Sunday, July 23, 2017

Tofu With Black Bean - Hunan Style

This is one of my favorite Asian dishes: tofu with black bean over jasmine rice. After moving down to hurricane country in the near-Tropics I despaired of ever finding this dish (done wonderfully as 'Sauteed Tofu Hunan Style' by the Hunan Village restaurant in Arlington, Va.).

Then I found a local restaurant that produces a very acceptable version with bell pepper and onion. After savoring that meal, I had a 'smack the forehead' moment when I realized that I would be more than capable of making this dish at home!

My approach (where C=cup, T=tablespoon, t=teaspoon):

1. Mix 3/4C of chicken or vegetable broth with 1t sesame oil, 3T of rinsed black bean sauce (plain or garlic, both are salty!), 1/2t black pepper, 2oz white wine, 1t sweet soy (syrupy version, although you could use regular), and 1 level t of corn starch. You can add some red pepper flakes if you want your dish spicy.

2. Slice 1/2 sweet onion and 1/2 small bell pepper (red, yellow, green - your choice)

3. Cut about a third of block of extra firm tofu into 1/4" high by 3/4" wide by 1" long rectangles, then place on a couple paper towels to drain

4. Heat 2t of oil in a wok, then fry onions and pepper until onion is almost translucent, then add tofu

5. Fry until tofu almost starts to brown, then add bowl of broth mix and cook until slightly thickened

I love this dish!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Bosch Dieselgate Settlement - W00t!

Thanks, Bosch! We really appreciate the extra money. It has provided us with two new VHF Tri-band transceivers, small whip antennas, a new dive watch, and a few lunches and dinners this week!

We also look forward to more than $2,000 next year for our Phase 2 Emissions Modification payment!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Tips for Running Raspbian PIXEL on the Apple Macbook Air (2015 edition)

Great news! There is a GNU/Linux alternative to Mac OS X for older Macs, and i've finally found the right distro!

I've been able to create a viable alternative using Raspbian's PIXEL for my Macbook Air (2015 vintage) on a Samsung 64GB compact thumbdrive.

PIXEL 1.1 Dec 2016 w/md5sums

This is the *only* working distro with wifi, sound, printing, and persistence i've been able to put together for my little Apple notebook. I have tried a number of others - the only other one that comes close is a 64-bit version of Anti-X:

antiX for the Mac

(use the 64-bit version - the 32-bit version did NOT work for me!)

Live GNU/Linux distros are a great way to test before an install. However, the PIXEL distro at this point is only live - BUT, you can create a 'persistent' version on a USB boot stick (compact thumbdrive, sdhc in a carrier, etc.) by following the following directions:
 step-by-step to making a persistent USB boot stick

 Mousepad Tweak

Also, to make life nicer with the Macbook Air's trackpad, i created a file named (made executable by using chmod +x), containing:
/usr/bin/synclient TapButton1=1 TapButton2=3 TapButton3=2 ClickTime=1
The file is saved under /usr/local/bin - then in the file $HOME/.config/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart:

@lxpanel --profile LXDE-pi
@pcmanfm --desktop --profile LXDE-pi
@xscreensaver -no-splash

This will be used upon log in and provides:

1. button assignments
2. two-finger right-clicking
3. three-finger middle mouse button event
4. tap-to-click


Alas, the internal webcam/camera on the Macbook Air is not recognized. However, i plugged in an inexpensive Logitech C270, and it was recognized as /dev/video0 - which meant that it worked in VLC and Cheese. I have yet to explore video chat, aside from crashing firefox-esr when attempting a Facebook video chat (ain't gonna work - may try bumping up to the latest firefox outside of the Debian repos)

Even so, I am quite happy with PIXEL - best out-of-the-box experience!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hubs 'N DACs

Having a lot of fun lately with some extra Raspberry Pi Zeros, some Zero hubs, and several DACs to build LAN-connected Internet radio and .mp3 players. I like the Zero footprint, and as you all know, the Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W are great little computers that don't ding your wallet - by themselves.

But with no audio out and limited USB, you'll need to add a few items to your project if you want some tunage and connectivity. The Raspberry Pi Zero W handily provides wifi - a real bargain $10 computer that I predict will introduce many new products and a new standard in SBCs, but again, you'll need to add audio for any sound-related project. And if you want to host additional devices, such as thumb drives, mouse, or keyboard, you'll need some additional USB ports.

Audio Solutions

I suppose the cheapest way to get audio on the Zero is through a USB audio dongle. You can find these devices - which provide audio in and audio out connectors - everywhere for about a Lincoln (US$5). They work well with GNU/Linux, and most are C-Media devices easily recognized and configured for use by the kernel (gone are those terrible days of having to rebuild the kernel every time install a new sound card!)
The problem is that you will most likely still need the sound amplified in order to play music on your speakers. Some dongles offer mute buttons, and some speakers are USB powered, but then only offer physical controls for volume, bass, etc.

Getting your hands on an amplifier for a stereo speaker project is kinda easy. I have scavenged a number of small amplifier boards from 3V battery powered speakers found in thrift stores and at flea markets. You can also buy one of the boards Adafruit sells to interface with your Zero's audio output.

Digital-to-Analog-Converters, or DACs, come in several form factors and flavors for the Raspberry Pi family. I have several: Pimoroni's PHAT DAC, a PiZeroAudio DAC, and Adafruit's Speakerbonnet.

Zero Hubs

Getting additional USB ports onto your Zero can be accomplished by using a hub. Like cheap audio amps, I have also scavenged old 4-port dongle hubs for Zero projects, such as this FrankenZero, a complete Desktop computer with wifi, sound, and a VGA port:

Hardware developers have come up with some nice Zero-footprint hubs at a reasonable cost. Putting together some of the required bits for an audio project that will work well with speakers can be interesting! Here is a MakerSpot hub (highly recommended), with a Pimoroni PHAT DAC, and an Adafruit 7W audio amplifier - great sound out of this one:

Amplified sound is provided by the screw jacks on the side of the amp board, with power (5V) supplied by the Zero's GPIO bus. The DAC's output is drawn from its RCA connectors:

I've incorporated another hub, the new Hubpixed, which works with the rpi0 1.3 and W, and have an inexpensive DAC attached - note there is no amplifier! :
But my favorite solution is the Adafruit Stereo Speaker Bonnet, which has the DAC and amp on a single board, and also provides your RPi's i2c and power GPIO pins in a separate area on the board - brilliant! i have this board installed in a Western Digital PiDrive enclosure on an RPi3 - great sound out of this one!

Here are some tips and tricks with the speaker bonnet:

1. i have found that cutting a 4-pin Grove connector works great as a JST-4 plug - this makes hooking up stereo wires a lot easier or to route the stereo lines out to my RPi's enclosure

2. after a bit of research and command-line foo, i found the proper incantation to play video during Raspbian Pixel desktop sessions on an RPi3 and have the audio routed through the speaker bonnet (great sound!)

hint: vlc, as currently distributed, won't work! you must use omxplayer and you must specify the Alsa card number of the bonnet... for example:

omxplayer -b -o alsa:hw:0,0 ManBearPig.avi

(the -b option creates a black background in case your video is smaller than your desktop)

at some time i'm going to try to recompile vlc for hardware acceleration... i understand that v2.2.4 will build properly at this point in time...

3. typing the omxplayer command line works, but is a pain in the ass if you're kicking back on the couch and using a Logitech remote keyboard and mouse; in this case, you'll want to create an association using a right-click on a movie file in the pcmanfm (file manager) window:
you'll want to make sure that omxplayer is launched in a terminal, or you'll lose control of the program once the video starts playing (i.e., no volume control, pausing, or quitting); after you click 'OK' you will see the 'doit' option when you right-click your movie file - this is the easiest way for me to launch omxplayer without typing a command line.

tip: you'll need to create this custom launch option separately for .avi or .mp4 files - to save a hassle and time, rename your .mkv files to end in .avi (they're the same file internally - at least this has been my experience).

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

WD PiDrive Node Zero wireless Zero Upgrade!

Just snagged a WD PiDrive Node Zero from WD today! I had also ordered the enclosure.

 This nice little compact board comes with a 300GB WD USB drive *and* an RPi Zero!
 In just a couple minutes I extracted the RPi0 out of the node and installed a new RPi0W; extraction was a careful affair, but easily accomplished - the Zero is attached by its two micro-usb ports, but i had to first use an H1.3 security bit to remove the four screws holding the Zero in the add-on USB board (don't know why WD didn't use small Phillips heads)

i had previously configured a recent Raspbian Pixel distro on the RPi0W's sdhc, so i just kept it in and powered up the Node Zero.
My new little computer runs great! i use a 2.4A USB power supply... as a bonus:
- the WD Node Zero came with a micro->HDMI stubby cable (not needed, but nice to have)
- the WD Node Zero offers two USB ports (handy, but not necessary thanks to the new wifi capabilities
- the enclosure came with a small torx screwdriver!
- *and* i now have a spare Zero to play with!

Sunday, January 1, 2017


This page will document some of my shaving accessories. I did have a bit of a collection of straight razors at one time, but downsized about four years ago and sold most of them off. Nowadays I use vintage Gillette double-edged adjustable safety razors - much safer!

Here's a treasure given to me by my father-in-law: His 1960 gold-plated Gillette Toggle!
More razors will be added as I take pictures.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Swim Watches

Being an avid early-morning swimmer, I'm always on the lookout for a nice water-resistant watch with a readable face. I started out using a cheap Casio MRW200H-1EV (they come in many color combos, but my favorite was the black dial with yellow numerals). Battery life on this watch was not so good as i found i had to replace the battery at least once a year (something i can do myself).

My next step up was to another Casio, the classic, and i think, bargain 200m dive watch, the MDV106-1A - beefy, with twice the battery life, screwback, good readability. I used one for at least a year. Alas, i was disappointed in the lume.

I also like the Seiko SKX007:

And then i discovered the Seiko Monsters. Big, beefy automatics with hand-winding and hacking (ability to set the watch to the second) in the 2nd generation, which uses a 4R36 movement. Great watch, outstanding lume.

I snagged a used one for about a Franklin. It's my go-to swim watch for the early morning:
More recently, i discovered that there is a real bargain automatic dive watch with hand-wind capability and fabulous accuracy out of the box: the Vostok Amphibia, made in the Russian Federation, and based on a late 60s design:

Like the cheap Casios, these watches come in a variety of configurations, dials, bezels, etc. Many parts are interchangeable, and best of all, the watches are less than US$80 shipped, with hand-wind only for US$30 less!

I really didn't believe the touted accuracy, so I slapped one of mine onto a C270 webcam's mic and ran the Tg timegrapher client under CrossOver on my MacAir running OS X:
Nice! Note that unlike the Seiko, which has a 53-degree lift angle and 21,600 beats per hour, the Amphibia has a 42-degree lift angle and 19,800 beats per hour. Even so, the accuracy of +/-5 seconds per day (more or less according to wear, temperature, etc.) is astounding!
And the newest addition to the clan - an orange scuba dude with a modded bezel and nato strap:

And here's a new Amphibia modded with a new bezel that i'm going to call my 'Diet Pepsi' (after a Seiko SKX009):

and a latest acquisition: i think this is one of the most attractive and readable of the Vostok Amphibian dials; i slapped on a dragontail Pepsi bezel and a blue 22 G10 (nato) strap:

So now I'm very happy! Anyone want a couple cheap quartz swim watches? I'm done changing batteries. Even though the Amphibia only has a 31-hour reserve and the Seiko Monsters sport a 40-hour reserve, hand-winding keeps these babies running in tip-top shape and on time!

and my very latest - the wonderfully rare SKX011J1!