My daughter and a lot of her friends have begun to follow different K-pop bands. Putting aside that none of them understand Korean, they like the visuals and the beat of the music. And some of it is sung in English.
My daughter is crafty and I don’t just mean her attitude. Today she’s attending a birthday party and her friend is a big fan too. She took a small binder and using a word processor on the iMac made a 50+ sheet printed on both sides compendium of the bands they follow. Complete with the current band member bios.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
She made stickers with the color laser printer and set them on the pages using Velcro. That way they can be re-positioned in different sections. The holes on each page and insert were done with a single hole punch.
She made folder inserts from stiff color paper and put printed material on and in them. She solicited her other friends to email her content and dolled that up too, formatting it so it printed and inserted correctly with the rest. She made a K-pop quiz complete with the answers in the back.
To make sure it’s a “living” book, she put all the document files and images on a USB drive that she’s included with the binder. That way the new owner can add or change the content as she sees fit.
I don’t know what to say. She draws and does crafts better than anyone I know.
Here’s a gallery of the book before it was given. I’m gobsmacked about all the attention to detail for this. She pulled all the images from online fan sites and formatted all the data.
My 3D printer only supports having one filament loaded at a time and that generally means the objects I print is one color. I wanted the WordPress logo (naturally) and two colors would be cool. I can print pieces in different plastics and assemble them but sometimes you want one piece. Good news! My printer’s open source firmware supports changing filaments before the print job is done. That let’s me start the base in one color but switch to another before the print is completed. Here’s how I did it.
In Fusion 360 I scaled the logo to 50 mm diameter. I then extruded the white portions in the logo to 3 mm. The circle outline and the space between the parts of the “W” were extruded to 1.5 mm. I exported that to an STL file and loaded it into Simplify 3D. This is where it gets clunky.
For slicing 3D prints into a format the printer can understand I use software named Simplify 3D. It’s not opensource (or cheap) but it’s very extendable and saves me a lot of time.
Simplify 3D supports scripts that use regular expressions to locate text in the generated G-Code output file and make substitutions. In the generated code it also comments each layer of the print so there’s a “layer 8” text where I want to insert printer commands to swap filaments.
Figuring that I needed to modify layer 8 was a pain. There’s probably a well documented way to do it but I sent my G-Code output file to Octopi. I loaded the file but did not actually print it yet.
OctoPi comes with a built in G-Code viewer. I moved the slider up until I found that layer 8 was where I wanted the change filament commands inserted.
I then deleted that file from the OctoPi, went back to Simplify 3D and in the process settings I went to Scripts -> Starting Script and added this to the “Additional terminal commands for post processing” field.
And generated and updated G-Code file with additional commands that I sent to Octopi. I loaded up a spool of blue filament and began printing. Midway through the print the extruder moved to the home position (but did not change it’s height) and waited for me to change the filament. Once I did that I loaded Octopi’s web page on my phone, logged in and clicked “Resume”.
The resulting prints came out well and I repeated the process with the white filament first. The bottom is one color and the top is another at just the right place.
This hardly took me anytime at all. It’s not a fauxgo, it’s a legitimate SVG (well, I hope it is) representation of the WordPress logo. The blue is a bit off but I can be forgiven for that. The PLA material is listed as “Egyptian Blue” and it’s the closest I had on hand.
There’s probably an easier way to get the layer accurately without using Octopi but it works. If I find an easier way then I’ll update this post.
What I really want to do is print the badges for the WordPress teams such as Support, Docs, training, etc. That’d be cool and I may do that this weekend.
This all came about because my brother got his 3D printer working in two colors on the same layer. His printer has two extruders and can print one color next to the other on the same layer. My printer does not do that but I’ll catch up. Competition is good. 😉
One of the reasons I like the Raspberry Pi is that it lets you take hardware and turn it into a dedicated purpose based appliance. Cheaply! And one of those uses is to make a retro game system. I've used the Raspberry Pi Zero before but I was hampered by the fact that it lacks network and Bluetooth access. To get that you need to purchase a USB hub, wifi dongle and if you want it an Bluetooth fob.
