Secret Engineer

Fascinated by complexity. Striving for simplicity.

New Location, New Concept

My current project is called Industrial Luxury Group Inc.

Industrial Luxury is a design laboratory that builds hand-crafted, tech-enabled environments and other wacky projects. We deliver art and design ROI for the smart crowd.

It’s a workshop and prototype studio that will be open to the public and serve artists, designers, architects, and developers.

ALSO! Our new location in East Colfax Art District at Syracuse will be opening this Spring, when the weather warms up, and feature an outdoor art garden that surrounds the main showroom and shop. Big time sensuality. Or maybe not. I have to bootstrap this gig on my own and until I get some investors, it’s all me all in.

Check in with us (me) on the usual channels. We’ll (I’ll) let everyone know when the place is safe to visit.




Major Delta.

New post in progress… Check back soon. There’s been some GIANT changes and I need to write about it.

This is the placeholder for now.


Mayfair Greenhouse Project

Progress reports and fun photos.

Settling on a control system based on Arduino (of course) and the CC3000 wireless shield. For now, I am just going to use a DHT22 Temperature and humidity sensor I got from Adafruit.

I am also experimenting with a Weather Shield by Sparkfun too.

weathershieldSo in my layout, I have these components:


On a workshop desk that looks like this:


I started by just getting the CC3000 wireless shield up and running. I knew if I could just get the Arduino online I could start building the sensors and controllers knowing the basic platform would be robust enough to live out in the green house 24-7. Humidity can get pretty high in there so I will eventually house the components in weatherproof boxes. Only the sensors need to be exposed.

I used the DHT22 sensor in place of the Weather Shield for now. I still want to figure out how to best use the Weather Shield since it is set up to also track wind speed and rainfall totals. (which, for a greenhouse, you don’t really care about). We’ll see. I’ll definitely use it somehow.

I hung the whole breadboard off of the existing sensor so I could compare the readings and see if both were tracking each other closely enough to verify the correct data.


After an afternoon of hacking up a test, I had a basic temperature and humidity sensor outside in the greenhouse, wirelessly connecting to my network router and then to a xively server and displaying the sensor readings here:

xivelystatsI will add data logging to the system so that if the wireless connection goes down, there will be a backup data file to reference and download.


Greenhouse Research

Here is a list of greenhouse resources – in just raw format without categories or comment – I am working my way through. Will edit this as I go to prune it or add new finds.

Smart Greenhouses

WiFi Weather Station

Connected Greenhouse M2M application demo at EWC2013

Temperature Data Logger | Farm Hack

Control Unit Construction | Robot Gardner

This dude’s YouTube channnel

The Smart Greenhouse | Make


The DIY Greenhouse


Planning and Building a Greenhouse

Design and Layout of a Small Commercial Greenhouse Operation

Greenhouse Design & Specifications by Rough Brothers Inc

Backyard Greenhouses

Greenhouse Product News

Greenhouse Grower

Greenhouse Megastore

Gothic Arch Greenhouses

Fido – Greenhouse Monitoring with Text Message Alerts

AFC Greenhouse

Climate Control, Fogging Systems, Greenhouse Watering, Sensaphone Greenhouse, Alarms, Humidifiers, Sprayers, Horticultural Risers – FarmTek;ft_greenhouse_equipment;ft_greenhouse_climate_control.html

Greenhouse Alarm

HarvestGeek — Brains for your Garden by Evolved Agriculture — Kickstarter

Principles of Evaluating Greenhouse Aerial Environments Part 1 of 3 [PDF]

Instruments for Monitoring the Greenhouse Aerial Environment Part 2 of 3 [PDF]

Evaluating Greenhouse Mechanical Ventilation System Performance – Part 3 of 3  [PDF]

Wireless Sensing Products from Monnit Corp.

Cellular Machinges | Greenhouse Monitoring

Greenhouse Temperature and Humidity Monitor by La Crosse Technology

Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden Tips

Grower’s Supply

Bluetooth Temperature & Humidity Sensor | Adafruit Learning

powering a heater with solar panel – Greenhouses & Garden Structures Forum – GardenWeb

Adafruit Wireless Gardening with Arduino and CC3000


Parts list first pass:

Sparkfun Weather Shield and hookup guide.

