2022-11-29

Shelly Plus i4DC GPIO

As previously posted, I am quite impressed with Shelly stuff anyway, but the new "Plus" range has allowed some interesting developments - as they use ESP32, which is the processor I use for my access and alarm system.

This has meant I am able to add bits to the alarm system much more simply than using my custom boards - anywhere. As I reported before the Shelly Plus 1 is great as it can work on DC or AC, but this modules is specifically for DC usage.

The Shelly Plus i4DC, which is like the Shelly Plus i4 (which is AC), is powered from 5V to 24V DC. This is great news as it can work from 12V and 24V alarm systems, and the typical 13.8V of a battery box quite safely. You could even wire to a USB 5V supply.

It has 4 inputs which connect to GND, and this works well for connecting to fire alarms, door sensors, and so on, and can easily have spares for tamper and dummy wires. I would struggle to make something like this for the same cost, and when I factor in my time this is a total no brainer.

I have also worked out the GPIO:-

  • GPIO0: Output for small LED (hard to see through case).
  • GPIO12: Input for SW1 signal (external switch) but needs configuring as pull down.
  • GPIO14: Input for SW2 signal (external switch) but needs configuring as pull down.
  • GPIO27: Input for SW3 signal (external switch) but needs configuring as pull down.
  • GPIO26: Input for SW4 signal (external switch) but needs configuring as pull down.
  • GPIO25: Input for small yellow button on the case, but needs configuring as pull up.

There are also 6 external connection pins for programming which are common to most Shelly, and not mains live on this model:

  • GND
  • GPIO0
  • EN
  • 3V3
  • GPIO3 RX to shelly
  • GPIO1 TX from shelly
  • GPIO16
These can easily be flashed with tasmota too, use the ESP32 solo build. Note I cover two extra GPIO than the usual tasmota config (GPIO0, GPIO25).

2022-11-27

Gas & Electric

I really am at a loss as to quite how bad energy companies seem to be.

They basically have one job - charge for the gas and electricity you use. With smart meters it is really easy as they have access to the data from the meter. Without, they need meter readings, from customers or by sending someone round.

But the basic business processes seem blindingly simple. They are selling two things, gas an electricity, And there is a meter that tracks the actual usage. The bills should be simple.

OK I know there is other admin, getting meters changed, credit control, etc, but the basic billing is noddy.

Some are being a tad cleverer, like Octopus. The first time I was with them, in my previous house, was when smart meters were dumb if you changed provider, so was a bit of a mess, but this time they have the data - half hour readings, usually within a day of real time, and visible to me. They also seem to be very responsive at sorting any questions or issues. This does allow them to be a bit more innovative with tariffs. When I was a kid we had economy seven, with a timer on the meter to switch metering between the two settings. We had a storage heater on the cheap night-time electricity. These days they can do a rate per half hour even, and there is export now as well. But even so, it is really not rocket science.

So how the hell is it that some of them seem to be so incredibly bad at it? Pretty much every company I have been with (perhaps with exception of Octopus this time) has screwed up in one way or another.

The latest is So.Energy

Now, don't get me wrong, I know there can be screw ups, but at the end of the day this is such a simple thing to bill you just have to put the correct meter reading in and you can fix it. A simple job. So the really annoying screwing up is when they not only get things wrong, but totally fail to even try and fix it, and instead send "overdue account" and "final demand" emails.

Leaving So.Energy should be simple. I gave them, and Octopus, the meter reading for Gas on the day, and both used that, and the gas is right. Yay. It proves how simple this really is. The gas was not on smart meter.

But the bit that should be easier, the electricity that was on a smart meter, was not. Octopus actually used the meter reading I gave them. They also had smart meter readings from a couple of days later. Good.

But So.Energy did not, they had not billed for a couple of months. They kept asking for a meter reading to be entered on their web site, in spite of being a smart meter, but the site would not allow me to enter an import reading unless I also entered export (this was after they finally fixed their site asking for 7 separate electricity readings for the meter). The meter itself would not show export, so I could not comply. But remember, it is a smart meter, so they have the actual readings anyway.

