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, especially in terms of broken links or images.
- A biography of me is here if you want to get a quick overview of who I am
- An archive of prior virtual diary entries are available here
- For a deep, meaningful moment, watch this dialogue (needs a video player), or for something which plays with your perception, check out this picture. Try moving your eyes around - are those circles rotating???
Last post I said only some digger driving remained to complete the Lego concrete blocks to the rear of the site, and we got it done:
As you can probably tell, the ground was absolutely saturated with recent rainfall and therefore the going was pretty tough as due to being on my own, every time you lay a block it requires leaving the digger cab twice, getting to the block and changing its shackles. This meant your boots sinking into a foot or more of tarry liquid soil, which was both slippy and exhausting. The weather itself held off that long weekend which was good, because we ended up needing all three days to get the work done, plus also laying pounded crushed rock foundations when it’s raining is rather counterproductive. And even then, the ground was so wet sometimes when you had finished tamping when you walked on your ‘foundation’ afterwards it just moved around like liquid. Not ideal at all, but best of what could be done in the circumstances, and as you’ll note, the wall is only two blocks high anyway so perfect foundations shouldn’t hopefully be as important.
Anyway, there above you’re looking at the southern wall of my future walled vegetable garden, which is no small thing! Let’s see how it looks before and after from space:
The 26th Mar 2022 satellite photo was described here previously. The new satellite photo was taken on the 10th Nov 2023 clearly showing the much lower sun Ireland gets in the Winter. The detail has somewhat improved, that’s not me that’s skyfi.com delivering better quality than before for the 75 cm resolution image, which is nice to see. The most obvious change is that my neighbour’s house is now there when it was not previously, however you can also make out the lego concrete blocks we laid as described above to the bottom right of my land (yes, they can be seen from space!). The blocks to the left I can’t make out, however the solar panel array is bright white, as is the gravelled section not obscured by the shipping container.
Laying the last of those blocks completed the site preparation part of things, which means all the other preparation stuff now remains, mainly around financing and design. The good news is that eighteen months after application, the mortgage finally came through. So, assuming we can actually get a build going before the mortgage offer expires, that’s the financing portion mostly covered. I say ‘mostly’ because as with any self build the actual problem will be cash flow, or rather, lack of cash flow i.e. the money is there overall, just not where it needs to be at the time needed.
As an example, we have decided to go with Nordan for the glazing. They will need to be paid for that glazing nearly three months in advance of when we will actually need that glazing. That means cash which could be building foundations or walls becomes ‘out of action’ for three months, because it gets locked up with Nordan. There are lots of instances of this, in fact this year’s Single’s Day on Aliexpress I dropped a little over three grand on parts for the house we won’t need for a year, but by buying them now instead of from Irish or European sources a year from now we saved many thousands of euro. They would be cheaper from Aliexpress in any case, but for Single’s Day Aliexpress lops off a further 20%. Hard to argue with that, just need to plan well in advance to take advantage.
As I bought from Aliexpress most of the light fixtures, I needed to make a lighting design to decide what I was going to buy and why. I should stress that this is a foundational lighting design i.e. it’s there to provide the base lighting for a space. It is by no means a final lighting design, or a desirable lighting design – it’s there to provide base illumination for whatever lighting design we end up upon, which is very much to be decided after we move in.
As you will see, there is a mixture of volumetric (i.e. space) and point lighting. These are the base two types of lighting you need in any design (the remaining two are ‘feature lighting’ and ‘accent lighting’ if I remember rightly, it’s been a while). For the space lighting, I have used upward facing industrial floodlights to cheaply and easily light large volumes of vaulted ceiling with a somewhat even base light. Nobody including myself would claim that ideal, but it’s also not a terrible choice either, and the industrial floodlights are cheap and easy and get the box ticked quickly. Point lighting is to ‘top up’ light for specific areas based on use, so for example your kitchen table you will want added light during meals, but not otherwise. So you would have point lights directed at the kitchen table, and you’d switch them on and off as needed. Point lights come in wide (120 degree throw), narrow (40 degree throw), and ultra-narrow – we’ll only be using wide and narrow.
For those point lights, we’ll be using MR16 LED bulbs within recessed tiltable aluminimum ceiling fixtures. Here is one such:
These are a marked step up from the €10/unit cheap and nasty ceiling lights you see in cheaply done home lighting installations, but nobody would claim they are ideal either. They are however cheap, each fixture and bulb is less than five euro, yet the quality of light and fixture will be vastly superior in comparison. For the money I reckon them as good as can be done. The choice of MR16 which is an ancient form of bulb format will seem odd, why use a 12v based light? The reason is because we can drive the lighting from the DC mains, reducing the energy efficiency losses in most home LED lighting from ~40% to ~10%, and swap some of those energy efficiency gains for higher CRI lighting (CRI = Colour Rendering Index, a measure of the quality of the light). Cheap LED lighting like those €10 for a sealed disposable downlight unit mentioned earlier will have a CRI eighty or below, we should average well above ninety throughout the house, and that will be noticeable in how colours and textures and finishings look at night time.
Most European lighting has colour temperatures of < 2700K (very warm white), 3000K (warm white) or 4000K (neutral white) – apart from when somebody fits a 6500K lamp (day light) because they didn’t realise how blue day light looks at lower brightness levels. As you can see above I’ve decided to be difficult and go for these instead:
- 3000K for cosy places like bedrooms, library mezzanine.
- 3500K for main living spaces, bathrooms.
- 4000K for worktops, offices.
