Hackaday Prize Entry: Dave Thomas’ Desert Dryer

It seemed utter madness — people living in hot desert climates paying to heat air. At least it seemed that way to [David Thomas] before he modified his tumble dryer to take advantage of Arizona’s arid environment.

Hanging the wash out to dry is a time-honored solution, and should be a no-brainer in the desert. But hanging the wash takes a lot of human effort, your laundry comes back stiff, and if there’s a risk of dust storms ruining your laundry, we can see why people run the dryer indoors. But there’s no reason to waste further energy heating up your air-conditioned interior air when hot air is plentiful just a few meters away.

[David]’s modification includes removing the gas heating components of the dryer and adding an in-line filter. He explains it all in a series of videos, which at least for his model, leave no screw unturned. It’s not an expensive modification either, consisting mostly of rigid dryer hose and copious amounts of aluminum duct tape. He mentions the small fire that resulted from failing to remove the gas igniter, so consider yourself warned. The intake filter and box were originally intended for a house air-conditioning system, and required only minimal modifications.

This is a great build, being both cheap and easy to implement as well as being environmentally friendly without requiring a drastic change to [David]’s lifestyle. It makes us wish we had a similar endless supply of hot air.

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Autonomous Plant Watering Thingamajig

[Eitan] is one of those guys whose plants keep tottering between life and death. Can’t blame the plants, because he just keeps forgetting when to water them. But keeping them hydrated requires him to get off his butt and actually water them. Surely, there had to be an easier solution which needed him to do nothing and yet prevent his plants from dying. Being lazy has its benefits, so he built his own super simple Autonomous Plant Watering Thingamajig.

He needed a water pump, but all he had was an air pump. So he hooked it up to force air in to a sealed container and push the water out. To make the setup autonomous, he connected the pump to a WiFi-enabled wall socket and then programmed it to dispense water at regular intervals. It may take him some time to fine tune the right interval and duration for his setup over the next few weeks, but right now, it’s pumping water for a short duration once every week.

The important thing for a system like this to work is to ensure it is well sealed. Any air leakage will require an increasing amount of air to be pumped in to the container as the water level keeps reducing. Without knowing the actual level of water in the container, it isn’t easy to compensate for this via programming. And that’s the other problem. [Eitan] will still have to periodically check his mason jar for water, and top it up manually. Maybe his next hack will take care of that. We’re thinking a Rube Goldberg watering system would be awesome. It’s nice when people put on their thinking caps and say “Okay, here’s a problem, how do I solve it?” instead of going out and buying an off-the-shelf device.

Thanks, [Clay], for sending in this tip.

Minimal MQTT: Power and Privacy

In this installment of Minimal MQTT, I’m going to cover two loose ends: one on the sensor node side, and one on the MQTT server side. Specifically, I’ll tackle the NodeMCU’s sleep mode to reduce power and step you through bridging MQTT servers to get your data securely out of your home server and into “the cloud”, which is really just other people’s servers.

If you’re just stepping into this series now, you should really check out the other three posts, where I set up a server, then build up some sensor nodes, and then flesh-out a few ways to control everything from your phone or the web. That’s the coolest material, anyway. This last installment just refines what we’ve built on. Let’s go!

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Path to Craftsmanship: The Art of Throwing It Away

Some hackers build sharp, mildly toxic nests of parts, components, and thrifty finds around themselves. These nests, while not comfortable, are certainly comforting. They allow the hacker’s psyche to inhabit a locale as chaotic as their minds. Within these walls of stuff and clutter, stunning hacks pour out amid a small cloud of cursing. This article is not for them.

Very few of us can actually function in a workplace such like that of the venerable Jim Williams (photo from linked article). Thanks to the commenters for mentioning him in the previous article.

For the rest of us, clutter is a Zen destroying, seemingly unconquerable, monster that taunts our poor discipline and organizational skill from the dark corner of our minds. However, there is an easy solution that is oft overlooked. Somewhat obviously, most organization problems can be solved by simply not having things to organize.

It’s taken me a very long time to realize the source of my clutter woes. My first tactic was to blame myself for my inability to keep up with the mess. A more superior human would certainly be able to use their effortless discipline to keep a space organized. However, the clutter was a symptom of a problem completely separate from my actual ability to keep a space clean.

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Minimal MQTT: Control and Clients

So you’ve built a central server and filled your house with WiFi-connected nodes all speaking to each other using the MQTT protocol. In short, you’ve got the machine-to-machine side of things entirely squared away. Now it’s time to bring the humans into the loop! We’re going to explore a couple graphical user interfaces.

You could build a physical knob and/or LED display for every little aspect of your entire system, but honestly, this is where GUIs really shine. In this installment of Minimal MQTT, we’re going to look at human-friendly ways of consuming and producing data to interact with your connected sensors, switches, and displays. There are a ton of frameworks out there that use MQTT to build something like this, but we’re going to cut out the middle-man and go straight for some GUI MQTT clients.

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Hack Your Apartment: Keyless Entry with Little Effort

A typical buzzer for an apartment complex.
A typical buzzer for an apartment complex.

If you’ve been to an apartment complex with a locked front door, you’ve seen the buzzer systems. You press the corresponding button for the apartment you want and can talk to the resident. They can press a button to unlock the door briefly, and then you go up to their apartment and they don’t have to come down to let you in. But what if you’re the resident and you want to go for a run without your keys jingling in your pocket? What if you want to open it using just your smartphone?

I knew this was a silly problem, and everyone I told about it thought that for the amount of time and effort it might save, it was hardly worth it.

Challenge accepted.

How fast can I put this together using only parts I have around the apartment? Turns out about 2 hours.

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Meter All The Phases: Three Phase Energy Meter With OpenWrt

Keeping track your overall electricity usage is a good thing, and it’s even better if you know where all the kilowatt-hours are going. [Anurag Chugh’s] house has the three phases coming from the electrical distribution box tidily organized: One for the lighting and fans, one for household appliances, and one for the hot water supply. To monitor and analyze the electrical fingerprint of his house, [Anurag] installed a 3 phase energy meter and hooked it up to the internet.

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