Getting Started with the Arduino (for absolute beginners)

If you’ve been stuck, frustrated or don’t know where to start on your tinkering adventures with the Arduino series, there is a wonderful introductory video series by Martin Lorton which guides you through the board itself as well as setting it up to talk to your computer and some basic programming concepts.

Note: These are slow and steady, meant for people with patience, but they are great for those willing to learn (more importantly, willing to learn how to learn). Some concepts may be redundant for those already familiar with programming.

You can find more tutorials and fun projects on his site.


It’s coming… better fill the stash

I can’t go more than a week before someone I know tries to convince me the world is coming to an end. Usually it’s the result of poorly informed speculation on the orbit of the asteroid Apophis and its impact hazard, imaginary planets by people who know nothing of orbital mechanics or someone misreading (and miscalculating) dates in holy texts.

The other day, I think I finally came face to face with the evidence of doomsday it and I can’t ignore it any longer.

WTF, Merriam-Webster?!

I can understand parkour being in there, since the phenomenon has been around in one incarnation or another for a very long time. I can also accept “tweet” since these little excepts of our psyche have influenced world events, but “fist bump”? Boomerang child? Helicopter parent?!

You know, the Goths — the term originally defined lack of sophistication, culture and an abundance of vulgarity — attacked Rome (after being invaded first) and it’s said that with this begin the of the fall of the Roman Empire. Well, here’s the proof as I came across it at Walmart. I was convinced this chain will be at least partly responsible for the apocalypse somehow.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about…

Soap, even in Walmart, is starting to get pricey like everywhere else and I didn’t feel like spending $8+ on a bottle of laundry detergent even though I use very little of it. Which got me thinking… can I make my own laundry detergent? Turns out, other people have asked the same question years ago, and lo and behold, they’ve been doing something about it for just as long.


You may notice the Anger Management Ring has switched hands in the pic above. Since it was on the right index finger, it was becoming a problem when I open doorknobs and such.


One of several diseases I’d rather have than deal with some of the clients on the show “Love it or List It” on HGTV. Ever since I became fascinated (arguably obsessed) with tiny houses, small homes and generally sustainable living, I’ve been watching more and more DIY and home improvement shows both on the TV and online.

I don’t get a lot of free time anymore, so the precious few moments I get, I’d rather be entertained than infuriated.

In case you don’t know, HGTV is now showing a series that originated in Canada which shows a couple, which invariably needs additional work done on their home or they need to move out.

Hilary is the designer who takes on the “Love It” challenge in which she makes a remodel of a specific area and adds/removes as necessary (new bath, new bedroom, larger kitchen, repairs etc…). She’s always allocated an insufficient budget and insufficient time to get things done and “Drama” ensues as the clients become as warm and cuddly as a dung covered cactus when she has to relay bad news.

Here’s an important fact for all current and potential homeowners : Renovations are always more expensive than building new yourself. No exceptions. You can’t always guess at what problems you may come across (like electrical, plumbing, structural) and sometimes, you won’t know if something will work or not until the process begins. That’s the risk you take when you decide to make changes to existing structures.

In the episode I saw yesterday the client, who’s pregnant, rejected a house found by the realtor for the couple, David (the “List It” guy), partly because it has “too many bathrooms”.


I don’t have children, but I’ve taken care of enough kids to know YOU NEVER HAVE ENOUGH BATHROOMS! Add to this the lazy husband who was still ambivalent about the house that covered 99.998% of what they needed, plus had an unfinished basement (I.E. “Potential”, although they saw it as “Work”), because he was worried about painting one room. Yes, let’s ignore all the extra space they could possibly even rent and gain additional income. This need for space is of course arguable since it’s my view that most people are just prisoners to their belongings. Get rid of the extra junk and you’ll have more than enough space left.

“Hilary hasn’t put me into labor yet” is another comment the pregnant lady said earlier after the designer had to explain that walking on water and other miracles weren’t possible on the microscopic $15,000 remodel. Add to that mess, Monkey and Wrench, the main construction guys that somehow fail to communicate problems or potential problems to Hilary early on in almost every single episode. How are these two still employed?

Yet, somehow, Hilary was still able to pull off a spectacular reno and everyone is happy in the end, but the clients list the house for sale anyway. David’s find of a bigger house is just too much of an allure for the couple to give up.

This is the same formula that follows the show, but right now Hilary has the advantage with the number of “Love It” clients since she does have very good taste and seems to know what she’s doing. Here are a couple of examples of her work [Via].

A renovation of a bare attic

Pinnock Family renovation

Think of the show as a House Hunters with added renovations, except the clients are rude, condescending, acerbic or otherwise coached beforehand for the cameras to act that way.

