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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Richmond Event (#ITDF)

Several of you have asked where I’ve been this week and what I’ve been doing – so here it is..

West Quays Shopping CentreOn Wednesday I flew down to Southampton (from Newcastle) in the morning to embark on what is now the second Richmond event I’ve attended… the annual IT Director’s Forum.  The journey consisted of the flight and a train ride to Southampton Central station.

Thanks to flight times etc., I ended up with some time to burn and went for a short visit to the West Quays Shopping Centre, nothing to write home about but a pleasant and modern centre with a decent mix of the usual imagination-less chair restaurants, the only exception in my view being Pizza Express who do a pretty good imitation of a real pizza – and that’s where I had lunch.

Aurora ShipLooking at the street signs the docks didn’t look that far away so rather than taking the planned shuttle bus as per the previous year, I walked down to the docks. Won’t do that again,the weather was nice but it was quite a hike and I arrived at Dock 10 late afternoon in time to board the Aurora with utterly flattened feet.

Aurora entranceOnce safely on-board the Aurora (a P&O ship able to handle 1200 passengers – the smallest of the fleet) I attended the opening talk by the proprietor of Richmond events who broke the bad news that the broadband was going to be crap throughout the event.

This was swiftly followed by a keynote speech by Mary Portas who described her experiences and views on everything from the smallest stores struggling to come into the 21st century through to the largest supermarket chains.

Considering that Mary’s website describes her as “the UK’s foremost authority on retail and brand communication, I must say I didn’t entirely agree with everything she said, especially on supermarkets  and didn’t consider her that inspirational but Mary Portasnon-the-less she managed to entertain everyone. With all on-board, mid-evening we set off on our journey to the channel Islands which was to take most of the night. Dinner was a casual affair and our hosts were pleasantly un-commercial – we all had a nice time.

Shortly after arriving on the board, I’d met up briefly with Elle who is one of the organisers and it’s really nice that she’s been reading my blog since last year and keeping up with what I’ve been doing so I hope she likes this.

With the ship under way to our destination just a few miles docked off the channel islands, dinner was fine if a little pretentious (“Braised Pave of beef” and other strange titles such as “Baked Tartiflette Potatoes littered the menu) but the important point of course was that the hopeful suppliers paid for the drinks. The night was interesting – I’ve no gripes about my room, balcony view of the sea and sizeable area for a ship, the room was comfortable, the movement in the face of considerable sea-power was not. Everyone commented next morning that the night was “rough”.

Around Guernsey and the IslandsSo the way this works is simple enough – 3-night cruise, sponsored by sales organisations – IT directors and professionals get the decent rooms around the outside of the ship, the sales people get the inner rooms – they pay, we don’t – simple enough. In return we agree to meet them in short matchmaking sessions in between insightful seminars – obviously they hope we’ll do business and in many cases that works.

All in all though it takes a bit of stamina, a worthwhile two whole days of which I’ve just finished the first. Saturday morning we disembark – I’ll be taking the coach this time to the central train station which is then just one stop to the airport. Should be back by lunchtime Saturday which is great as I’ve some R&D to do before we have friends over for the evening.

John AmaechiThursday morning we started bright and early, breakfast sponsored in my case by a company called Capita. Breakfast was ok but it’s the one meal of the day I’d rather  have a buffet.  I went on to participate in a discussion on BIG DATA which was more than useful followed by another REALLY interesting discussion on mobile access and security. In each case a facilitator enabled maybe a dozen of us to collaborate and share ideas. 

tmp60A1I facilitated a couple of these discussions the previous year and it was gratifying that some folk remembered me! I then listened to a talk by John Amaechi MBE, a psychologist who is notable by his basketball background and the fact that he stands 6ft 9 inches and 23 stones in weight (and has size 15 shoes) – very interesting as he described the difference between good and bad management.

Lunch was great – I met a couple of people I’m sure to keep in touch with as we have similar interests. After a couple of business meetings in the afternoon, I attended a talk by David Smith – economic editor of the Sunday times who made some predictions for the future and described the on-going effects of the recession – interesting that China is now the leading economy and the entire wealth of the world is steadily moving in that direction.

We had a great session with Clive Panto who put us through some intelligence tests which I have to say my group failed miserably but had a REALLY good laugh in the process (If I tell you that one of the tests was to drop an egg from the ceiling to the ground without breaking it – within 5 minutes we’d broken our first egg and when it came to the presentation of results, which I did – we had the perfect solution, sadly as I was just about to climb the ladders to the ceiling (yes, on a moving ship) the egg fell out of my hands and smashed on the floor which resulted in lots of laughter..

