Thursday, December 10, 2009

HomeEasy Rip Off @ B&Q Ireland

I have been a fan of the HomeEasy devices for switching on and off lights appliances etc. for a few years now.

I tend to get the controllers and modules piece by piece, so the extra cost of buying it in Ireland has not really been an issue.

Recently, I was considering getting 2 Single Dimmer Switches (HE107) and a Double Dimmer Switch (HE108) for another mad project.

I was also interested in the cost of the Double Socket (HE109). A fella can never have too many remote control sockets.

I did a bit of research on the old net while contemplating global domination.

The first port of call was

I checked the prices and they were as follows:

Single Switch - £31.50
Double Switch - £53.00
Double Socket - £41.00

These are approximate prices including postage.

This equates in Euro to:

Single Switch - €35.00
Double Switch - €58.50
Double Socket - €45.30

Pricey enough but a tool for a job.

I toddled off to the nearest B&Q in Dublin and checked out the prices. I was quite surprised by the difference.

Single Switch - €50.25
Double Switch - €67.00
Double Socket - €50.25

That is quite a big difference.

The differences are:

Single Switch - €15.25
Double Switch - €8.50
Double Socket - €4.95

For my mad project requirements, 2 single switches and a double switch, the difference would be a whopping €38.75. I would easily get another single switch if I got it on-line.

I know it costs extra to ship things to Ireland but this seems excessive, seeing that we are so far away.

Even the price difference ratios are bananas. The cheapest item, i.e. the single switch has a difference that is 3 times the difference of the double socket.

Mad I tells ya!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Remote Control Light Switch

I ordered a single and double light switch from about 4 weeks ago. I has just arrived.

It is quite a nice product and fairly cheap. The single $24.50, about €16. The double is just a few dollars more.

I installed the single one in the kitchen controlling some florescent lights. The build of the switch is a bit old fashioned looking but it functions perfectly. When installed it looks great.

The remotes are a bit 'Get Smart' looking, with a pull up aerial. Secret agent walkie-talkie.

They work fine.

Hidden screw holes. Street Cred = 100.
One of the things I liked about it is that works with CFL and florescent bulbs.

The only issue I have is that the switch has a toggle operation.

Press the button and it switches on. Press it again and it turns off.

There is no way to know the state of the switch, i.e. if it is on or off.

I would much prefer a switch that I can send a specific 'On' or 'Off' command. That would fit in with my plans for for my Home Automation set-up.

Would I recommend them? Yes.

I will probably get a couple more.

The double switch will probably be installed in the hall to remotely control the lights in the porch and hall. Very handy on a cold wet dark evening, to be able to turn the lights from the car.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thai Restaurant @ the Beacon, Sandyford

I went for lunch to the Thai Restaurant at the Beacon in Sandyford, Dublin 18 yesterday.

It was to mark the departure of a work colleague, John Milner. No this is not the John Milner, who was the Hot Rod driver from the movie American Graffiti. It was the other one, the world famous database administrator.

This is the third time I was there and had a similar experience each time.

The setting is nice and relaxed and the service is fair to good for lunch time.

The food on all three occasions was decidedly bland.

I do quite a bit of cooking myself and am a big fan of chilli and garlic. Can you have too much? Definitely in relation to chilli, yes. Garlic on the other hand, requires much higher densities before reaching critical mass.

I had Nasi Goreng this time. This is a sort of a stir fry with rice, wegitables, chicken and prawns. This was accompanied with a fried free range egg on top. Sounds good, eh?

There was also chicken satay stick on a bed of pineapple and onions covered in a satay sauce. I must admit that I am not a big fan of onions, but usually partake, as they are part of the whole experience (one hopes).

There were also some non descript fried cracker fellas, which were nice and crispy but didn't taste of anything.

The Nasi Goreng followed this trend by not really having much flavour. Even the fried egg was bland. The chicken didn't taste like chicken and was very soft. I wondered how freshly it was cooked. The prawns had the correct texture but that was it.

The chicken satay stick, which was sort of flattened, as they usually are. It was very well cooked. Maybe that was very very well cooked. I sort of like crispy fried chicken, so I persevered. In my attempts to consume it, I had a bit of a problem distinguishing between the chicken and the skewer.

I began to do what I normally do in these cases, which is to loosen the skewers grip on the chicken. This then allows the chicken to be easily pushed off the wood.

So there I was holding down the chicken with my fork and twisting the skewer, as you do. Then the chicken slipped from beneath my fork and the chicken spun and paddled the sauce in all directions. I received 4 large drops on my front. They turned out to be those nasty greasy stains that cannot be washed off and serve only as a symbol of ones ineptitude with the whole eating process.

I even think some of the other drops landed on someone else's plate.


I fully understand that this was my fault and not necessarily a result of the quality of the food.

Having seamlessly carried out this procedure, totally unnoticed by companions, I continued to complete my repast.

The pineapple was nice.

Did I eat everything? Damn right I did. I was paying enough for it and it was not offensive. It was just a bit dull. I know that Thai is not the spiciest of Asian food styles but still should not be considered dull.

I freely admit that Thai food would not be my cuisine of choice. Not enough chilli and garlic and too much ginger.

Was this any worse then previous experiences with Thai food at different establishments? Probably not.

At the previous Thai restaurant, did I say that I would never go to another Thai restaurant? Yes.

Am I being fair in my views of this one? Who cares!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

USB Temperature Sensor and Linux

I picked up an USB Temperature Sensor on eBay a few weeks ago. Total cost just over 4 Euros. It would have been rude not to get one. It is a HIP TEMPer model from They have a few mad products such as a three foot switch. I like it.

I took quite a while to actually arrive.

It arrived today, so I plugged it into a Windows XP machine and installed the software. Yep, worked fine. The software that comes with it is basically crap. The colour scheme is way ugly.

This is not a problem at all as I planned to use it on Linux. I wanted to be able to poll the device and pull a temperature reading off it, stick it in a mySql database and present the data via a PHP web page. Bob's your aunty.

After consulting Dr. Google for a while, I came across this site, that had what I was looking for.

I downloaded the driver and ran it. Perfect, almost.

It ran in a loop with lots of other data being shown. The default executed in a debug mode.

So, I had a look at the source code. I am not a C programmer but it was easy to follow.

I changed a few settings, commented out a few lines, compiled and tested it. Wash, rinse and repeat.

After a very short period of time, I had what I wanted.

The program just reads once and outputs the temperature in centigrade.


Just the thing to use in a script and automate.

I think I will get a few more. Very cheap and useful. Brilliant piece of kit.

I use 1-wire sensors for a lot of my temperature measurements. This is another tool for the toolbox. This is all due to the Linux drivers provided by

He is the hero.

I have added an update to this blog   - USB Temperature Sensor and Linux (Part 2)  on 10/08/2012. Included come compiled code.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Linux Media Player Part 2

This time I tried one of the most popular ones, MythTV.

I tried this first a few years ago and failed dismally to get it to work properly.

This time around I did not fair much better. It is overly complicated and poorly documented. Sure, there is loads of docs but I found it difficult to follow. After two days of install and set-up, what I ended up with was a poorly operating system. It was slow and sluggish.

Too many things. I just wanted to play a few cds and watch a few videos.

A single application device.

So, I basically abandoned Myth TV.

Hello again Freevo.

It installed fairly easily on Fedora 11. There is just 1 configuration file. Excellent.

It all works. No issues.

There are many new features added since I first set-up Freevo.

The Question: "Which is a good and lightweight Home Theatre / Media Player to install on an old or low spec PC?"

The Answer: Freevo

It is really an answer and not the answer. There are other other ones.

Another one I played around with last year was GeeXboX. It was fairly good. The best thing was that it came on a bootable cd, so it was easy to test out.

I think I shall just do that.

In the mean time, I am a Freevo sort of guy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Linux Media Player

I have been a fan of Freevo for a few years now, but decided to review what the current state is with other application.

The reason I chose Freevo, was because it was relatively easy to set-up and did not require a powerful computer to run on.

The PC I choose to run the tests on is a 1.? Ghz machine with 512Mb of RAM.

The first candidate was XBMC. It looked good. Downloaded and installed it, no problems. When I started to use it, there were some serious issues. It played fine but the user interface was very, very slow. Dragging the mouse accross the screen produced a large number of jumps.

This product was quickly dismissed, as it would fail the UAT (User Acceptance Test) straight away.

The next fella was LinuxMCE. This requires a specific version of Kubuntu to install. It is all contained on the DVD image which is handy.

The install took many hours, about 5, to complete. There were a few hangs and reboots. It didn't fail but just picked up from where it left off.

When I got it installed, I had some trouble setting preferences, such as IP address. The changes were not retained. This gets very frustrating, after 5 or 5 attempts to set something.

I noticed that it failed to pick up various media available.

The main issue was the customisation. It wouldn't take the changes.

After a number of hours, there was only one decision and that was /bin.

The end.

The next system is MythTV. I have it installed on Fedora Core 11 and need to configure it.

More next time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sinead's 1-Wire Alarm Clock

My daughter Sinead has a problem getting up for college in the morning.

She finds standard alarm clocks do not work for her. Too easy to turn off and go snoozing again.

We investigated a number of solutions, such as louder alarm clocks etc, but nothing really provided a complete solution.

I have been involved, some people would say obsessed, with Home Automation for a while now. One of the technologies that I use is called '1-Wire'.

1-Wire is basically a 2 wire network, that can be used with a number of components supplied by Dallas Semiconductor Co (now Maxim) to perform a number of functions, controlled by a computer for example.

They are probably best known, in geekdom, for their DS18S20 temperature sensor. I use these throughout the house to measure the temperature in different rooms.

They product other chips that do different things. The one I used in this case was a DS2405 addressable switch. It is an oldish device that has been superseded by the DS2406 and DS2408.

Anyway, it can be used as a switch and as a sensor to detect voltage. Pretty useful.

When the alarm goes off, the patron will need to get out of the scratcher, go to where the computer is, bring up a web page and click 'OFF'. She has an iPaq which is connected to the network. There will be a block on using an iPaq to turn off the alarm. Hehe! Evil, evil, evil.

My design is as follows:

1. Use my existing 1-Wire network to control the DS2405.
2. Use the DS2405 to control a relay.
3. Use the relay to switch on and off a sound source.
4. Use a PHP web page to interface with the set-up, i.e. turn on/off, set-up schedules, etc.
5. Use bash scripts to manage the schedule automatically.
6. Cost me nothing, except time.

List of materials:

DS2405 (or DS2406 or DS2408)

Some relay. I used a Opto-Isolator, which I already had. I used Opto-isolator,ISD74 5300Vac/50mA DIP8 which I got from

A door /window alarm I got from Lidl a number of years ago. There is a small siren, that is loud enough for this application. I shouldn't wake people in other rooms.

5V Transformer. I used one from an old Sony walkman.

Various cabling, cat-5 and phone cable.

Some heat shrink sleeving (to make it all neat-o)


Prepare the alarm. Strip out the button batteries, remove the battery contacts. You are left with a red and black wire. I also removed the reed relay sensor.

Connect the 1-Wire cable to the GND and 5V of the DS2405.

Connect the PIO and GND of the DS2405 to the appropriate pins. See spec sheet for this chip.

Connect the output pins to the 5V+. One to the walkman and the other to the 5V on the alarm siren (red wire).

Connect the black wire from the alarm to the gnd on the transformer.

I was able to fit all the components in to the alarm, after removing the batteries and cutting a plastic separator.

Wired it up to the 1-Wire controller and tested it. Worked perfectly.

Patched it through from where the main computer is to Sinead's bedroom.

Next Step:

Write the PHP script to provide an interface to turn it off, when the patron has arisin.

Put together a bash script to automate the switch on and off of the alarm. I think 30 mins on would be sufficient. I you can't get up in that time, you are not there or there is a serious problem.

This will be the easy part.

Power failure - Restart not successful - No Email

There was a power failure here yesterday and knocked out the computers that were running.

One of these was my Internet server. It provides my web sites '' and '' and acts as my email server.