When they finally raised bills, what should they do? Well, simple use the smart meter reading for the dates I left, for import and export, simple.

What did they actually do - they did a bill for import, using a smart meter reading for import, for the day I left. They then cancelled that bill, and raised a new one with a "closing read" (not a "smart meter read", or a "customer read", or even an "estimate") that was way higher - more than £100 higher.

What about export, albeit at a measly 5p/unit? Well, they should have just used the smart meter reading. Octopus used the smart meter reading for the day they took over (as I could not see on the meter itself) which was great, so it was available. What So.Energy did was estimate a closing meter reading, saving them around £200.

Using made up meter readings, especially when they demonstrate they have the actual meter reading (at least for import), seems to be to be straight forward criminal fraud, a lie for financial gain.

Fixing it?

Let's be generous for a moment, and assume it was some idiot typing something daft, OK. The first I heard was "overdue account", for a bill dated when I left even though the bill was not on their web site before, so back dated. So I let them know the error, and advised the actual meter readings for import and export.

This the point that they could perhaps have redeemed themselves by cancelling those bills and issuing a correct bill. What could be simpler. If their web site had actually allowed me to enter import without export, of the meter had showed export, they would have used the reading I provided, as they did for gas, so this is no different.

But no, more demands, and a final demand. Each time I told them the error of their ways and got no more than an automated reply.

I messaged on twitter and they said they complaints dept was dealing with it - it is over two week later and nothing - no message even to say complaints are looking in to it and no new bills. I also explained that hounding me to pay a disputed and fraudulent bill was harassment. They said it was not, just telling me what was due and what would happen if I did not pay (further action), which I explained was in fact harassment. They tried to excuse it as automated, and I pointed out that automated harassment is still harassment. Interestingly nothing heard since (a week now) so maybe they turned it off.

Evidence

There is a chance they try and "take further action", which will be interesting. But as they owe me for the export I can make that a counter claim for that, as well as filing a defence that their claim is based on a fraudulent bill. Their own original bill (that they later cancelled) proves they had the import star meter reading for the day I left, so making up a different reading really looks like fraud to me.

But what would be handy is some incontrovertible evidence of the actual usage, so I have sent a GDPR request for the meter readings to Smart DCC Ltd who managed UK smart meter data. Hopefully they can furnish me with the detailed reading. Readings that So.Energy could have gotten and have ignored. It will be interesting to confirm Smart DCC Ltd actually hold the data (they have not said they don't), and that I can get the data. I'll update if/when I get the data.

I should not have to have this hassle or harassment - it really should be simple!

In the mean time...

2022-11-04

Save power to avoid blackouts

Article on the BBC, here... "Households will be offered discounts on their electricity bills if they cut peak-time use on a handful of days over the winter, as part of National Grid's efforts to avoid blackouts."

These sorts of things are incredibly difficult to get right.

Punished for being proactive?

Some of us have already been proactive. I am a high user, but now have solar and battery. The hot tub (a big chunk of usage) is now on a timer so largely heating in the middle of the night, and easy to avoid the 4-7pm peak. I am also on a special battery tariff, so for example, my usage 4pm-7pm is actually about -30% of my daily usage (yes MINUS 30%, i.e. I export around 30% of my net daily usage 4-7pm).

Now, this means it would be physically impossible for me to use less 4pm-7pm, whether net (i.e. allowing for export) or just import (i.e. currently 0kWh usage).

So no way I can benefit from the Octopus scheme as I see it, unless I have misunderstood, as I cannot "improve" my peak usage.

Had I *not* been proactive. Had I left the hot tub on 4-7pm. Had I not run the battery like this. I could be easily making that extra £100 on offer. I am being punished for my being considerate and proactive - or so it seems. That feels wrong, somehow.

Other approaches

My understanding is that some providers are working on getting people to make their 4-7pm usage a lower percentage of their net 24/7 usage. That would work for me, as I already do that, assuming they would even cope with a negative percentage, maybe I would get more than £100, LOL.

