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Welcome to ned Productions (non-commercial personal website, for commercial company see ned Productions Limited). Please choose an item you are interested in on the left hand side, or continue down for Niall’s virtual diary.

Niall’s virtual diary:

Started all the way back in 1998 when there was no word “blog” yet, hence “virtual diary”.

Original content has undergone multiple conversions Microsoft FrontPage => Microsoft Expression Web, legacy HTML tag soup => XHTML, XHTML => Markdown, and with a ‘various codepages’ => UTF-8 conversion for good measure. Some content, especially the older stuff, may not have entirely survived intact.

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Monday 21 November 2022: 00:34. There isn’t much update on my future house build during the past month as everything is blocked on my accountant finishing my 2021 company accounts before I can apply for a mortgage. I’m out of cash to spend on the house or site, I’ve spent all the savings I accumulated, so without a mortgage everything pauses.

I did get this finished in the past month however:

Strictly speaking, it’s actually the last four months because I bought the roof sheets in July, and it’s taken me well over two months to get the wall painted and to erect the support beams. As much as that was painstakingly slow, the beams have been designed to aid installing wiring and lighting, so they will enable subsequent stuff to go quicker. And, I now have a sheltered place for the solar inverter and all the other wiring to be installed (plus, that roof is absolutely super when a rain shower comes in, you can go hide under it until the rain passes, or get a lot of cutting and sawing type of work done when it’s raining full belt). The roof panels cost a few hundred euro, as did the paint, as did the raising of the wall. I reckon €1,500 or so of materials has gone into just that little bit of wall. Crazy for what it got me, but that’s the cost of construction I guess. And still vastly cheaper than getting somebody in to do the same work.

I’ve got plenty to keep me busy left to go – conduit needs to be installed for ethernet, 16A three phase mains, local earth and 60v DC to run to the far end of the existing wall. RGBWW outdoor strip lighting needs to be installed under the roof, after waterproof flashing between the roof and the wall is installed (I await a few dry days in vain I suspect). I have two watertight large plastic boxes for wifi APs for each end of the wall, and two security cameras to raise each end of the wall. I have a 12v battery powered alarm system to install, with a roof mounted trickle charging solar panel, and some 50 watts of alarm siren to light the place up if somebody tries to burgle it. At some point the solar inverter will turn up, that and the lithium batteries will need installing. I have months of work ahead of me before I can move in as my daytime work office.

I’m currently working on that 12v system for the container. It will consist of one of my Olimex ESP32-POE boards, a 5m RGBWW PWM controlled strip to light the inside of the container, an infrared movement detector, oodles of 12v siren capacity, a 20w solar panel, a solar charge controller, and an old 12v battery reclaimed from an old UPS which after me reconditioning it appears to still be able to hold 50-60 watt hours. The total cost for all these parts was under €100, which puts the expense of that wall into perspective. Still, I need to wire this up and get a firmware onto it.

The solar charge controller is really cheap and dumb. It draws off the 12v supply to run itself obviously, but it doesn’t turn itself off at nighttime, so it therefore drains the battery for zero good reason. I am therefore going to insert a mechanical relay between it and the battery, and have the ESP32 physically disconnect it each night and reconnect it in the morning. To achieve this, the ESP32 obviously enough needs to know when the sun will rise and when it will fall. Complicating this is that one of the many quirks of the ESP32 is its shitty real time clock, it will happily wander by minutes per day if the CPU is running, but worse, if you put it into deep sleep then it wanders by hours, and obviously I intend to deep sleep it when it’s not needed. To solve the real time clock problem, I bought a cheap DS3231 i2c connected battery powered real time clock which won’t drift more than a minute per year, so now the ESP32 always knows the correct time and date. The next problem is calculating when the sun rises and sets for a given latitude and longitude and date.

The correct solution can be found at https://gml.noaa.gov/grad/solcalc/solareqns.PDF, and it involves lots of maths because the earth isn’t quite a sphere, and it doesn’t go around the sun linearly – it actually slows down and then catches up across the year as the other planets (mainly Jupiter) tug on it. The ESP32 only has hardware floating point for adds and multiplies, everything else is hideously slow, so whilst that is a once per day calculation, I was hoping to derive a simplified estimator of sunrise and sunset for a latitude by assuming that the earth is a sphere and its motion around the sun is linear. I think I have derived a correct simplification:

# Turn your latitude in degrees into radians
latitude = (52.129877 / 180) * math.pi

const1 = 12 / math.pi
const2 = -math.tan(latitude)
const3 = 0.40910517666747085283091311613373
const4 = 2 * math.pi / 365

def calc_sunrise_sunset(days):
    diff = const1 * math.acos(const2 * math.tan(const3 * math.sin(const4 * (days + 284))))
    sunrise = 12 - diff
    sunset = 12 + diff
    return (sunrise, sunset)

# Normally pass this time.gmtime().tm_yday
sunrise, sunset = calc_sunrise_sunset(81)

# Must be true at the equinox
assert abs(6 - sunrise) < 0.01
assert abs(18 - sunset) < 0.01

This costs a sine, a tangent and an arc cosine plus three additions and four multiplies. The trig functions will be implemented on the ESP32 as a sequence of Chebyshev multiplies and adds (maybe six of each per trig function?) giving maybe 20-25 adds and 20-25 multiplies, so I’d consider the above fairly optimal. It’s not the most accurate estimator as it is too simplified, it can be up to 45 mins out depending on the time of year, but for my needs I think it’ll do just fine.

Despite what I said earlier about not having any more money to spend, I did take advantage of the Chinese Singles Day sales to pick up an Anycubic Kobra Go 3D printer this past month for under €200 inc VAT delivered. This is a self assembled printer capable of printing in PLA, PETG, TPU, ABS and low temperature formulations of Nylon (just about!) to dimensions no larger than 20 x 20 x 24 cm. It’s very much conventional bog standard cheap 3D printer tech, albeit a very well put together package thereof, so you get what you get for the price point i.e. it’s going to be very slow if you want quality, but all the parts and firmware are the same as any other printer in this price bracket, so it’ll be very easy to maintain and/or upgrade.

My experiences with the printer so far have been extremely positive, given its price. It is perfectly calibrated i.e. 1cm in X, Y or Z on the computer is exactly 1cm in the print. I have been feeding it extremely cheap filament – as in, rock bottom cheap – and the results have been very good considering that. Here is the owl print Anycubic supply with all their printers for you to test its assembly:

This is the owl straight out of the machine uncleaned, and the small amount of ringing at the bottom came off very quickly with a knife. Look at the ears – that is a mightly overhang, yet they do not sag despite the printer going at maximum speed with a 0.2 mm layer thickness.

I’ve had the printer for a few weeks now, and this weekend after much earlier testing to ensure this final test wouldn’t be a waste of a lot of filament, I set it printing this over thirty hours:

(Note the roughness of the bottom half, and the smoothness of the top – a classic example of the effects of moisture getting into the filament. It doesn’t matter for our use case, we’ll be enrobing this with several layers of epoxy resin, which will produce a glossy ceramic-like finish)

That’s the full height (24 cm) and most of the full width and depth (20 cm) using a single thickness over-extruded wall i.e. if anything, absolutely anything, were out of balance or wrong this print would have failed. The nozzle is 0.4 mm wide, but I had it print this by depositing 0.6 mm of material (over extrusion). Obviously, this is highly prone to slipping unless the material is placed absolutely perfectly on top of the preceding material down to micrometre accuracy, and as you can see, the printer is capable of that, albeit it had to run at half speed. There was almost no fluff – only a marginal amount along the Y axis due to the bed slinger – no ringing, no holes, no deformations nor errors of any kind. If you’re willing to wait, this printer is supremely capable at half speed, the quality is second to none. What a more expensive model will buy you is speed, the 3D printing world is currently abuzz about the Ankermake M5 which costs 5x-6x more than mine, but also prints maybe 8x faster using proprietary nozzles and other fancy technology. Indeed, after a few years of stagnation, it looks like a real technological leap forwards is currently happening in consumer 3D printing – high end features typical in industrial printers are increasingly appearing in sub-€1000 consumer printers, and it’s not hard to imagine that in a decade from now for under €500 you’ll be able to buy a 3D printer capable of all non-organic materials printable under 350 C which can ‘plug and play’ turn out a fifty litre print within 24 hours with almost zero chance of print failure.

Speaking of print failure, I ended up spending as much as I did on the printer on preventing print failures. I bought a large sized filament dryer, an enclosure and vacumn seal bags with dessicant for the filament reels to try and keep the moisture out of them. Where I live in the south of Ireland typically has relative humidity exceeding 80%, and I’ll be keeping the printer outside in the garage where it is particularly moist (right now, condensation drips constantly from the roof!) as you can’t safely print ABS indoors due to the fumes produced. I’m hoping that between the filament dryer and the enclosure I can get away with printing in the garage, I certainly don’t have the space here inside the rented house.

I mentioned earlier that I very much cheaped out on the filament. Most filament if bought in Europe costs €20-30 per kg, and if bought from China once you add in the postage it is usually around the same for non-commercial quantities. Bulk filament manufacturers such as https://gst3d.eu/ will get you down to €15/kg if you buy > 10 kg at a time, but if you really want to get down to cheap cheap cheap filament then YOYI filament from Amazon kinda occupies the whole market below €15/kg in Europe at least. I picked up my YOYI filament for €10.50/kg delivered, to reach that price I had to buy 4 kg but I was allowed to choose any colours or materials (PLA, PETG, TPU, ABS) I liked. Remarkably, YOYI charge the same for PLA, PETG and ABS, only the TPU is more expensive.

