First assembled PCB…

I’ve ordered quite a few PCB boards, but this is the first time I’ve paid for assembly as well. Documented here so that I remember the steps. Instructions here.

  1. Do the PCB design. Duh.
  2. Find components in the JLCPCB component catalog. Extended ones require a flat $3 fee.
  3. Annotate the schematic components by adding a column named LCSC and putting the LCSC number in that column.
  4. Create the BOM from Tools->Generate BOM. This will fail if you have any spaces in your filenames as the xslt processor they use has issues, but it will create a .XML file in your design directory.
  5. Go to d:\data\electronics\bom where you will find msxsl.exe. It will work correctly. Modify a batch file to use that file and generate the output CSV file.
  6. Edit the output file. You will need to edit it to remove parts and columns you don’t need. I imported it into excel and then saved as a .xsls file.
  7. In the PCB editor, choose File->Fabrication outputs->Footprint position. Format = csv, units = mm, files = one file per side, footprint selection = with INSERT attribute set. This will generate a front and back file.
  8. Edit the output file so it has the following headers: “Designator,Val,Package,Mid X,Mid Y,Rotation,Layer”
  9. Generate gerbers as usual.
  10. Go into the jpcpcb quote too. Upload the gerbers.
  11. Choose “assembly”
  12. Upload the BOM and placement files, and look at the rendering. Carefully validate the rotation of active components; there are apparently two standards. If you need to modify the placement, go edit the output from step 7 and edit the rotation column.

An ESP-32 Remote Control–Update and Version 1.0 case

About 3 months ago, I wrote a post about an ESP-32 based remote control I’m building. Conceptually, what it does it allow you to press a button and hit a specific web endpoint.

Since the introduction, I wrote some code and got a prototype kindof working – the touch inputs on the ESP32 work fine, the deep sleep works okay, but I ran into a few problems.

First, the ESP32 can run on 3.0 volts but only kindof, and if you use two AAs their voltage drops pretty quickly to the point where the ESP stops working. Which means I needed a better power source, which means lithium based. I looked at primary (non-rechargeable) lithiums but they are also 3 volts (IIRC), I looked at lithium-ion, but 4.7 v is a really inconvenient voltage for ESPs; you need a regulator to get down there. Plus the 10850 cells are a bit big. Then I settled on LiFePo4 batteries, which very conveniently have a nominal voltage of 3.3 volts and are the same diameter (but shorter) than a AA, so they work well for packaging.

I bought a little battery monitoring board to protect the battery, but I’ve decided to skip it for this version. So, I think I’m set for batteries.

The second issues came up during my deep sleep testing. The ESP32 can get down to 10 uA in deep sleep, which looks great, *and* it supports “wait on touch” where it will turn on based on a touch input, which is also great. But…

The devkit boards that I have don’t support using it that way; even with the power led removed I think I was seeing about over 10mA when the ESP was in deep sleep. Not good enough. Some people have hacked their boards to remove some of the components, but traces are tiny and the board is dense, and I gave up after a few tries. I could use a module programmer like this which pulls the dev kit components onto the programmer and leaves just the raw board, but the problem there is I need a mounting solution that lets me program the same module every time.

What I really need is the dip part of the devkit board without any of the power supply or usb stuff and an adapter to hook that to the module programmer.

Since I haven’t figured that out, I went with the best deep sleep approach that I know, a rocker switch. I’m thinking that will get the power use all the way down to 0 uA.

The case

I have some plans for the version 2.0 case, but those require a fair amount of prework and new tools, and it’s nice enough that I could really use the remote *now*, so I went with with the easy approach – a laser cut box.

For touch points, I wanted some screw together pieces or screw studs, which I finally discovered were commonly known as “chicago screws”.

Chicago Screws - "Flat Beveled" Design - Solid Brass (10-pack ...

I wanted them in brass so that I can solder to them. The ones I got are 1/4” (6mm, actually) in length, which would be fine for my “real remote” design, but meant that I need to use 1/4” plywood for the face.

I did the design in Fusion 360. This design was not one of my better moments. I did the face in 1/4” but the sides on 1/8” so they would be thinner, but it turned out that I don’t have any 1/8” plywood left; what I have is 1/10”, so I had to redo the design. Then I measured the size of the studs very accurately with my calipers and then entered the shaft length (0.235”) instead of the shaft diameter (0.165”). And the power switch was too close to the corner so the top and side wouldn’t fit. Then I cut the top piece out of a piece of 1/8” scrap, so it was too big.

