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Archive for the ‘FSB’ Category

FSB Conference 2015 #FSBConf

ICCWhen I started my involvement with the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) nationally – at the FSB’s Silver Anniversary, I recall the IT Chairman of the time rewarding my efforts for getting the Conference onto a website (well, no-one else was doing it so I figured the Northeast may as well be the first) by thanking me on stage and getting my name wrong. His name was John Harris and I later got to know John well before eventually taking on his role as IT Chairman.

Two years later I made sure we put our first (pretty small and poor quality) recorded videos onto a website and from there, every year, the (small) IT team which I’ve headed up for 14 years has put up an increasingly impressive show of technology which last year extended to near HD video recordings.

Regency HyattThis year it is all change and for the first time we’ve live-streamed the conference. The FSB Conference website has lots of info and there’s a link to an App with full delegate and speaker information.

We’ve been at the ICC in Birmingham and it all started Thursday with the exhibition and AGM and from there we had two full days of Conference on Friday and Saturday during which we had key politicians and business speakers including Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and George Osborne. All were excellent.

The venue was marvellous and for those of us staying at the Regency Hyatt, that is a very modern hotel which is so close to the venue they are actually connected by a glass and steel enclosed bridge.

During our brief visit to Birmingham we’ve had the opportunity to checkout the various waterways, some great restaurants and bars and generally we’ve had a great time.

The ICC has a fantastic display system and throughout the event, visitors and our people have made GREAT use of Twitter throughout.


Below we see the library – very impressive looking…


and one of many, many bars around the waterfront


and last but not least – the inside of the hotel


More information with full videos at http://www.fsblive.org/ and more information at http://www.fsb.org.uk/conference2015


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.

A week from Hell

It’s been a reasonably awful week this week. Firstly I’m in holiday mode – as we’re off to Spain next week to do some work on the cave – so I’m basically counting the days.  I spent the start of the week battling with a new service provider, the one I’m using for this and other blogs. Just silly stuff like me not realising I could not add an email redirect until I’d actually set up an email account in the first place – makes sense really – but you don’t have to do that with 123-reg so I wasted a morning figuring that out.

The rest of the week was spent in FSB meetings. Tuesday morning I drove down to St Johns Hotel in Solihull – took me the better part of 5 hours as the traffic down there wasn’t too good – and what HAVE they done to the M6 down at that end? There are more bumps in the road than some of our rural roads… awful.

The hotel I have to say was about as nice as the weather – it’s a Principal Hayley hotel and the food was awful – others agreed.  Thankfully at night there was a cracking Indian restaurant and a few of us spent our evenings in there. I can’t go into details in a blog but the meetings were hard – culminating in elections. I came out of it well, starting my 13th year as National IT Chairman and member of the Executive Board – not unexpected but then one should never take things for granted. Others didn’t do so well and two people I respect lost their posts.

Woodall ServicesThe meetings finished yesterday afternoon and at 5pm I set off on the trip up North and stopped at the Welcome Break in Woodall which houses the slowest McDonalds on the planet. I then took a different route as I thought the A1M might be a little better than the overcrowded M6. BAD mistake – it was closed, or part of it was, so the traffic ended up being routed through a small town – thousands of vehicles – absolute nightmare.

Traffic on A1M diversionThe end result was that it took me 7 hours go get from Solihull to Wark-on-Tyne.  I don’t mind driving FAST but slow journeys like that I find quite depressing.

I’d planning on spending the day here today preparing stuff for Spain but as it happened I ended up spending most of the day on conference calls or Skype, phone calls or emailing… to add to the damage, I’m involved in a European (EU) project and there is “trouble at mill” there which needed attending to – so I managed to get all of an hour or so to do my own “thing” as it were.

And to add icing to the cake, the only decent part of the trip away – the Indian restaurant saw me lose a filling so tomorrow it’s off to the dentist to get some repairs done before heading off to see a friend and his wife. That, at least should see a nice end to the week. More meetings ahead before we finally head off to the sun mid-week.

