Working from home – Is it negotiable?

With COVID-19 having people work from home, I’m reminded of my own history of working from home.

More than 20 years ago, I worked for Critical Path Software (now part of eBay) in Portland. While Portland is a great place to visit, it wasn’t for me. I decided to leave Portland and when I told the owners of the company I was moving back to San Diego, they asked if I wanted to continue working for them. Since I had nothing else lined up (not the brightest idea to move without a job), I said sure. That was the start of me working from home.

Through many contract jobs and a full time job, I continued to work from home. I treated working from home just like working in an office and would rarely leave during the day; my work ethic wouldn’t allow it. As time went on, I realized that being in one place (i.e., my home office), wasn’t always where I did my best thinking. Running, doing errands, and being out of the house sometimes produced my best work which helped me relax the need to be in the “office”. This didn’t mean I was working any less and in fact, I’d argue that my productivity has gone up since I started being less rigid about being in the office.

Several years ago, I was offered a position that met all my requirements for a job, except for one, working from home. I thought about this a lot and decided that commuting to an office would take a lot out of me and turned it down. I know that people commute all the time, but for someone that hasn’t, I just couldn’t make that sacrifice. Luckily I still had my contract work, so I was able to make the choice.

Four years ago I was laid off and looking for work. The first job that I was offered seemed great, but I’d have to go into an office everyday. I figured how bad could it be since the commute was against traffic and just 30 minutes each way. As I didn’t have any other job prospects, I took the job. As soon as I started the job, it started to wear me down. I got up at 6 am to be at work at 7 am and leave at 3:30 pm. Everyday I came home and fell asleep on the couch. Between the commute, having to be around people all day, and being stuck in a cubical was too much for me to handle. I did manage to work from home once a week towards the end of my short stint there and swore I’d never work in an office again.

Now we’re here with many people working from home and some are asking why can’t they always work from home? I think that too many companies are stuck with the mentality that being in an office is required to do work. That clearly isn’t the case for good people. I hope that having people work from home now will get companies to re-think their work from home strategy.

Here’s some advice I’d like to offer companies that haven’t let people work from home in the past and won’t let them work from home regularly once we get back to “normal”:

  • A high performing person will be high performing no whatever where he or she is.
  • “Water cooler” talk can still happen using tools such as Slack. I chat with a former colleague and friend all the time; he helps me solve problems and is a great sounding board. I’ve only been in the same room with him maybe 3 or 4 times since we first started working together years ago.
  • Ad hoc design discussions can be just as effective through email, instant messages, screen sharing and phone.
  • People can be much less stressed by not having to deal with a commute and coming into an office.
  • Companies are missing out on good people by requiring them to come into the office or being in any particular location.
  • Being flexible makes people happier.

I’d like to say that working from home is non-negotiable for any future job or contract I take. Going into an office every once in a while is fine, but I’m not sure I could be happy going into an office everyday and that directly translates into not being fully productive.

Monitoring a SunPower Solar System

After years of waffling on if I should install solar on my house, I finally decided that it would be a good investment. While the federal tax credit went down from 30% to 26%, I would still get a bit of my investment back. The tax credit goes to 22% next year and then goes away, so if I didn’t make the leap now, I’m not sure financially it would make sense for a long time until the panel prices come way down.

Like most major investments, I did a significant amount of research. I got proposals from 9 companies using a variety of panels and inverters. For better or worse, I went with a SunPower system. SunPower wants to make it easy for people to see how much energy they are producing and their monitoring site has a very, very simple dashboard. Apparently their older dashboard (still available via a different URL that uses Flash) showed output on a per panel basis. When I asked SunPower about this, here was their response:

Unfortunately, our monitoring website only shows production data of the system as a whole. Inverter level monitoring was only offered to dealers for troubleshooting and/or repair purposes. This was not offered to homeowners because, after lengthy evaluation, that feature offers more information than is necessary to monitor ongoing system performance, but not enough information to help identify problems (on the rare occasions when they do occur). We also had concerns about the feature’s design, in part due to negative feedback from customers.

