2022-11-29

Shelly Plus i4DC GPIO

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

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

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

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

I have also worked out the GPIO:-

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

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

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

2022-11-27

Gas & Electric

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest is So.Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixing it?

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

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

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

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

Evidence

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

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

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

In the mean time...

2022-11-04

Save power to avoid blackouts

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

These sorts of things are incredibly difficult to get right.

Punished for being proactive?

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

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

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

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

Other approaches

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

Encouraging bad behaviour

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

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

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

Not in the spirit of the scheme

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

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

2022-10-30

Out of respect

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

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

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

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

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

It is "out of respect", apparently.

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

What a surprise!

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

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

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

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

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

P.S. Update...

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

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

2022-10-28

Richard Joseph Kennard, 1937-2022

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

Worcester

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

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

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

Drake's Broughton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dress making

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

Printing

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

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

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

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

Name labels

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

Three phase

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

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

Saturday mornings

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

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

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

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

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

The flat

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

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

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

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

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

Gravity

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

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

Summers

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

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

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

Making money

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

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

CB Radio

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

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

And obviously my dad helped me with all this.

School

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

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

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

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

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

The computer

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

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

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

After university

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy

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

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

You will be missed, dad.

2022-10-26

Waiting to die

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022-10-24

Getting data out of smart meters

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

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

But how?

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

Slightly redacted MQTT smart meter data

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

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

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

What is this marvel?

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

So far, I am impressed.


2022-10-04

Free electricity

I got solar about 6 months ago. At that time I did not have a battery or an export tariff. In fact it took about 5 months to get any sort of export arrangement because of delays in paperwork.

So back then... (June)


This meant I was getting free electricity. When the sun was shining I could decide to use something, like the hot tub, or tumble dryer, and use that sunshine, and the marginal cost of doing so was zero. I neither gained, nor lost, any money by doing so.

Of course there are caveats, if I was to use too many things or use them on a cloudy day when there was not the solar, I would be paying for the extra usage. So only free electricity up to a point. But still, it was guilt free using the hot tub, etc.

Payback time (August)

Finally I got an export tariff, albeit only 7½p/unit, which has yet to actually pay due to So Energy dragging their heels. But in principle, at that point, my excess solar was paying me 7½p/unit. This meant I no longer had free electricity. If I used the hot tub, even when sunny, it was costing me 7½p/unit. But that is really cheap so almost guilt free.

Battery time (September)

Finally I got the battery install, and that changes things a lot.

Because the battery can charge up on the excess solar and then be used to power the house, whist the battery is not full, and whilst we are not making excess solar more than 5kW, the battery takes the power.

In the morning, if there is enough sun to fill the battery as above, all of that extra sunshine can be used any time during the day and it will just delay the point the battery is full. So costs me the export (5p) that I am reducing. But once passed that, at the point the battery does not get full, any usage will simple mean the battery runs out faster and so will mean power from the grid, so cost me normal rate (currently 24p).

Of course, whether the usage in the morning is nearly free electricity (5p) or not (24p) depends on how much sunshine happens later in the day. It is Schrödinger's free electricity - you have to wait to open the box.

Some symmetry (October)

I am now on a new tariff with Octopus, the idea is they control the battery now, and use it to charge and feed in to the grid as needed. As they control it, they have taken the sensible approach of making the electricity a symmetric pricing, I pay 24p/unit but I get 24p/unit for export, so end up paying for my net usage at 24p/unit.

This means no more free electricity. Any usage at any time will cost me 24p/unit for that usage. Similarly any sunshine (up to my 6kW export limit after any battery charging) is 24p/unit benefit.

This is, at least, simple, and does not depend on how sunny the afternoon is - the cost is known, but does mean no more free electricity. All usage costs.

Battery feeding the grid in evening

Battery charging at night

Next step (when hell freezes over)

The next step gets fun. I am getting a second battery (which are like hen's teeth). When I get it I will be able to change to a night time EV tariff, charging it (and heating hot tub) in the night at something daft like 7½p/unit. Then I use battery and solar to run the house during the day.

