A friend of mine convinced me to finally visualize something that I've been kicking around in my head. I always see homeless sleeping in tents on the side of the road or under an overpass and think to myself, "there's got to be a better way", so I finally built something.
I wanted to design something that could be used as temporary shelter. Not something that someone would really prefer over a real home, but something that would be safer than a tent on the freeway. Something that could house all kinds of small families, drug users, mentally challenged people safely, be easy to clean, be something that someone could call their home and provide some basic infrastructure for those less fortunate.
In the images on this page, I've designed a modular homeless shelter made of concrete that provides partial shelter, lighting, power, heat and water and is easily cleaned. The modules can be lined up herring-bone-style and in the rain, they'd even self-clean their neighbor. The entire collection of modules could all drain freely. To clean a module, it would only require a hosing out of the module. In the images, green represents a grate-covered drain. Red represents a heater. Blue is the sink.
There would be a community bathroom with showers elsewhere in the camp and it might be enclosed with a wall or fence to keep people out who haven't qualified for the shelter or who is potentially violent.
This is how the modules would "stack"
This shows the heater on the "bed" side of the shelter and the sink on the "drain" side.
I'm sure that not much would come of my design but I figured that I'd put it out there just in case...
I had to give this some thought because my pothole finder tool that I wrote during the summer of 2023 isn't providing very accurate pothole locations it turns out. :(
Ok, so I'm driving down the street, right? When I'm watching my phone and I have the map app running, I see my car dot following my actual location, which I expect. I know when I drive through an intersection and a few seconds or a few updates later, I see the dot on the map drive through the intersection. Ok, I get it, it takes a second or two to get the location from the GPSs. It takes the app a second to update, etc. No big deal.
However, using my app, I have a button that I press when I pass over a pot hole. I want to "drop a pin" on the map when I press my button, so the road repair guys can look on a map, zoom in and find exactly where my pot hole is located and start the work of filling it in.
Well, it turns out mixing real-world location and time with a GPS signal isn't as simple as it turns out.
As I'm driving down the road, the GPS is providing my app with lat/long pairs and other assorted information, however it's not as easy as just using the last GPS location that the app was given.
As I'm driving, let's say I get a GPS location at location "A". The actual location of tick "A" is a mish-mosh of average locations based on the different times that were received from the different GPS satellites that my receiver is listening to. If I have enough satellites overhead, I can get a lat/long, if I have more, I can get elevation and even more accuracy. This is all well-known however if I'm a fast-moving object, which locations between tick "A" and tick "B" am I getting? I don't really know how it happens, but I can either assume that it's one of two things. It's either an average of all of the locations that were calculated between point A and point B or it's the last location between point A and point B. Either way, when I press my "found a pothole" button, the location that is available to the app is much further behind where my car is actually located.
My initial simple fix was to set a flag that the button had been pressed and the time that the button had been pressed. When point "B" is given to the app, I calculate the percentage between point A and point B that the button had been pressed (based on the times that the GPS had given me point A and point B) and figure out an average percentage of distance between point A and B the button was pressed. I then calculate the lat/long of that location based on the locations A and B and the percentage of distance between them.
Still, locations weren't showing up correctly on the map. :( Grrr!
I can only assume that the GPS location that I get from the receiver is > one tick "old" as far as location goes. I don't know how the GPS works internally and there isn't any real information about the internal workings of a GPS receiver. Anything I found about the resolution of GPS mainly references the legal stuff and the "within 30 meters" accuracy that the original GPS spec included after the government removed the on-purpose jitter from the non-military time signals.
So the solution?
So, I'm adding a fudge factor into the code and tweaking it enough until I can drop a pin and the pin will actually show up at the correct location. It's a long and drawn-out process. I modify the code, re-install my raspberry pi into my car, drive around the neighborhood dropping pins as close to the corners of the turns and as close to the middle of the intersection as I can when I drive around. After 10 minutes, I go back home, load the dropped pins into Google maps and check how close I am to the actual locations that I think that I dropped them. I'm getting close to being accurate, but at the time of this writing, I'm at 1.5 "fudge-factor" ticks extra when I drop the pin from the GPS location, meaning that the pin isn't dropped at point A, point B or even point C, but somewhere between point C and point D which haven't even happened yet. If I'm accelerating or decelerating at the time I drop a pin, this "fudge factor" calculation would be way off, but it turns out driving around, I tend to keep a pretty constant speed, so the "fudge factor" amount actually works out pretty well.
