February 23, 2021

Turning a Hot Air Popcorn Popper into a temperature controlled Coffee Roaster

I love coffee, and I love making things. So I'm surprised this project took me so long, but thankfully I've finally got around to building my own coffee roaster. All you need for a good DIY coffee roaster is a source of heat, and something to mix up the beans. After some research, I decided to start with a hot air popper. This blog post will walk through how I converted the Presto Poplite Hot Air Popper into a coffee roaster. 

January 27, 2019

How To Hack Alexa (Echo Dot) into Big Mouth Billy Bass

Alexa is fun and all, but combining her with animatronics such as the Big Mouth Billy Bass creates a much larger and weirder personality! In this post I'll walk you through how to make an Alexa device out of a Billy Bass toy. This isn't an original idea (kudos to Brian Kane for coming up with this project), but I've tried to make the steps as simple as possible.

Do It Yourself 

Tools: Soldering Iron, Hot Glue Gun, Torx Screwdriver, Philips Screwdriver


Billy Bass in the Toronto Tool Library surgery room.
  1. Big Mouth Billy Bass*
  2. Echo Dot 2nd Generation
  3. Arduino Uno
  4. Arduino Motor Driver Shield
  5. LM386 Amplifier 
  6. 3.5mm Audio Cable  
  7. At least 4x C Cell Batteries 
*This Billy Bass seems closest to mine, any should work but some may contain only two motors 

Billy Bass Tear-down 


September 28, 2018

Caesar's Cipher in Python (AVW ZLJYLA!)

Aol Ffily-Vtlsslaal

Growing up I was always fascinated by hidden messages, secret codes, ancient languages, and all manner of disguised communication. As I started learning math and computer science, that interest strangely faded. This was likely because modern cryptography seemed so complicated I didn't think I'd be able to make sense of it.

This all changed recently when I read a spectacular book called The Code Book. It starts with examples of secret codes (or ciphers) used in Ancient Rome, Medieval Scotland, and Victorian England. It carries on through WWI, WWII, early internet encryption, and ends with a breakdown of the expected uses of Quantum Computing.

I would love to share much more about this book, but you're better off to just read it and I'll get on  with my post. 

While reading the early chapters, I started thinking about how powerful I could have been in Medieval times if I had access to a computer and a python interpreter. Naturally I started writing some code just in case. The resulting program ended up being both fun, and pretty beginner friendly. So I have decided to write up a guide to how these work.

In this post I will start with what is called Caesar's Cipher.

Caesar's Cipher

June 03, 2018

Glass vs Reflective Film Smart Mirror Showdown

After upgrading my Smart Mirror from a reflective film mirror to a glass two way mirror, I thought it would be interesting to attempt a (semi) scientific comparison between the two types of mirror.

This test involves taking a bunch of pictures and rating the mirrors on a few categories. I decided to focus on transmission, reflection, and simplicity when evaluating each solution.

You can also checkout my album of comparison photos here to draw your own conclusions!

February 19, 2018

Laser Cut Cutlery Drawer

I recently joined Toronto's SteamLabs, and got access to a laser cutter for the first time. Laser cutters are incredible machines which use a freakin' laser to carve or etch patterns into flat materials like wood or plastic. They are fast too!

Over the past few years of 3D printing, I have learned that often some of the best uses for these amazing tools are to take something really mundane and just make it easier to make. For example, one of my most useful 3D prints was some "S" shaped hooks to hang Christmas tree ornaments. Within about 20 minutes, we had enough for all the ornaments we could hang.

Well, my laser cutting got off to a start with a similarly thrilling project. A cutlery drawer! It's pretty straightforward, but since it has proved to be so easy and useful, I decided to share it in case anyone else needs a custom drawer organizer.

Here's how it went down.

December 11, 2017

Fire From Water

This is a project I've had on the backburner for almost exactly 1 calendar year. The seed was planted when I toured the Harry Potter Studios last year and saw a fake fireplace effect being used quite extensively. I am also an avid watcher of the "Fireplace for your Home" Netflix channel, so I eventually realized I needed one of these imitation fires of my own. So here we are now!

Take a look at what I put together, and if that curiosity is still burning keep reading for instructions to reproduce this project yourself.

October 15, 2017

Haunted Home Automation

Halloween is one of my favourite holidays of the year. One reason for this is that it's totally optional and low stress. People can get exactly as in to it as they want. I'm also really intrigued by the perseverance of belief that there are supernatural forces at work. No matter how fact based and rational you are, I'd wager you still get a tingling feeling on the back of your neck crossing a cemetery during a wind storm all alone at night.

In other words, even if you don't believe in ghosts, you still end up scared of them anyway. The goofy costumes and haunted houses are just icing on the cake.

My absolutely favourite part of Halloween however is that DIY is deeply ingrained in the traditions. There's pumpkin carving, costume making, haunted houses in a garage, and a lot more.

Naturally as a DIY fan, I've been thinking of how to incorporate technology into a good scare. Home automation has a lot of potential here, and it pairs nicely with the smart mirror in our house. Check out the video below to see what I came up with (with some help)!

Do it Yourself

If you like this effect and want to do it yourself, a good starting point is a smart mirror with Alexa and a custom skill to run scripts. You'll also need some Philips Hue lights.

September 24, 2017

Automated Plant Watering with a Raspberry Pi

This post starts with two facts:

1. I have a penchant for killing plants.
2. People in Holland grow things really well indoors.

After reading about how well things can grow indoors, I started thinking that maybe automation was my path to healthy plants. So I decided to build the bare minimum - get a plant, a pump, and a water sensor. When the water sensor says "no water here", use the pump to put water there.

I also decided to run it all through a Raspberry Pi to as an excuse to interact with the RPi GPIO.

Here's how I did it!