Newcastle Maker Faire

Maker Faire Newcastle 2017What a great day. Newcastle has an annual Maker Faire and it is on this weekend – and what a faire it is.

I headed off first thing to get some parking and was pleased to find that Newcastle College had some cheap parking - £4 for the day. I arrived 45 minutes to early, thankfully the security guard was a chatty type who wanted to know what all the fuss was about so we filled in time while waiting for my friend Aidan to turn up.

We got talking about cars as that was his thing and so by the time Aidan turned up in his Tesla, the guy was itching to see it and up to his armpits in questions.

Self-balancing one wheel vehicleThe faire started at 10am and we arrived shortly thereafter – it was CHOCKER full of people.

I’m so pleased this has turned out to be a success over the years – there was a time when “makers” – were treated a little dismissively by the public but today everyone wants to come and see what they are up to.

The first thing we came across was a self-balancing one-wheel vehicle and we had a great time talking to the designer – this is not a production job or commercial in any way, he built it because he wanted to – and it works extremely well. Yes, the pad on the front is for “emergencies”.

Rather than design in a modern way, the panelling was very retro – something my friend Melanie-Jane would love to have seen.

As we walked around we were amazed by the variety of stuff people do – from machines that do knitting, to robot hands,to retro gaming machines. A friend of ours Tony was responsible for a mini-version of the PAC-MAN arcade machine, though it had a flat top and I did remind him that the miserable pub people had this changed to round quickly as people were putting their pints on top of the machine. Well, if you’re going to spend all night playing you need somewhere to put your beer!!

Aidan Ruff making a flying thingNext off we came across an interesting idea – a bunch of clear tubes maybe 12” diameter and 6ft or more high – with air blowing up them. The public was provided with cups. paper plates, glue and sticky tape and invited to design the gadget likely to Flying thingreach the top of the tube without falling to bits or coming back down. Aidan could not resist the challenge and so while I manned the phone he proceeded to build a very high-tech device – which actually went in – out the top and continued on for some time – no doubt setting a world record – but then – that’s what I’d expect.

If have to say, if you saw the contraption he built, there was no way this was going to fly – but it did! Flimsy as it was the device went into the tube and headed straight up at tremendous speed and cleared the top of the tube by a long way. I’ll bet the kids who were competing flying thing in actionwere hopping mad. Afraid you can’t beat a gadget man who is also an experienced, qualified pilot…

Big round of applause and we were off to get some coffee before the next challenge..

Next stop, tPDP 8here were LOTS of tables with things that people had made – LOTS of them – some trivial – a few flashing lights – but not this – a genuine mini-version of the old classic, the PDP-8 computer – all done with wood, loving care and a Raspberry Pi.   I’ve been planning to build an IMSAI for some time but this was just wonderful.

There can be no doubt that modern computers are fantastic – and the computers from mid-last century were toys in comparison – but the Open Source Robot Handsdifference is – you could SEE and understand what they were doing (well, a relatively small number could – most people don’t know how their TV remote works but they’re probably not reading this blog) – it’s almost worth having one of these just as a piece of furniture – in some ways it reminds me of the bank of flashing lights on “Voyage to the tmpD569bottom of the Sea” or “The Time Tunnel” and similar. But this is a real, working machine. If you can click the image and scale it up – you’ll see it was made with love.

Open source robot hands, open source 3D printers – what a combination. We met up with an old pal of ours Dave Alan – a fellow who I met at the start of the microcomputer revolution – he has speech running on a 6800 processor WAY before the big boys thought of doing it (funny enough I had the same on a PIC and have an award on the wall to prove it – then along came PC speed and that was the end of that).

We saw and had explained a new 3D Printer – no more than £350 inc. VAT which used a new recycled plastic which does not bend and warp Dinosaurlike older materials – and I have to say, some of the parts they built with this were almost production quality – a non-technical person would not know the difference between that and a milled plastic part – VERY impressive – and not even a special heated cover over the thing!!!

Want one (but then I want a router and a laser cutter and….)

tmp73BAmong other delights there was a genuine dinosaur wandering around with his (her?) handler. Very impressive. Oh and you see those drawers on the right – wow – I SO miss the old radio rallies and computer shows where people brought their old junk 0 but better, suppliers brought tons of surplus stuff and sold dead cheap.  And so it was that the bearded fellow on the right – SO missed this – he decided to resurrect the idea – he had many dozens of £1 trays (3 for £2) and the prices were REAL bargains – anyway I think he’s called ABX


And that was about it – we talked to loads of people including friend Tony at the Newcastle Maker group – I hope to get to go see them in the autumn when we come back to the UK.  A GREAT day out for all the family, good prices on food – which makes a change as sometimes these things are a rip…

If you you are in the area next year, same time I strongly recommend a visit but of course such events are on all the time, all over the western world really. If nothing else you can guarantee that if you put a bunch of techies together – they’ll be dying to tell you how they made their stuff – and that is what makes these events so special. Well done to everyone involved in organising this.


NanoPi Neo 2

NEO 2You may well have read my review of the NanoPi NEO back in August 2016 – a nice little H3 unit available in two versions, 256Meg and 512Meg RAM. Well, the new unit has an H5 64-bit processor and comes with 512MB RAM and although there is only one USB connector – there are three USBs available. Size is 40mm square! The NEO 2, however is more expensive than the original at $15 + post etc.