Encouraging bad behaviour

I need to work out the "reference" period for saving. Even on the tariff I am on, it would not be hard to make my 4-7pm usage really high. It would not be hard for anyone to do that by running the washing mashing, and tumble drier (and I know most people don't have one, a hot tub), even electric water heating as many have that as a backup for gas. And, of course, if you have one (we don't) charging your EV.

If doing that for a few days before, then during the key days you move the power usage away from 4-7pm, you can get that bonus. For a lot of people "moving" the power usage has not extra cost, so why not.

This is a problem with any system that is "relative improvement". Make it absolute, e.g. usage below X kWh for the period per hours, or even less than % of net 24/7 household usage, and that may work, no need to force a high "reference" against which you are saving.

Not in the spirit of the scheme

One criticism of anyone adjusting their usage before these saving sessions to get a better reduction is that it would not be in the spirit of the scheme. Not "the right thing to do". Even Octopus said that on twitter.

Well yes, that is true, but the whole scheme is based on people doing "what makes them money" not "what is the right thing". There would be no need for any financial reward if people would "do the right thing", so yeh, you kind of have to expect that people, as a whole, will do what makes/saves them the most money - that is how people as a whole tend to work, even if individuals do sometimes do the right thing - it's the very basis of economics (from what I remember).

2022-10-30

Out of respect

There are a few things that seem like obvious cynical exploitation from time to time.

I remember the whole thing with hospitals not allowing mobile phones, and then charging a fortune to make/receive calls by some means on a ward. (We all know any CE marked equipment has to cope with the RF from the likes of a mobile phone). It moved on a bit to no mobile phones and selling access to video and the like.

The one small saving for the terrible ward on which my father spent his last week is that it simply had free and working WiFi for all patients. I suspect that is because trying to enforce a ban was becoming unworkable. So that was finally sensible.

The latest annoyance that has hit me is that the crematorium do not allow any video or photographs of the service.

Why the fuck not, if you will pardon my annoyance for a moment?

It is "out of respect", apparently.

Hmm, but oh, they offer a streaming and recording service for a small fee.

What a surprise!

Ban the thing that any, and all, the participants could do, basically for free, using their phone, so that you can sell it. Grrr!

So how do I feel about this? Well - if they offered a service that had high quality audio and video, multiple cameras, edited to a nice respectful video of the service, subtitles, etc, for a fee, then why not? And indeed, if they offer a good service there is no need to "ban" anything. It looks like it is just a fixed camera, so would not be better that "someone with a phone".

But banning it "out of respect" is crap. And almost wants me to put something in my will - that I want anyone, and everyone, that can and wants to, to video and stream the service. That way the "respectful" thing would be to allow that, out of respect for the deceased wishes.

So they accept it or change their excuse. They should be honest and say "no video or photographs as we sell a service for that and would not make any money if we allowed it" - not pretend it is anything "respectful" to anyone.

So let me say now - when my time comes, fuck any "service", sort the cremation or whatever is needed as cheaply as possible, and then have a party, a proper party with anyone and everyone welcome, with any streaming, and videos, and photographs, and blackjack, and hookers...

P.S. Update...

1. At the last minute, after paying for streaming and recording (which was used as some people could not make it) they said we could record. But really too late for me to plan sensibly putting in a camera, etc, so we did not record it.

2. As the title of this post is about respect, one has to consider a "celebrant" that does not even check the cause of death before starting a service "Isn't it great, now that covid is over, that we can all be here without masks". The day went reasonably well, as well as you can expect for such things, but that really did grate somewhat.

2022-10-28

Richard Joseph Kennard, 1937-2022

This was going to simply be a small blog post about my dad, but it sort of got away from me, and has turned in to more of a story of my childhood, with a strong focus on my dad, and how he influenced my life. My brothers have helped with some details, thanks.

Worcester

I was born in Worcester. I have a vague memory of Barnes Way, and Timberdine Avenue, in Worcester. I vaguely recall a nursery in Worcester where I first encountered stickle bricks, and a primary school where I started to learn maths and loved it. But I was pretty young when we moved away from Worcester.