PoolThat evening after celebration drinks (as these events have now been going on for 25 years) we had the first of two Black-tie dinners – interesting as I didn’t bring a black tie.

Well, it’s an IT director’s event – I figured open neck might be more the norm – that’s what I get for thinking. I was not however alone by any means.

Friday and more business “dating” meetings, some talks including one about the automation of life and work in the age of smart machines (in which I’m particularly interested of course as someone deeply entrenched in the “Internet of Things”) and the question in one talk was asked “are we innovating ourselves out of the door. The last session of the day was a wine and cheese tasting event, I found time to go soak in the pool, visit a short cheese and wine testing and then the second formal dinner.

tmp74E9Meanwhile I’ve been asked whether I will chair and present at a major Intranet event next year which gives me something to ponder over the next few days.

And that, in a nutshell, is that. Hope you found the blog interesting. And just for that… here’s a picture of some cows I took on the way home and a map showing where the ship was docked for the duration.

Cows

The cruise

A Trip to Jodrell Bank

jodrellJodrell Bank was opened in 1945, a mere 11 years before I was born. Today I’d been at a long meeting which had finished earlier than expected and so I headed off in search of the radio telescope.

For the scientifically uninitiated, radio waves are like light but at a much longer wavelength, well beyond our ability to see as is infra-red and ultraviolet light – but all of these are used when surveying the heavens as they each have their benefits.

signJodrell Bank was in it’s time a world leader by some way – so much so that both the Americans and amazingly the Russians requested use of it during the space race! As you’ll recall the Russians were first up with Sputnik and then a dog – all of this was monitored by Jodrell Bank.

jodrell[7]Ignoring for a second the sheer size of the dish and supporting framework (which turns in any direction) there’s a great visitor’s centre with old Pathe film about the space race right from the beginning and there are a host of things for kids to play with.

It’s a kind of strange mix –on the one hand you have harmless experiments and on the other you’re exposing them to mind-blowing information on Black Holes (it’s not that long ago there was no proof they existed – just a theoretical concept – now it’s all over the place).

Anyway, assuming the weather is half decent it’s worth the £7 entrance fee – there are some gardens there as well and a cafe.

Well worth a trip.

jodrell[9]

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

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.

The Brussels Trip–June 2014

Here I am in sunny Brussels again, this time for two different bodies, I came here at the start of the week to continue the work on ESCO with colleagues from around Europe – and I end the week at Microsoft HQ here in Brussels.

I’ve been staying at a very weird hotel called the Mozart near Grande Place – and I mean 2 minutes near. The rooms are a tad small but as you can see below they make up for it in sheer elegance – the whole place is done out like this…

Mozart

I arrived Monday evening in time to meet my friend Kenneth from Sweden at the local bar, before heading into 2 days of intense meetings which finished last night. I headed back to my hotel and had a drink outside with another colleague George and we talked about data security which is his field – it really didn’t occur to me before but all this friend “tagging” we do on photos is giving the security forces tools they never before dreamed possible! The evening ended on a fine note as I met up with a friend who long ago was the FSB’s Policy Chairman, Brendan Burns (and now a member of the EESC) and he introduced me to a fine Thai restaurant a short walk down from the square – he has a flat here and spends a lot of time in Brussels so I always learn a lot of local info when we meet up.

Today I’d planned a trip to the Atomium and thereabouts but I simply didn’t manage to get out ofGrande Placebed early enough and so decided to do the up-hill walk to Avenue Des Arts to attend a meeting put together by ESBA and SEAP to discuss the Transatlantic Trade Agreement – met some interesting characters there including one who gave me a whole new way to think about open source and who’s views on the future of 3D printing are similar to mine.

American AmbassadorWe had the American Ambassador to the EU there as well as a host of other relevant people and there was a very lively debate on the subject, including an amazing attack by an MEP who came over initially as quiet and announced he had no idea why he was here – then promptly launched a vicious and somewhat effective attack AGAINST the TTIP.

Great afternoon and many of the guys are meeting up tonight for a meal.

Tomorrow an AGM (I’m merely an observer in this case) then back home to see my wife and her broken foot.

Ok, Brussels is a big, noisy city – but given that, this is a nice place to be….back here in a month for another round of ESCO meetings.

Behind the Grande Place

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.