There are lots of add-ons available for it including WIFI, a TTL-RS232 module (just an FTDI but cheap enough), power dock, prototype board etc etc – you can read about it here so I won’t go into too much detail. Personally I wonder about the logic of bringing out add-ons for such a small board – would you not be better off buying more complete board in the first place? Where this board scores is size – it really is small.

So – nice looking - I’m not sure why they chose hardwired Ethernet over WIFI – I’d have gone the other way and kept the height down – but there you are. The existing case for the NEO does not fit the new model incidentally.

The board DOES have fast Ethernet which is a plus – but then if you were going to use it as a NAS the 512Meg RAM might be a limitation?


So you can log into the board via the FTDI or by normal micro-USB serial. At this point I headed off to the WIKI to get the operating system image..

One thing that worried me – and I’ve complained about this before – the requirements are:  A NEO2 (obviously), a micro TFT card, a power supply and “a computer running Ubuntu 14.04 64 bit” -  FRIENDLYARM  - YOU MUST BE JOKING! Most of us in the west have Microsoft Windows PCs. I do have one PC running Linux – it is running MINT and I’ve no intention of changing that just for one new board!!!

I was a little disappointed to find that the website has only Ubuntu Core available – unlike the M3 and M1 both of which have excellent DEBIAN images which work straight out of the box. Again – this fascination with Ubuntu – a bit disappointing to those of us who like Debian and have used it on previous boards.

At the time of writing, the ARMBIAN site had only nightly releases available and they refer to WIFI – so not exactly customised to this board which by default does not have WIFI !!

So, despite desire for Debian, I downloaded the Ubuntu Core software from the FriendlyArm WIKI site. The image was a mere 244MB in size so took no time to grab. Well, it would have been very quick but their sharing site is not the fastest in the world. I blew the image file with Win32 Disk Imager as usual and plugged it into the NEO 2 board. From what I could read, this would expand on first use and might take some time.

Power on and both the green and blue lights flashed for a moment then the green went full on – and the blue continued to flash. A quick check with Advanced IP Scanner showed the board sitting at

I opened winSCP as usual and I tried logging in as root with password fa.

No problem – straight in. But I realised when running my normal script that SUDO does not exist on this version of the operating system – so that has now been added to the script so the extra half hour starting again was not entirely wasted.

Having ran the script and that having created a PI user – I went off to log in as user PI – loaded and ran the script again. While all of this was running the processor was running at 53c, so depending on use, the heatsink may not be needed after all.

However – it THEN turned out that Friendlyarm were using 15.10 – which is ANCIENT – so -

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install update-manager-core
sudo do-release-upgrade

All of which went swimmingly well – until – the BOOT area ran out of space.  

So it looks like, as things stand, you can’t upgrade to Ubuntu 16.04 – and as their Ubuntu is currently the only option  - I have no option but to say this isn’t a lot of use until better software comes out or that boot area can be increased on the command line without needing a doctorate. Even EASUS won’t let me resize the larger partition to make space for a bigger BOOT area.

I cannot tell you how many times I have impressed on various companies – you cannot just put out hardware without software support – and Ubuntu 16.04 (if you have to use Ubuntu) is pretty standard stuff.

At this point I was out of options – but I remembered that Armbian do have a nightly build – I decided to give that a go. I downloaded the image, put it into the NEO2 – and rebooted.

The green light came on – but not the flashing blue. I waited. “nanopineo2.lan” appeared on my network – this time as

I logged in as root with password 1234 and it seemed to come up – but would not stay – it would immediately disappear… so I fastened the serial interface up – no-where near as convenient… and logged in. Once that initial login was done – I could log in with winSCP as usual.

Several hours of testing for myself and Antonio later….

An updated script working with the Armbian Nightly build of 27/03/2017 works perfectly with this – there is a temperature monitor built in and at the peak of installation the temperature of the board sits at 63c.  Based on that I would assume that a heatsink is not needed for general control use. Do not try the original script. This one is called “the script”. FriendlyArm have also written to assure me that Ubuntu 16.04 will soon be available.

And yes the board is fast. Total Time to install the script was 46 minutes – as against several hours on the Raspberry Pi Zero WIFI !!

Update 30/03/2017 – I’m glad in a way that I had hassle with operating systems as it focussed Antonio and I to improve the script. However, true to their word, in the early hours of the morning (probably daylight for them) FriendlyArm came back to me with an updated Ubuntu Core 16.04 – here it is.

Interestingly, at the start of the PI part of the setup, it asked me for my PI username – then again part way through the Node-Red setup, near the end of that section, it did the same again.  This normally does NOT happen.  Also, the script took over an hour to run, 25% or so longer than the Armbian nightly build time, which was 45 minutes. Perhaps some tweaking is still needed! Temperature (without any heatsink) never got above 60c.

I don’t know how long that will remain valid so you’d best check their site for details. The install did however, once again work perfectly. Need to sort out that need for a password in the middle though – something up there.



Looking for help on a couple of items where Google has failed me..

