Tag Archives: Hardware

LIghtning – It Goes Where It Wants, Regardless

My long absence from my Linux blog:

It’s been a busy 6 weeks on the farm. The first of September saw a huge storm roll through our area, and with it, a lightning strike that took out everything hardwired to our internal network!

We have a 60 foot tower on the farm, that is grounded with several ground rods. My office has what’s called a halo built into it, that usually protects everything inside from lightning strikes as well. Indeed, that tower has been hit many times the last 11 years with no damage.

Did the lightning hit the tower or my office building? Nope, it hit a network cable that run through a cable bridge between my office and the barn! The cable bridge is grounded, but rather than hit the grounded bridge, it hit the network cable that was laying in the bridge.

The resulting hit took out 2 servers, 5 desktops, 1 laptop, 1 television, 7 cameras, a Harris video switcher, my 2, DIN 3 internet relay units, and all of my ham radio equipment. Everything that was in some way hooked to the wired network!

Being in the state insurance pool, filing a claim would be useless, and with my high deductible, wouldn’t help much anyway. So for the past 6 weeks we’ve been cobbling everything back together from scratch!

Pile of blown up equipemnt

Some of the equipment destroyed in a lightning hit

Restoration was made a bit easier, in that none of our hard drives were damaged, so as new computers were purchased, We were able to restore all of our data with zero loss.   For our replacement ownCloud server, I just plugged the old drive right in and booted it up!

Next, we spent a couple of weeks trenching new conduit from our goat pen, into the house, and have moved all of our streaming video equipment and control systems inside. Further, we’ve totally isolated that system from the rest of the network.

All the new computers now run Linux Mint 18, and we’re very happy with the refinements over version 17.3.

So yes, do take precautions with your equipment where lightning is concerned, but they don’t always work.

Upgrading My Old Raspberry Pi Kodi To A Pi Model 2

My  Kodi has been working quite well since I got it up and running on a 3 year old Pi a couple of months ago. Little things were bugging me though, when using the web interface,

With a movie running, pressing Stop in the web interface, took a couple of seconds to stop the stream, and then I would lose my connection between my desktop and the Kodi box. Also, only two people could stream at the same time, say one on the main TV and another watching on a phone. The third person trying to watch, would pretty much kill it.

No problem though, as Pi’s are so cheap, I replaced my B+ with a newer Model 2 with 1 gig or RAM an 4 processors.

Upgrading is easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Backup current Kodi using the OpenELEC settings menu
  2. Install the OpenELEC built for the Raspberry Pi 2 on a new microSD
  3. Boot up the new machine, and do a restore!

It was not a surprise that the backup took about 15 minutes on the old Kodi, but once I had the new one set up just right; backing up the Pi 2 only took about ~60 seconds!!

Any issues I’d had with my first generation Pi, are gone with the new one. With the Pi 3 just being released, I may even upgrade yet again in a couple of months.

The old model B+ Pi will not go to waste however, as my next project is some automation for my goat web cam!


New Project: Building A Kodi Media Server

January has been busy with many projects on the farm. Our Linux related project was the building of a Kodi *(Formally XBMC) media server.

Kodi Logo

Kodi Logo

We have hundreds of goat and other home movies, as well as an extensive library of our favorite films. The vast majority of our media have been stored for years on DVD, often stuck into one of our stack of Sony 400 DVD disk changers for easy viewing. Well the disk changers are getting old, 2 of them have stopped working all together, so why not play our media from hard disk instead!

There is always an old computer or two laying around the farm, doing nothing, but we decided it would be fun to build our Kodi box out of a Raspberry Pi computer instead!

We got our Pi from Amazon, in a kit that included the case, power supply, WiFi adapter, and a heat sink for the processor. For media storage, we purchased an external 5tb hard drive, which at the compression level we’re using, should hold over 1000 full length movies, plus my extensive collection of old time radio shows I’ve been collecting for over 50 years.

A trip to the Kodi.tv download page let us select the disk image required for our Raspberry Pi.

Once our disk image was downloaded, we used the Disks utility in the Linux Mint Control Center to select and then burn the disk image to a 16gb Class 10 micro SD card. Entire process took about 10 minutes.

Writing the disk image

Writing the disk image

Once burned, insert the micro SD card into your Raspberry Pi, and boot it up. Our bedroom TV will be getting the file server, so the Pi is plugged into our 32 inch LED TV with an HDMI cable.

Once booted, you can go into the various setup screens to make your new file server look and behave just how you’d like it to.