When we drove to Worcester Royal Hospital just last week, to visit my dad - I commented on how I had been there before, but possibly only the once, some 58 years ago. In seems, however, that the hospital back then was nearer town, Ronkswood, so not quite the joke I had hoped.

As I understand it, back then, my father had a normal full time job, I think in sales. 

Drake's Broughton

To be honest I am not sure how old I was when we went to Drake's Broughton, but I know I spent some years in the primary school there.

I do vaguely recall us visiting before we moved, and we saw the shop. It was simply a large cuboid of concrete - the front was open but with wood boards, and the back had a large wooden double door, and the only feature was brickwork enclosing a small toilet and sink in the corner at the back.

Yes, my parents had decided to leave a house and a job in Worcester for a shop in a small village 15 miles away. This had to be early ‘70s. I did try and find out, but sadly the land registry seems not to have details that far back on the property. Talking it over with my brother, I think I was about 8.

Of course, at the time, I had no idea how crazy this was, but looking back I realise how it was a huge step for any family to take. Giving up the security of a normal job to start out running your own business. Not just that, starting that business from scratch, even fitting out a shop from scratch, getting stock and equipment, and well, that was brave.

Drake's Broughton was clearly a village that was originally quite small - some houses on the main road, the A44 (now the B4084) that went from Worcester to Pershore, and some houses on Stonebow Road and Walcot Lane. If you walked far enough along that lane you got to some farms, and eventually after a couple of miles to the outskirts of Pershore, and Pinvin.

There was a garage with car showroom on the main road, and a small shop with the post office, and a real police station / police house with a real policeman, and even a phone box. Further in to the village on Stonebow Road was a pub, The Old Oak.

I am sure that the village was probably just those few houses for a long time, but clearly someone had done some housing development and there were housing estates, and in the middle of the village was a new row of shops - four of them. They were all the same, except the fourth had an extension off the end that made it maybe twice the floor area. The shops all had associated flats over them, all the same.

It was a weird mix of shops in a way. The first was a newsagent and general shop of that type selling sweets, and greeting cards, and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff like that. The other end was a small supermarket with typical supermarket food. In the middle was a hairdressers, and well, our shop. Later on the supermarket got the post office, and the shop on the main road closed. I remember when the shop on the main road got “rock pops” (or whatever they were called at the time) for the first time - exploding in your mouth. I remember when super glue came out, and the shop keeper glued a coin to the counter to mess with kids.

Drake's Broughton was not a big place. It had 400 houses back them - I know this because the free advertising paper was delivered, every Saturday morning, for many years, by me. I even did deliveries to nearby Peopleton, another 200 houses. But somehow this small village managed to sustain a hairdressers, to my amazement, and looking now at street view I see it is still there! I could understand a food store, and even a newsagent, but I am amazed hairdressing was profitable for such a small place.

But that all pales in to sanity when you realise the nature of the shop my parents started, a haberdashery store. Yes, a haberdashery store in a village of 400 houses. That is clearly way more crazy that even a hairdresser. And if you look now it is a chip shop, which makes a lot more sense, though apparently that managed to get burned out in a fire at least once - sadly even the newsagent has gone now.

But actually it was not quite as daft as it sounded. Obviously my parents had a proper shop front done, basically two large windows, a door in the middle, and a sign at the top “FANDY’S”, but pretty much everything else in the shop was done by my dad - the wiring, the walls, even a huge cutting out table. The unit was pretty much split in two with the shop at the front, with counter and till, and the Gütermann cotton thread stand, and crochet and knitting needles, and wool, and so on. At the back was a work room, featuring the big cutting out table and desk space. Mum and dad did two other businesses - dress making, and printing!

Dress making

This is more about my mother. Dress making was still a business that did not make a lot of sense in a small village, but the business actually moved in to repairs and alterations quite quickly. This meant collecting garments from dry cleaners in the area, out to Birmingham even, and doing repairs, and alterations, and sending them back. The business even had employees. In later years, after the shop, my mother started curtain making and my father did fitting. In fact for a while my wife was involved, and so my mother’s maiden name (Arnold) and my wife’s maiden name (Andrews) ended up being used as a business name in itself.

