Friday, November 30, 2018

International Power

Subtitle Seasonal Present #6

Marcus and Agata don't travel as far or as often as we might like.  But when we do we will certainly be needing

a) The Internet
b) Someway to charge our Devices that connect to the Internet

And so I'd like to promote our new Generation #3 International Travel Plug.

3 Generations

From left to right

Gen#1  Targus Plug.  0 USB Ports.  Does accommodate the Swiss Mains Plug, with the third slightly offset line Earth pin.

Gen#2 NoName Plug. Covers all countries we have ever visited and came with 2 USB , large i.e. Type A sockets.  Now being relegated to Backup plug and placed in our Motorhome so that any impromtu cross border trip will not leave us short.

Gen#3.  Order for about 20 GBP from Amazon here.  The subject of this review.

As part of our single backup only commitment we are not allowed to keep a second or further paranoid backups of stuff and so the oldest device, faithful Targus plug hits the recycling bin tonight.

Is it Great?
There are a number of other adapters around this price and specification point.  We chose this one because

- Amazon Prime delivery

- Worldwide Compatibility including Switzerland. Switzerland's sockets differ from Mainland Europe and are sometimes forgotten by Plug converter manufacturers :-(

- A total of 5 USB ports which can deliver upto 5.6 Amps

- USB 3.0 Type A ports get 2.4 Ampere max per port upto the 5.6 Ampere limit

- USB Type C can deliver upto 3 Amps max, but combined with the other USB ports to 5.6 Amps total 

- Example shows me charging a Smartphone at about 1 Ampere, pretty damn fast.

- Comes with cable to charge an Apple lightening powered port

- Came with case that I'll never use, it hit recycling already

Our short trip gear list now always includes at least 8 USB devices and this versatile travel adapter and our Anker Chargers help us keep everything charged overnight so that we are fresh for our daily adventures.



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Have you tried Switching it Off and On Again ... Remotely

The Prodigy: Diesel Power

Subtitle: Internet will (of course) be Required

Doing what your Grandfather did but in 2018
If you live with very old people they may have advised you, perhaps ad nauseum, to ... 'unplug your electrical equipment' from the power socket before going to bed.

To Marcus, this is just preposterous in 2018.  The unplug movement of my fathers and perhaps younger readers' Grandparents generation ...

- Unplugged Electrical appliances when not used or certainly at bedtime

- The Electricity Supply of 100 years ago had cases of fluctuating voltage that could in the worst case damage connected devices.   But really this risk was always minimal.

- In 2018 the risk of surges entering your house is almost mathematically zero.  Possibly in freak weather conditions it could be entertained, so maybe once per year, if that?

- In 2018 connected devices power down to use almost no Watts of Power at all. 

- In 2018 any sensitive equipment can be placed on a Surge Protected Power Brick

Remote Control

As above in 2018 I find it ludicrous that any of my friends in England, any that can actually spell the word Internet, would seriously entertain the need to unplug their Electricals before bedtime .

But what if you had a remote outhouse, wouldn't it be nice to power on the heating say 20 minutes before you started work in there ...

And indeed in our Gen#1 solution we used a TP-Link TS100 Smart plug.  Although it's a known and quality brand; the plug turned out to be less than reliable and we've had to re-program it more than once after it seems to lose credentials.

In essence:

- This is a plug with WiFi

- You tell it your router's Wifi SSID and password

- It makes an outbound connection (in this case) to the TP-Link cloud server

- Your smartphone app talks up to that cloud to remotely control the plug.

For Marcus and Agata the ability to pre-warm our Cave before working there: is a game changer,  plus on a long cycle ride we can stop cycling, use our Smartphone App to put the heating on so when we get back we can cleanup in the warm.   Really great.

Then the (Genius) Idea.  Generation #2

After some more Internet research we found that more advanced WiFi plugs now exist.  They can include an Electrical Power Meter.

TP-Link now do a HS110 plug which includes Power Monitoring but its higher price point and our less than satisfactory experience with the HS100 plugs we bought led us instead to choose   Teckin plugs

For a pack of 4 the price drops to  10 GBP each and recall this is a plug that can switch a full 13 Amperes, is very small, and includes Power monitoring.

Not Only

Can I measure the instantaneous power used in the Cave, but one is also connected to Marcus' main workstation, and I can even look at trends in power usage.

It's absolutely fan flippin tastic!

Oh and did I mention, you can also generate an On-Off power schedule

And also Voice control from Amazon Alexa

The Teckin WiFi Smart Plug with Energy Monitoring, is great.  I'm very happy to recommend it as #5 Seasonal present.  

A reminder to friends and family,  not for us!, we already have them.

