European Space Agency ETV-5 approaches the ISS

Hugh Brown, VA7UNX

What Happened in January 2023 calendar Feb 11, 2023

Hardware hacking

  • More progress on the weathervane. Designed a sort of skirt for the whole assembly in FreeCAD, thanks to the FreeCAD for Makers book by Jo Hinchcliffe, aka Concretedog (who I met at the 2017 Opensource Cubesat Workshop). Printed out a rough version which seems like it should work; next up is a nicer version, which looks like it should take 36 hours (!).

  • Tried repairing a coffeemaker that had a blown thermal fuse. Replaced the fuse and tested it out…whereupon it promptly blew again. 😑

  • Opened up the chickadee birdhouse at my in-laws’ for the season. We’ve had some interest, which surprised me – I thought they wouldn’t be checking out nesting spots in January.

Web stuff

Climate emergency

  • More letters to the federal and provincial governments. Took a while to get back into this after the holidays.


  • Actually started at Wyvern! OMG so much to learn. There is a chance I may get to hold hardware that goes to space, which is a bucket list item for me.
What happened in 2022 -- year end review calendar Jan 2, 2023

What happened in 2022?

  • Continued writing here semi-regularly. 💪

  • I entered the Data Driven Cloud Cover Competition. My score was terrible, but I learned a ton.

  • Much writing to politicians about climate change – by my count, 96 paper letters, plus emails, phones, faxes and petitions. Target for this year: 110.

  • Met with my MLA, the Honourable Jennifer Whiteside, about climate change twice; I thank her and her staff for their time. I definitely want to continue this.

  • Drove to Ontario with my family in our EV: 6 days driving there, 2 weeks to visit my parents, then about 7 days back. It all went quite well.

  • A fair amount of hardware hacking: a birdhouse camera, fixing the tipping bucket rain-o-meter in our weather station, getting sorta-maybe-reliable CO2 readings with an MQ135 sensor, and finally getting into ESP32s…man, those are fun; MicroPython is right up my alley.

  • A lot of natural history: participated in a bioblitz; submitted 432 eBird checklists; made 1271 observations, and 876 identifications, for iNaturalist. Goals for next year:

    • eBird: 450 checklists
    • iNaturalist: 1300 observations, 900 identifications. That’s not a whole lot more than last year, but I did a lot of observing during the trip to Ontario.
  • Continued work on my Emacs dotfiles, which has been going since 2009. Wow.

  • I read 46 books.

  • I walked an average of 7km a day, for a total of 2,573 km. This isn’t as much as 2021 (7.2 km/d, 2629km) – but is not bad at all for getting COVID (Jan/Feb) and flu (November).

  • Began teaching myself web development.

  • Resigned as a core contributor for the Libre Space Foundation and Polaris, but got a job at Wyvern Space.

What Happened in December 2022 calendar Jan 2, 2023

First thing to mention, which doesn’t really have a category: I walked from my home in New Westminster to UBC in one day; it was about 32km, which is the longest walk I’ve done in one day. I am mulling the possibility of walking across the US when I’m 60, and this is the kind of daily distance I’d want to maintain. I got some good blisters and was sore the next day, but not crippled; I think I could have done that again. It’s a good sign.


Hardware hacking

  • More work on the weather vane; got it mounted on a peanut butter jar lid. If that sounds silly, then in my defense it turns out to be very handy to have a standalone mount for a project.

  • Made an HTML page to display readings from the weather vane, using javascript to rotate an arrow graphic to reflect the direction it was measuring. Surprisingly handy.

  • Bought an Ikea Vindriktning, aiming to read its measurements directly with an ESP32. Took a while to figure out how to get it working – turns out that a common ground between the ESP32 and the sensor board was necessary to get the UART working – but I think it’s coming along.

  • Took apart a coffee maker that died on us to figure out what was wrong, and it turns out to be a thermal fuse that blew – apparently this is quite common. Will be picking up a replacement and seeing if I can get it going again.

ML/AI/Earth Observation


  • After nearly 5 years of searching, I have finally got a job in the space industry: beginning January 9th 2023, I’ll be working for Wyvern Space. They are building satellites to do high-resolution hyperspectral imaging; my position is senior devops software developer, helping to build and operate their image processing pipeline. I couldn’t be more thrilled. 😁
What Happened in November 2022 calendar Dec 18, 2022


  • More work on refactoring The Floating Head of Ayn Rand so it’s in modern, standards-compliant HTML. Coming along nicely!

  • More work on the UMich/Coursera Web Design for Everybody course. Continues to be excellent.

  • Tried getting habit working under mod_wsgi in Apache on my home server. Man, this was surprisingly hard: the documentation isn’t great, I couldn’t figure out to adjust URLs properly (serve under /habit rather than just /), and also I suspect I’m doing things sub-optimally. Called it quits after a while, and continued running the Flask development server on my local network (no, not exposed to the Internet); this is good enough for now.

Hardware hacking

  • Tried out using an inexpensive flow meter as an alternative design to measure precipitation. It turns out this sort of works. Precision is good – about four pulses per mL of water – but it takes a fair amount of water column height to get the meter to turn. I was able to accomplish that by using a funnel, and maybe 18" of 1/4" vinyl tubing…but if I didn’t hold it just right, the water would just flow through the meter without actually turning the internal vane.