It is my belief (and without much proof, to be honest) that 3500K is close enough to 3000K and 4000K that they can be used within the same space without being garish to the eye. The reason I have no proof is that 3500K bulbs are incredibly hard to source, I had to get ours from Amazon US at vast expense during Black Friday. Even with the BF discount, they were very much not cheap. Anyway, I’m looking forward to empirical testing when the bits arrive!
Finally, if you tot up all the lumens all that lighting in the design should emit, you’ll find a typical lumens per sqm (lux) of around 800. This is quite a lot of illumination, most would consider it excessive, putting it another way if all the internal lights are turned on at once the power consumption should be around 1 kW which is a fine amount of power for 100% LED lighting. However nobody would ever turn on all the lighting at maximum power at once – everything is dimmable, there is a fair bit of granularity of lighting control so most lights I would expect to be mostly off most of the time. There is an ulterior motive in fitting so much high wattage bulbs – I know full well they cheap out on the heatsinking because they want bulbs to die frequently so you are constantly replacing them. By speccing all the lights at twice what we need, and then dimming them half or more their power, their heatsinks will better match the power going through them and the bulbs should last a lot longer, plus not suffer from ‘colour fatique’ caused by the LED phosphors slowly burning out from prolonged heat.
Speaking of LED phosphors slowly burning out from prolonged heat, I bought a new TV at a great discount this Black Friday. Here it is playing Starship Troopers:
Yes it is ridiculously far too big for my rented house, and indeed very soon it’s going back into its box because it isn’t stable and I’m scared of the children bringing it down on top of them during their hijinks one day. But I think it’ll do just fine for the wall of my future house, so with a bit of luck by this time next year I’ll be sitting in my new house looking at it on its wall and it will be very reasonably sized for that wall.
The TV is a Philips 65OLED937 which What Hi-Fi? summarised in its review as ‘One of the most all-round spectacular TVs ever made’ (having used it for the past few days, I would concur). Originally retailing at a cool €3,500 in the EU, I got it for €2,300 in the Black Friday sales. Seeing as my ‘new TV’ budget was €1,200 how did I end up spending twice that?
The problem is Ireland and that EU discount retailers will no longer ship TVs to Ireland post-Brexit, so my ruse with the previous TV a Samsung H-series model of buying it from Germany and using the service menu to reconfigure it into a UK-Ireland model and literally saving €450 by doing so was no longer open to me. Believe me on this, I really really tried to repeat that trick – I had been wanting to buy the Philips 55OLED808. In Europe: delivered anywhere in the EU except Ireland, Greece or Malta all in for €1,099. Here in Ireland for the exact same TV: €1,499 with delivery another €75. Fuck that.
It’s like that with TVs for some reason, in Ireland the exact same TV costs at least 50% more in Central Europe, and 100% more is not uncommon. This isn’t new either, back when I bought the Samsung it was the exact same price premium here. The only actual big thing which has changed is eight years ago I could find TVs in the UK at European prices, this year the TVs in the UK even under BF discount had Irish-type price premiums added on top compared to identical models in Europe. Which sucks for the British, but in fairness nothing has got worse here in Ireland – we were always getting price gouged.
Anyway like with most goods different price ranges cause different consumer and vendor behaviours, so you might get one behaviour for TVs under €600, another for TVs €600-€2,500 and still another for TVs > €2,500. I had had a suspicion that this was the case because Philips and other TV manufacturers don’t bother updating their ultra high end every year like with their lower end models. This suggested different release cadences in terms of heavy discounting just before a replacement model launches. The 65OLED937 will be replaced before Christmas with the 65OLED938 – moreover, the 937 is approaching two years old now, so retailers will be especially keen to shift high end clearance stock.
And so it was true: on Cyber Monday, but only that day only, an Irish retailer dropped their price to €2,300 until all remaining stocks cleared. The fellow from their shop who rang me after the sale told me I got the second last one, and the last one sold just after me to a man in Montenotte, Cork. As we were buying a very high end TV (albeit discounted), we got the personal delivery service, and indeed within hours a fellow turned up freshly driven from Dublin with the TV. Obviously this is what it is like to buy > €3k TVs!
So, what do I think of the Philips 65OLED937?
The display is indeed very good. Not quite as good as my Samsung Galaxy S10 phone’s display which remains the best I’ve ever laid eyes upon personally, but no I really could not fault the LG OLED panel in that Philips TV. Colours are rich, bright things are quite bright, dark things are very dark, and lots and lots of detail abounds. If you can feed it high quality 4k input, the display just oozes with detail and contrast. Only if you look really closely and you’re being really critical, the image does have too much white at times. It’s like the white sometimes overwhelms the colour in an unnatural way, and on my phone that never happens. This makes sense: the LG OLED panel has dots purely to add white, whereas the Samsung phone OLED panel does not. Also, the S10’s OLED panel has something like 20% more colour range than the LG OLED panel, and from time to time it is noticeable.
The sound is indeed very good, as every review mentions, and it is easily worth a €1,000 add on soundbar. Which, arguably, makes the TV price actually €1,300 so I only exceeded my budget by €100 . Again, if fed high quality input, the audio is clear, balanced, and there is an attempt to project some space, with only the almost complete lack of low frequency for some audio kinda glaring. In fairness, its soundbar’s woofer is no bigger than 1.5 inches, so there is no point in trying lower frequencies than is physically possible, and I suspect the cut off is around 100 Hz or so. I do note a prominent connection for an external subwoofer of your choice, so clearly the designers intended if you want proper low frequency audio, you’ll need to add it yourself. I will admit I was a little disappointed with the spacial projection of the audio, a MacBook will deliver a pretty good attempt at 3D surround audio using two speakers. This TV was nothing like as impressive, though my L-shaped room probably does not help and in fairness the MacBook’s audio is class leading.
