Raspberry Pi Home Automation for the Holidays

When you want to play around with a new technology, do you jump straight to production machinery? Nope. Nothing beats a simplified model as proof of concept. And the only thing better than a good proof of concept is an amusing proof of concept. In that spirit [Eric Tsai], alias [electronichamsters], built the world’s most complicated electronic gingerbread house this Christmas, because a home-automated gingerbread house is still simpler than a home-automated home.

fya59blixaq00y3-largeYeah, there are blinky lights and it’s all controlled by his smartphone. That’s just the basics. The crux of the demo, however, is the Bluetooth-to-MQTT gateway that he built along the way. A Raspberry Pi with a BTLE radio receives local data from BTLE sensors and pushes them off to an MQTT server, where they can in principle be read from anywhere in the world. If you’ve tried to network battery-powered ESP8266 nodes, you know that battery life is the Achilles heel. Swapping over to BTLE for the radio layer makes a lot of sense.

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Laser-Cut Gingerbread Trailer Home

Ah, the holiday gingerbread house. A traditional — if tedious — treat; tasking to create, delicious to dismantle, so why not try applying some maker skills to making the job of building it easier? [William Osman] decided to try two unorthodox approaches to the gingerbread construct; first, he opted to build a gingerbread mobile home. Secondly, he cut the pieces out with a laser cutter.

After the tumultuous task of baking the gingerbread sheets, [Osman] modeled the trailer in SolidWorks and set to work cutting it out on his home-built, 80W laser cutter. Twice. Be sure to double check the home position on any laser cutting you do, lest you ruin your materials. Also — though this might be especially difficult when modelling food in any CAD programs — be sure to account for the thickness of your materials, otherwise you’ll end up with a lot of trimming on your hands. At least gingerbread cuts easily.

Hot glue and royal frosting secured the pieces together — as well as some improvisation of the final details — making for a picture perfect holiday scene — from a certain point of view.

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Carry a Git server in your pocket

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We love using Git for its superior version control. We often host our more advanced projects in a public Github repository. But the bulk of our little experiments are simply local repos. This is fine if you’re always at home, but if we are away from home we find ourselves having to SSH into our server to copy over the Git files. [Andrew] found a way around this slightly awkward process. He used an old Android phone as a Git server.

This actually makes a lot of sense when you start to think about it. Most Android phone have a microSD card slot to provide a huge storage bin (the lack of this on the Nexus 4 is baffling) so you don’t need to worry about running out of space. All of these devices have WiFi, making it easy to use them as an AP when there isn’t any other WiFi around. And the web-connected nature of the device will make syncing your repo over the Internet a snap.

Most of the behind the scenes work is done using Debian packages. This provides a few issues which [Andrew] walks through one by one. We also like his pointers like using ‘noatime’ on your EXTx file systems to avoid wear on the SD card.

An amplifier circuit good enough to eat

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[Dino’s] kitchen skills match his hardware hacking prowess. Look really close at the image above and you’ll realize this collection of transistors and passive components is edible. Rather than decorating cookies for the holidays he built this audio amplifier from gingerbread, icing, and candy.

The thing is, [Dino] almost always has that extra touch to his presentations. If you watch the video after the break you’ll notice that the sound is not the crystal clear quality we’re used to hearing in his video. That’s because he used the hardware from which the edible offering was modeled to do the audio for the presentation clip.

After laying out the design using Express PCB he gets down to business. The base, which is gingerbread, looks just like a square of Radio Shack protoboard. To make the diodes he rolled up some tin foil around a screw driver to use as a mold for sugar and water which had been boiled long enough to give a dark color. A similar technique was used to cast the other parts. Everything was tied together using frosting and pieces of red and black licorice.

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Design a Gingerbread House in CAD, then cut pieces with a laser

This is one of those ideas that’s so simple we can’t believe we haven’t heard of it before now. [Johan von Konow] is upping his holiday decorating game this year by designing his Gingerbread House in CAD and cutting it out on a laser cutter. If designed well this will easily allow you to increase the complexity of your design by orders of magnitude.

We remember making Gingerbread Houses with mom when we were little. She would bake a sheet of gingerbread, then pull out stencils she had made from file folders to carefully cut the walls and roof of the houses. But these were the homesteading equivalent of candy construction — one room consisting of four walls and two roof pieces. [Johan’s] design uses roofs with multiple pitches, dormers, and an entryway off the front of the main building. Quite impressive!

He mentions a few things to keep in mind. The gingerbread should be an even thickness for best results. You’re also going to want to plan for ventilation during cutting and give up the idea that you might eat the house when the holidays are over. The cutting process creates quite a stink and leaves a horribly burnt taste in the baked goods. Of course you could always cut out templates and use a knife when working with food.