More trips back and forth than I had hoped, but it’s only computer and laser time plus a bit of wood, so it wasn’t that bad. Here’s the result:


Which is honestly pretty nice. The labels are engraved into the wood, and all it is missing is the power LED. The current plan is to glue the sides to the front and leave the back removable for access, but it’s not clear to me how that is going to work yet.

Video here:

Next up will be wiring up the front panel, assembling most of the box, and then hooking in the ESP and battery.

French Cleat Electronics Workbench…


I’m not known for the cleanliness of my workspaces; my office desk is a mess right now, my garage workbench is a mess, as are my other workbenches.

But my electronics one is messy enough to be problematic, and the root problem is that there’s just too much stuff one the workbench; power supply, oscilloscope, toolbox, solder station, hot air rework station all take up a lot of space, and the work surface doesn’t have lot of depth, so I end up with a small clear workspace even without clutter.

A while back I was looking at my Rigol scope, and thought that I might have more room if I could mount it on the wall. And that obliquely led me to the current project.


I’ve been watching some woodworking on YouTube, and that led me to a series on french cleat walls. They are pretty popular for woodworking shops as they keep all of their tools handy. Looking at my garage space – where I do some woodworking-adjacent projects – I don’t have a lot of wall room for one of these, and most of projects I do occur elsewhere, so I wanted to keep my tools in their boxes. Not a great solution there.

But that triggered a thought about my electronics space; I don’t move my tools around and I could use the organization.

So I went looking in my garage and found that I had some leftover 12mm baltic birch plywood from another project, and I acquired some 2×3 pine for the cleats.

Making the cleat wall is pretty simple; you just cut your cleats wood at a 45 degree angle and then attach it to the plywood using a regular spacing. If you want details, here’s a video I did of the process:

I took the wall down to my workbench and attached it to the wall. Then it was time to start figuring out how to attach items to the wall; this is generally some sort of shelf or box with the mounting tabs that hook onto the cleat. First up was the oscilloscope, partly because it was big and partly because it was straightforward to design.

Oscilloscope Shelf

It’s simple enough that I could have just created a mock-up in cardboard and then used that to create the actual version, but I wanted to play a little, so I did a full CAD design. It was a pretty quick design in Fusion 360 and I’d show you a nice rendered version, but somehow it didn’t get saved along the way. Here’s what the side panel of the shelf looks like; the hole in the end is for the power cord at one end and the cooling fan at the other, and the left part hangs off the cleat:

Pro tip: The 1x stock you buy may not be exactly 3/4” thick; mine was 11/16” instead. So measure it first; for this shelf I had do sand down the back edge of the cleat.


The bottom shelf is just that, a rectangular piece of wood between the end pieces.

As a material I used some 1/4” baltic birch (probably 6mm actually), and I decided to use my Shaper Origin to make the shelf. It is held together with wood glue and some very thin wire pins shot in witn my pin nailer. Here’s the video if you want the details:

The result is nice and pretty, though I didn’t sweat trying to get things perfect; it’s not furniture:



Because of the way the cleats are designed, gravity pulls the mounting cleat both against the wall cleat and the wall plywood, and the back of the shelf presses against the second cleat. It’s surprisingly secure and yet very easy to move around.

About the time I was finishing this, I said to myself, “Self, that was fun and you made a lot of sawdust, but there’s nothing in that design that you couldn’t have done much quicker and easier with your laser cutter, so at this point I switched tools.

XBox 360 Power supply box

When I added a heated bed to my 3D printer, I bought an XBox 360 power supply to power it, and I found that they are wonderful for powering 12V loads; the ones I have provide up to 16 amps of power. So I bought a second one from Goodwill for $4.95 and have used it when I need a hefty supply for testing (like my WS2811 expander which I stress test with 3 50-watt 12v light bulbs). Cheap, compact, and lots of cheap power – what’s not to like.

Well, I don’t like that it’s cluttering up my workbench, so I’m going to build a box for it.

Here’s the CAD design, the laser-cut parts, and the final result. It’s cut out of 0.10” (2.5mm?) plywood that is strong and easy to cut on the laser (mine’s a GlowForge) and then glued together with wood glue.




I measured the power supply with my calipers and it ended up just on the tight side; the power supply slides in but barely. The big cutout for the close end is because there are air holes there.

The other end of the cable currently just has a set of speaker terminals that accept banana plugs and the enable wires soldered together so it’s always on. Sometimes in the future, that cables going to terminate in a power-supply box with an on off switch.

The xbox power supply hangs up high. And now I need a place to plug it in as the cord isn’t long enough to reach to the outlet under the workbench.

