2021-04-17

Tooth ache

I am sure we have all had tooth ache. I rarely have to see a dentist and rarely have tooth ache, but, well, I do now, and the delay in getting to actually get it fixed is painful.

Why my whole mouth

I have seen the dentist, and he has booked me in for a filling next week. It seems that it is just one tooth, with a broken filling, and that is it. So why does it feel like my whole jaw is trying to kill me, not just one tooth. I think "referred pain" is the answer, but it is hell. At least now I know it is one tooth I know that is the problem that needs attention.

Why some times and not others

OK I understand if I eat something and get something in the broken tooth on to the nerve, it will hurt, but it is far from that simple. Eating can make it worse, and cleaning my teeth can make it better, yes. But it seems it will be hours, maybe even all day, without a twinge - I can forget I have tooth ache. But then can be hours in agony - meaning I can't think, can't sleep, can't work. There is no clue to it at all.

Right now eating a meal is challenging though.

Temporary fillings

You can buy them (amazon!) and initially they appeared to work, but then not. They don't last long and come out easily. It is now the point where if I put in a temporary filling I will be in agony, so that is no good. Shame.

Pain killers

You would think pain killers would be the answer, so here is the list of what makes fuck all difference!

  • Paracetamol
  • Prescription strength co-codamol
  • Ibuprofen (seems to help a bit, maybe)
  • Bonjela
  • Infant teething granules (aka "baby crack")
  • Sensitive toothpaste

What works?

The only thing that helps, and not for very long, is literally cleaning my teeth with isopropyl alcohol. Obviously used with care although not particularly toxic.

I am, however, trying more normal ethanol ingestion as well as a method to reduce the impact of the pain.

Only a few more days...

2021-04-16

Home automation for geeks

This is mainly about bridging some of the "trendy apply shit" and "command line forever" types of working for home automation.

Background: I have done quite a bit for home automation here at the new house. There are thousands of IoT devices (smart sockets, lights, switches, all sorts). They all come with their own app, cloud service, and feature set, but thankfully most work using ESP8266 chipset and can be "reflashed" with tasmota. Tasmota is an open source IoT application, and very flexible. It is not that tasmota is "better" than the systems that come with these devices (though it usually is), more that almost any device from almost any manufacturer can be made to work in the same way with the same config. The main one I have been using of late is the Shelly 1, which is very easy to reflash and has a relay and switch input. I do, however, have a number of my own devices, including environmental monitors. The tasmota devices can do lots of automation and send messages to each other as needed. I have, however, tried to keep it simple so a light with a Shelly 1 will have the switch connected and will work the light based on the switch even with no WiFi or Internet working!

These all work over WiFi and connect to an MQTT server. MQTT allows devices to talk to each other using a "topic" (simple text string) rather than that pesky IP addressing stuff :-) But it is very much in the school of "command line" over "GUI".

Bring on apple!

I use an iPhone, but I have not bought in to their home automation. As I say, it is more "command line" for me. That is until now. After much nagging from my son, I have managed to link my Shelly 1 and other devices, including my own environmental sensors, to my iPhone!

  • I have MQTT running on a Raspberry Pi in my loft. It is just apt install mosquitto. You may want to set up some security too.
  • I installed homebridge. There is a Raspberry Pi image even. I just followed the instructions and it worked. Again, set a password!
  • I installed the add on homebridge-tasmota plug in (just search on the plug in tab on the web config for homebridge).
  • I sent a cmnd/tasmotas/SetOption30 1 to turn on Home Assistant Discovery on all my tasmotas.
  • I added the homebridge to me "home" on my iPhone. It asked what room each device was in. It warns it is not an approved bridge :-)

It is worth pointing out it is not perfect. If devices are added afterwards they appear in the "room" where the iPhone thinks the homebridge is located. You can move them to the right room, and rename them, but it is not quite as stable - resetting things can move it back very easily. So I recommend getting on homebridge first then adding the bridge. It asked where each devices it when you do that. You can reset the bridge and re-add if needed.

As for my environmental monitors, I added the necessary home assistant discovery messages, and it works. I had to do a bit of trial and error, and reading the homebridge-tasmota plugin code, but managed to make it see Temperature, Humidity and CO2 properly. Again, it seems better if these are seen by the homebridge before adding the bridge to the iPhone.

But yes, it works. I am all GUI'd up now!