Printing

What my father was doing was itself an interesting business to start in the middle of nowhere (or perhaps the outskirts of nowhere, called Drake’s Broughton). It only worked because of orders from further afield, obviously. How he got the business, I don’t know, and I wish I had asked him - no Internet back then.

He had a small, manual, treadle printing press. This meant lead monotype composed in to a frame and loaded in to the press. My dad taught me how to do this all, which was fascinating. I learned about fonts and typefaces, and ligatures, and all sorts. At one point you could order lines of lead type which were cast in a complicated machine, but it meant that you could print blocks of text without having to place each letter.

Of course, these days, it is scary to imagine any child near such a machine. It had a huge fly-wheel and there was no stopping it - if your fingers were in the wrong place, they would not be fingers for long. Working the machine meant repeatedly placing paper in on the plate, the machine cycle moving the roller over the ink to the lead type, and pressing it on to the paper, and then you removed the paper and placed the next piece of paper before the cycle progressed. Getting the whole sequence right was tricky - with the fly-wheel this worked at the speed you wanted but kept going, and you had to move perfectly with its sequence and timing and you had to be very careful to remove fingers, or it would do that for you. Even without that risk, the machine itself had big moving parts and exposed gears and yes, I imagine these days it would be a health and safety nightmare.

But it was fun. And he did all sorts or printing - invitations, menus, whatever people wanted. The business worked, amazingly.

Name labels

Ironically it was something simple that proved to be profitable, and that was name tapes. My dad set up clips and things that allowed a cotton ribbon to be loaded on the printing plate, so you print and pull forward the tape and print and so on. Making a complete tape of ribbon printed with a name over and over again. People could cut these and sew them in to kids clothes. This was somewhat safer to operate, but you had to be careful not to touch the printed part of the ribbon when moving it. I remember printing ink on my fingers :-)

Three phase

It is at times like this that I wish I had started writing this a few days ago when I could still ask questions. Clearly printing was actually working reasonably well, as my dad got a new printing press. A big Mercedes Letterpress printing press that worked on three phase power. It could do a lot more printing a lot faster. Of course this meant telling kids at school my dad has a Mercedes :-) I have no idea how it even got through the back doors, but my brother remembers a crane and steel rollers involved. I have no clue what it cost.

This was, again, a crazy machine from a safety point of view. But it allowed a lot more printing jobs. It did the paper in and out by itself, that was magic. The old manual treadle machine was pretty much only used for name labels after that.

Saturday mornings

One of the things I do remember from my childhood was Saturday morning cinema. Every Saturday we would be dropped off in Worcester, and then later collected.

This was actually my first experience of any sort of hacking - and it was my dad that worked it out. We needed to let our parents know we were ready to be picked up, but that would mean spending money on a payphone.

Of course one simple trick was call, and hang up. But this pre-dates any CLI, and it helped to actually talk to mum or dad. We could call and wait for answer and then hang up, with just the pips to make it clear it was a payphone.

In case people don’t know - a payphone worked by calling, and on answer the payphone blocked the audio and played beeps until you inserted money - it repeated this at intervals when more money was needed. So the called party knows from the pips that it was a payphone, and hence to wait while someone force a coin in the mechanical slot.

At the house we had quite high tech telephones (LOL) - it was two phones, one in the shop, and one in the flat as an extension. The one in the shop had these buttons to answer, or to put through to the flat, etc. My dad learned that if you push two buttons in quick sequence it would apply enough current loop to answer the call, but then less, so the line was somehow idle, and if you did this on a call from a payphone the payphone did not actually realise you had answered - audio then worked both ways, and you could talk for free. (my belated apologies to GPO for this).

The flat

Above the shop was a flat, which is where we lived. There was a single set of stairs at one end of the four shops, and a sort of patio at the back of each flat where people walk past to the other flats, but there were this dividing partitions with wooden slates which sort of separated the thoroughfare from the patio for each flat.