Android 11 has the least worst audio codec passthrough for Kodi yet. Later Androids are better, but Android 11 which this TV ships with is undoubtedly much less awful than before. I found most Dolby content passes through okay, DTS-MD does not (stuttering) but forcing fallback to DTS Core is a viable workaround. One is still locked into either a 5.1 or 2.0 world here though, Kodi has lots of hacks and workarounds to do either but nothing outside that, and the forcing of content to 5.1 as the only possible surround audio is detectable with this TV as its audio is sufficiently nuanced. At least this removes any thoughts or temptations about a better audio solution in the future, for the vast majority of content 5.1 rendering is what most content will actually render at, no matter its original.
Video codec wise everything I tried to play on Kodi did work fine. Something noticeable was HDR movie content appears to occasionally trigger premature playback end, but Kodi resumes exactly where you left off, and it only happened at most once per movie.
Finally, the OLED display to be honest I’m very glad I went with a heatsinked display like the one in this model. If it isn’t heatsinked, the TV has to back off brightness quickly to prevent pixel burnout. I know from reviews that this particular model has the least aggressive brightness limiter of any LG OLED panel based TV. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine I’d like any of the other LG OLED TVs much at all, I find the brightness backoff a touch distracting and intrusive at times, it actively inteferes with things like scene transitions in a movie. With this TV, it’s okay, I notice it sometimes and that’s annoying, but it’s not too jarring. If other LG OLED TVs are much worse here, and apparently they are, had I bought one of those I would be annoyed.
Oh one last super final point: the TV being new obviously saw a lot of use in its first day or two, and if you have it turned on ‘too long’ it starts to complain at you about it needing to have a period to refresh itself. It’ll get ever increasingly more annoying about this until eventually it just insists i.e. I’m turning off the TV now, I won’t let you turn me on again for at least ten minutes, and whatever you were watching or doing you’re not doing that any more. This only happened once, it never happened any other day so in fairness if it ever gets turned off during a day that seems to placate it. But it did kinda annoy me that it just insisted like that on being turned off.
Obviously the OLED937 is two year old flagship TV, so a bit like with me buying flagship phones two years after release you’re going to be trailing the state of the art somewhat. And that’s okay if the money paid was reasonable.
I don’t pay more than €500 for a phone, and usually more like €400-450. That sets what flagship models are available to me. Until now, I had never paid more than €550 for a television (arguably including playback boxes etc €800) which after inflation all-in might be a grand in today’s money. So it’s been a bit of a leap no doubt.
I don’t know. I don’t regret the purchase per se, it’s a great TV. Did I or the family really need such a nice TV when for half the money there wouldn’t be that much less quality in it? That’s kinda the crunch here, I could get 67-80% of this total package for half the money, even with Irish gouge pricing. There would be cutbacks on so many measures though e.g. viewing angles, this TV has absolutely rock solid viewing angles throughout the L-shape of the rented house. Any non-OLED TV would have substantial colour and gamma distortion instead over such a wide viewing angle. That’s the thing, improvements in multiple areas simultaneously costs money, and as much as heatsinked OLED panels are very much not cheap, they do deliver a display quality across multiple measures simply unachievable with other display technologies (bar maybe Plasma). Even with all their many quirks and annoyances, I suspect I’ll be just fine with the OLED937 in the end.
- Mains electricity is available (via the solar panels and storage batteries).
- Security cameras are monitoring the site.
- There is a live feed via the internet to my rented home and to my phone.
- All lighting is working, work office is functional, shipping container is ready to go.
I started this phase of doing site works myself at the beginning of summer 2022, so it’s kinda of the end of an era. To put it in perspective, I have been there every spare moment for well over a year, and for which I gave up going to the gym or indeed anything resembling ‘me time’. My first post here about this was in July 2022 where I tested my newly purchased security cameras for their night vision. Who would have thought then it would have taken sixteen months to reach now?
Speaking of said cameras, here they are right now at this very moment as I type this:
Thanks to a Wireguard VPN between rented home and site, those appear as if on my local network, so it’s very easy to access them. I didn’t think of taking shots last night when it was dark, but unsurprisingly given my testing of them in July 2022 they see as if daytime at night, and in colour as expected. The site is actually well illuminated by the street lamps on the road, it’s more than enough for the cameras to make out a good picture, albeit everything is rather orange tinted as that’s the colour of the street lamps. In any case, anybody coming on site at night time is registered without issue.
They have basic AI on them, good enough to detect the difference between a cat and a human. I’m still tuning those settings, the mid camera in particular gets plagued by moths at night time due to the illuminator being on (which is to remind anyone thinking of robbing me that they are being recorded), so it keeps tripping. But I’ll figure it out eventually.
I actually got all the panels mounted two weeks ago:
But I didn’t turn everything on until last weekend, as there was a final bit of wiring to be done especially more RCDs and safety stuff for the electricals. This was my first night of non-generator lighting:
It still took a week of debugging before things became stable and reliable – after all, I’ve never done any of this before, so there was a steep learning curve, one day for example I ran the batteries flat which involved a lot of head scratching, because nowhere in the system does it actually loudly announce ‘your batteries are flat, and I’m going to silently randomly drop out when the daylight slightly dips’. But I think I have it working reliably now.
