Monthly Archives: January 2016


A breath of fresh air, or dead in the water? Let’s take a look.

But firstly an update – as of today (Feb 1, 2016) the Kickstarter campaign has been cancelled. Now see my comments below..

WiFithing overall: OrviboSo WiFithing comprises a master board in a nice white box and up to 8 slave boards (in nice white boxes), handling for up to 4 groups of FS20 radiator valves and 10 Orvibo Smart sockets – and flying in the face of many new developments, uses radio – but not WIFI to connect devices.

Kickstarter: The project is on Kickstarter and has 3 days to go to achieve the goal of £15,000. They are currently sitting at £11.8k which is a worry as most successful projects tend to go way beyond the original goals so close to the end date and we’ve already seen a couple of projects in here fail at this late date – but stranger things have happened.

The Orvibo saga: So first things first and a little diversion. I opened up the box and inside was a a WiFithing master, a WiFithing slave and the Orvibo Smart Socket along with some instructions. Even from China the Orvibo units are £17 each (Amazon seem to have stopped stocking them and don’t know when they will be back in) and so not exactly the cheapest solution for mains socket control – but at least they had a proper British plug integrated.  This is the mains socket that WiFithing have chosen to support so it is worth a further look.

Well, I promised a diversion…. I investigated at some of the Apps for the Orvibo device and “still not very reliable” was the first comment I noted (referring to the app). One guy was pleasantly surprised as the app worked “80% of the time”. Nice looking, too expensive and by the look of it not too good on the App side.  I’m looking for MQTT-supported similar devices and of course, Espressif-based devices are coming online now. Espressif themselves during the summer trip to Boston I took with them, showed me  a unit selling in China (sadly not outside) for just a few dollars and the Sonoff board would probably nicely fit into a case similar to this – that device has already been hacked by at least two of us to handle MQTT and is nicely priced as some of you know.

Most of the reviews for the Orvibo-compatible apps achieved poor scores on Android (a shame as it’s a lovely looking device). One app looked promising with a high score… Orvibo AllOne Wifi Alternative.  Well, I got no-where with that as, on installation it spotted my two NOWTV boxes and simply would NOT let me go any further until I set those up.  I scrapped that and instead installed the WIWO app and plugged the Orvibo into the wall. The App found the device immediately and I made a note of the UID.

The App turned the Orvibo on and off. Success. I moved the socket a few feet to a place where I could plug a lamp in – and the App promptly crashed. However thanks to THIS article I was able to get the unit to work under MQTT – on and off – first time, no problem.

BUT – wait for it…. turn the unit on – disconnect the power, reconnect the power – and …. it does not remember the state it was in.

That for me would be a money-back-requiring deal-breaker for that particular unit.  Imagine using this in an environment with faltering power (and there are MANY such environments, particularly in rural areas ) – this socket would be a non-starter as are many of the cheap and cheerful B&Q mains controller sockets.  It is worth noting that in the modified SONOFF controller software, I (and presumably the other guy who’s done the hack) ensure the power-up output remains as it was before the power cut or brownout!

Of course, one could easily have Node-Red refresh the state of the socket or sockets every minute and that ultimately is what I did. Works a treat.

Anyway, I digress. The Orvibo is just part of the picture. The Kickstarter project for WiFithing makes a big deal of not using WIFI “As you have probably heard by now, IOT devices tend to be very low bandwidth and bursty in their communications. WIFI overhead is pretty painful”.

I’m not sure I follow the argument against using WIFI – I just finished setting up 40 IOT devices and having them talk to Node-Red as some of you know. The overhead in terms of use of the router appeared insignificant and the cost of each unit almost irrelevant – so I must be missing something in the above. They also refer to WIFI only solutions as being heavy on battery – but I know people in here who have successfully put ESP devices to sleep, occasionally waking them up to report back via WIFI. 

The WiFithing product does not use mesh networking and so each WIFITHING slave is paired up with a master. 

Again as many of you know, I’ve been down that route with the very DIRE NRF24L01 – in fact even with a mesh network I spent months on what ultimately was a waste of time so I am very wary of claims about such radio systems – to be fair they are using 800Mhz and not 2.4Ghz. Even at 800Mhz I guess no-one who tests these lives in houses with thick stone walls.