It is based on Linux, so, I thought that it should recover fairly easily.

This was not 100% true. The web site came up fine but email was working well.

I use sendmail as my MTA, which can be very difficult to configure and maintain.

I noticed that I hadn't received any emails since the afternoon. There are always emails being sent, either externally or internally from the various scheduled jobs that are always running. Something was wrong.

On further inspection of the /var/log/maillog, I say many messages like:

Milter: data, reject=451 4.3.2 Please try again later


to=, delay=00:00:04, pri=31034, stat=Please try again later

and even

to=root, ctladdr=root (0/0), delay=00:00:02, xdelay=00:00:02, mailer=relay, pri=30341, relay=[] [], dsn=4.0.0, stat=Deferred: 451 4.3.2 Please try again later

I said to myself, "What the Feck!".

I did the usual quick fix, i.e. "Did you try turning it off and on again?". No change.

I run Spamassassin and Clamav (Virus Protection), which can be troublesome boys, so, they were the next suspects.

The main clue from the maillog, was the word 'Milter'. This is basically a mail filter. There is one for Spamassassin and Clamav.

If you have ever set these up on Linux, you will know how tricky it can be. The documentation is not clear enough. It becomes clear after you have completed the job, which is not very helpful. Clamav has many components and it is not clear what are required.

Spamassassin seemed to be fine. It was identifying spam and non spam correctly.

Next was Clamav. I checked the configs, all OK. Ran an update on the data ans s/w. No change.

Checked my old notes. No help there. Talked to DR Google. Same.

I had a look through the bash history and noticed something.

I could see that 'clamav-milter' was running bit 'clamd' was not.

I started 'clamd' and restarted 'clamav-milter'. All good.


Mail logs looked good. Emails were coming through. Happy days.

What did I learn?

Make better notes (probably never happen).

Fully automate for a restart. I remember when I recently rebuilt the Internet server, there were issues with these email components. I obviously did not fully complete the install and left things not starting on boot.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Handy Little Helping Hands Mutation

I use those helping hands tool for messing with electronics and other small projects.

I love Lidl sometimes. This was another gold find. A few months ago, I saw on their web site that they had them, so I got two of them.

Full of handiness.

This is what they look like.

These are the boxed fellas.

I often found that there were not enough clips to assist me with my very important work.

I thought, I should buy another.

I saw the advert for Lidl, and got two at a great price.

After swapping some of the bits around I was able to build some mutated tools, which gave me more then I needed.

And again......

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Major Computer Failure

I woke up on Wednesday to find that the boiler had not turned on.

I have an iPaq that I use from the scratcher to control things around the house. I cranked it up and nothing. I then arose and checked out the house server called 'Multipass'. The name is based on a scene from 'The Fifth Element'.

It was dead. Switched it on and a few minutes later it powered down again. I powered it on a few times and the same result. Dead.

I had always suspected that it would fail. The PSU was not really up to the job. It was 300W and there were a few disks and a fairly beefy motherboard installed. Not a big server but a well used one.

Anyway it died.

I toddled off to work, as you do.

On the way home, I called into PC World and had a look.

For fecks sake. PSUs about 50 to 150 euros. There was no one around to help me with my problem.

I thought... Maybe get a new case with PSU included. None of their cases has PSU included. Cases from 50 to more then 200. Feck again, I said.

Exit stage left...........

I was almost home, when I remembered that there was a computer shop on the Johnstown Road, called A1 Computers.

I did a quick U-turn and headed there. They had a case with PSU for 50 euros. Had a quick look and bought it. Shiny black. Cool

I spent most of the rest of the evening moving the old stuff to the new case. The new case was about 5cm smaller front to back then the original case.

This proved to be a bit of a challenge but I got everything fitted in. The main issue I had, was that the screw holes for the drives did not line up. I fitted the drives using gravity as the securing system. Not great but the server is out if the way and will never move while it is on.

I cranked it up and after a few issues, everything started fine.

It is amazing how much one begins to rely on a hose server.

My one has the following config:

Linux - Fedora

1-Wire - Controlling temperature measurement inside and out ( It is also used for the heating boiler controller.

