Kegerator: Update

It’s been a pretty busy summer, so some of my projects were put on hold a while. A few weeks ago, I got new taps and drip-tray and installed into the temperature chambers. I spent a little while since then removing any unnecessary electrical components on the chamber that were left over from the broken controls. I also worked a bunch on the new control system using the Raspberry Pi.

New chamber fits roughly 9 corny kegs in the bottom, and has room up top for cheap beer, bottles and beer glasses. The chamber has a hole in the top that will house a 7″ touchscreen LCD that will eventually show a tap-list running on the Raspberry Pi. Also running on the RPi, is an HMI that I created (using the same software for my brew control system) that will allow me to set the temperature and view alarms. I can even set it to email or sms message me if an alarm threshold is reached.

Next up is wiring the SSR into the existing components and getting just the cooling working. I’m hoping to have this finished in the next couple weeks. I’m running out of space in our fridge for beer, and need somewhere cool to store everything.

VR: Oculus Rift

After playing with the OSVR HDK2 for a little while, I started to look into controllers. The Xbox controller is OK, but VR really needs tracked motion controllers for many of the games to work. I came across an Oculus Rift locally and picked it up, and then listed my OSVR HDK2 on ebay and sold to a gentleman in Ireland. It was only the headset, so I still need to get Touch Controllers, but I’m impressed so far.

As far as which one I like better, I think the OSVR is a little ways off from tracking at the level of the Rift, but it’s decent. The fit and finish of both is nice. The graphics seemed a little better with the HDK2. The FOV was a little better on the HDK2 and the filters on the HDK2 seemed to help a bit with the Screen door, although it’s barely noticable on both devices.

One of the reasons I like the rift, is it’s much more portable and finished when compared to the HDK2. The software Oculus developed makes it very simple to set up (under 5 minutes), compared to lots of tinkering with the OSVR interface. There’s 1 cable for the Rift, compared to 3 for the HDK2, which makes the Rift more portable for me. One of the things I want to do is have my VR rig slightly portable to bring to a friend’s place to play. Also missing from the Rift, is the hip-clip control box like on the HDK2, which was a little annoying to have to clip/unclip when changing users. The built in headphones on the Rift are super nice, so I don’t have to have additional hardware, just slip the unit on, and go. There’s also a microphone on the Rift for comms while playing games.

I’m pretty happy with the purchase, and now that Rift slashed their prices from $600 for the headset to $500 and $200 for the touch to $100, it means getting the Touch controllers will be much cheaper than I had initially wanted to spend. I ended up switching out the GTX 1060 OC for a GTX 1070 STRIX OC and haven’t looked back. I also upgraded the RAM from 8GB to 16GB, which was a noticeable decrease in loading time.

Gameplay has been pretty fun, just working out some kinks with the Xbox 360 controller. There’s a ton of content and I’ve just been going through free stuff until I buy the Touch controllers. I’d highly recommend the Rift after having used the Vive, Rift CV1 and OSVR HDK2.


A couple months back, my buddy got an HTC Vive and I got my first taste of Virtual Reality. It was a really cool experience. I had always thought VR was cool since I was a kid, but everything was so expensive and almost no affordable software. I haven’t done a lot of gaming in my life past the original Xbox and some computer games in college, but I found this to be very intuitive. I picked it up immediately and had a ton of fun with the games we played.

I figured I’d keep an eye out for a VR headset on Craigslist and found an Oculus Rift DK1 for $20. Sweet, right? Well, It was an absolute pain to get running, and there’s little or no support for it in games any longer, but it was a pretty cool intro into Virtual Reality. I had it running after a week of evenings struggling to overcome the limitations and complexity of getting it running. The resolution was low, but the experience was amazing.

I wasn’t really satisfied and kept an eye out for an Oculus Rift CV1, HTC Vive or an OSVR HDK2 online, and came across an OSVR HDK2 with the Leap Motion controller for about half what it would cost new. I bought it and then ordered some parts for a new computer (Long overdue, as my computer was at least 8 years old).

I built a entry level computer, with an Intel i7 7700 4.2GHz, 8GB DDR4, Asus 1060 OC 6GB Video Card, 240GB SSD, Zalman Z1 Neo mid-tower case/735W power supply and my old wifi card. I should have done this long ago, this thing smokes. I installed Win 10, plugged in my VR headset and spent the next few nights tinkering.