I brought this up with a friend of the family and she was confused and thought (like I did) that it was still OK to compliment a woman about something about her. I complimented her and she appreciated it.
My wife and daughter think differently however. They said that it's not ok for a guy to compliment any woman on pretty much anything. Looks, clothing, hair, shoes, ... Anything.
I was re-watching "Only Murders in the Building" (Season One) with my wife and daughter and this same topic came up.
From the show:
You need to relax, okay? Just have fun. Laugh. Flirt.
Isn't it insulting to flirt now?
Well, who the hell knows?
Suddenly, it's rude to tell a secretary she looks pretty in a pair of slacks.
No. To that whole sentence.
Oliver: Compliment her purse. If it isn't on their body, you can like it.
No. Again, to every word that's coming out of your mouth.
Today I sat.
I sat a lot.
I quite enjoyed it.
People should try sitting. It's way better than standing.
Those people at work with standing desks... They're just trying to fool you into thinking that they're healthy. They're really miserable. Sitting is so much better.
Your ass is natural padding that your body made just for you. Naturally, it has evolved over time to encourage sitting and make sitting as comfortable as possible. Your feet aren't naturally filled with fat to make standing comfortable. The whole shoe industry is painfully aware that standing is horribly painful and is rolling in the cash because of it!
I really don't like standing. Standing in line. Standing guard. Standing ovations. Blech. Who needs 'em. :)
So, let's all just say, "no" to big-shoe!
Sit and be comfortable, I say!
The city of Longmont, Colorado has a pothole problem and it’s so bad that I’ve decided to try to do something about it.
The city has very thoughtfully provided a pothole reporting page but it takes quite a while to fill out the page every time that you need to report a single pothole.
I called up the City and finally was able to talk with the guy who’s in charge of the team that fills the potholes in the city. He was nice enough to take my call, and I was afraid that he’d be all defensive if I started to rant about how bad the pothole situation in the city was right away. He and I talked for about 15 minutes. I asked tons of questions about how the process currently works, how many people he has working under him, are they filled by-hand or is there an automated truck that does the work, etc.
I felt kinda bad for the guy after talking to him. He is understaffed and only gets a handful of pothole reports a week, so he has to track down and make notes of the potholes himself as he’s driving around the city. I told him about my attempt at creating a system to at least report the potholes on the major streets in the city, and he was very receptive. I asked him if I could submit a map of where I found the potholes, and he said, “sure”.
I first wrote an android app which I could attach to my car and bring up when I was driving around the city and just hit a button on the app to save and report an email. The app had a second button to send the locations to me in an email once I stopped driving.
Well, it turns out that the locations were all over the place due to my phone’s GPS accuracy (The Google Pixel 6 Pro GPS is apparently not great). Some potholes were in ditches and tens of feet or tens of yards away from where they actually were located. The phone was also inside the cab of my car so the GPS was affected by noise in the car and the frame of the car itself, etc. Also, when I stopped, I noticed that the GPS drifted quite a bit, so only moving GPS data was even semi-trustworthy.
I had fashioned myself a little gadget made from a USB keyboard with 3 keys, a USB GPS that magnetically sticks to the roof of my car and a raspberry pi zero W with the battery hat. The battery gives me about 2.5 hours of driving time (and I can optionally charge it as I drive). The roof-mounted GPS gives me much more accurate location readings at 1-second intervals and the USB 3-button keyboard is small enough that I can hold it in my hand while I’m driving and not take up too much space.
Price all-in was around $40
Here’s the initial version of the code (I’m still kind of tinkering with it though). One thread reads GPS data, one thread reads keyboard input. One file is used to record pothole locations and one file is just the GPS trail. The 2nd and 3rd keys on the keyboard can be used as an “undo” button in case I want to un-flag a false-positive as I drive over the pothole. The files are opened, written to, then closed in case of a power outage, the files won’t have been left open hopefully to avoid any file corruption.
