Two posts a year is good right?  Well I am going to pretend it is and aim to post a bit more.  We have been busy but wanted to post a couple of updates.  The first is we are going on a year with our first dive into home automation and monitoring with the RaspberryPi – we have a cellar that we automated the ventilation of and built in the ability to monitor it anytime any where.  Additionally, we have a monitor on our chest freezer now that is our cache of meat from hunting and odds and ends from the garden, the freezer is older than me and it would be devastating to lose it and know about it.

The freezer is pretty simple, actually both the freezer and the cellar are quite simple and just make efficient use of technology to do what would take us time everyday to do, should we open the damper in the cellar?  Is the freezer staying cold enough?  At some point in the near future I am aiming to have complete write up of both but today I will give you the top line description of the cellar project.  In the north east corner of our basement was a room that because of how the house was built was buried on three sides with one interior wall.  On the north end of that room was a window that needed replaced, as did the other three in the basement.  These have been since replaced, but back to the cellar.  The window in the cellar was replaced with an insulated wood panel, in the middle of that panel was a home built damper we built with a small motor wired to a couple of limit switches and a relay.  In addition to opening and closing the damper baffle the relay controls a fan used to  boost convection when the damper baffle is open.  This relay is driven by the output from the RaspberryPi, a picture of the damper can be seen below.

The RaspberryPi reads the temperature and humidity of the the cellar in two places as well as outside, additionally it monitors its own battery to  make sure that should the power go out and the battery get low it will shut itself just in case it is a bit too cold outside.  Sure we could look at a thermometer outside and compare it with the temperature inside and make a decision but the RaspberryPi can do it all night and day everyday.  More soon on this build but I wanted to put some time between implementation and documentation, like a year.  One more teaser picture below that was poorly stitched together by my phone.

And finally, since we have been over here just sitting on our hands, we were gifted a greenhouse this fall.  Not something we had planned on but it came up on Craigslist and we were reminded how small the world is.  But we picked it up, moved it 10 miles down the road and its sitting in the barn being refurbished, I think I smell another Pi project coming.



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This is part one, I have no idea when part two, three or four will happen or if they will, but, in my mind this is part one.  It is also a lesson learned – a lesson in patience and hopefully not failure, but if it is a lesson in failure, well there will be that.


So let me tell you what I know about chickens – they like to poop, they eat a lot, they don’t like drafts, they don’t want to stay in the run unless the door is wide open and you want them to get out and roam around then they like to stay in the run, the can’t seem to keep anything clean, they need water, they don’t like green beans or sweet pepper but like hot peppers and they poop – a lot.  Did I mention they poop?  This is actually okay with me because at least forty percent of the reason we got them was for their poop, the eggs are a nice bonus but if they can turn scraps and leftover produce into poop to get the compost fired up, that gets me fired up.  But to poop they need food…and water.

Food has been the easy part, just keep it out there – it doesn’t freeze and it seems to magically stay cleaner.  Water on the other hand has been a chore, it is never clean for longer than five minutes after getting out there and they will not drink if it is dirty – unless its on the ground where they poop then they are all over it – go figure.  So our birds have been outside for about a year now – so we are not the chicken experts by any stretch of the imagination, but we have failed a few times.

Our first failure has been keeping the waterer clean and quite honestly I am not positive we have a solution for this one quite yet time will tell.  But last summer we tried, we bought some chicken nipples – don’t worry they didn’t come off real chickens, anatomically it just wouldn’t workout.  But we bought them, you know the red ones with the stainless steel rod that pokes out?  We got those and a couple dollars worth of PVC fittings and like forty bucks worth of brass adapters to make it work.  And I don’t know that I can say it worked, I could hook it up to the hose and the chickens had the opportunity to use it; realize I said opportunity – see I have noticed that even when introduced to the water the chickens couldn’t quite figure it out, so the summer went by and we found ourselves replacing the nipples more than we should have as the leaked ALL THE TIME.  Anyway the summer went on and we kept filling and cleaning the fount so the chickens were watered and it was clean for five whole minutes, unless it was after dark then it was longer.  That was failure number one.