Learning Points
In an early analysis of costs:  The UK has an electricity cost of about 0.15 GBP  (15 pence) per kwH.   From above let us assume an Electricity consumption of the Workstation of 6 kwH per day.  The running cost of the server is therefore about 0.9 i.e. 90 pence per day, let's call it 1 GBP including the other items not measured like routers and firewalls.   Now that is one of the biggest bargains ever!  (365 GBP per year)

Let's compare.  Our Audi does about 30 miles per Gallon in petrol consumption.  This is 12.75 Kilometres per Litre.  And in the UK unleaded petrol is today 1.29 GBP per litre.  So in petrol costs ..

365 GBP is  365/1.29 = 283 Litres which translates to 283 * 12.75 = about 3600 km of driving.

So you can be the judge,  1 year of my Workstation Electricity is as costly as driving 3600 km in our car.   I know which one I would rather have :-)

All in all, these new Plugs make Energy Monitoring effortless and the ability to remotely Switch on and off select devices is a real game changer to us.

I encourage you all to try it, right here, right now.

Giorgio Moroder & Kylie - Right Here, Right Now

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Great Mince Pie Analysis

Image may contain: dessert, food and indoor

To our international friends and readers, of course British Mince Pies have nothing to do with any animal mince(meat).

If you consult Wikipedia here you can learn in more detail how the original mince pies from the 13th century indeed were filled with meat, but over time it has instead become a sweet, pasty dish that does not include any meat (but may contain animal fats)


The raw materials for Mince Pie making are Pastry and Mince Pie filling, unless you go old skool and mix up the fruit and spice ingredients from scratch.  So out of season your only option is indeed to make your own pies

The Season
By some means of an Open Conspiracy between all British Supermarkets, mince pies are not available all year around.   Usually only from about October to February.  So as I write it is indeed peak mince pie :-)

But who is best?

Best is of course subjective, there are a few guidelines to note.

Most supermarkets have their own range of Mince Pies

Morrisons is no exception but they are the only supermarket who also makes the product in house  (as shown above)

Basic Mince Pies come in at about 6 for 1 GBP

Fancy 'better quality' or containing unusual extras such as alcohol, unusual pastry, claimed superior ingredients are about 2GBP for 6

Our local farmshop Hillers offers 6 mince pies for over 3GBP. 

Generic variations include an Icing topping, the conventional closed Pasty top or a Latticed One.

Also there is a trend for mini mince pies of 30 grams in weight instead of the more usual 60 grams.


Quite horrifically an individual mince pie, normally about 60 grams in weight is about 250 calories give or take.

We tested

As a service to many friends including athletes we have been testing every Supermarket's produce in detail.   That includes the like of Sainsbury, Asda, Tesco, Watirose, Marks and Spencer, even Aldi.

And the Winner Is

Surprisingly to Marcus it is Morrisons Shortcut Mince Pies, baked in Store.  Why ...

- It is baked in store, even Hillers does not do that!

- The price of 1.47 is very reasonable for a best quality pie and they often do 2 for 2 GBP which then becomes a total bargain

- Minimum packaging, no cellophane top, ( cellophane is not recyclable in our country of Warwickshire). Just a single plastic tray which is 100% recyclable according to the council

- On the minus side there is no ingredient information, at all  (how is that legal?), so we have to trust that their bestest pies contain the bestest ingredients.  Subjectively they taste as off the best.

So stock up for the Christmas season,  Athletes unite and say, we can burn at least 2 pies a day during winter training, right?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Unravelling Complexity

Identifying Good Research

Marcus and Agata are all about 'Untangling Complexity'.  In fact should Marcus get run over tomorrow I can say that I'd be happy to have this message chiselled onto my Tombstone.

Recently I came across a wonderful video which basically says it all.   What do I mean?

- The Presenter is very passionate about his subject
- He takes the time to make this YouTube video, not really for profit but because of his interest
- He explains the situation carefully and slowly
- We get to learn something, I now know just a little more about XSS Cross Site Scripting than before
- We get to see in detail how a subtle post might be the superior one ... I like :-)

And in a similar vein ...

In 2018 I feel that many technologies are well established.  Yet we sometimes forget, or more possibly have entered this arena, say Operating Systems, or Networking SIMs, at a time when the fundamentals were never explained and are just taken for granted.

What if somebody can lift the lid and show you something pretty amazing about a technology you have been taking for granted for ever.   Well keep watching:

How do SIM Cards Work

In all of our writings I hope that we try to explain our chosen topic from the ground up, in a slow and deliberate manner.  This makes the subject approachable to the many and we even gain a few advocates along the way.   And all of the videos here do the same.   I like :-)

Securing Instant Messaging

See Also

End to End Encryption
Diffie Helman

Monday, November 26, 2018

Seasonal Presents #4: Raspberry Pi Xmas Christmas Tree

Subtitle: Build your 1 Watt Christmas Tree

Not since the BBC Computer of the 1980's has there been such a groundbreaking device as the Raspberry Pi computer series.  And in 2018, to repeat it's available for buttons, I mean about 50 GBP for the project I will outline below.