CurrentCost - electricity monitoring and reporting.

HomeEasy - electrical device power on/off as part of a home automation project including an Ardino ethernet controller.

X-10 - again home automation of devices

File server - for general 'My Documents' centralization, music, videos, pictures, pdfs etc.

Web Server - several specific web pages for wiring, IP address db, weather and temperature pages and a general house page with sites of interest, including TV, media and public transport links.

Virtual Machine running Windows XP.

Digiguide central repository.

Things you take for granted are not there when the system failed.

Anyway, all back and available. Cool.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sheeva PlugComputer

It seems I have bought a Sheeva PlugComputer. Not really sure what I will use it for.

Probably some Home Automation solution or monitoring activity.

Options are 1-Wire, CurrentCost or HomeEasy applications.

Linux = anything

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Home Made Chorizo

I have been messing about for the past few months with various sausage recipes. Some have been fairly successful while others turned out awful.

Last Saturday I decided to have another go. I went to the Spicy Sausage (not a person) and came across a recipe for Chorizo.

I had a couple of gigot pork chops, purchased for this very purpose. What is a gigot chop anyway? I always thought it was lamb. That's what it said on the label anyway.

I cut them into bits and blitzed them in a food processor. Not too fine. Mixed in the spices, herbs, salt and the other ingredients including plenty of garlic.

Made a small patty and fried it. The result was fantastic. I was so surprised by the texture. It was exactly like a Chorizo.

I only had a fraction of the meat outlined in the recipe, so had to make adjustments to the quantities. I think I put too much salt in to though.

It was very nice indeed. I tried it with a few things. Eggs did not really work, even though you would thing they would.

I tried them with potatoes and I would have to say they are best friends.

I will definitely make it again. The next time, check it for seasoning as I go, rather then just plonking in the salt and cayenne.

I don't think I will go down the road of actually making sausages in the casings and all that. Well, not at present anyway.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Spirit Movie

I just saw the Spirit. In general, it didn't think it was great.

I was a great fan of the comics, and thought that they did not do justice to Will Eisner.

Still the effects were great and even some of the visual jokes resulted in a chuckle.

I don't think I would bother watching it again.


Sourdough Bread

I made a batch of sourdough starter about 2 months ago. Everything went fine.

I took a while for me to get the hang of using the sourdough starter as a replacement for my normal rising agent which is dried yeast.

I found that it took about 20 to 22 hours for the dough to fully proove before baking. This is not a problem. All it means is that the baking requires more planning.

I made both white and brown loaves. The white was a fantastic product. It seemed like a cross between normal white bread (whatever that is) and Italian ciabatta. It was crusty and chewy with lots of big holes. Hmmmm....

The brown bread product was a different matter. I tried it with both strong brown flour and wholemeal flour. It was quite nice. It was light but not as light as the white. The extra density in the flour, produced a product that was much more crumbly but not crumbly in a good way. The texture of saw dust springs to mind, which I claim that I have never eaten.

The reception of these by the various patrons has been mixed. My brother and the Mater say it is Brillo Pads (Very Nice) where as the Lovely Noodles (My Wife), Pina Pina and Nead (My Daughters) would rather drink from a pox bottle (Not a good thing). I dont actually know what a pox bottle is but I feel that it would not be a very nice thing. My friend Whoolio also thinks it is Brillo and so do I.

I am not sure how long I will continue to go down the sourdough road. It is a bit of a hassle. The sourdough starter need to be looked after at least every 2 days.

I feel compelled (wrongly of course) to only bake sourdough bread. I can probably get therapy for that. I should probably mix the baking styles more, i.e. soda bread, normal yeast and sourdough. That should keep everyone happy, even me.

Feeding the starter makes the starter grow in volume quite a bit. I would say that I have about 2000 mils of the stuff. I am such a cheapskate I hate throwing good stuff out.

Anyway, it died and got washed down to the big sink.

Always good for the biomass of the drains.

Now back to soda bread and dried yeast (mostly) bread.

DNS Problems Not Resolved

Finally, I can access this blog from home. I had an issue with my DNS that I have been able to overcome. Simple really, as it often is.