Sungrow have a cloud integration I’ll be disabling when I get Home Assistant up and running, but for now it’s kinda handy albeit buggy:
As you can see, right now the panels are generating about 3 kW, which is because it’s sunny. I’ve not yet seen the eighteen 375w panels (a 6.75 kW installation) generate more than 3.2 kW at a time, but I suppose it is October. I’d never expect more than 5.0 kW at best anyway, which is the NMOT maximum according to their datasheet.
The baseline power consumption is 130 watts or so. About fifty of that goes into the 54v DC mains which powers the cameras, routers and network. Assuming a 65% power efficiency (it is a very low wattage for a 4 kW power supply rated for 85% efficiency), that might be 75 watts. The Starlink will certainly draw a further 40 watts, and the remainder is the inverter itself, which seems to need about 10-15 watts depending on what it is doing.
With 10 kWh of battery capacity, the 130 watt baseline load currently drains the batteries to about two thirds of capacity every night. That will get considerably worse next month, and become much worse again in December as the hours of sunlight drops. I’ve noticed that dull days only generate about 300 watts at best, so two dull days in a row would be enough to run out of batteries. In the end, this is Ireland, we are very far north so you can’t expect much solar radiation for one third of the year.
As I mentioned, the long weekend next weekend is expected to complete the build preparation for the physical side of things. I intend to finally resume going to the gym after more than a year of absence, as much as physical labour on the site has been a substitute, I am looking forward to fewer torn muscles and the rather unbalanced exercise which is manual construction.
The design preparation is coming to an end as well:
M&E design is nearly done, they are just writing up the final reports.
We have chosen glazing after a few weeks of work on it: most of the wall glazing will be Nordan as I liked the seals much more than Rational’s or Munster Joinery’s, and their quote was surprisingly competitive (I think within the Passive House spec the budget glazing suppliers have no choice but to charge most of what the premium glazing suppliers charge). Munster Joinery are the only place in Ireland where you can source a passive house capable front door, so for that alone we’ll be going with MJ. For the roof glazing, it will be 1.4m tall Velux for all but the two windows in the mezzanine as Velux don’t have the right width there, so for those alone it’ll be Fakro (the Fakros cost considerably more than Velux for passive house spec). In case you’re wondering, for passive house spec roof windows the only choice is between Velux and Fakro, there are no others available in the Irish market. Both are hideously expensive compared to the wall glazing, but for natural light there is not much alternative.
We are currently working on lighting and socket placement. Once we have those integrated into the plans, I’ll work on ducting placement design.
After that, it’s frame and structural design detail remaining, and theoretically after that the build can begin.
In case you’re wondering about the mortgage, there is still no mortgage in place. They did at least reissue an Approval in Principle for me quicker than the three and a half months it took last time. They keep finding new hoops to jump, ever more bits of documentation to supply, and I like a good horse keep jumping them one after another. At some point they’ll run out of excuses, and they’ll have to either grant or refuse the mortgage. Maybe before Christmas we might learn one way or another, we’ll see.
Finally, this will be my last post from this laptop! I’m selling it to a friend of my sister’s as I was going to replace it anyway in the upcming Black Friday sales. It’s a Dell XPS 13 9380, and here is my post on here when I acquired it in 2019.
In the post I found this laptop worse in most ways to the older Apple Macbook Pro it replaced, which actually became Megan’s laptop after it came back from Apple with most of it replaced under warranty (and with a much less unreliable keyboard fitted, which has since then held up much better than it did for me). However four years of using this laptop I can confidently say it’s also one of the best laptops I’ve ever owned. It still has 70% battery capacity left, I still love its 4k display even though it only can do 65% of the DCI-P3 gamut or so. Its four core CPU feels slower than it did, but it’s still good enough. And I’ve done a lot of mileage on it, both in terms of typing, use and travel and it’s held up very well, it still looks almost new.
Its replacement will probably be either of these:
Huawei MateBook X Pro 13
- 90% DCI-P3 3120 x 2080 IPS display max 550 nits.
- Intel i7-1360P with four real cores and eight tiny cores.
- 16Gb 5200 RAM with PCIe 3.0 1Tb SSD.
- Haptic touchpad which is an inferior edition of Apple’s, but still way better than typical trackpads.
- Speakers almost as good as the MacBook Pro.
Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (AMD edition)
- 100% DCI-P3 2880 x 1800 OLED display max 365 nits.
- AMD 7840U with eight real cores and much better graphics than Intel.
- 16Gb 6400 RAM with PCIe 4.0 1Tb SSD.
It’s a classic inners vs outers problem: the Huawei has worse inners, but the outers are better; whereas the Asus has worse outers, but the inners are better.
The replacement will definitely not be another Dell, who appear to have once again gone off the reservation for high end laptops after their return to sanity which produced this laptop. Dell’s most recent XPS 13 is highly unconvincing AND expensive, even if were priced like the two above you still wouldn’t pick it. And it’s not priced like the two above, it’s a good two to three hundred euro more expensive for a much worse spec.
As to which of the above I’ll end up choosing, it’ll come down to what’s available and how much it’ll cost during Black Friday. What I’d really prefer is Huawei’s shell with the AMD processor inside, as the Intel one isn’t remotely competitive. But there isn’t anything like that on the market unfortunately.
I did once again look into a Framework laptop, I absolutely love the idea, and they’re way more competitive this time than they were last time. If only they had something like the 16 inch model’s display in their 13 inch model, I’d have gone for it. But they don’t, and their 13 inch model’s screen is no better than my current Dell’s plus its much much lower resolution. So that broke it for me, which is a shame.
