Adjustable Display Soldering Iron

As a DIY type you can never have too many soldering irons and this latest one has some virtues, it is CHEAP at under £18 and it has a nice display and simple temperature controls. It also uses pretty widely available bits.

Soldering Iron

Not excited about the stand but it works – and I have others. The iron however seems ok up to now and has temperature control from 180c to 480c. The cable seems substantial but of course only time will tell. Mine came with an EU plug which works well for me as I tend to lug stuff back and forth to Spain in the summer.

Adjustable Digital Display Electric Soldering Iron:

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The A5X MAX Android 8.1 TV Box

Regular viewers may recall I reviewed a rather nice TV Android box some time ago – the H96 Max Plus. I’m particularly choosy about these units, again regular readers will know that I’ve used and tested a number of mini-board level products such as various NanoPC boards and others for use as TV boxes and right now back in Spain I’ve left one such unit in place.

Here in the UK, rather than a board level product,  I’ve been using the H96 Max Plus for months now without issue on my 4K 55” TV, producing quality output from Netflix, Amazon TV, iPlayer and much more. UK viewers note that few if any of these units can handle NowTV due to rather childish restrictions from Sky. I use a separate Sky box for NowTV.

A5X Max

Of course there is much more to quality TV than resolution (just as well as most of the material out there is not 4K or anything like it) and one TINY gripe I’ve been harbouring without knowing exactly where to pin the blame, is black level control. I got very annoyed over Christmas when I went to see a pal of mine as his TV seemed to have more consistent blacks than mine. Which brings us to the A5X Max box.

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Big Timer

BigTimerNode-RED is a fantastic and powerful yet easy to use programming tool for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in new and interesting ways. For more information on Node-Red go to the Node-Red site.

Big Timer is the the most BigTimerpowerful and best-ever, most comprehensive timing node for Node-Red, providing a general purpose timer as well as handling summer/winter correctly as well as (importantly) lighting-up time (for which you should provide your longitude and latitude from Google maps or similar).

After all you probably don’t turn the outside lights on at 6pm!! You most likely want them on when it gets DARK.

BigTimers can be used singly or in groups. Full support is provided for dusk/sunset dawn/sunrise and variations also for day/week/month (and special days) control.

The node offers outputs suitable for MQTT, speech and databases (but you don’t HAVE to use these). You can also manually over-ride the UTC time setting on the host computer if required.

General purpose and very powerful yet simple to use, BigTimer has three outputs, the first of which updates when there is a change of state and presents one of two messages (for, for example, MQTT or other control mechanism)

The second of three outputs offers a simple 1 or 0 every minute in the payload and also presents additional information reflecting the status message in msg.state, message.time and others – see the entire msg output in debug for more.

The third output presents a message which could be used for speech or debugging.

There is also real-time status information displayed below each BigTimer node.

As always, the latest node-red-contrib-bigtimer is available at node-red-flows and at - put "scargill" in the search and you'll see all my nodes and flows.

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My New Kinetic Light Switches

Here’s something new (for some of us at least). I’ve been struggling with faulty hall wiring for some time since another room rewire – well, not faulty, more disconnected. The problem is while I can easily seal up the original wiring with just one hole in the (flat roof) ceiling and acquire new power from elsewhere, the two interlocking wall switches are another matter – they go up inside stone walls and into the ceiling space at each end of the hall … not a problem but for the flat roof and the fact that I have no idea where the two of them meet up.

I’d really rather not dismantle the entire hall ceiling to find out where the switch wiring meets the power and there is no way to get to the switches or the wiring from above. My choices were boiling down to one – some kind of battery powered remote switches – and how would I do changeover? two circuits?

Battery free remote switching

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Vodafone Gripes and a Glimmer

To any readers considering Vodafone broadband – here’s the story of my first 3 months with Vodafone UK.

It begins with the promise of a free gift to join Vodafone but read on, there is more and some good news…

When we moved home last year, I was very excited to find that the village of Wark on Tyne was finally moving into the 21st century with high speed fibre broadband (no thanks to BT who get endless funding for this kind of thing), so excited that I put to one side my long-held gut feeling that Vodafone are nothing but a bunch of cowboys. After all, things change, don’t they?