1. Friedland door/window contact twin-pack DC-55.   I have them running – I have RFLINK talking to them – I understand the codes for door opening  and door closing and another for the internal spring being released (anti-theft) – but there is another signal which occurs occasionally – I’m assuming it is something like “battery ok” – but that suggests another “battery not ok” – but I have NO info on this – anyone?

Status: Still no feedback on this - and Friedland's site has no useful info that I can find.

2. On the RFLINK board I have a little whip aerial – it is 70mm high and has the miniature screw fitting for the board at the other end.  What inexpensive, simple antenna would be SIGNIFINANTLY more sensitive without being directional.  From my outside office I can reach just into the house but only just.

Status - some GREAT feedback here but nothing definitive other than it is looking like a DIPOLE might've been a better bet.

3. Grafana and INFLUXDB.  I have upgraded Influx to 1.2 (see the blog entry if interested) but a problem persists – I have a graph showing several temperature lines – inside and outside stuff – nothing extreme.  I have two of them with duff readings in them – one is minus 400 and the other is +6000.  I cannot figure out how to delete readings outside of a range in InfluxDB (on the Pi) and I cannot seem to get WHERE clauses to work in Grafana.   WHERE value < 100 for example just makes the line disappear.   Anyone know the answers?

Status: Solved!

InfluxDB (I'm on v 1.2) you can only delete readings by time - but you CAN do normal queries which return the time.

The CLI (command line interface) is called "influx" - enter that and you end up in an interface you can get out of with "quit".

While in that interface you will see a prompt >

use x  (where x is the name of the database)

select * from y where value>z

where y is the name of your measurement and z if the value - well, this is what I needed it might be equal to, less than etc etc.

You get a bunch of results with the timestamps.

To delete a value - well, here's an example.

delete from uk_office_temperature where time=1490109437728705735

and that is it - it is that simple - when you know how - NOW I can clean up my database and in fact I'll now add filters on the incoming data to stop this happening again.

Thanks are given in the comments - thanks to all for feedback on these subjects - now those of us who didn't know - do.



A Fine Sunny Weekend

Scargill's Man-CabinEvening all, it has been a busy weekend here at the Scargill’s man-cabin. No Friday, frequent blog-visitor JAY popped over for a visit and we spend some time discussing new stuff:

First on the list was a new toy Jay just picked up on offer at Maplin – a “SmartSensor Energy Egg” solo pack which comprises a PIR Egg and a mains socket. The two operate on 433Mhz and allow for turning a light on for a predetermined time when someone moves in the room. Simple enough – but At under £8 on offer I guess Jay could not refuse. I have one sitting in front of me now looking for a home in my office. There is a website – but I advise against it – half of the links go no-where. Anyway – special offer – Maplin.

The gadgets are meant to run stand-alone but of course we had to try it out with the RFLINK 433Mhz setup and sure enough – the RFLINK registers activity in the PIR.

Turning the PIR on and off with the handy button on the top produced this output.



ChatbotEnergy EggStrangely the effect was the opposite of what you might expect – the ALLON command turned the light off!! Anyway the upshot being we can easily monitor this device along with others using the RFLINK.  Sadly when we tried to turn this into a COMMAND to turn the light on and off from the RFLINK unit, while we could turn the device ON, the OFF command stubbornly refused to work – but we started sending emails off to Frank Zirrone of RFLink software fame – and he was very helpful – we’ve now send some diagnostics off (this all comes in the software folder for RFLink) and he’s taking a look.

Meanwhile we discovered a potential issue with the playground covered earlier in this blog – the mobile phone as server. I’ve been using TASKER on the phone to pick up MQTT messages from the Debian installation (to in turn play a really nice doorbell sound) – using the MQTTCLIENT Tasker Plug-in App which you might recall replaced it’s somewhat ill-fated predecessor. Well, it seems it is still not out of the woods.

ChatbotWhile it works GREAT, if you reboot the phone, while everything else comes up perfectly including Debian itself, Tasker and, well, yes, everything – the MQTT plugin – would you believe does NOT re-connect with the MQTT broker until you open the app.  Now this may be because it is starting before Debian is ready – but you would think that such a program designed to run in the background, would try, try, try again until it got through. We even tried using Tasker to initialise it – no joy.  So until the author comes back, we’re on the hunt for alternatives – and it is possible that TELEGRAM may be it  - Chatbotexcept having installed it on my phone (easy) and on my PC (easy) and installed node-red-contrib-chatbot on Node-Red - with a wopping 37 nodes  - I'm now utterly confused. Jay helped me set up a bot and send a message to it - but getting it to arbitrarily send a message... I'm not quite there yet - and what you're supposed to do with all those OTHER nodes....

ChatbotThere is a TELEGRAM app for Android, a plug in for Node-Red and in fact it comes on just about all platforms – this is similar to other messaging apps in that you can send text message back and forth – so the hope is that we can send messages between Node-Red on Debian – and the Android Tasker reliably – more on that later.

Anyone have any experience of using TELEGRAM? I swear this could be the death of me.  A video showing the various nodes in action would be nice!


I’ve fitted some door sensors 433Mhz model DC55 from Friedland – comprising a magnet and a reed-switch-triggered 4533Mhz transmitter – all very nice and small – they work a treat with RFLink but right now I’m looking for the meaning of the codes – clearly I figured out the ones for open and close – and there’s another when an internal spring is released – this is for security – but there is a 4th code which comes out very occasionally – and I have no idea what it is for. Maybe “battery ok” – maybe “battery shot” – no way to tell and their manuals don’t seem to help.  Any ideas anyone?

