to get the location of the user’s home folder as well as verify the credentials given.

Once installation is complete the program runs ‘klog’, this goes to the AFS server and requests tokens in the cluster using the credentials given earlier. Once we are past the installing point all these actions need to be run on the campus network. When the program starts it tries to ping a couple internal servers, if it can hit more than half of them in under 75 milliseconds then it considers itself on campus; if it thinks it’s off campus, then it notifies the user. One small problem with the first release is sometimes this system gets confused by vpn taking slightly longer.

Now that we have working token the system recommends drive letters that are not in use as well as AFS spaces to mount including the users folder and ‘dept’ to start. The configure button will activate these drives, they are not set to persistent at this time.

Below is the github link, as well as the direct exe link:

Github: https://github.com/daberkow/RPI_OpenAFS

EXE: https://github.com/daberkow/RPI_OpenAFS/blob/master/OpenAFS%20Installer%20WPF/bin/Release/OpenAFS%20Installer%20WPF.exe

IPv6

As IPv6 starts to roll out more and more, and Windows to update more and more, it may be time to turn IPv6 back on your computer. I wanted to put a reminder out that the IPv6 Cleaner also has a tool built in to change the IPv6 setting of the machine. After changing the setting reboot and Windows will take the new setting. IPv6 Activator is the same code that runs in the 6to4 Cleaner, just as a standalone app.

The following options are avaible:

  • Enable IPv6 – Windows Default
  • Disable IPv6 except critical components – Use if card problem persists
  • Disable native IPv6 interfaces
  • Disable all tunnel IPv6 interfaces
  • Disable all IPv6 interfaces except for the IPv6 loopback interface

Download:

http://programs.buildingtents.com/6to4CardCleaner/latest/6to4 Card Cleaner.exe

http://programs2.buildingtents.com/6to4CardCleaner/latest/6to4 Card Cleaner.exe

Download:

http://programs.buildingtents.com/IPv6Activator/latest/IPv6Activator.exe

http://programs2.buildingtents.com/IPv6Activator/latest/IPv6Activator.exe

Duplicate Download Gallery v.01

I was going through all my photos the other day when I realized there were a lot of duplicates, I wanted to find a easy program that could find these. After some searching, I found a bunch of programs that worked, yet cost a good amount, and I didn’t see any that had the feature set I was looking for; including a list of the files which I could save, a method to move the duplicates to another folder, and customization. Along with most importantly I wanted a FREE duplicate file finder, not expensive one that did a simple job. So I made my own. This is version v0.01, the main function works well, the main interface is meh, but it works. More updates and features to come, but for one days work its good. Also I am going to be opening up some software in the future, including this one when its closer to completion. If you have any features you think of leave a comment, I was thinking about adding a preview for photos, music and maybe video. Saving, loading logs, delete all but one copy of file, not bad interface…

Download:

http://programs.buildingtents.com/DDG/DuplicateDownloadGallery.exe

Creating a Radio Part 1 – General Hardware

The project I have been working on for the last two months was a radio for my parents anniversary; but not a normal radio, I got a replica of a 1934 Thomas Radio (Collector’s Edition), gutted it, then built my own system to put music on. I figured for fun I will write a few posts about it, and anyone who wanted to try to reproduce it again would have ample data.

Radio Picture

This is the front of the final radio

To start let us look at the model radio I started with, most will work, just with varying degrees of work put into them. The closet website I can find to the version I have is here, http://tweakeddesigns.blogspot.com/2011/07/reproduction-of-1934-thomas-radio.html. I think this is the exact radio, but with a slightly different wood stain on it. First I got that radio, then ripped all the parts out of it, except for the two outer front knobs (potentiometers). It turned out that the middle knob was just a stick with a string around it that went to a sensor and the channel dial. So the whole dial moved then this string was twisted, but that was only held up by the old internal electronics. Since that was a very… janky, I removed that, and replaced it with a separate potentiometer and a servo to change the dial hands. I made a awesomely horrible 3D render of how this looked, with all the original parts removed, and a servo added. I will do another post all about the Arduino and how that was hooked up.

3D back of radio

Here is a bad 3d model of the empty radio in the back

Now for the best of prototyping, I used cardboard to support all this, cardboard is your friend for prototyping, except when it catches on fire, then it’s bad. Afterwards, I got these wooden splints from Home Depot, and put them in to reinforce everything, they came in about 14 inches long by 1.5 inches wide by 1/8 inch thick. I secured them with super glue, then screwed the Arduino microcontroller into these supports. Of course with plenty of electrical tape over the wood to shield it all.

One key part of the system is how the music is played. The music is played through a Mini-ITX board that is attached on the back. I needed a power supply for this, so I got a Mini-ITX  case(Antec Mini-ITX Case ISK100) and just removed the power parts. The original plan was to put the pc outside this device, in a normal pc case, but I figured I’d just go for this design. Then I drilled a hole in the side so that I could use the Antec cases external power brick, and just plug it in the side. That had plenty of electrical tape on its supporting splint, along with a plastic shield that the power supply part had under it in the Antec case. I don’t like fire, so I was sure to be careful when handling these power systems; also, this was the only splint that was secured with screws and super glue, I dont want a charged power supply falling. The picture below shows this.

Back of radio

Real radio back

In a simple wiring diagram, we have the Arduino all wired up, post to follow, that goes into the mini-itx board through a USB hub. The USB hub also has a SD card reader, the software and Ardunio goes into the USB hub to make everything easier. The SD card reader is aligned to the side port, where the tape drive used to be, then songs can be updated by taking SD card out and updating the files. Then we have the original speaker in the radio wired into a 3.5mm headphone jack, available at Radio Shack, I’m sorry THE SHACK, and that goes into the audio on jack of the mini-itx board. The power supply cable goes into the Mini-ITX board, along with the SATA SSD. I know that doesn’t explain it well, but I will be writing more articles, one about the wiring and the Arduino wiring; then another about the software running the Ardunio and on the Mini-ITX board.

I’m not great with technical documents, if anyone has any questions feel free to email or even better post a comment.