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Dad and the Egg Controller (pentadact.com)
253 points by evan_ on Dec 19, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 49 comments

""" I didn’t know much about it, but I was fairly sure you don’t bring an oscilloscope to a barbecue. """

I think I'd enjoy the sort of company that would require an oscilloscope at a barbecue.

Indeed. Reminds me of the book by Jim Williams on analogue Design via anecdotes. There was a picture in there of a broken Tektronix 453, lab notebook, tools, pizza and coke and a caption saying “life doesn’t get much better than this”.

I would go to that party.

Indeed there's an oscilloscope on my kitchen table right now; at the other end are placemats. This doesn't seem absurd.

My 3D printer lives on the kitchen counter. Right next to the toaster and stand mixer.

If you print ABS or PC, look into proper ventillation. Known carcinogens present in the fumes.

Proper ventillation for my home-residing 3D printer is the bathroom. Close the door and hit the fan.

You can guess when the idea hit me... :D

> You can guess when the idea hit me... :D

While cooking?

Feel like it should be next to the pasta machine :-)

Your kitchen sounds like mine!

When I was in college, the local robotics club had an annual barbecue with several oscilloscopes in attendance. Definitely one of the best events every summer.

> So, technically, I made a game. It’s a game where the only level is a giant room that looks like my business card, the menu system writes a giant code across it, then it takes a screenshot. Thirty times a second. You win the game by waiting for 7 seconds. Then when you quit, you have a folder full of 200 images, each with a different code on them, which you can send straight to the printers.

This is an amazing approach.

It certainly is an amazing approach.

One of my former co-workers was a physicist who knew LabView and he used it for everything from parsing log files to sending automated emails.

I've seen just about everything written in LabView -- used to work with a bunch of EEs.

I've seen physical simulation written in MS Access + VBA...

When you have a hammer...

I think everything in this post is amazing. Really.

If anyone likes his storytelling and is into PC gaming, he is a founding member and regular on what I feel is the best gaming podcast around: The Crate and Crowbar[1].

It's run largely by a bunch of ex-PC gamer magazine journalists so their analysis of games and the issues around them are really interesting, and a number of them have moved into game development (such as Tom) which gives them an extra perspective.

Tom also does a lot of storytelling of his game experiences which is a lot of fun.

[1]: http://crateandcrowbar.com/

I've nearly worked my way through the Idle Thumbs archive, and was starting to think I'd run out of driving entertainment soon :P

I'll add this to my podcast rotation.

That's the ultimate test for a project: can someone else use it?

I managed to somehow add a Wifi-controlled cruise control to an RC car that I borrowed from my kids, but somehow it ended up such a complicated mess that noone except myself can use it...

I often start off a little less ambitious - if I let it rest for a month, can I pick it up and use it myself again? :)

I thought that was only true of code.

Ohno, very much so with hardware too. With the added dimension of "will it start smoking when I turn power on?" :). Key is to clearly mark what's expected of the user, eg "IN 3-5V", not just "3-5V" since it may not be obvious.

Loved the story, really captures the magic of curiously poking the universe that most folks call inventing stuff

Complete side note....I has wanted something just like the Egg Controller, and got the "fireboard" as a gift. It works fantastically well, and I've wholeheartedly recommended the product since then. The technology stack is well done - changes are instantly reflected on the mobile/desktop/controller - and I've gotten 10x better at smoker cooking using the data collected. Some examples in case anyone is curious:

Here's a test of how well my oven PID works - https://share.fireboard.io/F65461

Here's me showing my grill controller board going bad (got a free replacement board using the data!): https://share.fireboard.io/C95FDA

Here's is a fun one - I wanted to track how much ambient temp changes the internal meat temp (per advice to open/baste as quickly as possible). TUrns out, it's good advice, there is a significant effect! https://share.fireboard.io/792FDC

etc...not affiliated with this company in any way

This is such a heart-warming tale. As one who's struggled to cook on my father-in-law's Big Green Egg, I fully understand the need for such a controller. Cooking on the Egg always fills me with performance anxiety.

The world needs The Egg Controller. Take it to market!

You will be happy to know that they do already exist; there are the Stoker, BBQ Guru, Fragger, Cyberq, Digiq, Egg Genius, Auber controller, and more! Modern pellet smokers have a PID controller right in there. There's also my homebuilt monstrosity, but it's not for sale, and you wouldn't want to buy it anyway.

As someone who's been through a thought process that was likely similar to OP's dad, I can say it usually goes something like this for me:

"I'll be damned if I'm gonna pay one hundred dollars for two thermocouples, a fan and an 8 bit micro running some PID library I don't even have to write. I have all of that crap in my junk drawer."

For the record you can bring an oscilloscope to a BBQ. And a DMM. And grab those bench supplies and the logic analyzer while you're down there. And of course you didn't grab the spectrum analyzer, but you ended up needing it after all.