After a bit of research, I found that the monitoring device (PVS6) actually has the ability to be queried for local data. An individual with better hacking/detective skills than me figured out the commands to send to the unit and posted information on GitHub describing the setup. That looked pretty straight forward. So I decided to figure out how to integrate it into Home Assistant and into my Grafana graphs.

First step was to configure a Raspberry Pi as basically a bridge where HTTP requests sent to one port would be redirected out the other port. I didn’t need a full fledged router for this, just an HTTP proxy. I decided to use a Raspberry Pi Zero W that I had lying around as a base. I ordered an Ethernet adapter for it and that was it for hardware. My son designed a case for both pieces and I 3D printed it.

Configuring the Raspberry Pi

  1. Download the Raspberry Pi Imager
  2. Select the Raspbian Lite image.
  3. Write the image to an SD card.
  4. Create a file called wpa_supplicant.conf at the root of the image with the following:
    ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
    update_config=1
    country=US
    
    network={
     ssid="<Name of your WiFi>"
    psk="<Password for your WiFi>"
    }
    
  5. Add a file called ssh at the root of the image. This file should be empty.

  6. Assign a static IP address mapping on your router for the Pi.
  7. Boot the Raspberry Pi. Login using username: pi password: raspberry
  8. Update the OS using

    sudo apt-get update
    
  9. Install ha-proxy
    sudo apt-get install haproxy
    
  10. Modify /etc/dhcpcd.conf by adding the following so that the Ethernet going to the PVS6 doesn’t attempt to setup a gateway. If this happens, the Pi no longer responds over WiFi.
    interface eth0
    nogateway
    
  11. Add the following to /etc/haproxy/haproxy.cfg:
    frontend http-in
        bind *:80
        default_backend backend_servers
    
    backend backend_servers
        server sv1 172.27.153.1:80
    
    listen stats
        bind *:8080
        stats enable
        stats uri /
        stats refresh 10s
        stats admin if LOCALHOST
    
  12. Reboot the Pi.

Now when you issue HTTP calls to the Pi, they’ll goto the PVS6.

Setting up Home Assistant

I use Node-RED for most of my automations, so the following is how I poll the PVS6 from Node-RED.

Node-RED PVS6

Basically what I do is make an HTTP call to the Raspberry Pi over the WiFi interface that redirects to the PVS6. Using the information from the GitHub repo I found, the call is: http://10.0.3.55/cgi-bin/dl_cgi?Command=DeviceList

I then parse out the different devices that are returned (one for each inverter, one for the monitoring unit, one for the consumption meter and one for the production meter). My installer didn’t hook up the consumption meter, but I use an older version of the Rainforest Automation EAGLE-200 to connect to my electric meter and get consumption data.

This Node-RED flow generates multiple sensors that can then be used to display data right in Home Assistant or in Grafana. There is more information in the output than I need such as AC voltage, DC voltage, AC current, DC, current, etc. I use Home Assistant’s HTTP interface to create new sensors and since I have no idea how fast it can respond, I rate limit the updating of the sensors.

You can download my Node-RED flow from here.

Grafana

I’m going to leave it as an exercise for the reader to setup pretty pictures in Grafana. I’ve setup a basic dashboard and some other graphs. The per panel graphs are useful to tell me if a panel isn’t operating properly. While SunPower doesn’t really want you to know this information, it is very helpful. My system was turned on (my installer and SunPower can remotely disable my system which really bothers me) yesterday and I noticed that 1 of the panels wasn’t generating power. This amounts to about 8% of my overall system; most people wouldn’t know this which makes it even more important to be able to get status on a per panel basis.

Energy Dashboard

Energy Usage

Per Panel Monitoring

Conclusion

I’ve written up this guide to help others, but also to refresh my memory in the future to figure out what I did. My home automation system is growing more and more complex by the day and if I don’t document at least parts of it, I’ll never be able to troubleshoot it.

Feel free to ask questions or provide comments.