It gives you the power to experience real hard core, in depth technical Linux Operating system, and Application development.   It has a General Purpose Input Output interface  (some pins that you can read and write), and can attach and control a variety of dedicated, and again low cost hardware.

Its enormous base of End Users means you can Google support help for any issue or problem.

The Project Then

What I am proposing is that you self build a Seasonal Christmas Tree based Raspberry Pi Computer, or buy the parts and gift them.

You will need the following components.  I'm using Pi Hut as an example only.  Other vendors are available :-)

- Pi Zero W  Computer (10 GBP Great British Pounds)

- Case  (optional but nice otherwise your computer will sit bare on the table)  6GBP

- Christmas Tree  15 GBP
If you follow the link you will see that the Soldering Kit is pretty awkward to make.  I'd go for the pre-soldered version

- micro SD Card 10 GBP

The link goes to a card with the Raspberry Pi OS called Raspbain pre installed.  Personally I'd rather go for a blank card from Amazon/ eBay, then google the NOOBS instructions,  which are to download the code, put the microSD into an SD holder, into a SD slot on a PC.  Format the card and then unzip the download onto the card.

micro HDMI adapter  7GBP
This converts form the smaller connector on the Pi to the regular larger connector used by most TV's and Monitors.  Personally I'd rather goto Amazon/eBay for a shielded part enclosed in plastic, but might take longer to deliver from China etc.

- micro USB shim  2GBP

This changes the micro USB to a full size one so that you can connect up a keyboard

You'll also need to scrounge from home a keyboard and Mouse, an HDMI cable to connect up an initial screen, and a Micro USB cable and power adapter of at least 1 Ampere


I have a combined Keyboard and Mouse which is handy because the Pi Zero W above only has a single free micro USB connector for data that you will convert to fullsize using the Shim.  But if you only have a separate keyboard and mouse then initial installation is a bit tricky because only the keyboard OR mouse can be connected at any one time :-)

Once configured you can access the pi remotely over the wireless so its only an annoyance in the build phase

Big Picture Instructions

- Buy the Bits

- Install the Raspbian Operating System

- Boot Pi,  using a Terminal and raspi-config program running as root user via sudo you will change to a Console non graphical logon, setup the wifi, enable ssh, reboot

- From a PC or Mac use an ssh client to wirelessly get into the Pi. From a PC I recommend the ssh client putty

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install python-gpiozero python3-gpiozero

- Upgrade the Raspbian OS to the latest level and install the application code for the Christmas Tree, shutdown, disconnect power

- Assemble Christmas Tree, easy if you got the pre-soldered version

- Attach Christmas tree ... at last!!  Make sure the resistors point towards the HDMI socket  (or bad things will happen)

- Power up, and start the Christmas tree program like this


cat <<EOF >
from gpiozero import LEDBoard
from import random_values
from signal import pause
tree = LEDBoard(*range(2,28),pwm=True)
for led in tree:
led.source_delay = 0.5
led.source = random_values()


That's it!

NB: vary the led.source_delay parameter to control the speed of the randomly changing lights


Using my wonderful Bluetooth connected Power meter I find that the running Christmas tree computer consumes less than 1 Watt of power.  How fantastic is that!

If you left the Computer and Tree on for the whole month of December, with UK electricity at 0.15 GBP per kwH

We would need  31 * 24  = 744 Watt hours, so that is 0.15 * 744/1000 =  0.12   So it will cost just 12 pence per month to run this computer tree.

So Finally

What can possibly be stopping you?

It's a small inexpensive but groundbreaking computer.  You will learn something about Linux, OS installation, configuration,  Remote PC access, some basic Python coding.

It's a reusable Xmas Tree.   No chopping down organic trees and then having pine needles all over the carpet, just plain old energy conscious, carbon conscious, computer based, science and technology.  Delivering the goods as usual.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Sermon: We Will Die

Orbital: We Will Die

And this week the best that has ended up in my Religious Inbox includes ...

Bonus Articles

We Have the Love

And finally a shout out to all those Religious people, including for example Christians, who make a special effort at this time of year.  Spare a thought for those of no Religious persuasion, who do their best, and have love, at all times of the year.  

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Seasonal Presents Part #3: The Household Tool Set

Subtitle: Fixa from IKEA 001.692.54

This Saturday it is time to continue our series of Great but yet not wallet busting presents for the season.  The theme that you will identify with, building on the first in the series, are items that have proved invaluable time and time in the Agata and Marcus household.  You will see that we are advocates of reasonable pricing, good design, and longevity. 