The flat itself, over the footprint of the shop (obviously) was long and thin. A small entrance hallway lead in to the one main room - it was long and could work as a dining room at the back and living room at the front. Along the right hand side were the two bedrooms with a small toilet/bathroom between them - no shower in those days. And at the back was a small kitchen. I only burned the kitchen down once, but that did allow my parents to get a whole new kitchen on insurance. Heating was a storage heater - a metal box in the middle of the main room, essentially full of bricks heated on cheaper night time electricity - I remember always being told off for sitting on it.

This meant that three brothers lived in a single bedroom. I had the top bunk, obviously, being the eldest, but still, close quarters. This was not always amicable.

The windows were the classic old white painted metal frame and single pain of glass. Amusingly - google street views shows they were still there in 2009, which is quite amazing - they got condensation and ice on the inside in the winter.

My dad, just a few days ago now, recounted how, in the days of power cuts in the 70’s, he had set up a car battery and headlights to give us light. Even so, I remember candles from that time.

Gravity

Oddly I remember as a kid playing around with how much we could climb or jump down. The shop was higher than a normal ground floor, and I remember daft things like hanging from the wall at the back of the flat and dropping to the ground. I remember jumping down the steps at the end of the shops in just two goes. I am amazed my legs are in one piece. I even remember being able to get through the metal bars for the external stairs - and the day that my head was maybe now too big to do that. We did a lot of stupid shit.

I also remember on occasions where there was some running along the back wall. With the height of the shop and the wall, this was around two stories high, and my youngest brother managed to fall flat on his back - he had been trying to get a ball off the supermarket roof. The ambulance took ages as the Queen was visiting Worcester that day. The ambulance crew thought he had broken his neck, even! It must have been very stressful for my parents.

Summers

We had a green across from the shops, with the expected “NO BALL GAMES” sign. But this was a village in the country, and we could go play in fields. Though, in practice, we played a lot on what was sort of a building site - the housing developments had clearly stalled for some years and there was open areas, and I think even things like a cement mixer, and the like. Crazy times.

My brother reminded me of one occasion we played with water rockets on the green. Well, I mean, it wasn't ball games was it :-) This meant fairy liquid bottles with fins, and a bicycle pump. We managed to shoot rockets clear over the shops, which was impressive, and possibly a bit dangerous.

I do remember we also had fun, at least one year, with “penny for the guy”. We raised money, a bunch of kids going door to door, and we got fireworks and wood and did a bonfire. I seem to recall it was a great success. It was crazy - health and safety be damned. 

Making money

I am grateful to my farther for instilling an entrepreneurial spirit. It is crazy that they went and started a shop in the middle of nowhere. But it instilled in me a feeling that one could do work and make money. Later in life I left the comfort of a “proper job” and started out with my own business, and have not looked back.

But even so, it is clear they did not make a lot of money - I was one of the poor kids with free school meals, and I got a grant to go to university later. They managed, but that was about it. Even so, I am impressed with what they did.

CB Radio

When UK CB radio happened, well, I got one. But I had friends in the village that had illegal US style CB as well. I was properly licensed. I remember chats with friends from school (and I had very few of them) over CB radio late in to the night.

Indeed, I put my typical CB radio on the handlebars of my bicycle, and a car battery on the rack on the back, and a whip mag mount antenna on the top of the battery. I nearly had a truck crash after talking to me, and then seeing me on my paper round having assumed I was lying about this all. CB whilst doing a paper round on my bike - crazy times.

And obviously my dad helped me with all this.

School

I initially went to the local primary school, but then went to Pershore High School. It was around 2 miles away, and I cycled to school - along Walcot Lane and through a ford.

School was a challenge as I was bullied, but it got a lot better when we got to Computer Science - the first year of which was more theory than practice sending coding sheets in CESIL to be punched and run - or fail more often than note as the punch operators got things wrong. They then got an RML 380Z and an ASR-33 teletype. That changed my world, and I was one of the few that stayed late every school day to use the computer. In sixth form RML actually paid me for some of my code - entrepreneurial spirit at its best.

