European Space Agency ETV-5 approaches the ISS

Hugh Brown, VA7UNX

What happened in 2023 -- year end review calendar Jan 4, 2024

What happened in 2023?

  • I got less regular about writing here semi-regularly. 😑

  • A bunch of work on climate change – 82 paper letters, 12 emails, 2 protests, phone calls, in-person meetings with local politicians, and submissions against LNG expansion in BC. I didn’t meet my target of 110 letters; however, I’m starting to have second thoughts about those kinds of targets for personal goals.

  • Two new hardware hacking projects: tree tomography and the one-pixel camera. Finished up the weather vane; no nesting from the chickadees this year. Seismometer set up. Lots of small random things.

  • A year of working at Wyvern! I think the infrastructure codebase is in good shape.

  • Health was a mix: nothing terribly serious, but COVID plus two sinus infections. Bleah.

  • Walking: 6.8 km/day average for the year. Down from 7.0 last year. Obviously this is the end times.

  • Gave up on hosting my own email and delegated it to Recommended.

  • Started learning Italian. È molto divertentimento!

  • Nature: 475 checklists for eBird (vs target of 450); 1671 observations for iNaturalist (vs target of 1300) and 3730 identifications (vs target of 900).

  • Added a few Wikipedia pages and updated more, mainly for species I’d observed for iNaturalist.

  • I read 53 books. Of these, “The Good War” by Studs Terkel was the most mind-blowing; it’s an utterly compelling oral history, mainly from the American point of view, of people’s involvement in World War II. I had never thought that moral ambiguity about a war, or deep suspicion about the US government’s action in a war, was anything but a recent development. Highly recommended.

What Happened in September - December 2023 calendar Jan 4, 2024

A quick summary before I work on the year-end post.

Hardware hacking

  • More work on the tree tomography project, including much writeup on

    • Hammer of Science: a da Vinci hammer first done in cardboard and then wood.
    • Code for microsecond-level time-of-flight measurements.
    • Initial analysis & graphing.
    • A prototype board for the Pi Pico, with connections for the piezo sensors, that doesn’t suck.
  • Side note: I wanted to see what it was like to document things on, so I added the project & was curious to see how I’d like it. While the site has a few little hiccups, it’s pretty good. What stood out to me, though, was how much I wrote there as opposed to here. I think there are a few reasons for that: the different audience (and, honestly, the chance for a nice dopamine attention hit); the novelty of writing on a different website; and the ease of adding images.

    That last point is pretty big: I’d never thought before about what a difference that makes. I work with Emacs, and as a text editor I love it – but the process I have for adding pictures is clumsy. This needs some thought; I know there are graphical markdown editors, but I’d hate the idea of giving up the sheer flexibility I have with Emacs.

  • Not exactly hardware hacking, but: I got a Keychron Q8 programmable mechanical keyboard, and OMFG I love it. The switches are Gateron G Pro Reds, so it’s fairly quiet. I’d never understood the appeal of mechanical keyboards before, but I get it now. But the programmable part is even bigger; I’m able to set this up with the keyboard shortcuts I’d always wanted.

  • Began working on replicating a project written up on in 2016: a one-pixel camera. There was an episode of the Hackaday podcast where one of the hosts called for people to trawl through that site’s vast archive and look for fun projects; that seemed like a great idea, and in short order I tripped over the one-pixel camera. This was a great excuse to order a bunch of servos, so I did. Current status:

    • I was able to get an X-Y setup with two servos and an Arduino controlling them directly, and have it scan a field of view successfully.
      • I’m now working on duplicating that by controlling (and powering) them through a PCA9685 module.
    • I was able to set up a single photoresistor & get measurements from it.
    • I’ve got Python code to graph those measurements.

    So far, the results aren’t great, but I’m plugging away on it.


  • More observations for iNaturalist, of course.

  • I’ve taken a couple of freshwater samples from local streams to keep at home, so that I can examine the organisms in there a bit closer. I’ve found Eucyclops, copepods, pocopods, and pea clams. Terribly fun!

Climate emergency


What Happened in June, July, and August 2023 calendar Sep 22, 2023

Home sysadmin

  • Migrated mail server to Quite happy with their service so far.

  • Set up new home server on a NUC when the old, silent PC started having recurring hardware problems.

  • Set up monit to monitor more stuff at home.

  • New laptop: off-least T490s from Amazon. Great price for 16GB/512GB; just wish I liked the keyboard more.

Hardware & software hacking

  • Got a random LCD display working with an ESP32…surprisingly hard.

  • More playing with the seismometer. Daily reports now being generated.

  • Got tree-sitter working in Emacs. This is wonderful.

  • Got nodered, MQTT set up; three ESP32 thermometers set up (see Climate Emergency section ahead).

  • Repair work on tipping bucket rain meter at weather station.

  • Start work on tree tomography project.

  • Start graphing data for air quality in Sault Ste Marie, where my parents live. It’s not great. ☹️

Climate emergency

  • Continuing to send letters to provincial and federal government asking for faster action.

  • Continuing to pester my MLA for meetings.

  • Got a portable AC just in time for the heat wave this summer. Internal temps in our home office went over 30.5 C, but our 3rd floor (where the kids sleep) stayed reasonably comfortable:

Graph of inside temperatures

Seismometer revisit calendar Jul 23, 2023

I’ve found much better ways of examining earthquake data received by my station. Thanks to Alan Sheehan, who was kind enough to post his excellent report generation tool, I’ve now got some actual data we can use. I’ve updated his code a bit and changed it to better match my workflow; my repo is here. Like Alan’s, my code is under the MIT License. Share and enjoy!