A Week of Conference

ed milibandAs the FSB’s conference week draws to a close it is worth noting the hard work that went into what for most is a 3 day affair – the Annual Conference and AGM. I went over there on Tuesday afternoon to take pictures of Manchester – sadly it rained solidly which limited that aspect but at least that night my guys Nigel and David and I went off into town for a somewhat expensive Italian at a haunt apparently beloved of footballers – which was nice – those of you who follow my antics on Facebook may have noticed lots of Manchester pics already. On Wednesday we started the ball rolling – most of the guys were in conference-related meetings while I just made a fleeting visit to said meeting as I had my own IT meeting and discussion as to how we would do our bit for the event.

The conference was a big affair in Manchester Central Conference Centre and some of us stayed at the rather nice Midland Hotel opposite the venue which is smack in the middle of Manchester itself.

The exhibition opened on Thursday and that evening we held our AGM with no big surprises and the conference got off to a proper start on Friday with Ed Miliband and George Osborne but to name a few of the personalities.

tmp78B7At one point I caught Ed as he was passing the IT room where my guys were beavering away and asked him if he’d mind coming to say hello. Despite a tight schedule, he not only came with me to the room but went around and shook everyone’s hand much to the delight of the guys who spend most of their time seeing these personalities only via a screen.

Friday night was a 70’s disco, not something I normally like but I have to say it was once of the best I’ve been to with half decent food, no shortage of drink and absolutely excellent period music. It helped that I managed to get a hug and photo with Naga Munchetty – which was nice. As you can see by the photo of Maureen and I on the left, we dressed accordingly. Some were WAY more ambitious.

Saturday during the day was much like the day before, we spent our time editing video, processing pictures and generally ensuring the IT worked ok – I spent some of my time answering questions at the Twitter bar and talking with FSB colleagues and people I’ve come to know from ESBA – the European Small Business Alliance some of whom I keep in touch with via Facebook – it’s interesting to see how many of our older generation are now starting to ask serious questions about social media, but it’s also disturbing how many still come up with a smile and take delight in telling you they don’t “do” social media.

Their loss I guess. I distinctly remember thinking the same about a guy at driving re-habilitation which I’ve now done twice for the serious crime of doing 2mph over the limit and I recall him saying “I don’t know what they think they can teach people our age”!! There is ALWAYS something new you can learn.

Maureen and PeterAnd so onto Saturday night dinner -  a black tie event – I had no special expectations and indeed the food and singer were a little average – but I was delighted to meet up with and get the chance to introduce Gemma Vasquez (who is the chair of Gibraltar FSB) to Maureen – as well as chatting to Patrick Gibbels and David Caro from ESBA (the latter gave me a nice supply of chocs for the IT guys upstairs – though sadly not all of them made it up the stairs) – we ended up having a nightcap with friends in the hotel – what a great way to end a great day.

Tomorrow Maureen and I went off to pick up her new Chinese smartphone in time for her trip to the states next week. Despite initially showing mainly Chinese, after a little hacking and upgrading it’s now running a recent Android system and looks for all the world like the latest Samsung Galaxy phone but with TWO SIM sockets! How’s that for sub-£100

Conference information including pics, videos and reporting at http://www.fsb.org.uk/conference2014 and for those who prefer to pick things up from Twitter, the hashtag #fsbconf just about has it all.

Dying to get back to work on my thermostat for a day to sort out whatever’s making it crash so I can fit it up in the cottage in Bellingham and start getting control of the heating, before starting yet another round of FSB and ESCO meetings.

Peter Scargill elected as FSB National IT Chairman

Another year goes by, they seem to get shorter every time. We’re sitting in the FSB’s annual elections and I’ve just been re-elected as National IT Committee Chairman (unopposed) for another year. This allows me to continue the many IT projects I’m working on and also to continue my work in Communications within the organisation. This, along with my new EU role in the ESCO project should keep me busy for another year.

A very pleasant day

I travelled down to London yesterday for the Internet show in Earl’s court. Long overdue for catching up with the latest due to being bogged down with work most of the time, I took a member of my committee along with me to go see what’s new and hopefully bring home some new ideas.

Peter Scargill travelling to Aldgate EastWe started the trip last night at Brick Lane in London  -the weather there right now is fabulous – I took the tube from Victoria to Aldgate East and walked the rest of the way with thanks to Google maps on the phone. I met up with the guys at a pub called the Princess Alice where we had a couple of beers before heading off to Brick Lane and the myriad of Indian restaurants therein.

