2021-02-25

UK smart light switches

Obviously I have tinkered with smart light switches, and the like, for a long time.

You only have to look on Amazon to see a lot of different options now, but there was one simple combination that has been lacking. I have been looking for this for ages, and finally they now exists - the Shelly 1. But more on that at the end of this blog post. First a bit of background.

UK lighting circuits

One of the problems is UK lighting circuits have a live and switched live to the light switch from the light fitting. This means that, at the light switch, there is no neutral. The only way to power a "smart switch" is through the light bulb, which is not ideal. Indeed, it is not that reliable as it also depends a lot on the type of light bulb in use. This means that almost all smart light switches need the wiring changed to allow live and neutral to the light switch. In simple partition walls that is not too hard for an electrician to pull through a new cable, but it is not always so easy. The other big issue is that you almost always have to change the back box from a shallow back box to a deep one, and that can mean chiselling out some brick, etc.

Basically, fitting a smart light switch in the UK is a pain, needs an electrician to do properly (and I am not even trying to address the regulatory issues here), and costs a lot more than just the switch itself.

There are now, finally, some UK variety smart switches, e.g. DS-102L. It has a bypass capacitor to fit across the light bulb so as to allow enough in-line power for the switch. This again is fiddly for a non technical person, but saves running new wiring. I am making the huge assumption that this is valid wiring in the UK as well.

Some options

There are a few approaches to smart lights though...

  • A smart switch. But as mentioned, in the UK, this is not always easy.
  • A smart bulb. Simple, but tends to cost more (I'll not go in to these here, but Shelly do one!).
  • A smart in-line power relay in the lighting circuit.

Yet more problems

The other problem is how you control your smart light switch. Obviously some sort of app on your phone, or integration with Alexa or Siri or something. But then what?

We tried - we really did. I got a simple smart light switch, and we decided to try and get it working as intended. I have used these for years, but always re-flashed with new firmware, so trying it as sold was new for me. A (non technical) relative wanted to simply be able to work some lights, from her phone, remotely, so this seemed like a good idea. I also asked my son to try, as a new pair of eyes. No joy!

We even set up a bog standard router with NAT and WiFi (yes, NAT is evil), and still could not get the damn thing to work as intended. They come with an app, which was easy to download, but then we could not get anything to actually work. This did surprise me, to be honest.

We ended up putting a raspberry pi running MQTT (mosquitto) and a tasmota flashed in-line power plug for a lamp.

Using the Internet

The other concern I have is that these things normally use servers somewhere in the Cloud, i.e.on the Internet. No idea where. No contract in place with whoever runs the servers. No recourse if they stop working. No idea if usage patterns are logged or sold somehow. And all this relying on working Internet.

Call me old fashioned, but I like a light switch that does not rely on working Internet and someone else's server in China!

Of course this means having my own "hub" of some sort - in my case a raspberry pi and MQTT server, but this could be some "home hub" or some such.

Tasmota

If you have not encountered Tasmota before, do take a look. It is free open source software that runs on most of these smart switches and devices. It means re-flashing the device, and they vary in complexity from "having a header you can just plug in to with a serial lead", to "soldering bits of wire inside the switch". But once re-flashed they can be re-configured and re-programmed over the air (WiFi). As for actually flashing the code - you just need a simple serial lead and the tasmotizer app, and it is very easy.

The key thing about Tasmota is that it works using a simple standard called MQTT. Having an MQTT server in your home is cheap and easy, and can integrate with various home automation systems. It does not, then, rely on any Internet connection or third party servers. It can work with various home hub / automation systems as well.

Some options

The main three options I would consider are these. All can be flashed with Tasmota.

  • Sonoff basic: This is a neat, very cheap, in-line, 10A switch. It has live/neutral one end, and switched live / neutral the other. It has a tiny button and LED as well, which are not that useful. The main downside I have found is they have a tendency to die after a while.