Printing on a Glass Bed and printing really flexible filament

When I purchased the Ender 3 Pro, I liked the idea of the magnetic flexible bed so that prints would easily come off of it. Reading on various forums, a large number of people seemed to prefer glass beds with either hairspray or a glue stick to get prints to stick to the bed. I’ve had good success with the magnetic bed, so I just filed the glass bed information in the back of my head.

As I wrote recently, I’ve been printing using flexible filament just because I think it is kind of neat. The ease with which I was able to print amazed me as I had read about people having problems left and right with flexible filament. In response to a video about a broken extruder by Chuck Hellebuyck, I commented that I had no problems printing TPU using the all metal extruder on my Ender 3. Chuck pointed out that there are different types of TPU characterized by their shore hardness, which should have been obvious to me, but didn’t dawn on me until Chuck’s response. The SainSmart Flexible TPU filament has a shore hardness of 95A meaning it is pretty stiff and basically prints like PLA. This got me curious about printing more flexible filaments, so I purchased a roll of NinjaTek NinjaFlex which has a shore hardness of 85A and is basically light spaghetti.

My first print with it with the following settings:

  • Infill density: 10%
  • Print Speed: 10 mm/s
  • Regular Fan Speed: 0%
  • Regular Fan Speed at Layer: 1
  • Material Flow: 110%
  • Enable Retraction: Off

Seemed to work OK, but the bottom layer wasn’t the best.

After thinking I was successful, I tried printing a poop emoji for my son. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the TPU to stick to the bed. After a few unsuccessful tries, the filament started jamming in the extruder. Ah yes, exactly what Chuck said would happen. I ordered an EZR Struder to help with the extruding. However, that would only solve part of the problem. The other part was getting the print to stick to the bed.

I was somewhat prepared to use a glass bed as my wife had some scrap glass from a project of hers and I asked her to save a few pieces for me. She cut down the glass for me and then I beveled the edge and polished the edges. I removed the magnetic build sheet and put the glass bed on top of the magnetic layer on the bed. Since I could only find one binder clip, I used blue painter’s tape to tape the glass to the bed.

For my first test, I cleaned the glass, put down 3 layers of glue, and printed a test cube. It printed out quite well, but was a bit of a challenge getting off the glass. I really liked how smooth the bottom of the cube was compared to the magnetic bed.

For my next test after installing the EZR Struder was to print a small poop emoji. From the settings above, I increased the flow to 115%. I put down the layer of glue and printed. The print came out flawlessly and it had no problems during the print.

Lessons learned:

  • Different hardness TPU prints differently (duh!)
  • A glass bed with a glue stick makes a world of difference in adhering prints (especially TPU) to the bed
  • The EZR Struder is absolutely necessary to print more flexible TPU; if you are printing the stiffer TPU, the stock (or replacement metal) extruder works fine.

With this new setup, can I print the NinjaFlex faster? Only one way to know and that’s to try it!

I’m quite pleased with the new extruder and the glass bed. 3D Printing is definitely a trial and error process. Each change, be it large or small, can have huge ramifications. If you combine them, it makes it even harder to figure out what is good. I’m having fun with this and learning a huge amount.

3D Printing Using Flexible Filament (TPU)

Through my short journey with 3D printing, I’ve spent a lot of time reading through the 3D Printing SubReddit and something that I found interesting was people talking about printing using flexible filament (TPU). While I didn’t have a real use for printing squishy things, I was curious. A few weeks ago, I purchased a roll of SainSmart Flexible TPU filament to see if I could print.

The forums and other references indicated that printing flexible filament was difficult because pushing the filament through the printer was like pushing a wet noodle! Some people had said that they printed with the stock printer, others said that for best results they modified the printer into a direct drive system. I was up for the challenge!

Before I started, I had already made the following modifications to my printer:

  • Replaced the extruder with an all metal one

  • Replaced the Bowden feed tube with a Capricorn one. The basic gist behind this change was that the tighter tolerances on the tubing doesn’t allow the filament to wiggle around and bunch up. In addition, when switching filaments, I don’t have to purge as much filament as very little gets stuck in the tube.

