Category Archives: Maker Stuff

Fixing A Frowny Face on the Raspberry Pi

This post is to document a weird error for posterity. But first, some background:

We’ve been working for a while on a device that uses the Raspberry Pi 2 running Windows 10. It’s neat! If you want more information about how to install Windows 10 on a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3, go here:

Windows IoT
Basically, the steps are:

  1. Get Pi
  2. Get an SD Card for the Pi
  3. Download and install Windows 10 on that SD Card
  4. Slip that card into the Pi and boot
  5. Connect your board to a network (I used wired at first, but a wireless gadget can work too)
  6. Deploy code to the board

The first few steps of getting Windows up and running are really straightforward!

But:  I encountered a problem sometimes. Folks told me it’s worth it to write this entry in case other people run into that same problem.

Windows 10 worked great for me when my Pi was plugged into the wall. However, I’m creating a device that I want to be portable, so I’m powering the Pi, and the Pi’s tiny screen, with these portable power supplies that run on AA batteries. They work great! Mostly!

RPi-battery-power-supply

However, the battery drain on the device from running an entire computer and a small monitor was more than I initially imagined. And batteries don’t die evenly. When the battery power is low, but not entirely dead, the Pi might give the impression that it’s working even if it doesn’t actually have enough juice to work. When that happens, it will start dropping off the network, not allow you to push code, and then, finally, it will lose Windows.

When that happens, you might get the dreaded Frowny Face error.

This error is very mysterious. A frowny face definitely tells you something is wrong, but it really doesn’t help you understand what.

I did find the frowny face hilarious though. My Pi is currently in a 3D printed case that has a small window, so the frowny face made it look just like Game Boy from the Captain N cartoon…

th

Sorry, I’m showing my age. I think this is also a character on Adventure Time?

adventureBMO

It’s the same character, people; it’s amazing! Only mine was, as I mentioned, frowning.

Anyway, I discovered that the problem, essentially, was that the Pi had some power, but not enough power. When it didn’t have enough juice, it wasn’t able to boot up Windows 10 after all. All it could do about this was be sad! The problem was fixed when I simply replaced the batteries in my portable power supply. I rebooted Windows, and I was able to push code again. But since it seemed like it was sort of working, I’m ashamed to admit it took me quite a while to figure out that the problem was the power supply, rather than Windows or the SD card. This is especially true because it doesn’t all fail at once. First pushing code stops working, then Windows stops working, as the power gets lower and lower. So if you do get the frowny face, don’t despair! Try getting more power and the Pi will work again.

Happy hacking!

Spouse Alert – a Useful IoT Hack

During this week I participated in a Hackathon to increase my own skills and work with my work team. I decided to do a quick project using the Particle Core!

A lot of times during the day my husband wears headphones and it’s hard to get his attention. I thought it might be fun to create a flashing light device that gets his attention whenever I needed him. I set it up with a few different color functionalities, and used the topper from our wedding cake to set the Particle Button inside. The Button has a ring of muti-colored LEDs that can be activated with the use of a simple API call.

I used a fork of the basic Button code, which is on my GitHub here, and created the “SpouseAlert” script. Using Particle Build, I then flashed the code to my device.  Here’s what the chip looks like with the lights on and flashing (red, in this case)

20150731_124128

Then I wrote a short Web App to activate the different lights. Using the Windows Voice Commands QuickStart I was able to create an app that could be activated either by clicking or by voice. If I say “Particle, Spouse Alert!” it will open up the app page with the appropriate alert selected.

Here’s the app – it’s pretty simple but it gets the job done. And yes, I used a phone to take a picture of a phone…

20150731_124213rot

I can also activate the lights using a call to Yo. Yo is a silly app but it does something simple – sends a “Yo” message to a person or thing. That means it’s pretty fast if you want to send a “Yo” to an object. In this case, I’m activating the call to Yo with If This, Then That. I learned about this trick from David Washington, whose Super Bowl touchdown light project was an inspiration for me to try the Particle Button!

After putting all the code together, I fit the Particle Button underneath my wedding cake topper. Yes, I saved it all this time… all I had to do was carve a couple holes in it for the wiring. Here it is lit up!

20150731_124128green

Now when I activate the app it uses a few different patterns of bright lights to send an alert. I hope it’ll help out with communication for us for a while! I think a device like this would also be useful for people whose spouses are hard of hearing. Different colors and flash patterns could be used to send different quick messages, and you don’t even have to be at home!

Hopefully soon I’ll post a tutorial for interacting with the Particle on Channel 9. Also, I’m teaching an Intro to Particle at Walnut Street Labs’ iSchool in September! You can join me the evening of September 9 and I’ll show how to get started with Particle and make simple experiences like this one!

 

I Used the MakerBot

I had always seen 3D printers from afar, as some kind of miracle device that could just effortlessly make stuff. The hype online about 3D printing was incredible. But when I talked to anyone who had used a 3D Printer, they quickly warned me that the devices aren’t really magic. In fact, it actually takes some practice to get a 3D Printer to behave, and nothing turns out great at first.

I think the world should know.

This post exists primarily to catalog my series of failures in 3D Printing. Hopefully you’ll find that educational, and appreciate an honest look, along with my tips.

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Light Painting at Dragon Hacks 2015

Two weeks ago I attended DragonHacks at Drexel University. It was my first time going to an all-hardware Hackathon and I had a really fun time seeing what people came up with!

I want to share with everyone a cool Kinect hack that one of the student teams did. Using Kinect and an Intel Edison, Christopher Frederickson, Nick Felker, and Max Bareiss created a tool that will change the color of an LED to line up with a palette projected onto a screen. As the light changes color, the subject is photographed in long exposure, creating a beautiful multicolored light painting! This video demonstrates how it works:

Max was kind enough to link me to the team’s documentation, so you can try this hack at home if you want. Check it out right here: The Light Painter’s Palette

If you want to see another weird (but non computerized) hack from the event, check this funny one out courtesy Major League Hacking: The Portable Shower.

DragonHacks was super fun – I look forward to doing a lot more hacking and making this year!