The package I received comprised a WIFITHING master, an Orvibo socket, and a small unit containing a battery connector and a board by So the Panstamp devices uses the CC1101 low power radio. and depending on the model, an MSP430MCU or an Atmega 328p. I’m not sure about the box, very nice and small but there was only room for the board and 2 AAA cells inside. Not entirely sure what you’re supposed to DO with it given no room to fit anything inside.

WIFITHINGThe WiFithing master itself, again a very pretty box but inside was the requirement for a round battery – and I started the review on Sunday when the shops are closed. As no such battery was supplied that brought that to a halt. The master unit will apparently cost $57 which puts it on a par with a Raspberry Pi 2 with WIFI. Ok, this is a finished product which claims you can have control “code-free” whereas Pi solutions tend to involve at least flashing a chip…In the campaign they compare their board to a Launchpad MSP430FD4969 + CC3100 booster + Anaren CC1101 board  - and that’s fine – if I were about to design a controller, those three would  NOT be on my list of candidate boards.

Radiator control: The FS20 radiator valves mentioned seemed to me fine but a little expensive – including postage they seem to work out at £45 each. A handy solution complete with batteries – they have to make more sense than the really STUPID thermostatic valves that most people find their radiators attached to but again I’d rather have a WIFI-controlled stat I could hack or that already used MQTT. Personally I’ve been thinking of hacking one of these… and sticking an ESP to control it – but if anyone has a better idea that is no more expensive – do let me know.

Open Source: The WiFithing project is open-source but the code is not yet on Github. Also the radio certification is not yet complete. See the Kickstarter page for more info.

I noted that they intend to have the product manufactured in the UK. Will that jack the price up? In an ideal world I’d like to see everything manufactured in the UK but I’ve seen enough conversations in this forum to know that many folk head off to China for best prices.

If you want to use the web app they charge £1 (£1.50) a month for unlimited devices per single house/site.  I think I’d rather pay once and be done with it – others may disagree. Many of the features are “goals” which will be progressed following a successful launch. With only 3 days to go and a £3k+ shortfall on already modest goal I would not hold your breath but certainly worth taking a look if you want simple radiator and remote control with uber-security and no code.


Memory sticks/SD and USB3

Check FlashI was just reading an article in a blog where people were slagging each other off over views about USB3 and the speed of memory sticks when a package arrived for me in the post.  A couple of USB3 32GB memory sticks (tiny ones at that).. and it occurred to me that my laptop has a USB3 socket.

So, off I went to the web and picked up CHECK FLASH for Windows – a freeby.

So – the first thing I did was to grab my favourite, fastest 32GB USB memory stick – a Duracell unit. I ran the test which took several minutes – and what did I get? 19 MB read speeds and 13MB write speeds – no errors. I know it is the fastest one I have as I often back movies up to it and when you’re backing up a 2GB movie – you soon make sure you use the quickest drive.

So bearing in mind that this was the BEST I have – and no way the machine will diminish any results as it is a very fast computer… I then went on to try the little mini-32GB USB drive.

Oh, both of these were formatted as Fat32 incidentally and so both complained that “only” a test of 4GB could be done.

Now, bearing in mind that the USB3 unit wasn’t even a super brand name – or ANY brand name for that matter, it is interesting to note that it easily managed 126GB read speed (i.e. SIX times faster read) and 36MB write (nearly THREE times faster write) – I think from now on I’ll be looking around for USB3 – I’m a convert.

THEN I remembered I had a USB card reader and a pal of mine had sent me some Samsung EVO microUSB chips – I read somewhere that these were the best for Raspberry Pi – so – I gave THAT a go too! Strangely the read speeds averaged 41/mb and the write speeds were only 13.4MB – more or less the same write as the USB 2 stick but over twice the read speed – perhaps my expensive USB3 ANKER adaptor isn’t as good as I thought it was - as the EVOs are definitely the fastest I’ve used on the Pi.

Have you come across much faster USB2 speeds that my simple test? What about USB3?