  • Added a filament guide that I printed. This should create a smoother path for the filament.

  • Added a filament runout sensor with guide. The main goal with this modification was to be notified when filament runs out so I can change it during a print. It also really helps feed the filament (with the flexible filament, I have to push down the microswitch to feed it).

  • Added a filament holder with bearings. This took awhile to print, but has been great. On my first flexible print, I noticed the extruder was having trouble pulling the filament because the roll wasn’t spinning freely. I helped things along, but realized that reducing friction would be a big help.

  • Leveled the bed manually and with the BLTouch.

Other than that, I’m using the stock magnetic bed that I cleaned.

My Cura settings are pretty straightforward.

For the TPU material settings, I used:

  • Print temperature: 215°C
  • Build plate temperature: 50°C

Profile settings:

  • Infill density: 10% (I was printing something squishy)
  • Print Speed: 20 mm/s (I’m going to try increasing this as things worked well)
  • Regular Fan Speed: 0%
  • Regular Fan Speed at Layer: 1
  • Material Flow: 110%
  • Enable Retraction: Off

That’s really all there was to my settings. Since I’m sometimes not the most adult person, I thought it would be funny to print a Poop Emoji for my son. It was squishy (10% infill) and I printed it at 50% of the original size keeping the print time to about 2 hours. My son absolutely loved the print. I was amazed at the print as I did it on the first try with my cold printer.

I’m going to keep experimenting with TPU and try to figure out what else I can print. I have no need for flexible filament, but why not print more stuff!

Installing a BLTouch on an Ender 3 Pro

I recently purchased a Creality Ender 3 Pro 3D printer as an “upgrade” to my Monoprice Select Mini Pro printer. There were a few reasons I decided to do this:

  1. Larger print area. While the Select Mini Pro is a great little printer, I am limited to what I can print and I’ve started getting interested in printing lithophanes which can get a bit larger than the printer can handle.
  2. Automatic bed leveling has no fallback. The Mini Pro uses an inductive sensor for automatic bed leveling and if that fails, I either have to replace it or am pretty much out of luck (someone has posted instructions on how to level the bed if the sensor fails, but it is a tad cumbersome).
  3. No ability to switch out the build plate for glass or another material. I’ve done a lot of reading about 3D printing and people swear by glass build plates and the Select Mini Pro doesn’t make it easy to add one. A shim has to be added to the Z axis limit switch and then you have to figure out the bed leveling.
  4. Limited to what filament types can be used. The printer has a maximum build plate temperature of 70°C and limited nozzle temperature which can limit the filaments used. Also, I’ve read that while some people have had success with TPU (a flexible filament), it may not work so well.
  5. No ability to modify the firmware for different features. The Ender 3 runs the Marlin firmware which is open source and can be easily modified.

In any case, I’ve read about manual bed leveling and while doable, it seems like a lot of work and I like easy! After setting up the printer and running it for a few days, I decided to install the BLTouch automatic bed leveling probe. In the weeks leading up to setting up the printer and the probe, I had read numerous articles and watched a number of videos on the subject, so I thought I was prepared for it. Parts of the setup seemed a bit daunting, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

The first step to installing the probe was printing out a mount for it. Thingiverse has a number of options. I settled on this mount as it was adjustable. Printing it and attaching the BLTouch was quite easy; I didn’t have the right size M3 screw, so I had to cut off a longer one.

After attaching the BLTouch, I had to run the extension wires through the sleeve that had the other wires. This was a little bit of a pain. The only mistake I made here that bit me later on is that the extension cable became disconnected and the BLTouch failed to operate causing the nozzle to hit the build plate. Oops. The lesson here was to hot glue the connectors together so that any jiggling of the cables wouldn’t cause them to disconnect. The second lesson is to always make sure the BLTouch performs its self test when the printer powers up.