Power strip box

Another simple box, with the dimensions defined by the size of the power strip that I wanted to use. The design is quite simple with a bit of an assembly caveat; the box has both a top and a bottom so you have to assemble it around the power strip.



Resistor decade box

I built the decade box a few years ago based on this instructable. I do a fair bit of work with LEDs and I often find myself wanting to pick an LED value based either on measured current or brightness. I used to do that with a potentiometer, but it’s much easier to use a decade box.

The design here just has two end hangers; one end is attached using the output posts for the decade box, and the other one is just hot-glued on.



You might notice there are some smoke marks on the wood; if I wanted nice I would have masked them off but that was more work than I wanted for this.

Wire hanger

Just one more design for the first wave; I knew I would have wires running across the board and wanted a way to support them:


A simple three-piece design hold up a power cord. It’s tilted because of the weight of the cord is heavier on one side; I’ll probably do a version with a single hanger in the middle. Or I might cut some one-piece hangers out of 1/4” plywood.

Video tour

If you would prefer a video tour of the completed items, you can find it here:

Power supply hanger

Model 1627A Right

When looking at some of the small Chinese power supplies that are out there, I got a line on a nice surplus BK Precision 1627A on Ebay for $55 and ended up buying that instead. I have an older 4 voltage power supply (+12V, –12V, 5V, and adjustable) that I’ve used quite a bit, but it’s pretty rare that I need multiple voltages these days, I already have the hefty 12V, and I’m going to be adding some dedicated 5V supplies as well. I haven’t used +/- power supplies in a long time, so I think the old supply is going to get packed away for now.

To do a hanger for this looked a bit more challenging than my previous hangers because this is bigger and it weighs 16 pounds. I did the design and cut it out of 1/4” plywood:


The frames here are about 10” x 7” in size. They are cut out of 1/4” (probably 6mm, actually) and glued together.

Pro tip: Go back and look at the picture of the power supply picture above. If you look closely on the side and the talk, you will see some screws sticking out. If you measure precisely and cut to that precise measurement, the pretty holder you create will *not* fit over those screws, and you’ll need to remove the screws – and maybe the equipment feet – to get the frames to fit over the item (the power supply in this case).

Not only did I do that, but the first time I put the hanger on I had it on the wrong side, so I had to repeat it. But I did get to the final result:



One of my goals was to get my Fluke multimeter off my desk and up in the air, but there are some issues, the biggest one being that the digits are in shadow if the meter is vertical against the wall. I’ve had some designs that put it at the same angle the stand in the base does, some designs that let you modify the angle, and another idea that I might just add some white LEDs to the side so it could be vertical.

There will be a power supply station close at hand; I think it’s going to support 12V from the xbox supply, 5V both on banana plugs and on multiple USB plugs, and I might integrate one of the cheap chinese boost/buck supplies to give options.

Finally, there’s the right side of the bench, which has my soldering iron base and my cheap chinese hot-air rework station. I may end up with a cleat wall on that side I can get them up as well.

What’s up with tip lead?

I’ve been looking at some skier video recently and I’ve noticed issues with tip lead in some of the better skiers, so I decided to write down a few thoughts…

Tip lead – also known as “ski lead” – is simply the situation where one ski tip is in front of the other. This is a natural – and desirable – situation at the bottom/end of a turn; as we go across the hill with our weight mostly on our bottom ski, the uphill ski is higher up the mountain. The only way to do that is for the upper foot to be slightly in front of the lower foot.

How far ahead depends on the degree of slope and the degree of angulation/inclination of the skier. Carving on steeper slopes and with more angulation/inclination will lead to more tip lead.

All of that is fine. Where we start running into problems is the turn transition, where we go from one turn into the next turn.

Here’s what I’m often seeing:


There is a switch in tip lead at the apex. Or, to put it another way, the tip lead at the bottom of the turn persists all the way to the next apex.

As most of you know, if we want to get a ski to carve, we need that ski to have consistent forward pressure and a tight ankle on that boot.

Another way to think about this is thinking about which ski is dominant:


The outside ski that is dominant at the end of a turn is staying dominant into the start of the next turn, where it is the inside ski. It has to stay dominant because the new outside ski is still ahead, which means that it’s not underneath us and therefore not forward weighted. The only way to carve in this state is to carve on the inside ski, which has a number of downsides…

What I would like to see is for the tip lead to change at the start of the turn:


That gives the following result. To label it:


I want the right ski dominant throughout the turn to the left and the left ski dominant through the turn to the right. That is what will give me those nice, early entry, flowing carves.

How do we accomplish that?