Adafruit CC3000 WiFi Shield

Adafruit AM2302 Temperature/Humidity sensor







Mayfair Greenhouse

Version [BETA]

I have been working on a greenhouse design. The greenhouse in the photos below is not the actual greenhouse. It is the prototype I set up to help me figure out the automation systems and climate stuff. The real greenhouse will be built from what works on this model, and will probably be online in the Fall 2014. This project actually started this fall and now that it’s pre-Spring, I am moving into the second phase: connectivity and control.

Phase 1 was setting up a greenhouse prototype, and then attempting to keep most of last summer’s crops alive through the winter. Since I did very little greenhouse research before setting up the initial structure, I was just winging it out of the gate. I purchased a Harbor Freight off-the-shelf DIY just to get the project rolling.


It took awhile to set up by myself, but it’s do-able. Drink some beer or something. Put on some music.

Although it comes in 5000 pieces, once it’s all fastened together and mounted to the base you build – I used treated 2x10s that I leveled right on the ground vs. pouring a concrete slab which the instructions recommend (lol) – it becomes surprisingly rigid and sturdy. I backfilled it with the white marble chips and concrete pavers to give it a nice, semi-design look.

greenhouse construction

The winter was going to be a tough one; I knew that going in. Nights in Denver, Colorado were going to get down to -10° F or more and sometimes last for short bursts of up to a week of sub-zero cold. I didn’t spend 5 min. with a calculator trying to determine what my heat requirements would be, humidity, etc. I just built the thing and designed from the hip going forward.

Yeah the thermometer is reading 120° but that is just because the sun is directly beating on it. It’s more like, 85° inside.

hot house

The sun obviously played a major role in heating the greenhouse daily. Almost too much.

greenhouse snow

The big dumb thermometer is just a cheap, Lowe’s thing that I hung in there so that I could see it from the house. Rough but it tells me if the surface temperature of that South-facing wall is either too hot or, more importantly, too cold.

For more accurate internal temperatures, I used what I already had available:


This sensor is old. It’s been hanging outside for 3 or 4 years. And it works in really harsh conditions. So that was the model for any connected sensor stack I want to build that would replace this. This thing is great for one-way broadcasts of temp and humidity. It sends the data to a base unit weather station thing I have sitting in my studio.

What I Learned:

1). Heat rises. You have to heat the greenhouse from a low trajectory. If the heater is mounted too high, and you don’t address the ground-level temperature, you’ll screw up. Don’t let roots or pots freeze. The initial heater I had in there was mounted too high. The super-cooled air at the ground level kept the warm air trapped above the cold air that blanketed the plants that were sitting directly on the ground. The plants hate that. The roots froze. I really felt horrible about that. I added a second heater to keep the ground-level warm. About a week later, I lost several more plants because of a tripped GFCI outlet one night.  When it shut down, the sub-zero weather in Denver quickly dropped the interior temperature below freezing in probably less than an hour. My failure to provide a fail-safe backup heating system or even a notification SMS or alarm was stupid. Honestly, I had not set out to make this greenhouse a “Project” project. It was a hastily constructed mock-up and, even though I considered blown fuses or power outages, I neglected to consider the fact that I would be asleep when it happened.

I added a second heater: one on the ground level and one at mid-level.


2) Humidity must be controlled. Some days, the humidity would stay in the 50 – 75% range. Even higher after watering and snow. Weird shit started to grow. Stuff like fungus and molds. Humidity is evil. Another pest that moved in: these spider-mite entities:


These were covering two, good-sized rose bushes. I’d venture to say “billions” but who was going to count?

Started wiping them out with this:

Chem Dog

After treating, a lot of leaves just fell off. I hope they’re going to come back this summer. Shit.


The winter damage was palpable.

The concrete balls fared well.


These are tough plants:


Cleaning up and getting prepped for Spring.

clean up

Pulled out dead stuff and washed it down:


Started to reorganize it.



Before moving to Phase 2, I wanted a live video monitor to watch inside. I threw a Dropcam in there and got it live on the network. This picture makes me look fat.