2021-04-15

Why Three Words

In case you did not know, What Three Words is a system that assigns three words to a location in the world within a few metres.

What is the problem this is trying to solve?

Well, the issue is that people often have an exact location but need to convey that to someone else. The classic example is someone on a telephone call to Emergency services. Reading, Speaking, and Typing a latitude and longitude is very error prone. Reading, speaking an typing three common words is less so.

Does it work?

To be frank, I don't know. But the words can easily be confused with similar words. There are examples where one letter, making a word plural, can give a location a few miles away (though often misheard words will be a long way apart).

Is there a better solution?

Yes, emergency services should get out of the stone age and stop being based on phone calls. A common API to allow calls for voice and video to emergency services with supplementary data should be developed by international co-operation, and become standard on mobile phones. It could allow not only voice, and video, but location data and medical data (many phones have medical data and can even do an ECG, report pulse, temperature, blood sugar, all sorts). This would solve a lot of problems, and I am sure mobile phone operators would be on board with this.

Other ideas?

Well, the issue here is communications. Someone has a device that knows the location and is on a call to someone that needs to know it - whether emergency services, vehicle breakdown, or heck - pizza delivery! How to get that location from an app on the device to someone on the end of a call. That is what W3W does.

Here's an idea...

DTMF is standard on audio calls, and even over mobile it has out of band encoding to work reliably to/from the mobile device if needed. So how about phones (or an app you install) work out that the other party has sent a DTMF sequence. DTMF in to a mobile is rare so something simple like "20" in DTMF would be more than adequate. The phone / app pops up saying "send location?" and if you say yes it sends that as DTMF. A simple *latitude*longitude# would suffice. Maybe use some less common A-D DTMF codes to frame it instead. Of course this could be something an app can send anyway without an in call prompt if the user commands it. It needs some common standard for the DTMF sequence to use, and maybe a check digit is in order.

This would be very easy for the phone app to do. Someone just needs to write a spec. But importantly this is very easy for a call centre system like emergency service, vehicle breakdown, or anyone, to handle automatically. No special API. DTMF is really very standard.

It may be a neat way to do this for now until we have proper multi-media APIs for this.

Or, you know, another "standard"

Plus codes look pretty neat and not that hard to speak. More on the spec here. Given the common usage of using 4 characters and a location name rather than all 8 characters before the plus, this can give a pretty good location with only 4 letters rather than 3 words. Emergency services have a rough location from cell ID anyway, so this has to be better than W3W. Notable some phones (android) have this coding available without installing an app even!

Or even easier than DTMF...

2021-04-12

Discussion: Not an Elechouse PN532 board

A company called Elechouse make a PN532 RFID reader board.

There are actually a few PN532 boards available, but the Elechouse one seems to be the most popular. Annoyingly, it seems that there are a lot of cheap copies that don't work as well. It has a number of advantages over the alternatives, mainly (I think) its compact design.

The actual circuit is basically the PN532 reference design from the datasheet.

However, there are a few niggles I have with it where I have used it in projects. My main use case was where this is the external module on an access control system, in a small case. The main issue was it lacked any feedback (e.g. LEDs). I worked around this by using its internal GPIO pins to work a red/green LED, and a tamper switch.

So I was thinking, I could make my own board. The issue for a home made board is soldering the PN532 itself, but I have been practising and am reasonably confident that with a hot air gun I can manage it. The result would be an open source PCB that can be home made. Obviously it could be properly made with pick and place and sold as well.

I am concerned over "feature creep" in such a design, and even just pondering it for a few minutes I am already seeing ways I could be improved on. Thankfully a lot of features could be "optional fit" on the PCB, basically adding no cost when not needed.

But I am in two minds over making this - it will not take too long to design and have made, but may need some tinkering to ensure I have the antenna matching right (and I may even need help with that). Before I start, I am interested in feedback, especially from anyone that may think they would like to use it themselves.

So here are my design thoughts.