Finally – the script – just updated it to handle that Node-Red initialisation we discussed in a previous blog entry.

Hope you had a nice weekend.


Node Red Initialisation

There have been various conversations about Node-Red initialisation of variables recently. Here’s a solution.

So firstly – what’s the problem? Well, because of the asynchronous nature of Node-Red, it seems to be that sometimes you find yourself using a global variable before it has been defined. No lectures on using global variables please. I can see in my own systems, in the log, incidences of uninitialized variables.

My own solution to the issue of non-volatile storage has been to save global variables as a single object, into a file – and restore said on power up (thermostat settings etc.) – you could store them in MQTT, in a database, anywhere – doesn’t matter. The issue is restoring them.

On power up one assumes the left most tab in Node-Red will run first and that is generally true – but where anything asynchronous is happening – like getting a file for example (hint) there could be delays and other code could run using one of your variables before you’ve actually set it up. This usually does NOT result in Node-Red crashing but you can get rubbish results. Of course you can check every time you use a variable if it exists but that can get messy REAL quick.

A conversation started in the Node-Red discussion groups recently – one of many - and I just latched onto an idea and ran with it.  Of course my first few attempts resulted in suicidal feelings as they failed time after time – but just mid- morning it all started to come together.

So, first things first – the Node-Red settings.js (created when Node-Red is installed and could be for example at /home/pi/.node-red/settings.js)  file runs BEFORE Node-Red comes online – so you know that if you initialise stuff in there, it will be set up in time for you to use – but messing with that file from within Node-Red could be dangerous and you could kill the whole installation. It also  defeats the object of having everything in one nice visual interface.

Here’s another way

Within settings.js there is “functionGlobalContext” which sets up any globals you might need for example – fs object for using files. Here is that section (typically) with one line added into settings.js

functionGlobalContext: {






See that last line with “mySettings” -  you can call that what you like.

In (for example) your /home/pi directory, create a simple file called redvars.js (or anything you like really). In there you could put this..

and thanks to Nick O’Leary for the specifics…

module.exports = {

    "fred": 1,

    "brian": 2


However, what happens if the redvars.js file is corrupt for any reason – answer? Node-Red crashes..

Here then is a better way:  

At the VERY START of setting.js add this..

var mySettings;

try {

mySettings = require("/home/pi/.node-red/redvars.js");

    } catch(err) {

mySettings = {};


So mySettings is either populated or made empty. No crashing. Now you only need to add ONE line to the functionGlobalContext – here it is in my case… yours might be different…

functionGlobalContext: {






As you can see, with an additional comma then one line, a foolproof version of mySettings has been added.

Run Node-Red and you will now find that (for example)  global.get(“mySettings.fred”)  returns 1.  SO – now all you have to do is to put what you need in that file redvars.js – and if you need to update them you can do that within Node-Red. 

In my case I have a variable called counter in there.   Every time I update something, I update that counter to 10;   I have a little timer job running that checks that var and if not zero, decrements it – if it is now zero, it updates the file… see how I did that below.

If you look at my original article on this subject – all seemed well, simply stringify the object and save it to disk – and that’s really how I’d like it to be - but my mechanism for RETRIEVING the object on power-up failed miserably because of the async nature of the file read – often resulting in use of the variables before they existed. This way, that won’t happen and all it needs is to stringify the object and add “module exports-“ at the start.

In the unlikely event that the redvars.file is corrupt, on power-up, mySettings will be undefined – easy to check and if necessary overwrite.

So one simple change on initial setup of Node-Red – and from there on you can create or amend non-volatile global variables from within Node-Red.  You could expand on this of course – that is up to you.

Update 26/03/2017 - This modification is now in the script!


Enter the NanoPi M1+

NanoPi M1+Today must be my day for easy installs. The FriendlyArm NanoPi M1+ turned up this morning along with spare heatsink and antenna.

So first of all what is it? – this is a small SBC, a development from the Nanopi M1 which I’ve reviewed here before.  So is this worth reading? I would say YES. The M1+ comes complete with 8GB of EMMC which as we’ve seen with other boards makes a significant difference to speed. It can of course handle SD.

The most important features are:

  • H3-based (which means there is code out there for the GPIO)
  • Mali GPU
  • 1GB DDR3 RAM
  • 8GB eMMC
  • WIFI, Bluetooth (4.0 dual mode)
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 3.5mm Audio jack
  • Microphone on board
  • IR sensor
  • 2 USB-2
  • 2 USB Type A
  • OTG
  • DVP Camera
  • Serial Debug port….

As usual 4 serial ports, though one is debug and one will be tied up with Bluetooth – but that still leaves the Pi wanting.

tmp8DB7I opened up the box, downloaded the EMMC loader image from the FriendlyArm site onto a 16GB SD and ran it on the hardwired Ethernet connector. A box popped up offering to install one of two operating systems, I picked Debian. Minutes later I turned it off – took out the SD, turned it on and… working complete with LDXE. Size – around 70mm * 65mm.