Fhew, I’m exhausted just writing that up! After the wires were run, I had to attach them to the motherboard. The BLTouch has 2 connections; the first is done through a pin 27 connector and is just unplug the LCD cable, plug in the connector, plug in the LCD again and attach the 3 wires from the BLTouch making sure the orientation was correct by verifying the labeled pins were attached to the correct, color coded wires. The second part of attaching to the motherboard was to replace the Z axis end stop. The extension cable I bought had a non-keyed connector that just plugged in. Unfortunately it wasn’t a secure connection so I used hot glue on it the first time I connected it. On my second poke at the motherboard (due to troubleshooting the connector that came loose as I mentioned earlier), I decided to just cut the wires on the Z axis end stop, solder on the extension cable and use some heat shrink tubing. I had to make sure the white wire was towards the front and the black wire was towards the back. This was a much better connection and has less of a chance of coming close. After I buttoned up the motherboard, it was onto the firmware.

Once I initially got the printer setup and running properly, I upgraded the firmware mostly to know that I had thermal runaway protection and had the latest changes. Compiling the firmware was straightforward and explained in various posts and videos. Most of the posts talk about installing the initial firmware with a bootloader using an Arduino board. As I don’t have any Arduino boards around, I opted for installing using a Raspberry Pi 3B that I purchased to run OctoPrint. I used this guide which was easy to follow and perform the initial install. The printer didn’t come with a boot loader which required the extra steps to install the firmware the first time; why this was done, I have no idea. Over the course of a few days, I managed to pick the options I wanted for my firmware. Unfortunately my Creality 1.1.4 board doesn’t have much space on it, so I had to disable SD card support. This wasn’t a big deal as I do all my printing through OctoPrint. Using the base Ender 3 Marlin 2.0.1 example, I made the following changes:

Old Configuration.h:

    #define SHOW_CUSTOM_BOOTSCREEN
    #define BAUDRATE 115200
    #define CUSTOM_MACHINE_NAME "Ender-3"
    //#define BLTOUCH
    #define NOZZLE_TO_PROBE_OFFSET { 10, 10, 0 }
    #define MIN_PROBE_EDGE 10
    #define Z_PROBE_SPEED_FAST HOMING_FEEDRATE_Z
    #define Z_CLEARANCE_DEPLOY_PROBE   10 // Z Clearance for Deploy/Stow
    //#define Z_MIN_PROBE_REPEATABILITY_TEST
    //#define PROBING_FANS_OFF          // Turn fans off when probing
    //#define AUTO_BED_LEVELING_BILINEAR
    //#define RESTORE_LEVELING_AFTER_G28
    //#define LEVEL_BED_CORNERS'
    //#define Z_SAFE_HOMING
    #define SDSUPPORT
    //#define NOZZLE_PARK_FEATURE
    //#define SLIM_LCD_MENUS

New Configuration.h:

    //#define SHOW_CUSTOM_BOOTSCREEN
    #define BAUDRATE 250000
    #define CUSTOM_MACHINE_NAME "Ender 3 Pro"
    #define BLTOUCH
    #define NOZZLE_TO_PROBE_OFFSET { -44, -16, 0 }
    #define MIN_PROBE_EDGE 44
    #define Z_PROBE_SPEED_FAST HOMING_FEEDRATE_Z / 5
    #define Z_CLEARANCE_DEPLOY_PROBE   15 // Z Clearance for Deploy/Stow
    #define Z_MIN_PROBE_REPEATABILITY_TEST
    #define PROBING_FANS_OFF          // Turn fans off when probing
    #define AUTO_BED_LEVELING_BILINEAR
    #define RESTORE_LEVELING_AFTER_G28
    #define LEVEL_BED_CORNERS
    #define Z_SAFE_HOMING
    //#define SDSUPPORT
    #define NOZZLE_PARK_FEATURE
    #define SLIM_LCD_MENUS

Old Configuration_adv.h:

    //#define BABYSTEP_DISPLAY_TOTAL          // Display total babysteps since last G28
    //#define BABYSTEP_ZPROBE_OFFSET          // Combine M851 Z and Babystepping
      //#define BABYSTEP_ZPROBE_GFX_OVERLAY   // Enable graphical overlay on Z-offset editor
    //#define ADVANCED_PAUSE_FEATURE

New Configuration_adv.h:

    #define BABYSTEP_DISPLAY_TOTAL          // Display total babysteps since last G28
    #define BABYSTEP_ZPROBE_OFFSET          // Combine M851 Z and Babystepping
      #define BABYSTEP_ZPROBE_GFX_OVERLAY   // Enable graphical overlay on Z-offset editor
    #define ADVANCED_PAUSE_FEATURE

Downloading the firmware after the first install was easily done through OctoPrint without having to install jumper wires and remove the motherboard. It is so easy that I made changes, recompiled, and uploaded new firmware a few times.

Was I done yet? Of course not! I hadn’t even leveled the bed! Some guides say to add a G29 command to Cura settings which runs the auto bed leveling on every print. Auto bed leveling is slow and that’s just a waste of time. So I decided that I’ll just level the bed every few days. I started up the printer, did an Auto Home, verified that touching the probe sent the hot end up (if it didn’t, I would have stopped the printer). Using OctoPrint, I sent

G28; auto home

G29 L50 R150 F50 B150 T V4

to the printer to start the auto bed leveling. This sets a bit wider grid than the default G29 command. Then I sent a

M500

command to store the settings.

M501

to read the settings back.

Was I finally done? Nope. The next piece in the BLTouch configuration was to properly set the Z Probe offset. This is the distance between the bottom of the nozzle and the bottom of the probe. The probe is, obviously, slightly higher than the nozzle (so that it doesn’t drag). Most guides say to start at zero, print a first layer, adjust the Babystep Z, use the M851 command and then store the setting. I did this and after a number of adjustments, got things printing quite well. However, after reading this manual bed leveling guide, I realized that there was a slightly easier way. Basically if I have an object of a known size, i.e. a cube that I use calipers to measure the height, raise the Z axis (using the controls on the printer), put the cube directly under the nozzle and adjust the Z axis so that the nozzle barely touches the cube, I’d know exactly the Z Probe Offset. If the cube is say 15 mm tall and the Z axis shows 15.88 mm, I’d set the Z Probe Offset to be -0.88 mm. So much less guess work in this. Don’t forget to store the settings after setting the Z Probe Offset. Since my settings are pretty good using the Babystep Z (with my firmware options simply called Z Probe Offset), I haven’t actually tried using a cube of known size to set the offset.

Lastly, I used the Level Bed Corners menu option I enabled in the firmware to manually level the bed as well as I could and then re-did auto bed leveling so that the firmware would have less to compensate. In addition, I used the OctoPrint Bed Level Visualizer plugin to see how close I got to a level bed. I know that the bed is going to warp at some point, but for now I have a pretty flat and level build plate.

Even after I had everything setup, I discovered that my bed was much higher on the right side even though when I had manually leveled it, it was pretty good. It turns out that my X gantry was loose so the right side was higher than the left. There are plenty of videos that explain how tighten this; don’t follow the Creality video as it is pretty useless.

To summarize, here are my tips:

  • Use hot glue on the extension cable connectors.
  • Splice in (and solder) the extension cable connectors (black and white wires) to the Z axis end stop.
  • Compile your own firmware so that you can get the settings you want.
  • Don’t put the G29 code in your Cura profile as that is a waste of time; level your bed every few days if needed.
  • Manually level your bed after everything is setup and then re-run auto bed leveling.
  • Check to make sure that your X gantry is tight.
  • Use a known height object, i.e. a cube to set the Z Probe Offset.

Of course, follow my directions/tips at your own risk. I’m not an expert at this and am not responsible for any problems arising from your use of this information! I thought I had everything working well until I managed to crash the nozzle into my bed (I now have a nice dent in the bed that I’ll bed around to replacing someday).