Feel free to heckle me on my coding style. :)
from gps3 import gps3
from datetime import datetime
logtime = time.strftime("%Y%m%d-%H%M%S")
lat = 0.0
lon = 0.0
gps_time = None
lat_old = 0.0
lon_old = 0.0
gps_old_time = None
enter_time = None
new_pothole = False
def latlondiff(lat1, lat2, amount):
if (lat1 > lat2):
global lat, lon, gps_time, lat_old, lon_old, gps_old_time, new_pothole, logtime, enter_time
gps_socket = gps3.GPSDSocket()
data_stream = gps3.DataStream()
for new_data in gps_socket:
nowtime = datetime.now()
print("Loc: ", data_stream.TPV['lat'], data_stream.TPV['lon'])
lat_old = lat
lon_old = lon
gps_old_time = gps_time
lat = data_stream.TPV['lat']
lon = data_stream.TPV['lon']
g = open('track-'+logtime+'.txt', 'a')
gps_time = nowtime
timediff = (enter_time - gps_old_time).total_seconds()
print("TimeDiff (in seconds, should be less than 1):",timediff)
accurate_lat = latlondiff(float(lat),float(lat_old),timediff)
accurate_lon = latlondiff(float(lon),float(lon_old),timediff)
f = open('holes-'+logtime+'.txt', 'a')
new_pothole = False
enter_time = datetime.now()
new_pothole = True
if (keyboard.is_pressed('b') or keyboard.is_pressed('c'):
f = open('holes-'+logtime+'.txt', 'a')
if __name__ == "__main__":
x = threading.Thread(target=gps_real, args=(1,))
y = threading.Thread(target=get_input, args=(1,))
Driving around was pretty inconspicuous
I was able to locate about 250-ish potholes in my first two 40-minute drives around the city. Longmont has about 340 miles of road in total. I’d like to start with most of the primary roads and then if I have time and the nerves to do it, I’ll hit all the residential roads too.
I’m going to continue to use this method of pothole detection for a month or two and see how it goes.
Here’s the live map of the detected potholes around the city if you’re interested in following my progress:
If the “click a button every time I drive over a pothole” version doesn’t seem to work out, I’ve got in mind an even nerdier solution.
I bought an XBOX Kinect v2 (the one with higher resolution) and I’ll strap it to the front of my car and drive around the city and literally scan every inch of road. The Kinect has a depth sensor on it and I should be able to generate 3D relief maps of every road that I traverse.
Once I have depth data for every road, I can do some offline processing of the data and generate an image and a 3D profile of each 1-second’s worth of GPS data. Then I could identify the largest potholes and report them as the highest priority to the city leaving the smaller potholes as a lower priority. I could provide a website with each picture and 3D relief map of the pothole. Technically I could even provide the amount of filler that would be needed to fill each hole as well, but I might not actually bother with that.
There are a couple of downsides to this solution though:
- The sun. The sun generates enough IR light that it drowns out the IR from the Kinect, so the driving would have to happen after sundown.
- This would require a (bunch) of OpenCL code to stitch together the point cloud data and images and then analyse the pothole data to detect the size of each pothole. Also, if the pothole spanned more than one-second’s worth of GPS ‘length’, I’d have to stitch together a much larger area.
- I’m sure that curved or bowed roads (roads that are higher in the middle than on the sides) would make the pothole detection more tricky 3D-wise. Also writing some code to ignore normal road features (curbs, etc.) might be difficult.
- noise in the sensor or bugs flying around or a dirty lens, all of these real world problems could cause this version to be a huge headache.
I have all the hardware that I’d need to build v3 of the pothole detector, but it seems like it would be a lot of work, so I’m hoping that v2 of the pothole detector will be enough to improve the state of the city’s roads. I’d like to keep it as simple as possible for my own sanity. :)
to be continued …
My father has always grown a healthy crop of tomatoes every year. Each year he tries a different method and over the years has grown quite a healthy crop … enough to give tomatoes away to everyone he knows and still has a plentiful bounty to keep for himself. He likes tomatoes quite a bit and eats them with almost everything.
I’ve tried to take up my father’s hobby and found it quite difficult
I bought a commercial “tub” for growing vegetables, and it was a LOT of money. Like hundreds of dollars for everything. My wife kept making fun of me about how much money I was spending to grow a single tomato, and I’ll give her props when she’s right, that was one expensive tomato! I ended up struggling quite a bit with wind, watering every day and just keeping the damn thing from not dying for most of the summer. I grew maybe 4 good-sized tomatoes over the whole summer which was not at all worth it or respectable.
The one take-away from the expensive “tub” system was its wicking system. It had tubes going down on the corners of the tub to feed the water to the bottom of the tub and the soil was packed in such a way that the water would make its way up through the soil through capillary action and feed the roots of the plants and actually cause the roots to grow deeper to where they thought that the water was coming from. This made for some interesting root growth, so I had to carry that idea forward in next year’s plan.