  • DS-102 light switch: There are a lot of these type of smart light switches. The key thing with this particular model is that it has actual tactile micro switches behind the buttons. There are many that are capacitive, so harder to work in the dark when not looking. Some also have LEDs you cannot control. But the DS-102 seems about the best I have found so far. They come in one, two, and three gang, and as mentioned they have an option for live only, supplied with a capacitor to fit across the light fitting. One big down side is you have to solder wires to re-flash them (though people have made rigs with pogo-pins to do this).

  • Shelly 1 relay: This is what I have been waiting for! It is a relay, like the sonoff basic. It costs more than the sonoff basic, but typically less than one of the smart light switches. See below.

The Shelly 1

I have been after this for a long time - I even considered making one myself - something simple like the Sonoff Basic, but with a proper switch input. The Shelly 1 seems to be ideal for light controls in the UK.

It can go behind the light fitting in the ceiling where the live and neutral are already present, so solving the fact we don't have neutral at our light switches. But it can take the switched live as an input. Obviously it can have a default mode of operation where the switch works the light, so even no Internet or WiFi does not stop it working in the obvious way.

It has a simple header for re-flashing (please do take note of the warnings about these being at live voltages when connected to power!). So loading Tasmota is a doddle.

This means that with no extra wiring, and no changing to a deep back box, and no change of light switch to something cheap and tacky white plastic. It is easy to make a normal light fitting WiFi connected.

It is also 16A not 10A, so much more useful than the Sonoff basic (obviously for things other than lights, which get nowhere near that rating).

I have one coming today :-)

P.S. For those that have not used tasmota, you can have an input as a button or a switch. A button works toggling an output on pressing the button. A switch toggles the output on change of input. So a normal light switch would be connected in switch mode, and turn on/off when changed. If you override via MQTT you simply swap the way it works, much like a normal two-way light switch arrangement, so the switch now works in reverse until you next override.

P.P.S. Smaller than I expected - this is really neat, and can even run off 12V or 24V-60V if you need. This is exactly what I wanted!

P.P.P.S. I had not heard of Shelly before, but they have loads of cool stuff, all looks quite sane, including the simple to re-flash header, and the fact they will do MQTT anyway. Very cool. shellystore.co.uk

(Do always follow local electrical safety regulations, please)

2021-02-24

Fibre cable

As I have have whinged on about for some weeks now, I have a fibre to the new house here.

What I have is an Etherway which is a glass fibre run to the exchange where it is then logically connected back to another Etherway in London in to one of our data centres where it then connects to the Internet.

I had a fibre to my old house, and in those days they ran a "fibre tube" and then "blew" fibre down it (compressed air). These days they use "fibre cable". The engineers say they prefer fibre tubes.

But what is fibre cable?

Well, it looks pretty boring, 6mm black hard cable, with a fetching yellow stripe down the side :-)

Inside it looks slightly more interesting...

As you can see, there are some steel wires for strength - allowing it to be pulled, and even strung overhead from poles. It has the red fibre stuff, which I assume is also for strength (anyone got any other suggestions), and a white tube which contains the actual glass fibres, and some gel.

This fibre cable has 4 fibres, colour coded with some coating which can be stripped off easily.

And basically, that is it - fibre optic glass (which is two layers of glass of different densities) covered in a colour coded coating, in a gel filled tube, in a strong black cable. Simples

Apparently this is not how you terminate fibre though :-)

The engineers have splicing equipment so they can splice a tail with standard plugs on to the end of the fibre, and joint it as needed underground to get to the exchange.

2021-02-23

RJ45 crimp tool

Buying an RJ45 (technically 8P8C) crimp tool should not be this hard!

When terminating a network cable, there are a few things to bear in mind, so just a quick reminder...

  • Cat5e or cat6 are different. Cat6 is better, but thicker. With the right tools cat6 can be easier. Using cat6 cable, and connectors, and patch leads, can mean faster than 1Gb/s networking is possible. With cat5e it is 1Gb/s max. In any case you need the right kit, but if putting wires in walls, using cat6 is sensible to future proof. Note, the easy way to spot cat6 rather than cat5e is the plastic cross piece in the cable separating the pairs (also, thicker wire and tighter twists).

