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Archive for February, 2014

Home Control Winter Update

lcd displayI’m spending some spare time right now working on the home control. My first system is working at home in the UK with a nice little 2-line LCD giving out useful information (as well as accessing that information on the mobile phone of course) but a little while ago we spotted some inexpensive colour LCDs from China – somewhat under £3 each – well you can’t let an offer like that go.

These displays need 5 resistors to work and some software – the library to drive them took some finding and it was originally quite slow but my friend Aidan changed it to work with SPI and I did some more and eventually we got these cheap displays to work perfectly. They look really neat but for some reason my camera just won’t capture the sharp and vibrant colours so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Nice displays.

Main pageAnd so – as of a little while ago – my first working MK2 is ready to go. As well as peak and standby heating control I’ve added a frost setting – up to 255 days hold-off during which time the heating will only come on if the temperature gets below 5c… handy for the cave in Spain perhaps.

control pageThe LCD display shows the current humidity, the date, the inside and outside temperatures, the set and fall-back temperatures along with the number of hold-off days.  Below that is the current time (updated every second) and then the dusk and dawn times which are automatically calculated every day. The internal and external temperature displays along with humidity also have trend indicators not shown here.

All working and the phone displays you see are as they appear on my Samsung S4 smartphone…  though I’m not currently actually controlling the heat in Spain but once back in the UK I’ll adapt this to work with the controller in Wark.

The main controller, having moved to the larger 1284 chip – now has all the I/O of the radio slaves and so can function as a stand-alone unit if necessary, simply plugged into the router to give remote control. I played around for a while with adding the display onto the main board but that was slowing things down and ultimately I’ve gone with sending a package out of the serial port so that a separate board, if needed, can handle the display. For my first shot I’ve done a colour LCD board with infra-red remote input – the idea being to add temperature up and down via infra-red for the rental cottage.

I did have 4 fader (PWM) outputs on each of the boards but in the latest update I’ve added a library to both to handle the new serial LEDs – the ones that can be individually programmed and I’ve added commands to change colour and brilliance on these.

The two diagrams below show the main controller utilising a 1284 chip (for extra memory and I/O) which in addition uses a standard Ethernet card and an NRF24L01 radio board…(getting 3v3 from the Ethernet card to feed the NRF)

Below that is a slave board which merely uses a 328 chip and again the NRF24L01 board (with 3v3 regulator onboard) for communications. The master is just cluged on breadboard for now.

Master board

Slave Board

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 after this… the April update!

A Busy Week

Leaving the UKWhat a busy week. It all started last Sunday when I was supposed to board a Newcastle plan to Brussels. I’m vice-chairman of an EU group handling the ICT area of a project called ESCO. Suffice it to say we meet regularly over there regularly.

4am on Sunday morning an email turned up from BA to say my flight had been cancelled. This was a Newcastle-Heathrow-Brussels two-parter.

With that first flight scrapped, we had to cancel the lot and come up with a quick miracle – which appeared in the form of a new trip to Edinburgh – a direct flight to The flight to BrusselsBrussels (I often end up in Edinburgh because Newcastle Airport, in terms of flights and cost is basically rubbish especially near holiday times). No problem (other than the 6 weeks it will take to get a refund out of BA and Expedia).

Off I went to Brussels. I won’t go into the details of meetings here because to the outside world they are no that interesting but let me say this was not a holiday lest the pictures suggest otherwise. Not much point in taking pictures of a meeting room, either… on the other hand if you have a camera…

A bar in BrusselsI have to say, the weather in Brussels was crap… better than here in Wark but cold. There’s a photo somewhere of me sitting outside having a Leffe beer at a pub in downtown Brussels – nice heater on the wall but I still ended up with gloves on at one point. I really do like the Grote Markt in Brussels however, it’s a nice little area with great bars, friendly people, lots to see and importantly, Leffe on draft.

Parts of the city however, especially in Brusselspoor weather make me think of deepest Russia.  Our meeting involved travelling through such parts but the good side of that is I’m now a little more comfortable taking the tube and bus over there.

THe meeting itself took place in I guess what would be the outskirts, certainly looked that way from the view out of our window. I was there for 2 nights, the first was a Billy-no-mates night, the second with colleagues from Italy and Spain – quite nice – we went to a Greek restaurant – well, cafe.

Edinburgh airportAbout the only other exciting part of that trip was the return  – we blew the quick arrangements we’d made on Sunday – thanks to February having the same days as March and too short notice to do the job with care!! We’d ended up booking my return flight for the right time and day, but a month from now. I found out only hours before the flight was due.

Gibraltar airportNo sooner was I back in the UK and tackling the usual email mountain than I was off to Manchester overnight to de-stress – then an early flight to Heathrow and then on to Gibraltar. Another meeting, this time the bit I was interested in was a potential trading portal for the FSB – there was a presentation and the designers were there etc.

This time I struck gold with the weather. A little shabby when I got there, but by Saturday, Gibraltar weather was nothing short of magnificent. See the rock there in the photo (weather not so hot on the way in) – well, the meeting room is at the very top. Lovely. At the end of this blog are a boatload of photos which say more than 1000 words as it were.

Peter Scargill with ESBA membersThe afternoon I arrived as it happens there was a meeting to discuss the issues that traders had/have with the Spanish government – if you’ve not read about this – and bearing in mind these guys are Brits – it’s a worthwhile read – the Spanish people are very, very nice – but their government…. not so – indeed,  when reading about what they get up to, the term childish comes to mind – even the neighbouring town of La Linea is suffering through this agro – and that’s Spanish! Anyway after an informative conversation we ended up at the “Rock Hotel” for dinner, or rather, the Spanish FSB (GFSB) took us there – what a place – if you’re ever there, take a drive up – the views are amazing – not quite as amazing as the views at the TOP of the rock but amazing non-the-less and a nice hotel from what I saw.

On Friday the meeting I’d gone for took place and by Saturday, people were heading off in different directions to go home and I learned all about how to get there by train and bus – avoiding the up to 8 hour delays by simply walking over the border. Some day I may put that to use.

Anyway I took pictures at every opportunity. Enjoy and don’t forget you can usually click on these images for larger versions or (on a PC) hover for info.

Gibraltar Macaque

Gibraltar MacaqueGibraltar - the Rock

Main Street Gibraltar

Panorama from the Rock