Different people have different cues that work for them; for me I’m thinking of actively pulling that uphill ski back and standing up on it. Others think of using the hamstring and glute to pull the knee back. And others think of it more as a pressure change.

One more picture:


On the left side, we are at our turn finish. Our weight is mostly on the downhill ski, and our uphill knee is bent and the ski is forward.

At turn initiation, we have actively gotten our uphill (old inside) ski underneath us, and we are lessening the amount of pressure on our downhill (old outside) ski. That lifts the weight off of our downhill ski, and helps our upper body move – or “flow” is the term I usually use – downhill. That movement lets us get our skis on their new inside edges at transition and carve both into and out of the turn.

Hope that helps. Please comment with any questions.

An ESP-32 Remote Control–Introduction

A couple of years ago I did an ESP-32 based controller for our landscape lights and fountain. It has a nice web-based interface, if you like the way interfaces looked when HTML was young…


In addition to this web page, you can hit http endpoints directly, so you can control things with either a browser or an HTTP app on your phone. It’s a bit of a pain to dig your phone out and run an app to turn on lights, so I’ve always planned on doing a handheld controller. It’s going to be pretty simple; just a set of buttons and an app that sends requests to the actual controller.

At least, that’s how it started…

My original plan was to use an ESP8266 because it’s smaller and to use some normal momentary pushbuttons:


That would have been fully functional, but I didn’t really like the way the buttons looked and I didn’t like the low-power options very much. I was looking through the ESP-32 technical manual and remembered that the ESP-32 has a touch-sensor subsystem that supports 10 separate inputs. That means I can do a cleaner-looking controller that has metal touch points rather than buttons, and the ESP supports wake on touch, so I can put the controller into deep sleep.

Conceptual design

Here’s a very quick drawing:


Here’s what I’m thinking for the design. There are 5 circuits to control:

  • Fountain pump
  • Bed lights
  • House lights
  • Umbrella lights (strips under umbrella)
  • All lights

In addition, I want to be able to control the brightness of the umbrella lights in 5 steps; 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, and 100%

Coincidentally that requires 10 different controls, which is exactly how many touch inputs the ESP has, so that worked out well.

The controller will be remote-control-shaped, with batteries (tentatively 2 AA alkalines) near the bottom, the ESP in the middle, and an array of touch points at the top.

Sleep battery calculations

There is an assertion that the ESP32 in deep sleep only pulls 2.5uA. A typical alkaline AA cell has a capacity of about 2000-3000 mAH, so if we do some math:

Hours = 2000 mAH * 1000 (convert to uAH) / 2.5 = 800,000 H, or 33,000 days. If we could really get that, that would be 91 years on standby.

Let’s do the calculation the other way; if we wanted batteries to last a year, that would give us:

2000 mAH / 365 = 5mAH per day, or 228 uA of constant current. If I can hit something under that, I’ll get a year out of the batteries.

Getting that to work is going to require me to either modify the ESP-32 devkit boards I’m using or switch over to a raw module and separate programmer, but that’s a matter for another post/video

The endurance athlete’s guide to fueling and weight loss part 2.5–More on muscles and energy systems

The Dual-fuel system revisited…

In one of the earlier parts, I talked about how muscle contraction is fueled either with glucose (glycolysis) or fatty acids (beta oxidation). I have since realized that there is more detail that I’d like include, so this is a part II of that post.

The phoshagen system uses stored creatine phosphate in the cell to create the ATP that ultimately drives the muscles. This can provide a *lot* of energy, but is limited to durations of 10-15 seconds because of limited supply of creatine phosphate in the cell. This is the system that is used for explosive power – weight lifting, sprinting, etc.

The glycolytic system uses glucose to create ATP. Strictly speaking – and this is a point I glossed over earlier – glycolysis only goes from glucose (or glycogen) to pyruvate. This step can occur both in the mitochondria and in the the cytoplasm of the cell, which means it can produce quite a bit of ATP quickly, but it’s only the first step in the full process of burning glucose. To keep the energy production high, something has to be done with the pyruvate, and it is converted to lactate. That lactate accumulates quickly, and that is what is making our muscles hurt during hard efforts.

The oxidative system – also termed “oxidative phosphorylation” or “mitochondrial respiration” – is the main energy provider for aerobic exercise. As discussed earlier, there are two feeds into the TCA/citric acid cycle:

Beta oxidation takes fatty acids and converts them to Acetyl CoA to feed into the TCA cycle. Or, we take the products from glycolysis and feed them into the same cycle. The important point is that those products can be pyruvate that was just created by glycolysis, or it can be lactate that was created during glycolysis elsewhere in the cell.