I don’t remember an easier setup – everything worked including SCP access to both users FA and ROOT. I logged in as root from WinSCP, copied my script across – ran it – it created the Pi user, I logged in as Pi, ran the script and went off for coffee. Exactly 58 minutes later the whole thing was done and dusted with all my favourite software in place.

This time I’d put in a new addition to the script…AVAHI.  Once the script finished I popped into the HOSTS file and the HOSTNAME file and changed the name from “friendlyarm” to “m1plus” and rebooted the board.  Antonio who gave me this mod had assured me that this would now mean local access to the boards by name – which should work but hasn’t in the past.   I went to my browser on the main pc and typed http://m1plus.lan and sure enough – up popped the board. I tested all my main programs – all work. Actually, just http://m1plus works too.

I’ve not done any speed tests other than the script install which at 58 minutes is not bad…. but the whole thing has a good feeling of speed about it.  This could be my new favourite board. Up to now it has been the M3 boards but the fan noise is getting on my nerves a bit – need to sort that – the M1+ definitely does not need a fan.  I have hardwired Ethernet on one IP, WIFI on another – the WIFI is reporting a good signal WITHOUT an external aerial. I checked the Bluetooth and it immediately found my Bluetooth speakers.

So up to now, all looks good and as we’ve seen the H3 before there should be no horrible surprises anywhere.

I’ll let you know more about speed and reliability as I get into using this little board. Just a shame they’d not put the connector on for their LCDs… but hey – you can’t have everything.


FriendlyArm S430

S430 DisplayThis could be one of the shortest reviews I’ve ever done!  The S430 is a low-cost  4.3” capacitive touch-display designed to work with FriendlyArm boards such as the NanoPi S2, M2, M3, the NanoPC T2 and T3 and finally the Smart4418.

When I think of the HASSLE I’ve had getting a cheap(ish) Chinese display to work with my Raspberry Pi 3 (read elsewhere – still not resolved – you have to make changes to the Raspbian system but more importantly alignment no longer seems to work so the touch part is useless and no-one has a solution).. I spend days on this and finally settled for a display with no touch!

But I digress. The S430 offers 480*800 resolution, is bright, clear and has 4 nice recessed mounting holes and a ribbon cable out the back  - none of this HDMI-awkward-connector nonsense as per the above.

And that’s it. I unpackaged the unit, I took a NanoPi M3 which was sitting minding it’s own business serving up Node-Red – I turned it off – plugged in the ribbon cable, turned it on – and immediately, lightning fast text – no drivers, no setup, nothing.  When the board eventually popped up with Debian – everything worked – accurate positioning, sensitive capacitive touch etc.

tmpC1FFIt really is hard to say much more more – it is good and it does what it “says on the tin”. It is accurate, thin and most importantly, it is cheap.

As you can see, I just happen to have everything set up in portrait mode and it all just works. Being capacitive I’ll have to go find a proper capacitive pen as you can’t just use any old bit of plastic as you would with the resistive displays – on the other hand – no pressure is needed either.

I could see this working a TREAT with Node-Red Dashboard.  Images in here will expand if you click on them.

I’m quite excited as you can tell.

There is a BIG caveat to all of this which may or may not be important to you – I asked FriendlyArm about landscape mode and they said they had “not implemented landscape mode” – something I find extremely strange… that’s going to limit things a bit….


RFLink and Node-Red

RFLink Board and MegaA couple of weeks ago I went to stay with my pal Jonathan and he had some Byron doorbell pushes to play with.

This article updated 22/03/2017

He showed me a universal RF 433Mhz receiver board he purchased which could look at the signals from the various kids of 433Mhz standard transmitting units.

This was interesting as I have an Acurite weather station with the most appalling interface which requires a PC to be on constantly in order to remotely access the information.

I don’t know what planet the designers were on – but it was a gift from my wife, solar powered and including rain level, wind speed and direction etc.. a nice job other than the software. It has been sitting outside the wall on my office for months doing nothing.  I thought it might be interesting to get that going.


The unit my friend was using was rather expensive but he suggested I try the RFLink software along with a DIY unit comprising an Arduino Mega2560, a little board called an RFLink V1.1.4 (now updated) and an antenna – you see the lot here.

tmpC75DThe kit arrived days ago and I put it together with a soldering iron easily enough but had to wait for a Mega board to arrive which it did this week. I downloaded the software – very simply install program for the PC – couple of button presses really – and that was that. I plugged the little RF board into the MEGA, plugged the Mega into my PC and… out of the blue, information from my Acurite board appeared out of no-where, as did  more one-liners from my Byron button presses and even our doorbell. It took no time at all with help from a fellow enthusiast who’s used this stuff before to figure out how to send a signal back to the doorbell to make it work.

All very nice but I needed this into Node-Red.

I took my latest Raspberry Pi using DietPi and after adjusting comms permissions, simply plugged the USB device into the Pi and set up a serial node for both transmit and receive.

From there on it was easy. Far from complete - but thought you might be interested – the combination of the two boards and that software seems to work really well up to now for receiving from 433Mhz sensors and for sending out commands to 433Mhz boards.

I had a slight concern about how long you have to leave the Byron SX35 pushbuttons before pressing again (3 seconds). But I  mentioned this to the author and within an hour he came back with an update which made the delay much more practical.

