Pitendo NES Emulator

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A couple of years ago my original Nintendo Entertainment System stopped working – the pins in the machine had worn out and wouldn’t recognize the games. I found a used game store in my neighborhood that had a new head of pins, so I replaced the part, which worked for a while but ultimately this set of pins also wore out.

Lucky for me, this was around the time I was getting into Raspberry Pi projects, and doubly lucky for me, emulating old console games is one of the most popular uses of Raspberry Pi. With a software package called RetroPie, you can emulate games from dozens of systems, including NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, arcade games, and more. Frankly, installing the RetroPie software on a Raspberry Pi is so easy to do, it’s worth the $50-ish cost of getting all the parts. You probably can’t find an actual functioning NES for that price anymore.

Using the following resources, I built my own Pitendo console:

I also bough a few cheap USB SNES controllers from Amazon. Also, the Pitendo wasn’t complete without this sweet 3D-printed case.

My Pitendo uses a Raspberry B+, and some of the more graphically intensive games like Starfox and Yoshi’s Island don’t function. But the B+ is already a few Pi models behind, and others have had good results with those (and even Nintendo 64 and Playstation games) on the Raspberry Pi 3 and the latest version of RetroPie.

I wouldn’t consider myself a “gamer” by any means. The most recent system I own is the Gamecube, which came out 13 years ago. I just wanted a way to play those old games without having to buy a new console every few years. With the Pitendo and an 8MB SD card, not only can I play the old NES games I had, but I can find and store thousands of classic and undiscovered games from all kinds of systems.

Here are my top ten favorite games I’ve been able to emulate on Raspberry Pi. Some are old favorites, some are new discoveries, but all have successfully prevented me from writing numerous blog entries:

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Changing for the Climate

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Two years ago, Taylor and I road tripped to Glacier National Park, on the northern U.S. border where cell phone reception doesn’t exist. In early June, the crowds were sparse, the wildlife was abundant, and the views were spectacular. It instantly became one of our favorite destinations.

Yet, in the week we spent hiking up, down and around the mountains, lakes and waterfalls, we saw just one of the park’s eponymous glaciers. To do that, we had stay at a lodge at the heart of the park, boat across a lake, hike a quarter mile to a higher lake, then boat to the other side. After all that, we finally could see through the early summer fog the Salamander Glacier clinging to the backbone of the continent. An incredible sight, undoubtedly, but as our boat captain pointed out, one that was more than  20% larger just twenty years ago and in another twenty may be gone completely.

When Glacier National Park was dedicated in 1910, it featured nearly 150 alpine glaciers, but 2014 estimates now put that number at just 25. Almost assuredly, my children will be visiting a glacierless national park, and much of the plant and animal life dependent on the glaciers to regulate the high climate will have no place left to go.

Since that trip I’ve not thought much about glaciers, humanity’s carbon footprint or the resulting accelerated climate change we’re causing. Every time I read an article or dig out from another massive snow storm, I feel like it’s such a huge problem I can do nothing about. Some people even think our impact is closing in on – or even past – the point of no return. Not to mention, multitudes of people stand to gain from misinforming and obfuscating the seriousness of the issue, and even those who agree on the causes can’t agree on the remedies. But last year’s historic Paris accord, which requires nearly every nation to drastically reduce its carbon emissions, got me interested again. If even the United States government can get in line with the rest of the world to combat climate change, then surely I could do my part. So how do I begin to make smart decisions for mitigating our damage?

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Home Improvement (starring Taylor)

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My wife is a multi-talented woman. However, before we bought our new house, I had no idea those talents include home improvement extraordinaire. The following is a before-and-after comparison of our bathroom remodel, a project in which I had no part whatsoever. This was all Taylor, and this update alone modernized the interior by about 40 years.

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Piplanter Reboot

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Even robots need a little motivation every once in a while. My Piplanter was no exception.

Nine months after I first booted up my JG Piplanter (which is still keeping itself updated hourly here and here), the system is growing a fresh batch of basil, which should be ready just in time for summer. But for a while there, things got a little dodgy, and I was worried the experiment had entered its end stage.

For starters, some of the basil plants were collapsing practically overnight. I was concerned they were being shocked by the moisture sensors, or that they weren’t getting enough water. Yet even after adjustments, plants continued to wilt and die unexpectedly. As it turns out, some of the basil seeds had brought in a fatal fusarium wilt. Bad news. All of the plants and soil would have to go, and the entire planter needed sterilization.

piplanter2_tall20160404 No problem, I thought. This would give me a chance to replace the moisture sensors, which had rusted down to nearly nothing, and to redesign the irrigation system, which wasn’t doing a great job of evenly watering the plants. Over a couple days in January, I cleaned and rebuilt the system.

But there was another issue – we moved. I actually managed to transport the Piplanter completely intact (in a moving van, and down and up two flights of stairs). But its new location was in a room and location with 50% less sunlight. Not to mention, the dark days of December starved the plants of light, even with the grow lamp on 12 hours per day, and the winter months made this drafty room about 15-20 degrees colder than the previous spot.

At first, the refreshed planter shot up seedlings, but all of them died in about a month. I think the cold had a lot to do with it, because many of them shot up quickly but never grew any bigger.

In addition, it took a little while to work the kinks out of the new watering pattern. At first the pressure was way too low. I had drilled holes that were too big, and the water just dribbled down the sides of the bin. So I installed new tubing with smaller holes, which now sprays water across the full length of the planter from both sides (I even sprayed myself in the eye while testing it).

Finally, I updated the Pi software so that I could SSH into the system and control it remotely. That is, I no longer need to haul a flat screen TV monitor and keyboard into the room every time I need to access the system. I can simply remote in from my laptop. I know this is pretty run-of-the-mill stuff to most tech people, but it was a first for me, and made working with the PiPlanter so much easier.

I replanted once more, this time with about twice the seeds. I also switched to new varieties of seed, including a mini mounding basil variety. With a little help, the seeds have a started again, and as the days grow longer and warmer, the new plants look a little bigger and happier each day. Now I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the wilt stays away and we will soon be back to a regular supply of basil to feed our addiction.

Check out new photos and a recent video below!

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