This means all my electricity will be cheap, 7½p/unit, well, up to a limit. If I use too much, and then if there is not enough sunshine, I end up using during the day as the battery will run out. At that point I am paying more like 40p/unit.

So, once again Schrödinger's free electricity - I won't know what extra usage will cost until end of the day depending on how sunny it was, but as the battery plus cloudy solar should cover most of our normal usage, it should always be the 7½p rate. The only caveat is I may want to shut down hot tub until next day if no sunshine, and I may want to discourage tumble dryer on cloudy days.

Every little helps

Even though some of these options mean no free electricity, all of these steps reduce my overall bill, a lot. The solar now means I am paid for electricity I make at a sane rate, which is excellent. Indeed, some options could mean exporting extra battery storage at the end of the day to get paid more than it cost to get the charge in the morning. It could make some days negative total price.

Nothing is free

Don't forget, it is only free if you also forget the huge installation cost. Start here.

2022-09-30

Lies, and politicians

I am perhaps old enough to remember when, in general politicians did not outright lie.

OK, bear with me, usually they have speeches and statements written in advance, and carefully checked, by staff with a lot of experience. I mean mistakes can happen, but for a career politician in an high office there is no excuse for that even.

The wording would normally be very careful, and in spite of flunking English language badly, I learned long ago to listen to the choice of wording used, especially by politicians (and on adverts). Note when the wording is not how it would "normally be said". It usually means there is some subtle wording to ensure that what they say is "technically correct" (in the worse sense of that term).

It is not too hard to do - you can easily add "It plan to...", "I strongly believe that...", "In my opinion...", "As I understand it...", "It has been reported that...", "I am told that...", etc. And then say almost anything and not technically be lying.

Sadly, it seems that outright lies are more common, accepted, and even expected. This seems to be particularly bad with Trump and Boris, or at least that is how it seems to me (see what I did there?).

What we have had over the last few days is perhaps one of the worst examples, because clearly a lot of people believed the lie.

The mythical £2,500 energy cap!

For example “We have taken action by the government stepping in, making sure that nobody is paying fuel bills of more than £2,500.” (reported here). The "per year" is implied, and they could weasel on that one I guess. This was not "we plan to", but a statement as "fact". And a lot of people seem to have believed the statement (see here). Indeed, it seems some people are cross how EV car users can charge their car as much as they like and not pay more than £2,500. But it was a lie.

Even "fuel bills" is bad: does that include a petrol car? And the fact there are people that buy gas in canisters, and heating oil, or even wood, are not included in this, is also somewhat bad when using "nobody" in such a statement.

This was refined, but the wording is terrible. We now have: “That’s why we took action to make sure people aren’t paying a typical fuel bill of more than £2,500, that’ll come in on Saturday…” (reported here). Well, "typical fuel bill" is vague at best - one could assume it is "typical for me"... Which is wrong.

But it is worse, we also have: "The decisive action we have taken means that no family will be facing a typical fuel bill of more than £2500, not just for this year, but also next year", (reported here). This time we have the clear "no family". So even if one family faces a "typical bill" of more than "£2500" then it is a lie. You cannot talk of overall average or typical and use "no family" - it is like saying "nobody will have less than average fuel bills". Lots of families typical bill will be higher than £2500. So yeh, lies again, even though they had time to correct the "mistake" of the previous lies.

Is it just me that feels such clear lies should have some accountability, some cost, some penalty?

There is no £2,500 cap

I hope people know this now, but the cap, as of tomorrow, and as it was previously, is "based" on an "average" household bill for the year, i.e. average of all households in a region (as I understand it), but what is capped is actually the per unit usage and per day standing charge. Use more and you pay more - use less and you pay less.

Also, the "cap" (from tomorrow) is quite a bit higher than now, and a hell of a lot higher than this time last year.

Is there a hidden catch?