Before I took the week off I had completed these nine wooden joists, one for each panel:
I ended up choosing a forty degree angle rather than forty-five, the way the terrain came out made it easier:
At the bottom the legs are chained horizontally to ground anchors:
At the top the legs are chained horizontally to the top of the shipping container:
Each of the chains at the bottom can take 250 kg, each of the chains at the top 150 kg. As described last post, the wood should handle 4000 Pascals of wind force, and certainly my weight is not an issue at all.
The Q Cells 375w solar panels arrived since the last post:
They measure 1.72m x 1.05m each, making each panel 1.8 m2. Each weighs 20kg, which I can assure you my whole upper body right now is painfully aware of as I spent today mounting the whole top row:
You’re not really supposed to mount these on your own, and certainly a second person would have made the job far less arduous. But I really have to hand it to the panel mountings manufacturer https://k2-systems.com/en/ they’re really, really well throught through. So much so that whilst it was tough on my muscles, never at any point was I or the panels in danger during the mounting process, despite me doing it alone.
Depending on weather, I might get the second row on next weekend. We’ll see how it goes.
I finally got the hybrid inverter and the batteries to talk to each other, and with that the inverter finally accepted that it is an off grid installation and it stopped tripping out over the lack of a mains input supply. I will say that the Chinese config apps are pretty poorly tested for UI usability, or indeed bugs, or indeed self consistency or logical flow. But eventually I got both batteries and inverter commissioned and for the first time ever, I had non jury rigged mains electricity on the site! Switches turned on lights, internet was working, even the hand dryer in the toilet, all working. Very nice.
I took the opportunity to charge the batteries up a bit as they’d been so long in storage they had sunk to 22% charge. So I filled the generator’s tank, and left it run until the tank ran out. I got 2.3 kWh into the batteries, and they were much happier for it (lithium batteries don’t care for being left long term at low charge). The way you use a single phase generator to charge the batteries is to pretend to be a solar panel:
As you can see at the end of the video, that power supply unit is feeding the hybrid inverter 490v at 2.3 amps which is about 1.1 kW. If I allowed any more current (the power supply can go up to 4 amps) the generator’s overload would trip out. It supposedly trips out after a sustained 1.9 kW, if so that power supply unit isn’t very efficient, only 60%. As you can probably tell, it came from Aliexpress and it was highly inexpensive compared to almost all other 500v capable power supplies – and, in fairness, its listing did say its maximum efficiency was 75%, so I’ll forgive it. In any case, it gets the job done and given I will only ever need it in December and January, I’ll take the poor efficiency for the cheap price.
Now that the inverter finally produces power, I was finally able to test all the RCDs and other safety equipment and I’m glad to say that they all worked first time. All those many months of testing paid off.
I already have surge protection on the future mains input, as I have learned to my cost what can come up an ESB mains power cable. I have low voltage surge protection on the DC mains so when someone inevitably connects AC mains to DC mains, it should protect all the DC equipment. I have high voltage surge protection on its way from China for the solar panels, so what remains is what to do about those PoE cameras up high with long runs of Cat5 ethernet between them.
Most ethernet surge protectors are really crap, and at best degrade your connection speed to 10 Mbit without providing any actual protection. Ones which doesn’t interfere with a Gigabit connection and do provide actual protection cost easily €200 each upwards. Even a well known brand name doesn’t mean the protection is any good, as you will see in this depressing video empirically testing many well known ethernet surge protectors:
Now, a 10 kA surge current is indeed a nearby lightening strike, but there are many surge currents not quite as high which can ruin ethernet connected devices, which are only designed to cope with 100 amp surges. Out of those devices reviewed above, the gas discharge based devices from Tupavco seemed a reasonable balance of cost to protection against lower surge currents which will be more common. I had to special order those from US Amazon, fairly disgustingly it arrived next day from Iowa. As a comparison, UK Amazon takes eight to nine days to deliver here. The fact that US Amazon is ‘closer’ than UK-Irish Amazon is something Amazon should be ashamed of. Anyway here it is:
According to Tupavco, this TP302 model will divert to ground any line which exceeds 72v from ground. This allows PoE to work just fine (it’s under 60v), and because it’s a gas discharge tube it doesn’t electrically interfere with the ethernet signalling, thus not affecting connection speeds.
Reading the component’s datasheet (3R90), it claims to trip at around 90v DC, under 600v impulse, and it can cope with 10 kA surge currents at least ten times, or 10 amps of AC power at least ten times, and 15 kA at least once. Obviously as we saw from the YouTube empirical test, this is simply untrue, a single 10 kA impulse not only blew the component but in doing so also blew the protected equipment. Let’s just hope it copes much better with lower surges.
House build spend
It has been three months since the last house build spend update. This will be up to 1st October 2023:
- Spent: €221,328
- Committed to be spent soon: €12,811
- Current three month averaged spend rate: €8,523 per month
The four biggest ticket items in the past three months were: (i) Mechanical and Electrical design (ii) Forty solar panels (iii) Frame design deposit (iv) Six tonne digger rental
By far and away the largest number in there is for the M&E design. It’s going to become the most expensive design fee to date, even more than what the Architect has been paid to date. I had to put my foot down about it actually, they were on track to spend €25k or so and I was like no, I think I’ll take incomplete M&E design for a max €15k spend. We’ll make do with the incompleteness.