Which brings me to House Hunters

I see a worrying trend even in this difficult economy where builders, architects and even content creators for TV networks are pushing the bigger is better agenda at the cost of more sensible alternatives. House Hunters take the cake when it comes to pushing this agenda. I wouldn’t have a problem if the clients featured on the show genuinely Hunted for Houses on camera, but…

You may rest assured that most of the people on that show, if not all, are just posing for footage after they’ve already bought the house.

The producers said they found our (true) story–that we were getting a bigger house and turning our other one into a rental–boring and overdone.

So instead they just wanted to emphasize how our home was too small and we needed a bigger one desperately.  It wasn’t true, but it was a smaller house than the one we bought so I went with it.

(Emphasis added)

And so, the “bigger space” fad continues to be fueled by the construction and realestate industry. I.E. Advertising. This is what a lot of people are already starting to realize when they turn to the tiny house movement. Comparatively few people really need the space they claim they do, unless they have large families or a boat-load rubbish they keep, but never use. Even fewer willingly spend to heat and cool spaces that are never occupied as far as quality of life is concerned (bragging rights don’t count).

Why spend a fortune to keep the furniture comfortable?

It’s not the space you have; it’s how you use it. And unhappy people tend to still be dissatisfied with the roof they currently have over their head without legitimate reason.

DIY Composting Toilet

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about pee and poo, but it gives plenty of detail on how exactly a composting toilet works and how you may want to create your own DIY version. When I build my cabin, I’m thinking of putting in one of these so I can divert rainwater completely for potable use (drinking/washing etc…).

DIY Security paper

I wanted to do this for quite some time, but kept putting it off because of work etc… I had a lull in my schedule recently so I finally decided to go through with it.

Note: When I say “Security Paper”, obviously there is only so much you can do with ordinary household items. If even sophisticated security implementations can be cracked, this doesn’t really stand a chance. Think of it more on terms of an artistic project. Besides, security is always relative to what you need to protect. In this case, It’s just for unique, difficult to duplicate stationary and not for any fool-proof security.

There are no special refractive inks, holograms, RFID tags or any other sophisticated anti-counterfeit measures.

Also of note is that inkjet printers, of which I own the Canon MP150 all-in-one, don’t always print the same pixel in the same exact location on different sheets of paper. Being mechanical devices, they are limited to the accuracy of the pickup reels, paper loader size and paper quality. So this will all be printed in one shot and all secondary security features need to implemented on the paper itself.

This is quite a long post (and the first, I think, that goes on to multiple pages), so please bare with me…


I’ll be using Photoshop CS2 for the design phase, but any relatively recent version should do. The techniques should also apply to GIMP, but I haven’t tried doing this with it yet.

This needs to fit into a sheet of 8.5 x 11 inch printer paper so the document needs to be slightly smaller than that. Keep in mind that some printers have different thresholds when it comes to the maximum printable area, so try not to go too far to the edge.

Start with a document sized 2400 x 3600 pixels at 300 DPI resolution. This will come very close to filling the whole page and give enough detail.

Step1: Create a new document

Step1: Create a new document

There are a number of security features introduced in the past that make counterfeiting difficult, but the easiest to implement yourself is the security background pattern. These patterns make tracing quite difficult and, once the content text is printed on top, alteration extremely difficult to near impossible even using modern image editing software. There are countless line intersections with the printed text making selections tedious enough to dissuade the casual counterfeiter. Of course, if the document was valuable enough, a motivated individual won’t be discouraged by the difficulty.

These dimensions need not be exact, but I started with another document at 100 pixels for the background pattern.

Step2: Create a new document for the background security pattern

Step2: Create a new document for the background security pattern

This need not be overly complex. In fact, I used the existing “Tile 2” grate-like pattern that comes with Photoshop. You can create your own pattern as long as it repeats well and isn’t too simple or too large. The size of the unique shape should be around 50  – 70 pixels. Any larger, and you lose the security benefit. Any smaller, and the printer may not be able to handle the detail very well (this is DIY, remember).

Step3: Tile 2 background pattern

Step3: Tile 2 background pattern

Then apply it to your “background” document (the small one) and trim the pattern.

Step4: Create the pattern and trim the edges

Step4: Create the pattern and trim the edges

I’ll be creating a diamond shaped security pattern so I’ll need to double the length and width of this document. I’ll then duplicate the pattern, flip horizontally and move to the left. Then I’ll duplicate both new layers and flip it vertically to create the diamond.

Step5: Create the diamond pattern

Step5: Create the diamond pattern

Then we define it as a pattern. This will be the backdrop for the whole document and all other elements on page will also be created from this pattern (explained further below). I called it “Grid focus”.

Step6: Define the diamond background pattern

Step6: Define the diamond background pattern

Now that we have the background pattern, we can go back to our original full sized document and apply this newly created pattern. Set the background layer opacity to around 25%-30%.

Step7: Security background

Step7: Security background

Next step