    On top of that, the original tipping bucket meter seems to be behaving a lot better now that I have tightened up the screws holding the wires that connect the meter and the rest of the equipment.

    I may try this design at home, but for now I’m setting it aside.

What Happened in October 2022 calendar Nov 3, 2022

Trying to get back to doing these things on a regular basis.

Hardware hacking

  • More work on an electronic weather vane, following these instructions. Lots of figuring out what size of bearings I should order.

  • Some soldering to make a battery holder for some ESP32 camera modules I’ve got.

  • Weather station:

    • Try to get the tipping bucket rain meter working; there’s a loose connection somewhere, and periodically I see that Burnaby had 5 metres of rain in the last 24 hours. I never realized just how much you have to pay attention to loose wires.

    • Sketch out a new rain meter based on inexpensive flow meters, then order some. We’ll see how this works.


  • Going through a number of online courses/resources:

    • Coursera UMich Web Design for Everybody course: excellent, though aimed at people quite new to development of any sort. One thing: I’m lucky enough to have my employer pay for this, but the lecturer, Colleen van Lent, writes:

      My motivation for creating this course content was to spread the mission of free education to everyone. Unfortunately, many of the platform changes has put the material behind paywells. I highly encourage students to take the courses individually (rather than as a specialization) to access them for free. Even then, some of the assignments may be hidden. I am hoping to launch a new more open version in Fall 2018.

    • Shay Howe’s HTML & CSS course; also excellent

    • awesome walkthrough of JavaScript

  • Trying to get the basics down, then look into React or some other front-end framework.

  • Gotta say, I’m really fascinated by the tie-in between JavaScript and DOM manipulation, which I had not really grokked before.

  • Project-in-progress is a refactoring (not a redesign, as I want the look to remain about the same) of The Floating Head of Ayn Rand, which has been more or less untouched for HOLY CRAP twenty-one years. (State of the art at the time was table-based layout, which I adopted enthusiastically 😬).

  • Changed the CSS for this site to have the post titles be a bit more prominent:

    .posts-list-item-title {
        font-size: xx-large;


  • But also web: begin taking up work on the New West Trees page again.
    • Newest feature: adding links to the Wikipedia page for a tree species!
    • Coming soon: adding common names for species (eg: English Oak instead of Quercus robur)…which turns out to be surprisingly tricky.
      • Tried pytaxize, which was a yakshave to get an NCBI API token, then gave me problems re: rate limiting
      • Tried pygbif; better results, but still not great for trees. Example: Quercus palustris is resolved to just “Oak”, but Wikipedia clearly resolves it to “Pin Oak”.
      • But this gave me the idea of trying wikidata or wikispecies; this is up next.
What Happened in September 2022 calendar Oct 6, 2022

Web development:

  • I’ve become interested in web development recently, and have begun working on a habit-tracking project called, unoriginally, Habit. Currently it’s a good exercise for becoming familiar with Javascript, Jquery, Bootstrap, Flask and SQLAlchemy.

Hardware hacking:

  • I ordered a bunch of AI-Thinker ESP32 camera modules from Universal Solder (Canadian vendor of Arduino, ESP32, electronic components, etc; I’m a happy customer & recommend them thoroughly). Started digging into how to make it into a timelapse camera.


  • I signed up for a free account with [The SDF Public Access UNIX System][3]. I’ve got a totes-real homepage at [][4], just like the old days.

[2]: The SDF Public Access UNIX System [3]: [4]:

What Happened in August 2022 calendar Sep 9, 2022

Hardware hacking:

  • I ordered a bunch of AI-Thinker ESP32 camera modules from Universal Solder (Canadian vendor of Arduino, ESP32, electronic components, etc; I’m a happy customer & recommend them thoroughly). Started playing around with them.

  • Some work on the electronic windvane.

  • Add a photocell to the office weather station so I could begin to track light levels.

Climate emergency:

Data science/mapping:


  • I resigned as a Core Contributor of the Libre Space Foundation and the Polaris project. It’s been wonderful to work with these folks, and I wish everyone the best, but it’s time for me to move on.
What Happened in July 2022 calendar Aug 2, 2022

Road trip to Ontario in an EV with my family to visit my parents. Wonderful time.

What Happened in June 2022 calendar Jul 1, 2022

Hardware hacking:

  • Play with EdgeImpulse, an esp32 and an mpu6050; collect gesture data.

  • Got idea to use the mpu6050 for a seismometer; tried logging with MicroPython, and managed to get surprisingly interesting data.

  • Began working on an Arduino-powered weather vane project; fired up 3D printer for first time in a while.

  • Played with ThunderSense and got Bluetooth packets captured with Python.

What Happened in May 2022 calendar Jun 1, 2022

Hardware hacking:

  • More playing with ESP32. Try making an open-window detector with the built-in Hall effect sensor, and sending a Grafana annotation when it’s open.


  • Refactor my .emacs files to use a lisp directory, and switch to use-package rather than Cask. This is easily the longest-running project I’ve been working on:
commit 85b1d148afdc135d725498c0384d58e7baa0866d
Author: Hugh Brown <hugh@chibi-laptop-01.(none)>
Date:   Tue Mar 3 21:13:57 2009 -0800

    New repo.

…and that commit came after declaring bankruptcy in the last one.

Data science: