Monday, September 30, 2019

Keeping it local with Hillers

Marcus and Agata are not known for their extravagance or for that matter Indulgence, but once in a while  ... and last Saturday September 28th was one such time.

Hillers is a local farm shop located less than 3km from our English home.  The idea of a local farm shop is that you buy items sourced, grown, manufactured locally. The items may be similar to those on your normal shop  (example eggs) or perhaps some special food  (example specially flavoured chocolate) that you'd struggle to obtain in any supermarket.

And for that privilege normally pay not just a few percent more for any product, but sometimes over 300 percent more  (3 times the price).

Here is a concrete example.  Hillers mince pies are 3.95 GBP for 6, whereas Tesco mince pies sit at around the 1.60 GBP mark.   Hillers pies are certainly tastier, by anybodies reckoning that I ever spoke to, but you can see the price difference.

The Taster Day

Twice per year Hillers errects a large marquee and its suppliers get the chance to try and entice us to add one of their products to our weekly shopping list.

I can only say that we actually ran to Hillers, spent an hour walking and eating at the stalls. We liked it so much that our empty running rucksack was not large enough.  We had to run home and get the car.

For your eyes then are some of the delightful sights that we salivated over ...

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Second Opinion

A Little Help

Both Marcus and Agata are quite passionate about listening to Music or the spoken word. In general we spare no expense to have the best headphones for our predominantly exercise filled lives.

In particular Agata first invested in Samsung Gear Icon X  (generation 2) headphones 2018.   This was my review

No Finer Recommendation

We are often competitive against each other to find the best, so if I tell you that Agata and I now both own Samsung Icon X 2018 Generation 2 headphones, you can imagine how good they are ...

- Fit directly in the ear
- Have 4GB space on each earbud, so can play music without the need for any external Bluetooth source.
- Beware the later generation 3 Galaxy Buds are a cheapened version and have no onboad storage or thus player
- Have a microphone so can be used in meetings and to take Smartphone calls
- Buds can be used individually
- Ambient mode allows you to hear external sounds

Two buds in the charging case.  First debug on failure is to open case and press both buds for 15 seconds to make a hard reset

See the number of contact points on each bud and the proximity sensor to detect if it is in your ear

Remove the rubber and the speaker is actually behind that black circular grill.  The grill is replaceable and another debug is to replace it with a new unwaxed one, you get spares with the initial packaging

This is the Charging case that contains a USB-C connector and a rechargeable battery.  Your buds are automatically recharged from that battery when placed inside the case.

BUT ...

Reliability Issues
In the last 9 months we have had significant Reliability issues.  Agata's buds failed twice and 2 weeks ago it was my turn :-(

Agata bought the buds internationally and had pure torture getting Samsung UK to send replacements.

Marcus had bought directly from Amazon and I detail the amazingly slick replacement

- I called Amazon UK, via telephone, they put me straight thru to Samsung support  (saving me hours of queuing)
- Perhaps they told Samsung 'don't piss Marcus about' because the Samsung rep clearly enumerated the options
- UPS came to pickup the headphones
- UPS delivered the replacements less than 5 days later

The Second Opinion
I spent a whole 3 or 4 hours trying to get these replacement headphones to work.  They refused to connect to any of my smart watches, phones or computers.

I was just about to raise a complaint / support call #2 when I asked Agata about the issue.

Yes, it's not documented, but you need to load the Samsung program for your Mac or PC, connect the headphones via a USB cable to the charging case, and configure. Just once.

You can view the music stored on the buds.  4GB is space for several hundred musical tracks.  Quite mind blowing.

And it only damn well worked.

Lessons Learnt
When I hit a technical brick wall I always like to pass my problem and woes past another skilled person. 

Never be too proud to solicit a second opinion

In this case this was from Agata, and lo and behold she fixed it.  Of course she did. My Juliet indeed :-)

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday Simplified

Ryuichi Sakamoto

Today is Friday September 27th 2019.

I'm reflecting on our Marcus and Agata's personal week and not referring to except in passing the extraordinary events in the British Parliament.  For that I ask you to listen to Brexitcast 

It has indeed been another memorable week of exercise and doing so with friends who have just popped in from Switzerland, you know with a few food parcels to make sure we don't all starve after October 31st.

I think the beautiful music above audibly summaries the calm and serenity Marcus feels after a further week of simplification.

- We sold a variety of possessions that will liberate some small income

- So many items going to new owners, of course all are sold in tip top condition, and relatively speaking,  bargains

- A wonderful time catching up with dear friends

- Some planning for our Marathon weekend

As the weeks, months and years are accelerating away, life just keeps on getting better. :-)


Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Amazon Announcements September 2019. Relevant or Not?

Amazon Keynote September 2019

On September 25 2019 Amazon announced a huge number of Alexa focused announcements.   This posting is Marcus' take on their relevance to Marcus and Agata in England and by inference perhaps to you.

I'll just emphasise that (regrettably!) neither Google nor Amazon ever gave me any hardware for free, so my opinions are based on my personal paid experiences.

- The above video is an 11 minute summary of Amazon announcements on September 25 2019

- You may remember the standoff / bad relationship between Google and Amazon and this perhaps explains why the Official Amazon Youtube channel at time of writing had no promo videos of these new device.  Really Amazon!

- You will see a vast array of new devices some intriguing like the Amazon Echo Frames, some adding to existing industry products like Echo Buds and some just adding to the Echo infrastructure like Echo Flex.   The video is only 11 minutes so again please watch and return back here

- We use both Google Home and Amazon Echo assistants in our UK home.  And here is the big takeaway.  

Google Home devices are good at answering questions

Amazon Echo devices are better at controlling the Smart home, and merely okay at playing media  (say via TuneIn)

- Giving Alexa's all too present limitations,  I hesitate to use the stronger word 'failings' I'm at a loss to think what I would need to talk or ask Alexa for via a continuously connected Alexa device like Glasses, an Earbud or a Ring

- Therefore to me those products are basically nice but would add no value to my lifestyle, and quite honestly to whose other lifestyle?

- The new Echo Studio, Echo, Echo Dot Clock  in order of decreasing cost and sound level are worthy upgrades to the current products, but such small incremental upgrades that I would not trade in existing products to upgrade to them.

- The new Echo Show 8 builds on the brilliance of Echo Show 5.  If this is available either at pre-launch or around Black-Friday for the price of buttons then I'd be tempted.

In Summary

I probably use Echo devices more than 50 times every day, predominantly to help control the smart home.  But I use them on average between < 5 times per day to answer questions of general knowledge or information.  Alexa just is not good enough at replying and for that, Google Home is far superior.  So the products I'd most rave about on this announcement day are the pure sound and Alexa products like the Echo Studio, regular and Dot Clock.  Also the Echo Show 8.  With a pair of Show devices you can free conduct video calls with each other anytime.  Worthwhile.

The rest to me is rather meh!  Nice, a curiosity, but Meh. Dear Amazon, make Alexa a better assistant (say like Google) and then we might indeed be talking.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Protecting the Bathroom from Windy Miller

Ventilation Upgrade

Marcus loves to Document and today we are focusing in on the wiring of our Bathroom and also a fix to our ventilation issue.


Our modern house, now 2 years old to us was supplied with a fairly standard Manrose Bathroom extraction fan.  It might sound like a detail but as Athletes we need a good fan.  Why?  We typically take 3 showers a day each after training. A strong fan keeps the bathroom clear from moisture,  which if allowed to settle leads to corrosion and mould.

Our Manrose fan was strong, but living on the top of a windy aspect means that any time after September cold and icy winds frequently blew into the home.

 The new Vent Axia VA100

After Googling we found that some fans that are mounted vertically can have gravity assisted shutters.  But ours is horizontally mounted.


 There is a power on LED

After about 30 seconds the shutter opens

So we found the Vent Axia VA100, also known as the 251410 unit that has an ingenious shutter.  Initially the fan starts and then as the temperature changes the louvres open, and correspondingly closes after the fan stops.   This will stop the ingress of icy air that tries to turn the house into an icebox during winter


Bathroom fan units have a run on facility.  This means that after you switch the lights out, the fan continues to spin, and in the VA100 case you can configure a time of upto 30 minutes runon.

How does it work?

Well the fan has Live, Neutral and Switched Live  (SL) terminals.  Live needs to be always on.  The Switched live is an input, and is output from your light switch.  So when the Bathroom light is turned off the Fan Electronics starts a timer and then fully turns off after your selected Runon time.  So simple when I saw it.

In our case all our Sonoff Switches are decently  sophisticated computers in their own right.  They each contain their own Webserver for example.  I know, it's bonkers really :-)

The wiring is as shown in the above diagram.   Power comes into the bathroom switch  (hostname and Alexa device name bathroom)  and the output switched live drives the lights as well as the input to the Sonoff fan switch live input

The Sonoff Fan switch  (hostname fan and Alexa name fan) has a SL output that drives the Vent Axia SL input.

The Vent Axia VA100 installation completes the overhaul of our bathroom electrics.  Now when the fan stops the shutters close and outside freezing British air is denied entry.  The Sonoff Switches continue to be a delight and everything is controlled by Alexa.  I can't think of the last time I actually used the physical switch.   Ah 2019, I just love it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

FLIRCing around with the Raspberry Pi 4B

FLIRC for Raspberry Pi 4B

Subtitle: Cooling the Raspberry Pi 4B silently

Stepping Way Back

Way back in the 80's  or further back in the 70's   (that is the 1970's for you kids a reading), computers at the hobbyist level did not always come with cases.

Back then, you might spend all your money on actual computer components, so a case might be a home-made extra or simply optional!

Forward to 2019 and the latest Raspberry Pi 4B is upon us.

Upto 4x powerful as its 3B+ predecessor it's an extraordinary leap forward.But just as in the 1970's and 1980's if you use it in a project you might be tempted to run it on a workbench bare.

But Surely
To get serious you need to put it into a case to 

- make it look nice
- to protect it from the elements  and accidents
- perhaps if nothing else to stop it getting stolen :-(

The issue with the Pi 4B is that it runs hot, so hot that left in the open air doing moderate work, it is close to the CPU throttling temperature of 80 degrees C.  Some measured temps:

# vcgencmd measure_temp

Ambient air 25 deg C
Running idle in the air  58 deg C
Running small load  in the air 74 deg C
In a semi closed fanless plastic case idle 78 deg C

Cooling with FLIRC

For earlier versions of the Pi the FLIRC Aluminium case simply made it look great.  Today for the Pi 4B the FLIRC case acts as a huge heatsink.

The key is to make sure the thermal pad contact the CPU to the Alu case.

The case is about 16 GBP plus postage from Pi Hut

Pi 4B idle inside FLIRC    51 deg C
Pi 4B under constant web load  53 to 60 deg C

It just works!

No fan means totally silent operation

Though expensive, the FLIRC case for Pi 4B simply keeps your Pi cool enough so you can actually use it.   It's an expensive no brainer.

Take it away  New Edition

See Also
Vanilla Dancing on Ice
Game of Thrones Ice Ice Baby

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Perils of the Always Recycle, Zero Hoarding Mentality

Subtitle: Sometimes Hell Is Other People

Marcus and Agata try to live by some simple rules when it comes to Possessions these days.

- We buy stuff that we are actually going to use

- Nearly everything we buy is painstakingly evaluated before purchase and used extensively.

- If we are lucky then after a-good-life, stuff expires and can't be economically fixed


We commit to Recycle, Freecycle or Resell it immediately

The Other People Problem :-(

The case study tonight is the sale of our See Sense Ace light.  It works perfectly but although it's a smart connected light with many features, the physical design is a tad lacking. I've upgraded to a Garmin device which has a rear radar, to help protect me on increasingly dangerous English country roads.

It's a 50 GBP light,  being sold for 20 GBP

- Advertised

- A few time-wasters  (meaning cheapskates)

- People who start a deal then nothing

- At last somebody agrees to 20 GBP + Packaging

- First they claim to have paid, but nothing.  Am I to believe PayPal just lost their transaction?   

- On their second attempt only they claim,  (hmm) it arrives.

- They then pay incorrectly on PayPal, without using Protection.  PayPal Protection is a way to protect the buyer, not me the seller, and it actually costs me money.

- I give them the option to refund and resend with Protection

- They ask for and get a refund, I check my account is debited

- I then wait 3 hours, having to re-logon to PayPal, because it times you out for security.  Despite numerous messages to buyer, nothing.  Plus they can't seem to use the online messaging tool for the selling platform I'm using.

- After 3 hours I give up.   The selling platform has no way to cancel the deal made,  buyer is not responding.  I just have utterly wasted my evening.

Learning Points

Marcus starts to Moan

Some people are honest, but recycling these low value products takes time and effort.   Dealing with at best a slow and dimwitted person, or at worse a dishonest individual hurts.  Besides time wasting it makes you cynical to any other buyers.  It's difficult not to become hardened and grumpy in these circumstances.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sunday Sermon: Saving the Planet, One Less Carbon Footprint at a Time

I wish to state my case concisely and simply.

There is a 100% foolproof way to reduce humanities Carbon Footprint.

It is less footprints.   Vastly less footprints.

Duran: Planet Earth

Fridays For Future
UK Climate Change Protest Weekend Sept 21-22 2019

Saturday, September 21, 2019

End of Term: Philips Sonicare Platinum

I can honestly say, that before suddenly completely failing, our Sonicare toothbrush was doing a fine job :-)

Marcus and Agata keep detailed records, and so I refer you back to our March 2017 detailed review of the Philips Sonicare Platinum. In other words this product has lasted about 2.5 years, in which time it must have been used for at least 4000 minutes, but we will talk costs later!

I hope it's 100% obvious that electrical toothbrushes will clean your teeth better than any mechanical equivalent, or of course doing nothing.   The Sonicare vibration instead of the Oral B movement was recommended to Marcus by my Gum Specialist as a superior solution to try and tackle Receding Gums and Gum issues in general.

And my main dentist, who is seen regularly  (at my age!!) confirms that my Gums have shown some marked improvement since 2017.

Sudden Death & Costings
Yes, one day it was working fine, then the next dead as a dodo.  A hard reset  (press power and +key) fixed it for a week, now it is I am afraid firmly wandering towards Silicon Heaven.

I reflect that the original Capital cost was about 100 GBP and so this equates therefore to about 0.025 GBP  i.e. 2.5p per minute of usage. So for our pretty obsessively teeth cleaning houseshold, that runs to about 11 pence per day. Let's say 12 including electricity. Surely not too much to pay? 

Feature Creep
Looking for our replacement brush has been interesting.  Here is a bulleted summary of what we found

- The retail price of the best Sonicare is over 300 GBP!!

- Sonicare toothbrushes are on massive discount everywhere, often at over 50% discount, even from the UK manufacturer shop.  Bonkers.

- There are a whole set of confusing different lines.  like Diamond Clean or ExpertClean

- The industry is now subject to chronic feature creep.  That means adding functionality that you might never use  (after the first week of curiosity) 

- As an example our Bluetooth connection of the now deceased model to link to a Smartphone app, well, that lasted about one week.  What a complete waste of time

- The current vogue is to manufacture different brush heads that will be automatically recognised by the toothbrush.  What a load of ****.   I can just press the button to select what I want me thinks.

What you Really Need
We think what you need is a 62,000 movement / minute model.  With manual programs and intensity buttons.  No Bluetooth or Smart head detection required.  Pressure feedback (indicating too hard a brush) is worth it.  Surely you don't need a model with accessories like a cup!

In 2019 prices of this basic spec model should be well under 100 GBP.   You are saving money indeed on 2017 prices.

Start looking here

Friday, September 20, 2019

England: End of Season Swim

Subtitle: 5 Go A Swimming

Marcus and Agata and 4 other Run Alcester members decided we would finish off the summer season with a swim at the Lenches Lake

In our region of Warwickshire there are not too many options for Open Water swimming at any temperature and this Thursday although the ambient air temp was about 18 degrees at 7pm in the evening, well the water did not seem to know about it.

Cheryl was on secret squirrel photographic only duty and did not give me any time to but the belly in and the chest out

 It was time for Marcus' first lap.  But I kid you not, it was so cold and I was so disorientated that I forgot to start my watch.   And, as we all know that an activity not recorded, well did it really happen I hear team members calling?

I think the expression on Ruth's face says it all.  How fluppin cold is it, and if I catch Marcus who suggested this, he's going to be in some trouble.

On Marcus' first lap it was so cold that I was actually gasping and could not put my face into the water continuously making front crawl a little tricky.

After a few circuits I felt just a little better and exited the lake proudly saying that even in freezing cold lake England it is just about possible to Open Water swim and enjoy it.

Lenches tells me that swimming sessions will continue until the temperature is about 11 degrees.   You can find them here

Oh So Pleased!

I think we all felt that we had gone above and beyond our  daily exercise goals for the day.  So here is a wonderfully happy celebration song ...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

BREXIT: Let's Finnish This By September

Ah BREXIT, the surreal comedic gift that keeps on giving.
Marcus' report from England is that this week matters have indeed been getting past surreal.

Most thinking, non jingoistic British have by now almost given up.

The essential problem is that whilst it is now a surreal soap opera, the problem is that the entire British population are now unpaid extras in the performance :-(

At the same time that the Supreme Court prorogation debate occurs, Uncle Boris was in Luxembourg.

Surreal #1 Boris and the Missing Press Conference as shown above

See also PodiumGate

Surreal #2 Boris and the Hecklers.
It is now becoming quite fashionable to rock up to Boris and go into full heckle mode.  A heckle a day leads to schadenfreude with May (Theresa is lovin it)

Surreal #3 Even the Finnish get Involved
The mild mannered Finns have now released a statement telling Boris he only has until end of September 2019 to get substantive written proposals for changes to the Theresa May agreement to them.  Otherwise it is all over.  Don't you just love the EU preemption tactic.

What's that song I hear them singing at the Conservative party ERG?

Not Over


I would like to close with an old business maxim:

You can trade with somebody a thousand times, but you only get screwed once.