Based on internet reviews, YOYI filament can deliver excellent results but it is finickety and intolerant. I’ve only had a bit of experience with it, however I can confirm other reviews that for the grey PETG, you need >= 230 C nozzle with a >= 80 C bed for the first layer if you want bed adhesion after which you can dial back to 210-220 C nozzle to reduce stringing. It’s kinda annoying having to hang over the printer until the first layer is done, so when Raspberry Pis return into stock I hope to kit out the printer with a Wifi Raspberry Pi based print manager and then I can watch and control it via Wifi connected camera from within the warmth of my home. Still, for a one third reduction in the cost of running – given the amount I expect to print – I’ll take it.

This brings me to why I bought the 3D printer at all – I have found myself increasingly needing custom plastic parts, and having to work around the lack of them is costing me time and money. I intend to teach myself over the next few weeks how to design end to end a 3D print – so far, I have taken other people’s designs from the internet, sliced them for my printer using my own hand and judgement, and so far so good it appears I understand the tradeoffs given that all my prints to date have been successful. But where I need to get myself is the capability to design and print say a durable custom waterproof case for an assembly of ESP32 automation board with various modules and sensors, which is almost certainly going to require PETG or ABS. PETG is the same stuff from which they make disposable drink bottles, so it’s quite durable and capable. However, ABS has the unique ability to be postprocessed using acetone i.e. if you ‘paint’ an ABS print with acetone it ‘melts’ the plastic, which means you can seal the print against everything other than organic solvants, which includes the rain. Unfortunately, printing ABS is both tricky and toxic, so I’m semi looking forward to attempting a print using the cheap cheap cheap YOYI ABS filament spool I bought, maybe next weekend or the weekend after.

Here’s an example of the kind of custom plastic part I need, these were printed a few hours ago in that YOYI grey PETG using a 0.1 mm layer rather than 0.2 mm to improve vertical strength and resolution:

Despite the low post-first-layer print temperature there was a bit of stringing, but it was very easily cut off to yield the above. These brackets aren’t pretty, but they are functional – they clamp any 65 mm wide circuit board, which is most of the Olimex stuff. That means I can finally mount the Olimex stuff onto an acrylic board, and that in turn means no more rat’s nest jumble of wires and modules with so much that can short or get loose or get tangled. Everything going forth will be fixed onto a solid board and immovable, woo hoo! Down the line, as mentioned earlier, I hope to print waterproof custom cases, but for now even these simple printed mounting brackets will be a big time and hassle saver.

#house




Friday 21 October 2022: 23:43. Around a year ago in my series on my future house build, I wrote about a Devantech ethernet relay board, then I went on to review the state of the market as of Q3 2021 comparing various microcontrollers and microcomputers, and I decided at the time to plump for a mixture of STM32F4 and Raspberry Pi Zero for my house automation. I made a custom Home Assistant integration for the Devantech board (it and the cove lighting continue to work perfectly, incidentally, I type to you now under said cove lighting), and all seemed well until August just gone when I mentioned that instead of all that I had bought fifty ESP32 boards, with a promise of a future post about them. This is that post!

Here is the board I dropped about a grand upon buying fifty of them plus convenience breakouts:

You may remember that a year ago I was not keen on the ESP32, as it is markedly inferior to the STM32F4 in terms of quality and quirks, albeit with bucket loads more features. So why change my mind now?

First reason is cost: when you’re spending a grand of money, saving a third of it is a good move. In my Q3 2021 review post, I reckoned a STM32F4 could be had for €12 inc VAT and a Raspberry Pi for €20 inc VAT, but that didn’t include the PoE adapter which probably can’t be had for less than €10 inc VAT. The Olimex ESP32-POE-IND (with industrial grade components) is under €15 inc VAT if you buy fifty of them, which is nearly one third cheaper.

The second reason is convenience: These boards have already wired a bunch of stuff together for me into a single PCB, which saves me having to wire bits together. Its premounted UEXT connector exposes the UART, I2C and SPI pins plus 3.3v power which will save me soldering in i/o pins in many cases (I also bought a bunch of UEXT daisy chain boards, they were very cheap and let me use dupont wiring instead of hand soldering and crimping). They’re correspondingly more compact, which means I can use smaller much cheaper waterproof enclosures, saving even more money.

The third reason is that for all the things the ESP32 is bad at e.g. Analogue to Digital conversion, or keeping accurate time – I can cheaply buy an I2C peripheral which does have quality ADCs, or quality time. And it’s only rarely I’ll need to do that in any case as the majority of those boards will go on PWM control of RGBWW LED strips. The PWM in the ESP32 isn’t as good as the one in the STM32F4 or the Raspberry Pi, but it can still push 15kHz, which is plenty. One of these boards can PWM up to three LED strips (four channels each, therefore twelve I/Os) if I solder on the i/o headers, but something very attractive is that the UEXT header alone is sufficient to drive two LED strips no soldering needed.

Finally, the ESP32 alone has rather the killer app for my use cases: https://esphome.io/. But more on that shortly.

The Olimex ESP32-POE board

Olimex are a Bulgarian manufacturer of IoT and embedded boards, and have been around for a few decades now so they’re well established. I believe their ESP32-POE board is their most popular by some margin, for some reason nobody else makes a PoE powered ESP32 board for under €31 (the LilyGo TTGO) and more usually €65 (the WESP32; the official Espressif dev board). The nearest cheap equivalent is the WT32-ETH01 which combines an ESP32 with Ethernet, but you won’t get one for under €13 inc VAT, and it doesn’t include PoE. So no wonder that the Olimex board is so popular!

For under €15 inc VAT the feature set is pretty good. You get a 100 Mbit claiming Ethernet port which can draw up to four watts of power from PoE. If you need more, there is a micro USB port through which you can supply up to ten watts. There is a lithium battery connection with a 100 mA charge circuit, this will accept a 3.7v LiPo battery. If the battery is fitted and charged, power can be removed and the board will keep running, however only 3.3v TTL is supplied, the 5v power rail disappears. So you need to make sure any relays you use are fully 3.3v based if you want them to work on battery. Finally, you can connect a SD card if you need local storage, though for me ethernet is where data ought to be stored.

The ESP32 running full belt minus wifi at 240 Mhz will consume about 50 mA, peripherals can’t draw more than 250 mA if on PoE, and perhaps less than that if on battery. An idling ESP32 might draw 4 mA, therefore a 3000 mAh battery could run the device for between 30 and 750 hours (one month) assuming board power overhead of 20-50 mA. If you can put the device into deep sleep, that draws only 0.1 mA, which could be up to 30,000 hours (or over three years)!

I’ve been running mine for several months now, and it has been reliable:

As you may be able to read from its little OLED display, it has three sensors, two are NDIR CO2 sensors and one is a IAQ + Humidity + Pressure sensor. Every few seconds the readings are posted by the board via REST to an Influx DB over the network, and it slowly pulses the LED from fully on to off by PWM. This has been running for a long time now on a ESPHome built firmware, it looks to me as reliable as the Devantech board. You may also note the lithium battery to the left, I have a 3000 mAh unit in there which I reckoned to be the best bang for the buck in terms of capacity to price ratio. Here is Grafana rendering the last week of InfluxDB records:

I guess my only real issue with this board is how hot its PoE DC to 5v circuit runs:

Yup, about 80 C. That’s well below the temperature rating of the components – especially the industrial grade ones which mine are – and in fairness this the eighth revision of the board is the least hot of any of the preceding revisions. Still, it kinda feels like wasted power consumption for no good reason other than reducing cost.

Thanks to this being an open source hardware design, I discovered that the DC-DC stepdown chip is the TX4138 whose datasheet can be found at https://datasheet.lcsc.com/lcsc/1811141153_XDS-TX4138_C329267.pdf. It claims an 84% efficiency. Assuming it’s a linear regulator taking the 5v to 3.3v and therefore burns as heat 33% of the current the ESP32 uses, a 100 mA draw by the ESP32 at 3.3v (one third of a watt) would be 133 mA of 5v, or two thirds of a watt. That turns into a minimum of 0.8 watts of PoE power, which is a best case efficiency of 41%.

Olimex seem to think it draws around a watt of PoE power if you don’t attach energy hungry peripherals, maybe 1.5 watts if the wifi is maxed out. I guess that therefore is +50 watts of constant background heating in my home.

BTW, one watt at €0.30 per kWh is €2.63 per year, so if the board costing €31 were ideally power efficient, it would take 9.1 years to pay back the added cost over the board I chose. I very much doubt that that the €31 board is more efficient however, it looks to me to also use linear converters. The WESP32 specifically mentions in its docs that when running off PoE it will get hot, and I couldn’t find any information on the heat output of the official Espressif dev board. In any case, high efficiency power conversion costs money, and the repay time is unlikely to be worth it for such low wattages.

ESPHome

In my Q3 2021 survey I spoke a lot about ecosystem depth and breadth greatly favouring the STM32 over the ESP32, after claiming I had done a lot of research. Unfortunately I somehow missed the elephant in the room which is the amazing and astonishingly capable ESPHome which I assume at the time I didn’t realise just how amazing it is. And, a game changer in fact, as it made me go all in on ESP32.

