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Archive for April, 2014

Private Religious versus Public Religion

I am so glad I was not (even remotely) a lone voice in objecting to Mr Cameron trying to impose his religious views on the nation.  With WELL over half of the country (65% according to YouGov) describing themselves as non-religious – last I heard, in a democracy that makes them the majority. Many of us are sick and tired of having this stuff rammed down our throats and not only at weddings and funerals but on TV, radio and now from our own supposedly worldly-wise Prime Minister. Yeah yeah, we know all about the history and how things WERE and where we would have been without…. etc. This is the 21st century – any spare teaching time needs to go into beefing up our science knowledge, not ancient belief systems – or we are going to lose!

Were it not for kids having religion fed to them on a plate before they are old enough to think, that figure for “non-believers” would be a lot higher (but you KNOW that’s not going to happen).  I’ve no problem with anything anyone wants to do with their lives – none of my business – as long as it doesn’t harm others (I know at least one white witch) but it’s about time this organised endemic version was resigned to history. The job of Prime minister is to rule the country – not to spout off about his own version of one of the many incompatible mystical world views as if it were part of government policy. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27099700

Still, it could be worse – at least we don’t (yet) have our own creationist museum. Bill Nye (the science guy) decided to tackle Ken Ham and pretty much wiped the floor with him technically, but if you look at some of the faces in the audience, they were not open to discussion – didn’t understand, didn’t want to understand – and fair enough, if you were brainwashed as a child by both your parents and their friends – and your peers were in the same boat – it’s probably pretty hard to kick that habit. Anyway, here is the (rather long) video of the recent debate in the USA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI

Who has the moral upper ground? Well I know of VERY few non-believers in the 21st century who would stop religious people practicing in their own homes (one might object to organised religion but that’s another matter) – on the other side of the coin there are many countries where not having an invisible friend can get you killed or at a minimum, discriminated against – and some of those countries are nearer than you might think.  http://www.thewire.com/global/2013/12/13-countries-where-atheism-punishable-death/355961/ as extracted here “"Our results show that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers," the study explains, noting that laws in some countries prevent atheists from marrying, attending public school, participating as a citizen, holding public office, or just existing at all.” How to ensure your version of the world survives – by BRUTE FORCE.

Worrying? – certainly is. Think about it – BECAUSE you don’t believe in an invisible friend, the existence of which has NEVER, EVER produced a shred of evidence no matter WHAT religion, you can be shot!

We may have iPhones but we’re still a bunch of savages in the main.

Aspirin in man-size bottles

AspirinsI have never understood the need to sell Aspirin in ever-decreasing size packs in the UK  – other than the need to make more profit. Thankfully there is always America and now, after our 1000-Aspirin bottle has finally run out, several years after we bought it, Maureen has brought back some more man-size bottles.  The largest that BOOTS do is 56 (75mg) tablets – at £3+ a pack.

It appears even in America the 1000-unit bottles are no longer as easy to get hold of – however we’ll manage with 300 at a time. 900 pills – that should last quite a while..

Today’s project–Clothes-peg Gun

This guy’s description of how to make a tiny gun out of a clothes peg is brilliant. Took me less than 10 minutes to make one which worked perfectly.You might want to play with distances to get more power but I could get 15-20 ft out of a toothpick no problem. Below is my first attempt. Great holiday time-waster. Mine is outside now waiting for a quick coat of paint to dry… light blue!

Clothes peg gun

Home Control April Update

tmpB947The home control system is coming along nicely and after a “weekend of code” has some nice new facilities, not the least being a new test desktop PC program and some new radio error checking. Add to that the recent work on week/weekend temperature program and it’s just about ready to roll to both the cottage, our house and Spain. One of the guys helping me has gone off with the first model to play with.

tmp25FEFirstly the Android/IOS App has been tidied up and some new screens put in the place – the first is shown on the left here and shows temperature monitoring, +-adjustments and hold-off (in days) which puts it on standby – useful for the cottage if it’s not in use. Dusk and dawn times are automatically calculated on a daily basis and any of the on-off controls can now include on from dusk until midnight, on from dusk until dawn etc.

The second page shows some demo NRF24L01 remote units and similar on-off controls with these.

The new internal additions allow for momentary radio failure and will temporarily log out and failed unit and it’s siblings to prevent slowing everything down. This was a major pain before as constant polling of units could slow things down. That is all now history.

tmp6051The third page here can control serial LEDS – the new type with individual serial control. I’ve not yet implemented a simple means to change the lengths of these LED strips but that will come shortly. There’s no reason I can’t store this in EEPROM.

tmp4C84Note the various colour controls and sliders. The very bottom is just an experiment area.

