House Addition

We broke ground on November 29th, 2017. The idea was (and still is, I guess) to build the addition ourselves so that we would appreciate every little bit that was added. If we hired it out, we could leave for a week, come back and it would be complete! But would we appreciate that?

After 4 years, I think we would have been just fine. πŸ™‚

First Floor Plan
Second Floor Plan

Mastering the Art of Space Cooking

The kids have come up with a cookbook for astronauts to use in space! This was part of their FIRST LEGO League competition, for which their team name this year is “Galaxy Pandas” πŸ™‚ . Honestly, the foods like like part of “Nailed It, Space Edition”, but hey, they had fun! Here it is (click on the picture for the PDF) :

Raising Hog

We have some magnificent friendsΒ that live near Mount Pleasant. They’re doing some amazing things right now that leave me inspired every time we visit. This (last) year they bred some hogs for the first time: Three sows and one boar. Two of those sows got pregnant and after the first litter was born we went down to visit. While we were there the second sow was giving birth, and so we all went down to watch. (We ALL went down, we figured it was a good learning experience for the children. Also, the first sow had given birth before our friends knew, so they never actually witnessed those miracles of piglet birth. About a month later our 2-year-old pointed at our cat Jesse that was lying on her side just like the sow was and said, “Look! Jess is having baby Jesses!”) The first piglet that we saw born was still in its caul and nobody there knew what to do, so I bravely leapt into the fray and saved the piglet. We named her on the spot:
Princess Owen
DOB: August 27th, 2016
Coloring: Red with white stripe
Breed: Duroc/Hampshire cross?

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My Solar Panel Setup


This year I had a bunch of money left over after I sold my motorcycle to my sister. The motorcycle, a 1978 Suzuki GS550, had been sitting in the garage for a season, and I had to admit that I wasn’t riding it anymore. So I sold it to my sister and have missed it ever since. πŸ™

To ameliorate my loss I decided to buy some solar panels! The short version, then the details:

  • Four 100W Renogy monocrystalline panels at 12V each
  • Mounted on some unistrut from Menards and some tee posts
  • Wired as two strands of two panels in parallel (about 20A @ 12V per wire)
  • About 100 feet of two strands of 2x14AWG UF (I know it’s undersized!)
  • Two VicTec 20A PWM charge controllers (one for each strand of two panels)
  • Two Costco 6V deep cycle golf cart batteries, wired in series to be one 12V battery

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Solar Panel Datalogging with Raspberry PI and ADS1115

So I’ve had a 400W solar panel setup for almost a year now. I’ve been powering an inverter, DSL router, and some 12V LED strip lights. But now that I want to expand the system, I have to justify it by measuring its current performance and determining which parts of the system need to be expanded. Panels? Batteries? Wire gauge? Controllers? Everything?

A few years ago I bought a Raspberry PI 2 B kit that included a case, WiFi dongle, and SD card from CanaKit. Over Christmas break I searched for a PI-compatible analog to digital converter and found that the ADS1115 breakout from Adafruit was very popular. It has four single-ended (or two differential) analog inputs at 16 bits signed with a programmable gain. Very versatile, and if I later on want to measure currents by voltage drops over a small shunt resistance, it has the gain to do that. (Though I haven’t yet.)

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The Amazon Echo API


I love my Amazon Echo! But what else can I do with it?

First of all, I’m not a web developer, so go easy on me, but also help me out by being constructive. I’m an Automation Engineer, that is, I design electrical and control systems for manufacturing machines and then program the PLCs, and I write C# interfaces to the machines. I also did some embedded work and some website programming a long time ago, but anything after 2000 is new to me. But I guess that just makes it more exciting!

echo app

When I use the web-based control app at I can use Google Chrome to watch the network activity. Here’s a list of URLs that my browser hits with responses, with identifying stuff filtered out with “xxx”. I have a cookie set with a session ID, which is probably being used to get my user-specific information.

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Hacking Alexa, the new Amazon Echo

I heard about the new Amazon Echo and immediately submitted my request. I got an invitation a few weeks later and Alexa (the Echo’s name) arrived the day before we were having all of our friends over for a party. The Out Of Box Experience was great. I have a friend with ADHD and he went nuts with it. I don’t think we ever heard a complete song form beginning to end.

As an aside, my daughters discovered a secret easter egg: Ask Alexa “What does the fox say?” Hilarious!

To be absolutely clear form the beginning, I love my Echo and I am very excited about what Amazon will be doing with it in the future. My favorite two things, besides the music, about Alexa: “Play This American Life” and “Play The Writer’s Almanac”. This blog post is about exploring what ELSE I can do with Alexa.

So here’s what I’ve done and what I learned and what I plan to do. I’ll fill in details later, I just want to get this out there, so people can see that there’s hacking going on with Alexa.

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Breaking Even

Today is an auspicious day: The Piette Honey factory has broken even! Starting from January 1st, 2012, I have a net positive $18. A big shout-out to John Zehms and Katie Amaya, without whom this threshold could not have been crossed.

Now, my accounting is particularly suspect because I’m depreciating all of my assets in one year. I did that because I never know what will happen in the next year- I might get American Foul Brood and have to burn my hives. Or maybe I’ll get tired of the whole thing and give the hives away to a friend. Plus I can’t think more than a year into the future, so it feels unfair to expect my hardware to retain value over the next 5 years.

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Selling Honey at the Farmer’s Market

Last evening my family and I went to the Washington Farmer’s Market to sell some honey. The event starts at exactly 5:00 on Thursdays at the Washington square, and of course we were running behind (who doesn’t with three children?) But we made it in time and set up our card table. (Funny story- we don’t own a card table, but we had borrowed this one from the Jacksons for our family reunion a few weeks ago. We keep not connecting at the right times to return it, but apparently that was God’s intention. Thank you Jacksons!)

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