Movie demo screen from Kodi.tv

Movie demo screen from Kodi.tv

I’d recommend plugging a USB keyboard and mouse into your Raspberry Pi to make things easier when doing setup, like connecting to your home WiFi network.

What kind of media is entirely up to you. If your local laws allow fair use of your commercial DVD’s and music, then put them on your Kodi, and enjoy them easier than ever before!  Spending so much time in bed as I do, because of my Multiple Sclerosis, it’s sure nice to find a favorite film without digging through stacks of disks!

Kore Android Applicaiton

Kore Android Applicaiton

The next thing you want to do is install the free Kore, Kodi application for your phone or tablet. Kore gives you complete control of your Kodi server, and allows you to browse the content of your server in real time, as well as do maintenance duties like updating your media lists and descriptions.

Additionally, there are tons of open source additions to your Kodi that you can download directly from your Kodi server. Setting our home screen up with time and weather was the first thing we did. Adding Youtube and other favorite video sources to your Kodi just takes a few clicks.

Add ons are so easy to build, that I’ve already got one put together for our GoatsLive web site. Looking forward to submitting it for inclusion in the official repository!

After 3 weeks of use, my only complaint about this system, is why I didn’t do it much sooner!

Important Facts About Kodi

The Kodi team are open source developers. Kodi does NOT sell hardware,  they just make their wonderful software available to anyone who wants to use it.

The Kodi name and logo are trademarked by the Kodi team, and may not be used by sellers of hardware. Please do not be suckered in to purchasing a  “Free Internet TV” type of box that are sold online via ebay and youtube. These sources, with very few exceptions, are promoting and selling devices that are designed for piracy, using the good name of Kodi to do it. Most of these devices are selling in the $300 price range, but you can build a proper, legal Kodi box for as little as $35!

If you see someone selling Kodi branded hardware, please let the fine folks at Kodi know by using THIS LINK

Hardware: Design Your Next Project With Fritzing

As an electrical engineer, I have used many freeware, shareware, and very expensive paid software packages for circuit design.

The best I have ever found, for any price, is Fritzing

You’ll find it in your Package Manager, just do a search for it, and then do the install. It will install the main program, plus the data files.

Package Manager installing Fritzing

Package Manager installing Fritzing

The beauty of this software, is that it’s not just software, there is also an entire community on their web site *(above link) where you can learn not only how to use the software, but also how to get started designing electronics projects yourself.

Using the software, you can drag and drop components directly on to a breadboard, hook them up with wires, and then click over to the schematic tab or the circuit board tab so you can even etch your own circuit board for your project.

Fritzing breadboard, with some random parts stuck to it.

Fritzing breadboard, with some random parts stuck to it.

What I really like is that not only do they include basic components like resistors, capacitors, inductors etc., it also includes entire modules for systems like the Raspberry Pi,  Arduino, and many of the great kit boards from Sparkfun

You can spend hours and hours on their web site, and if you’re new to electronics, I’d recommend you start Right Here

Fritzing Web Site

Fritzing Web Site

So turn on the Maker inside of you, and start learning, designing, and playing with your new creations!



Holiday Hardware: Playing With My Pi

Had a great Christmas and New Year with friends and family, but now it’s time to get back to Linux fun!

A piece of computer hardware I always wanted to experiment with, is the Raspberry Pi.

I most have been very good last year, because Santa got me  a Raspberry Pi for Christmas this year!  Of course I spent a lot of time  playing with it lately.

Raspberry Pi - Image courtesy Amazon.com

Raspberry Pi – Image courtesy Amazon.com

I was given the CanaKit package, that came complete with a WiFi dongle, SD card with the OS installed, a nice case, power supply, etc. Only thing I had to do was plug it into my HDMI television for a monitor and plug a USB keyboard and mouse into it.

After I played with it for a couple of days, getting the operating system, menus etc.  set up just the way I like it. I started thinking about a use for it!

Pondering the question for a couple of days, I decided that the Pi would work great as an automation system for my goat pen!

The idea, still in the design  and programming stages, is to use a series of Infrared motion detectors, to send a contact closure to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO, which will then fire a terminal command to change the camera shot.

So, a goat walks into the feed area, the motion sensor would trip the Pi to send a command to turn on that camera! The programming should be pretty easy.

I use the Curl library to send commands to my 12 input video switcher. The Pi can easily send the same Curl command. In fact, Curl was the first software package I installed after I got my Pi booted up!

No real reason why it shouldn’t work, but it will take a lot of wiring of the motion sensor modules, from the different areas of the pen and then connect them to the Pi.

Should be a great and  useful project, and I’ll keep everyone up to date as I go!