I no longer think I’ll be handing any money to an electrician to do the mains any more, their fees went into the early purchase of solar panels and my considerable investment of my precious free time into working around them. But I do expect structural design fees to be the most expensive item next quarter, and if not, then a deposit to the builder.
We theoretically have a build commencement slot in January, which is only three months out. Seems unlikely to me, but a March build commencement date seems achievable. Just need to get the mortgage done before then, last time it took nearly four months from application. And I still haven’t submitted the new application, because the bank are dragging their heels as usual.
- Broadband internet via the Starlink satellite dish.
- Two state of the art Wifi6 access points each end of the western wall connected by 2.5 Gbps fibre backhaul.
- Three state of the art low end Chinese security cameras at far, mid and near points along that western wall.
- Two 22,000 lumen warm white floodlights at far and near points of western wall.
- Under the full length of the roof section there is now RGBWW LED strip lighting.
- Lithium battery storage has been assembled and commissioned and its wiring to the inverter tested.
- The cameras and Wifi boxes are powered from the 54v DC mains supply, rather than from AC. The floodlights and Starlink require AC.
- The office is fully wired and ready to go.
- The shipping container is fully wired with lighting, sockets and ethernet and is ready to go.
- The garden shed is fully wired with lighting, sockets and ethernet and is ready to go.
So the lack of mains electricity is beginning to become a real bore. I’m onto my second electrician now, he also keeps not doing the work despite me pinging him weekly. At this rate I may have to expect no mains power until the house gets built, so I’ve decided on a radical solution for that. But more later on that.
Also, the mortgage Approval in Principle expired this week. The people from the AIB were basically on holiday from July onwards, so were doing absolutely nothing about the mortgage application. Anytime you’d ping them they’d be out of office for some long number of more weeks. Such is the banking industry. Anyway I’ll now have to apply again from scratch for the mortgage, do it all over again. Yay.
Anyway the first thing I got done after the last post was the middle security camera. Unlike the other two which are high up, this one is under the roofed bit:
What’s neat about this camera is it can see 180 degrees around itself. It does this by combining two camera images and stitching them together. As much as the resulting image is very nice in the daytime, at night time this camera cannot hold a candle to the other two, which have truly superb unilluminated night time vision. This camera won’t need it though, as under the roof we have LED strip lights and at some point I shall be having them turn on at night time automatically, just very dim. But more than enough light for that camera to see with clarity.
Here are the LED strip lights working, they are on a switch. They shine unnecessarily blue because the power source I had them on for test was incapable of supplying all the power they draw, so they are both dim and bluer as a result:
Finally, as this is the last photo of the last thing I completed out of the original western wall plan originally drawn up more than a year ago, this kinda makes me a touch emotional. So much effort to reach now. So much money, and so much time. But plan completion here we are!
That’s the Starlink power supply at the bottom, it emits a single 1 Gbps ethernet which the BananaPi board (middle) takes as its WAN. It then provides 2.5 Gbps fibre backhaul to the other BananaPi box forty metres away. Up top left are these very neat PoE powered 100 Mbit switches. You can daisy chain them until PoE runs out. Top middle are the junctions for the 54v DC which are the two thick blue and brown cables, very low voltage needs big currents to carry much power so you can’t avoid 16 mm2 cable really. A 12v and a 24v DC-DC converter hangs off that to supply the BananaPi and the LED strip lights. Finally, top right shows an external antenna, this is for a LTE 4G antenna. The BananaPi has a SIM slot, if you fit a SIM it’s capable of using LTE for internet. I reckoned for the small amount of money to buy a low end LTE modem and antenna, this would be a useful backup if the main internet failed.
And there you go, job finished at last!
I’m currently moving gravel to clear space for the next stage of all this (described next) and I needed something to shutter in the gravel within its final destination. I thought red brick would look nice, however I was horrified to learn they now cost €1.40 inc VAT for new bricks. And that’s for the cheap bland ones, anything nicer expect two euro.
I then wondered what about reclaimed bricks, and it turns out those have also massively inflated their prices recently. I found on DoneDeal a local chap selling off the end of a pallet for €1.50 per brick, so I went and got a bootful before they all went:
These are old British Imperial bricks made at the height of their empire, or thereabouts. They’re bigger than modern bricks, so in that sense they are likely better value in terms of brickiness per euro. However, they were made early in brick mass production, and therefore weren’t made quite as well. Also, a hundred years of use tends to impact a brick too!
Whilst unpacking them, I was fortunate enough to yield a few with their manufacturer branding (they would insert one of these per bale of bricks so you knew where they came from):
Adderley Park Brick of Birmingham was founded in 1876 through the takeover and industrial modernisation of an existing brickworks which had been manually operated since around 1840. Via coal powered steam engines, the clay was mechanically pressed and made pliable into moulds, which were then fired to cure them, again by coal.
As is often the case with these things, these industries tended to cluster where the clay was good and coal and transport was easy to obtain. Just up the road was Globe Bricks, who also churned out vast numbers of standardised consistent quality bricks like Adderley Park Brick. They, and dozens of other British Imperial brickmakers, made the bricks which built the empire.
We know when Adderley Park Brick was founded, but determining when it ended is harder. I think they stopped printing their full name on their bricks after 1916, they just used A.P.B. after that. And they were certainly still going by 1946, they ended up getting merged into ever larger conglomerates until the cost of energy and labour in Britain became too high compared to elsewhere. So brickmaking went elsewhere, mostly to Europe where energy was historically cheaper.