Valid input instructions from the various sensors is in this link along with the Arduino software download….

I bought a bog-standard Arduino 2560 (cheap Chinese version)

I bought this board… the RFLink 433 kit – requires a little soldering…

10 minute soldering (take note of version numbers – important), 10 minutes max to blow the software. Test the board (56k baud) to ensure when nearby sensors are sending results – they are coming in and then I wrote this test… it isn’t very elegant yet.

My SERIAL node is set to split input on character “\n” so the code has to get rid of return characters as you’ll see in the “replace” line below. Note also that when you send out serial (to actually control something) it should be followed by both “\r\n”.


// So firstly a generic means of getting incoming items into an object

var the433 = {};
msg.payload = msg.payload.replace(/(\r\n|\n|\r)/gm,"");
var parts433 = msg.payload.split(";");

the433.p1 = parts433[0];
the433.p2 = parts433[1]; = parts433[2];

var a = 3;
while (a < parts433.length) {
    var bits433 = parts433[a].split("=");
    switch (bits433[0]) {
        case "ID": = bits433[1]; break;
        case "SWITCH": the433.switch = bits433[1]; break;
        case "CMD": the433.cmd = bits433[1]; break;
        case "SET_LEVEL": the433.set_level = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "TEMP": the433.temp = parseInt(bits433[1], 16) / 10; break;
        case "HUM": the433.hum = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "BARO": the433.baro = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "HSTATUS": the433.hstatus = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "BFORECAST": the433.bforecast = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "UV": the433.uv = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "LUX": the433.lux = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "BAT": the433.bat = bits433[1]; break;
        case "RAIN": the433.rain = parseInt(bits433[1], 16) / 10; break;
        case "RAIN": the433.rainrate = parseInt(bits433[1], 16) / 10; break;
        case "WINSP": the433.winsp = parseInt(bits433[1], 16) / 10; break;
        case "AWINSP": the433.awinsp = parseInt(bits433[1], 16) / 10; break;
        case "WINGS": the433.wings = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "WINDIR": the433.windir = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "WINCHL": the433.winchl = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "WINTMP": the433.wintmp = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "CHIME": the433.chime = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "SMOKEALERT": the433.smokealert = bits433[1]; break;
        case "PIR": the433.pir = bits433[1]; break;
        case "CO2": the433.co2 = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "SOUND": the433.sound = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "KWATT": the433.kwatt = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "WATT": the433.watt = parseInt(bits433[1], 16); break;
        case "CURRENT": the433.current = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "CURRENT2": the433.current2 = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "CURRENT3": the433.current3 = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "DIST": the433.dist = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "METER": the433.meter = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "VOLT": the433.volt = parseInt(bits433[1], 10); break;
        case "RGBW": the433.rgbc = parseInt(bits433[1].substring(0, 2), 16);
            the433.rgbw = parseInt(bits433[1].substring(2, 4), 16); break;

// SO - the above is general... here is my specific setup for temporarily displaying
// the Acurite info
if ((the433.p1 == "20") && ( == "Acurite") && ( == "c826")) {
    if (typeof the433.temp !== 'undefined') temp = the433.temp;
    if (typeof the433.hum !== 'undefined') hum = the433.hum;
    if (typeof the433.bat !== 'undefined') bat = the433.bat;
    if (typeof the433.rain !== 'undefined') rain = the433.rain;
    if (typeof the433.winsp !== 'undefined') winsp = the433.winsp;
    if (typeof the433.windir !== 'undefined') windir = the433.windir;

    node.warn("Temperature: " + temp + "c");
    node.warn("Humidity: " + hum + "%");
    node.warn("Battery: " + bat);
    node.warn("Rain: " + rain + "mm");
    node.warn("Wind Speed: " + winsp + "km/h");
    node.warn("Wind Dir: " + (windir * 22.5) + " degrees");

Put that in a Node-Red template – attach a Node-Red serial Node set to take serial input from USB0 at 56k – character /r as a separator and deliver ascii strings…and that – is just the beginning…  note also that the designer of this free software has also added GPIO control both input and output – on several pins (recently expanded so check his docs).

Tests: Right now for my tests  - I have the K10000 phone acting as a server running Debian and running Tasker and the MQTT client Tasker plugin with the same phone running as a resource…. and I can now fire an MQTT message at the latter to get a doorbell message out! Meanwhile a Raspberry Pi is running that RFLink unit and when one of the Byron doorbell pushes is pressed – a message is sent out to the phone to play the doorbell – yes, I know, somewhat over the top – but I’m just experimenting for now… and sure enough – press the button and pretty much in real time the doorbell sound appears.

433Mhz to MQTT GatewayIn the comments below you’ll see reference to an ESP8266 to MQTT Gateway – and this would be ideal as it would be all in one little box – whereas I need to stick something like a Pi on the end to generate a wireless MQTT signal…. so – I grabbed the software and (disregarding several wasted hours due to a duff FTDI) put together one of these – as you’ll see in the photo on the right-  the antenna is due to kind feedback below – and as you can see, it is a precision job (it is accurate however).

Well, I have a 4-way remote control for a cheap Chinese remote and indeed this little system does pick it up and sends a unique number for each key off as MQTT – lovely – however – even with a decent little aerial the unit does not pick up (or recognise) my weather station of any of my BYRON pushbuttons – and the data coming back is crude compared to the RFLink software so at first glance, not impressed.

