Home Board

Okay, “Home Board” is a dumb name, but I don’t know what else to call it.  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about this cool thing I built.

This is a 7.5″ e-ink display mounted inside a picture frame.  It’s hooked up to a Raspberry Pi and updates the weather and calendar information every 15 minutes.  During “special events” it displays an additional celebration message (see example below).

This is a product I’ve wanted for a long time, but no one made such a thing as far as I could find.  So I finally decided to make it myself.

As you can see, the back is a bit of a mess; but it’s all attached, so you only have to run the power cord.

It would be cleaner if I were using a newer Raspberry Pi. The display comes with a “hat” (zip-tied to the frame stand in this picture) that fits directly on the GPIO pins of the newer Raspberry Pi.  It doesn’t fit on the version 1 (which I’m using here), so I had to use the provided multi-colored wires and connect the pins myself.

Also, the newer RPis use microSD cards that don’t hang over the edge of the case (behind the power connectors).  And they have built-in Wi-Fi so there’d be no additional dongle (the blue glow at the bottom).

The 7.5″ screen was the largest e-ink display I could find.  Someone used to make a 10.2″ one, but it appears to be discontinued.  The refresh rate is terrible (about 15 seconds to change images, with lots of flashing throughout).  But for my purposes that’s fine.  I’m only updating it every 15 minutes.

Here’s a sample image of a birthday display:

I wanted a e-ink display for 2 reasons.  The first is that it doesn’t glow, so being on all night isn’t annoying. And the second is that it’s super low power.  Power is only needed while updating the display.  It pulls its power from the Raspberry Pi, which, at full draw, maxes out at ~2 watts.  Which means, assuming some loss in the power adapter, is less than $5 a year (I’m pretty sure I did that math right).

It’s awesome.

Parts

  1. Waveshare 7.5 inch e-ink 3-color display with Raspberry Pi connector.
  2. Raspberry Pi with case and power supply (I’m using a version 1, but the display works with 1, 2, or 3).
  3. 5×7″ Picture frame
  4. Some miscellaneous mounting hardware to attach Pi to back of frame

The total cost of hardware is about $125 (display, RPi, SD card, case, power supply, cord, frame, mounting hardware).

Software

  1. Weather Underground API (low-volume developer key is free)
  2. Google Calendar Python API
  3. Waveshare driver to interact with the display (included in my code, below)
  4. My custom written Python application that pulls the data together, generates the image, and sends it to the display.

Perspective

Heather hasn’t been able to fall asleep tonight. Something has got her anxiety level up and she can’t calm down and stay asleep. It’s 3 hours past her bedtime and she’s been out of her room at least a dozen times. I’ve carried her to bed twice and have sat in her room for some time.

Now I’m on the floor of her room again trying to help her get to sleep.

I’m tired; she’s exhausted. And I’m running out of the necessary energy to stay calm and supportive for her.

But, I try to remember that, as frustrating and tiring as this is, there are too many other parents who would do anything to be in my place tonight. Too many other parents whose children aren’t in their beds tonight. Too many other parents whose children aren’t coming down the hallway every 10 minutes and interrupting the show they’re watching. Because of a disease, or a careless driver, or a lunatic with a gun, their children aren’t coming home again.

I’m tired, my patience is gone. But I’ll figure out how to stay calm anyways. My children are here. My children are safe. I can’t imagine it being otherwise. I hope I never find out.

Do We Really Care?

In September of 2001 the band P.O.D. released their song “Youth of the Nation” which begins with the lyrics:

Last day of the rest of my life
I wish I would’ve known
‘Cause I would’ve kissed my mama goodbye

I didn’t tell her that I loved her and how much I care
Or thank my pops for all the talks
And all the wisdom he shared

Unaware, I just did what I always do
Everyday, the same routine
Before I skate off to school

But who knew that this day wasn’t like the rest
Instead of taking a test
I took two to the chest

Call me blind, but I didn’t see it coming
Everybody was running
But I couldn’t hear nothing

Except gun blasts, it happened so fast
I didn’t really know this kid
He wasn’t part of the class

Maybe this kid was reaching out for love
Or maybe for a moment
He forgot who he was
Or maybe this kid just wanted to be hugged

Towards the end of the song is this stanza

Who’s to blame for the lives that tragedies claim
No matter what you say
It don’t take away the pain

When this song came out I was in high school.  I could still remember the reaction to Columbine which occurred when I was in middle school.  How could I have envisioned then that 16 years later we, as a nation, would have paid lip service over hundreds of bodies of adults and children about “never again” and then done precisely nothing to actually change the course of our society?