Here's how I did it with an 8Bitdo Bluetooth SNES style controller.
Download Retropie for the Zero onto another Pi Zero (non-wireless one, I have a few). I could not get the image to boot on the new device so I setup a hub with a wifi dongle and keyboard on an old version.
After the image reboots to resize the file system then F4 to get out of Emulationstation and on the command line run this command.
That will take a while to run and you will need to read part of the upgrade and press Q at a point. That annoys me as those commands should run unattended. Meh.
The purpose of this is to get the underlying Raspbian OS up-to-date.
When you’re done run sudo shutdown -h now and swap the old Pi Zero for the Pi Zero W. Unplug the wifi dongle, you don’t need it anymore. Boot up the Pi Zero W with the keyboard attached via the USB adapter.
Once it boots up press F4 to get back to the CLI and run these commands.
cd RetroPie-Setup sudo ./retropie_setup.sh
And select "U Update all installed packages" with your arrow keys. I don't know if that step is necessary but I do it out of habit. I like making sure I have the latest updates. That will take a long while too and reboot when it's finally done.
I already had the cables and power supply but I'm trying to be complete. Not counting the case it's ~$70 for this one player setup.
It's not a Raspberry Pi 3
The overall experience is good and if you limit your retrogames to the older 8bit systems then you'll like it. But the Pi Zero W doesn't have all the CPUs and RAM of the bigger Raspberry Pi 3. The good Neogeo games won't play well. Sometimes sound suffers due to CPU use. Lag is a thing.
But if you have the technical know how this beats the Nintendo Classic by a mile.
For Christmas one of my brothers purchased for my family (read that as “for Jan”) a Monoprice Maker Select v2 3D printer. This is a re-branded Wanhao Duplicator i3 V2.1 device. I had been looking at 3D printers for months (of course I was!) and Ed’s gift caused me to give him a big well deserved hug.
We used to hug all the time but in the past that would end up with one or both of us on the floor and our parents yelling “STOP FIGHTING!”
3D printers are good for easily fabricating small plastic objects from your computer. I’ve been using mine to create a few small items and print lots of free designs from Thingiverse.
An introduction! What are 3D printers?
They’re computer controlled precision hot glue guns but instead of a glue bead it sets a small line of melted material. And they print on a small area or bed.
A hot glue gun takes a solid glue blank and the metal tip of the gun warms up. This melts the end of the glue stick and you apply a bead of glue by squeezing the trigger. Melted glue is extruded out the nozzle and onto whatever you want to put glue on.
3D printers do exactly the same thing but it typically uses a thin plastic filament. The nozzle takes a 1.75mm filament, melts the end and extrudes it via a 0.4mm metal nozzle. The nozzle is attached to a pair of rods and a drive belt. The drive belt (the X axis) is moved by a stepper motor.
The height of the nozzle (the Z axis) is controlled by another pair of stepper motors. The nozzle outputs onto a horizontal heated bed which has a stepper motor to move forward and backwards (Y axis). That’s all you need to output melted filament to print one layer at a time.
The bed is heated because the extruded filament needs to stay put. That heat helps keep it in place and adhere to the bed. When the printer tries to put layer on top of layer, the old material has to be where it thinks it is. In the past people have used glue sticks, hair spray or blue painters tape to coat the bed and get their print to adhere. My printer’s heated bed came with a layer held on by adhesive called BuildTak.
3D printer material is a spool of filament and that comes in a variety of materials. My local Microcenter carries Inland filament in crazy quantities and I’ve stocked up already.
The easiest one to get started with is PLA or PolyLactic Acid, and yes I had to look that up. This material is based on sugar cane and when melted doesn’t produce toxic fumes such as ABS plastic does. PLA is easy to work with but it’s not as temperature resistant or durable as ABS. If you printed a cup holder and left it in your car in the summer then there’s a real possibility it will become deformed when it gets hot.
