Friday, January 27, 2017

“We will not accept what might have been...”

“We will not accept what might have been...”  An awesome speech today by Mia Love, U.S. representative from Utah.  She's not the representative from our district, but ... I kinda wish she was.  Something to note about her: she's unabashedly conservative, and yet she won against a Democrat in one of the most liberal districts in Utah (Salt Lake City and nearby areas)...

Paradise ponders, magical XPK01Z edition...

Paradise ponders, magical XPK01Z edition...  Our weather forecast for last night had a 0% chance of precipitation.  Guess what it's doing right now?  Snowing!  So far there isn't enough accumulated to compel me to plow and shovel again, but I've no idea when this might end.  Or if it might end!  I may well be on snow removal duty again today!

Over the past few weeks, the door from our kitchen to our new deck has been getting increasingly tight.  The problem's cause is easy enough to determine: the door has been wet from snow melt, and at the moment is frozen solid, so the wood has swelled a bit.  From inspection I could see that the top of the door needed to have something like 1/64th or 1/32nd of an inch removed.  I first tried sanding, but after a half hour it didn't feel like I was making any useful progress.  The right tool for that job is a plane, and though I have a fairly well-equipped woodworking shop, a plane is not something I ever invested in.  Why?  Mainly because I have a planer, a big piece of equipment that makes short work of flattening boards.  But you can't put an entire door through a planer.  This job calls for a hand-held plane.

So I went looking on Amazon to see what was available these days.  I haven't purchased a plane in decades, so I didn't know what to expect.  In my head was an old-fashioned hand plane, like the one in the photo at right.  When I did my usual sort of the available planes (and there were many!), a different tool altogether popped out on top: battery-powered power planes.  I have a collection of Makita battery-powered tools, so I immediately gravitated to their version: the model KPK01Z.

That's a photo of it at left (click it to go to the Amazon listing).  I'd never even heard of a power plane before, so I did some reading up on them.  The more I read, the more I liked – this looked like absolutely the right tool for the job.  So I ordered it, and it arrived late yesterday afternoon.

This morning I read the manual (something I usually do for a tool I'm unfamiliar with).  It's easy to use this thing; the only slightly tricky bit was how the safety power switch interlock worked.  I opened the tight door, took the plane outside, and less than 60 seconds later the door was fixed.  Total calories expended: about 0.1.  I may build a shrine to this tool! :)

I also installed my replacement Nest thermostat, the one they reluctantly sent me after I proved the battery in my old one was dead, and I got snippy with them about their initial offer of a 20% discount on a new thermostat.  The replacement went in with no trouble at all, and is working just fine.  Now I have to send the old, dead one back, but that's no problem at all...

Well, that was much better!

Well, that was much better!  At the suggestion of reader Richard C., I bought myself some “breakout boards” to make it easier to work with the tiny little surface-mount integrated circuits so common today.  Many parts can still be purchased in (the much easier to prototype with) DIP packages, but some, like this one, cannot.  Most of the breakout boards I found were obnoxiously expensive, between $5 and $30.  When I'm using such a thing to mount a fifty cent part, I rebel.  But eventually I found this very handy breakout board package at Digi-Key.  It's from Texas Instruments, and it has six each of six different breakout boards – 36 in all – for $10.08.  That's just 28 cents each!

Yesterday my breakout boards arrived, and I put them to the test.  First I soldered the (tiny!) chip's six pins to the breakout board.  Once I got the first pin soldered the chip was held in place; then the rest of the pins were easy.  I'm going to try gluing the chip down next time, before soldering.  Then I soldered some double-male header pins in place, making this look like a six-pin DIP, form-factor-wise.  The perf board you see in the last two photos is only there to hold the header strips in place while I soldered them.  The end result?  A surface-mount chip now can be treated just like a DIP.  I can either solder the header pins directly (which is easy with their 0.1" spacing), or I can plug the whole assembly straight into a DIP socket.  Either way, that's way easier than wiring straight to that teensy little chip!

Several things other than the breakout board contributed to making this possible, and even not too difficult.  The circuit board vise (entirely visible in the last photo) is inexpensive and indispensable.  I have an excellent soldering iron (Hakko FX-888D) with a very pointy tip (just 0.05" diameter at the end).  Finally, I have a pair of Carson CP-60 head-mounted magnifiers.  These act like a low-power stereo microscope that I can use with my glasses on (so my astigmatism, which is quite awful, is corrected) – and they're automatically pointed wherever I'm looking. If you're wondering how I managed to take these photos with my iPhone, that's simple: I took them through a magnifying glass (except for the last one; that's straight up iPhone).  That's why you see the pincushion distortion in the third photo...