Today: Fixa 17 piece IKEA Toolset

This provides a useful fallback set of tools that every household should carry all in a nice compact plastic box.

This is not going to replace a specialist tool-set so don't give it to your DIY expert friend, it will be an insult, but as a starter set for somebody who has but nothing it's really great.

- A regular hammer
- A rubber cap to turn that into a mallet.  Very useful for IKEA furniture assembly :-)
- Some Pliers
- A hex drive Socket Handle and set of bits
- A small mini adjustable wrench

And yes it's only 8 GBP !!

If Marcus and Agata were giving one we might tack a small machine printed label saying Agata and Marcus 2018 to identify our gift for all time :-)

Go forth to IKEA and get one. Present #2, 2018

Friday, November 23, 2018

Marbleous Friday

Black Friday Advice

Brian Ferry: Don't stop the Dance

Whatever you buy this Black Friday 2018.

Just remember

If you buy it from Amazon then you can return it and get your money back, should the item not be appropriate.
(Normally a 100% refund except in exceptional circumstances.  Please read the Amazon blurb here)

Buy Wisely.

Meanwhile enjoy the Music.

BEP:  Feeling

Ice T: Good Day

If you study the Wikipedia Page you will surely agree with me that the Fire HD 10 is the best one to get, save for the fact that it is running version 5 and not the latest version 6 of the Amazon Operating System.

Great  BF Advice from Robbie at 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Amazon Fire Tablet is Reborn, Seasonal Gift #2

For some months Marcus' use of the Amazon Fire 10 HD tablet that I bought in November 2017 has dwindled to almost zero.  But that is about to change because, as I shall explain this device is now reborn as a beautiful hands free, Alexa capable display

Just Fantastically Useful

It is especially timely because right now Amazon again in 2018 Black Friday reduces the price to a shatteringly low 100 GBP ...

Advent Calendar
I am publishing a list of recommendations of seasons gifts that I would be proud to give; and that friends and family, I would hope would see the sense in receiving.   #2 in my recommendations list then is the 

Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet

But what about the Dot?

Earlier, I had strongly promoted my view that the latest Amazon Echo Dot, Generation 3 was a totally unbeatable deal at less than 30 GBP.   This is still true , but ...

Using an Amazon Tablet Instead

There are many ways to communicate with the Amazon Alexa voice assistant.  The cheapest way is still via a free Smartphone app or via an Amazon Echo Dot device.

But the Dot has no screen and to be able to make video calls or see subtitled answers from Alexa, or video results then well, you clearly need a screen.

So if cost is no object then the Spot and the Show can be considered, but both are far less capable in big picture terms than an Amazon tablet:

Note that not all tablets support Show Mode or Hands Free mode.  You need to check this article

My reading is:

Fire 7, Fire HD 8 gen7 support Alexa Hands Free Mode
Fire 8 gen7 and Fire HD 10 gen7 support Alexa Show Mode

My Setup

- The base device serving Alexa is the Fire HD 10 tablet

- The tablet is sitting on an inexpensive Aluminium tablet stand

- I Bluetooth paired an old Logitech speaker, that has both a microphone and speaker to  replace the below par Tablet sound and mic with the Logitech superior one

- At the least the Alexa Hands-Free option must be selected.  Now when you say "Alexa" followed by your question Alexa will speak the answer with the occasional visual

- If you also switch on show mode , via the slider or voice command then you get combined visual responses, plus there is a carousel of full screen information

(Personally this got a little distracting after only about 20 minutes, so its great to know that a simple voice command can turn it off, and then back on when you want it)

And so that is it, you have a great Alexa device, with visual responses, and then you can take the tablet with you as usual, simply docking it back when you  return.

Really Really impressed!  The tablet is now fantabulously useful.

To Summarise

A year later, the Amazon Fire 10 HD tablet is again on sale for 100 GBP.  That's an amazing deal in itself

Amazon have a variety of Alexa devices that contain a screen, but they are all quite expensive.

Instead you can put your Fire HD 10 tablet onto a stand and link it to a Bluetooth Speaker and have a better than Amazon Dot 3 experience, for really very little money.

And this does not preclude you taking your tablet with you anywhere anytime to use as a tablet.

The big improvement is that the tablet now has both Alexa hands free mode and Alexa Show Mode.   In show mode Alexa talks back an answer to your question but also provides additional information on screen, making for a superior than Echo Dot experience.

Whilst the Microphone and speaker of the tablet are pretty puny when paired with my old Bluetooth speaker it became instantly the match to an Echo Dot version 3.

And so  I can thoroughly recommend this Fire HD 10 tablet with stand and Bluetooth speaker as a superior than Echo Dot Generation 3, Spot or Show alternative.