The fact this is based on average household usage, and even per region, to work out the actual price cap, leads me to assume that if usage changes - if people reduce usage to try and manage some of their fuel costs, then the "cap" will increase to ensure the "average" stays at £2,500. So I would not rule out further changes (increases even) to the per unit price cap during the two year period for this energy price guarantee. It almost makes any collective effort at cost saving pointless. I may have this wrong, but it seems the logical conclusion.

2022-09-28

Angles Mort

I saw this on a truck (non UK plates), and they do puzzle me a bit.

For a start, it is not clear - are the black bits the death angles - in which case why the big black areas in front left and right where there is clear diver visibility? Or is it the yellow bits with the warning triangles, in which case why the bits left and right which are also clear driver visibility. It makes no sense!

But the bigger issue is how we seem to find it quite acceptable to allow death machines to be driven on the public roads like this. I mean that is what it is saying - angles mort - death angles - places where you could die even though you might be a legitimate road user legitimately in such a place on the road.

Surely if there is a dangerous machine, a machine that can kill people, we need to make it safer, including mirrors or even cameras if necessary, and driver training, to ensure there are no "death angles".

To be honest this seems a lot like victim blaming.

2022-09-21

Pet hate number 0̷

I have mentioned before, but one of my pet hates is crossed zeros.

I have gone in to the history a bit (here), but I still encounter these. The latest is a new calculator.

I know it is perhaps weird to own a calculator, let alone buy a new one. I previously used an hp 12c Platinum which hp re-launched, but it is a tad more "accountant" than "scientific" for my usage. So when I found Swiss Micros series of new versions of retro hp calculators I ordered their DM42 which is based on the hp 42-S.

It is impressive... It also has fun screen savers as you can see. Nice touch, well done.

Someone reported they did not like the buttons, but they seem good to me.

But I only really have one gripe. All of the fonts (of which there is a choice) have crossed zeros.

A crossed zero is a bad choice - something that is pretty much always displaying numbers, like a calculator, has no excuse to not show a zero as a round shape, but something like this where it has a high resolution display has really go no excuse. It can show a 0 and O distinctly with no problem.

This is a massive usability issue - a crossed zero, and even a "dotted" zero, can be easily confused with an 8 by anyone with poor eyesight. There is no excuse. What is worse is it has settings and font styles and sizes, and they did not think to include choice of crossed, dotted, or neither. Why?

To be clear, this is a zero, as you know...

What is especially weird is the Swiss Micros webs site shows it with the slightly better dotted zero.

But for some reason, what I have, does not have this, but has a crossed zero.

So basically I have not been supplied with a product as described, which is always annoying.

The good news is that it looks like this is using open source code, so it may be possible for me to re-make it with a new font. I'll see what I can do.

Update: You have to love open source.

I have not actually managed to find where the fonts are though, I just changed 0 on the display, which is not ideal as I would like a visually distinct 0 and O, but it is a start. Nice that you can set a sane date format though.

Recording multiple cameras on a Mac

I wanted to know how to do this, and as usual, with anything video related, all I found were youtube videos. Some times I'd just like to know then answer without watching a video. So this is my effort to explain in simple text.

The scenario is simple. I have two studio monitors, which include camera and mic. I wanted to record on both cameras at once so I could cut from one to the other (see example video here). This was basically an "interview with myself" video. Obviously this could just as easily be multiple web cams. Computer performance is also a concern, and more so if 4k recording.

  1. It seems Final Cut Pro does not record multiple cameras at once, shame.
  2. It seems there are commercial applications that will do this.
  3. OBS can merge multiple cameras in to one virtual camera, but that is not the same and not then easy to make a multi-cam clip. It seems a plug-in may help.
  4. It seems Quicktime Player can record video, but only one camera/mic.

But there is a simple answer: The trick, which I was dead impressed with from this video, was you duplicate your Quicktime Player application. Literally select it in the Applications folder in finder, and select duplicate. You can then run two separate instances of it at once, and set each to record separate camera/mic, start both, and sorted.