ESPHome comes across initially as a dumb microcontroller convenience firmware for Home Assistant, and I think because of that I dismissed it from further investigation at the time. That was a mistake, thankfully realised in time. ESPHome is in fact so capable that you don’t need Home Assistant at all, you can create firmwares which work with other ESPHome firmwares to solve a problem without any central server to coordinate things. That is a killer application for my use case. Furthermore, you can bulk orchestrate the upgrading of the firmwares of many devices chosen by category with zero effort over ethernet, which is another killer application for my use case. Finally, while ESPHome has a limited selection of hardware with direct support, apart from a few mildly painful omissions it does have support for a wide enough range of hardware that so long as you only buy peripherals it supports, it ‘just works’ with very little added effort.

Here is the ESPHome configuration file for the board above. You feed this to esphome run and it will compile an ESP32 firmware for you and automatically write it to the board over ethernet.

esphome:
  name: esp32-poe
  platform: ESP32
  board: esp32-poe
  on_boot:
    - light.turn_on: led1
        
globals:
  - id: brightness
    type: float
    initial_value: '1.0f'
  - id: increment
    type: float
    initial_value: '0.01'

influxdb:
  host: 192.168.x.x
  database: HomeSensors
  username: x
  password: x

interval:
  - interval: 100ms
    then:
      - light.turn_on:
          id: led1
          transition_length: 0ms
          brightness: !lambda |-
            if(id(brightness) <= .0f) {
              id(brightness) = .0f;
              id(increment) = -id(increment);
            } else if(id(brightness) >= 1.0f) {
              id(brightness) = 1.0f;
              id(increment) = -id(increment);
            }
            id(brightness) += id(increment);
            return id(brightness);

ethernet:
  type: LAN8720
  mdc_pin: GPIO23
  mdio_pin: GPIO18
  clk_mode: GPIO17_OUT
  phy_addr: 0
  power_pin: GPIO12
  domain: .nedland
  manual_ip:
    static_ip: 192.168.x.x
    gateway: 192.168.x.x
    subnet: 255.255.255.0
  use_address: 192.168.x.x

uart:
  # Must use UART1 as UART0 is used by the logger!
  rx_pin:
    number: GPIO36
  tx_pin:
    number: GPIO4
  baud_rate: 9600
  id: uart1
  debug:

i2c:
  sda: SDA
  scl: SCL
  scan: true
  frequency: 400kHz

#spi:
#  clk_pin: GPIO14
#  mosi_pin: MOSI
#  miso_pin: MISO
  
binary_sensor:
  - platform: gpio
    pin:
      number: BUTTON
      inverted: true
    name: "Button 1"
  
  
# LED
output:
  - platform: ledc
    pin: GPIO33
    id: gpio_33
    frequency: "14648Hz"  # 80 Mhz clock so 4096 steps

light:
  - platform: monochromatic
    output: gpio_33
    id: led1
    name: "LED"

# CO2 sensor
# Temperature, pressure, humidity sensor
bme680_bsec:
  address: 0x77

sensor:
  - platform: adc
    pin: GPIO35
    name: "Battery voltage"
  - platform: adc
    pin: GPIO39
    name: "External voltage"
  - platform: mhz19
    co2:
      name: "MH-Z19 CO2 Value"
      id: co_1
    temperature:
      name: "MH-Z19 Temperature"
    update_interval: 30s
    uart_id: uart1
    automatic_baseline_calibration: true
  - platform: scd30
    co2:
      name: "SCD30 CO2 Value"
      id: co_2
    temperature:
      name: "SCD30 Temperature"
      id: temp_2
    humidity:
      name: "SCD30 Humidity"
      id: hum_2
    update_interval: 30s
    address: 0x61
    automatic_self_calibration: true
#  - platform: bme680
#    i2c_id: i2c0
#    temperature:
#      name: "BME680 Temperature"
#      oversampling: 16x
#    pressure:
#      name: "BME680 Pressure"
#    humidity:
#      name: "BME680 Humidity"
#    gas_resistance:
#      name: "BME680 Gas Resistance"
#    address: 0x77
#    update_interval: 5s
  - platform: bme680_bsec
    temperature:
      name: "BME680 Temperature"
      id: temp_1
    pressure:
      name: "BME680 Pressure"
      id: press_1
      #on_update:
      #  write scd30.ambient_pressure_compensation
    humidity:
      name: "BME680 Humidity"
      id: hum_1
    iaq:
      name: "BME680 IAQ"
      id: iaq_1
    co2_equivalent:
      name: "BME680 CO2 Equivalent"
    breath_voc_equivalent:
      name: "BME680 Breath VOC Equivalent"
#  - platform: ltr390
#    uv:
#      name: "LTR390 UV Index"
#    light:
#      name: "LTR390 Light"
#    address: 0x23

font:
  - file: "gfonts://Roboto"
    id: roboto
    size: 12
    
display:
  - platform: ssd1306_i2c
    model: "SSD1306 128x64"
    rotation: 180

    lambda: |-
      it.fill(Color::BLACK);
      it.printf(0, 0, id(roboto), Color(255,255,255), TextAlign::TOP_LEFT, "CO2 A: %.0f B: %.0f", id(co_1).state, id(co_2).state);    
      it.printf(0, 13, id(roboto), Color(255,255,255), TextAlign::TOP_LEFT, "Tmp A: %.2f B: %.2f", id(temp_1).state, id(temp_2).state);    
      it.printf(0, 26, id(roboto), Color(255,255,255), TextAlign::TOP_LEFT, "Hum A: %.2f B: %.2f", id(hum_1).state, id(hum_2).state);    
      it.printf(0, 39, id(roboto), Color(255,255,255), TextAlign::TOP_LEFT, "IAQ: %.2f %%", (id(iaq_1).state/5.0f));    
      it.printf(0, 51, id(roboto), Color(255,255,255), TextAlign::TOP_LEFT, "Press: %.0f", id(press_1).state);    
    

# Enable logging
#logger:
#  level: VERBOSE
#  level: VERY_VERBOSE

# Enable Home Assistant API
api:
  password: "xxxx"
  reboot_timeout: 0s

ota:
  password: "xxxx"

# Enable webserver
web_server:
  port: 80

As you can see, it’s basically YAML describing the board and what is connected to it and where. Rather usefully it autogenerates a live web page on a web server served by the board, just like the one I made for the Devantech board:

I haven’t really exercised the support for writing out complex logic much yet – you can easily do stuff such as ‘if humidity exceeds 80%, switch relay on’ – but I shall be doing so when I set up my 12v battery installation. I have bought a small 20w solar panel and a cheap low end 12v solar charger which isn’t very clever, so I will also be adding one of these PoE boards with a lithium battery and an added high quality time and date peripheral over I2C. It will calculate sunrise and sunset from the current date, and physically disconnect the solar charger from the battery during night times to prevent it sucking power out of the battery. I then will have various things hanging off the 12v battery, specifically 24v LED strip lighting and an alarm system so if anybody tries to rob me, I can light the place up and set off loud sirens, and it’ll be completely independent of mains power so even if they disconnect or cut the power lines going into the container, it won’t help them.

Once I have the security system in place I can start filling the shipping container with expensive stuff, currently I can’t take the expensive stuff out there as I can’t risk it – even though the shipping container has a CEN class 4 lock on it (the highest CEN grade is 6, and those locks cost half a grand or more each), and it would take a cutting torch to get in there, the easiest way to rob it is simply to steal the whole container and I have no protection against that until I get my battery powered alarm system installed.

#house




Saturday 24 September 2022: 23:36. Last time I wrote a post on my future house build, I mentioned how progress had been frustratingly slow due to people not responding to email or phone calls. That hasn’t got any better (indeed, currently most builders aren’t responding to requests for quotes, and if they do, they give lead times well into 2025 ), but my wonderful sister Aoife did manage to get me some groundworks done by pulling favours:

Due to being so busy, they could only spare me two days and those cost me more than six grand, but it certainly leapt me forwards a bunch. I got services ducting extended from their entry points at the driveway over to the western wall, specifically mains electricity, broadband, mains water and sewerage. 300mm of hardcore, crushed rock and a thin layer of gravel have been laid down. They felt that my wall was likely to fall down, so they pinned it with a new support column, which was made wide enough to plinth the solar inverter whenever it arrives, and they built up structural support for the far end which I had left open because concrete foundations needed putting in. That, in turn, meant I could seal and finish the ESB meter box, and it enabled me to install a 40ft shipping container:

This shipping container unblocks a vast array of other things as I finally have secure storage onsite – it was a critical blockage point, and without it not much else could proceed. As the photos show, it is a ‘new’ (once used) unit manufactured in China and it did a single crossing from China to Europe. It was expensive at seven grand, however used units are currently costing €5.5k, plus this specific unit is a High Cube rather than standard i.e. it is taller, and has 14% more space internally. I reckoned for the difference in it the slightly extra cost was worth it for a non-banged up unit that is guaranteed completely clean on the inside (which as the photos show, it is).

