OKIE IN EXILE: Some boring details about an exciting age

Bobby Neal Winters
Bobby Winters

One of the hats that I wear at the university is that I am the Director of the Polymer Chemistry Initiative. I’m not a chemist, but don’t let that confuse you, because I am an administrator. We specialize in directing things about which we know zip. Sometimes it's easier to do if you don’t know anything about it. One of the issues we have is that not many of the general population know much about polymers. What are they good for?

I recently purchased a 3-D printer. I say recently, but I’ve had it since mid-June. It came with some assembly required, and I was able to do that over the course of a Sunday with time enough for Bible Study in between.

The big issue with these devices is getting the bed correctly calibrated. That took me the better part of a week. The nozzle kept knocking whatever I was printing off the bed. I was ever so patient in going through the procedures to calibrate. Then I noticed a wire that was unplugged from a connector. (For those of you who are familiar with such things, it was the connector to my z-axis stepper.) I astutely plugged the wire back in, and, voila, it works.

I’ve been learning how to use the printer now and a whole new world has opened.

I am using it on my current project. I want to make a weather station in my backyard. As I am reaching a certain age, one of my duties will soon include talking about the weather in a level of detail that younger minds are not able to comprehend. They don’t get how it was possible for us to walk to school twelve miles in the snow, uphill both ways. They will soon enough, but in the meantime, I will be up to me and others like me to fill them in.

I want to be able to tell them about the wind, the humidity, the dew point, how much rain we got last night and when it started.

For this, I need a weather station. True, our local treasures Doug Heady and Mike Hayslip do give us great information, but they have to cover from Chanute to Bella Vista. I want the lowdown on the southwest quadrant of Pittsburg.

Yes, you can buy weather stations, and ones that are probably better than what I am going to make. Yes, they would probably cost less than what I am going to spend on building one.

But what is the fun in that?

For my project, I need a computer controller. This will either be a Raspberry Pi computer or an Arduino controller. I am sort of leaning toward the latter right now. They will need a source of power. I will be using a 12-volt marine battery. I need a box to house it all in.  

As I don’t want to be having to interrupt my data to change or charge the battery, I want to have a solar panel to keep the battery charged.

My first priority is to get the power situation in order. I bought a plastic storage box from Home Despot [sic] to mount everything to and in. I want the battery and the controller (eventually) to be in the box, but the solar panel will have to be on the outside.  

In order to get the most out of the sunshine, I need to keep the solar panel angled to the south. To do this, I 3-D printed some brackets to hold it at that angle. Of course the first solar panel I got didn’t work (I don’t buy the most expensive kind) and I had made my brackets specifically for that type, so when I bought my second solar panel it, quite naturally, didn’t fit. As I type this, I am printing out an addition to my original brackets to make them work.

When I am done, I am going to mount my system on the top of a landscaping timber that is planted vertically like a fencepost in my backyard. I printed a bracket that will hold it to the top of that pole. I’ve also printed a variety of brackets to hold the battery and wires in place. Believe me, there are a lot of wires.

If you’ve made it this far, you are probably thinking to yourself, he doesn’t have to have a weather station to become a bore, he’s there on several other fronts already.

I know it and I am okay with that.

But the point of this is the plastic filament that I am printing all this stuff with is a polymer. These polymers can be created with different properties for different applications. That is what the scientists in the Polymer Chemistry Initiative do. There is a lot of stuff that is coming together. It is an exciting age.

Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to “like'' the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. Search for him by name on YouTube.