Then fall came and it was really quite mild, we brought the waterer in at night to keep it from freezing and put it out in the morning. This worked until it didn’t – and it didn’t when all of a sudden the cold came and it froze solid – we didn’t realize it got that cold and I came home from work to find a flock of battle weary chickens who had spent the day pecking ice to get some water.  This was failure number two, frozen water.  So we grabbed a heated pet bowl, a hundred foot extension cord and a bucket to make a suitable watering arrangement for the winter months.  We put the bowl on some bricks on the ground, cut four – four inch round holes into the bucket about four inches up and turned it upside down over the bowl to keep at least some of the wind off it and filled er up.  But it turns out a heated bowl outside in the cold doesn’t stay very full – I assume it was from being heated but it needed to be filled multiple times daily, which was a pain.  So we tried to ease the filling pain by rigging up a special filling watering can – which consisted of a tube on a watering can.  Classy huh, sometimes I even filled it outside in just my buck boots, shorts and an old sweatshirt (not one of those fancy ones with a hood either) – we do what we can to keep home values modest around here, sorry neighbors.  Even with the special watering can we had to head out there a couple times a day – to collect eggs before they froze solid and make sure the birds had water.  So we turned number two into water success number one – we kept the birds watered through the winter, even when the temperatures got down below 0°F.

Failure number three wasn’t measured on the chickens thankfully but our pocket books and egos.  One day while out to our local farm supply store we picked up a heated plastic fount, which you can conveniently buy right on Amazon, which will give me a small kickback and help ease the pain of failure.  But none the less, this particular waterer may be fantastic, I suspect it is; however I do know you have to flip it over to fill it, which seemed tedious to me.  In a moment of absent mindedness I thought, let’s drill a hole in the top and use a rubber cork to plug it.  DO NOT DO THIS, EVER!  It seems like it will work, until you think about it, this particular waterer seems to use the vacuum the water leaving the tank into the little drinking bowl thing to keep the water that is not needed in the thank.  Once you punch a whole, no matter how well drilled and finished into the top – water is not able to be poured into the tank fast enough for it to stay in the tank – not even out garden hose could keep up.  Also  I could not find a replacement tank so I am stuck with a reminder of my mistake.

Finally spring came and we are back to the fount, which works but its never clean for more than five minutes at a time.  In doing some research we discovered cup waterers, which should you choose to you can also buy on Amazon.  Now we haven’t been using them long enough to know if they are worth their weight in plastic, it was sort of an impulse buy – we were going to buy one style or another but we were at our local farm supply store and they had them on clearance and we couldn’t resist.  But the waterer is so much more than just a couple of water cups, we decided that we wanted on with a tank and an auto fill float so we could be away and not have to worry about water.  This past week we bought all the parts from our local rebate happy big box home improvement – which gets a disproportionate amount of my earnings each week – and some from Amazon.  Namely from Amazon we bought half inch PVC tees that had one threaded eighth inch side to match the waterer thread, you can buy them on Amazon and I would recommend you do, without hesitation, remember that first nipple water and the insane amount of brass fittings I needed to attach them?  Not so when you have the right parts.  Worth every penny.


Those are my parts, give or take a couple of trips to the extremely local over priced hardware store where I picked up some pipe tape, which I thought was kinda a lifetime supply when you bought it, guess not.

My parts list consisted roughly of:

  • 4″ PVC
  • 1/2″ PVC
  • 4″ PVC Cap
  • 4″ x 2″ PVC Y
  • 4″ Female adapter
  • 4″ Screw in plug
  • 2″ to 3/4″ Threaded adapter
  • 1/2″ Tee
  • 2 – 1/2″ Plug
  • 2 – 1/2″ Tee with threaded 1/8″ side (see Amazon)
  • 1/2″ MIP to 1/2″ ID (Barbed) Brass adapter
  • 3/4″ MIP to 1/2″ ID (Barbed) Brass adapter
  • 2 – Hose clamps
  • 1/2″ ID tubing
  • Various pipe hangers
  • RV Water Filter (more on this below)
  • Float mechanism (see Amazon)
  • 1/2″ MIP to Garden hose adapter

There is more in the picture but it is in the tool box now, also before I forget the RV water filter is not because our chickens are spoiled, which they are, but because we have really hard water when it doesn’t run through the filter and the softener in the house and I did not want the build up in the waterer.  But they are spoiled.