The Rain in Spain

FadriqueYes, it IS raining – first time since we got here and probably the last. In general – it’s been around 36c mid-day most days – absolutely LOVELY in other words…  if you want to keep up with us while we’re in Spain – meanwhile we have friends looking after the house and I have my CATCAM to keep an eye on the kitties.

Spent the day at Puebla De Don Fadrique – a nice little town with a decent Friday market! More on this and everything else at our BEDROCK SITE

Home Control over the Internet Part 2

If you’re read my previous article – you’ll know I’m interested in home control DIY. The original home control article is here.

Petes Radio Controlled BoardsMy first attempts at remote control over here in Spain are coming together. Having had remote access to cameras for 3 or 4 years now with reasonable reliability, I’m ready to extend this to temperature and humidity monitoring and remote control of lighting.

If you look at my previous articles on home control you’ll know that I’m using NETIO on Android phones, via WEBSOCKET drivers on Arduino-type boards using the WIZ Internet controller at the master end and low-cost RF24NETWORK-driven radio-controlled boards for remotes.

I recently had some boards made to comprise the Atmel 328 chip and associated components along with monitoring LEDS and the NRF24L01 low-cost radio boards as daughter-boards. Here is the first of the units, in a case top – alongside a single RELAY board. This board needs USB power only (pretty standard low cost plug-in-the-wall power) and communicates with the master (and hence the remote Android or iPhone) to allow monitoring and control.

The board you see here also has a DHT11 unit attached to provide temperature and humidity readings. These are not stunningly accurate but I have calibration offsets available in EEPROM on the controller to compensate.

The plan is to leave the main board attached to the router here and the small control board will monitor downstairs temperature and humidity – if time permits a second board will monitor the same upstairs – as humidity is an issue in caves – even modern ones such as ours – too wet and clearly this causes damp issues, too dry and the underlying cave material gets brittle and you get bits dropping off! Breezeblock is so much easier but then also so much more ugly.

More on this later, the basic boards are working a treat, I’ve yet to do range testing for the radio.

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 – the winter update.

Packaging

A company offering free samples of components just sent me 4 items.. very nice of them too. But look at the packaging (which meant they had to leave the stuff with the neighbours).

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Home Control over the Internet

Updated July 5, 2013

This article is about a practical home control system for the enthusiast and is being updated as new developments come along. Combining extremely low cost radio and inexpensive Ethernet, the system allows for mobile phone or tablet access to a range of items including lamp control (on/off/fade), temperature monitoring (and thermostatic control and general analog inputs)… and this is just the beginning:

tmp901ERecently I’ve turned to working with what are called “Arduino” chips and boards – actually the only “Arduino” bit I use is their boot loader routine – the boards I use are usually ATMEL chips on boards I’ve designed (or kluged)… the chip is a simple microcontroller (not powerful enough to call a “Microprocessor” but a hell of a lot nicer than the PIC chips we used a decade ago.

The Atmel chips are fun devices that are (relatively) easy to use and there are several boards available cheaply, mainly from China or Chinese companies in the UK that make this whole control thing worth looking at again. More’s the point there are lots of libraries – some working, some part working out there to save re-inventing the wheel.

The big issue for me has always been the wires. Much better to control stuff via, say, a mobile phone and have the units work by radio… but it has to be CHEAP to be worthwhile.

That is the basis of the project I’m working on right now. On the left you’ll see the first experimental screen of my Samsung S4 project (though it works seamlessly on any Android or iPhone-type device such as a tablet). For the purpose of experimentation, this screen is showing local 4 on/off type controls, 5 remote station on-off/off controls 4 remote on-off controls, time (from the base unit), temperature monitors from the base unit (internal/external) and temperature and humidity from a small unit at the end of the radio chain… but that’s just the start.

Note (July 5 2013) – I’ve made a decision, rather than continue to struggle with space on the master unit – and in order to use the same final circuit board on the master as will be used on the slaves – to eliminate IO control on the master – hence freeing up space. The master unit will concern itself with handling communication with the slaves, talking to the Internet and handling thermostatic calculations. After much thought this is the better way to go rather than having special cases all over the place for “local” controls. I did look at the MEGA boards with lots of extra room – but it makes sense to use one low cost board for everything – pointless jacking the price onwards and upwards.

The mobile DISPLAY is made possible by software which costs a pound or so called NETIO and is available for Android and iOS. It is a customisable App that works on the phone complete with web tools to develop such panels without programming as such.

tmp4692Essentially, the panel works by sending simple commands from the phone over WIFI or 3G to a web server running what is referred to as a WEB SOCKET – i.e. the basic underlying mechanism behind a web page but without all the extras – after all we’re talking simple commands here – it just needs to be very reliable.