I remember my form tutor or whatever it was called, the teacher that handled us as a “form” when we arrived before assembly in the morning. She was evil in most of our minds, but in practice just rather strict, I am sure. She even caused issues as she felt my staying late for computer studies was somehow wrong. I do recall breaking her slightly when I got a flat tyre and ran to school and then collapsed from palpitations (which, much later, I learned is a congenital condition I have). She changed from evil to “fuck, one of my students is dying”, which was quite funny really at the time. Sorry.

The bullying did eventually ease up - not only did I fight back once, but once someone hit me hard enough that they got kicked out.

One time I fell (no, not a bully this time) and hit my head. My memory of that whole day starts with a teacher driving me home. That must have been stressful for my parents too.

The computer

My parents were keen to support my ambitions too - when I wanted a computer, they got a loan. I recall a figure of £700, which was a lot. I paid it back diligently from my paper round for many years.

That TRS-80 was amazing for me and I learned a lot. Obviously my dad did all the business accounts himself, and I made computer programmes to help with that. This was long before one could get any accounting software.

But dad clearly liked to tinker, and not just with telephones. I learned to take things apart, and, usually, I would put them back together. I vaguely recall making a crystal radio set. I got a reputation for fixing things in the village. I even had a soldering iron.

After university

Once I finished school, I left for university, and this is where the story of my dad falls apart a bit.

They moved whilst I was at university - finally giving up on the shop in 1984. They moved to be caretakers at a naturist club. My dad still had the small printing press and still did name tapes, as I recall.

I do recall inviting a friend to visit, and forgetting to mention where he was visiting, and had to explain, at the gate, before I let him in. That was amusing.

Even so, I had my entrepreneurial spirit - when working for STC, I was buying up phones that they had available to staff for some complicated reason at a huge discount (these days I have better ideas how this can happen), and selling them to anyone I could. I was told I could “sell sand to arabs”, apparently, even if that is perhaps not politically correct now. I have always been happy to buy and sell anything I can - proper Fools & Horses style, except I have always been honest about exactly what I am selling.

But eventually, with a wife and family and career, I was in touch with dad less and less. But even as I moved on in life, my dad helped out. Helped with things when I moved to a new house. By then they had moved on to making curtains and fitting them, all from the naturist club. Then they moved again.

More recently I would have regular video calls with dad, but to be honest, at this point, the story really needs to be picked up by my youngest brother, who lived with my mum and dad when they moved to Malvern.

Legacy

So what do I really think I learned from my dad? It is hard to make a list, but there are few things…

  • Being an entrepreneur.
  • Taking stuff apart and tinkering.
  • The basics of business, and tax and VAT.
  • Taking an interest in the rules and law, and working out how they worked.
  • Obviously a sense of right and wrong (well, apart from the GPO somehow).

You will be missed, dad.

2022-10-26

Waiting to die

This is, of course, a difficult post, but I have started it whilst things are fresh in my memory. I have published personal things before, I know. This time I had to check with both my brothers to make sure they are happy with this post. Thank you both. This is about my father. It is about what happened this week at the end of October 2022.

He was 85, and struggled a bit with mobility, but we were not really expecting anything to happen, until one day he was short of breath, and taken to hospital.

This was a trying week. He was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia, but antibiotics were not helping much. After a while alternative antibiotics were tried. There was some improvement, but slight. They eventually decided it might be some sort of fibrosis in his lungs and steroids may be in order.

The whole week he was serious, but stable. He was tired, fed up, stuck in bed, but mostly alert. They had him on oxygen and carefully monitoring his stats. We did try and cheer him up with pictures and videos of the great grand kids and I think he really appreciated that. He had radio on his phone too, and us visiting. Even so, it was basically a nuisance for him...

Some of the doctors were a bit doom and gloom, some less so, as I said, he was stable. If they were to find the right treatment he should (albeit slowly) get better.

One of the things I did not really appreciate is they make a plan for what may happen if he gets worse. They decided, due to age and health, that he would not survive intubation/respirator. This is pretty big, as it also means no point in him being transferred to ICU, as that is what would happen. So he stayed on an acute medial ward, and then an acute respiratory ward.