What Dropcam “sees” at night:


Phase 2:

Once I had run it through a Colorado winter, I now knew what kinds of environmental variables I needed to design for. I moved back into the lab to start laying out the overall concept. I want to scale up the entire greenhouse idea for next winter. I need a control system that allows me to monitor and respond to environmental changes. The primary goal: keep stuff alive and healthy through variable Colorado winters. Back up systems and all that. And I want to collect data. Lots of data. Why? I don’t know… shut up. Here’s my dev setup:


Below, a closer look at the initial components. The accordion things are packaging prototypes that are used for protecting the hardware from humidity and splashing water. You’ll see those again down the road. There are all the usual culprits: Arduino, Raspberry Pi, XBee, some TI Sensor Tags… blah blah blah. Mostly just thinking about what makes sense to build on.



Right now, it’s in the architectural design phase. I need to decide on some technical details and platform-based options. This is really an experiment first and foremost. I’m not entering the “Greenhouse Control” business. I just want to make my greenhouse super cool.

Anyway, I began by setting up basic connections and sampling the data. Below, I am running a test on the Bluetooth data that is being sent by the TI Sensor Tags. Usable? We’ll see…

I’ve been doing a ton of online research around other projects that have addressed this similar problem and there is a lot out there. I probably can make a post and list links to all the stuff I have found along the way. Some are very sophisticated systems.

lab bench

So that’s the Mayfair Greenhouse introduction. I’ll check in later.

Shiny things.

New year.

Things all over my radar right now:


+ Before I forget, check out this awesome Mechatronics resource/cheat sheet:

+ Yummy: The Wolfram Data Framework 

+ Owncloud. It’s time. And here is a nice, simple way to set up Owncloud on AWS :

+ Lots of people and companies are trying to unify the language around The Internet of Things. Here is one I just found the other day: AllJoyn. One day, I’ll just dive into all these alliances and standards wishes and dreams. Not today though..

+ How To Launch A Startup Without Writing Code?

+ To Protect and Infect. An hour long, but oh so enlightening and frightening.

+ REST API Tutorial

+ Principles of good RESTful API Design

+ Colorado moonshine laws

+ Mathigon | World of Mathematics

+ Not sure if I mentioned Hack Design in a previous post but, check it out. Just a totally fun project and quite insightful.

My reading list is nuts:

+ The Circle by Dave Eggers

+ Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, Jill Butler

+ Universal Methods of Design by Bella Martin and Bruce Hannington

+ and a couple of others…

In general, I’m spread out all over the place, disheveled, and definitely in need of focus. I blame the hideous holidays. It usually takes me a month to recover and get back on track.




Better off happy. And paid.

+ So after determining that my last project was going nowhere fast, I had to make the decision to cut bait and run. Basically, the firm’s business model wasn’t going to work for me and here’s why:

+ First let’s start out by stating what hasn’t changed and probably will never change. In the AEC world (Architecture, Engineering, Construction), every meeting, and I mean EVERY meeting always begins with what I call the, “It’s not my responsibility” smoke screen. The first 20 minutes always entails everyone going around the room blaming everyone else for something “wrong” regarding the project. And, most of the time, the Cover Your Ass response to anything is, “It’s not in my scope of work,” which really just means, “I’m not getting paid to do that shit.” That attitude really bothers me.

That aside, let me address the reasons why I couldn’t work for this company any longer.

TL;DR : I wasn’t getting paid.

Okay… So why wasn’t I getting paid? The company is very busy. A lot of jobs actually. With new clients coming on board weekly. But, by “busy” I mean highly ineffective, therefore, tasks that could and should have been delegated to others (me) and taken care of quickly were caught up in the owner’s own private Idaho. Every detail was trapped inside the head of a single person!  I mean, who has time to discuss delegation when there’s too much to do and meetings all day long?


The owner insisted on keeping everyone, including so-called “employees” at arm’s length.  When I say, “employees” I actually mean “independent contractors” who really are just common-law employees.

Here’s the deal: there are good reasons and bad reasons for working exclusively with contractors instead of employees. In this owner’s mind, they were under the impression that they had “fooled” the IRS in some fashion by paying employees as subs (Wow! You guys found a LOOPHOLE! No one has ever tried that before… this is accounting genius!) therefore bypassing those pesky employment taxes and 941 filings. M’kay.

Aside from the legality or ethics of this maneuver, what’s really assumed of those working for this company is that they should be grateful for the opportunity, and blindly accept the role of independent contractor but at the rate of a full-time employee. (The two wages are not equal as you know, an independent contractor would usually charge about 3X the amount of a full-time employee’s hourly rate.)