    Cat6 cable with white plastic cross piece in middle
  • Solid and stranded cable are different. Stranded is for "flex", i.e. the patch leads, etc - things that move and get plugged in and unplugged. You put plugs on the end of stranded cable. Solid is for infrastructure, the wiring in the walls - stuff that does not move. You generally connect solid cable only to sockets, using IDC and punch-down tool.
  • Internal and external cable is different. External has an extra layer which is UV resistant and so will not break and crack if in sunlight. You can get external for burying in the ground as well. It will usually have a sort of gel in it to keep water out, which is messy (best to use gloves when working with it).
    Cat6 gel filled external cable

In any case, please use the right plugs and tools for the cables, for best results.

Using the right plugs

The plugs are called RJ45, which is the specific type of plug with 8 contacts. There are smaller RJ11 and RJ12 plugs, used for telephone lines in US but seen less in UK, and are not for network cables.

You can put plugs on solid cable - but use the right type of plugs! There are connectors rated for use on solid cable, and they work. The connectors designed for stranded cable only seem to work, but often stop working quickly, as they usually only have a blade that pushes in to the strands - which you can't do on solid cable. Obviously, you need to be extra careful with plugs on solid cable to ensure strain relief on the sleeve of the cable, etc. I am using in cases where the wires won't be moving, for infrastructure where a socket one end of cable, but a back to back RJ45 socket strip in a rack in my loft - simply because it is way easier to use than a strip with IDC connectors at the back - hence plugs on solid cable.

So, yes, get the right connector for the cable type (solid/stranded and cat5 or cat6)!

Contacts for solid (left) and stranded (right)

Passthrough plugs, for the win

This is basically the revelation that inspired this blog and prompted me to get a new crimp tool. I have had a very good crimp tool for a long time that does cat5 and cat6 cables nicely.

Pass through (left), and capped (right) plugs

However, with a traditional (capped) plug you need to:

  • Line up the wires, in order, flat
  • Cut the wires straight, at exactly the right length
  • Feed the wires in to the plug, all the way to the end
  • Crimp
  • Test

The issues are...

  • You have to get the length right so that when the wires are all the way in to the plug the sleeve is in the strain relief clamp at the back of the plug. Too short and they do not go all the way - which may work initially but is a bad connection, or may not work at all. Too long and you don't clamp on the strain relief, which works perfectly until any strain on the cable causes the individual wires to come disconnected. Getting it exactly right takes practice and means measuring.
  • You have to feed the wires in to the plug all the way to the end - even with a transparent plug it can be hard to see that all 8 wires have gone neatly to the end. If any are short you can have a bad connection or no connection.
  • Done right, there is not a lot of length of straight wire to feed in, you have a small gap between end of sleeving and the connectors, which often can have cables twisted around to get in the right order, and is worse with some of the cat6 cross piece there. This means that keeping those 8 straight bits of wire straight as you feed in to the plug can be really hard. It means you can have a wire not go all the way, or even the wires moving around and changing position, which is hard to notice.

The answer is so obvious I do not now why it was not done like this in the first place - passthrough connectors. With these, the wires push all the way through the plug and out the end. This means:

  • You can cut with much longer straight section of wires, and do not even have to cut the wires straight across. There is plenty of room to feed them in to the plug and through.
  • It is simple to ensure you have pushed all the way to get the strain relief clamp on to the sleeving.
  • You can see the wires are all the way through and not short, before you crimp.
  • You can see the wires are in the right order, before you crimp

The only down side is you need, ideally, a new crimp tool that not only clamps the strain relief and the contacts but also trims the wires cleanly at the end of the plug. Trying to do this with cutters is almost impossible, and if you do not cut the wires neatly they can short to each other at random times in the future. It can be done with a blade, but can be dangerous and also somewhat tricky. You really need the right tool.