  • A small square board (note the Elechouse is not actually square, but I am thinking the same sort of size, maybe 42mm x 42mm) with simple mounting holes.
  • Components can be only on one side making easier to mount (same as Elechouse).
  • Using larger (e.g. 1206) components that can more easily be hand soldered.
  • Not having the big DIP switch - I am thinking fixed HSU mode, but maybe pads for a link to make I2C mode as they use the same pins. This is to keep the profile low, and hence easier to fit in a smaller case. My testing suggested HSU is just as fast as I2C for actual card access, and much more reliable as tx/rx are driven at each end not just pulled up like I2C, so survive a long cable. So HSU is likely to be the fixed mode for this board.
  • Whilst it may have additional pads, the main 4 pins for connection are GND, VBAT, TX, RX (Note TX/RX could be I2C). The VBAT can be 3.3V to 5V but signals would be 3.3V.
  • The 4 pins for connection would probably be 0.1" header, and 2.5mm SPOX (straight or right angle) header, and 2x2 molex milli-grid in the centre of the board. Design to allow connectors to be either side of the board. This makes mounting as a reader very flexible.
  • Pad to allow a contact switch on either side of the board as a tamper contact - connected to a GPIO pin.
  • Three LEDs arranged in a corner in traffic light style, Red / Amber / Green, connected to GPIO pins. This is perhaps the most important feature as it allows feedback to a user. These can be pads for a small 1206 LED as well as through plated for standard leaded LEDs. Again, making pads both sides to allow LEDs to be either side as needed. Leaded LEDs can be more useful in a simple case design instead of light pipes.

Some possible feature creep...

  • An FTDI FT230X and 4 pins for USB lead connection, so can be used as serial to HSU mode USB device. This would allow it to work as a USB connected reader and hence for applications using a Raspberry Pi, or simply for connection to a PC for configuring cards on a security system. Given that you can so easily get an FTDI in a USB plug and serial lead, this probably really is unnecessary as that could be used with the 4 pin serial connection directly with ease.

Obviously I can include some 3D case designs too.

But I am interested in feedback - would you use such a board? Would you make one yourself if I do this (all open source)? Would you need other features? Would you take away any features I have suggested?

P.S. This is the sort of idea... Though obviously this shows multiple connectors when you would only use one. This idea is any of the connectors, switch, and LEDs could go either side as required. OK I have ordered these...



2021-04-10

The good, the bad, and the ugly

There are lots of different people in the world. Living in a social bubble, one does not always encounter some of the extremes. Having our dog go missing has highlighted some of the differences though.

The good

There are lots of good people:

  • People that have helped look for Lilly, walking around the area, checking under hedges, knocking on doors and asking people. Putting a lot of time in to help.
  • People that tried to catch her to return her to us.
  • People that have published details and shared details, and given us kind words of support.
  • Even the police, and now the press, that have taken it seriously.
Thank you all. Hopefully she will be returned.

The less good

There are obviously people that are more indifferent. I can understand that. I can understand that people probably have just ignored a dog wandering alone. I understand it even more during a pandemic - not just hassle to catch a dog and hand her in, but it means interacting with more people to do so. There can be other reasons for not helping, too. But either way, thank you for not being bad, though.

The bad

It seems, from reports we have had, that someone picked up Lilly, in a car, and took her away. Initially we thought this was good, as they would surely hand her over to police, vet, council, etc.

Sadly not, no sign of her. This is why the police are now treating this as a theft.

She is old, spayed, and no value to anyone else - why do this?

The ugly

There are people that actively call those that have lost pets (no doubt from a burner phone), demand money, and threaten to cut the dogs head off and put it on the gate if not paid. I am at a loss for words, sorry.

2021-04-03

UK Cyber Security Council

There is a press release for a new UK Cyber Security Council (here).

It is not 100% clear who they are, and whilst they mention various links with government and NCSC it is not 100% clear to me how they are linked, or who the Cyber Security Alliance is exactly. The press release looks a tad shoddy with broken markdown/CMS.

So it may be important news.

Of course "Cyber Security" is important to all of us. One of the tips I can give you when it comes to cyber security is that you should be careful to ensure that contact details you publish actually belong to you. The press release includes contact details for press :-

[Screenshot, as it has since been corrected]

So, understandably, press will email press@ukcybersecurity.org.uk for more details. Good.

The problem is that if the domain ukcybersecurity.org.uk is not actually owned by UK Cyber Security Council, that could lead to loads of bogus emails to whoever owns it. Worse, if it is not owned by anyone, then some fraudster could quickly register it.