Saving both files, you can then load them in to Final Cut and make a multi-cam clip synchronised by mic, edit views, and bingo. And obviously you could put a bit more effort in to is that my example video, but it shows the principle.

2022-09-18

Weird science

LED panel (when switched on)
I have LED lighting panels in my bedroom, two of them. Nothing complicated.

They each have a power supply behind them in the ceiling, and connect to the power with just live and neutral (no earth).

The live goes via a switch, obviously. It's a Shelly, so a clean relay contact.

So, when they are off, they should be off. Simple. They only have the neutral connected at that point.

The weird bit

However, during the night, I can see that they are not quite off. They have a faint glow some of the time. It can only be seen in the pitch black of night, and when your eyes have adapted to the dark. So if I wake up in the night I can see it.

At first I did wonder if I was imagining it, it was so faint, but no, I have seen them glow turn on and off, not fading in/out but sudden on/off. So very real. They are not glowing all the time, and not at the same time necessarily - sometimes one or the other. But most of the time as far a I can see, i.e. if I wake up in the night they are glowing. And frankly they are annoying me.

But with only neutral connected I don't see how this can happen at all!

The weirder bit

This only started happening the day my battery was installed. I have had these over 18 months and never seen then glow before, but they do now, every night I see them.

How can my battery install have triggered this?

The even weirder bit

The point the battery stopped powering the house
As I say, I now see this every night, well, except for last night. Last night I turned off the hot tub and allowed the house to run on battery all night for the first time. To be fair, I kept checking the battery charge in the night. Sad, I know. But yes, the battery lasted not only until sunrise, but until enough solar to run things and start charging it again. That means I have not used any power from the grid for over 24 hours, and in fact exported 9½kWh, even using the hot tub in the day yesterday. Amazing.

But, guess what, the lights did not glow last night, not once did I catch them doing so.

So they only glow, once the battery was installed, but only when it is in standby, not powering the house.

I repeat, there is no earth on these lights. And the extra earth rod for the battery install was done 6 months ago anyway. So all that changed when the battery was installed was, err, the battery and gateway box.

I may play with switching the neutral as well, but wow, why would I need to do that.

Explanations welcome!

Update

Usually the switch for a light like this would be L/N to the ceiling, the L going all the way down to a light switch, and all the way back, in the same wire/sleeve, to the ceiling, and then in to the light with N. This long wire acts as a capacitor allowing small amounts of AC current to flow.

But sorry. My lights are L/N to a shelly, L via the relay in shelly, and the L(switched)/N on to the light. No cable to act as a capacitor. Nice try twitter.

Further: We are planning to take up floor boards tomorrow (Friday) to confirm wiring is as I remember it, and try some things - I'll post more details here when I know. Thank you all for the ideas on this.

Final answer

Firstly, there is no switch lead, so capacitive pick up L to Switched-L was not the cause.

One person sort of got it right, a lively neutral. But not quite what you may think. In fact it was L/N tails to CU reverse, so all neutrals were very live and unprotected. The cable to the light therefor had a live (on neutral wire), and an earth (not used at light, but obviously connected to earth), and next to the earth was the neutral (on the switched live wire), which capacitively picked up from earth and power the lights.

Yes, there was a big flash and a bang in discovering this. No, I am not going to point fingers (was not me, obviously).

2022-09-08

Winter is coming

The air-con is great for cooling in the winter, though that obviously has a cost, it is not as bad as I expected, and I have systems set up to control when it is on, and in which rooms, etc.

The air-con could be used for heating in winter, as it works out more than 100% efficient. The issue is that even with the new silly prices I think gas is still a lot cheaper. I do need to do the sums, which will depend on the tariffs I can get for my electricity and using a second battery. But even that is not simple, even with a second battery, and charging when very cheap at night, because that only works up to the capacity of the battery. If the air-con used for heating exceeds that capacity then we are back to expensive electricity compared to gas.