Most people now ask why buy instead of rent, as is normal for those in Ireland building a house? The reasons are: (i) I don’t expect to build for at least a year probably two as I wait out the coming recession, and rent vs purchase swaps value at around nine months (ii) I want to modify the container to add internal lighting, an alarm system, and forced air ventilation (iii) as a brand new container with modifications highly desirable by other Irish home builders, it should recoup a large portion of its cost when I sell it years from now.

This coming Monday the portable cabin should arrive, and once connected up that will finally give me a working toilet on the site, which would be amazing. And somewhere to shelter when it rains which isn’t my poor car! I’m going to wire it up so it’ll run off my petrol generator for the time being, then I can make cups of tea etc whilst sheltering inside from a deluge, which are common in Ireland. I have a small heat recovery ventilation unit coming for it, once I get electricity being generated onsite it should stop the cabin going mouldy as portable cabins tend to do if not frequently used.

Last few months I’ve been having to load everything in and out of my car per journey, plus my small rented house has been filling up with stuff purchased for the house. Being able to get some of that (the non-expensive stuff) out stored onto the site where it’s exclusively used would be most convenient and save considerable time not unpacking and repacking the car each time. Also, I was now able to order the solar inverter, the lithium battery storage, and the solar panels for the house as I finally have somewhere to store them. When they arrive (likely months from now, there are severe shortages of these items) I should be able to mount twelve of the panels onto the roof of the container, and that should generate 15 kWh of electricity per average day in December. That should be enough to space heat the portable cabin and run my work computer, and every month which isn’t December will generate far more electricity. I could just install mains electricity, however why pay its standing charge when I don’t have to?

In the past month or so I’ve found weekends and mornings before work to finish the construction of my wall, and because its mortar is so unstable due to my mistakes I needed to ensure it wouldn’t wash out with the winter rain, so I got a base coat of paint onto the inner side and I applied a cement and water paste to the outer side to seal the wall.

I’ll get two full coats onto the inner side before winter I would hope, weather permitting, and raise a one meter wide roof along ten metres of it which corresponds to the future outhouse. I’ll then be ready for whenever/if the solar inverter turns up to mount it onto the wall (you can see its plinth above).

Despite the delays in delivery of lots of critical bits, I suspect the single biggest constraint going forth will be my free time. I hope to invest as many mornings before work and weekends as I am either capable of or am allowed to. I’ll get there eventually, and once ready it will become my new place of work so I no longer need to work from home.

House build spend

My last update on this went up to 1st August 2022. I can tell you what the spend will be on the 1st October 2022, more or less:

  • Spent: €157,769
  • Committed to be spent soon: €15,448
  • Current three month averaged spend rate: €12,096 per month

The four biggest ticket items in the past three months were: (i) Portable cabin (ii) Shipping container (iii) Groundworks (iv) Architect fees.

That is obviously rather a lot of money and most definitely is not sustainable – I am quite well paid, but burning twelve grand per month above living costs is very far beyond my means. The only good news is that this three month cash burn rate probably has peaked and will not become so high again until the main house build gets its deposit paid for it. And, I suppose when the inflation rate causes your cash to lose over 10% of its value per year, one of the best value preserving things you can do is get rid of your cash by swapping it for things which don’t lose their value as quickly. I certainly have achieved that anyway!

Apart from all the bitty stuff of wiring things up onsite etc, the next big thing is getting a mortgage application submitted. It is blocked on my company accounts and my 2021 tax return being completed. Hopefully that should happen soon, and we can set that ball rolling. Current backlogs mean we shouldn’t find out what our Approval in Principle value will be until maybe late November. Depending on what max borrowing limit they return, we might start searching harder for builders, or we might kick the can down the road for a year before trying another mortgage application and hope the house building cost proposition has become less insane. We shall see!

#house




Thursday 25 August 2022: 20:55. For once this will not be a post about my house build, as I wish to speak about ‘the little phone which could’, which is the Alcatel 1 (2021) mobile phone.

The reason I wish to speak of this phone is that my Samsung Galaxy S10 got itself into a boot loop on the first day I went on annual holiday in England, and given that I have ‘stuff going on’ right now and that my holiday rental has no wifi, I needed a burner phone capable of acting as a wifi hotspot for my laptop. I went to the local Tesco Superstore and bought the cheapest PAYG phone they had capable of a wifi hotspot, which was the Alcatel 1 2021 edition for £30 if bought with £10 of credit, which gives me 20Gb of data for the next month (a good chunk of which I have already used in a few days).

The Alcatel 1 phone has a terrible phone experience. It runs Android 11 Go, the edition of Android for low end phones, yet using it is like treacle. Assuming its touchscreen registers your tap at all, it can take up to fifteen seconds to react to your tap because it it so underpowered. It is capable of 4G, but lacks the processing power to download more than 250 Kb/sec or so due to its hideously slow storage. It has a TN panel display with almost zero readability off centre, it cannot be read at full brightness in direct sunlight, and it regularly misreads taps on the wrong items because you tapped sooner than it was ready for. Browsing the web on this device is truly horrible. Apps with any weight to them e.g. WhatsApp spend most of their time appearing to have hanged before eventually getting there. Even non-internet phone calls the phone can take so long showing you the accept or reject display that the call may time out.

The frustrating thing here is that with just a few minor tweaks, the phone experience would be acceptable. It has a quad core ARM Cortex A53 at 1.4Ghz, sure this is slow, but I know from my Android TV sticks that the experience doesn’t need to be like this. I would suspect that the storage is particularly shit, and if they fitted slightly less shit storage, the experience would be considerably better.

Equally, probably the £30 price tag would then get exceeded. I note that the next cheapest wifi hotspot capable phone that Tesco do is the IMO Q4 Pro for £60, double the cost of the Alcatel. For that you get on paper similar hardware specs, yet online reviews say it doesn’t suck anything like as much. I suspect that the cost difference went into storage and the higher resolution screen which is also IPS rather than TN, plus a bigger battery and better cameras. It sounds like an actually usable device as a daily driver, not masochistic like the Alcatel 1. Equally, for just £20 more again (£80), you can get yourself a Motorola e20 which has ARM Cortex A72’s and very decent hardware specs for that price point. As in, hardware specs which would have been near flagship apart from the screen only two years ago, though specification isn’t necessarily quality, albeit online reviews are extremely positive for the e20 for its price point.

As much as I am ragging on the Alcatel 1, I would have to say it is a whole lot of phone for the money. It does have a working GPS and Maps navigation, though I note that one’s position randomly wanders by about 20 metres, it does work. It does take pictures both front and back which are better quality than you’d think for a device at this price point: here is the ocean outside our rental plus a picture of me with Julia:

Those are not half bad considering. The latter picture was taken facing into sun, yet it did a surprisingly good job with applying dynamic illumination to the dark parts of the image.

Furthermore, it does make and take phone calls. You can send messages with it. It is a surprisingly good wifi hotspot, I get far better speeds from my laptop than it itself can do, I suspect because the wifi hotspot to 4G connection doesn’t touch its crappy storage.

Given that a decent dedicated wifi hotspot with 4G capability costs a lot more than £30 and doesn’t come with a battery, on that basis the Alcatel 1 is the best battery powered 4G wifi hotspot on the market by a long mile. On that assessment, this is a great bang for the buck device. Equally, I really hope that the next revision of their hardware chooses better storage. It would make one hell of a difference in usability as a phone. For now, this phone is very much a ‘little engine which could’ experience, as in, you’ll get there eventually, but you’ll be waiting a while.




Tuesday 9 August 2022: 07:03. Since planning permission was granted for the slightly larger edition of my future house build, progress has been frustratingly slow. 90% of the emails I send to people looking for quotes to give them money go unanswered. If you ring them up two weeks later, they usually saw the email but didn’t get round to replying due to ‘being too busy’ i.e. really they are saying that they aren’t taking on new work. Half the time they say they’ll get back to me next week (to date only one has), the other half the time they straight out say they’re too busy for new work. This also applies to component suppliers, I have been trying to source the Fronius solar inverter with 7.7 kW of high voltage BYD storage batteries which cost €10k or so – for which one might think people would at least like to reply to email enquiries – yet similarly I see a very low enquiry reply rate. I know this is because they are absolutely flying off the shelves right now thanks to the looming European energy crunch, so nobody needs to reply to email enquiries. But I refuse to send €10k to a bank account without anybody replying to email first, so it’s a stalemate (to explain, most of the online solar equipment vendors won’t take credit cards because the ~7% card fee is a lot of the profit margin for large value purchases).

(In case you’re wondering why I am buying the house solar inverter and batteries now which seems rather premature, it is because I need three phase demand in order to get the ESB to install a three phase mains supply. So I need these now if I am to avoid a second ESB mains installation charge, saving me €2k! Besides, the inverter actually lives outside, I’ll be mounting it on the wall I built below)

I have had the power at least to personally progress the bits I can do myself. To that end weekend before last I built my first concrete block wall in more than two decades:

I also got the temporary fencing raised at vast expense (I bought the fencing new rather than rented, it made more sense given how long I expect the build to take):

Whilst it was great to actually get stuff done instead of never getting replies from anybody, I am not the right person to be building concrete block walls! I was so slow at it that too much air got into the mortar mix from the concrete mixer, and that in turn made the mortar powdery rather than solid. It would eventually wash out with the rain, and then the wall would fall over, however I will be painting it well before then. It’ll do. I might also add that I pulled most of my upper body muscles, and their tendons all swelled up from the trauma. It was a great way of feeling old, unfit, and somewhat past it.

