My quest for the Chromecast

Yesterday, I visited the land of the free and the home of the brave. It was quite the adventure. I find that the only pro for cross-border shopping is having a better selection of things; the prices are about the same. This was somewhat of a last minute plan but since I was just along for the ride, I made it an objective to find a Google Chromecast since it’s not available in Canada yet,

Crossing the border both ways was actually hassle-free despite us being two young guys driving over. I think it’s normal for people to freak out since the border patrol officers have that stone face when they ask you things. It breaks for the last thing they say, which is something to the effect of, “You’re all set. Have a good one.” At least you don’t walk away with the feeling like you’re doing something wrong even though you aren’t. Anyways…

The last time I went down to the States was in like 2005. I wasn’t sure what to expect since I didn’t remember anything but, to sum it up, it was actually kind of depressing. We drove around the area just across the border and ended up passing through streets of abandoned homes while destroying the car’s suspension on the busted up road.

Our first stop was the Seneca casino. It was nothing special, especially having been to Fallsview before on the Canadian side. I prefer not walking in and immediately smelling cigarettes. We literally just walked right through to see what they had. Like 10 minutes.

We then went over to the Fashion Outlet. Like I said, there’s a better selection I guess, but the prices weren’t anything to get excited about. We went to the McDonalds down the road for lunch. I found the quality to be about the same as what I’m used to, but that’s not surprising. What’s surprising are some of the prices for things. $2 Big Macs. $5 for 20 McNuggets. It’s not surprising that obesity is an issue.

We then drove to the Walden Galleria where it would be my first attempt to get the Chromecast at the Best Buy there. It was concerning seeing the state of that Best Buy. I couldn’t tell if they were doing renovations or something, but there were empty gaps on all of the shelves and the place didn’t seem very brightly lit. I was told that a shipment was supposed to come the day before but was delayed until Thursday. If only I wasn’t leaving the country 4 hours later…

The rest of the mall was alright, nothing really that special (equivalents to Canadian stores like Game Stop = EB Games, [Name that I don’t know because it’s just scribbling] = The Bay). I think I’m the only one who says they wish Radioshack was still in Canada. They actually sell Arduinos and electronic parts to go with it. Of course, it was the only store we came across that day that had less-than-pleasant employees.

There was a Target and Price Rite in the area so we stopped to check it out. The Target was the same as I remember (the only memory I have from my 2005ish visit). I still have yet to check out a Canadian Target, but I guess it would be the same underwhelming experience. The Price Rite was actually the busiest place we visited all day. My friend bought a 3 litre bottle of cream soda for $1 as a joke. It had “Made with Artificial Flavors” in large print on the label as if it was boasting. Soft drinks usually come in 2 litres here in Canada (and usually go for more than $1) which added to the humor of it.

After that, we took a drive through downtown Buffalo. Approaching the skyline, there were sketchy people casually jaywalking. I’m not used to the sight of a quiet downtown area. No gridlock or anything, we just passed right through it, no problem. I took a few pictures heading out of Buffalo:

Buffalo 1 Buffalo 2 Buffalo 3We passed by Martin’s Fantasy Island. I had to take a picture of course:

Buffalo MFIWe went back to the Fashion Outlets area to a Walmart to check for the Chromecast. They said it sold out when it was released and it never got restocked. We headed back to Canada after that.

Once we got across, we wanted to blow some time to avoid the rush hour. We went through Fallsview Casino. I lost $5. My friend went to a slot machine and said, “Let’s see how long it takes to blow off $20”, so he placed the max bet ($3) each spin. He ended up winning $40.

I have this weird love for water fountains so I took this video of the ones at the back of the Fallsview Casino:

So that was my day. No luck in finding the Chromecast. I hope it makes it to Canada soon (By then it should have some more features, though hopefully not limited because Canada).


PLC 101

Even though I haven’t shown it here yet, I’m a coaster enthusiast. The interest really grew in 2003, the year this thing opened:

Sledgehammer at Canada’s Wonderland was a new ride from HUSS Rides of Germany. It’s still the only Jump Squared in the world, and is still going 10 years later. As an obsessive enthusiast of the park, I read the press release for it over and over. I remember it describing its control system as the “most sophisticated computer in the park”. Ending up on the HUSS Rides website, I picked up the acronym “PLC”, Programmable Logic Controller. Fast forward 9 years, I had opportunities to learn a little more about them.

In May 2012, I took the George Brown College Programmable Logic Controllers program. Having learned other programming languages, it wasn’t too hard to pick up compared to what a fresh programmer may feel. After that summer, I had a couple PLC courses in my Seneca College program, though it wasn’t nearly as detailed as what I learned that summer. And even with all of this training, there is still a lot for me to learn. I think I have a good basic foundation, though I definitely need to challenge myself when I practice.

Anyways, finishing the George Brown program early in the summer, I decided to work on my own PLC trainer for the rest of the summer. There were pre-built trainers for sale, but I challenged myself to build one for the experience and to see if I could beat the price. They varied in price and features, most of them at least a couple hundred dollars. Long story short, I went over budget by $100, with a grand total of $300…

I learned how to use a really old version of Autosketch back in high school. It’s what I used to design the layout of the panel to get it drilled and built:


The next part is a little embarrassing. I bought all of the components from Automation Direct. Once I received them, the next part was wiring it up. I was used to wiring the Arduino, expecting power to flow through the pin to ground.¬†Why weren’t my lights working?¬†Because I didn’t know what I was doing.

After some reading up, I realized what I was doing wrong, so I corrected it. On to problem #2: Broken Output. This is what a failed lamp test looks like:


I purchased another CPU (the Click PLC CPUs have some I/O pins on it). That set me back $70. I also had to buy some more wire because:

20120629_151054So that about ends the story for the first generation of my PLC trainer. There’s still some more work I did on it to show off. I also picked up a few more parts today to do a minor upgrade. Fair warning: I still probably don’t know what I’m doing. Thanks for reading.