ABS is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (and I looked that up too) and it’s the same material as many plastics in your household today. It’s a great material but the fumes are toxic and it’s prone to splitting or warping when printed. It’s temperature resistant once printed.
PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate) is an alternative to ABS. It’s durable and temperature resistant. I think it’s safe to use for applications such as food but it’s also finicky and I’ve not yet dialed in the settings to get really attractive prints in PETG yet.
There are other materials as well as a wood filament that you can sand and stain. I’m still a novice and I primarily print in PLA.
When you download or create files for your 3D printer they will most likely be STL files. 3D printers generally cannot process those. The files need to be sliced into layers and code for each layer.
My printer is an open source Prusa i3 clone and uses G-Code to accept commands that tell the printer what, where and how to extrude melted filament. The file format for 3D prints is typically STL format which the printer doesn’t handle. You need to use software that slices your model into G-Code.
There’s a few but a quick one is Cura. This is one of the open source software slicers that lets you set the set parameters for the print job. It’s free and easy to use. And after a couple of weeks I broke down and purchased Simplify 3D which is closed source and licensed to me for my one computer.
Non-open source code isn’t something that I prefer but this commercial software saves me a lot of time. Cura is very good but I print a lot and a half hour here and there adds up.
You can print via a USB cable to the printer but I don’t think that’s a good idea. Instead save your G-Code output to a microSD card and via the printer menu print from that card.
Printing from your PC could be risky. If your PC goes to sleep or reboots due to a scheduled update then you’ll waste a lot of plastic. Some print jobs take hours to complete.
I printed many things from and for my printer. I’ve also setup OctoPi, changed the printing bed and other things besides. But all that is for another post. This one is almost 1,000 words as it is. 😉
One of my recent hobbies (aside from breaking my WordPress site) is anything related to the Raspberry Pi. I use it as a network media player in my living room, USB computer on a stick and as a retrogaming console.
Nintendo recently released the NES Classic Edition which comes with 30 built in games. This holiday season it will be a big hit and it sold out almost as quickly as it was released. With a Raspberry Pi 3 running Retropie you can accomplish almost the same thing. It just takes a little geeky work and some parts.
Here’s the parts and links. I usually just drive out to Micro Center in Westbury and get it in person.
Borrow a USB keyboard from your PC or Mac so you can enter your wifi key. You won’t need it afterwards. I do all my Linux admin via ssh from my PC or Mac.
Your Raspberry Pi 3 running Retropie is a Linux server. It’s running a Debian based distribution called Raspbian. If you’ve spent time administering an Ubuntu LTS VPS then this will feel very similar if not downright identical.
The reason for getting your Retropie on the network is simple: once you do you will find a new Windows share at \\RETROPIE and you can deposit the NES ROMs you obtain in \\RETROPIE\roms\nes as easy as drag-n-drop. You’ll have to do some research where to get them yourself. They’re not hard to find.
When you do obtain NES ROMs make sure you keep them in individual ZIP archive files. Don’t extract them, just from them as is into your nes directory. Once you’ve gotten your roms onto your new system, press the “start” button on your controller and restart emulationstation.
So many emulators to use
Retropie supports many retro arcade systems. My favorite are MAME, SNES, NEO GEO and of course NES. I don’t play a lot of Atari 2600 games though I should. That’s one of the systems I had as a kid.
The emulators are easy to use. Generally you just drag the ROM zip file into it’s directory. Use \\RETROPIE\roms\nes and \\RETROPIE\roms\snes for the right one. You’ll see many more directories there but for now ignore them. You can explorer them later.
This is not a game system for everyone
If you are just looking for the classic NES games and can get your hands on one even with the small controller cables, then do so.
This illustrative YouTube video can explain the mindset of people who do this sort of thing.
You’ll either immediately understand where I’m coming from or you wont. That’s OK, some people just enjoy the nerdy aspects of things.
Using a Raspberry Pi 3 with Retropie is purely a geeky exercise. It works, it works well. It’s easy to maintain provided you are willing to learn the Zen of the Debian Based Linux Server™
Part of the appeal of the Raspberry Pi 3 is that it is a server with a quad core ARM CPU running at 1GHz. It has 1 GB of RAM built in. With a 32GB microSD card, case, and A/C adapter it’s a full on Linux server for less than $70.
Setting up a small PC with similiar stats will run you at least $200. The small size of the Raspberry Pi 3 shouldn’t take away from the fact that it is a Linux server. It has a default user ID and password. You should change that if you’re concerned.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Yesterday I did the following.
Ran cd Retropie-Setup then sudo ./retropie_setup.sh
Selected “Update all installed packages” and skipped the OS ones because I already did those.
Had coffee. See illustrative video above.
Ran sudo reboot to reboot box.
If you read that, stopped at step 2 and said “Are you kidding me?” then it’s alright. You’re OK. The NES Classic Edition is for you, it’s $60 and it is fire and forget. It does not have any network capabilities, it will never be updated. And there’s no legal question about using one either.
If you want to roll your own and don’t mind getting up to your neck in Geeky Nerdy things then maybe the Raspberry Pi 3 is for you.
I’m a photography nut. I love using my DSLR, I’m mad about film cameras and I use Instagram all the time. I’m also a WordPress user and I have a problem with Instagram: the photos are not preserved on my own site. To fix that I installed the amazing DsgnWrks Instagram Importer plugin and I’ve been using it for years.
While testing WordPress 4.6 beta the plugin stopped working for me. I raised a support topic and I am convinced that my setup has changed. I do not doubt that the problem is mine somehow.
I’m not proficient enough to locate where the break is and I really wanted to share my Instagram photos via my blog. So I created another WordPress account on my photo blog and with my IFTTT account I used this “Instagram to Blog” recipe. That worked, but it loaded the image from Instagram and used the IFTTT URL shortner for link.
I really wanted a copy of my photo on my own server.
I know less about IFTTT recipes than I do the plugin. But I do know how to use WordPress actions and filters so I wrote a small plugin to do the following.
Look for IFTTT short URLs and expand them using a simple function I wrote.
Once that’s done then publish the post.
You can view the code via this Gist link. I have that saved and activated as a plugin on my photo blog.
This isn’t the ideal approach for me but it works. The IFTTT recipe successfully publishes a post when I submit a photo to my Instagram account. I’m taking that data and scraping images from another web site. Generally speaking that’s not cool but until I find a cleaner way to do it I’ll have to live with it.
This may fall under category of "bad parenting" but probably not. I hope not. Just don't tell Lily, OK?
My daughter saw all of the fun her brother has playing Team Fortress 2 and wanted in on the action. The kitchen iMac doesn't play games very well but my PC does. So I set her up on an account there, logged her into Steam and the rest was history.
She picked up TF2 quickly. Then she saw that she could play Borderlands 2, Torchlight II, Portal 2 (is there a "two" thing going on?) and spent hours on the PC.
Her normal activity is drawing on the iPad. She's really good and has developed a real skill. Video games are normally the domain of her brother. But they seem to like playing on the same TF2 server. When they're on the same team she plays the medic and supplies health to the other players. When she's on different teams she plays the scout.
She spent the whole evening playing and I had no clue. It wasn't till I went to turn off the light in the office that I saw her. Her mother would not be happy had she walked into the room.
There is hope that the has inherited Lily's Adult Supervision™ genes. I told her that I'd get a third PC for her, probably from Costco. Her answer?
That's wasteful. I can share yours when you are not using it.
I have no idea where she picks that stuff up. I've certainly never encouraged that sort of behavior.
My son plays Team Fortress 2 a great deal and wanted to host his own server with mods for him and his friends to play on. Rather than using his PC for that I created an account for him on the Linux basement server.
I downloaded the Linux dedicated server, did a little port forwarding, a few small scripts with screen and POOF! he can now run and manage his own TF2 server. I need to email him some troubleshooting steps but it’s pretty basic even with SourceMods. It works.