It was worrying, but as I say, he was stable, and there was hope. Whilst he was alert, and whist he was annoyed at being stuck there, there was clearly hope. He just needs to start getting better - get on the right medication. It would take some time, but there was hope.

Then on Wednesday evening, my brother, who had dilligently been with him most of each day, all week, tested COVID +ve. It seems he probably got it from the hospital, though they would not confirm that, but he was not allowed to visit any more. Myself and my other brother had also visited, but not been there as long (much longer journey to get there). We were still COVID -ve. We had all been testing before visiting, obviously. We had our boosters as well. At least my dad did not have COVID...

Then, while my other brother visited him on Friday, he tested COVID +ve (my father, not my brother), and that was seriously an "oh fuck" moment. Someone with serious respiratory problems is not going to survive COVID, and we all knew this, and that was scary. That was the moment I realised things would not end well. That annoyed the hell out of me.

That night, we got a call from the hospital around 23:00, he is not well. I rushed to the hospital, and so did my brother (the one without COVID), and we arrived at the same time around midnight. I'd like to thank my wife for driving me - she has been wonderful throughout this.

This is the bit that really gets to me. He was bad, blood oxygen low 80%, heart rate 200+, alarms constantly - myself and my brother taking turns to kill the alarms as it annoyed him. He had trouble breathing, and talking. He was very keen to make sure we were all OK, and the family all OK, and all was well. That alone was scary. We reassured him as best we could. We got our other brother on video call as well. It was stressful.

This was basically the point that, normally, he would have gone to ICU, but because of the care plan that was not an option. They knew he was just getting worse. They knew they could do nothing.

After a couple of hours he asked us to leave, he insisted we leave, so he could "get some sleep". I understand from a relative that works in a care home, that this is not uncommon. It was bad for him, but he did not want it to be bad for us. He knew exactly what was happening. It was not obvious to us at the time, which is probably just as well.

No sooner had we got home, we had the call that he had died at 3am. I got no sleep obviously.

He had spent hours, gradually getting worse, and knowing that nothing could be done. It was "a nightmare" as he himself said. This was someone quite alert, and awake, and slowly dying. It is so unfair.

I'm glad we were there, to reassure him, and in a way I am glad he sent us away as well.

Things changed from my father being old, and not in the best of health, but well enough - to being dead, in just a week. But it was this last few hours that were the most cruel for him, and for us, as hope slowly faded away.

The following few days have been a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions. Even so, things to sort out, paperwork, funeral arrangements, letting people know. Lots of "busy" work for us to do. It is so easy to think "oh, dad would like to see that picture", etc, even just for a moment. We don't have things "not said", or things "not done", thankfully. But there is a hole. It will take time.

Whilst, obviously, even without COVID, there was a good chance of things going badly, and we knew that, but COVID was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak. It was also the primary cause of death on the death certificate. Even though my brother is getting over it, as so many people do, there are those that will not, and those they leave behind. We all just need to be careful.

Of course, I'd love to do more of a tribute to my dad, and I hope to in the future. This was about the sad times, so next time we can do something about the good times.

2022-10-24

Getting data out of smart meters

For the tariff I am on, I needed a smart meter - there are various concerns about smart meters, but having actually got them, I want to be able to make use of them for the one thing they are good at. That is accurate usage data in real time.

Yes, for electricity a current clamp also works, but how "calibrated" is that exactly? Getting the data from the actual smart meter is much nicer.

But how?

Well, it turns out that there is an in home display you can buy which links to your smart meter and also to your wifi, and will send data via MQTT!

Slightly redacted MQTT smart meter data

It seems I can get electricity updates every 10 seconds, and gas every half an hour. It even includes electricity export data (although only a cumulative figure).

Next step will be putting data in to an SQL database.

And yes, it shows export real time as well :-

What is this marvel?

It is the Glow from Hilderbrand. They have been quite good sorting it out - it was to be an SMETS1 unit, but with new smart meters it is the SMETS2 that I have.

So far, I am impressed.


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