Any HDK is going to be a pain in the butt to get running. It requires tinkering, and I knew this going into it. These aren’t commercially viable products on the software side. My experiences in both headsets were plagued with issues related to how Windows 10 likes to block programs and the user from admin access. Everything has to be modified to run as administrator, and even directories have to be changed from Read Only to full access. Unfortunately, it took a lot of trial and error to figure that out! I got the display working, but couldn’t ever get the positional tracking working. SteamVR however, was working!

Then I stumbled across a Beta Windows Installer. It was well hidden and not very well documented or cross-linked anywhere. I don’t know why they didn’t make this more readily documented on any of the getting started websites. I installed it and almost immediately the headset and tracking was working! After a little tinkering I got SteamVR working again, and I was pretty much fully up and running for the HDK2.

It’s amazing. Everything is so smooth, graphics are clear and crisp, the Screendoor effect is minimal and I’m very happy. I’ll see how I like it, and the support, but it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Brew Controller: Update

This last year has been busy. I married my longtime girlfriend and we bought a house together. As with all things home-owner, there are projects, so my home-brewing has taken a back-seat while we made some improvements. We had some plumbing redone that required us to do a little remodeling in our bathroom. That is nearing completion and I’ve started focusing back on my brew controller.

I got the Receptacles and inlets all mounted and screwed down, but I’ve had difficulty in fitting everything I want into my controller. The Watlow MicroDIN PID controllers I originally got are pretty large, and so is the power meter. The rest is pretty small and fits easily. I don’t want things on top of each-other and wires running everywhere like a rats nest. I started looking at some options for alternate PID controllers and found some Eurotherm PID controllers for $22 or best offer on Ebay. I made the guy an offer on 8 (4 for this and 4 extra for other projects). They’re about half the width of my Watlow MicroDIN controllers.

The great thing about these, is that I can bypass the controller and toggle on and off the 3 alarm outputs, which allows me to turn on and off my pump SSRs. Another cool thing, is that they have a bus that connects all of the power and communication. The really handy part, is they have an input for a current sensor. This allows me to look at the current while the SSR for the boil coil is on, and alarm if it gets out of range (shorted coil, or open circuit), and when the SSR is off, it will detect leakage current, which means a failed SSR. I can read the value and at least tell roughly how much current is flowing.

I also worked more on the HMI and think this version is fairly clean and gives me most of what I’ll need to see while brewing. There’s an Aux temperature readout, but I haven’t figured where I want that to be.

I also need to do some electrical work in our garage. Since we moved, I no longer have a 30A 240V receptacle. Since I’m going to have 2 fermentation chambers and my brewing equipment possibly running at the same time, I’m going to run a 50-60A service over across the garage from my main panel to a panel that is meant for temporary power for RV’s. It has a 50A GFCI/50A outlet and 20A breaker/GFCI duplex. I’ve ordered it and should be able to install in the next few weeks, and finish my control panel.

New Fermentation chambers

I’ve come to realize that my conical and carboys scattered throughout my house was not only getting annoying, but it isn’t very consistent when it comes to fermentation temperatures. I had been looking on Craigslist the past few months and ended up getting a non-working Rock Star fridge with clear doors. A friend of mine said he could re-fill it and I picked it up.

Shortly after, I came across an add for some lab-grade temperature/humidity/light controlled chambers. They’re made by a company Conviron who specializes in these chambers. I messaged the seller and inquired a little, but the Ad ended. After tracking them down through another ad, it ended up they were right down the street. She sent me the manuals and specs and I realized how great they’d be for not only fermentation, but also another hobby I had tried before, Growing Shiitake mushrooms. They were asking $600 and I got her down to $300 each.

I went by to make arrangements to pick one up and these things were indeed gigantic. They’re over 6′ tall, 36″ deep and 30″ wide. There’s a touchscreen control that allows you to program to turn on and off lights, adjust humidity and temperature according to a schedule. They were in good shape and came with all their racks. Initially I only wanted one, but after going over there, it seemed that one of them didn’t run right. I took a gamble and offered $400 for both a working one and the non-working one thinking I could fix it.

They’ll fit 5 carboys in each, and if I put in shelving (would be a bit heavy for the shelf though), maybe even 10 carboys. I figure the second one would be for cheese, meet and growing mushrooms.

I got them home and tried working on the non-working one first. The motherboard had shorted and blown several chips off the board. It wasn’t likely salvagable and it was over 10 years old. There was no chance for getting it back to it’s previous condition. I figure I’ll slowly work on this one and install a Raspberry pi, PID controller and a couple SSR’s to control the cooling and heating system.

The other one works great and regulates temperature and light perfectly. These will be put to good use and hopefully end up saving room in the house!