We’ve run over 50 Make Days with over 750 makers in South Africa. Now we hosted our very first Dutch Make Day in Amsterdam, building a wifi-connected biltong maker. Here’s what happened, how you can build your own biltong makers, and how you can get involved in future Make days.
Connecting Makers in the community
Since the beginning of OfferZen, we’ve worked under the assumption that the greatest value for software makers is hearing from other software makers:
Intrinsic to the nature of software building, the people building software solve problems every day.
That means they learn something new every day.
Many of the things learned stay behind “closed doors” of a specific work environment or project.
Part of our mission has been to open those closed doors and connect people’s insights to other software makers trying to figure out similar challenges.
That’s why our events, content, reports, and even Make Days aim to make software makers’ insights available and useful to the rest of the community. The first Make Day in the Netherlands was no different.
Making a Make Day
I recently moved to the Netherlands to help launch OfferZen in Amsterdam. It made sense to start with our home-base community, so I’d been thinking about a way to connect South African makers here.
That’s when I saw Paolo’s post in ZATech’s Netherlands channel:
This project was simply too great to overlook. I reached out to him and he agreed to help us host an evening for software makers that were interested in trying to build their own wifi-connected biltong maker.
We set up a project repo, invited some South Africans in the area, bought the necessary equipment, and found a venue big enough to host a socially-distanced Make Day.
Building a wi-fi connected biltong maker
For this project, we had to:
- Build a large plastic storage container with place to hang meat,
- Install temperature and humidity sensors and a PWM fan (you can also add a relay and a light)
- Connect them all to the internet using a Wi-Fi module based on ESP8266
Things we learned so you don’t have to
Here are some of the things we learned on the evening that may be of use to you if you’re going to embark on this project.
1. The DHT11 sensor is not a “drop-in replacement” for the DHT22
We read an article before the evening that the DHT11 and DHT22 would have the same operating voltage, but on the evening couldn’t get the DHT11 to work with the 5V set up. We’re still investigating this one, so watch the Github repo for updates.
2. Cutting or drilling plastic boxes without cracking them is not easy
We tried various methods for cutting holes in the plastic boxes, but they kept cracking and were hard to stop from vibrating/moving.
Some tips here:
- Keep the box as still as possible,
- Use spur-tip drill bits, or
- Try get yourself a Dremel side cutting set up
3. Technique and tools really matter when soldering
Make sure you level up on your soldering techniques before just giving it a go - it makes a massive difference. Also, soldering your wires to the pins on the underside of the ESP8266 is a lot easier and doesn’t obscure the markings on the board.
Extending the project
Once this basic setup is done, the options to extend the project are endless. Some of the ideas we came up with on the night included:
- Scraping the box’s sensor data during a batch being dried and building up an understanding of what conditions lead to the type of biltong you like.
- Using your new-found understanding of what makes great biltong to control the bulb and fan - keeping the humidity and temperature just perfect for your next batch.
- Adding a camera to watch your meat dry while you should be working.
We’ll be running more Make Days in the coming weeks with more broadly applicable projects. You can join our Amsterdam Software Makers Meetup if you’d be interested in hanging out with us, building things and learning from other makers in the near future.
Happy biltong making and see you at the next Make Day!
Special thanks to Paolo for making this all possible and sharing his passion for making things with us!