And what and where is the “socket server”? It is software running on an Atmel chip of course – but the server is relatively simple (it’s actually complicated but we don’t need to know that as we just use a freely available library accepting commands and returning text responses). The rest of the code on the Arduino concerns itself with checking temperatures and firing off remote commands by radio to other boards. The App merely puts the end-user gloss on it. The radio is based on something I’ve written about before – RF24NETWORK which never worked properly in the past due to a minor issue in the underlying radio library and my own incompetence in not putting a smoothing capacitor on the radio board. But that’s all covered elsewhere.

Currently I have a board sitting on my bench talking to the App on my phone, over the Internet. On the top right you’ll see an image – I’m using a standard board for the purpose of experimenting – an Arduino Uno board at the back with an Ethernet “shield” sitting on top of it – together with a couple of test-wired Dallas 3-pin temperature-reading chips that look like simple transistors and actually only need 2 wires to work (but I’m using 3). In the foreground is a twin relay board of the type I’m using to control things such as lights or heating system thermostat replacement. I could just as easily use opto-coupled triacs. Note that the final unit has no wiring for LOCAL controls – these are all handled on the slave radio units.

In addition, there was enough room in the master board software to call an Internet TIME service and that keeps the local clock accurate – and also sends the time in the 4-byte time_t format to the slaves. As these have the real time clock software in them – they can be updated automatically by incoming packages – and hence use the time for whatever purpose…. providing time displays on household gadgets etc… one example – I have a SAD light in the bedroom which runs on a software clock only which in time becomes inaccurate – with the simple addition of the radio network and a little software, this when upgraded will keep perfect time.

Arduino with Ethernet shieldNote the yellow Internet lead and underneath (top picture) , a simple plug-in the wall power supply (5v) feeds the lot.

This is only for the purpose of testing and the hardware above probably comes to £30 – but an Arduino clone can be had for as little as £6 or so, while the  “Ethernet shield” can be purchased from Ebay for maybe £13.

So you can see it is possible to put together something for very little money. I have looked at the cheaper ENC boards but they use up a considerable amount of RAM memory and hence any savings there would mean moving to a larger processor – defeating the object.

imageThe radio unit at the end of the chain shown below right costs excluding case and USB power less than a tenner. That board is the one supplying temperature and humidity readings in the top display. The blue item underneath is the temperature sensor.

The second screen on the right above is merely a test page showing 6 local slider controls and analog inputs from 5 boards – the last one being located way down the radio network chain at the other side of the house.

tmp66A1So that gives us one card controlled by the Internet. How does that make a home control? The next stage is to have that card also talk to a wireless controller – to talk to other boards. The cost of wireless is similarly inexpensive but very limited.

The NRF boards will typically talk DIRECTLY to 5 other boards (they CAN talk to more but typical libraries out there limit themselves to 5) over the kind of range you’ll see for cheap home WIFI – i.e. not very far and definitely not through more than a couple of walls – what’s needed is a means to network them – and that’s where the software library RF24NETWORK comes in – a simple means to network dozens of these together. It may be in this case that the network is not needed – the fact that the main unit can talk to 5 other radio boards may well be sufficient and if not then simply relaying software from one to the next takes that up to 25 boards and way beyond.

The NETio designer is in touch and has been helpful. Next step is to fully test it on the really cheap Ethernet boards (done that but not yet happy about potential memory leaks). I’ve already had success with the radio boards and the rest is easy. Here are a couple of early blogs on the subject of the radio network… and with links to other resources.

Current prototypes feature:

2 12-bit analog inputs (had 4 but needed pins 0 and 1 to check serially…)

4 digital outputs

3 analog PWM outputs (ideal for LED LIGHTING by adding a MOSFET and 12v supply for the lighting – again a plug in the wall job)

2 DHT11/22 chip temperature inputs (I have implemented both humidity and temperature – could have used Dallas chips for temperature but this seemed like 2 for 1).

You can add as many radio boards as you need and each one has the same facility.

The THIRD screen (left, above) is the thermostat control page – I’ve added the ability to control a single remote relay as the thermostat chip -  with the kind of control (heat delay etc) you’d expect from a Thermostat.

Alongside this I’ve asked the NETio designers if they will consider implementing MQTT – as this adds security – we already have MQTT working on the ENC boards thanks to a Saturday session with friend Jonathan Farmer and a lot of follow up work. For now my security consists of sending a special character string to allow access to other functions – that times out after 60 seconds unless refreshed by the App. Hey – it works!