UI Update

I’ve been busily beavering away at a commercial project for the last couple of weeks but that ends at the weekend and I hope to soon have some more reviews of new and interesting products for you including some surprisingly cheap SBCs.  Meanwhile, close to the heart of many of use – the IOT user interface remains a challenge. There are several of course – the dashboards are great unless you want to control something – and you will know that in this blog I’ve discussed the Node-Red UI and Blynk to name but two.

I dismissed Blynk because the interface though beautiful was simply too buggy – or rather a combination of that and the Node-Red interface. Well, the good news is that part of that problem is solved. TZAPUs new web sockets code seems to be rock-solid. The only bit of the puzzle that needs fixing is the actual Blynk App. For reasons beyond me no-one seems to have noticed that if you PAUSE the APP and then continue, it knows nothing of any changes that happened while it was paused. Come out of it and go back in and fine – it picks the info up from the server – but simply pausing is an issue – maybe no-one thought that something other than the APP might be controlling your IOT – yes, hard to believe. However this morning I got acknowledgement that this will be fixed on the next sub-release – which means that by the look of it we have a fully working interface.

Meanwhile node-red-contrib-UI is due a facelift and Andrei has been working on that – sadly despite spending ages on this I’ve been unable to get the new upgrade to work – I’m confident however that this will be resolved.. and then we will have at least two decent, easy to use interfaces between Node-Red  (and hence most if not all IOT) and our phones.

Time will tell. This weekend we’re off to visit friends, next week I’m putting my office together and hopefully collecting some PCBs to control Nextion displays and as soon as my new office is in a state to do some R&D, expect to see new reviews and more info.


Home Control 2017

Introduction (Latest update August 09, 2017)

HomeSick of reading about other people’s home control? Want to make your own? Got some electronics and software experience? You’re going to LOVE THIS! Rock-solid home control – low cost, DIY.

If you’ve read my early blogs you’ll know that Aidan Ruff and I have been working in home control since the late 20th century. Together, we ran an electronics R&D company for many years and one of our products was a home control system called APPCON.

Home Control 2017

Continue reading Home Control 2017


A little aside

40 ESP-01 Boards

Some testing of 40 ESP-01 processors – all sending MQTT data data back to a database, powered by a 20 amp power supply.

Just two more of the same to go.

Of interest to those struggling with ESP-01 – I normally have a 3v3 supply on board but this time they are just on their own – so I was using the 3v3 output of an FTDI to power them and I had to have the odd retry at programming – something that normally NEVER happens. All my leads are short and properly formed so I’m hazarding a guess while the USB is able to supply enough current (at 5v) the chip on the FTDI is SLIGHTLY under-powered when delivering 3v3 to the ESPs.   Next batch I’ll put a large cap across the power. Having said that out of 40 flashing attempts I think I only had to retry 4 of them.

All working a treat and looking distinctly spiffy as the 40 blue comms lights flash – sometimes in sequence, sometimes out of sequence.


The Nextion Experiment

Nextion BoardOur latest experiment! The board you see to the right should be with us in a couple of weeks. This little number will sit on the back of a Nextion board, from the smallest to  the largest without adding any height (hopefully) and contains as you see an ESP-12 and supporting components.

The extra connectors are just to give it a more general usefulness.

Having implemented software serial on GPIO4 and GPIO5, the board will allow for sending messages via MQTT directly to the Nextion while still allowing debugging and programming of the ESP using the normal ports. 

Far better I think than strapping a Raspberry Pi onto the things. We’ve not tried to do anything too clever here so this all assumes the display is already programmed up.

My own use for this is a couple of simple wall units to show and control heating and lighting… I already have a display hooked up to a Raspberry Pi for general control but it’s a tad excessive having those plastered all over the house hence this board which we’ve had made as thin as possible.

Can’t tell you much more until we get the boards back and give them a go.

Currently ending my first week of a 2 week contract (well for now anyway) over in Spain so my ability to experiment is severely hampered as you might expect (but that is compensated for by sunshine). 

By the time I get back to the UK  I’ll have some more Sonoffs to play with (hopefully the later types with one of the LEDS attached to GPIO13 on the ESP8266) and some new ESP-related stuff to review.  My new workshop is up – just needs electricity, insulation, desks, shelves – no problem really!


