the Particle Photon sucks
Friday, February 7 2020
Unusually for a Friday, I took Ramona with me to work. She'd been on the living room couch this morning instead of the bed upstairs, so I impulsively invited her to join me. She was delighted, of course. I'd forgotten that Gretchen had made lupper plans, and since we never leave a dog alone without either one of us or the other dog, she was then forced to take Neville with her on her lunch date. Fortunately, some of that date took place at Outdated, which allows dogs inside.
There was cold front coming through today, and that meant nearly constant rain, coming down hard at times. I was able to take Ramona for all her usual walks, but I got rained on enough during our big 11:00am walk that I took my jacket off when I got back inside. That's unusual for me; last season I wore that jacket through the entire cold-weather period from October to May, and I was on pace for doing it again.
About 20 minutes before 4:00pm (when I usually leave for home), I freaked out when I thought I saw smoke rising from the surveillance camera that I have trained on the woodstove. So I left work prematurely. There had been a couple pieces of wood on the top of the stove in the cool part, and I was worried they'd somehow been pushed against the stove pipe, which can get very hot when someone kindles a hot fire. Judging from the temperature graph, Gretchen had clearly stoked the fire before leaving for her lupper date, and I was worried she hadn't taken suitable precautions, such as choking back the air supply. But it turned out that what I'd thought might be smoke had just been pixel artifacts and shadows.
When Ramona and I got home this evening, we found that an e-scooter had been delivered. It was a so-called "M Scooter," a generic-adjacent product of Shenzhen LEQI intelligent Technology, Ltd. Its box had a number of amusing language errors, including the spelling of CHARGING as "GHARGING," suggesting a lack of familiarity with the Latin alphabet. The scooter had been a suggestion for a possible birthday present from my inlaws, and now that it had arrived, I was eager to take it for a spin. It came in two nested boxes, meaning that, if nothing else, I'd be getting a lot of cardboard-fire heat. In a maiden voyage in the driveway and out to the mailbox and back, I found that the scooter moved about as fast as a briskly-pedaled bicycle on the flat, but climbing the slope to the mailbox (which is admittedly steep), it couldn't go any faster than walking speed. My plan is to use it to get around the village of Red Hook, where it should work well given the flatness of the terrain there. Later, after dark, I rode the scooter down the Farm Road and back, using its built-in LED headlight to illuminate the way. Its big eight inch tires had no trouble on the gravel surface, though it struggled a bit on some of the slopes. On the ride home (which is generally downhill) I wished I'd had something to cover my ears. Temperatures had dropped precipitously after today's rains.
While it was still light out, I'd made a quick foray down the Stick Trail to carry back a single large chunk of white ash in my arms, since my backpack still needs to be repaired.
This evening I wasted hours of my precious Friday night struggling with the setup of a WiFi-equipped microcontroller board called a Particle Photon. The PP is a bit expensive for what it is, but there's an interface board available from SparkFun that allows the PP to be attached to wind speed and direction sensors that I already have, which would allow me to easily build an open-source weather station. Well, it would've been easy had the Particle Photon been as easy to get working as an Arduino, an ESP32, or a Raspberry Pi. But, as I learned tonight, Particle Photons are very difficult to get working. Ironically, the PP was engineered specifically to make Internet of Things (IoT) easy. But in so doing, the designers removed all the things that make technology easy for someone with any experience. Most WiFi-equipped microcontroller boards serve a web page from their default software, allowing a user to log on to a web page and make things happen from there. But there is no such web page on a Particle Photon. Instead, you are expected to download an app to your phone and then it is supposed to do all the tricky connection and device registration for you, after which you use an IDE (integrated development environment) hosted "in the cloud" to do all your software development and re-flashing of the device. That might sound great and trouble-free, but the reality of the matter is that none of this workflow is particularly reliable nor is the software bug-free. What happens is that three or four steps of the process happen (accompanied by whimsical messages designed to lull you into thinking that you are using the work of true geniuses) and then you're greeted with an error accompanied by a message that isn't just non-whimsical; it's also unhelpful. Sometimes you're also treated to low-level errors that appear to be coming from the underlying NodeJS layer. Inevitably one is forced to download the Particle CLI, which allows more direct USB-mediated communication with the microcontroller. But tonight even that wasn't enough for me to coax any functionality out of my $14.75 Particle Photon. At some point I wrote a drunken message to the eBay seller whom I'd bought the PP from. I admitted that the fault with the PP probably wasn't his, but that in my 35 years of electronics experience (it's actually closer to 40 at this point) I'd never had such trouble with an electronic device. That's probably not completely true, but damn it the whole reason for the Particle Photon is for people of limited expertise to be able to build IoT gizmos.
Paper birch and beach in the woods behind my workplace today.
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