Good luck as getting BLTouch working properly isn’t an easy task, but hopefully worth it in the long run!

Addicted to 3D Printing

I wrote about 3D printing a few months ago and at the time was using a DaVinci 3D printer. Unfortunately the printer didn’t last long and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get it to keep printing; it was making a grinding noise while feeding and the cost to replace the hot end with shipping was about 1/3 the cost of a new, low-end printer. I decided to cut my losses and purchased a Monoprice Select Mini Pro. This printer cost me about $180 and when it arrived, I was printing pretty quickly.

The Select Mini Pro, unlike the DaVinci printer, requires a bit more tinkering to go from a model to a print. Printing requires a process called slicing and one of the more popular programs is called Cura which exposes a ton of options to control the print. As I didn’t want to have to copy the files to the SD card to print, I setup OctoPrint running on a Raspberry Pi 2. This put the printer on the network and made it easier to monitor the printer.

I’ve been printing things like crazy and as I may have already mentioned, I’m addicted! I added a camera to the Raspberry Pi and can now see the progress of my prints without being next to the machine.

With all the success I’ve had, I’ve also had a number of failures. Sometimes these failures have been my fault (I ran the nozzle into the bed and damaged the bed and nozzle and when replacing the nozzle I didn’t screw it in when everything was hot leading to oozing of material) and sometimes not my fault (the coupling holding in the feed tube broke).

I’ve learned a number of things about this hobby with the first thing being that everyone has a different opinion on how to fix things! Something that is a recurring topic on Reddit is how to get the prints to adhere to the print bed with lots of different suggestions. I started using blue painter’s tape and had great success with that. Then I moved my printer to the garage and found I needed to use a glue stick in addition to the painter’s tape. The day after I was printing some whistles, the prints stopped sticking to the bed no matter what I tried. Then it dawned on me that the garage temperature dipped a few degrees; this was enough to cause a problem. I returned from Home Depot with some rigid polystyrene foam insulation and built an enclosure for the printer. With this enclosure, I decided to try printing right on the print bed without the tape; this worked quite well now that I had more control over the temperature of the print bed. With every problem, there is a solution, but it requires some research and a lot of trial and error!

IMG 2435

The bottom line is that 3D printing is a hobby and if you’re not comfortable futzing and repairing things, then the consumer grade printers are definitely not for you!

A year of meditation

A number of years ago, a friend of mine suggested I start meditating to help with stress. He said he used an app called headspace. I gave it a try for awhile and was trying to do it pretty consistently. However, I stopped as soon as my stress went away and I really got bored of the meditations. Also, the narrator’s voice wore on me. Since then, I tried an app called Calm and really enjoyed the Daily Calm meditation as it was different each day and wasn’t repetitive. The next time stress entered my life, I picked up meditation again and like my first try at regular meditation, I stopped when my stress levels decreased.

Last year, I had two flare ups of my ulcerative colitis both requiring me to consult my gastroenterologist. After the second flare up, I decided to consider meditation just like a medication that I had to take daily. I figured it couldn’t hurt because my colitis issues almost always were caused by some type of stress. When I visited my doctor after I started meditation and told him about it, he said “yeah, I’ve been meditating for 40 years and there is definitely a connection between the brain and the gut”. I really didn’t need his confirmation about meditation, but it was good to know that my doctor was on the same page with not quite an alternative treatment (I’m still on a daily medication), but an additional way to help.

Throughout the last year, I’ve meditated for about 10 minutes a day mostly using the Daily Calm. While meditating longer might help, I feel good about doing the ten minutes. There have been times that I didn’t have cell coverage to get the Daily Calm, so I had to use another meditation that I downloaded. While not as enjoyable as the Daily Calm, it had to do.

Now that I’ve passed 365 consecutive days of daily meditation, I think I can say that it is part of my life. I don’t have a particular time that I meditate, but it is usually towards the end of my workday.

Thank you Calm for helping me achieve this and integrate meditation into my life!

