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This is the UK website for Peter and Maureen Scargill. We live in the Northeast of England and also on occasion in Andalucia in Spain.

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The Return to Rain

Lake in AndaluciaAfter several weeks of flawless weather in Spain, it’s been a struggle getting back into the swing here in the UK where it is raining more often than not. Still I can always look over there using my cameras to remind me of the sun.

Meanwhile, after months off due to a death in the family and then a broken foot (you can’t make this stuff up) Maureen is now back to work and meanwhile I’m about to embark on a series of meetings taking me from Blackpool to Crewe and onto London. It’s going to be a busy week.

Over the weekend I’ve been catching up with emails, finding out what’s going on at work – and doing a little more research into my home controls as well as catching up on episodes of “Cosmos” – which I intend to continue this week as I’ve loaded up the tablet with remaining episodes to catch late at night in my hotel (well, it beats hotel TV). Got the Bluetooth headphones all charged up and ready.

While we were in Spain I ordered a pair of cheap SI 4432-based 4.33Mhz transceivers and I had high hopes for these after the abysmal results I’ve been having with 2.4Ghz radios thanks to interference from WIFI, cordless phones and a thousand other sources of radio crap.

This weekend I tried the PA-enhanced version of the NRF24L01 radio to help me expand my home control setup – one worked – the others failed as they often seem to do – I can’t get to the bottom of it other than to suspect there is an issue with SPI (communication) speed and these radios – as the cheap ones work every time. Others have said similar. Having abandoned the more expensive types, I used my air gun to remove the aerial from one and grafted it onto one of the cheap versions. As you can see in the image below, it looks ok – simply a matter of cutting the original aerial track – 5 mounting holes and a couple of VERY short wires.

NRF24L01 Peter Scargill modification

I can say for sure that the aerial-enhancement modification is robust and improves range – but I doubt it it even doubles the range which still remains pitifully short in a stone building – and of course the cost to buy these adaptors and aerials individually far exceeds the cost of them as part of a radio!

SI4432 radio moduleI then tried the 433Mhz units which came complete with a coiled spring aerial.  I carefully put two of these units together using our Arduino look-alike boards. These are not easy to use as the edge connector is 0.05” centres – you really need a fine soldering iron which I just so happen to have. Despite all that, I ended up with one board (apparently) working – it the code was working – but the other remained defiantly dead. So many things could be wrong – the code, the wiring, the interfacing… these are 3v3 boards and my Arduino clones are 5v. I fed the boards with 3v3 and ran the inputs to the radio via resistors. I’m pretty sure that part is correct.

tmp7FADIn the process I found a bug in the Radiohead library I’ve been using and the authors fixed it almost immediately which is nice.

The end result looked a little messy due to wiring and resistors – but actually I was quite pleased with the overall fit for a first attempt – not so pleased with one unit apparently dead.

When I checked, the other board had 2 pins shorted – no matter what I did I could not find the short – I can only imagine it was under the 0.05” connector – even a magnifying glass showed no issues – and attempting to remove the connector with the air gun resulted in the board’s destruction. I now have a 2 week wait before I can progress this one (not that it matters as I’m in meetings for over a week). The hope is that these 433Mhz units will have a better chance of going through thick stone walls – I’ll have to wait and see. Next time I’ll nix the connector.  I’m also interested in the new cheap WIFI embedded units which can be bought from Ebay as low as £8 – for now however both the embedded software and the instructions are in Mandarin so that will have to wait a while.

In a couple of weeks I’m going to spent time with a friend as we examine the powerful Atmel radios, not in the same price class but it’s worth exploring all avenues.

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Enjoying the Summer of 2014

Lots of info on Facebook and the blog over at www.bedrock.es – right now, Maureen is off with her bad foot to Pilates down in Galera village – we managed a nice trip to Lake Negratin yesterday and last night I did the usual G8 thing, meeting the Brits down at the bar in the village – we had a very nice evening.

panorama

Today I’m sitting here catching up with emails, organising websites (I have them all over the place and I’m consolidating to eventually get to one provider) and working on my home control system so it is reliable over the winter.

I’ve had more than my fair share of problems with the home controller kit here…

1. The heat is generally far more than you’d see in the UK so it’s no unusual to see my office here at 28c – way higher than the UK – this and less than perfect mains power has taken out a number of cheap power supplies. Now I’m using higher rated supplies with success.

2. It seemed like a good idea at the time – as we have wireless Internet here (by which I mean a dish pointing down to the town centre) and the cave is not well suited to drilling holes for wires – I put in an over-the-mains setup with little TPLink units plugged into the mains. Turns out they are not AT ALL reliable and the quality varies for numerous reasons including the amount and type of data you send over them. So – I’m putting everything back onto either WIFI where sensible or hardwired. Thankfully network cable and connectors are dirt cheap here in Spain. Just a matter of drilling holes.

3. My home control coding took a leap forward a little while ago with proper wireless networking – unfortunately like many others I’d not realised quite how sensitive my little NRF radios are to interference, especially from cheap Chinese switched power supplies. That is now resolved and the radio network is working a treat.

I now have the control unit sending me TWEETS reliably when certain events occur – and that’s great. Just need now to get a whole boatload of supplies from the UK

Galera

stars at night

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Beardless

beardlessRight now we’re in Spain (pop over and have a look at our Spanish blog or follow us on Facebook)  and as such I recently, reluctantly agreed to shave off the beard (it’s grown back since). In the picture on the left you will see Simon – who convinced me after a few beers that we should shave the lot off.

I got up the next morning and the first thing Maureen said, after months of pestering me to modify the beard, was… she doesn’t like this new look!!!!

You just can’t win. Anyway, right now we’re with friends in Galera – by all means go take a look.

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The “Internet of Things”

As this is now abuzz-phrase you’ll see littering the press, I thought I’d put in my two-pence worth on this “new” subject.

The “Internet of Things” is a phrase used to describe things that can be controlled or monitored (or both) over the Internet.

In 1962  I was too young to be aware of what was happening outside of my own house! but at this time, a fellow called Licklider from MIT was describing what he called a “galactic network” concept in which computers all over the world would talk to each other. By 1969 4 machines were talking to each other in what was called “Arpanet” and the rest is well known… today, billions of machines are connected worldwide… but most folk think of everything from large computers down to mobile phones – what is slightly less well known is the massive spread late last century of “microcontrollers” which are now found in most everyday electronic gadgets (washing machines, industrial controllers etc. and which are often connected together by what is currently called “The Internet of Things”. Checkout Cloudwash if you’re interested in what might be done with domestic appliances. Here is another link to a Samsung phone controlled washing machine, the WW9000.

In 1963 my interest in electronics started with a “Philips E10” kit which started me on the path of building radio receivers, controlling lights and motors.. and I’ve been involved with electronics since then, writing articles, building machines and eventually turning my interest into a business in the 80’s and beyond.

In 1974, the X10 protocol was developed in Scotland (but strangely found much favour in America where, amongst others,  Steve Ciarcia made it popular with hobbyists -Steve Ciarcias Circuit Cellar magazine). This was a means of connecting gadgets around the home/office/factory for the purpose of remote control. In this case the signals were/are in fact sent over the mains electricity supply. Other solutions involve WIFI, Bluetooth, general radio, Infra-red and other mechanisms.

That takes care of the local connectivity while the Internet allows that remote control to extend worldwide.

In 1982, students at Carnegie Mellon University created the first ever “Internet connected soda vending machine”. I remember being fascinated at the possibilities this would bring, thousands, perhaps millions of machines of all shapes and sizes being controlled and monitored via the Internet from anywhere in the world. Of course at that time there was not even the concept of an Internet-connected mobile phone so that limited possibilities at the time – but this was enough to start me off and by May 1994 our company had developed a home control system called Appcon which basically let anyone control lights, alarms, heating and more from a PC – and by implication, by remotely controlling the PC, from anywhere. 

We used wire control and the mobile infrastructure was simply not ready for this. Today it is and we’re already starting to see simple light and heating control via mobile phones appearing on the market. We’re also seeing what I believe is only the tip of the iceberg in dire warnings in the press about security.  While Windows and the Internet in general have had a long time to get used to nasty people trying to break in and destroy – to the extent that virtually all of the public are aware of viruses, trojans and other means of destroying PCs, certainly the home control market has to date not been sufficiently important to attract large scale attempts at disruption – but it will happen – it’s just a matter of time.

Part of the problem is that the sophisticated anti-virus and other techniques used to protect PCs are simply not available to the simplest of controllers you might see in for example a remote light switch. Even HTTPS: which is a simple mechanism to encrypt data over the Intranet is mostly not available to the simplest of controllers.

Gartner reckon that by 2020, 30 BILLION devices will be connected to the Internet and bear in mind that the current IP4 system of Internet addressing allows for only 4.3 billion individual device addresses and that includes PCs and phones etc.!! Newer technologies such as IP6 which allow for a FAR greater number of devices are again not really available to the simplest of devices at this time so there are lots of changes and improvements to be made in the coming years.

In the meanwhile, much fun and entertainment is still to be had in this emerging field – enthusiasts using the likes of the Raspberry Pi, Arduino and other technologies are having a great time coming up with new ideas and new applications. The combination of local networking and remote control via the Internet has chance to dramatically change how we interact with the world in the coming years, offering massive possibilities for saving energy and doing things in completely new ways. Expect to hear a LOT more of this in the coming months.

For my own efforts I’m now controlling my own gadgets in 3 properties including modern lighting technologies and heating and already making savings on heating bills.

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