House build spend

It’s been three months since I purchased the site, so I can finally issue the first house build spend update! This will be a rolling spend average over the preceding three months, it will give an idea of the ‘velocity’ of the money flying out the door.

Up to 1st August 2022:

  • Spent: €121,481
  • Committed to be spent soon: €14,942
  • Current three month averaged spend rate: €10,494 per month

This excludes the cost of the site, which was €90,000. The four biggest ticket items in the past three months were: (i) Stamp duty for land purchase (ii) Professional fees (architect, planning consultant, solicitor) (iii) Temporary site office deposit (iv) Aliexpress order of electronics for site lighting and three phase AC to DC conversion.

As I mentioned in the last post, I have spent well over €10k on components, a lot of which were sourced directly from China or directly from component manufacturers as bulk orders. It will cost me time to assemble this stuff by hand, and I need to wait many weeks for all of it to arrive, but it will save me a fortune overall.

Computer renderings of the future house

As mentioned last post, I invested several very late nights into mastering the conversion from Twinmotion into Unreal Engine 5. Unreal Engine 5 does a fair attempt at approximating ray traced quality images yet running at somewhat realtime speeds, at least on my anemic graphics card. I took these screenshots literally from the UE5 game I made of the VR model, and they are undoubtedly better than those from UE4, albeit with a few compromises over the (very slow) ray traced images that UE4 can generate. Note that this is derived from the February 2022 model, a number of small changes were made between this and what was submitted for planning permission.

Let’s start with an aerial view showing the entire site as a bird might see it. The lighting is accurate for April 1st at the exact latitude and longitude:

The main changes in what was actually submitted are additional skylights in the master bedroom (bottom right gable), and far more solar panels on the south roof plus more panels on the outhouse roof, as one needs explicit planning permission for so many.

These are the views from the main road looking at the front of the house and outhouse:

And these are from the back:

Walking in the front door through the lobby one enters the main living space, first entering the kitchen and then looking up:

Continuing from the kitchen past the greenhouse door into the living room:

UE4 didn’t do a bad job of rendering shadows, materials and reflections, but UE5 is very considerably better. Note that the ‘fur’ on the couch is actually furry. Note that the fridge’s stainless steel metal accurately mushes up reflections. Note that the kitchen island very nearly has perfectly accurate reflections, apart from a few rendering artifacts. And similarly, the shadows are complex, yet well defined and have an appropriate blur based on distance. All ‘for free’ in UE5.

Moving upstairs from the top of the stairs onto the bridge:

And then from the mezzanine looking down onto the Living Room – look at how well UE5 renders the reflections of the glass walls of the bridge, with the rightmost glass wall only having a partial reflection of the living room along its top because the bridge shadows the light from below:

The only other two rooms worth screenshotting are the Games Room and the Master Bedroom:

The games room image is another good example of UE5’s much improved light rendering. UE4 could only bounce white light without added effort from the designer, UE5 can bounce light based on the colours of the reflecting surfaces. So because the floor is brown, the light bounced onto the white ceiling is brown. If you adjust the season the sun beams land on the pool table and instead you get green illumination of the ceiling. All this also occurs ‘for free’ in UE5.

There are obviously more rooms in the house: kids bedrooms, shower-toilets, home office. But they’re bog standard rooms you’d see anywhere, so I didn’t bother taking screenshots. If you’d like to wander through the house in VR for yourself, I uploaded a copy to Twinmotion Cloud at:

https://twinmotion.unrealengine.com/presentation/xy1MGtTaLoDcB2Th Password: WLj1jHVq

How long that link will work for depends on Epic Games’ continuing generosity towards providing free cloud hosting and rendering for Twinmotion models, but for now it is good.

In a later post I’ll describe the POE-powered ESP32 based industrial microcontroller boards I ended up buying fifty of costing me over a grand, and how I plan to integrate those into Home Assistant. See you next time!

#house




Monday 4 July 2022: 22:05. There has been a most surprising update to my future house build – the two-site planning permission was granted! This grants us a slightly longer house with outhouse and both sites merged into one. This was very much not expected, the second planning application asking for permission to amalgamate the sites was expected to be refused – indeed, I had already paid for a third planning application to be created! And I had not bothered to post computer rendered pictures of it here, assuming there was no point. Weekend before last I sat up until 4am each night mastering the import of the Twinmotion file into Unreal Engine 5 which is just released. UE5 is a nice step up from UE4, but it comes with a learning curve. I’m glad to report that I finally nailed it, and the UE5 rendering of the house looks a treat – lighting is particularly improved in UE5 over UE4, it closely approximates ray traced quality in UE4, yet renders somewhat in realtime (my graphics card isn’t really up to rendering UE5 quality graphics at 4k smoothly alas).

I’ll do a later post with pictures etc same as before, but tonight I’m going to be talking about some of the stuff I’ve bought for the house build. Since I took title to the land, I have spent as of today €9,952 on stuff for my land. Most of it will be deployed in some way before December, so it’ll be put to use soon. However other motivations were that inflation is eroding my savings at a cracking fast rate, so swapping cash now for inflation protected stuff I’ll need anyway is wise; also a lot of the stuff comes from Aliexpress i.e. China, and therefore takes two to three months to get to Ireland. So I order it now not needing it until October. I am not allowed to clear the site until September, but my hope is immediately after that to clear the site and do an initial set of groundworks to allow the placement of a temporary site office and a temporary storage container, along with installation and activation of services. I then order more stuff with long lead times, let them arrive on site over many months, and once the recession happens and prices become predictable only then will I start asking builders for quotes. Which is certainly a year away, could be more.

Next six months in any case will go on preparing construction detail by my team of designers. I’m currently seeking a Mechanical and Electrical Designer, and for the guy I have in mind I spent most of this weekend writing up this spec document, which others may find useful, so I post it here: My Passive House Plus Mechanical and Engineering Design Brief

My first new toy for the future house build: Security Cameras

Obviously a portable cabin and a storage container sitting on an empty site will be attractive to burglars, so I’m going to need security cameras to watch over them when I’m not onsite. The same cameras should watch over my house once completed, and be able to time lapse record its construction which I think will be fascinating to watch.

I didn’t have time to research what camera to buy, so I simply headed over to https://ipcamtalk.com/ and bought whatever they currently think is the best camera. Lazy I know, but I don’t have the time to do better. They think you ought to buy a 2K camera with 11.2 inch sensor, these have best in class unassisted night vision, however I really wanted a 4K camera for that twice better image detail. They have literally one choice in their recommendations for a 4K camera: the Dahua HFW5849T1-ASE-LED, also known as the Color 4K-X.

The forum has its own reviews of this model at https://ipcamtalk.com/threads/dahua-color-4k-x-in-depth-review.58999/ and https://ipcamtalk.com/threads/worlds-first-review-dahua-ipc-color4k-x-dh-ipc-hfw5849t1-ase-led-full-color-4k-camera.57013/, and yeah they basically think it the best new camera of 2021. As it is now 2022, the previous generation of cameras has seen price discounts and I picked up two of those with 3.6 mm lenses for €530 delivered to Ireland.

I gave them a quick test to make sure that they work. Here is my living space and kitchen in 4K crisp detail, mould patches and all in superb detail. Note how well the clock’s face resolves:

I now turn the lights off, and the camera automatically turns on its front warm white LEDs to add enough light to make a perfectly fine colour image:

It’s a little blown out by light reflection from the child’s playpen, but yes that’s a detailed, colour, image. Let’s turn off those illuminators:

What you can’t appreciate about the above picture is that it was completely black in that room. I could just about make out the window frames. I could literally see nothing else if I closed my laptop. Yet, this camera made that picture above. In case you’re wondering how blurry motion would be e.g. due to too much sensor gain, I waved my hand in front of it and whilst there was a little blur, it really wasn’t much. That camera just sees better than humans do, more like maybe cats do. It can see when you cannot.

Also note that it’s still a colour image! Note the detail in the tree branches outside – if you give any light at all to this camera, it’ll make good use of it.

I have to say that I am impressed. Mobile phones started seeing better than humans a few years ago, but it usually came with hefty motion blur and loss of colour and resolution. We’ve now reached a stage where there is undoubtedly a floor illumination level below which you get pretty much nothing, but as soon as you get slightly over that floor, you get oodles of detail and colour. Technology is still exponentially improving in this area for sure.

These cameras have a whole bunch of other clever stuff, like they can recognise humans and vehicles entering an area within the frame and send a request for a more powerful CPU to begin analysing the picture with AI. They have two way audio, they can play a really loud alarm sound. They aren’t particularly expensive either in my opinion for fully outdoor cameras. I am pleased with my purchase!

My second new toy for the future house build: Thermal Camera

You may remember my previous post when I received a FLIR One as a birthday present, and I found it very interesting to be able to see low infrared light. It had a resolution of 160 x 120, and via unofficial Android apps it was possible to unlock a 15 Hz frame update rate. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long, within a few months it had stopped responding when connected, so I sent it back for a refund, as it was not at all cheap if I remember rightly.

Thermal cameras are extremely useful for diagnostics of certain kinds of problem, and it is wise to record the construction of your house as it goes with a thermal camera, so problems discovered later can be more easily tracked down without expensively ripping everything out searching for a cause. To that end, I needed to buy a proper professional thermal camera, and I was displeased to find that FLIR cameras remain hideously expensive. Sure, you can recoup half the cost on the second hand market when you’re done with them, but that’s still a grand or so you’re blowing there.