I took a break from the tomato game and just bought tomatoes from the store. BORING
So I bought only one tomato plant in 2023 from Costco for somewhere around $20 and it was pretty mature and strong already, so I figured that I couldn’t screw it up too badly. I wanted to use the wicking system that the “tub” used in 2021, so I got a couple of hoses, a water pump and an old tub that I could use as a reservoir. The pot that it came in already had holes in the bottom (they probably use the wicking system to feed the plants at the place where Costco bought the plants from in the first place, so they should be ok being fed/watered this way). I came up with something like this:
I ended up replacing the pump with just a programmable faucet switch that I found on AliExpress for pretty cheap. I ran one switch to my sprinklers and one switch to my tomato plant. The tomato plant turned on for one minute every day at the beginning of the day to give the plant a good drink of water every day. My bucket also has holes drilled in the side of it just an inch above the ground so any over-watering would drain out of the bucket. This way the plants were watered daily, and with a standard amount of water as to not get over-watered.
This (I felt) was a strong start and for the first week or so, the plants were growing nicely and things were going ok … and then …
I was home when it started to hail, so I was able to run out and rescue the plant from the torrential downfall of little ice cubes of death. We had a bad hail season, and it hailed for several days in the months of May and June. My car got damage. Our roof got damage. Once it started to continue to happen, I figured that I’d make some sort of protective solution for the tomatoes, so I didn’t have to continue to run out at the last second to bring in the plants. This is what I came up with:
Basically a cheap wooden frame and a cheap clear top to still allow sunlight, but not allow hail.
I wrapped some chicken wire around the plant also to keep the squirrels out. I didn’t want them eating my prized tomatoes after all of this effort.
I got a couple of dozen tomatoes from the plant over the whole summer. It was a good experiment I thought and good progress without spending hundreds of dollars. The tomato plant was not the type to generate really huge tomatoes so the ones that I got from it were all slightly smaller than a tennis ball in size. Not great, but not horrible either.
My plans for 2024 are to make something more durable for the “pan” that the plants sit in. Maybe something larger to support more plants. Maybe something made out of concrete or something, so it’s more solid and less prone to mold and whatnot.
I’d like to be able to set up a rain catcher too using the hail protector, but since I have the watering system automated, this is less of a priority.
I’d like to re-use/re-capture water if I can.
I’d like to somehow get a fertilizer system in there somewhere, so I can add some fertilizer in a bucket somewhere, and it’ll circulate in the system until it’s absorbed into the soil. Not sure how to do this quite yet. I’m looking into the soil-less solutions like hydroponics because they don’t use soil and have to have some sort of nutrients floating around in the soil at all times. Greenhouses sometimes have live fish as part of their water circulation system and use the fish’s poop as nutrients to the plants.
I don’t think that I’ll introduce fish into the system just yet, but I’d like to have more tomatoes, all protected from hail, with automated water and some fertilizer circulating in the system with it.
I’ve got an unhealthy obsession with e-paper devices I think.
I love that they’re low-power and only require power when the page changes! Why don’t they make a linux machine with an xterm as the primary interface that only uses e-paper and has a runtime of weeks instead of hours?!? I’d love one of those to be honest.
I bought a non-working kindle DX (the big kind) at a garage sale for $10 last summer. Turns out that the battery was dead and the Wi-Fi/3g network doesn’t work anymore (not supported because all the 3g networks are gone now).
Solution: new battery for $8 (easy install) and hack the Kindle OS, so I can side-load books onto it.
End result: I can read books on a nice, big kindle now, and it cost me $18 and some time.
Custom cover page option was part of the Kindle hack. I made the actual cover page in Gimp on Linux.
The Kindle keyboard 6” model (middle).
The Xiaomi Inkpalm 5 (right) which is an awesome Android e-ink device that has a fantastic battery life, but android loves to ‘scroll’ things in apps, which requires the e-ink display to do multiple updates when it could only do one. Android needs an option to just scroll one page at a time with a single refresh instead of smooth scrolling. Sorry android, your pretty scrolling feature that you’ve been working on perfecting for a decade now, isn’t good for e-ink displays. Sorry.
All devices have been modified to be more user-friendly and/or work when purposefully bricked by their original developer.
I bought an e-paper arduino device that has buttons, wifi, bluetooth and a pretty slick e-paper display on it. The arduino even supports micropython!
I worked with the Chinese devs and printed out a case for it using my 3D printer and really wanted to make a working PDA from this unit.
But in the end, I ended up going a different direction. :(