Costs:  Ok of course the hardware for the little ESP board is DIRT CHEAP compared to what I’ve put together – which in turn is cheap compared to one of these all in one boxes – but you pay your money – I’m sticking with – at under £20 plus £9 for the aerial plus a Mega2560 (cheap from China) I think it is worth it (no I don’t know the company and no I didn’t get samples etc).

The transceiver they supplied costs  £16.51 on Ebay so the board with connectors and the transceiver really is a good deal.  You can of course use cheaper receivers – but the software writer suggests these might be naff. I’d like to hear back from someone who had had GOOD results just using the Mega board (they’re only a fiver from China) and other boards. There is information here on that subject. RXB6 board seems cheap but don’t buy from the UK as they seem to be a rip here – on guy wants nearly £8 inc postage – China for same board – under £2 all in. I’m kind of stuck for testing one of these as I’m off to Spain in a few weeks and chances are it won’t get to the UK in time for me leaving!! Shame as I’d like to have given one a shot on my spare MEGA board.

Summary: Already the RFLINK setup has made my day by turning my otherwise useless weather station into another working part of my home control – and I’ll soon have buttons all over the place. It also has good range though I think aerial design and positioning could be improved.  I can’t do a range comparison with the ESP project as it only recognises one my my 433Mhz devices and even then gives out a number, no proper ID and name… still – worth keeping an eye on for future developments.

If you like this post – please share a link to it by social media, by email with friends or on your website.
More readers means more feedback means more answers for all of us. Thank you!


Android Phone as Resource

This  is the following up the previous Android Phone as Server article. Last update 22/03/2017.

Bust up K10000Servers: So having now tried various phones and tablets, it does look like the Linux Deploy App on a rooted Android phone makes for a good Debian installation in order to run software like Apache, SQLITE, MQTT and Node-Red – in some cases surpassing the capabilities of the likes of Raspberry Pi by some way. When I say it looks that way, it is to early to comment on reliability – though my little K10000 monster phone has now been sitting on the bench for several days running this stuff without a hitch.

Resource: The next step then is to add value to this – modern Android phones are awash with features, none of which are currently being used in this setup. With MQTT communication, it seems natural to take all of those sensors and outputs and use them, firing info back and forth in MQTT or similar between Debian (Node-Red for example) and the Android phone (or tablet).

Some time ago when messing with the infamous TASKER  on Android – which can access most phone/tablet features, I noted the Tasker/MQTT plug-in – which means that Tasker can communicate via MQTT. The only problem with this – is that the MQTT app has not been updated since 2015, recent reviews suggest that it packs in after a while and the author does not at first glance appear to be responsive. I’ve written to him and not yet had any answer. This makes me extremely reticent to go down this route. I’m wondering if there are other ways to use Tasker to do the same thing. Remember that for this to be useful, this has to be something that will start up automatically when the phone is on – and also something that will run in the background when the phone is on standby.

So recently, friend Antonio sent me a link to another option – Sensor Node – the link here is to the free version and I splashed out and bought the full one. This seems ideal, instant access to at least sensors (though not controls) via MQTT at a user-selectable rate. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way when I tested it – firstly some of the touted sensor readings for some inexplicable reason are not included in the options for MQTT output -  like battery power and percentage charge – which would be really very good for sensing if the power has been lost and doing something about it – (like backing up any RAM cache to disk).  I’ve written to the author and asked about this – but when I started testing this it got worse, the software would not store my MQTT readings properly and there is no facility that I can see to run this in the background or ensure that readings commence when the phone starts up.

Anyway it turned out that Sensor Node was CRAP – even the paid version-and it turns out that there is an updated MQTT Client add-in for Tasker so I gave THAT a go.

Door pressVerdict:  It is looking like TASKER and the MQTT Client plug-in are winners. It did not take long to have Tasker sending BATTERY STATUS back to Debian every time the percentage changed – and in the process I found this link detailing a LOAD of variables you can use. The next thing was to get a Tasker task taking in an MQTT message and SPEAKING it out – that works a treat.  If I could just figure out how to get it to take in serial (see the article on the RFLINK gadget) – I could take in my doorbell presses and have them play bells!!! I do however have the thing taking in MQTT and playing a REALLY nice doorbell.

Update: All of this incidentally while in standby  - I fully charged the K10000 phone and disconnected from the mains. The screen is off and occasionally as well as running Debian and my Node-Red stuff, it acts as a doorbell. THREE days later the battery is around 76% – how many server backup systems manage that!!! We're talking at least a week in the absence of power. I can see a solar project coming on here.


Android Phone as Server

Why am I showing you a picture of a cracked-screen phone?

Linux on Android PhoneWell because this particular phone is a bust Oukitel K10000, the phone with the world’s longest-lasting battery and an excellent workhorse. My friend Aidan gave me this (rather than chucking it away) some time ago and it has been sitting doing nothing. All that is wrong with it is a cracked (and exceedingly dangerous on the fingers) screen. I’ll bet I’m not the only one with such a phone lying around wasting space.

Well, as of yesterday, it is a Debian server with all my usual stuff going on quietly in the background – with the screen normally off – running freezing cold and hopefully being super reliable.

This is an experiment only – beware – if your phone or tablet dies it is your problem….  oh and your Android phone/tablet needs to be ROOTED. 

Imagine turning your old, dust-covered phone into a sleek, battery backed-up server with unfeasibly long backup time, immunity to any mains spikes, a silent, fast Debian base for all the stuff in my script – which includes Node-Red, Apache/PHP, SQLITE (+ PHPLiteAdmin), MQTT, MC, Ha-Bridge and more!  If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know about the script.

So this article applies to ROOTED Android phones and we’ve only tested around Android 5.0 onwards.  In my case I rooted the phone with KingRoot (note, NOT the one in the PlayStore which is a con – avoid it - but the one at ) – please note that rooting phones is beyond the scope of this article and if you are not confortable with this you should not do it. There are a lot of links out there on the subject and many of them are fraudulent.

tmpCD52There is an APP in the Play Store called Linux Deploy. It is also on GitHub. Beware that this is essentially undocumented unless you are Russian – so please don’t ask how you can use your phone’s GPS or Sound from Debian – not a clue!

You should have a modern-ish WiFi enabled (or hardwired if you like) Android phone or tablet with at least 16GB of internal FLASH (which should give you 10GB working space).   If you only have 8GB that will leave you only 2GB which - really – isn’t enough.

Getting Debian 8 on the phone:  After ensuring your phone/tablet is rooted, Install the App.

Linux on Android PhoneIn the app, on the top LEFT menu – find  REPOSITORIES and select Debian 8 for ARM.

On the bottom right is a drop down – you should go in there and select INSTALLATION TYPE – directory (OR FILE with a reasonable file size limit – say 5GB – the 2GB default will NOT work). Change the user to “pi” with suitable password in the same menu. TICK for allowing initialisation – and use of SSH server. Also where you see INIT SYSTEM change that to sysv. 

Then TOP RIGHT menu  - INSTALL – that might take some time – top right again CONFIGURE – then bottom menu START – and you should have a working Linux you can get into with for example WINSCP for that “pi” user. The IP address is clearly shown in the App.

I suggest not going further until you are comfortable with the above – took me several attempts because I didn’t follow the above exactly (well, and Antonio and I were learning at the same time).

Running the script: Via WinSCP or similar, put the script into the pi directory – changing permissions as normal - run the script – and ensure PHONE is selected – it isn’t by default. Come back after lunch. The script will no doubt suggest a reboot. Instead, hit the STOP button on the bottom of the phone screen – wait for it complete, hit the START button – wait – and you should now have everything in the script running!

Now – I’m using this to run my script – but I’m thinking you COULD use it to serve files etc. – I’ve not tried this but I’m guessing it would be easy to access an SD card…. and make that a folder…. hmmm.

Anyway, it is now the day after I installed all this – the phone is sitting there “off” and unlike my FriendlyArm board with it’s whirling fan, is sitting silently and freezing cold yet ran the script much faster than any of my SBCs – around 40 minutes.

K10000 running Debian 8No guarantees as there just isn’t enough info about Linux Deploy out there (unless you find/translate some) – but it does seem to work well now that we’ve made sufficient alterations to the script to take this particular setup into account. A fun project, to be sure. Now, I know this is a not a fair comparison and tomorrow we might come back and say … no good (for whatever reason).. but at £107 for that particular phone… compare – how much would it costs for a Raspberry Pi 3, uninterruptable power supply able to keep the phone going for something like a couple of days with no power, a high-def touch screen, a solid case for the whole thing.. indeed ,it might be possible to use a cheap tablet…  I was looking on Ebay – 16GB Android tablet – perfectly working except for missing buttons and cracked digitiser – around £10

One thing to note – I’ve turned rsyslog messages off – it was spitting out all sorts of unwanted helpful messages when you changed brilliance on the phone or disconnected the USB etc –REALLY annoying.. If you feel you need logging on -

sudo service rsyslog start

That will stay on until the next stop-start…

Node-Red running on a K10000 phoneSuch a shame it isn’t clear how to access some of the peripherals like audio. But who knows – someone reading this article may already have solved such challenges.

Please note: the pretty colours on the right do not come as standard. Click images to see larger versions.

This is really starting to look GOOD!!!!

Revelation: I’ve now taken on-board ideas from others and thanks for that – both people in here and on Google+ – most of the other solutions are longwinded and need other packaged  so up to now Linux Deploy – I’m now installing on my old Nexus 7 2012 UTTERLY SUCCESSFULLY (though not the fastest kid on the block) ( after rooting it with the Nexus toolkit ) - using Linux Deploy (which is completely self-contained and offers full root access – is looking the best). The ONLY thing you can’t do is use the Android peripherals – because of lack of UK info but this morning I figured it all out. 

We’ve also tested this one OnePlus One (model BACON) and a Xiaomi Redmi 3 model IDO). The K10000 has now been up for several days.

Ok, bear with me – you have Node-Red on Linux – and MQTT. So, you run Tasker on the phone (in the Android section) with MQTT – and now you have access to and control of all of the Android facilities that TASKER can handle (i.e. just about the lot) from within the Debian environment. Doddle.. now all I need is some time!!