So my next project is improving the gas central heating. First step is a smart meter with half hour stats via MQTT using an in home display that connects to my MQTT server. It is on order now. This will help track the cost and usage more accurately.

But I also need finer control of individual room heating. At present we have two heating loops (up/down) and some thermostatic radiator valves. This provides limited options.

Per room control

A key factor is per room control. I already have my own temperature monitoring which I use to control the air-con for cooling. But for heating my only real control is heating on or off for whole floor.

My plan it to fit each radiator with an "actuator". I was originally thinking a shelly thermostatic radiator valve with wifi, but to be honest that is not what I really want, and an actuator and simple shelly 1 to control it is easier. I can then turn the radiator in any room on or off based on my temperature sensor which is located near the bed (for bedrooms) rather than next to the hot radiator itself.

I can then set controls for target temperatures during day and night so that the room is heated only when needed, and only to the needed temperature per room.

I already have logic to link the room control status to an aggregate for the heating itself, ie. any room heating on a floor means the floor level gas boiler heating is turned on.

Room occupancy

One of the key reasons for this is not just that different rooms need different targets (my wife and I prefer quite different temperatures), but also that not all rooms are always in use. We have a couple of guest rooms, for example.

At present I include a room manually in the controls and adjust the radiator valves manually, but once I have an actuator I can be smarter.

Just to be clear, this is not quite the same as "occupancy" for, say, lights coming on and off - for which there are various sensors. This is occupancy along the lines of "the guest room is in use today". So I can ensure it is heated (or cooled) sensibly for the day/night, and ready for when someone goes to bed - that means knowing hours before and keeping things going all night, etc.

My current thinking is any use of the light switch in a room marks the room for occupancy for next 24 hours or some such, maybe 18 hours...

That way a room that is not in use is not heated (or cooled when we get back in to summer), but a room that is in use gets heated (at night for bedrooms, based on a temperature profile).

It also means that when my wife goes in the room during the day to make the bed because we are expecting a guest, the room will be ready when they arrive, etc.

Anyway, once I have this working, I'll post some more details and pictures.

Note: these actuators come in a variety of fittings, modes, and voltages. Take care to order the right one. Pictured is Danfoss Actuator TWA-A 230V NC (RA) Danfoss manifold 088H3112. This is 230V activated so ideal for using with a Shelly, NC (normally closed radiator), and a fitting that works to replace a normal Danfoss thermostatic radiator valve fitting. Note, this seems to use about 2W to hold "open".

2022-09-07

Battery, part 3

Slightly misleading as battery is charging!
I have just been going over the final handover and testing with Green Park for the Tesla Battery.

Part of it was making a power cut. This was interesting.

So a few facts that are useful to know.

  • A real power cut means a couple of seconds of no power. It is not seamless.
  • A deliberate "off grid" (done on the app) does not, so if it is a planned power cut then you can seamlessly go off grid if needed. Good.
  • Going back on grid is seamless, a few seconds while it sorts phase match and back on. Good.
  • It will take solar during a power cut, and charge the battery if needed. Good.
  • If the solar exceeds its 5kW charging capacity it will shut down the solar (done using frequency change, apparently).

The last point is a pain as the solar can do 10kW. More importantly the solar can control what it makes by de-optimising the panels, so it if knew it was a problem it could reduce power. There seems no way to link these intelligently, sadly. But once I have a second battery we will be fine at it will match the battery, at least until the battery is full. What I don't know is if there is any way it tries to turn the solar back on in such cases, maybe trying it for a few seconds every now and then? Must find out.

And as for the first point, a power cut causing a blip - I need a very small UPS for my comms rack to last a few seconds, that is the easy part.

Second battery

One battery can handle 5kW in/out, and charge to 14kWh. This is fine for most cases for balancing the solar and usage and reducing export. It is also perfect for getting on the Octopus tariff for this where they manage the battery and I pay for net usage.