I thus began looking for a ‘good enough’ substitute, some of which are US competitors to FLIR, some are Chinese marks. A recent new entrant to the thermal camera market is a Chinese company called HikMicro, which may or may not be related to HikVision (I suspect it’s a wholly owned subsiduary). HikMicro are most famous for their thermal hunting scopes which have been a huge hit especially in the US, because they deliver smooth thermal video, long battery life and high resolution for a small fraction of anything else on the market. No doubt like US made thermal equipment, there is a substantial military subsidy at work there making these cheap, but I’m not complaining as you’ll see shortly.

After much toing and froing, I eventually plumped for the just released – as in, last month - HikMicro Pocket 2 camera. This has a form factor just like a normal digital camera, with a large VGA resolution LCD touchscreen on the back, and it’s similarly point and shoot. It has a low infrared sensor of 256 x 192 pixels with 40 mK sensitivity and 25 Hz frame rate, a 8 MP visible light sensor, 50 degree wide field of view (most are far narrower), 16Gb of internal memory, dual band Wifi and USB C for transferring images, and is IP54 rated. You get all that for €700 inc VAT delivered at the time of writing, which sounds like a lot and it is. However the closest spec FLIR which is the E6-XT costs almost exactly three time more, and in terms of hardware spec is noticeably inferior to the HikMicro.

In order left to right then top to bottom: (i) The back of my rented house at 2.30am in the summer, you can see clearly that my back door is made from metal and the top of it is a balmy 9 C (ii) The sky, which was pitch black as the time, but obviously did contain clouds at -4 C, with interstellar space beyond -30 C (iii) My laptop as it was running showing a 4k video, hottest part is 39.7 C in a room 17.1 C (iv) The 24v DC power brick (left) and PIC32 automation board (right) running my living room’s prototype LED strip coved light. Note the rather warm MOSFET in the middle which does the PWM, though it would seem that the PoE power conversion circuitry in the PIC32 board runs even hotter.

As is obvious, as a thermal camera the HikMicro is great – lots of resolution in there, often you don’t need the outlines generated from the visible camera to help recognition. You can set the temperature range manually before taking photos to ensure consistency across shots, and it’s tough to fault the hardware. The hardware is great value for money. The device feels fairly premium, a little plasticky, but definitely robust and the design is both well thought through and it looks swish as well. The waterproof membranes are a little obvious, but ensure you know it’s waterproof.

Let’s look at some images which diagnose a fault – here are the power wires leading up to my LED strip coving:

Let’s look at those in thermal:

Clearly, underneath the junction only one of the pairs of wire is carrying current, and it is mildly overloading the wire, raising it a few degrees above ambient. Above the junction, both wires are carrying current and therefore their temperature is ambient. I fitted two sets of wires precisely because I knew I would be pushing towards the current limits of this very cheap wire, and one set must have gotten knocked loose. As a diagnostic tool, this camera ticks every box you need.

Really it’s the software where things fall short, especially compared to the FLIR’s software. Don’t get me wrong, if you only care about taking thermal photos, this thing is great. A particularly cool feature is the device will do Wifi Direct and broadcast its image live, so you can connect in with you device of choice and watch the broadcast, same as you would with a smart TV from Windows or Android. From that you can then take pictures or record video. Nice touch! The HikMicro app slightly extends this facility with remote control, so effectively your phone becomes a remote control for the camera, which means you can stuff your hand with the camera down into really hard to reach into spots to get the view you want, then use your phone to remotely view and control it. This is a really great feature similar to FLIR’s premium Wifi capable models, and unlike the FLIR E6-XT, the HikMicro Pocket 2 is much less unwieldy to get into crevices. Just make sure you attach the wrist strap, lest it slip from your hand!

No, what I mean by the software letting it down is mainly these issues (note I tested the latest firmware at the time of writing, V5.5.25_220511):

  • The UI is somewhat clunky and poorly designed, not really making good use of the touchscreen, and whatever software filter they have on the touchscreen makes it feel resistive instead of capacitive in terms of responsiveness (and yes, I did remove the screen protector it ships with, which does help).
  • There is no way of recording video on the device itself, which seems extremely odd as it clearly can pipe video with audio to Wifi Direct.
  • The hardware has a good microphone and apparently has a good speaker, yet the software makes no use of either. The microphone is piped into the Wifi Direct video just fine.
  • The camera clearly captures and saves the whole visible image, 8 MP resolution if you choose that in the options. You can see that separate visible image when browsing the images on the device AND zoom into it by touchscreen swipe. Yet, you cannot access that image via any other means – you cannot export it, copy it elsewhere, access it. I tried the direct connection and the app. No joy.
  • For some reason the fixed touch icons to the right of the screen are duplicated in the touchscreen UI, which seems redundant. Their backlight keeps turning off instead of dimming down, so you keep forgetting they are there at all.
  • Exported images are always the VGA image shown on the screen in radiometric JPEG format. You get no other choice – you can’t access the original low infrared image, you can’t access the original visible image. You can’t get a 8 MP image with the thermal image stretched over the high detail of the visibile camera. Why not export all original data if they’re being stored on device anyway?
  • I very much like that when you plug the device into a PC it appears as proper USB hard drive rather than as a MTP device like modern phones do. However, using a USB-C data cable to a USB-C laptop doesn’t work, nothing is detected. Only routing the phone’s USB-C port via a USB-B socket with a USB-C converter works. This makes me wonder if the device supports USB-C at all, and isn’t really USB3 with a USB-C socket?

As this is a just released device, improved firmware will undoubtedly follow, however I wonder if they’ll bother fixing most of the above before the next hardware refresh cycle occurs, whereupon they will surely want you to buy the newer hardware instead? I note that earlier thermal cameras in their range do have some of the above missing features, so I am assuming that this is a brand new firmware platform for them, and hence it missing features. Their firmware is a 128 Mb binary, so you’d really wonder what the hell they’re shipping in it given the lack of features.

Being a cynic, I suspect the potential of the hardware will remain unrealised, which is a shame, as for my house build record I’d really like to access the 8 MP visible images accompanying the thermal images. And capturing a thermal video with sound is useful on a windy day! Stll, as a straight shooting thermal camera this model ticks the box, and I am pleased with the cost benefit having tested it. I can live without video and original resolution visible images if it saves me €1,400!

#house




Sunday 19 June 2022: 22:29. A little later than usual due to me being so busy recently, here is the annual update to my periodic comparison of storage bytes per inflation adjusted dollar for magnetic hard drives, flash SSDs, and Intel Optane XPoint devices (you can find all the past posts here), which I have done every June since 2012:

Raw data: http://www.nedprod.com/studystuff/SSDsVsHardDrives.xlsx

This time last year I predicted:

I expect this time next year hard drive prices will have dropped back onto their long term trend line, and SSD prices perhaps will be flat. We shall see!

I called it right for hard drives, but I called it wrong for SSD prices which saw a better than trend improvement. Optane remained not just flat, but inflation adjusted flat which means Intel are proactively marking up Optane’s price with the inflation rate. Which explains why Optane remains a niche technology, as the performance per dollar gap between it and SSDs continues to grow .

Inflation in the past year in the US was something like 8%, so it is surprising that US dollars buy more hard drive and SSDs given the lack of inflation in the East where both are made. However, most raw materials and international trade is denominated in US dollars, so maybe inflation in the home market doesn’t necessarily mean loss of purchasing power outside it. After all, nobody is getting paid more, so Americans are getting poorer quicker than the Asian manufacturers whom only have to deal with raw material and energy price increases. In other words, the West is getting poorer quicker than the East because the West is seeing more generalised inflation, and I suppose that translates into a transfer of relative wealth from the West to the East. Thought about in those terms, I guess price drops could make sense from a Western relative viewpoint.

Looking forwards, it seems all but inevitable that price inflation will exceed 10% in the US and maybe even in the EU, though in Europe non-energy non-materials price inflation is being tamed by war’s effects on energy and materials supplies where outright lack of availability at any price means GDP is impacted, and that in turn dampens price inflation because the economy is weakened overall. I suppose where things get interesting is that lack of energy and materials supply also pushes up prices in the East, so I would assume that where computer components get manufactured is going to become rather more like Europe in the next twelve months i.e. everybody getting noticeably poorer because the cost of living substantially increases. That, in turn, probably means less demand for hard drives and SSDs, but also increased costs to raw materials and wages, so I’m going to suggest that both hard drives and SSDs will improve again this time next year as surplus capacity fights cost of manufacture.

#ssdsvsharddrives




Saturday 28 May 2022: 02:01. Last post I mentioned that final grant of planning should have been issued by early May, however delays in the planning office meant that didn’t happen for a few more weeks than expected. However, it did eventually happen, and I am glad to report that as of this week, I am now the owner of the land upon which I got planning permission! I signed the final transfer deed this week, it’ll take a few months before the Land Registry is updated, and that is indeed a huge weight off the shoulders given how much price inflation building sites have seen recently, never mind their scarcity.

The land transfer starts a countdown: In Ireland when you purchase land, you pay a stamp duty of 7.5%. If you commence the building of a dwelling house within thirty months from that date, you get a rebate because your stamp duty drops to 1% of the cost of the land and the building of the house less VAT. In my specific case, that’s worth about €1,500, so it’s worth aiming for.