Oh yeah, just make sure you’re available, your phone is on, and you’re sitting at your desk. And do this for the duration of the workday, logging your billable hours. Just don’t log any hours where you are sitting around the office… got it?

In effect, act like an employee, get paid as if you were a contractor;  which is, get paid when the client pays. Paycheck every two weeks? Are you kidding? If the company has no cash, how can the company pay YOU, independent contractor? When I decided to move on, I had gone almost 4 weeks without seeing a dime for the time I worked. It was at that point that I knew something was amiss.

The entire company revolves around every decision the owner makes from the highest level design strategy to what kinds of screws are used in a bathroom stall. Detail oriented for sure. And this attention turns out really lovely projects when it’s all said and done but the owner continuously laments over all the uncompensated “construction management time” that gets burned up over the duration of every project. The fact is, this company isn’t charging for the value it’s bringing to a project. This owner only sees themselves as a number on a budget line.

At a certain point, nearly three months in and going broke, I determined that I was never going to be able to contribute effectively to this company’s growth because the owner, I finally realized, doesn’t want to grow!  My promise to double the firm’s revenue fell on deaf ears. There was no way to show this owner the right way to grow and, in doing so, become a legitimate company that made us all money.

What could be a nationally recognized design firm, which would create great jobs for talented designers and make the owner a very comfortable income, will never realize that, nor achieve that level of professionalism. But, it will carry on, buoying the owner along, head above water, while remaining trapped in the inefficiencies of time-based billing and limited by the constant drone of, “there’s never enough hours in the day…” or worse, “we can’t raise our prices or we’ll lose out to other firms.”

Unfortunately, I feel sorry for this owner in that the company they’ve built is really cool, but the business acumen just isn’t quite there. In effect, this owner is being punished by brutal hours on the job, constant, self-fabricated stress and the inability to let go of things that just don’t matter in the long run.

In conclusion, I didn’t care about leaving. I wasn’t being challenged at all and the thought of “playing independent contractor, acting like an employee” made no sense. If you want my loyalty and my good ideas, then treat me like I’m on the team.  Ultimately, I was never on this team.

I don’t hold grudges. Movin’ on…

p.s. When I left – on good terms actually – I was never offered payment for the past three weeks of work. It’s like I wasn’t even there… poof.

Like I said, movin’ on.

And we’re back…

+ I’m reading Jon Taffer’s book, Raise The Bar which, if I had to boil it down to a short summary would be, “Create great reactions in your customer’s experience and they will like you and probably come back.”  Easier said than done as we all know.

Ultimately, we should be designing “reactions” for our client’s customers. What we don’t want to do is simply design reactions for our client’s approval. Of course, we all know that you have to have a happy client but if you just make a client happy, does that translate to the true end user? My bet says, not necessarily and I’m willing to double down on that. So the challenge in creating great design projects is to get past the “deliverables” that we so often equate with creative work and work towards building and maintaining end user (the customer of the client) enjoyment. For they are the true client no matter what the egomaniac owner/proprietor/developer may want you to believe.

+ I am also trying to have the dialog  (with anyone who will listen) about getting away from hourly billing (time + materials) once and for all, in every aspect of the design industry. If working in the tech biz taught me one thing, it was that service by the hour does not and will never scale. It’s a sucker’s bet and the creatives always lose. If you are sending out design proposals that are based on your time that you are working on the project, you’re doing it wrong! More on this in a future post…

Back to me.

+ I think, where I will ultimately land however, is not just designing more restaurants and bars or hotels or retail spaces. Those really are just too easy to do and consequently, boring in the long run. I am still steadfastly striving to pull my worlds of engineering, art and design into a more formal relationship with production. I don’t simply want to make things. I want to make reactions tangible and with that ability, direct those manufactured reactions towards something great.

+ Design is my weapon.

Lots of stuff

Moving back into the design world slowly and surely. The tech world has been fun – to a point – but my relationship with it is changing. Having been submerged in the SMB and enterprise app world for four years has taught me a lot. What I learned is that I don’t really appreciate the type of customer that is looking for ‘cheap fixes.’ And to me, that is what SaaS over-promises. SaaS is in a race to the bottom and is being sold like a commodity to the lowest bidder. We’ve inundated ourselves with task managers, project managers, sales trackers, time trackers, issue trackers, expense trackers, ‘collaboration tools’ that no one wants or uses… it goes on and on. Nothing talks to anything else and data still sits in a bunch of proprietary silos, billed by the month. The model is completely broken.