Honestly, I’m getting tired of trying to be nuanced about which gun owners are responsible and which aren’t, it’s about people not guns, it’s a mental-health issue, did the Founding Fathers intend for an armed population as a hedge against tyranny, blah, blah, blah, blah.  The endless blathering only seems to amount to yet another dead child, yet another dead mother, yet another dead father.

What we’re doing now, which is nothing, is not making the situation any better.

People who want to have continued access to firearms as part of their lifestyle need to stop hiding behind rhetoric and start proposing and implementing solutions.  I’m getting tired of holding a nuanced view on the matter while more people senselessly die.  I imagine there are more like me who, as time goes on, think that a “repeal and replace” of the 2nd Amendment might be the only way anything actually changes.

Research available options, pick a potential solution, plan and fund an implementation, study the outcome.  It really isn’t that hard.

Do we really care?

The answer seems to be, “No.”

The “Better than Nothing” Philosophy

Many times the thing stopping us from getting something done or making a change in our lives is simply that we are daunted by what we think we “should” do and instead do nothing.

Doing nothing ensures nothing is accomplished.  Doing something, anything, will get us closer to our goal than just being overwhelmed by what we think we should do and instead doing nothing.  Start by doing something–even if it’s not remotely close to what you think you “should” be doing.

This is my “better than nothing” philosophy.

My most blatant example comes from work.  After years of lamenting we had no monitoring solution in place to notify us if our applications were not working I used a Hackathon day to create “Better than Nothing Monitoring”.  It’s not great.  It’s probably not even good.  But, it’s better than nothing; which is what we had before.  Something is better than nothing.

Also from work, having a robust test suite helps catch bugs in our software before we deploy it to users.  For a long time we didn’t have any tests.  Now we have some, but not nearly enough.  When I’m working on an old piece of code, rather than lament not having the perfect test suite or the time to build it now, I’ll implement the simplest kind of test: “this thing runs without throwing an exception.”  We should have better testing than that, but, when we don’t, it’s better than nothing.

Feel like you should be saving more money?  You sit down, calculate out how much you “should” be saving per paycheck, but never seem to manage to do it and end up saving nothing?  Ignore the “should” and start saving something.  Maybe start with $5 that you put in a savings account every paycheck.  It’s not much.  It’s barely anything.  But it’s better than nothing.  If you’re paid bi-weekly, at the end of the year you’ll have $130.  That’s not much either, but it’s more than you would have saved fretting over what you “should” have done.

Feel like you should be exercising more?  Do you think, “I really should go for a run this week, or ride my bike, or play Wii Fit,” but you never quite seem to make it happen?  Stop worrying about it.  Start so small you barely notice: if you’re using the elevator at work, take the stairs one or two floors first; do a couple push-ups or sit-ups before going to bed.  Maybe you can only do two push-ups today.  That’s better than nothing.

Wish you read more books, but getting through even one chapter just takes too long?  Read a couple of paragraphs at a time instead.  You’ll get through more books reading 3 paragraphs a day than you will wishing you had enough time to read full chapters.  It’s better than nothing.

Many times I finish up a task at work and pull up our work log to decide what to do next.  I’ve long since completed all the low-hanging fruit and I scan through the list of tickets thinking, “Uggghh, that’s going to take forever, I’ll pick something else.”  And, big surprise, those work items are still in the queue months later.  Eventually you just have to start.  Pick the smallest piece of the puzzle that makes any sense and get just that piece done.  The overall task isn’t done, but it’s closer than it was.  It’s better than nothing.

Most of these examples are habit items: saving money, exercising, reading.  In these cases the actual accomplishment today is less important than the habit you’re creating.  You can increase your daily, better-than-nothing effort to get gradually closer to your “should” level of effort.  Doing 2 push-ups and 5 sit-ups every day takes about 45 seconds.  That’s clearly not anything near the 150-minutes per week of moderate physical activity recommended by the American Heart Association, but it’s better than nothing.  As you get stronger, 2 & 5 can fairly seamlessly become 5 & 10, then 10 & 20, then 20 & 40 and now you might be exercising for 7 minutes a day.  Still not what you “should” be doing, but worrying that you “should” be doing 20 minutes a day and doing nothing is worse than doing 7 minutes a day.

What is it you’re trying to accomplish?  Pick any activity, no matter how small, towards that goal which you can start doing today.  Go do it.

It’s better than nothing.