Category Archives: DIY

DIY Indoor Greenhouse

Spring time is just around the corner and I wanted to get ahead of the curve this year. Instead of buying flowers, vegetables, and other living things from local nurseries I will be growing everything from seed. After some quick online searching, kits for sale range from $600 to $1000!! So, in a recurring theme, I will be taking the (much) DIY approach!

A simple power strip timer controls the lights and heat mats. The controller I picked up has four outlets that are operated by the timer and four that are powered by the power switch. This worked out well because the heat mats needs to always be on, while the lights need to by cycled.


The hardware store had some handy greenhouse kits to get the plants growing. I found some cheap condensed seedling soil (just add water, woo woo woo!). I found it’s mainly made out of coconut fiber, the same fiber I mix with sand for my crabitat (and a lot cheaper!). I needed two bricks to cover the four flats.

The shelving I chose ended up being a little too short. Each of the flats sticks out a few inches off of the shelf. I will need to come up with a solution for keeping the heating mats pressed against the flats.

The heating mats seem to be pretty standard across various brands. They all have green writing and similar diagrams on them. My local hardware store had them for a few dollars cheaper than online.


Each of the lamps are held on via nuts and bolts attached to the shelving. The chains can be adjusted to change the height of the lamps. After the plants emerge from the ground the lamps can be lowered to a few inches off of the bed and then raised up as the plants get larger. There is an additional shelf that can still be attached, but I do not need it right now. Each lamp has both a cool white and soft white bulbs to help cover the light spectrum. The online community doesn’t see this solution as efficient as purpose-made grow lights, but my local hardware store was out of stock. I’ve read mixed findings on what the best bulbs to use are anyway, so I stuck with the cheapest available and got two different temperatures, even though it might not have any tangible results.


I’ve started with some flowers, tomatoes, and green beans. With 4 flats, I can start 288 seedlings at the same time. LOTS of flowers!

In the future the current shelving can accommodate the ability to double the number of flats. I don’t think my apartment’s small backyard could handle that much organic material in such a small place. Maybe when I move into a house :).

DIY Digital Photo Frame

In previous posts I had been digitizing old family photos. This process was not simply to restore and preserve past memories but to turn into gifts for the Christmas season. I have over 6,000 new photos I’d like to put into some digital picture frames.

Pursuing online vendors left me wanting more. All sites were filled with poorly built or functioning frames. Some of the top search results on Amazon were products accused of buying all of their 5 star reviews. 800×600 resolution made me cringe as all of my scanned photos were large enough for poster size prints.

I decided I would venture a DIY route for these gifts. The tinkerer inside me knew I would be able to find a better way before Christmas. I originally looked into taking an old LCD monitor attached to a Raspberry Pi and placed into a shadow box, but the price quickly ballooned once all the pieces were tallied. I thought to myself, “Matt, why don’t you use a device that already has the LCD and computer built in together, like a tablet!”

I purchased a used Kindle Fire (first generation) and a Kindle Fire HD 7″ (second generation) and a used Nexus 7 (first generation) for some testing. I planned on stripping the device down out of it’s casing and place it into a thick picture frame instead of a larger shadow box.

The Fire has a resolution of 1024×600 at 169 dpi while the Nexus has 1280×800 at 216 dpi. Even though they were several years old they would be more than powerful enough to handle displaying simple pictures. Most of the pictures I scanned are all 4:3 either horizontal or vertical, so most of the screen wouldn’t be used when displaying an image on a widescreen display. The 8mm video I recorded would use this real estate though. The Nexus comes with a front facing camera, which I wanted to use as a proximity sensor to turn the display on and off depending on traffic walking by the frame.

To get the camera acting as a motion detector for the photo frame I had to string a few apps together. I used Motion Detector which raised “motion captured” events to Tasker which then could turn on the screen and launch the photo slideshow app. Tasker was also able to automatically get the picture frame functionality running when the tablet was powered on, making it more resilient after being powered off accidentally. Tasker also helped turn the apps off at night to save power. I used Cloud PhotoFrame EX.Net to display the slideshow. Even though it’s advertised as a cloud photo app, it worked just fine for local storage as well. I went through a few dozen slideshow apps until I settled on this one. It was the easiest to set up, had lots of display options, can play mp4 videos, and also had the ability to re-scan the photo folders for changes periodically. It has no ads and only asks to be reviewed once.

I wanted to be able to update the images on the frame automatically either over the internet or locally when visiting. I am unable to physically visit all of the recipients of the frames on a regular basis, and even when I can I don’t want to be messing around with opening up the frames and adding/removing pictures from SD cards. I decided to use Syncthing, an awesome service which uses the torrent protocol to sync files between multiple places. Syncthing allows both internet and local network connections. For recipients that don’t have wifi, I simply turn my laptop on at their house and wirelessly connect to the tablet. Syncthing finds the client running on the tablet and syncs the files between my local laptop and the tablet. Anything I add/remove from my local folder gets reflected on the frame automatically. At home I can add new pictures to a Syncthing folder, and they will be automatically pushed to any frame connected to the internet.

Getting the tablets into the picture frames required some modifications. I routed out the backsides of the frames to accommodate the size of the tablets. I centered the display inside the visible portion of the frame. I also removed the glass so the touchscreen could be used to flip to different pictures. I notched out areas around the charger port, power, and volume buttons so they could be manipulated without taking the picture out of the frame. I then used small pieces of sheet metal with screws to create “tabs” to hold the table in place. I used the back frame cover with kickstand to hold the tablet in place.

A rough fit test of the tablets inside the frames
A rough fit test of the tablets inside the frames

In the end it was a great success. It stole the show and the grandparents haven’t set it down since they got it on Christmas. I have noticed one negative downside from this. They’ve requested I scan in another box of pictures they found in the attic… 😐

Everytime they walked through the room they stopped for several minutes :)
Everytime they walked through the room they stopped for several minutes 🙂