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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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