General Update

tmp11DFThe last couple of days has been interesting – we’ve been checking that the Raspberry Pi 2 script works properly – it turns out that it simply won’t work if you have any kind of root access to the Pi. I’d not realised by by giving myself SUDO access in winSCP – rather handy for editing files, I’d given myself the same access in the terminal – and hence all attempts at the script failed. Today after starting afresh with the November 2015 Jessie image from Raspberry Pi (NOT the Noobs setup) – and running as Pi user, the script (despite warnings) operates perfectly, installing Apache, Sqlite, Mosquitto with web sockets and Node-Red with a host of nodes including my own.

In other events, the ESP8266 code referred to elsewhere in the blog has taken a leap (not yet online – I’m off to Spain for a couple of weeks and I’ll get onto that on my return) and now handles (thanks to Richard Burton for his help) OTA.  Still working on OTA from an external site.  We’ve added OTA setup commands to the web interface.

Most importantly on the above we’ve found and modified a library to give a software second serial port able to run at 56k – hence enabling direct Nextion display interaction on an un-modified ESP-12 for example. I already have a display device with buttons controlling other ESPs on the network via MQTT commands – this could be so powerful and will allow for remote control display panels all over the place.

tmp762BThe Sonoff device continues to work well with our software, waiting to find out how much FLASH it has on-board to ensure we’ll be able to work with that,

Sunny SpainRight now I’m packing my bags as I’m off to work on a project for just under 2 weeks on the east coast of Spain near Barcelona – using ESP-12s and Raspberry Pis strangely enough so output on the blog will be somewhat reduced as I can’t take my toys with me. I’ve a new paper-white display and a fantastic new software-defined radio setup – but they’ll just have to wait for my return.

The Facebook page at is seeing more Pi and review related material and I’ve decided it is time to move the non-ESP stuff off onto a page of it’s own – so please if you are a Facebook user, follow


Obsolete Fixed IP Tutorials

I’ve just spent half the day trying to fix the address of one of my Raspberry Pis. No matter what I did, it kept the address that it was assigned some time ago.

I even tied the IP address to MAC in the router – and THAT didn’t help. Countless resets of the router and the board got me nowhere until I read this:

My /etc/network/interfaces file didn’t look like that so I updated it… turns out in Jessie you have to update the file /etc/dhcpcd.conf

Here’s mine..

 interface eth0
       static ip_address=
       static routers=
       static domain_name_servers=

Even getting this far, some tutorials said you needed far more information than this or the Pi would not be able to contact the outside world. Well, mine does now and the address fixing works. Worth keeping that link in your bookmarks.


The not $25 LeMaker Guitar

Lemaker GuitarYou may well not be familiar with the name LeMaker but you are likely familiar with “Banana Pi” – same people (Shenzhen LeMaker Technology). This is NOT like other boards I’ve reviewed in here. This morning a large box arrived in the post from LeMaker.

So the Guitar is a small board with a solid-looking heatsink and an edge connector – that’s it. One button and a slide-switch. Bit of a worry until you see the baseboard into which it makes a smart fit. At this point it really just looked like one board – BIGGER than the Raspberry Pi by maybe 50% and square unlike other boards I’ve looked at recently. The specs are quite impressive and the processor is running at 1.3Ghz.

I’ll list here the specification of the combined baseboard and processor board as one is pretty useless without the other.

  • Actions S500 Soc with integrated quad-core ARM Cortext A9R4 CPU and Imagination PowerVR SGX544 3D GPU
  • On-board 8GB eMMC nand flash storage
  • Input 5-12v at 2ADC max.
  • 10/100Mbps Ethernet and 801.11 b/g/h WiFi.
  • 1 microUSB 3.0 and 2 type A USB 2.0
  • HDMI type A and LVDS. (Audio included on HDMI)
  • Camera interface
  • 40 pins including GPIO. SPI.I2C, UART, I2S and PWM
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Power key, reset key, 2 x user-defined LEDs, ADC, IR receiver and battery connector.

LeMaker Guitar

This combination came complete with Android 5.11 running in eMMC. The pack did not have a power supply but the connector is standard so I plugged in 5v, an HDMI monitor, keyboard, screen and keyboard.

