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This is the UK website for Peter and Maureen Scargill. We live in the Northeast of England and also Andalusia in Spain.

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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Life

Peter Scargill in SpainSince coming back from Galera in Spain in the summer, life has been hectic – Maureen went back to school for a while, was recently off again but is now back in action. Hollyberry Cottage has been packed but we managed one day to get some essential maintenance in. I’ve been to Brussels for meetings and managed to fit in a trip to the Mini-Europe, I’ve been back and forth to Blackpool for FSB meetings, visited Jodrell Bank, been on a cruise just off Guernsey and next week we’re taking a short trip to Cornwall to go see the Eden Project, something we’ve been meaning to do for years but somehow never gotten around to it. We will of course post pics in here and on Facebook – I’m just hoping we get something remotely like decent weather.

The rest of the time has been filled with day to day emails and phone calls. I’m sitting here surrounded by new technology, trying to get a little WIFI board working and my friend Jonathan has brought me a wonderful tiny blue display which we’re considering right now to be a wonderful idea like the laser was – magical product but what can you do with it – well we certainly found plenty of uses for the laser!

Of course no blog entry is complete without a decent size photo – so here’s a picture of breakfast at a wonderful little cafe in Bellingham – good healthy stuff.

Breakfast at a cafe in Bellingham, Northumberland

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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