Below right you’ll see the heating controls which allow setting main and fall-back temperatures as well as weekday and weekend timing controls. You should be able to enlarge these images by clicking on them incidentally.

Below all of that is a glimpse of the new PC testing software – just finished working on that and not yet turned it into stand-alone compiled code but that will come this week hopefully. It works perfectly and includes the ability to save profiles for testing different board scenarios.

imageWhat has made a bit of a difference is the discovery of the ease of extracting mains control PCBs from some of the low cost plug-in-the-wall Chinese USB supplies – the newer ones have very small boards capable of giving out over 0.5amps at 5v very efficiently.

So now it’s possible to make plug-in-the-wall radio units and masters no longer needing separate power supplies. Added a nominal level of security

Some way to go before I’ll be satisfied with this but it’s starting to look ok. I now have TWITTER alerts kind of running on the larger boards but the low-cost version still won’t have them – I’ve written off to the guy who designed the Ethernet library to see if that can be fixed.

All of this has come a long way from my early experiments with the NRF24L01 radio boards – which seems to have been a popular video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgmVYdSCNLs but documenting this lot could take quite some time.

The only problem with the NRF24L01 boards is range – they are atrocious. Firstly they are very susceptible to noise and many people recommend putting an electrolytic capacitor on the board at the connector. I suspect this has to do with current spikes when transmitting. This does seem to make a difference. Secondly -  they are in the same radio spectrum area as WIFI etc. Thirdly there is no way to gauge incoming signal strength and therefore when used with any mesh network software, it can’t tell which is the best connection to use – and finally – just because of the frequency band they operate in combined with low output, they won’t go through thick walls easily – I’ve seen their range reduced to a few feet in certain circumstances.  On the plus side, they ARE cheap and though they need 3v3 to operate, the data lines happily work with 5v logic – most other cheap boards out there need level convertors which at the very least means a bunch of messy resistors.

tmp7176On the right you see a little stand-alone Ethernet-driven board which is dirt cheap to put together.. that too has possibilities though of course it still needs an Ethernet lead to run. I’ve sent off for some inexpensive plug-in-the-wall mains USB supplies so I can rip them up and get the supply PCB out of them to power these units.

Somewhat frustrating that they are way too expensive when sourced in the UK but hey, at least they’re available.

That’s it for now, got a lot of work to get through before I can devote more time to this and awaiting feedback from various people to fix some minor library issues… but no doubt about it, the next house will be the one to watch for home automation…

Update July 2014:  I’m in Spain and working with controllers here – the range of the NRF24L01 boards (or lack of it) is getting to be a severe problem. Investigating alternatives such as the Atmel processor with built in radio and some 800Mhz and 433Mhz transceivers.

This all sprang up from my original article on a cottage thermostat in which I envisaged a very simple controller. Then came the UberBareBoard article about an Atmega328-based Arduino clone, initial attempts to master the NRF24L01 radio. The next article was the first item entitled home control and after this – then part 2 and then the winter update – all the time learning more and more. And after this… July and the full mesh.

Of Phones and Stats

In the last blog entry I mentioned we were off to buy a Chinese mobile for Maureen. As is often the case that turned into a fiasco. We arrived at the guy’s house armed with cash and he presented the phone in a nice case and quickly demonstrated it – pointing out that the app store was in Chinese but would be no problem to go through. Of course, on reflection that was easy for him as he was Chinese.

I asked about the regular Play Store and he said it could be downloaded from the Chinese version – and so as we were in a rush with Maureen heading off to the states, I said ok and off we went.

Of course the reality was, half the apps were in Chinese and though some version of the Google Play Store indeed appeared – it immediately crashed on trying to run on the phone.

Thankfully that brand of Chinese phone come ready rooted and so if you know where to look you can find complete operating system replacements. Several hours later Maureen had a brand new dual-sim phone in English. Not only that but it Looks like a Samsung S5 and their cases fit! Not at all stripped down the phone has a high res display, a quad core processor, 32gig of memory with the ability to add a MicroSD card (which we did) and for under £100 (not tied to any contract) I have to say, worth the money easily. Maureen is currently in the USA and I’ve already had Skype video calls from her using the phone.

Lots of meetings the last couple of weeks but I’ve had a little time to work on the thermostat – now fitted into Hollyberry Cottage (along with a sparkly new HD Freesat box). It managed to die overnight but I now know why (spikes) and I’ve a solution which I’ll implement on all my boards this weekend and for those interested will do a write up shortly thereafter. I’m going to have my first shot at using the “watchdog” on the chip.

But now… two more meetings then I’m off home.