To date my specific bricks would therefore seem to have a particularly wide window. However, we were in fact really lucky here because we also got this branded brick:
It’s hard to make out – and it took some effort with the search engine to find – but this says “G. Goodall, Saltly”. This is in fact quite the rare brick! Produced only between 1878 and 1883, their yard was right next door to Adderley Park Brick. That narrows my set of bricks to that specific five year window, which makes these bricks between 140 and 145 years old.
(My thanks to the webpage at https://uknamedbricks.blogspot.com/2018/04/birmingham-brickworks-part-2.html which solved the Goodall brick for me. It also has lots more detail about Birmingham brick makers if that sort of thing interests you)
Megan feels sad about using these heritage bricks merely to frame gravel. She’s not wrong that it seems somewhat of a shame. However there is absolutely no shortage of these bricks, billions were made and given the cost of new bricks, reclaiming them is very profitable so there will never be a shortage of supply any time in the next few decades. And, more importantly, they were made to be used – their former use has ended, they’re now getting used for new things. Assuming their makers cared at all, these bricks I have here have a reasonable chance of seeing their two hundredeth birthday assuming myself and Megan live long enough, and one of our children claims the house after we are dead.
Finally, a much newer brick slipped into what I bought:
Marston still make bricks actually, and they’re very nice (and very expensive). But this specific brick is likely from the 1970s back when the Marston Vale was the source of most of the bricks still made in Britain back then. You can tell it is a modern brick because it has modern dimensions i.e. is smaller and thinner. It almost certainly got inserted into the building which our bricks made up as part of repairs and maintenance, probably because the colours roughly matched.
I’m getting royally annoyed about the unwillingness of electricians to come turn on my mains electricity, and seeing as I need electricity on site to make forward progress on the build, I went ahead and bought the solar panels for the house now. I’m going to erect eighteen of them now as a temporary installation, that will get me electricity on site and then if/when mains electricity happens it’s no longer a critical blocker to forward progress.
As much as spending lots of money now puts me further away from the mortgage, I had had enough to be honest. I’m stuck here working from home six months later than originally planned now. I have a perfectly good office onsite, it just needs electricity. I need electricity now, not later.
Another motivation factor is that European warehouses are currently with a glut of solar panels, so they are deep discounting to shift the older panels. The cause is the Ukraine war, stockists correctly anticipated a massive increase in demand for solar panel installations, so they ordered lots more stock. There is indeed a massive demand, but there is a big shortage of installers. So the stockists haven’t been able to shift stock as quickly as hoped, and due to running out of warehouse space, they had to firesale some stock.
Anyway, upshot is that I picked up forty Q Cells G10 375w solar panels (which are last year’s model, slightly worse than this year’s model) for a mere €94 ex VAT each. That is a very good price, you would normally be paying €150 ex VAT for a Chinese panel of that size, or €240 ex VAT for a non-Chinese panel of that size. Q Cells is of course Korean-German, and while they do make some of their panels in a Chinese factory, most are made in Korea, Malaysia and especially the United States where they are by far the largest domestic manufacturer.
My temporary solar panel installation shall be onto the side of my shipping container, which is 2.9m high and south facing. I have bought nine 4.8m lengths of 100 x 44 pressure treated timber. If one wanted a 45 degree angle, they would need to be shortened to 4.1m long each; if one wanted them closer to 35 degrees which is the maximum power generating angle throughout the year, you would leave them basically as is. I haven’t decided on that quite yet, I may just stick their ends over the top of the container a little or do something else.
At their bottom I shall have four ground anchors, these screw into the ground and if you can give them mainly lateral loads, they are very secure. The bottom of the timber beams will be pushing outwards mostly, so should be ideal for the ground anchors. At the bottom and top of the timber beams, I have 6mm chain attaching the top to the shipping container and the bottom to the ground anchors and to the shipping container for safety. I did some basic structural loading calculations based on a hurricane producing 4000 Pascal of wind pressure on the panels, and I think this design should be good in that (to give an idea, the Beaufort scale tops out at 1500 Pascal which is 180 km/h wind speeds sustained, something not usually possible at ground level, but I reckon gusts can be quite potent – the highest recorded yet is 408 km/h ten metres above ground).
Anyway, once I get those eighteen panels installed, I finally can commission the inverter which thankfully is an off-grid capable model, and also thankfully I did install a local earth, so I’m good to go once I get all this mounted and wired in. There is absolutely no way I get 375w from each panel – solar panel energy efficiency claims are very like for cars, they are aspirational rather than anything resembling reality. At worst (January), you might get 2.5 kWh in a day. At best (June), you might get 46.8 kWh, which is 81 watts averaged over sixteen hours for all eighteen panels incidentally. Even if just taking noon that day, those eighteen panels might generate 5 kW, which is 278 watts per panel. The NMOT power rating for that panel is 281 watts, so that’s actually pretty good (NMOT = Normal Operating Conditions).
Obviously I will not be able to work from that office in December and January, but for the rest of the year I think it will be not only fine, but there will be plenty spare electricity for space heating. That miserable 2.5 kWh in a day mid-winter becomes > 5 kWh by February, it’s a big difference, mainly caused by daylight hours going from six hours to eight hours within just a month and the sun getting far higher in the sky – and thus losing much less radiation to penetrating atmosphere.
Anyway, getting all that set up with take many weeks. Next time I post here it should be done, and I’ll also have the latest three month build cost spend to the end of September. Obviously due to the mortgage application I’m not allowed to spend much, but there have been little bits here and there over time.