I’m still plugging away on the Startup Engineering class on Coursera. I like it. I am building my project around Thingbeam. Once I have my app site up I will take down the temp site and push that forward. Side project extraordinaire…

I’ve been going through lots of Autodesk tutorials and trying to cram as much Inventor and 3ds Max knowledge into my head as humanly possible. Need to be using the real tools for product design now…

So found lots of goodies:

+ Lego Architecture Studio

Did I mention I am getting back into foodservice and hospitality design (amongst other things)?

+ Here is a dairy farm store designed by Moriyuki Ochiai.  I like the edible aesthetic.

+ I hate the Volt, Prius, and Leaf. In fact,  the whole state of electric cars right now is so lame. They all suck and make you look like such a puss when you drive them. Tesla needs to make a utility truck that looks cool but they may be able to pull it off.

Screw electric cars. I want one of these:


It’s cool eh? So ugly it’s beautiful…

+ A great architecture and design website.

+ I’ve fired up my studio again. Got a new mixer. I give you the Denon DN-MC6000:

DN-MC6000Oh yeah. And I’ve been pushing it too.

+ Watch and learn.

+ A hotel in the desert.

+ Hito – my new favorite DJ.

+ Not kidding, one of the best design tutorials out there for the dev/frontend/app makers.

+ Jeremy Blum’s RazPi remote Wake On Lan server.

+ 42 Rules To Lead By

and finally,

+ Kill Your Past by Henry Rollins.



Learning curves

+ Family is out of town this week so I capitalized on that by crankin’ on learning the big picture overview of – that’s right – Autodesk Product Design Suite Utlimate. Yep. Got it. Now comes the hard part: that thing is a gigantic technical package of complicated stuff. Obviously, the learning curves are huge and time is limited. Head and wheels down while I go through each and every package. The “expert user” thing is on my roadmap but it’s not going to materialize too soon.

+ Continuing with Startup Engineering and this week it’s all about emacs (ugh), Heroku, and git. Heroku and git I git. (see what I did there?) But emacs? Given any sort of choice, I’m going to choose vim.  For editing, I am a Sublime Text 2 kind of person. Trying to follow along with the emacs lectures – as well as the instructor’s magical configuration script that gets thrown in there – is, for me, a time sink and completely useless in terms of achieving the end goal of the entire class. Here is an emacs reference card. Most everything can just happen in the Terminal and I found the best crash course for learning basic terminal commands is via Zed Shaw.

+ Podcast I am enjoying. Learned a new phrase: Rip, Pivot, and Jam.

+ Found a versioning system for design files. LayerVault. Trying it now… the super-slick design seems to be getting in the way. I just tried to create a new project but it won’t save it… UI woes.

+Speaking of UI and UX design… this post is pretty cool. Mostly focused on mobile but the tools and tricks are applicable across everything.

+ The movie, Sneakers, is available on Xfinity instant watch or whatever it is. Classic hacker flick made in 1992. I watched it again the other night. What I had forgotten was the plot was centered around a “chip” that broke any encryption scheme. As Marty says in the film, “Not a code breaker. THE code breaker.” Yeah yeah whatever… what’s kind of cool is that the “bad guys” in the movie are first portrayed as NSA agents. Turns out they were just faking that to get to Marty, but in the end, the real NSA agents show up and also want to get their hands on this technology. There is a point towards the end of the movie where, all of the sudden, everyone realizes that, should the NSA get their mitts on this thing, “the NSA could use this technology to spy on its own people… to spy on Americans!” Which, as it is noted, is highly against the NSA’s charter! Everyone gets quiet and looks around the room at each others’ reaction; shocked by the revelation. Great stuff.

+ I think, one of the best-argued points about privacy transparency and companies standing up for their users could be this post by Ted Dziuba. He kind of nails it.

+ Whenever I hear the whole, “I don’t care if the government spies on me, I have nothing to hide…” argument, my response is, “I don’t have anything to hide either – from the people I trust.


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