That’s enough context to now discuss different intensities:

At a moderate aerobic pace, we are getting all of our energy from the oxidative system; we are either converting fatty acids to Acetyl CoA or performing glycolysis to get pyruvate which is immediately fed into the TCA cycle.

As we increase the intensity, we need more glycolysis to produce more energy, and for that to keep working, we need to convert the pyruvate to lactate. That means we have more lactate around that we will need to feed into the TCA cycle to get rid of. That can happen both in the muscle that is exercising, but also in other muscle that is resting and in the liver and heart. At some point, the amount of lactate produced exceeds the body’s ability to get rid of – or “clear” – it, and tissue and blood levels of lactate increase much faster. That is what the term “lactate threshold” means, and a lot of high intensity training is looking to improve lactate clearance.

If we increase the intensity above the lactic threshold level, we accumulate lactate very quickly, and that means we cannot continue for very long.

Here’s a cool image that shows the relative contributions of the different energy systems:

Training intensity and fat loss

Knowing that is only burned by the oxidative system tells us something important about intensity; we can only burn fat at moderate intensity. The definition of “moderate” is going to vary quite a bit based on the availability of glucose during our endurance training, but one we have hit an intensity that maxes out beta oxidation, we will not be burning any additional fat. Extra intensity above that level will just lead to more glucose being burned.

For the longer term, we could improve our ability to burn fat by improving our ability to perform beta oxidation.

Part 3: Carbohydrate and Fat use in actual athletes…


Interaction among Skeletal Muscle Metabolic Energy Systems during Intense Exercise

Skiing penguins build log retrospective

My skiing penguins project has been up and animating for a few weeks, and I thought I’d write down the process for others so that they can learn from what I did. And also so I can remember what I did and why. There are some other blog posts that talk about some of the specifics for the sequence controller I built.

First off, there’s a video here that shows the final result.

The my initial idea was to do something with LEDs and single frame animation; see some of the animations that were done at ZooLights at Pt. Defiance many years ago was what got me into this hobby. I had a big garage roof that was unutilized, and after some discussion with my wife we decided that skiing penguins was a good place to start.


 I started looking around for online penguin designs to use as a starting point and found a couple. Then I started up Fusion 360 and created a new project.

I design (and sell) LED ornament kits, so I’m used to doing these designs. Here’s a video that shows the technique that I use to space the LEDs out evenly along an outline; that is what I used for all of the penguins. Here’s a in-process look at one of the designs:


and a final one:


The final designs were too big to cut in my laser cutter (glowforge), so I had to break them into two pieces. The puzzle-piece line gives me two individual pieces to cut that can easily be put together again.

The animation has 15 frames, which meant 29 individual pieces to cut.


I figured out what sizes of plexiglass I needed and bought the plexiglass from my local TAP plastics; it was about $90 worth. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time splitting pieces on my table saw, so I defeated the door interlock on my Glowforge for the larger pieces:


You really shouldn’t do this if you don’t have laser safety glasses designed for your particular laser’s frequency. In this case, I wore my normal safety glasses and closed off as much of the opening as possible; I now have a nice set of dedicated laser safety glasses. Don’t do this unless you understand the risks.

Here’s all the cut pieces stacked up:


This is a penguin prototype:


This was actually constructed earlier; it was used to determine size, and we decided to go about 25% larger. Thankfully, Fusion made this fairly easy to do.

Here’s the first production frame:


You can see the glue residue along the joining line. At the left and right sides there are short connectors that overlap the joint and provide much needed stiffening; they are on both sides. The squares with holes are spacers; the penguins will mount to wood supports and the spacers hold the wood away from the wiring that will be on the back. Zoom in to see the fine details.

Here’s the pile of penguins all glued together and ready for LEDs.


First light on the first frame:


Green was planned for the body outline rather than the white in the prototype but I didn’t have enough green LEDs at the time. The LEDs are brightness matched to look similar to human eyesight though the blues look too bright to the camera. Only 13 more to go!

Here’s what the penguin looks like with the leds off:


Sorry about the messy and distracting background. For each section of LEDs, there are two sets of bare copper; one that is connected to 12V and one that is connected to ground. Leds are grouped based on their voltages; green and blue run in groups of 2 while reds run in groups of 4. At this point I realized that my ski poles had 9 leds which means that I had two groups of 4 and one individual LED, which was a pain. Each group has the appropriate resistor to set brightness. There are 70-odd LEDs in this frame, so figure something near to 200 solder joints.

