Solar Powered Hydroponics

[Dan Bowen] describes the construction of a backyard hydroponics set-up in an angry third person tirade. While his friends assume more nefarious, breaking, and bad purposes behind [Dan]’s interest in hydroponics; he’d just like some herbs to mix into the occasional pasta sauce.

Feel particularly inspired one day after work, he stopped by the local hardware store and hydroponics supply. He purchases some PVC piping, hoses, fittings, pumps, accessories, and most importantly, a deck box to hide all the ugly stuff from his wife.

The design is pretty neat. He has an open vertical spot that gets a lot of light on his fence. So he placed three lengths of PVC on a slant. This way the water flows quickly and aerates as it goes. The top of the pipes have holes cut in them to accept net baskets.

The deck box contains a practically industrial array of sensors and equipment. The standard procedure for small-scale hydroponics is just to throw the water out on your garden and replace the nutrient solution every week or so. The hacker’s solution is to make a rubbermaid tote bristle with more sensors than the ISS.

We hope his hydroponics set-up approaches Hanging Gardens of Babylon soon.

Improving Rice Cooker Efficiency

Looking at the plate on the bottom of his electric rice cooker, [AC_Hacker] was surprised to find that it was rated to consume 400 watts. Furthermore when he measured its consumption he found that it consumed 385 watts without even having a cooking cycle initiated. The circuit to keep cooked rice warm was always on – even when the cooking circuit wasn’t engaged.

Something clearly had to be done, so he set about modifying the cooker for better economy. Removing the base revealed that disabling the warming circuit was as simple as disconnecting it. [AC_Hacker] also noticed that the device had no thermal insulation. There was plenty of space between the inner and outer walls, so he packed it with glass wool. The final modification was to reduce the power taken by the heater by installing a half-wave rectifier diode. The cooker still reached the desired temperature, it just used half the power.

You might think that would be the end of it, given that the modifications significantly reduced the cooker’s power consumption without detriment to its rice cooking ability. Rice now took a little longer to cook, so there was still room for improvement. The moment of inspiration came when [AC_Hacker] realized that the cooking time was proportional to the amount of water used in a cooking cycle. He could safely reduce the water without affecting the cooked rice. A 30% water reduction led to a proportional cooking time reduction, and rice cooked using a lot less power.

Surprisingly this seems to have been Hackaday’s first rice cooker hack. Perhaps that’s because you’ve been so busy supplying us with sous vide hacks to write about.

The Sunday Morning Breakfast Machine

Breakfast is a meal taken very seriously indeed by Brits. So seriously that continual attempts have been made to perfect the experience mechanically. Who could not delight to be woken up by a Teasmade alarm clock delivering a fresh cup of hot beverage, and where else would the getting out of bed sequence in Wallace and Gromit be, not the comedic animated film, but a documentary?

Latest in a long line of British builders of mechanical morning repast generators are [Peter Browne] and [Mervyn Huggett]. Working from a garden shed – where else! – in Sussex, they have spent three months and a thousand man hours creating their “Sunday Morning Breakfast Machine“, designed to cook and serve a slice of toast and a boiled egg alongside a cup of tea or coffee and the morning paper. Prototyping was done in Meccano , could there be any other medium for a machine like this one?

The machine itself is a mix of the practical and the whimsical. The giant-sized facsimile of a vintage Ever Ready battery and the toy rooster hide some pretty accomplished metalwork and control systems. They do admit that the primary purpose is to make people laugh, but it does the job, albeit with what looks like a leak from a cracked egg.

A full description from [Peter] is in the video below the break.

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Brasilia Espresso Machine PID Upgrade Brews Prefect Cup of Energy

Coffee, making and hacking addictions are just bound to get out of control. So did [Rhys Goodwin’s] coffee maker hack. What started as a little restoration project of a second-hand coffee machine resulted in a complete upgrade to state of the art coffee brewing technology.

coffee_hack_arduinoThe Brasilia Lady comes with a 300 ml brass boiler, a pump and four buttons for power, coffee, hot water and steam. A 3-way AC solenoid valve, wired directly to the buttons, selects one of the three functions, while a temperamental bimetal switch keeps the boiler roughly between almost there and way too hot.