We usually end up at the same place and so it was that we got our free beer, free starters and 20% off – it takes no bartering at all to get this. Cracking night with a fellow techie.

This morning we were up sharpish and off down from our hotel in Victoria – the Double Tree in Bridge Place,  to head off on the tube to the event.

Peter Scargill at Internet World in Earls Court 2Internet World was not as big as I’d hoped – some day I must go to one of those shows in Europe – we managed to get through it in the morning rather than the whole day but in the process, met some good contacts, I certainly gained some great ideas and generally got up to speed with what’s out there. As well as business-oriented stands the people from “The Internet of Things” were there with some fabulous Internet-connected toys.

That left only one thing to do – get back to the office in Victoria… grab some kit and head off home. As we were sitting in Earls Court having a bite to eat for lunch – and being as it was a lovely day, having no idea of distances I suggested a walk to the Thames – and that became the start of a nearly 4 mile walk along the Thames and back up to Victoria – for which I am now Peter Scargill and David Miles visit Internet Worldsuffering.

On the way back I had to walk through the Centre for Life in Newcastle and there was a big sign up advertising Maker Faire this weekend which is all about robots, 3d printing machines and other interesting stuff so I’m sure we’ll end up there at the weekend… but first there’s the slight matter of the Iron Man 3 movie!


Peter Scargill visiting the Centre for Life in Newcastle

La Weekend

An early start this morning – had to drop Maureen off at the airport as she’s off to see her mum for a couple of weeks, leaving me to look after two lots of cats! Just watch the Russians getting to the Space station in 6 hours – fantastic.

BrusselsI just received this “In view of the relevance of your professional profile and expertise to ESCO’s work, the ESCO Secretariat appointed you as a member of the Reference Group "ICT service activities". This appointment decision has been endorsed by the ESCO Board.” which means sometime in April I’m off to Brussels for a couple of days. I do hope the weather is nicer there than it is here not that I’ll see much of it buried away in meetings but at least I’ll have a night or two to enjoy there – beer’s nice and I know the centre fairly well now.

Meanwhile the satellite broadband continues to work well, I should say the delays are a little annoying at times but considering our NEXT house starts with 2 meg broadband until some magical upgrade in the future, will make satellite just about essential. This’ll be good as I’ve never tried aligning a dish before and now I’ll have two of them to do!!

Leicester marketSo many things to do, so little time, but THIS weekend – I plan to do as little as possible. Didn’t really get a break last week as I was working at the FSB’s conference in Leicester and when I got home on Sunday I had to sort out some last minute Leicestervideos stuff that we didn’t have time to complete at the venue.  The new Chairmain’s first interview video which I did with him the morning after his election is at the FSB website for those who are interested – along with the Toyah Wilcox video and a ton of other stuff..

Got my new laptop so I’ve no doubt I’ll spend most of the weekend populating it and trying to get rid of the new STUPID and almost universally hated Windows 8 gesture controls which result in applications swapping in front of your eyes seemingly randomly.

If I’d not already installed a ton of stuff I’d rip the lot out and go back to Windows 7 but I guess one has to move on… the time will come when Windows 7 is now longer supported so may as well be ahead of the pack.

But for now – some TV and a bite to eat…  have a nice weekend, all.

Sunny Scarborough

This week I’m in Scarborough for the week – the FSB’s annual conference – it’s my job as IT Chairman to ensure we report everything that is going on – and I have a team of staff to do that but the really techy stuff – video on demand, imagery etc. is run by a small group of us (I’m the first here) and involves high speed broadband, gigabytes of video and a lot of hard work – and fun.

But that’s for another set of blogs – I got up this morning and started snapping photos to give delegates a feel-good factor – the weather here is great (as someone who’s now done about 11 of these Conferences I can tell you that’s not always the case in March – indeed usually the opposite).

So here they are, some of my late evening and early morning photos of Scarborough! By all means click on the images for larger versions…

6am Scarborough sunrise

View from the Crown Spa Hotel

Parking's an issue already

The beach