The other big deadline is the end of this year: if I commence build before then, I get a €30,000 subsidy from the government. I very much doubt if we can get construction detail done before then, so we may have to think of some way of commencing a build before we know the precise detail of what we’re building. We’ll see how it goes.

A full nine months has elapsed since my last update on my P2P earnings #mintos! We’re running towards the end of this now I intend to start spending it – indeed, end of this month I’m going to disable the auto-invest and start letting the loans pay back into cash. It’ll take a few years for them to full pay back out, but from past experience a large majority will get bought out well before loan maturity.

MonthMintos annualised return for each monthMintos non-earning capitalMoncera annualised return for each monthAfranga annualised return for each month
August 2021 10.91%27.4%11.42%
September 2021 6.78%27.2%7.28%
October 2021 11.96%18.9%10.17%
November 2021 9.22%46.1%11.88%
December 2021 6.02%58.5%9.66%
January 2022 5.31%58.3%11.19%7.11%
February 2022 6.12%20.6%10.03%11.10%
March 2022 5.85%20.5%9.58%15.25%
April 2022 9.62%20.3%8.15%9.33%

A reminder that some money is tied up in non-earning Polish lender Capital Service, who will repay it eventually, but for now it drags down the annualised return rather significantly. If you exclude that non-earning capital, Mintos still does pretty well – I reckon about 11.5% in April, and I’m only investing in the super safe loans from DelphinGroup, which https://explorep2p.com/mintos-lender-ratings/ recommends highly.

Moncera (Placet Group) has been a bit of a disappointment since I started investing with them in March 2021, they’ve actually returned a touch under 10% annualised since the beginning. Around November 2021 I moved money out of Mintos because all the high quality loans there dropped to below 10% annual return. I moved them onto Moncera because they claimed theirs were over 10%. However there have been some cash drag issues, plus quite a lot of them have gone late, and that’s dragged down total return quite markedly. It’s not just Moncera, Afranga also saw cash drag and a large increase in failure to repay, most noticeable in the reduced return in April. So I suspect the war in Ukraine, higher living costs, and all the other kinda-recessioney stuff is beginning to bite in Eastern Europe.

Obviously, with inflation now running in the EU at 7% and climbing it rather ruins my strategy of keeping a portion of my cash in these p2p loans to offset losses to inflation. One is losing value in any case, and I’m going to need all my money by next year for the house build, so time to start winding all these down.

This may or may not be my last post on P2P investing. I may be coming into an amount of money soon which cannot be remitted into Ireland which will need placing somewhere. To explain, under Irish tax law non-domiciled people such as myself only pay Irish tax on monies I remit from outside Ireland into Ireland. All the money in these P2P investments to date has been post-tax money saved from income, but if I do come into money from outside Ireland then I’ll need to keep it outside Ireland so I don’t pay tax on it. These P2P lenders are domiciled outside Ireland and the loans are not invested in Ireland, so once my post-tax money has been paid out, I may reuse the accounts for pre-tax money. All this is months out whatever the case, but it may generate a few more posts here next year maybe.

(You may wonder why not put the unremitted money into an index tracking fund or mutual fund? Irish tax law currently ‘sees through’ non-domiciled status for investments in offshore funds domiciled in the OECD, which is pretty much all those which are safe, and taxes said offshore funds at a fixed rate of 41% rather than as income or capital gains. So you cannot put unremitted monies into offshore funds without creating a large tax bill. You might then think of shares in companies, but most countries charge a withholding tax on dividends, so they’re out. You’re now down to investing in gold, commodities or going synthetic with Contracts For Difference (CFDs) which are how you bet on the stockmarket – using CFDs you can synthesise an investment in something without doing the investment, and crazily enough the Irish tax authority is just fine and happy with that, which makes no sense to me. Because P2P lending is still too new, withholding taxes haven’t been levied on it yet, so for now at least this is an option)

Up until now capital preservation with easy access was the priority in my P2P strategy, so I have invested accordingly. If I wasn’t intending to remit investments for many years, then a very different P2P approach would make sense, one mainly based around secured lending. This should pay out around 11-12%, which is about what Mintos historically has done for me, but with much lower risk as collateral such as a building or a farm is used to guarantee loans. And if you want a bit more risk, you can also crowd purchase whole apartment blocks, take the rent from tenants as income, let the property value appreciate over a few years before exit. Then you can capture rising real estate prices in Eastern Europe, which is nearly a one way bet, at least compared to Western European real estate markets which see far lower growth.

And if you’re really keen on risk and have a long enough time horizon, there is p2p lending in aircraft leasing, artworks, sports cars and all sorts of niche things. Probably too rich for my blood, but glad to know it’s an option.

#mintos #p2p-lending




Sunday 17 April 2022: 23:36. Two and a bit months have passed since my last post in my series on my future house build where I showed computer renderings of the ‘shrunken’ seventeen metre wide house designed to fit inside one site of the two I hope to build upon. This was the conservative design intended to not be controversial to the planners, and last post I expected a final decision by June.

I am glad to report that the planners moved a bit quicker than expected, and we received notification three weeks ago that they intend to grant planning permission in early May if no appeals to the decision are lodged. If final permission is granted, then begins the process of purchasing the sites, which will take at least two months. I feel a little nervous about the purchase as sites have risen in price by about 15% since we agreed to buy them last year, plus I successfully cleared the previous planning blockers on that estate by getting local political representative John Paul O’Shea to intervene, so I have this horrible feeling that the sale will go wrong. Only when the land deeds are into my hands will I rest easier.

You can see the planning application and all the gory details at http://planning.corkcoco.ie/ePlan/AppFileRefDetails/224184/0, however to summarise there were only a few absolutely ordinary conditions imposed by the planner:

  1. The proposed development shall be carried out according to the plans lodged.

  2. A commencement contribution fee of €6,342.91 shall be paid to Cork County Council (this is based on internal square meterage of the property, and as much as it looks high, it’s less than half what it would be inside the city).

  3. All new planting on the site shall be native in origin.

  4. Any cutting of vegetation shall be outside the bird breeding season.

  5. No muck nor debris to enter the public road from the site during construction.

  6. Prior to commencement a connection to the public water mains is required.

To be honest, considering some of the conditions imposed by planners on previous developments in the same estate, these are very unimposing. Even only a year ago they were imposing a lot more onerous conditions. I suppose this is a new planner, from the preplanning feedback we really thought she was going to be even harsher, but in the end it turned out not to be so. I’m not complaining however!

The ecological report reckons the development could affect in the Blackwater Special Area of Conservation (these are protected under EU law):

  • Floating river vegetation.
  • Freshwater Pearl Mussel.
  • Sea, Brook and River Lamprey (Eels).
  • Migrating Salmon.
  • Otters.

Of these, the Freshwater Pearl Mussel is the most likely to be impacted, despite them being about 60 km downriver. Indeed, in the application as I described last post I submitted a Habitats Screening statement on said Freshwater Mussels and how this development would not impact them. At that time the Council didn’t employ an Ecologist, which is why everybody had to contract one in, so I took a stab at writing my own report. That turned out to be superfluous to needs, but there was no way of knowing that at the time.

I guess the most surprising thing about the planning approval was the decision to permit materials other than smooth painted render everywhere. They permitted the low stone wall at the front, the charred wood in the middle, the zinc roofed porch, and the expansive glazing element at the front. They also had no issue with the large greenhouse at the back, and the entire of the south facing roof being solar panels. Surprisingly open minded of them.

The planning application for the larger twenty metre house went in a month ago, but it got bounced because I didn’t use yellow paper when printing the copies of the site notice in the application (I did use yellow paper on site). So I had to pay for another newspaper advert, reprinting and reerection of the site notices, and a bunch of other stuff had to be adjusted in the six copies of everything in the application, before I was able to resubmit it end of last week. Assuming it takes three months, that means we’ll hear back about it mid July, which hopefully will be around when I should get the title deeds into my hands. Obviously, if they just go ahead and approve that planning application, then it’s off to the races in terms of getting started on construction detail, but if they don’t approve, then we’ll need to figure out what to do next based on whatever the planner writes in their report as the basis for rejection.

In any case, none of this is anything worth worrying about for the next few months, so I can go focus on other things. My next non-work work task is proposing standardised secure sockets for C++, specifically the proposal paper for WG21. I need to bang it out using my very limited non-work time, and get it submitted and then that’s off to the races as well.

Then it’s all the other stuff I had hoped to get done or even started and I haven’t. Sigh. If only there were more hours in the week!

#house




Sunday 6 February 2022: 02:58. It’s been just under three months since my last post in my series on my future house build, and during which of course Christmas occurred. Since the New Year pretty much all my free time has gone on getting the planning application ready – it was submitted last Tuesday, and so I now have the time to write up what happened since mid-November.

The preplanning feedback came back the week of Christmas, so we didn’t really get much time to digest it before everything stopped for the holidays. Things didn’t really get going until mid January, whereupon we started acting on the feedback (which I have slightly edited for privacy and clarity):

I have reviewed the proposal submitted and I would have the following comments to make in relation to same.

  • I note that the governing permission on the subject site is 00/4700. I would draw your attention to condition no. 3 of the original grant which notes the following

    • The construction of traditional type dwellings the siting, design, external finish and architectural standard of which shall be to the Planning Authority’s satisfaction and in harmony with the environment of the locality.

      Reason: To ensure a satisfactory standard of design and layout for the proposed development in the interests of visual amenity.

  • I note the subject site is located within the development boundary, where the sites are zoned existing built up area. On this basis, the principle of the construction of a residential dwelling is acceptable.

  • In terms of the amalgamation of site no. 29 and 30 to facilitate the proposed development, I would have concerns in relation to the sustainable use of land and lowering the density of development within a defined settlement boundary. A strong justification for the amalgamation of the sites would need to be put forward at application stage, this should include analysis of no. of serviced sites available within the settlement boundary.

  • In terms of design of the proposed development, it is noted that the specifics of design and layout are usually addressed at application stage. However, I note drawings have been submitted with the preplanning request. On this basis, I would have the following comments in relation to same

    • I would have concerns in relation to the overall scale of the proposed development in the context of the existing housing estate. The overall scale of the proposed development would appear from the submitted drawings to be excessive given its context within the existing housing estate and it would not be considered to be keeping in character with the existing dwellings in the estate.
    • I note that the housing development comprises various styles of dwelling, however, there is still an overall general consistency of appearance. While a more contemporary dwelling could be considered at this location, it should still aim to be consistent with the general appearance and character of the dwellings in the vicinity of the sites.
    • I would also refer to the condition no. 3 of the governing permission set out above which required traditional type dwellings.
  • As an update on the WWTP in the village, it is considered that there is some capacity within the treatment plant. However, all applications looking to connect to the plant going forward will be referred to the Executive Scientist and Ecologist. There is not too much more that I can say on this at this stage, however, updated information may be included in the new Cork County Development Plan which is set to be published in early 2022.

If the above seems vague, non-commital and rather hard to discern exactly what they want changed, that would be normal for preplanning feedback – nailing colours to a mast removes later flexibility. That said, after a bit of thought and study their feedback could be rewritten into more concrete terms thusly:

  1. Despite that the current style guide is the 2011 guide (very shortly to be replaced with the 2022 style guide), we want this house to meet the 2001 style guide because that was the guide in force when the estate’s original planning was granted, and the existing houses were theoretically built according to that style.

            (The reason this matters a lot is that the 2011 style guide bans gables, whereas the 2001 style guide effectively requires gables. We designed towards the current guide (i.e. gableless), so now we need to redesign around gables jutting out everywhere!)

  2. No materials to be on the outside except light coloured smooth painted render, as that is what all the other houses in the estate are supposed to be (and which most certainly are not, as they acknowledged).

  3. They don’t like the idea of one house spanning two serviced sites in a way which permanently reduces housing density, but left open a possibility that they could be persuaded if it did not set a precedent others could later reuse.

  4. They think the proposed house and its framing too big.

  5. Planning applications submitted from 2022 onwards will require an Ecological Impact Assessment, and one will need to prove that how one connects to the WWTP will not impact the Blackwater Special Area of Conservation which is protected under EU law.

To deliver on these we did:

  1. Gable-ified the design, particularly the ‘shrunken’ house (more below).

  2. Removed most of the non-smooth-painted-render materials, and shrank the area of what remain.

  3. Made a second design of the house fitting into a 17 metre width rather than its original 20 metre width so it can fit into a single site. This ‘shrunken’ house became our fallback plan, the conservative option likely to get planning permission. It is this I submitted last Tuesday for Site 30 only.

    Also, given the phrase ‘A strong justification for the amalgamation of the sites would need to be put forward at application stage’ it became obvious that we would need to hire a specialist Planning Consultant to help us write the planning application for the 20 metre house i.e. a former Planner who knows how to write in Planner-ese. Alas, Planning Consultants are expensive, quotes came in between €800 and €5000 some with long lead times. We ended up choosing a lady who could get started within a few weeks for €3000.

  4. Removed the extended framing from the 20 metre width house and built it up higher with gables in order to make it look shorter and less different from the other estate houses.

  5. I wrote a Habitats Directive Screening statement which followed the EU framework for describing how we will impact the Blackwater Special Area of Conservation both during construction and during the lifetime of the house. One normally pays an ecologist €800-1000 to write one of these, I cobbled mine together by exhaustively assembling all the Habitats Screening statements from preceding planning permissions in the same area, and I replicated the same points they made using similar language, but also customised it slightly to describe how our rainwater harvesting tanks are good for the Freshwater Pearl Mussels 64km downstream in the Blackwater by attentuating stormwater surges to the WWTP etc etc. We shall see if that sticks!

The ‘shrunken’ design

This 17 metre design looks very much like the 20 metre design submitted for preplanning I showed pictures of last post, but we had to make a fair few changes:

  1. The loss of three metres of width means more spillage of floor space into depth, so both front gables come out a little further and a whole new gable appears in the back.

  2. As we no longer have the width to put the home office over an internal bridge into the upper floor west, the eastmost front gable goes to two storeys and the home office goes into the upper floor there instead.

  3. As the internal bridge no longer makes sense, the main vaulted living space area gets both wider as well as shorter. This makes a master bedroom infeasible in the westmost front gable, so we move the plant room in there as it is now comparatively small. The master bedroom now goes into the rear gable.

Otherwise, apart from size changes, things remain as they were, though energy efficiency according to the PHPP takes a dive of about 20% because there is much more surface area than before for less internal floor area. Also, the margin for minor builder error in airtightness to reach the Passive House Plus standard shrinks from 40% to a mere 24%, a 67% reduction .

I am fortunate that Twinmotion 2022 beta had come out since the last post, and using it I was laboriously able to make ray traced images this time. They look a lot better than those from the previous post, though I had to dial down the quality settings severely given my emaciated graphics card. Note that these are missing the greenhouse on the back and a few other minor changes.

My ray trace of the original Twinmotion file setting correct latitude and longitude for our house’s location and orientation. Sunbeams are for 12pm on the 1st March. Pictures progress top left to top right downwards, finishing from bottom left to bottom right: (i) view from living room towards kitchen; (ii) view from front door at kitchen; (iii) view from front door at kitchen and living room; (iv) view from front door at living room; (v) view from mezzanine library reading area downwards into dining table and living area; (vi) view from mezzanine library reading area out front windows of house.

There is also the master bedroom and the games room:

Heading out of the master bedroom, which has a door opening into the back garden, the back of the house is remarkable only for the number of solar panels on the roof:

A reminder that the lean-to greenhouse on the back was yet to be added, and the green ethereal building next door is a hypothetical house. Moving around to the front:

As you can see, we have hacked back the surface area of unapproved materials severely, with the northern glazing column reduced from three wide panes to two narrow ones, and the bottom half broken into a forward extended metal porch, albeit without much metal showing. This shrunken design surely should tick the planner’s boxes.

What’s next?

Now that the shrunken design on the single site 30 is submitted, our next task is to prepare the planning application for the 20 metre wide house in collaboration with the Planning Consultant. No doubt she will write the application in a way that if it gets rejected, it is designed to go straight into An Bord Pleanala, the national appeals mechanism for planning. That takes a further four months and yet more money in fees of course.

However there is a third option – submit a third planning application for the same land, this time with the shrunken house occupying Site 29 but with the boundary around both sites, possibly also with the outhouse from the slightly larger house. It can thus be argued that Site 30 has not been consumed nor made unavailable for future development in any way. Whether this is worth doing, or is feasible, depends on how the Planners react to the 20 metre wide house: if their primary objection is that the extra three metres of width renders the other site permanently consumed, or that three metres longer makes the house too bulky compared to neighbouring houses, but otherwise they don’t object, that would seem the obvious path forwards. If, on the other hand, it is the fundamental principle of granting planning on amalgamated sites at all as it would set a precedent, then it probably doesn’t matter what you put on those two sites. We’ll only find out when the Planners deliver their verdict.

Assuming that getting a verdict on the single site application will take four months, that puts a decision into June, with a decision on the dual-site application probably landing in July. Completing the purchase of the site might take two months starting from June, so nothing more could happen anyway until August. If it then goes to An Bord Pleanala, I suppose concurrently we submit planning application number three and we should hear back from both of those around December 2022. We then could begin detailed construction drawings which I can’t believe would take anything less than four months, probably six months, given that the Energy Consultant will be in there, as will a M&E consultant and probably a garden designer. Thus only in June 2023 would one be ready to approach builders for construction quotes as the upper bound, with the lower bound no earlier than January 2023.

Both are rather a long time away, though almost certainly by then price inflation should be getting tamed by interest rate rises and a slowing economy should debottleneck materials and labour supplies. I’m also not entirely sure that even if we booked construction by the end of this year would it actually speed anything up given the backlog in the self build industry, though it would almost certainly cost us more. So, in all probability, it will be 2024 no matter what we do before construction begins.

My original plan was to build the outhouse first and install services into it, this would let me commence building and thus be eligible to draw down €30k of government subsidy, lest the government reduce that next budget. I’m also minded that commencing the mortgage sooner rather than later would lock in a lower fixed interest rate for the first five years. Might it be doable by September of this year, give it two months to get approved, then submit commencement for December in order to claim the subsidy? Maybe, though it’s a bit tight.

Let’s just hope that the government extends the subsidy into 2023!

#house




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