To reduce the temperature swing, [Rhys] decided to add a PID control loop, and on the way, an OLED display, too. He designed a little shield for the Arduino Nano, that interfaces with the present hardware through solid state relays. Two thermocouples measure the temperature of the boiler and group head while a thermal cut-off fuse protects the machine from overheating in case of a malfunction.

Also, the Lady’s makeup received a complete overhaul, starting with a fresh powder coating. A sealed enclosure along with a polished top panel for the OLED display were machined from aluminum. [Rhys] also added an external water tank that is connected to the machine through shiny, custom lathed tube fittings. Before the water enters the boiler, it passes through a custom preheater, to avoid cold water from entering the boiler directly. Not only does the result look fantastic, it also offers a lot more control over the temperature and the amount of water extracted, resulting in a perfect brew every time. Enjoy [Rhys’s] video where he explains his build:

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Reverse Engineering the McDonald’s French Fry

McDonald’s is serious about their fries. When they were forced by shifting public opinion (drunkenly swaggering around as it always does) to switch from their beef tallow and cottonseed oil mixture to a vegetable oil mixture; they spent millions to find a solution that retained the taste. How they make the fries is not the worlds most closely guarded secret, but they do have a unique flavor, texture, and appearance which is a product of lots of large scale industrial processes. [J. Kenji López-Alt] decided to reverse engineer the process.

His first problem was of procurement. He could easily buy cooked fries, but he needed the frozen fries from McDonald’s to begin his reverse engineering. McDonald’s refused to sell him uncooked fries, “They just don’t do that,” one employee informed him. He reached out to his audience, and one of them had access to a charlatan. The mountebank made quick work of the McDonald’s employees and soon [J. Kenji] had a few bags of the frozen potato slivers to work with.

What follows next was both entertaining and informative. At one point he actually brought out a Starrett dial caliper to measure the fries; they were 0.25in squares in cross section. Lots of research and experimentation was done to get that texture. For example, McDonald’s fries aren’t just frozen raw potatoes. They are, in fact; blanched, flash fried, frozen and then fried again. Getting this process right was a challenge, but he arrived at similar fries by employing his sous vide cooker.

He then wanted to see if he could come up with a french fry recipe that not only allowed the home chef to make their own McDonald’s fries, but improve on them as well. It gets into some food chemistry here. For example he found that the same effect as blanching could be produced by boiling the fries; if you added vinegar to keep the cell walls from disintegrating.

The article certainly shows how knowledge of the chemistry behind cooking can improve the results.

Lettuce For Life!

If you take a head of romaine lettuce and eat all but the bottom 25mm/1inch, then place the cut-off stem in a bowl of water and leave it in the sun, something surprising happens. The lettuce slowly regrows. Give it a few nutrients and pay close attention to optimum growing conditions, and it regrows rather well.

lettuce-for-life-hydroponic-systemThis phenomenon caught the attention of [Evandromiami], who developed a home-made deep water culture hydroponic system to optimise his lettuce yield. The lettuce grows atop a plastic bucket of water under full spectrum grow lights, while an Intel Curie based Arduino 101 monitors and regulates light levels, humidity, temperature, water level, and pH. The system communicates with him via Bluetooth to allow him to tweak settings as well as to give him the data he needs should any intervention be required. All the electronics are neatly contained inside a mains power strip, and the entire hydroponic lettuce farm lives inside a closet.

He does admit that he’s still refining the system to the point at which it delivers significant yields of edible lettuce, but it shows promise and he’s also experimenting with tomatoes.

Our community have a continuing fascination with hydroponic culture judging by the number of projects we’ve seen over the years. This isn’t the first salad system, and we’ve followed urban farming before, but it’s winter strawberries that really catch the attention.

Sweet 3D Printer

Dylan’s Candy Bar is an upscale sweet shop in Manhattan. In a stunning proof that 3D printing has become buzzword-worthy, they’ve announced a deal with Katjes Magic Candy Factory to bring four 3D gummy printers to the US (specifically, to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami).

The device looks a bit like a classic 3D printer, but it extrudes eight different gummis in a variety of flavors. The store offers twenty designs but you can also print text or your own drawings (including, apparently, your face).

Each creation costs about $20. Time will tell if this is just a stunt, or if we are going to see food printers cropping up at a mall near you. You can see a video they posted to Twitter below along with a video from the product roll out of the printer in question.

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