Here’s a picture of the workbench mess:


That’s not that bad except there is more mess here:


and here:


To waterproof all the wiring, I took the penguins outside and hit them very heavily with clear acrylic spray. I’ll know how well that worked when I take them down:


Here’s a view of them drying. They have waterproof power connectors attached and have frame numbers marked on them.

And then they were each mounted on short pieces of 2×3 wood which would have been painted if I had time; maybe I’ll do that when I pull them down after they have dried out. You can see the wiring quite well in this shot, and we can see that it’s frame “J”, or the 10th frame.


The next step was to build the wiring harness. I did a diagram of the expected layout in Visio:


From that, I went out into my driveway, took a couple of tape measures, and laid out what I needed. The controller was planned to be under the roof where “K” is, so I would run wire to that point and then leave an extra 10’. I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of this process; I was racing the weather.

Basically, I would start at “A” in the diagram, leave a couple of feet of slack cable, run it up to D, across the top, and then down to K and leave 10’ at that end. Each cable gets an adhesive label with the circuit letter at each end, and those will later be covered with clear packing tape to waterproof them. Continue the process with each cable all the way through K. The cable is 22-gauge alarm cable; I have used twinlead in the past and I have to say that this cable was a huge upgrade in terms of ease of use, and at $31 for 500’ is was pretty cheap. I did calculations on the voltage drop and decided that it wasn’t too bad (about 7% IIRC).

Once I had all the cables, they got bunded together with wire ties at every branching location and then additional wire ties to make the harness easy to handle. I got it all done just as the rain came down for real, and headed inside. Each penguin location got the other half of the waterproof connector soldered on and then covered in heatshrink tubuing, and the controller ends got stripped to be connected to the controller. Here’s the final roof harness:


The penguins got installed on the roof with various arrangements of wood to support them and were plugged into the harness. I then spent a day or two figuring out how to do the penguins in front of the house; they are supported on 1/2” metal EMT tubing. I also created a separate harness for those penguins (one in the air, one crashed in the tree, and then a small one where the one in the tree lost his poles and skis) using the same process.

I finished building the controller:


Nearest to us is the ESP32 controller board that runs the animation software, and behind it are two custom 8-channel MOSFET switching boards. Attached to the back MOSFET board is a series of LEDs used for debugging.

The ESP runs custom software that drives the ESP32’s 16-channel PWM hardware. The ESP32 is ridiculously full-featured for the price. One of my goals for the project was to *not* have to pull the controllers out of their installed location to update the animation, so I created a really rudimentary web-based IDE and an animation language:


This is the current active view from the ESP running the penguins as I sit here and write. The left textbox shows the code and the right one shows errors if there are any. I wrote the animation outline and programmed it in, and then took my laptop to the garage and we’d watch the animation and I’d tweak it as necessary, it took us about 10 minutes to get what we wanted, and I would have spent more than that on a single iteration of “unplug the controller, take it downstairs, plug it in, modify the software, compile it, upload a new version, take it outside, plug it back in, and see if it worked”. That worked very well.

I’m calling the language “Dim”, because it’s good at dimming things and not very smart. In the code “DI” means drive a specific channel to a specific brightness over a specific cycle count (each cycle is about 10mS, so it runs at 100 Hz), and D lets you specify more than one operation to occur at once during the following “A” (animate) command. The language does have for loops but is desperately in need of functions/methods for this usage; I have those in a newer version.

Here’s a bit of code running on a second instance of the controller that flashes 5 of the ornaments I make in a random pattern:

FOR count 1:100
   D(50, channel, 0)
   DI(30, channel, 1)

That took about 5 minutes to write.

Finally, here’s a daytime tour of the installation which shows the penguins mounted on the roof and in front of the garage and the controller board with terminal strips.

WPC opto issues…

I’ve had an ongoing issue with my World Cup Soccer ‘94 – at certain times in the game, it will push balls into the plunger lane when it shouldn’t. That points to some sort of problem with the sensing of the balls in the trough at the bottom of the game.

WCS is a WPC – I think that means “William Pinball Controller – and one of the nice features of the software that runs the game is that it has some test software that lets you visualize the state of the switches in the machine:

In my testing, the trough switches work fine when there is a ball in them, but if there is no ball in them, they cycle between open and closed. That is likely to be the problem. I verified that the trough LEDs and opto are functioning correctly and I’ve done the usual “unplug and replug all the cables” approach, so it’s time to dig further.

I did a post on pinside – which yielded no responses – and then pulled out the 7-channel opto board. It looked fine, but when I put a VOM on it, I found 10 VDC and 2.7 VAC. Not good.

I should mention that this machine had some issues on the power driver board, so I took an opportunity to recap it, so I knew that my supply voltage was fine. which meant the most obvious culprit was the 100 uF cap on the opto board.