LeMaker GuitarSo – a good start, almost everything worked out of the box. I could not get the keyboard to work, instead an on-screen Android keyboard came up, not a pleasant experience when you’re sitting in front of a proper one. I checked out the usual – memory showed only 2.3GB of internal SD left (the eMMC) which was a bit low – I quickly popped in a 32GB microSD and this appeared as an external SD. I’ve not yet checked to ensure that programs will go into external SD but it would be pretty daft if they didn’t.

LeMaker GuitarNot for the first time when running Android on a single-board computer, screen resolution was low. I altered it to 1920*1080 but it still had an interpolated feel about it  -maybe that’s a limitation with Android.

The pack also came with some peripheral boards, one of which provides even more I/O lines and 4more USB 2.0 connectors (for a total of 6 USB 2.0 connectors). The boards are stackable so you can just keep going. The next peripheral board provides 2 10a relay outputs,8 LEDs and even more outputs. A third board provides I2C connector, 2 UARTS and 2 SPI connectors along with a connector for an LCD1602 and more GPIO. All in all there’s something for everyone in this system “kit”.

So Android – the good news is it bang up to date – the first time I’ve seen that – but then with something this sophisticated, for me, Android doesn’t do it. So I went off to their site to see what else was available.

Looks can be deceiving but this looks like one of the better systems I’ve seen – albeit not the cheapest. As well as Android, they have Ubuntu Mate and what I assume is a variation, Lemuntu, LeMedia (KODI) and Arch Linux. In a future article I will be checking these out.  Having lots of peripherals is one thing – being able to use them is another.

As for pricing – you’ll see $25 out there with no-one sure if that is for the little processor board or the whole lot – well, the only price I’ve seen up to now is £47 sterling and that DOES include the baseboard. Someone on EBay is trying to get £105 for it – I think they may be disappointed. Right now there are more “pre-order” sites than anything else  - but hey – you wouldn’t want a review of an old product Smile

More on this one later – still awaiting the construction of my new office where I can properly photograph this stuff and do video etc… (we moved recently). Installing Ubuntu looks easy. If you put an operating system on SD it takes priority over the one on internal eMMC.

Update 23/02/2016

Turns out that the LeMaker Pro uses the same processor as the RoseApple Pi which is interesting – it should mean that the operating systems would be compatible but I just tried putting the microSD from my RoseApple Pi unit into the LeMaker – no joy – however I did download their media centre image using a stripped down Linux and running Kodi.  I have to say I did notice a slight amount of juddering on 180p videos – but only just – and it could have been because I’m running on WIFI… but otherwise it seemed to work just fine until I got carried away and started messing with the settings – could not find any reference to infra-red remote and you can’t drop to the operating system level…. so no remote? Erm, no. Next stop – Lemuntu which despite the name is not Ubuntu – but Debian!


Itead Slampher and Sonoff

Slampher - in Scargill's review of Slampher and SonoffRemind you of IKEA? No? Heard of ESP8266? Yes? Well, Slampher and Sonoff are two products from Itead and I think you’ll like at least one of them. They arrived at my desk today. Slampher is a screwfit lamp fitting – take the E27 lamp out – put Slampher in – screw the lamp back in and you’re in business with a remote controlled lamp. It really is that easy.

This blog updated July 26, 2017

There’s a tiny button on the unit that you press to turn the lamp on or off manually if you ever need to – or hold it down and you can make it listen for a controller – the handy – and i have to say very nice quality – keychain controller which can control 4 devices.

Handset - in Scargill's review of Slampher and SonoffThe REALLY good thing is that both of these products use ESP8266 so if you want to go in and re-program them – as I have  – to handle MQTTon your WIFI!!!! You CAN do but there is an APP if you don’t want to do it the hard way. I don’t have the App at this time so I can’t comment… but it’s an ESP8266 – how hard can it be to get that right.

Slampher and SonoffThe other product is called Sonoff and it’s just a little box that you wire mains into – and out the other end you fasten it to whatever you want – and control it the same way. SO the units obviously have both WIFI (ESP) and a 433Mhz receiver – because the little handset is 433Mhz.  Sonoff would not look out of place on a skirting board at all (proper little screw connectors inside – no soldering needed).