Next came assembly and testing of the waterer, which was built to fit our coop specifically and went together exceptionally well.  A lot of pipe dope and pipe tape and a half hour or so and the ‘bazooka’ was done, which I could not resist showing off as such.  The ‘bazooka’ or what anyone else might call a reservoir holds about two gallons – which is about what our birds drink in a day, if for some reason we need to disconnect the hose from the waterer we have about a day before we have to worry about it.  Anyways this assembly was fairly straightforward, lots of measure twice cut once, etc.


Once it was assembled and tested, forty three minutes later based on the picture time stamps – I never claimed to be a plumber – it was time for install.  I took both the ‘bazooka’ and the section with the cups on it, the ‘wand’, and installed them where I felt they were best suited into the coop.  I then measured and cut a section of tube to connect them.


I then connected the hose and water filter and let it fill – note I also flushed the water filter, thank goodness for those instructions – Henrietta says “hi and what is that noise”


Once it was full I crawled under there and introduced the chickens to the waterer, just like you do when they are young, dip their beaks in it – it was so much easier then.  I then proceeded to clean and refill their fount and observe.


And much to my surprise, a chicken returned to drink from the cup, whoa!  Success!  But not so fast, one in six is not a good ratio, so I waited a bit longer and not so much.  So we left them with both of their waters and went away to celebrate Mother’s day and returned to find both cups empty – well it looks like they might have figured out how to drink from the cups just not how to get them to refill.

Right now I am not sure if this is a success or a failure, it looks nice in pictures and at least one of the chicken appreciates it, but if it doesn’t work for all of them we are back to where we started.  One thing I have learned with chickens is that in spite of the best made and executed plans, chickens will do what they want.  For instance why did we build three nest boxes if they will only use one when they want to, otherwise, they will just make a nest in the bedding in the far corner of the coop.  Hopefully the next post on our waterer is that our chicken waterer was a massive success and we are building a winter version to stand up to the cold.  But if not we will keep tinkering with this one until we have something that will work.  In the mean time they keep turning whatever we feed them into poop, at least that is consistent.

DISCLAIMER: This will void your warranty.  You will probably lose all the data on your drive.  You might die, who knows.  Don’t try this at home.  If you do decide to do this be sure to wear latex gloves as to not mark your platters.

With that out of the way, lets get down to it, rarely do I write about anything other than food and in a strange far out way this will be related to food.  For quite sometime now my passion for technology and food have collided and I have been working on building out my Digital Cook book and working on and iPad app to accommodate it.  Recently while I was out of town the server on which the majority of this application resided bit the dust or at least the drive with the data one did.  As a person who should know better I have no excuse, but, none the less the data was not backed up.  There was one copy of the database and the data in it.  Fail.  With options running out and not wanting to pay to have the data professionally recovered I took a last ditch effort to recover the data myself.  Much to my surprise it worked.

Thankfully when I built the machine I used identical drives I had laying around.  Because of this I could swap the platters from one drive to the other and that is what I did.  I took the platter (the CD looking thing that lives inside a hard drive and holds all the data) and installed it in the working drive, after removing its platter.  I then tore into my network attached storage chassis, removed the drive in there and plugged in my Fraken-drive.  Bam, disk spun up and Windows recognized it.  Pulled my data off and let out a squeal of delight.  All of my hard work has been saved.  As a by product I have some pictures and videos of the process someone is bound to appreciate.

Hard Drive Platters Exposed

Hard Drive Platters Exposed

Moral of the story is BACK UP YOUR DATA.  I will be doing that first and foremost on my new server configuration to avoid the sense of panic upon realizing you have to start over.

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If you haven’t heard the iPad is a new device from Apple due out in March that is like a giant iPhone or iPod touch, on steroids.  Its like a laptop with no keyboard or mouse, just a touch screen.  You can look at it here.