Except it wasn’t; replacing that caused no real improvement. Which led me back to the power driver board where I found similar voltages at the test point. I pulled the board, found no continuity between the – terminal on C30 and ground, which meant I damaged the through-hold plating with my recap and it just took a while to fail. I added a jumper between the cap terminal and the adjacent ground trace – it would have been trivial to add a trace there, but for some reason they didn’t.

Put the board back in the game, everything works fine. Later I found a note in the WCS repair guide that said, “if the optos are malfunctioning, it’s usually a connection on C30”. Yep.

A self-expanding ESP32 PWM board…

I’ve been working on a little ESP32 expansion board/shield for an LED project I’ve been working on. One of the nice things about the ESP32 is that it has a peripheral known as “LED control” that provides 16 independent channels of PWM for controlling LED brightness, and my project uses that capability.

One of my projects is going to require all 16 channels, so I wanted to do a board that would support 16 channels, but I also wanted a version of the board that would only support 8 channels. I started with the 8 channel board and figured out a way to build a single board that would support 8 channels and also function as an expansion board to add the other 8 channels. I thought the approach was interesting enough to share it here…

Let’s start with a picture of the board:


I’m using the 20-pin development board, and it turns out that of the 16 channels supported by the LED control peripheral, half of them are on each set of pins. I started doing an 8-channel version of the controller; you can see the primary pins on the right side of the board that come into the center of the board and then head down into the MOSFET region of the board. That design was fairly simple to do.

Then I needed a way to do something with the 8 channels on the other set of pins. At that point, I realized that if I could use the same board to get the other 8 channels if I flipped the board over:


On the primary board, the pins for channels 9-16 on the left side of the board are connected to a header. The ESP32 will be connected to headers on the top side of the primary board, and then we will add a header to the primary board expansion pins – pins 9-16 – on the underside of the primary board.

We will then take a second board and flip it upside down. That puts the header pins that are connected to the MOSFETs on the left side of layout directly under the header on the primary board connected to the expansion pins, so we can just put a complementary header on the expansion board and just stack them together.

Here’s what it looks like in the real world. This is the primary board with headers for the ESP-32 on the left and MOSFETs on the right. That is set up for 8-channel mode.IMG_9631

To enable 16-channel mode, we flip this board over and add some headers. The top header connects to pins 9-16 from the ESP32, and then there’s a single pin on the bottom which connects to ground (if I do a future version I’ll add an extra pin on the left) to provide a bit more support.

We then take a second board and set it up as an expansion board by adding the complementary headers to it.


We can then finally stack the expansion board on the back of the primary board and add the ESP32:


That gives us 16 outputs.

Here’s a short video demo of the controller:

And a second video that show my first project using it:

Happy Zoo Year…

Image result for cougar mountain zoo sign

Traditionally, winter has been the off-season for me. It gets rainy so only about half of the Tuesday/Thursday night rides I schedule actually occur, and we’re skiing on the weekends, so I go from 3 rides a week during the season to 1 ride a week, on average. My fitness slowly decreases and, come March, it takes a lot of effort to get it back.

Last fall I realized – I can be a bit slow at times – that since I was now retired, I had the chance to keep a bit more of my fitness by riding more during the winter on weekdays. And perhaps I could keep my climbing legs as well.

I also realized – well, already knew – that my well-known laziness would be the biggest issue, so I needed a more defined goal. So….

12 Months of Zoo

Was born.

The rules are pretty simple:

The first trip was the Sunday of Thanksgiving week,  November 18th at 1:48PM. The climb took me 34:19, which is pretty much average for me. I also climbed the backside of Summit which is sortof on the way back home and features one of my favorite descents to the north.

December weather is always really hit and miss and we are generally skiing the whole month, but the snow was late so I did a quick ride on Saturday, December 15th in the early morning. 35:52. I added in Pinnacles at the top and a really painful climb off of 164th on the way back.

January, the weather, skiing, and seasonal ennui conspired against me, and it wasn’t until 11:02 AM on January 28th that I made the “JanuZoo” ride, completing it in 35:34.

February 2019 was the snowiest month in Seattle in 50 years. Snowy at my house at 300’ means a lot more snowy at 1300’. Eastside Tours rode a total of zero times for the month, the first shutout I can remember in the 15 years that I’ve been on the ride. It froze overnight and then barely got warm enough during the day.