Cable in pass through plug

The right tool

Getting the right tool should be easy, but like all tools, you get what you pay for. I did get one from Amazon that seemed OK, but the trimming of the wires was unreliable, so sent back.

I was recommended the Klein Tools one, which is a lovely tool, but I managed to order the one that is not for pass through, so sent back.

I found the Klein Tools VDV226-110, which is nice. RJ11/12 and RJ45, passthrough, stripper, cutter. Perfect, so I ordered. Then I found the Klein Tools VDV226-005 which is just the RJ45 crimp and trim, no cutter or stripper. I never used the cutter and stripper with my old crimp tool (I have nice cutter and stripper anyway in my cable toolkit). I never crimp RJ11/12. So this would be way neater and smaller, but changing my order was not possible it seems.

I ordered the Klein Tools passthrough plugs (VDV826-763 and VDV826-702) as well, just to see if any different to use than the cheap ones from Amazon.

Even though the order (on 14th Feb) was on basis that "Available for immediate dispatch", sadly, something about Texas, weather, COVID, and all sorts, means nobody in the UK seems to have any of these and it takes weeks to get them. Arrrg!

The good news is that, finally, Amazon got FBA stock, so I cancelled the order from the US, and got for Amazon (VDV226-005, and VDV226-763).

The end result

I finally have the VDV226-005 - note it is not racket based, but works well.

Klein Tools VDV226-005

This makes it easy to crimp and cut the cables.

Crimping and trimming

The end result is very neat...

The end result, neat and secure

2021-02-21

Three weeks in 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Three weeks in Wales now, and it has been fun. I have felt very much in limbo still - much like when we were trying to get the purchase sorted. It makes it very difficult to get much work, or anything else, done, but I really feel the limbo is coming to an end and normality resuming (as much as lockdown can allow). The fibre being in and working is a turning point as well.

That said, there are a number of jobs still to do, and we have to sell the old house. It is finally ready, and needed a lot more work than we expected. It looks really good, so should be on the market next week.

We have been finding more and more little things that suggest the previous owners finished things in a rush somehow, or possibly just ran out of money. It is weird, but daft things like the tap fittings not tightened up, so one came off (thankfully we managed to sort before water everywhere - well done James with finger-in-dyke style shouting for help). We have tightened the toilet seats. We have done loads of little things we did not expect, as well as the larger things we did (like utility room, and my office, and so on).

Sadly the drive was a challenge - a very nice new driveway (basically, the whole house as been re-done very nicely apart from these minor niggles). But it ends on the existing tarmac out to the pavement, and creates a sharp hump. The removal van bottomed out and could not come in to the drive all the way, and it does not agree with James's Tesla - for some reason he wants to keep his battery pack intact! So, new driveway outside was one expense we did not expect, but nicely done. To our surprise the cables for the electric gates were not exactly what you would call "buried" - yet another small "detail". They are now.

We had it raised quite a lot as you can see by how much they raised the water cover. Now the Tesla can get over it cleanly... Looks nice.

I have also convinced my wife that my teletype is like her suit of armour, something to have on display in the hall. It still plays "Adventure" game on demand, and connects to the WiFi allowing it to be texted. I even got a birthday text on my teletype from someone :-)

I had been wary of unpacking it - and was pleasantly surprised to find it all in one piece and working. It now prints the guest wifi password of the day every morning :-)

P.S. Yes, the scales are now linked to print your weight on the teletype - thanks for the suggestion :-)

I am finding Abergavenny really convenient - everything so handy and just easy to walk to. Yes, I have sort of turned from an M&S snob to an Aldi middle aisle browser. Well, maybe not quite that far...

Where do I now live?

I'd post a lot more pictures, but it is an odd situation to be honest. With my last house we had lived there long enough that things like director's home addresses in Companies House was normal, and expected, unless you had a good excuse. My address was, by no means, secret in any way.

But if I say what sort of place I have bought, or almost any details, it will be obvious where I live. Do I want the world to know? Does it matter? It did not matter for the last 23 years (well, one journalist turned up on my doorstep for something once). At least for now I am not telling the world, so if you have worked it out perhaps don't post your conclusions just yet. It's annoying as it is a house with some character, and a shame to keep quiet in many ways.

Even so, I am feeling at home, and looking forward to life in Wales...

2021-02-19

Internet in Wales

Having moved house, the Internet access was obviously going to be, err, "fun". It has gone through several stages...

What was meant to happen...

The first thing to realise is that we are not new to this - I mean, I do run an ISP after all. We know that phone lines, broadband, and fibre can take time to install. I have one of the best teams in the industry when it comes to dealing with BT, and they were on the case from the day we made the offer.

Fibre installs can take a lot of time, and need a survey, so I was happy to pay for the survey and get the fibre ordered months before we even exchanged. I had already looked around and worked out there was ducting, which even cut the corner of the property, so even a "dig" would not have been much work. As it happens the survey said overhead as they now use fibre cable not fibre tube (more on that in another blog). This means no excess charges, and no extra delays (in theory). So the fibre order went ahead. Basically, if we did not buy for some reason, we could cancel without too much cost involved, but ordering early would mean a good chance of fibre when we move in, or shortly after.

However, knowing the possibility of delays, phone lines were also ordered for broadband. The phone line(s) appointment was then set up for the day we exchanged, which is when the previous owners would allow BT access to install (previous BT access to survey had been done). At the last minute, BT cancelled that appointment due to "system problems". Several more appointments agreed and cancelled in the two weeks before we completed. All "system problems".

At one point a BT engineer did arrive to put in two phone lines, and got to the loft, and said that there was an existing service there (previous owner's) and so he was not allowed to install. The idea is that BT had just announced delayed appointments for any new install where there was already a service due to COVID, but this (a) was not to affect existing orders like this one, and (b) was to avoid BT engineers in people's homes - yet this engineer was already there. All he had to do was fit the sockets on the spare pairs, but no! He spent way more time in the house than he needed because he was on the phone arguing the toss with Ben at my office!

Several more cancelled appointments, and, well, read on. Suffice to say we did not have even DSL when we moved in, in spite of months of planning. The following stages happened over the first week or so - improving Internet almost day by day.

Flaky mobile

Day 1 was hectic, and all we had was mobile with 1 bar signal if you stand in the right part of the house.

4G dongle + small AP

We then progressed to a set up with a 4G dongle hanging out of a window connected to a FireBrick and a single Apple AP. This allowed WiFi in some of the house, with maybe 1Mb/s and lots of latency, but it was progress. This was a set up we had ready as a starting point.

4G dongle + better APs

They next step was where we get proper WiFi in the house. The FireBrick and dongle in the loft, but working out where to put the APs. Running network cables and a PoE switch, we worked out we can actually cover the whole house (inside) with 2 APs - one for North and one for South. This is because the house is essentially built in two parts and so has a thick stone wall across the middle.

Thankfully we have the services of JLP Property Management (son-in-law) to help, and run the cables in the walls. All neat any tidy, though the APs were hanging from a wire on the wall, we had good WiFi coverage.

The FireBrick and dongle and PoE switch were all set up in the loft, and worked a bit better than just dangling out of a window.

1 ADSL

Finally, after 3 days, we get an ADSL line, a whole 16Mb/s down and 1Mb/s up. Yes, ADSL not VDSL. It seems there is a cab, but it is full, and so on a waiting list!

This arrived at the same time as the fibre engineers! Yes, ordering a proper fibre install, and PSTN, months in advance and the fibre guys turn up at the same time! You would not believe it. However the fibre install cannot be completed as someone has fenced off some scaffolding around a BT chamber by the market in town. Arrrg!

Even so, on one ADSL we have progress. I started the work to sort out my proper IP addresses making my life a lot easier. I also got a small 19" rack for the loft, as you do.

Wired Internet

Next step was getting some wired Internet to some places in the house. Thankfully, and very luckily, we found the four phone sockets in the building were done using network cabling, so we could trace them, change the ends, and get network to some places. The front room TV/SkyQ/AppleTV could all now be wired in.

1½ ADSL

Next was the second PSTN/ADSL line. Obviously this was expected to be 16Mb/s too. But no! There was an underground fault, so only 6Mb/s.

The engineer took all day and gave up, said the underground team would sort in the morning. Even the escalation team at BT said next morning, but no, magically that was cancelled, and so not done.

I did however release a change to the FireBrick to allow it to adjust uplink speed based on speed data sent from the ISP end (which we now do on A&A lines) to allow uplink bonding to work better.

Another AP

The internal APs were fitted to the wall with some 3D printed brackets (once I found, and unpacked, the printer). Given the rather thick stone walls, an external AP was installed to cover the garden. We are now all properly set up with nice roaming WiFi throughout the house and garden, all connected to ADSL lines!

It actually looks like an external AP one side of the house is no use the other side even, the thick walls mean no WiFi even just outside the house. Oh well, another AP needed.

2 ADSL

BT finally fixed the second ADSL line. We have now put in the queue for a VDSL upgrade.

It took 6 days to get around to it, but the second ADSL is 15Mb/s (first now 14Mb/s), bonded. Sadly they are aluminium wires through...

Unfortunately they are far from perfect - seems some backhaul congestion, so a lot of jiggling line rates, forcing VoIP over just one line. And avoiding someone trying to use Disney+ during the day while we work.

Fibre

BT finally arranged access to their chamber. The fibre is 1Gb/s but will be only 90Mb/s backhaul for now. Even so, this should be a very reliable and low latency 90Mb/s, and is 90Mb/s up and down. Finally some decent internet, but with ADSL fallback, well, except...

The fibre, once installed and tested, should be provisioned. This is usually that day, or maybe at worst a day later. However, that was Thursday... If not for the scaffolding, it would have been Monday 1st.

Come the following Tuesday they finally say there is some connectivity issue, and suggest it is a "simple fix reversing the fibres between the patch panel and the ADVA", but they won't do that until the next day!

By Wednesday they had done a "hand over" of the Etherway - i.e. the fibre to the exchange was complete, but somehow the actual circuit back to London was not. As usual BT insist we wait, this time 2 days, and we know that nothing will actually happen during those two days, so we have to chase again on Friday. And, of course, we were right, nothing happened for 2 days. Now on to Friday we are told they have an issue with the VLAN tag!

And no, nothing happened on Friday, so nothing will happen until Monday now, in spite of all my efforts to escalate.

We are in to the third week after the engineers came and put fibre in, and we have issues like this: "The system identified a HSMDA port for this circuit and HE services are not supported on HSMDA cards, it was routed to 20347789:4/2 which is of the type ALN - HS-MDA (V2)" - yes I managed to get someone to tell me what was actually happening. Still no working fibre link though... "this will also involve a truck roll to get engineer to re-cable".

Apparently, I am now told (17th) that they should have it all working on Friday (19th). We'll see...

Friday 19th - updates during the day - by 4pm the new Etherway and Etherflow orders in place, so just waiting for something to happen. Should be "today" apparently. Remember, they installed on 1st, which would normally be the day it is live.

Finally 19:22, BT say the link is live and end to end tested and ready - except it does not work. They claim not to be any to see my kit on the line. Tried fibre and copper ports, and yep, comes up 1Gb/s on fibre port as expected, but still no joy. Arrrg!

OK, took me half an hour, but I checked the SFPs, and a simple mismatch, but I had a wired SFP/SFP cable which just worked - sorted and finally working. The SFP mix up was never going to work, but that did only waste half an hour...

Faster fibre

We will be upgrading the fibre to 1Gb/s as soon as we have a new 10Gb/s back end installed in London. We'll also have a nice shiny new FireBrick FB9000 prototype on the end of it really soon. These will take a bit longer, so more on that later.

2021-02-12

TAZ 6 printing tip of the day

I rather like my TAZ 6. I actually have the Pro (dual head) one now, but to be honest I have not used the dual head aspect - I was hoping to print support material but failed to make that work well. A two colour print maybe one day, but generally not something I have needed.

However, one small tip for you... Getting one of these (just ordered it from Amazon). I am sure there are other makes as well.

It is a magnetic sheet that sticks to the bed, and then a metal sheet with the PEI coating. The magnet sheet holds it in place. You'll need to adjust your Z-axis offset setting, obviously.

The only downside is it takes longer for the bed to heat, but there are several advantages. Oh, and I had to clip the corners, which is silly as it was sold for this printer.

  1. The sheet can be removed and flexed, this makes it easier to clean, and to remove printed items. Even so, items stick to it very well (better than the original bed).
  2. The PEI can be damaged on a printer if you have to scrape something off - I have had to replace the sheet on the main print bed before and that is hard work - but if you use one of these you can simply buy a new sheet and plop it on - no messing.
  3. The rubbery magnetic sheet is a bit flexible - so if the levelling is slightly off and pushes in to the bed it does not mess up the print totally. You can end up with the first layer not printed cleanly, but the rest is OK. I find with the original bed on glass if the first layer is too low you jam the feed and the whole thing won't print. This slight flexibility seems to help.

Overall I am impressed - it would be neat if Luzbot did this as standard instead of the glass/PEI bed. E.g. maybe glass/magnet sheet instead.

2021-02-07

Life in the slow lane

My first week in Wales! I even have a Welsh driving licence now?!

I have a blog post about the Internet access, but the Internet is still not sorted (thanks BT!), so that will be a few more days.

I have a blog post about starting to sell the old house, but that has run in to issues, and will be a few more days.

Suffice to say, things are taking time.

But I am getting the hang of Abergavenny a bit, as much as one can in lockdown. I seem to be averaging around 3 walks to Screwfix every day at the moment!

This house is a bit odd in a way - newly refurbished to a very high standard, but we get the feeling they ran out of money, as some of the finishing details seem rushed. All just little things - the odd screw missing from a telephone socket; A fault in the backup immersion circuit that has not been fixed, so just not connected instead; Some boarding in the loft not quite finished; The drive is all nice, but just outside the gates has not been re-done at all (still part of the property) meaning cars scrape as they drive in/out. Nothing important, just not quite "finished" :-)

They did take all the toilet seats we think, as they all have cheap and nasty and not quite fitted properly plastic ones now. They took the light fittings, all except the nice one over the staircase, which they tried to sell us, and we declined! They did take all the bathroom mirrors and just taped up the power feeds and wrote "LIVE" on them. They took the Tesla charger, as expected, but also the cable from the consumer unit and the MCB! Nothing really a surprise (we did get a fixtures and content list), but a tad tacky...

There is a hot tub, yay! We are not sure what to do with it yet - no, I am not looking for advice on chemicals, etc (I have plenty already), thanks. But we discovered, after a week, that they have left it switched on, so it has been sat there at like 38C for a week it seems!

Oh, and I got the council tax bill, obviously!

We have had some success stories though - the utility room looked like it was going to be really hard to sort out, but it turns out the washing machine fitted perfectly with just a shelf raising, and the tumble dryer fitted perfectly with a unit removing and a tile removing. We were even lucky drilling the 4" hole as we think it may have once been a door or something - it was new brick and insulation and not stone! (I say "we", when I mean "Jim", obviously).

Many more things still to do, but we are settling in. I hope to get my desk today, which will be really helpful, as trying to work on a wobbly drop leaf table surrounded by boxes is "challenging". It is only 3.3m long, but getting that worktop upstairs is going to be, shall we say, "fun"... Just fitting stuff in to a 60% smaller "man cave" space is a challenge in itself.

Fingers crossed for next week going well with the fibre finally working and my office set up...

2021-02-01

Life in Wales

It is a long time since we moved house!

One of the reasons we chose this house is that it has been refurbished to a high standard in the last year or so. It is over 120 years old but all modern inside.

The owners did some things very well - power sockets - loads of them - every bedroom has five double sockets so every corner is well covered. This is, in my opinion, quite unusual. So well done.

But these were not terribly technical people, so even in the 2020's they had UHF cabling and something called "telephone" cabling to some rooms. I believe it is the old way people used to talk to each other - and being phased out in a few years anyway :-)

One saving grace is that the telephone wiring was actually done using cat5e cable, so we have traced which wire goes to which room (with one mystery 5.7m cable run we cannot find) and we are repurposing for networking.

Sadly the satellite cabling is also slightly lacking - when I did our old house, decades ago, I ran 2 coax to each room and 4 to the main living room. That has been used for Sky, Sky+, SkyQ, and old UHF in various ways since, and not needed upgrading. In the new house - one coax to living room, and one coax to one of the bedrooms. Thankfully the SkyQ works off one cable giving us around ¼ of the channels. I don't watch Sky, but my wife (and the grand kids when they stay) do. So the challenge is neatly getting a second coax from the dish one end of the house to the living room the other end without looking untidy. Part of the challenge of any work is the metre thick stone walls in places.

We have WiFi sorted now, well, sort of - I need to print a mounting bracket once I unpack the 3D printer. But it is working with a North and South side AP, one each side of the stone wall in the middle of the house.

Of course we have no Internet as such - the WiFi is connected to a 4G dongle, which just about works. This is because PSTN and Fibre services ordered early November are not in. How the hell a simple PSTN line for broadband can take BT plc t/a Openreach this long is beyond me. They have cancelled loads of appointments (system problems). At one point last week the engineer did turn up - and was in the loft ready to connect two spare pairs (just had to fit sockets!) - and refused to. Apparently because COVID! Yes BT have some new rules on not doing new line appointments - but that is not to impact orders in flight like this, and the guy was in the house, with the previous owners, and actually got to the loft before deciding not to install. It is mental! Since then loads more appointments cancelled.

If only I worked for an ISP! Well, the team I have are some of the best in the business, but even they are pulling their hair out over this. BT keep agreeing an appointment and then not turning up or cancelling for no reason. It has been escalated and escalated many times. It is now a house with "no existing service" and I think telecoms even makes me a "key worker" but no, BT are just failing. It is not even that BT are refusing to install, they are agreeing the "system errors" are wrong, and agreeing a new appointment, but then failing. We are not asking for special treatment at all - just a simple PSTN line install for broadband - bog standard - not even running new cable as there are spare pairs to the premises.

The PSTN lines are the quick and easy install to be there until the much longer lead time fibre Ethernet install is done. We know they take time. The irony here is that BT claim to be coming to do the fibre today! I'm not holding my breath, but that would be truly crazy if a full Etherway install can be done before simply connecting a new PSTN line. I was, however, sent a box of "Fibre Aid" via Amazon from someone (I have since found out who, guessed right first time), to give to the engineer if he has any problems. I hope he has a sense of humour.

There is still a lot of unpacking to do - the biggest issue for me is that I am moving to a room that is maybe ½ the size of my former "man cave". I agreed to the move for my wife's sake, as she loves the new house. I love it too, except for the room I have been allocated. It was to be a room ⅓ of the size, but we could not even stack all the boxes from my man cave in there which proved my point slightly :-)

There are loads of other challenges, including the tumble dryer and washing machine not fitting in the space in the utility room, but thankfully we have a son-in-law that is a sparky and handyman living a few miles away (almost all of the close family now live in Ebbw Vale, hence moving here).

Week 0 (selling)

Moving out was, err, fun. The removal company we used were inept, and ended up sending a van that was too small, and even second van was not enough. So a few things still to collect and move.

The professional cleaner has been in over the weekend.

This week we have the decorator / gardener / handyman in to make the place nice.

Then we expect to get an agent in, and get on the market end of the week.