Monday, August 19, 2019

The Economist

Festivals and the Experience Economy

Subtitle: About that Inverted Yield Curve

I have already gushed just a little about using YouTube for learning.  And today I present just a little more of the same.  Follow this link  for my previous thoughts including Confirmation Bias.

Because it's been a few decades since I studied Economics it was interesting to learn about a concept I had thought about, but had not realised was an established thing:  The Experience Economy

YouTube Again

- With an Internet connection and Smartphone / PC , YouTube gives you access to an infinity of video content.  Most good, some bogus, viewer discretion required

- I still can't believe this sort of service is free.  To Marcus, who grew up in a pay for what you get world: a useful service, that costs millions of dollars per year to produce, well, my brain tells me I should be paying something for it

- Discretion is required to avoid mostly searching for channels that support your Viewpoint, though I do drawn the line at spending any more than a moment on crackpot content

Now that I have hopefully got your attention and warmed you up with the above introductory video.  Time for something more serious:

An inversion is when shorter-dated yields are higher than longer-dated ones

The Inverted Yield Curve

Yield Signs, The Global Economy

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Review: Neos SmartCam 2019

Over the last 12 months SmartCams have transformed the way we are able to monitor our home in England.  But recently the price point has fallen so low and the capabilities increased that in particular the Neos Smartcam deserves a mention.

Actually my attention was first drawn to the Wyze smartcam which is a Chinese manufactured product sold in the USA.  And not available in the UK.   But in 2019 a visually identical product branded by Neos is available for amazon.  And here is the big news.

For 25 GBP including shipping in the UK from Amazon


To emphasise the value I can say that I bought the above cake for Sunday lunch from the local Swiss boulangerie.  It cost over 25 GBP.

Going Back
Webcams have been expensive.  Our Nest cameras cost over 200 GBP each, and there is worse to come.  In order to have motion detection clips recorded in the cloud, you need to subscribe, and that is not free.

Neos conversely has features that I'll outline and there is free cloud storage of motion detected clips for 14 days.

Some Features Then

- Full HD resolution 1920 x 1080 colour webcam with 110 degree angle of capture

- Infrared sensor switches on when the lights are out.

- Motion detection is excellent and configurable.  The 12 second clip is recorded to the cloud (and I believe to the local microSD card though this is not well documented)

- There is a microphone and speaker so you can talk to the audience at home.  In fact we use this to monitor our pets whilst we are away and even talk to them

 - Decent range of options from the Android or iOS app.  the iOS app is better :-(

- You can define one or more users and then when all of them have left based on their GPS position reported from the smartphone app to the central servers, your camera will automatically arm, and send a popup onto your smartphone to tell you so

- As with most devices it uses the 2.4 Ghz Wifi network since this gives greater coverage, rather than the 5 Ghz network

Other Points

- Did I mention the bonkersly low cost!!!

- It has a magnetic base so it can hold to any metal surface.  They provide a sticky magnetic label so you can then hot attach the camera to any non magnetic flat surface.

- UK USB power adapter, and long flat 1.6m USB connecting cable supplied

- It integrates with Amazon Alexa so I can say "Alexa, show neos1 on my TV" and the stream is sent to my TV.  Fantastic!

- Can put a local microSD card of upto 32GB into the unit for local motion recording.

In Summary

Right now in 2019 the Neos smartcam is our goto, default Smartcam for inside the home.   Its low price, no subscription fees and high capabilities pretty much make it a no brainer.

UK Neos Website

Saturday, August 17, 2019

A Message to UK Dog Owners

Subtitle: So you want it like in Switzerland huh?

The number of times I have heard British people winging about how we should have the same deal as Switzerland (CH)  when it comes to EU regulations has made my head spin recently.

Perhaps the reason why the EU has given CH some extraordinary rights (for a non EU country) after over 30 years of hard bargaining, is that in CH everything costs.

In general CH follows mirrors many EU rules and practices and then add on a layer of ...

Many rules and regulations to enforce responsibility

Many taxes

And thou shalt not have a free ride

Today I'd like to message UK dog owners and ask them to consider the Swiss system

In the month of August 2019 Marcus and Agata have had 2 dogs in Switzerland. We very much appreciate that in Switzerland public spaces, roadsides, parks and even forests are usually absent from dog poo.  Additionally dogs seem well behaved.  Let's see how this works

Where we are living in Lausanne Switzerland there is an abundance of dog poo receptacles and bag dispensers.  They are individually numbered and checked regularly to be stocked with available bags.