GoPro Hero

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Sonoff, Tasmota and Alexa

Sonoff mains switchI always think it is worth periodically re-visiting things you’ve tried before, even when the first attempt led to tears. Things change. And so it was that I pulled out and old (original 4-pin connector) Sonoff Basic recently and gave Tasmota a go. It is some time since I looked at this. Off I went to the Tasmota site looking for a binary file for the Sonoff BASIC. Voila. Binary files for lots of boards including Sonoff Basic.

Next I had to remember how to flash this on my Windows PC. I tried and quickly realised this was not going to work on my PC without figuring out where Python is hiding. It just so happens I have esptool.exe on there, in my c:\espressif\utils folder.

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The life of a solar panel

Here’s something you don’t see in the garden solar light adverts.. what you’re seeing here is not untypical weather for the Northeast of England at this time of year. I’m optimistic that my NEW (not cheap) panels may last longer than the usual cheap rubbish. We’ve had several nights like this recently (rock solid ice in the morning) and the new solar lights I blogged about at Christmas are working a treat (more than can be said for the PoundLand specials) and lighting up the garden only when movement is detected, running at a dim level at other times (and of course only when it is dark).

solar panels

If they keep this up I’m buying more. Time will tell.


Tips for T12 Soldering Station

tmpF411Remember my blog entry about the T12 soldering station?  I had a slight concern about tip availability.. solved..

Can’t say fairer than that… £26 inc. post for a complete set.

And these look far more substantial than those in my other soldering station so hopefully they’ll last a while. I just got them in the post. £2.60 each and that includes (I assume) the heater element as they occupy all the available space in the handle.

T12 Series Solder Iron Tips -- 
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Geekcreit Large Rainbow Clock Kit

If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for pretty colours, which is why I had to have this Geekcreit Large Size Rainbow Colour Clock DIY kit. I kind of glossed over the kit bit when looking at it, but never mind, I’m up for a challenge (and if you think that a couple of SMT chips and a shedload of SMT LEDs is no challenge, I invite you to try it in your mid-60s after a couple of serious operations).

Enough blether… I need to build this.

Clock kit

That’s a stock photo – I’m about 20% through putting the LEDs in and I’m still baulking at the thought of putting the larger IC on the board. Now waiting for Banggood to come back with which resistor is which. My good pal Aidan is popping over this week to give me a hand with the big chip.

partial build

partial build

More later….

Geekcreit® Large Size Rainbow Color Clock DIY Kit -- 
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Raspberry Pi RPI-CLONE Issues

As I normally rave about RPI-CLONE – I  thought I’d share the dirty laundry this time.

** Update Jan 13 2019

It is looking increasingly likely that the issues I was having were power supply related and one bad SD card. I’ve just finished my 7th successful backup-clone since removing the intermediate battery pack to the Pi and shortening the USB lead. I neglected to note that I’d recently added an Amazon Echo generation 2 DOT into the mix. It is possible that is relevant. Good timing as I’ve just moved to Blynk local server and cracked ESP8266 host names on Windows and I do NOT want to lose that.

** end of update

I have backed up both Pi 2 and Pi 3 hundreds of times, generally without issue, but the last few days I’ve had some cloning problems – generally along the lines of failure – read-only.

Here is a photo of one of my Pi3 units  - – the main controller sits at but is otherwise identical).

Raspberry Pi 3 with OLED display

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3.5 inch LCD Touch Screen and RPI Case

RPI fan case  + LCD

That was in danger of becoming a very long title. I just bought this display/case combo for Raspberry Pi – I’m pretty sure from Banggood (no clue in the package) – but anyway as they have the driver links and the driver was not included in the box – see over the break. The links work.

I have this LCD running on one of my Raspberry Pi 2 boards, I like it but not had 100% success with the touch screen. The package I bought includes the LCD screen and RPI case.  As finding a bezel for these and similar displays is usually half the battle, I thought this was a good idea.

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