You may think it is no big deal, but it sort of is. If a fraudster can hijack even one point of contact for an organisation they can do a lot of damage. It becomes easy for them to impersonate that organisation. When it is the press contact for a new organisation they get a huge "foot in the door" as they can reply with helpful details on the organisation along with more contact details (names, email, website, phone, postal), all of which at likely to be helpfully published verbatim by the press who have made enquiries.

This then leaves a trail of misinformation on the internet and search engines for the new organisation, possibly swamping the actual accurate details, and allowing fraud to continue for years.

Fortunately for the UK Cyber Security Council the domain they published in the press release (ukcybersecurity.org.uk), the domain that was not theirs, and was not anyone's, has been registered not by a fraudster but by someone that decided it would be prudent to register in order to stop a fraudster doing so. It took a while to stop laughing at the irony first, but now, yes, the UK Cyber Security Council are welcome to ukcybersecurity.org.uk. They can email me at press@ukcybersecurity.org.uk for more information (be nice). Do follow me on twitter.

Of course it is also a sensible cyber security move to register related domains as well, so as to avoid some types of fraud happening. You cannot register every possible alternative, obviously. One issue though is not having an actual web site when you "launch". I am sure you can guess what happens if you try to go the the UK Cyber Security Council's actual domain (ukcybersecuritycouncil.org.uk) as a web site? That's right, not even a bland holding page or perhaps a copy of the press release. Indeed, having no web site on your actual domain makes you look fake, and the fraudsters look legit.

As to whether the UK Cyber Security Council is an organisation you should consider talking to when it comes to advice on cyber security - well, I'll leave that one up to you...

P.S. thanks to Spy Blog on Twitter for pointing this out. He tweeted what looks like their Twitter account so that they could fix this quickly.

Best comment I have seen so far, proper LOL at the last line!

Updates:

  • Someone has created PGP keys for press and security addresses at this domain (obviously no idea who).
  • Various people have registered the related domains and set up web sites, e.g. ukcybersecuritycouncil.uk, because the UK Cyber Security Council did not think of protecting the obvious alternatives in advance.
  • Someone from an omarketing.com email, implying they were from UK Cyber Security Council, sent an email to a rather odd contact for me (not as above) asking that I delete this post "as stated". Whilst I'm happy to delete the domain if that press release is fixed, or transfer it to UK Cyber Security Council, I don't see any reason I would remove this blog post.
  • Looks like late Sunday they have fixed that press release at last, although the bad markup on the page has not been fixed.
  • Some actual press enquiries asking me about it all (i.e. they have seen this blog), and some reports on this fiasco. Thanks - nice to be called "one of the good guys".
  • Oddly, one news article was removed. It was reposted elsewhere, and we don't know why it was removed by the host site, but seems strange.
  • Someone called saying the UK Cyber Security Council would like the domain. They called A&A press office number saying that they had been trying to email admin at my Mastodon instance, neither of which contacts make a lot of sense, especially when I said how to contact me in this blog post!
  • I have given the domain to them now (i.e. set the Registrant), just waiting for them to let me know what Tag they want it on at Nominet.
  • Domain has now been retagged to their ISP. No doubt they will eventually get around to setting new name servers.
  • Fri 9th, finally it is on their DNS now. Handed over.

Wow, instead of pointing to the same site, or having a simple redirect, they actually pointed it to a site redirection service thing somehow, which, of course, does not work with https. Yay for "cyber security".

2021-03-31

Selling a house

Why does it take so damn long?!

Anyway, some small progress last week, the buyer's solicitors had some questions. I really had tried hard to avoid questions, and made sure I had included all of the paperwork and everything, but no, they had questions.

All about the conservatory, which is a recent replacement of a conservatory put in probably 20 years ago. This means that even if the original conservatory did not meet planning exceptions, the fact it is over 4 years means that is moot, and the new conservatory is a like for like replacement so exempt anyway. But no, they wanted to check EVERY SINGLE RULE on it being a permitted development.

This included things like "Is it sited at ground level", and are the sides / roof mostly transparent. All the details but one could be confirmed just by looking at the estate agent pictures / details.

The only one that was not "obvious" was whether there was heating or not - seems it needs no heating or separately controlled heating. It has none.

Oh, and they asked if we had to pay anything for the "access way" to the house, when their searches should have confirmed that the house is directly on the public highway, so, d'uh!

I swear they only ask questions, especially ones to which they already have all the answers, just to justify their fees.

Fingers crossed that it won't take long now.

2021-03-26

Environmental sensors (now in colour)

I made these ages ago, but they have moved on a little. I may add more "air quality" type stuff in future, but for now they are temperature, humidity and CO₂. I have updated for a colour display.

The new house has coax cabling in place, which is no use to me, so I have redeployed as 12V DC supply so I can install these on existing single gang back boxes.

The main thing is that they are all on GitHub. This includes the code, PCB, and 3D case designs. This includes linux code to log the MQTT to a database. It also can send MQTT for controlling heating and ventilation based on temperature and CO₂ levels, which I am using with tasmota flashed relays (Shelly).

The PCB is now all KiCad, so easy to get printed properly.

The 3D case design has been fun - I made code to generate an SCAD model from the KiCad PCB layout so ensuring all connectors, and spacing for all components is always accurate. That was fun! I have included simple boxes with USB-C socket and also one gang face place boxes, with and without OLED or CO₂ sensor.

So have fun.

P.S. I have updated the repository Documentation to have detailed step by step instructions with pictures for building these.

2021-03-24

The trick to soldering these buggers (QFN16)

As I mentioned, I have been using an FT230X USB serial chip, and using it in the QFN16 package. There is an option of an SSOP20, which would be a lot easier to solder but takes more space. However, I think I have the trick of soldering the QFN16 sussed.

My first attempt was fine point soldering iron into the edge of the chip, that worked but is really fiddly.

My second attempt involved a hot air gun, a very hot one, in fact this Weller hot air gun.


Not cheap, but works well. It should not be hard to get one of these. Indeed, I got one a few weeks ago from RS - I ordered and as normal it arrived next day. Sadly, a week later it died (heat but no fan). So sent back.

Ordering another should have been as easy, and RS listed 32 in stock, but when I ordered nothing arrived. Indeed, my order showed as on back order for shipping 1st June. Yet the product page insisted 32 in stock for next working day delivery. WTF?

So cancelled RS and ordered from Farnell. Again, a normally very reliable supplier. They too had in stock for same day dispatch.

Again nothing arrived, and they contacted us and said they had cancelled the order, and refunded the card! Why? well as a "first order" and "the type of product" for "security reasons" they needed us to pay by bank transfer, not the Amex card I normally use, and ignoring that we have been buying from them for 12 years. WTF?

We paid by fast payment immediately, and they said accounts had gone home (this was 3pm Friday). They said they would ship Monday. Nothing. Finally arrived Wednesday even though the web site says not shipped at all.

What is wrong with people? "heat gun" is not a real "gun". Arrrg

Anyway, how to solder the QFN16...

Step 1: Tin the pads and the centre pad, being careful not to short any pins.

Step 2: Heat the board to melt the solder.

Step 3: Put a drop of liquid flux on the chip pads.

Step 4: Place chip on melted tinned pads and keep heating a bit - it should snap in to place nicely.

Step 5: It can be useful to do the USB-C connector at the same time thought that helps if you also tin the connector first.

That was it - works perfectly.

Note, whilst waiting for the Weller, I tried a more "normal" hot air gun and it blows way too hard and sent the chip flying long before any solder melted.

Obviously even better if you have a solder paste mask and solder paste, but this works too.

I have since redone the layout slightly to make the pads slightly longer, and make it a lot clearer when adjacent pins are joined together, as the track layout allows such tracks and vias to be very close to each other and so solder bridge easily (no solder resist on these boards) which looks bad until you realise they are joined under the chip! Making that clear outside the chip will help avoid problems.

2021-03-17

The MK Grid Plus rabbit hole

MK is a good brand of switches and sockets and they are always good quality and solid, so when looking fo some new light switches, they seem like a good choice, albeit not the cheapest.

But I want some switches that are "retractive", i.e. just push switches not rocker, as they control a Shelly / tasmota smart switch module and not directly connected to a light.

MK do some of these, and they actually do modular switches, so I can mix and match what I need and where. In some cases a "two way and off" retractive switch to work a dimmer is ideal, and others a single retractive switch, and in some cases one of each on the same face plate.

Sadly it seems that almost nobody has the whole range on their web site, and the whole range is huge. They have a load of styles. There are catalogues from MK that list just one style, for example. The problem is, at the start, you don't necessarily realise what is possible, nor what is available from suppliers. Just to be clear, Screwfix is first port of call as it is a 4 minute walk from my front door. As per comments, it seems https://www.gil-lec.co.uk/ stock a good range as do https://www.tradesparky.com/

  • K4885PWHI: A Grid plus retractive module, as sold by the likes of Screwfix, yay. It has "press" on it, but OK. Good start.
  • K3701 : A grid plus "frame" for it, single gang, one switch, also sold by Screwfix, yay.
  • K3631WHI: A Grid plus front plate, single gang, also sold by Screwfix.

This is a good start, I now have a working retractive light switch, and can confirm that in a deep back box there is space for the switch and a Shelly 2.5 and a Wago. Working nicely.

It proves the solution fits, and works, so now to consider if I want to change other light switches in the house, as I make things "smart". But I need to make small changes to the way things work - my wife is not going to allow me to change one switch at a time from the brushed steel light switches we have everywhere to a plain white switch like this. I am not even sure the "press" label is going to go down well.

  • K4885WHI: Ooh, they do a retractive that does not say "press". (they also do one with a door bell symbol, but no need for that).
  • K3491ALM: Oooh, they do a metal faceplate.

But hang on, the metal faceplate is an enamelled aluminium, somewhat "industrial" to pass the wife test...

  • K3431BSS: ooh, they do a brushed steel front plate. This is much closer to what we have now.

At this point I think I have something that may be close enough to what we have now. The switch is white, but no "press" on it, and the front plate is brushed steel. But not sure. If this is the best MK do it will do, so I ordered a few.

Then I discovered they have a range of other front plates, arrrg. And there are Grid plus, and Euro modules as well. Complicated. It looks like "Aspect" may be what I want... They are available in something like 13 different finishes, including brushed stainless steel. They are also screwless.

One of the best documents showing the different styles is a technical document from MK. Logic Plus is traditional plain white with visible screws, Aspect is rounded raised screwless in a wide variety of finishes, Edge is flush to wall - with screws - with a wide range of finishes, Albany is a heavier/thicker angled boarder and industrial looking with visible screws in a smaller variety of finishes, Metalclad Plus is white or enamelled grey metal - very industrial style. So, let's look at Aspect in Brushed Steel finish I think...

  • K24331BSS: A front plate - comes with frame - screwless, brushed stainless steel. Good.
  • K4885BSSB: A retractive switch, no "press", with black surround. (they also do white)

OK I think we may finally be getting there. It looks like I have found switches that are :-

  • Screwless.
  • Brushed stainless steel front plate finish.
  • Retractive.
  • Brushed stainless steel switch finish with black surround.

I think that will meet with approval and be close enough to what we have to allow changing one switch at a time without looking wrong. Fingers crossed.

Took a month to arrive, but wife approved :-)

What is also fun is that MK have a really big range of modules. Including coloured indicators and a buzzer module! No, I have yet to find a use for these. They have loads of switches with pre printed labels, so it you make up one of their large grids of switches, you can have them clearly labeled.

Downsides:-

  • Price.
  • Complexity of options.
  • The push switch takes noticeable force to press (though they do have two springs, and removing one makes them feel a lot more "normal", but probably not an approved modification).
  • The buzzer module is just high pitched and quite quiet - not good at all.

P.S. WARNING! other manufacturers make grid switches which are not interchangeable with these, and sometimes when searching the MK part number they come up, and "look" right - bastards!

And to add to the fun there are Euro modules, which are actually very simple 25mm x 50mm or 50mm x 50mm rectangular modules. I have seen these for networking before. For now. I'm going for MK Grid Plus.

2021-03-11

Hobby PCBs

Milling PCBs

As some of you may know, from previous blog posts, I got quite good at milling PCBs. Basically, if you want to make small circuits at home, one option is a milling machine.

It does have some key advantages - the main one being time. You can have an idea in the morning, and design a circuit, layout a PCB, mill it, and have it soldered and working by lunch time. You can do several iterations of a board during a day. Another advantage is the cost - just the cost of the copper clad board, and the occasional new drill bit.

However, there are limitations. The main issue is that is it single sided - whilst a double sided milled board can just about be done, it is hard to align and the holes are not plated, so need links. The accuracy is an issue too - using a USB-C connector was just at the limit of possible, mainly as I only needed to connect two of the smaller pins (CC1/CC2), and even then - the more detail you try and do, the harder it is to get right first time.

So, moving on - what else is there? What I am doing is not quite hobby, it is more R&D, so I need slightly better than just milled board. The answer is getting fast turnaround PCBs professionally made. The nice thing is that double sided and plated through hole now becomes the norm.

KiCad

But before I could get boards made, I needed a new way to design them. For milling boards I was using inkscape to lay out the milling path. That was not going to cut it when someone wants Gerber files. So I asked Twitter, and several people suggested KiCad - a free package that was available to run on my Mac.

It is nice, I have to say. It does the schematic, and then one button and you are in to PCB layout. It has design rule checks at each stage. The PCB layout is nice - I worked out that I prefer the "push" mode where running a new track which pushes the existing ones out of the way. It has limitations, but makes it easy. The other trick I did not realise initially is I can redraw an existing track in a new direction and it will remove the original part I have now bypassed, allowing more major track moves than "push" can handle, and making it easy to do cosmetic tidy up at the end.

It also does a lovely 3D view, and it seems that not only does its built in library have 3D models for lots of things, most components have them available as standard now. Even complex modules like the Pololu D24V5F3 regulator has one. I was able to add new parts at schematic, footprint, and 3D model without any real problems.

And, of course, it will simply make Gerber files and Excelon drill files, at the click of a button.

It is also rather nice being able to design for double sided with fine tracks - it makes it way easier to track boards and allows me to make a much smaller board.

PCBTrain

So, I sent the Gerbers to PCBTrain. And two days later, they arrive. they look good.


They look nice. They are their quick turnaround product, which is copper with silver, and no solder resist or silk screen, but they work.

I even got good at soldering things like the USB-C connector.


The trick was lots of flux, and a good soldering iron. Tinning the pads first and then just heating the pin to fix it. It takes a bit of practice :-)

Tiny ESP32-WROOM-32 board

My first project to test the whole process was a minimal usable ESP32-WROOM-32 board. The idea was a board with USB-C or DC power, several GPIO on a connector, and built in serial for programming. The challenge was to make a small as possible. I think it came out well.

The result is tiny. But with 5 GPIO pins it is very flexible for all sorts of IoT applications. There is no way I could have made this on a single sided or milled board.

I also made each GPIO have pads for a pull up resistor, or, if powering something from the connector, a zero ohm link. This works well for things like a DS18B20, but could be connected to all sorts of things like an RFID reader, a GPS module, or whatever. It has enough pins that this module could run my ASR33 teletype, and be a lot smaller and neater than the node-mcu board I am using now (so that may happen).

One nasty hack was the USB connector I am using is through hole - as that makes it a lot more robust (their is nothing more annoying with these than pulling the connector off the pads by mistake). To do this I ended up with holes going through 4 of the GPIO pads on the ESP32 module. But it has a lot of GPIO, and they default to input, so no problem, as long as the software knows not to use them. Obviously I had to tell the schematic that they were grounded too.

Another trick was the the Pololu module was not fitted using pins. I could use pins and clip them short, but as it happens, with the through plated holes, just solder down the holes secures it nicely. I only use 3 of the 4 pins, as that would have put a pin through the ESP module pads too, and not in a good way this time. I did have to remember to put a pad under the 4th pin else it ended up on a GND fill which would have been bad.

The end result really is quite small.

FTDI FT230X USB/Serial

The final new bit for me was building in serial for programming. Previously I had made designs using a 4 pin SPOX connector which connected to a serial/USB lead. This takes quite a bit of board space. So I investigated serial USB chips. FTDI seem to be the king of serial USB, and they do a small 16 pin QFN-16 package module, the FT320X. I checked some videos of people soldering QFN packages by hand, and figured I'd be able to.

It is a nice small chip, connects to USB, and provides serial with Tx, Rx, RTS, and CTS as well as 4 configurable CBUS pins. It even has a 3.3V regulator, though sadly not enough to run the ESP32 - that would have been awesome!

There is one small downside - it needs a few passives. That is a pain on a small hand soldered board, and where I am trying to make it tiny (just for fun), so I built without the passives. This will mean the USB is not properly impedance matched. But it is good enough for programming in my tests, and that is all the serial lead is actually for. So what the hell? OK, yes, it annoys me to cut corners even on a fun board and I may try to at least squeeze the 27R series resistors at some point. I am not normally one to cut corners.

However, the small size, and passives, were not the only issue. I decided to connect RTS to the EN (reset) pin on the ESP32. This is a common trick and the tools, like the ESP IDF flash tool, pull RTS low and then high to reset. It is risky in a way as a "normal" serial port will make RTS low when ready for the ESP to send data, but it seems the common tools do not, so it works. What I was unsure of until I tested is that this pin stays high when otherwise idle, and when connected just to power and not a USB driver, and so on. It does. It works. Yay!

However, to program an ESP you need to put in to boot mode, and this means pulling GPIO0 low during reset. Most boards have a button for this which you have to hold when programming. Apparently some do a trick with DTR, including the ESP IDF flashing tools.

Snag! There is no DTR on the FT230X. What is extra weird is that DTR is not one of the CBUS pin modes, so you can't even create a DTR. This seems an oversight as other FTDi chips have DTR, DSR, DCD, and RI, so why are they not options on CBUS pins? Why does this matter? - well a normal serial driver will be able to control RTS and DTR as they are standard pins. To control special pins like CBUS on the FTDI needs code written specifically for the FTDI, not just any serial connection. So not using DTR makes it "special".

I considered just adding a button, but a bit more research has led me to use CBUS0. The problem then is how do you use CBUS0? It has multiple functions (not DTR, sadly), which can be configured.

FTDI EEPOM

The answer is that you programme the EEPROM in the FTDI chip. This lets you set a manufacturer, description, serial number, PID/VID, and a load of settings. One such setting is what each CBUS pin does. One of the options is a GPIO. So that is all I have to do - zap the EEPROM with the right data.

Snag! There is a tool, ftdi_eeprom, that is simple to install on a Mac. But it only lets you set a few things from a config file, and not CBUS functions. And even though it will read the EEPROM to file, it won't just write a file to the EEPROM - it insists on "building" it from your config, even bits you might have deliberately set in the file, like CBUS functions. Arrrg!

So I ended up making a tools, ftdizap, which allows me to simpley set certain (well, any) settings in the EEPROM. I also made it work the CBUS pins when set to GPIPO mode so it can control the output on the CBUS pins directly as a command line tool.

This means I can flash by using ftdizap to set CBUS0 low, then running make flash, then setting CBUS0 high and resetting with RTS low/high. It works on my Mac and on my linux machine. So, simples. A minor tweak to the make file, and I can simple make and flash new code in one go - no button pressing. The make monitor also works, leaving RTS high, allowing debug.

I also set the other CBUS pins to various modes and connected to GPIO on the ESP32. This allows the code to tell if in a "charger" mode, or if simply "not connected to a USB host", or if "put in to USB sleep mode". All of which could be useful in some circumstances.

What next

I already have another board design - this one slightly more useful. It is a small board the same size as a 1.5" RGB OLED display modules (commonly on Amazon). It fits all the necessary components between the board and the display, including a USB-C socket, and the FT230X. It has an 8 way SPOX socket so providing 7 GPIO pins. It has pads for DC power alternative to USB power. It also has pads to allow an SCD30 CO₂ module to be fitted to the back to make a complete environmental monitor. The pull up resistors on the GPIO allow it to be set up for a DS18B20, and the choice of SPOX sockets allows for a 3 pin SPOX plug connected to a DS18B20 to go in to the 8 pin SPOX socket nicely. It should make for a very flexible board.

As you can see KiCad does a nice rendering of what it will look like.

Published?

Yes, the code, and the boards, are all on my GitHub. Just bear in mind that they are likely to have several updates over the next few days.

2021-03-05

Selling a house (week 1).

I had planned to post more details of the house itself here. It has taken a month with workmen doing a lot more than I had planned to make the place perfect (including new lawn, new kitchen floor, several new carpets, and lots of generic decorating). The end result is rather nice.

It went on the market on Sunday, and within hours we had viewing requests. Viewings on Tuesday and an offer on Wednesday, so just waiting for estate agent and solicitors to do their thing now.

Of course there is no guarantee that this will not fall through somehow, so do take a look :-)

https://www.duncanyeardley.co.uk/property-details/jet_duy-BRC210165/binfield/bracknell

At this point it is all down to how quickly solicitors, mortgage lenders, surveyors, and so on, can act. Unlike when I was buying a place, I ensured my solicitor had all of the necessary paperwork right away. I am trying to ensure we are in no way the critical path here. We'll see how long it takes.

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.