Broken Health Care System

While almost everyone knows that our health care system in the United States is broken, I just got the explanation of benefits for our flu shots. We paid $0 out of pocket for the shots. I went to CVS Pharmacy, my wife and son went to a flu clinic at their medical group. Insurance paid $20 for my shot, $90.05 for my wife’s shot and $81.74 for my son’s shot. The insurance plan basically overpaid $130 for flu shots for my family. The insurance plans need to find a way to bring costs down and maybe one of the ways is to tell us EXACTLY where to get certain services or give us some financial incentive to go a cheaper route. I’m not sure CVS does flu shots for kids, but for my wife it would have been cheaper for them.

Silence Unknown Callers – Great in theory, problematic in reality

We’ve all suffered with telemarketers and scammers calling our phones and have had limited success in blocking those calls. In iOS 13, Apple added an option to “Silence Unknown Callers” which sounds like a great feature on the surface. I turned the feature on and then quickly turned it off as I realized that there are a number of cases where I need to receive calls from unknown callers. Some might be thinking that it is fine to let them goto voicemail, but it’s not that simple.

A few months back, we stopped at the scene of an accident to help out. The injured party wanted to call a friend, but her phone battery was almost depleted, so a bystander let the person use her phone. The friend would have gotten a call from an unknown number and with the silence option, it would have gone to voicemail and potentially ignored. Granted some people ignore unknown callers anyway, but the option wouldn’t have given the friend the opportunity to answer the phone.

If the emergency situation is too extreme in your thinking, another case arose for me this past Wednesday. My son went on a field trip and the bus bringing the students back to school was late, so he used his teacher’s phone to call me. I received the call from an unknown number right as I was about to get to his school to pick him up. If I hadn’t gotten the call and my son didn’t leave a message, I would have been sitting around wondering where he was. Eventually I would have gone into the school office to see what was up, but that would have been after waiting awhile.

Without using this feature, I unfortunately have to live with the telemarketers and scammers. Who knows if the STIR/SHAKEN will work to block many of these calls. We can only hope. One thing that could definitely help which I have no idea why it never got implemented is caller name as part of caller ID on cell phones; I’ve wondered this for years.

Fixing a broken printer

Yesterday my wife came home and said she picked up a free, broken printer and wanted to know if I could take a look at it as she’d love it for her classroom. It was an EPSON ET-4750 which is the big brother to the EPSON ET-2750 that we’ve had for a year and been quite happy with the purchase.

Of course, I said sure I’d take a look and asked if I got it going could I swap out printers? She didn’t hesitate and agreed. The problem, I was told, was that the printer wouldn’t feed the paper. I opened up the back of the printer which has the feed mechanism and saw some broken plastic. Upon further inspection, I saw the broken gear where the plastic was supposed to go. Uggh, I thought. I looked at the back of our printer and it had a similar door to get to the feed mechanism, so I took it off in hopes that I could just replace it and be done. No such luck. However, looking at the broken gear I saw that our printer had the same gear on the feed mechanism. I was able to pull off the gear and put it on the broken printer and it fit! So at least I got a new printer for me 😀 That, of course, wasn’t going to help my wife.

As I indicated in my post about 3D printing, I’ve always envisioned just being able to print spare parts and be able to prolong the life of things. A search online didn’t find the gear I needed, but I did find sites that could generate gear files. I asked my wife to count the teeth on the gear and I started playing around with a site that let me enter parameters and made the gear. I tried a few parameters and tried to make the gear look what I had. I printed a test gear (the site gave me an STL file that I needed to modify a bit) and while not perfect, I thought I could make it work.

After a bit of work with TinkerCAD, I printed a working gear. While it isn’t an OEM part and could be a little more precise, I’m pretty impressed with what I made. Part of the issue may just be that the 3D printer isn’t precise enough to make a true replacement.

Gear on paper feed

Gear

I’ve published my work on TinkerCAD for others to enjoy.

If you find this helpful, please let me know. Also if there is a way to start convincing companies to publish STL files for parts and you have ideas on this, let me know.