However, one battery does limit my options. It does not have capability to run the house for 24 hours, meaning that I cannot make use of "cheap charge at night and run of battery for the day". If I could, I would save even more, but without that I could be using more expensive electricity later in the day, especially in winter when less sun.

One battery is also likely to have the same issue if I went on an agile tariff, in that trying to match charge at low price and usage when high would be hard if I do not have a whole day's capacity.

So for these various reasons, a second battery is on order. For now, I am trying to sort the Octopus tariff, which is fun.

Off backup

The other work still planned is an additional small consumer unit that has a few circuits which will not be on backup. The Tesla can only do 5kW, so if I have the tumble drier on, or the car charger, it won't work. There are about 4 circuits to move to that. All good fun.

2022-09-06

You learn something every day (law)

By my age people usually have a reasonable grip on how things work, in this case basics like contracts and law. No, I don't know every law (even though I am, in theory, expected to!).

But one principle which I thought I knew was that it is the person that breaks the law that gets punished, not someone else. Yes, there are situations where another person may also break a law by "conspiring" and so on, but I mean a case where one person is punished for another person's wrongdoing, when the first person played no part in it, did not encourage it, and was not even aware of the wrong doing having happened.

Being the "keeper" of a motor vehicle has various responsibilities. These include things like paying Vehicle Excise Duty, ensuring the vehicle is insured or SORN, etc, etc.

It is not the same as being the "owner" or the "driver", although in a lot of cases all there are the same person.

But even as a "keeper", and even with those responsibilities, you are not liable for the actions of the "driver". If a "driver" speeds, your responsibility is to say who the driver is when asked. That is what being "keeper" requires. This fits with the notion that you are not responsible for someone else's wrongdoing.

Even if you don't say who was driver, unless the vehicle was taken without consent or some other excuse, you can be punished (fined), but your are punished for not saying who the driver is. You are not punished for what the driver did. Indeed, in some cases, such as where a vehicle has a company as a keeper, it can be a lesser penalty (just a fine) to deliberately not say who the driver is. Doing so deliberately could be perverting the course of justice, but hard to prove.

This even applies to things like "contracts" for parking. The driver enters in to the contract, not the keeper. The keeper plays a part in tracking down the driver - the parking firm can ask who the driver was, but it is the driver that entered in to a contract (and presumably did not follow the agreed terms, creating a charge).

However, to my utter surprise, there is an exception.

It seems you can be liable to a penalty for something which someone else does, that you did not do, did not condone or encourage, did not even know about. And indeed, the person that did the wrongdoing is not liable in these case.

Congestion charges

Yes, that seems completely crazy to me, it seems to be a broken law. Indeed, I would hope one day someone challenges it. It breaks an important principle that you are not another persons "keeper" (even if you are a keeper of a car).

For congestion charge penalties the keeper is liable, expect for a few special cases. Not being the "driver" is not one of them.

Now, some have argued that congestion charge is not a penalty, it is a road usage fee, much like VED. Which is fair enough. And a responsibility to pay for that being with the keeper is not perhaps that unreasonable. You pay to allow the car to be used in the congestion zone, much like paying VED.

The issue is when someone drives in to a congestion zone without paying the congestion charge. It is the "driver" that did the wrong thing here, very clearly, not the keeper, I feel.

Yet, surprising, the penalty for this wrong doing falls on the keeper, and not the driver. The keeper cannot pass this on by reporting who the driver was. That is crazy.

How is that not a seriously broken law?

No consent

There is a way out, but not nice. There are special cases for hire companies, but not simply lending your car to a mate. For that you could make it clear they have to ensure congestion charges are paid as a condition of "consent" to drive the car. Perhaps a card on the dash board or a recorded conversation so you can prove it. If you can show the driver was driving without consent then the keeper is no longer liable. The catch is that immediately makes the driver liable to criminal charges for driving without consent. This is very different, you don't give a driver "consent" to speed, for example and it is not assumed you did, so the driver is liable. Why would driving in to a congestion zone be any different?

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