The iPad looks great, in fact, I want one and will be buying one as soon as it is feasible.  In the mean time I am left to wonder, as a foodie-geek or geek-foodie or food nerd or whatever I am, how will this work as a cookbook?  Will the screen stand up to some abuse?  Can I wipe it off with a rag when I get oil, grease and juices on it?

Starting at $499 it is a rather expensive toy and an even more expensive cookbook but it holds promise if it will stand up to the abuse of living in a kitchen.  In the mean time I have downloaded the SDK and hope to begin plugging away shortly to hook the iPad into my existing recipe database.

Time will tell whether or not the iPad will catch on but with Apple’s cult following surely they will sell millions of these devices in its first year of availability, however, with a  built in stand by battery time of a month it seems that Apple has already counted on these devices not being used daily.  Perhaps CraigsList will end up flooded the used iPads for cheap.

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Pomegranate BBQ Pork Tenderloin

I love meat, juicy, tender fall off the bone type of meat and a while back I decided I would like to be able to smoke meat without using my Weber Kettle grill as a make shift smoker. So in a possibly less than ideal state of mind I decided that I would like an electric smoker, really I just wanted a smoker but found and electric one on Craigslist and bought it without thinking about it enough.  I ended up with a Brinkmann Gourmet Electric Smoker. Once I got it home, I cooked up some mighty fine grub, but noticed Brinkmann really gives you no method to tame this beast.  It can cook up some wicked fish or BBQ with the risk of the fluctuating temperatures murdering a otherwise perfectly acceptable piece of meat, so I stuff it back in the corner of the garage and bought a charcoal version of the same from a friend, then a propane conversion kit for that to make impulse smokes a little more possible.

Well that was all well and good until I decided that there will come a time when I will need more than 1 smoker, or I will want to smoke something (cheese) below the conceivable temperature range of the other smoker or something delicate (fish, and I like smoked fish) and I decided I needed to tame this bright red machine from Brinkmann.  That is when I consulted the Google and was offered up a couple of options.  The first was well so painfully obvious I about smacked myself upside the head, add a thermostat!  An example of this can be found here.  The idea of the thermostat, was well simple and seemed like a good idea, you dial in the temperature and then just leave it set until your food is done or you need to add chips.  Great!

My problem was I wanted intelligent temperature control, I wanted something to control temperature and predict ahead how the element would heat the smoker and shut off the burner before we reached and blew by our target temperature.  So I was on the cyber prowl again and found an excellent tutorial of how to use a PID controller to intelligently control the temperature in a smoker.  That article can be found here.  It was to be the perfect solution at around a $100 it was far more than I had paid for my smoker initially, but it had blinky lights and a couple of temperature readouts and looked like overkill.

Well I had my options and I decided to go the PID route and ended up using the following parts:

All of that came to around $80 when all said and done, and then came assembly which was not hard but after taping up the project box with masking tape and marking out my cutouts.  I grabbed the Dremel, cutout all the holes to mount the required components, drilled some holes in the lid for the cooler to mount to over the SSR and wired the beast up.  In the end I was glad for the panel mount connector for the thermocouple, it will allow the thermocouple to be mounted to the smoker and the controller to be stored elsewhere.  I followed the directions found in this article to assemble the controller, after all I am a programmer not an electrician.  It was really quite easy and when I gave it the trial run and auto tune recommended by the manufacturer I couldn’t have been more happy.

Once the controller was dialed in it had no trouble holding the temperature +/-1°F inside of my garage, external factors may force more deviation from this such as wind or sunshine but I could easily hold temperatures as low as 140°F in my trial and right up at 225°F the temperature remained steady.  My Maverick thermometer (although a little slower than the thermocouple) confirmed the accuracy of the unit.

The only thing that remains to be done is mounting the thermocouple permanently in the smoker body, while this is an easy task, choosing a location that will not interfere with the contents of the smoker remains quite a challenge.

The complete setup

Brinkman PID Setup with Maverick Thermometer to confirm

Hopefully tomorrow I will get the chance to smoke something with this new found control over the previously untamed Brinkmann Gourmet Electric Smoker.

For all things electric smokers, be sure to check out The Electric Smoker Guy.

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