Smoker Controller Hack

Smoker Controller Hack is a project to rescue a malfunctioning electric smoker from the trash heap. In a nutshell, the smoker’s display unit was dead. Other parts appeared to work. The smoker’s manufacturer has moved on to new things and the replacement part to fix this smoker is no longer available. In the depths of Covid-19 isolation, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to rescue a device from obsolescence and learn a lot about electronics, Arduinos, and working with plexiglass.

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Punch Card

Punched cards have been around for far longer than computers have. The earliest form that I am aware of is the Jacquard Machine (circa 1800) to control a loom. Charles Babbage incorporated the idea into his Analytical Engine (circa 1837). Herman Hollerith designed tabulating machines around the concept and saved the 1890 US Census. His design and company evolved to become the IBM Corporation. This is the card of which I speak…

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mermaid: Markdown Tool for Graphs

I needed to represent a Finite State Machine (FSM) for my Smoker Controller project. I could have gone with the pencil and paper route but what I learned in dot: command line utility for drawing graphs was that there are better tools. Since this project was documented in markdown from the start I looked for a way to do it all in markdown. It turns out there is a plugin called mermaid that does everything dot does without the compile step. But with a different syntax. 🙁 Many markdown processors have this plugin pre-installed. 🙂 I am using Joplin and it works just fine.

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dot: Command Line Drawing Tool

I wanted to represent a Finite State Machine (FSM) for my sump pump monitor. Grabbing my coding stick, I create the FSM on paper in my project journal. Then I take a photo of this and I’m done.

But not really done because the photo is  3.3 MB. I download it from Google Photos and open it in my Macbook using Preview. I select the portion of the page with the selection tool and copy this part of the image to the clipboard and then I use Preview’s “New from Clipboard” command to create a PNG image file. This file is still 1.7MB.

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Dealing with Google Takeout in Mac OS


After July 2019, Google Photos will no longer sync with Google Drive. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on specific use cases. Regardless, it is happening and this impacts the way that I use Photos. Generally when I take photos on my Pixel 3 phone, I just let the system handle things. The phone syncs with Google Photos in the cloud. Google Photos syncs with Google Drive and Apple’s Time Machine backs up my Google Drive onto a local disk drive. I have been comfortable with this. I am not a heavy curator of my photos. I have some albums in Google Photos but generally I want my photos organized by creation date. This is important because the files that Google syncs to my Google Drive do not include the album folders or meta data. I’m ok with this.

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Keysort Data Processing

Rummaging through some old files, I ran into an artifact originating from that time before computers, although this was still in use long after computers became available. Such is the nature of progressive automation that we resist it for long after it first becomes feasible. Eventually the old ways are tossed aside, leaving piles of obsolete artifacts. For some reason I kept one.

Keysort Card (Top Sheet)
Keysort Card (Top Sheet)

The artifact is called a keysort card, also called the McBee Keysort. Its purpose was to record data in such a way that statistical reports could be produced that summarized data across hundreds or thousands of these cards. All of the work to do this was performed manually.

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Downgrading the Nexus 7

After upgrading my Nexus 7 to Loliipop (5.0) I find that it is unusable due to lagging response times. I tried deleting the cache and other remedies I found online but nothing helped. It’s just too slow. I want to go back to KitKat (4.4.4). I found a few tutorials about downgrading that differ in a few details. Some are geared to Windows users, some are for Macs. For a number of reasons I want to do this on my Mac Mini.  Continue reading “Downgrading the Nexus 7”