These are NOT expensive – in fact that really IS the point – Sonoff in particular – I could not build one at that price – and I guess that is part of the charm.  I can make this stuff with my eyes shut but by the time I put it all together and in a box….

The units I have are solid looking – the little mains controller Sonoff – the PCB inside is well put together with proper isolation on the PCB (some of you will have seen some HORRIBLY DANGEROUS pcbs in the past when it comes to UK mains but little Sonoff is ok at least at first glance).  I’ve not had a chance to pull the lamp unit apart yet – that will come later.

Pricing: I found this – $4.85 – if you live in the UK the postage brings it to $9.37 but even then! I checked out the cost of 3 – $14.55 all in to UK that is $5 each – that’s around £3 or so.

DIY programming: You’ll like this if you know how to program ESP8266 chips. I now have a diagram for Sonoff – initially the connectors did not seem to match those on the diagram – so I contacted Itead – they were keen to point out that they have a cloud system and App and of course the remote control via radio – all of which I’ll lose when I reprogram the board – but hey…. I want to control these with MY kit.

Look at the diagram below… this is looking at the TOP of the board. There is a 4 way or 5 way connector. If the latter you might want to get the meter out – but on the 4-way (mine)….  the SQUARE pin is not as you might think ground – it is 3v3 – then we have serial, serial and ground. If you wire your FTDI as per the wiring diagram below it should work.  The relay is controlled by GPIO12.

I was happy to see cooperation from Itead – obviously they would prefer that you use their cloud software and most will – but we are hackers and would never be satisfied without control, right? Ignore the LED, it is fastened to the RF device so you don’t have control over that. Right now I don’t have enough info to make any use of the RF device. If someone knows better please write in. Would be nice to have both.

Warning – you are on your own if you start this – you will need your own software and messing with the board will kill any warranty.  Clearly this must NOT be plugged into the mains while programming – use FTDI at 3v3 settings. No doubt 5v would cause damage.


Sonoff board



CLARIFICATION – the square pin is NOT ground – the square hole is 3v3. You should see that the round hole is connected to the flood filling (if you have good eyesight).

Use FTDI at 3v3 setting – in the original boards,  press the large button –THEN power up FTDI. DO NOT connect mains power while doing this – you will fry. Test MQTT connectivity, disconnect, put back in the box, use. NOTE – the newer boards marked RF do not seem to attach GPIO0 to the button – see later blog – it may be necessary to make a VERY find short at power=up – of two surface mount components.

As for actual use.. here’s the interface in Node-Red


Complicated, isn’t it. The node on the left is one of Andrei’s UI components – the node on the right is the standard MQTT connection – all of course running on my Raspberry Pi2 and already in charge of the heating and a load of experiments.

Here’s what it looks like on the phone…


and here it is - waiting for the screws which for the LIFE of me I can’t find… works a TREAT. The output relay is on GPIO12.


I have modified my general purpose MQTT software to run with the Sonoff devices and it works a treat.   - see the home control 2016 project in here where you’ll also find binary files.  A couple of settings need changing from normal – I normally use GPIO2 for WIFI setup and the SONOFF WIFI units use GPIO0…  also  - GPIO13 which I use as a status indicator – turns out the Sonoffs use them but reference 3v3 so I have an inversion setting so they flash off most of the time instead of on all the time – it’s all in the DOC file in the project above. With both of those settings updated... you can also use the button as an on-off button if you like (toggle).

The SONOFFs have only 1MByte of FLASH which would kill off OTA for all but the simplest of projects – my code needs the larger size IF you want OTA. With this in mind, is it worth paying extra for the Electrodragon? Some say the quality of the latter is not so good? But they do use an ESP-12 which will have the normal 4Mbytes of FLASH… what do you think. Update Jly 2016:  The Electrodragons didn't turn out so well - but now I've just proven that it is in face easy with a fine soldering iron to fit a £0.37 32Mbit FLASH chip to these, replacing the original - which means full OTA and no problems expanding.  See for more info.

July 2017 - By now most of us are familiar with the Sonoff units but there is always the cost of postage..

See above - includes postage - absolute bargain.