You are expected to clear up dog poo in all city areas and personally I don't like it if our dog lets go on private lawns, so I try to conduct walks in Green Urban spaces owned by the Commune whenever possible.

Also I try to understand how I'd feel if a strangers dog was peeing against my hedge or gatepost.  And try to steer our animal away accordingly from theirs.

- Dogs must be registered

for Lausanne  it is here

- Whilst Dog training is no longer mandatory it is recommended for first time owners

- Dogs must be chipped at the age of 3 months.  If a Dog is imported it must be sent to a vet within 10 days of entry to CH

- Dogs must be registered on the AMICUS database

- There is an annual ownership tax which is at least 100 CHF, which varies by commune. This 85GBP paid yearly for each dog that you own is what pays for the poo bags and associated dog services  (e.g. maintenance of specific spaces for dogs).

- Dog noise: Is not tolerated in Switzerland!
Swiss Civil Code ZGB 684, "an owner is obligated to abstain from all excessive emissions affecting the property of the neighbours". 

Any neighbour can raise a complaint, the Police will investigate and will fine you. It will be hundreds of Francs, not tens.

Anti Bark collars are still available, though must meet more regulations after the change in laws of 2018

In our new location in the prestigious area of Le Mont sur Lausanne within one week I've had conversations with my neighbour who indicated our dog is somewhat noisy outside.   I've taken suitable remedial action already whenever I hear uncontrolled barking.

- Dog violence: If you dog bites another you are liable to a large fine, several hundred CHF or GBP.   I understand that multiple biting incidents will result in your dog being put down. At your cost.

- Abandonment: If you abandon your dog you are liable to a fine of over 10,000 CHF

- Exercise: There are many CH web reports that owners must suitably exercise their dogs but I could not find anything in the legislation.

- Dogs have a passport which must be presented for if asked on the border

- Website to help with crossing the border with dogs

- Veterinary Care: Dogs must be vaccinated and wormed regularly.  These are recorded.

- Care when away.  Expect to spend between 25 - 50 CHF per day to have your dog taken care of whilst you are away on holiday.

- Insurance: Highly recommended.  Typically prices from give figures of 150 CHF per year with payment of the first 1000 CHF of costs personally

- Other costs: As a responsible Dog owner your additional non insurable costs will typically include:  Dental treatment, Behavioural treatment for aggressive dogs, re-compensation to others for damage of property

So to say
In Switzerland, love your dog by all means, be responsible in all ways, but don't expect a free ride dear Englanders.  There is none.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Review: Omars 20K Power Delivery Power Bank

It may be 2019 but most manufacturers are still producing devices with anything but USB-C physical interfaces.   There are some exceptions of course and in particular I'm looking at ways to charge my   2018 HP Spectre Laptop

I'm relying on this more and more but sometimes, especially in the Motorhome I am way from any AC power source.

The main solution that I am now using is the Omars 20K Power Bank

Isn't USB 5V though?
As shown above this power bank delivers 45 Watts of charge. And if this was delivered at the standard 5V it would mean a current of 45/ 5 = 9 Amperes.  That would be ridiculously high.

So how does it work?

There is a standard called USB Power Delivery.

You are welcome to read the USB PD Interface Spec

Essentially a two way communication should occur where the device to be charged can indicate its maximum charge voltage and maximum current.  It is then upto the charger to provide what it can.  

Back to Omars

This has 2 old style USB-A ports which operate at 5V and one USB-C port that operates at a variety of voltages

You see that the USB-C PD interface will send out 20V at 2.5 amps to provide the maximum 45W to charge my laptop.   Actually the laptop can charge faster but this 45W charger was the best value from Amazon at only 34 GBP  Other higher power chargers are considerably more expensive

The additional killer feature is that there is a LED display of the battery bank percentage, so you can see at a glance when you can use it as a charger and when it needs charging.  Much better than a row of dots for example.

And So
My current road warrior strategy is use my HP laptop without worry for the first day.   I use the Powerbrick to fully recharge it ready for day #2 without mains power, at which point I will scout around for a mains source to charge up the Powerbrick and my laptop before day 2 ends.

Additionally this unit is powerful enough to charge my fleet of other portable devices many times over including the Smartphone, Garmin Watch, Bicycles Lights and Computer and Headphones.  Literally one unit can do it all.


USB PD Interface Specification

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Power Cycle Testing our Smart Home

In late July 2019 we got a paper letter from Western Power Distribution who support the physical electricity links to our home in England.

They informed us that we would be subject to a 6 hour plus power cut in August and since we might probably be away on that date we thought:

How restartable is our Smarthome?

Let's just expand on the potential problem.

- In the UK Marcus and Agata have taken our Grade 2 listed home and added some very modern upgrades.

- Our Smarthome upgrades include control of blinds, security elements like cameras and xxx,  lights, heating, watering systems, temperature and weather monitoring.

- As well as the normal voice control of the above

- And the plain old computer infrastructure including data storage and media storage

- And Cloud Syncing of critical data and period redundant backup of all data

- There are in the region of 100 Internet of Things (IOT) Devices

- There are over 15 IOT Webservers

Question:   If I turn off all mains power, count to 10, then switch back on the power,  will everything start back up as normal?

And even if it does,  can I repeat it more than once and have it come back good?

Answer: No !

In our testing sadly the answer is currently and repeatably No.  And so at the time of writing we are in damage limitation mode. And this means

- Noting the failure subsystems on our repeated power cycle tests.  These are on the todo list to investigate and fix at a later date.

- Ensuring critical security systems fail safe (,on a power OFF) , and cannot be controlled from any Internet portal or Cloud Service, but only from local LAN

- Creating a Back Door :-(

Creating a back door means that if after a power cycle either planned or unplanned, somehow, one or more of our IOT devices might fail in annoying way.

Our neighbours might complain if load music is blasting away and they can't get any sleep, and we are thousands of km away.

So we constructed as secure a back door as we can to enable, to get access to just the IOT portion of our network 

What we configured

Referring to the top diagram the working solution is Marcus, away from the UK home,  connected to the Internet from somewhere in Europe from it turns out a wonderful Mikrotik Router and a Raspberry Pi 4 

The diagram is simplified and (for security :=)) excludes some IOT devices that block communication between IOT devices or attempts at arbitary outbound Internet communication of that LAN segment.  

A - Mikrotik and Raspberry Pi 4
Using this server I'll talk back to my home IOT network

B - Internet Address of Home Fibre Router
(sent daily to a secure area where I can retrieve this IP)

C - Initial firewall Rule at fibre Router allowing in the SSH  (secure Shell) datastream from A

Obviously a random not port 22 number has been chosen

A rule to send the SSH datastream onto (D) Load Balancer and boundary Firewall

D - Firewall on Load Balancer is configured to allow all inbound SSH traffic

There is also a NAT  (Network Address Translation Rule) required.

Also a rule to push all SSH traffic  to Raspberry PI-N  to another random port number at Pi-E

E- On Rapsberry Pi-E configure its local Firewall to accept SSH traffic on irregular Port number and have an SSH server listen on this port number

Once the User, that is me, knows the Fibre IP address I can use the ssh client to access Fibre Router B, and talk directly to Raspberry PI-N on the irregular port

I need to authenticate with userid and password of course

Then I'm back door into my home network

I can jump to any internet device that supports ssh like any other raspberry Pi.  Obviously every Pi has a non standard userid and password.  And even every lightswitch has a userid and password.  We are not making an (Internet) home invasion too easy for anybody.

I can also tunnel into any other IOT webserver by tunnelling the output from port 80 or 443 on any IOT device back to my commanding Raspberry Pi A

And So
Yes, in early August, whilst Marcus was thousands of km away from home, a power cycle at home left some components of our Smart Home network broken.  Using the back door I was able to 

shutdown -r now

some broken components, which seemed to fix, and also manually restarting some server processes, one example weather reporting, which simply refused to start automatically as they are coded to.

All is now well.

Job done.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Day Out: Packwood House and Graham Baron Ash

Marcus, Agata, Tuula and Phil recently headed to Packwood House

In England where wealthy landowners have been thinning out for over one hundred years or more, there is an organisation which takes large estates on.

This is known as The National Trust.  Actually this is a Charity, not a UK government body and its full name is

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty

We are all National Trust members and our yearly contributions go to support these properties.  And here is a smattering of what we saw at Packwood.   If you read the Wikipedia entry you will see that the last owner was Baron Ash, though Baron was just a name not a title!



Gift Shop

In the UK, once you get to a certain age you end up joining The National Trust or English Heritage, or perhaps both.  And you spend that glorious free time you have earned exploring some of the UK greatest houses and gardens accordingly.