But between storms on February 21st at 1:01PM, I bundled up and headed out into the mid-40s weather, heartened by the a bit of sun. West Lake Sammamish was cold but not icy, at least none that I saw. I hit Newport and started the climb, with remnants of the last storm still piled up to the side of the road. The road was dry-ish, however, so I kept climbing. Pretty much none of the climb had seen any sun and it all had snow on the side, which pushed the temp down into the mid 30s, but it really wasn’t that bad as I climbed at a lackluster 167 watts. I finished the middle part, and turned onto the top – which sees less traffic – and the snow got higher. A few minutes later, I reached the false summit, descended, and got ready for that last little push to the top.

The road was plowed because there’s a reservoir and antennas up there, but not really very well – there were some clear tracks that were not dry and some snow/ice on the road, and 16-18” on the sides. Hmm. 18-20%, check. Air temp just above freezing, check. Areas of dubious traction, check. And I decided that I wasn’t willing to risk the rest of my ski season and the spring biking season just to ride up a short piece of road. So, I got of my bike and hiked up the damn thing, pushing my bike along with me, for the couple of minutes it took to walk to the top and a 36:41 completion time. And the road was fine, at the top, I clipped back in and slowly and carefully rode down, and quickly found out the real problem. Even unzipping, I get sweaty on the climb and the descents are a field experiment in wind-chill factors. The rest of the ride was the minimal one, just to get home.

With all the issues in February, I decided to hit March early, and on March 13th I headed out at noon and rode both Squak Mountain and Zoo. My ancient Garmin Edge 705 crapped out the week before, so I have no riding data to support this ascent, though I will note that there was about 15” of snow at the top of Squak and I have evidentiary pictures of the top of the Zoo. This is mostly the leftovers from the February storms.


April 7th brought “A Grand Squaky Zoo”, climbing 3 of the 4 big climbs from Sufferin’ Summits – though not the hardest climbs. The Zoo climb was done in 36:03 and 179 watts on my new Garmin 520 Plus (or is that “+”?).

Sunday, May 5th was Day 1 of minicamp where I rode 5 days straight in a quest to jump-start my fitness. It featured Squak, the extremely painful Telus North climb up James Bush Road, and Zoo in 35:21 at 184 watts.

Sunday, June 9th brought the “3 Biggies” – up Grand Ridge, Squak, and Zoo again. Zoo was dispatched at 32:25 at 208 watts, a nice improvement. And June 29th brought “The Reservoir Rendezvous”, with Grand Ridge, Squak, Telus, Zoo, and Summit. It also brought my slowest trip up at 39:55 and 183 watts, because I was chatting with Douglas Migden from Freemont who is training for the Transcontinental race in Europe doing Zoo. He does Pinnacles at the top rather than the classic top, which doesn’t meet my strict definition of a Zoo climb, but I decided to cut him some slack because he was doing it 6 times that day, plus riding from Freemont and back. My slowness was also attributed to a bout of kidney stones on the 19th, which knocked back my training for a 10 days or so.

Two climbs in June made July pretty obvious, with three climbs as the goal. I did them all in one day in the ZooZooZooSummit ride on July 20th. 38:32 @ 169 watts, 37:30 @ 171 watts, and 34:15 at 191 watts. Disappointingly slower than my early June climb, despite having a group to rabbit after on the third trip up. But 5100’ in 36 miles is pretty good.

There’s something a little embarrassing at this point. I did the triple on the assumption that I had started the year of Zoo in August of 2018 to put an emphatic completion on the year. Then I went back and looked at my data and realized that while I had done serious climbing in both September and October, there were no zoo climbs. Sigh.

August 17th was Sufferin’ Summits 2019. I had managed to squeeze in an abscessed tooth in early August for another week off the bike, and then I pulled a hammie playing soccer on the 11th. My zoo climb was 33:16 @ 193 watts, which was somewhat surprisingly my second fastest ascent of the year despite my time off and my goal to ride slowly on this ride. Hill #5 – which includes “the widowmaker” – was the last one I completed on Sufferin’ Summits (not for the first time).

September 7 brought a “Minimal Zoo”, with 20.3 miles and the flattest route up the zoo and back home. 35:03 @ 180 watts and not feeling very good at all despite starting in the afternoon.

October found me seriously – rabidly even – uninterested with the project, but I pulled on riding clothes for what might be the last jersey/shorts climbing day of the year and headed out. I finished with a thoroughly demotivated – and demotivating – 37:47 @ 169 watts, but finish I did, capping off 15 ascents in the period of 12 months. Here’s a picture facing north. The lake is Lake Sammamish, and off in the distance you could see the Olympics and Mt. Baker if they were available to be seen.


And thereby completes the cycle of the seasons and the year of the zoo…