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Monitoring Tools for your Website/Server

sitemonitoring_snapshotDo you have a website hosted on a server somewhere – either in your home or in the cloud? Has it ever gone down and you didn’t know about it for hours? I have, and it has happened to me too many times.

As a result, I have often wanted/needed a way to verify that the server which is hosting my websites is up and running properly. While many fine graphical tools exist such as Munin for this purpose, I wanted a simple set of utilities that could return just the parameters I needed and how I needed them.

What’s Needed

There are two different ways in which I want to get my metrics. The first is a command-line utility that I can run from my local computer to test the parameter needed. The second is a set of python functions that deliver the same metrics that I can then use to create a custom webpage.

This webpage (a future project) would run on a local server such as a Raspberry Pi, which could then display all my metrics on a tablet display in a convenient location. A quick glance could then show that everything was running smoothly or … Read the rest

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Why You Should Switch to Linux


With the loss of updates for Windows XP and Microsoft’s floundering on Windows 8/10, many have started to consider alternatives. The MacOS is of course an option, but I believe Linux to be an even better one. Not only is Linux a good alternative to Windows, but for makers, hackers, tinkerers and homeschoolers especially, Linux is really the only operating system (OS) worth considering.



Without a doubt, Linux is the ultimate low-cost operating system. It is absolutely free. How many times have you had a computer where the OS needs to be reinstalled? With Windows systems so vulnerable to malware infections, it is a regular occurrence. When you do need to reinstall, do you still have the original disks? Can they still be read?

What about upgrades? If you get a new computer (without an OS), and you want to install your latest version, do you have the full version, or just an upgrade version? If it is just an upgrade version, do you have the original version disks? If not, Microsoft’s DRM will not allow the installation.

Have you ever thought about building your own computer, but are stymied by the prospect of having to shell out … Read the rest

Posted in Education, Tech | Tagged , | Section: | 2 Responses

Using ATtiny Chips for Arduino-Like Projects


The Arduino platform is great for prototyping. Its easy-to-use shield architecture, readily identifiable pin numbering scheme, and beginner friendly IDE and software library has created a large and loyal following. In the life of many projects, however, there comes a time when the project is to be permanently deployed. When that time comes, leaving a precious Arduino in the field is often not the best option. Instead, a specialized board with either an ATmega chip or even an ATtiny chip is the best choice.

When cost or space is a factor an ATtiny chip is an attractive alternative to the ATmega for simpler projects. Thanks to the Arduino-Tiny project, an ATtiny can be used as a drop-in replacement for most Arduino projects. This initiative provides ATtiny chip configurations as upload board choices in the standard Arduino IDE. By following the instructions described in my previous article – Program an ATtiny Using an Arduino – your Arduino sketch can be uploaded as easily to an ATtiny board as it can be to an Arduino one.

More recently, the ATtiny has gained semi-official support given the variants posted by David Mellis on Github. Please note that this new firmware specification … Read the rest

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Making Hay

Putting up Loose Hay

We just finished making this year’s hay at our family farm.

Haymaking is an art….. It is exhausting….. It is glorious.

It is worthwhile to experience it at least once. You might even want to add it to your bucket list. For city folks, you may be wondering what is this big deal about hay? Hay is like the stuff we find in small bales in October right?

Like most things in life, there is a lot more to hay than first realized. When you are done reading this article, you will have incorporated some key knowledge of country living and keeping animals. It is hoped you will be able to vicariously enjoy the process to some extent as well.

What is Hay?

Hay is dried grass or possibly other green plants. It is not straw. While straw is a dried plant, it is made from the stems of cereal grasses such as wheat or oats after the grain has been harvested. By harvest-time, the stems are turning brown and have almost zero nutritional value. Straw is good for bedding animals. It is worthless for food.

Grass on the other hand is excellent food for grazing animals. It is … Read the rest

Posted in Food, Living | Tagged , | Section: | 1 Response

Can LED Lighting Cause Blindess?


Here at Provide Your Own, we are a big fan of LED lighting. Recent research has raised the alarm that LED lighting can cause retina damage. Is there any truth to this assertion? Can LEDs really be bad for your eyes, even causing blindness?

Fortunately for LED lovers, the answer is a resounding NO. When the facts are examined, if LEDs are bad for your eyes, then sunlight is at least ten times worse. Let’s first look at the basis for the assertion.

The Research Study

According to a sole news account:

The study found that LED radiation caused significant damage to human retinal pigment epithelial cells in vitro.


We irradiated naked retinal cells with intense light from LEDs in a petri dish and they didn’t do so well.

Keep in mind that damage would be done with any high intensity light. Have you stared into the sun lately? How about staring into lasers or high intensity LED flashlights? Think you might have some retina damage?