Here’s a sample of what we’ve been able to see:


This is the result of a magnitude 6.2 earthquake that struck off the coast of El Salvador. Fortunately, no damage, injuries or fatalities were reported.

Here’s a sample of what I’m pretty sure is a freight train going by:


This happened about 15 minutes after I saw the train go by another crossing about 10km west of where the seismometer lives. The equidistant lines in the spectrum sure seem like the ones reported in this study, “Equidistant Spectral Lines in Train Vibrations” by Florian Fuchs, Götz Bokelmann, and the AlpArray Working Group ( …but see the previous link for the actual paper).

What Happened in April and May 2023 calendar Jun 19, 2023

Let’s catch up!

Hardware hacking

  • Weathervane: FINALLY IN PLACE. It only took a year.

    • Incidentally, the last bit of this was trying to get a [Coral dev board0 to work with a USB serial device. Turns out the kernel doesn’t include the driver, which (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻. And after two weekends of trying, I gave up trying to rebuild the image; all of the instructions I found were out-of-date, including the ones from Google. What a crock.
  • Not exactly hardware hacking, since there was very little hardware to think about – but orderinga Raspberry Shake 1D has turned out to be enormously fun. See for amazingly great examples of the kind of info you can get out of them.


  • Tried building a local web app to play random playlists, inspired by this article. It turned out to be reasonably straightforward in the end, though my Flask code is going to make baby Jesus cry.

  • Started scraping pollen forecasts (late-onset allergies are fun). Discovered that the requests module has a super-helpful sessions object, which lets you (say) persist cookies across requests. Recommended if you’re, uh, doing research on how to scrape APIs for fun.

Home sysadmin

  • Migrated from LastPass to 1Password. Very happy.


Seismometer First Look calendar Jun 10, 2023

Hello, world! A couple weeks ago, I took delivery of a Raspberry Shake 1D. It’s pretty sweet. Right now it’s set up at my inlaws' house, and I wanted to see how it’s doing by looking at whether it can detect recent larger earthquakes.

Macquarie Island Region: Mag 5.9, June 9 2023, 21:21:42 UTC

I’m starting with the USGS map of recent earthquakes:

Screenshot of latest earthquakes

From there I can drill down to individual earthquakes – such as that first one, 5.9 in the Macquarie Islands. Going to Waveforms takes me to this page, which lets me find stations that recorded data from it. Looks like there’s one in Corvallis, Oregon:

IRIS station map

Clicking on that gets me the data:

screenshot of data

Side note: this is narrowed down to VH channels. V means a sample rate of ~ 0.1 HZ; H is a High Gain seismometer; and Z means vertical orientation. From there I can see when the phases arrived. The original earthquake, according to the USGS, happened at 2023-06-09 21:21:42 (UTC); the P phase arrived 15 & a half minutes after that, and other phases past that. The P is barely noticeable, but the PP and S waves definitely show up.

It’s interesting to compare this with the heliplot:

Corvallis heliplot

So – how does this compare to my seismometer? The Corvallis station is 13,550 km away; mine is 13,990 km. The arrival time should be a little later – by simple/stupid math, about 30 seconds later.

I’ll be honest: for this one, I’m not sure I see anything. The spike around 21:52 seems like a candidate for the S wave.

screenshot of shake data

Fiji Islands Region: Mag 5.8, June 10 2023, 09:12:50 UTC

Here’s the USGS page for this one, and the IRIS page. Here’s the Corvallis data:

Corvalis us700k7m3

I’m curious to know that that 09:50 spike is about…but let’s keep going. The S and SKS waves showed up pretty strongly at 09:35 or so. Here’s what I saw:

screenshot of shake data

Don’t know that that 09:28 data is, but there’s bupkiss at 09:35. Hm.

Anderson Springs, California - Mag 2.6, June 10 2023, 09:43:04 UTC

The peak at 09:50 caught my eye, so I tried looking for anything around that time. I found a small one near Anderson, California. Here’s the IRIS data:

IRIS data, nc73899481

That doesn’t seem a good fit either…but: Corvallis is 652 km away from the epicentre, and it took 90 to 170 seconds for the waves to arrive. I’m 1164km, about 1.8x further. Again, stupid math: 90-170 seconds becomes 160 to 306 seconds, or about 2.5 - 3 minutes. And look at what I recorded 3 minutes after that quake:

shake data

Here it is really zoomed in:

shake data

This seems like a good candidate to me!

So what next?

All this is just a first pass through the data (and a very manual one at that).

  • I’d like to do more digging. Finding some way to automate at least the collection of links & data would be wonderful.

  • I’d also like to compare my data against this station in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, run by Natural Resources Canada. I do wish it had a little better data view.

What Happened in February and March 2023 calendar Apr 9, 2023

February and March got away from me…but fair enough, because I started my new job at a 🌠SPACE🌠COMPANY 🛰📡🤯. I’m pretty excited. Also, though, I got COVID and then a sinus infection in March, which sapped my energy. I got over it, but man, that was not pleasant.

So what did I do?

Hardware hacking

  • Continued to work on firmware for weather vane.

Climate letters

  • Three sets, rather than the 8 that should have been. But COVID.


  • So much Terraform work. I’ve got the luxury of setting up the codebase from scratch, and so far (🤞) I think I’m doing a decent job of it.

  • Travelled to Edmonton for an offsite, and actually met my team in person for the first time. I talked to almost everyone in the company. Such an amazing bunch of people. And hey, our first satellite is due to launch real soon now…

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. 😁