Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Perils of a Part Time Project (and some solutions)


My sensors in the Remote Garden Project stopped working unexpectedly while I was away at work recently. After a few minutes of poking at my putty terminal I decided to inspect the actual setup. The breadboard and pile of wires was a much different pile of wires than the last time I saw it.  I thought I had it tucked away inside my entertainment center where it wouldn't get disturbed by anyone.....I was wrong. My wife found her way in the cabinet, and some of the wires poured out; with the best-of-intentions she pushed the pile o'wires back in without any discrimination. Needless to say that maneuver does not make for well functioning breadboard setup.

After explaining that the pile of wires was an intentional setup (and I had to re-wire everything)  it became crystal clear I needed to formalize and document my setup abit. I could also understand her point of view, it was a pretty big mess. It also certainly needs some finishing to get into the final weather station.

For reference, here is the what the "before" setup looked like on the breadboard:


After a bit of searching I came across a solution that was just what I needed: http://fritzing.org/ Really sweet software package that I'm just barely taking advantage of. It is nice visual breadboard capability with a ton of parts that can be dropped in an customized. As you breadboard out your design it also makes a schematic and PCB (that you can have them Fab for you.)  I've only used the visual breadboard feature so far, but it will be something I consistently use in the future.

As you can see in my fritz prototype below I was able to work on the layout to get all my sensors in a somewhat logical layout. Unfortunately the exact GPIO expansion/breakout board wasn't mocked up, so I crudely created the connections directly from the pi.



Slightly more order to the chaos, and gave me some more confidence to move to a protoboard.  My GPIO breakout came with a half sized breadboard so I went in search of protoboards that could be swapped in easily.  Adafruit had some great looking ones, but turned out they didn't fit the power rails of my GPIO expansion/breakout at all. (They looked great, but left me searching for a better fit.)

 The near exact match ended up being the SB400 from busboard, ordered from Mouser. With that part in hand my setup is now really starting to come together nicely. No longer a wild pile of wires!


So with a part time project like this it was really helpful to sit down, plan and organize abit. Fritzing was a big help, and even allowed me to revisit and test alternate sensors setups without purchasing anything which is also pretty sweet.

The other helpful tool for keeping on top of this multi-faceted project has been a decent to-do list. Seems simple enough; but I wanted it to be segregated my personal task list. To make a clean distinction I decided to use GitHubs issue tracking tools for this purpose. I've already backed up much of this project to GitHub, so why not the task list as well. With custom labels in help separate software bugs from general task, or work to do on the hardware like the solar setup. 

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