This research has not been peer reviewed, but is simply an account given by Dr Celia S├ínchez Ramos. This fact does not invalid the research, but shows that we have absolutely no … Read the rest

Posted in Health, Tech | Tagged | Section: | 2 Responses

No, Your Dishwasher is Not Broken


My sister in-law has taken to washing her dishes by hand because her dishwasher no longer gets them clean. Millions of other Americans have had the same problem. Many have vainly replaced their dishwashers with new ones only to face the same problem. The problem is not your dishwasher. It is your dish-washing detergent. It has changed. It is not the same product it used to be. A vital ingredient is missing.

While you may have noticed the effects of this missing ingredient in your dishes, you may not be aware of the same problem with your clothes. That is because this vital ingredient was taken out of laundry detergents over twenty years ago. That is so long ago, that most of us just think clothes are supposed to be grungy after a few washings. I am old enough to remember clothes staying clean, but didn’t understand why they didn’t any more until recently.

The Missing Ingredient

The magical ingredient that is no longer present in commercial detergents is tri-sodium phosphate or TSP as it is commonly known. This natural ingredient is made from phosphate deposits primarily found in Florida.

In general, it acts as a detergent, but in the … Read the rest

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Making a Color Television Set


When I was a young man, I badly wanted to design and build my own stuff – even my own color television. One of my primary motives was a means to save money, of which I was sorely lacking. I was told by my elders that such thinking was incorrect. There was no way I could design my own television – that took a team of experts and that, in any case, I could not save any money in the process. I was better off to get a good paying job and just buy a television.

As I look back on that conversation, I have learned that the first statement was false, the second one true, and the third false. Let’s look at each assertion in more detail.

Building Your Own

In some ways I was ahead of my time. Designing and building a color television set was a daunting proposition back in the 1970s and 80s. Not impossible, but certainly difficult. Even with an electrical engineering degree the resources regarding color television design were slim to say the least. There was also no support from others for such a project when problems were encountered.

In modern times these limitations … Read the rest

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How to Get a Good Cheap 10 inch Android Tablet


I have been wanting a 10″ Android tablet, but they have always been too expensive. Sure, there have always been cheap Chinese knockoffs, but they have always been pretty junky affairs – until now.

My family recently bought me a Polaroid brand 10.1″ tablet running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). While this manufacturer does cut some corners, amazingly it didn’t cut the ones that count. It sports stereo speakers that sound better than the original Kindle Fire and has more memory as well. It even has a front facing camera and an HDMI output jack. Speed is decent and WiFi works just fine. It lacks the sensors of high end tablets and cell phones, but does have a microphone and accelerometer. It is perfect for viewing movies, PDF files, web browsing and Skype – typical tablet stuff. It also has USB input so you can easily attach a keyboard as well. You can also charge it via USB as well as using the supplied fast charger.

As for the downsides, there are remarkably few. Its ARM-based processor is only single core, and battery life is a tad less than the Kindle Fire, but decent. The biggest issue with this … Read the rest

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Statistics on the Arduino (also Pic or any microcontroller)

Normal Distribution Curve

When collecting any data on the Arduino, it won’t be very long before you need to calculate some statistics on that data. While statistics can be a pretty intense mathematical field, some very basic statistics such as calculating the mean and standard deviation can be invaluable for many applications.

Fortunately, it is not only easy to make these calculations, but its usefulness can extend beyond just statistics. Many times data from a sensor may not be stable. Touch sensing is a good example. Each individual value (data point) can vary quite a bit, making it difficult to make an accurate determination. By averaging these values, a better decision can be made.

In a similar vein, by calculating the standard deviation, you can assess the quality of the values obtained. A large deviation from the mean can indicate problems with your sensor.

Design Challenges

Because statistics often require some extensive data collection, normal methods can be too memory intensive for small microcontrollers like the Arduino or ATtiny based designs. Normally each value is stored and, when all the data is collected, various calculations such as the mean and standard deviation are calculated on the data set. Storing this much data can … Read the rest

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Getting Started with Arduino


If you have any interest in either electronic circuits or micro-controllers, you have probably heard of the Arduino. Unless you have actually worked with the Arduino, you may only have a vague idea of what all the excitement is all about. If you are one of those who have wondered what the Arduino is, would like to know more about it, this article will answer most of your questions and give you a good grasp of the concepts.

Since this article is geared toward those with no or little prior knowledge of the Arduino platform, you may be inclined to skip it if you are more experienced. There is however, some useful information for the more experienced. You may often find yourself at a loss for words when describing the Arduino or your Arduino based projects to your family and friends. In that case, you might find this tutorial provides a good framework for improving your communication.

What is an Arduino?

The Arduino is a microcontroller based platform. It is not a microcontroller, but is an entire development/engineering environment and eco-system based on a family of microcontrollers from the Atmel corporation.

There are many microcontrollers from various corporations available, and … Read the rest

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