Things get a little crazy; the better part of a case of beer gets consumed, and the next day you're watching your brisket come up to temp on your phone while you pop into the hardware store for a piece of sheet metal. Your BBQ looks like you are building a nuke with all of the smoke and colored wires snaking out of the big ceramic bomb casing to breadboards and test gear and antennas. A rainstorm would easily cost you five thousand dollars right about now.

Over the next week or two the purple PCBs show up along with some red ones and blue ones and a big box from Digikey. You have to wait a little longer for the OLED display to show up from that ebay seller in China because damned if you are gonna pay Digikey's stupid price.

So naturally it takes you until the next summer to solder it together and thank god it works perfect the first and only time you will ever use it because you really don't want to have to try to get your code to compile again.

This is where the "You should sell it" guy comes in. And so you say thanks, but you think to yourself "Damned if anyone's gonna pay six hundred bucks for something they can buy for a hundred."

Ah, the old money/time pit called "saving $100".

It's not quite the solution you're looking for but the GMG/Traeger pellet stove/smokers are pretty much this. They've got a controller + fan and auger. You can pretty much set em and leave them alone for a few hours(depending on what temp you're grilling/smoking for).

We've got a small one and it's an amazing little machine, with the bonus of being able to select what type of wood you're burning as well.

> “Quite neat, actually” – his strongest possible praise for a gadget.

I wish understatement would make a bit of a comeback.

It's alive and well in the engineering community in Cambridge, UK.

E.g.: A "couple of nice little tricks involved" in making something work probably means you should ring up some patent lawyers.

It'd be alright.

Brought a tear to the corner of my eye. Anyone with this kind of legacy has lead a good life.

My grandfather was the opposite unfortunately. We found a radio power supply he made, I carefully but not carefully enough reverse engineered it, brought it up slowly on a variac and after three minutes it exploded violently spewing capacitor guts everywhere.

We came to the conclusion that this wasn’t operator error either. He’d finished it but was too scared to power it up himself so locked it in the cellar.

Mine was opposite in a different direction. My dad was a historian. When I was seven or eight, we had an outdoor cat (didn't get along with the indoor cats) and needed a table to keep its food dish off the ground. The cat's name was Tiny, and it weighed about eight pounds. My dad spent an afternoon hammering the table together out of board scraps, and it shook and sagged when Tiny jumped on it. I (the budding math nerd) was babbling to him the whole afternoon about how he needed triangles because parallelograms can change their shape without changing the length of their sides. It didn't make any sense to him so he ignored me until his table went catawampus trying to hold up half its weight. Then he added some triangles where I told him to. I don't remember him ever building anything again, except we rebuilt our backyard fence exactly the way it had been built fifteen years earlier by someone else. By that time I was in college, and we worked better together.

Anyone who's not ducked capacitor shrapnel isn't really an electrical/electronic engineer. Perhaps he was leaving you with an initiation ritual.

Very true, I remember many years ago when working at Soundcraft, there was a loud bang from next door as a small mixing desk with builtin amp was powered on for the first time[1].

Large electrolytic smoothing caps fitted the wrong way round, the smell is horrendous.

[1] By Douglas Self who has an excellent page about subjectivity in HiFi http://douglas-self.com/ampins/pseudo/subjectv.htm

Normal (not utility scale) capacitors do not blow up anymore. You can plug them on the wrong way directly on the rectified mains, they bubble, expand, get hot, and smell; they don't blow.

They do explode quite violently still. I’ve blown up tens of new ones.

Try an average Chinese or even rubicon 10uF 63v ish cap which is in just about every bit of crap from SMPS to cheap toys. They go with quite a Big Bang.

Well, looks like I got lucky on my choice of suppliers :)

I'd blown up a few myself by then, mostly on purpose :)

I was referring to both tech and relational, but mostly relational legacy. He had a child enjoying going through that. If that dad had failed at relations, the tech gadget would have been a useless piece of junk in more than one way.

Yeah. I need to call my dad.

Yes. Do it while you still can. (I miss you, Dad.)

This article made me slightly sad that my kids might one day find my various gadgets among all the junk in the garage and not be able to figure them out, but equally not want to throw them out for sentimental reasons.

I need to either put printed instructions on everything, or else dispose of them before I die!

> dispose of them before I die

That is my plan. My parents had so much stuff they had saved and I hated to throw any of it away after they died because most of it triggered specific fond memories. Yet the stuff they did get rid of, I never missed.

> This was a programming problem, and the only programming language I knew was the one I made the game in: it’s called Game Maker.

This reminds me of a kid I used to play MUDs with. He started getting into programming by writing scripts for the MUDs, but he refused to learn any other scripting or programming languages. Over the years I saw him implement a chess engine, a web server, and even a whole MUD all using his MUD client's integrated scripting language.

Relevant xkcd


"Proportional-Integral-Derivative Controller" never knew what that was called. Guessing that would just be a Raspberry Pi these days.

PID [1] is the feedback-driven algorithm to control the error in a process. You could deploy the implementation of the PID on a Raspberry pi or an arduino or probably even a PIC.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PID_controller

Its a neat thing, the software left behind as monument to a men.

I think in this instance I get more of his dad's 'flavor' from the hardware though.

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