Current state of the art

Currently I have enough memory to do the job using the WIZ network card (hence saving RAM)… and ROM I’m up to 27out of 30.7k available.

The way this works (and I have a working setup on my desk)…. the units responds to commands such as x/OUT1=1  or x/OUT1=0  where x is the unit number in octal (base 8 – hence 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 10 11 12 etc)

tmp652BThe word OUT1 on it’s own returns the status of that output – and so on. So 2/OUT1=1 would turn on output 2 on the radio slave “2” for example.  In the picture above, lets say the radio board that has a blue arrow to it’s right is radio 2. To handle relaying of these short range radios, that radio can talk to radio “22” as well as 4 other siblings. – radio “22” can talk to 5 siblings – “122” through “522” etc., the further down the chain the more you add on the LEFT of the address. So  522/OUT1=1 would turn on the smallest board on the right, picture above, the 5th one.

So – at level 1 the base can talk to 5 units… next level in it can talk to 5+(5*5) = 30 units. At the next level 5+(5*5)+(5*5*5)=155 units – next level out increases dramatically to 780 units – ANY unit can talk to any other but the parents MUST be turned on (hey what do you want for a few pounds)… I think 4 levels (780 units) is likely sufficient (and polling such a large number would likely be impractical but it does give you a good hopping range given the limitations of the cheap radios) and in my prototype setup I can run a slider on the phone and vary the brightness of a LED on the farthest unit virtually in real time with only a tiny, fractional second delay.

Arduino clone plus radioFor an absolute minimal slave board you just need the radio and one of the small surface mount Arduino clones such as the one shown on the left here. We’re looking at no more than £6 plus power (5v – i.e. any old USB plug-in-the-wall supply available for less than £3) – this needs something like a relay to drive a lamp or heating – and that’s it – clearly if you want more – add more. That whole board is the size of my thumb!

And that’s it – the first fruits of this work will be to put temperature monitors and light/heat control in our rental cottage and our place in Spain so I have access to this and other information on the phone. Implementing a movement counter with a simple infra-red is another idea etc.… I need some boards first as right now this is all a bit too spaghetti. These are on the way.

Features include the ability to store in EPROM, settable remotely, the unit number from which to  get the temperature for thermostatic control – and the unit which you need to talk to in order to turn the heat on by a relay. I’ve also clarified my worst fear – RF24NETWORK cannot handle sending out one communication after another while expecting to READ communications… so I’ve arranged that data is only initiated by unit 0 – which then always expects a response back. I’ve arranged a timeout for 0.2 seconds for expected data return before sending the next package out – obviously cancelling that delay when something comes in – with that in place and only with that in place I’m getting 99% reliability out of the radio packages. I’ve just added multiple retries (rarely needed) and with that I seem to be getting 100%.

Relay outputs by default are HIGH as most of the relays out there demand a pull DOWN to turn the relay on…!! There is the ability in the software to invert this.

And now a little history – you can stop reading now if you’re not interested but this might help to understand how I got this far… Once upon a time in the 90s, my business partner (of the time) and I developed a home control project called Appcon which consisted of a small board with various sensors and outputs – a triac (solid-state relay) to control, say lighting or heating, a temperature sensor, a general input and a speaker output. Click these pictures to see larger versions.

1994 PC AnswersThis small board ran from 12 volts and connected to other boards via a 4-core telephone wire.  at one end of the wire was a PC firing out commands, reading data and generally controlling the whole thing with a set of rules.

imageIt was developed on the original Windows 3.1 before the time of widely available Internet and LONG before we could buy cheap stuff from China.

This worked well, in my house in Newcastle I had around 40 of these cigarette-pack sized boards controlling just about everything from heating, lighting, burglar alarm, putting out “cricket” sounds in the garden, you name it.

The problem in developing this was the nature of construction – the fact that the boards had to be wired together was a real issue. In some homes it’s just not that easy to put a wire all over the place to connect everything together. It certainly is not in my stone-walled country cottage today.. I’d get shot!

The interface was good but as Windows matured it rapidly started to date and there was no such thing as a mobile phone interface! Today you would not think of using this (well, I wouldn’t!)

That product was GREAT fun and we sold quite a lot of them, but at the end of the day, home control remained a minority sport and we never did get this into the B&Qs of this world. Meanwhile, particularly in the UK, what’s out there remains expensive. Not too many people want to shell out £30-50 just to turn a light on and off!