I did drive around that six tonne digger three weeks ago. My normal hire place was booked out, so I had to get the digger from their main competitor who is a lot more expensive. On the other hand, their main competitor has much newer kit, my digger this time was a JCB with a mere 170 hours on the clock. The difference in terms of ‘freshness’ on the hydraulic power was most noticeable over the tired diggers from my normal hire place. This didn’t entirely undo the price being a third more than normal, but it did make lifting blocks very high much easier (as you will see shortly).
Last post I had a photo of the temporary blocks installation. Here’s the finished blocks installation all on a levelled foundation of tamped earth and tamped crushed rock so it should now be long term stable:
As you can see, there is a little back room in there now. This will gain at a future point a roof to keep the rain off, and inside will be pumps and other noisy electricals. The L-shape is there to retain a 2.2m metre high 3.5m deep earthern wall to be created out of the soil to be dug out from the foundations of the house. At some very future point when I get a lot more time and money, a water feature is intended in front of that earthern mound, and hence that little back room. Until then, it’ll still be useful for storing things like lawnmowers or wheelbarrows, stuff which doesn’t need to be absolutely kept dry nor indoors but does benefit greatly from not being left completely exposed to the elements.
You will note two blocks on the fourth level – those are temporary and are intended to help me install the rear security camera. They will be taken down next time I rent the digger for a long weekend, probably around Halloween. Speaking of said cameras, I got both raised only today, here is the rear and front cameras each with 22,000 lumen floodlight:
The rear is two metres higher than the front camera as it has an extra pole section in it. One might think that would enable it to see further (as indeed the neighbours thought when they came round to express concern about me being able to see into their bedrooms!), but that isn’t how cameras without zoom work – you basically get the first 20 metres in high fidelity, so if you raise the camera higher you actually lose range of high fidelity. I took a quick grab of the rear camera view:
Note how anything past the earthern region becomes a fuzzy mess, this is about twenty metres from the camera. You won’t recognise faces after this point, and you certainly won’t pick up things like licence plates on cars (look at my own after all, indecipherable!)
So why raise it higher if it damages the fidelity? Simple reason: potential robbers see it more easily, and thus get dissuaded from doing actual theft. It’s pure security theatre – you actively hurt your ability to catch them in order to put them off in the first place.
Now, undoubtedly I will be able to extract a bit more more fidelity – the camera is at unoptimised settings, it’s a 4k camera at maximum CBR h.264 bitrate, they do support h.265 however my laptop does not which is why live view in h.265 is unusable. However basic physics is inescapable here, a 4k sensor with a 90 degree field of view is incapable of resolving much detail past two dozen metres or so. You need far more expensive cameras than these to get face recognition at the fences which are thirty to fifty metres away, as an example.
Obviously the cameras aren’t hugely useful without an internet connection via which I can be notified of people entering my property. I thus needed broadband. Despite Banteer being fibre to the cabinet broadband enabled and despite that there is a vDSL broadband service throughout the village, my neighbours tell me that 40 - 60 Mbps is as good as it gets in my estate. This is due to when the estate was built (around year 2000) during which our national telephony monopoly was famous for using copper clad aluminium wire instead of pure copper in new installs. Hence 40 - 60 Mbps instead of 100 Mbps despite being two minutes walk from the cabinet.
Setting aside the crap bandwidth, there is a further problem: the village cabinet is horribly oversubscribed. As in, physically speaking, they have jury rigged in far more vDSL links than the fibre link is capable of. As a result, they have marked broadband as new capacity required, which means getting a new broadband connection requires going to the regulator and undergoing the appeals process. My neighbour said this took him about nine months, just to get a service which dies a death every evening.
Considering all this, I bit the bullet and installed Starlink instead. Starlink has a very high upfront cost for the satellite dish (~ €500), but after that (at least within the Euro zone) the monthly rental is not outrageous at €65 inc VAT per month. Broadband over vDSL is about €45 per month from the cheapest provider, but then they tap you for the line rental at about €18 per month, so the total cost is around €63 inc VAT per month, not much of a saving over Starlink.
And unlike fixed broadband, getting up and running on Starlink simply involves me purchasing the dish, installing the dish, undergo commissioning with the app, done. I had it up and running within a few hours. Not weeks nor months, hours. And here is the speed test I got from my phone:
That is rather the upper bound – in reality speeds bounce between 40 and 230 Mbps down, though usually over 100 Mbps for south west Ireland. Even the worst case is no worse than fixed broadband in my area, so until the government get round to upgrading my village with Fibre to the Home, I think Starlink is as good as it gets for now.
To serve access to the internet and cameras I finally got round to deploying the Wifi 6 custom boxes I’d been working on since last year. They are based on the Banana Pi R3 platform which including case and aerials comes to about €140 inc VAT delivered.
And my oh my what a wifi box for that money! There is 2 Gb of RAM, four ARM Cortex A53s running at 2 Ghz, and a 4x4 Wifi 6 both in 5 Ghz and 2.4 Ghz bands. They have 2x SFP cages and four gigabit ethernet ports. Their SFP cages max out at 2.5 Gbps, and for which I bought cheap 2.5 Gbps fibre optic 2.5 km transceivers to act as inter-wifi-cluster backhaul. They have first tier OpenWRT support, amongst alternatives, but I only care about the OpenWRT support specifically.
I knew these would be pretty good before deploying them on site having tested them at home, but once deployed, good god were they capable. I walked 160 metres away as far away as I could physically get, and I still got a rock solid Wifi connection on 5 Ghz. Certainly not at a high bitrate, but very connected it was. That’s absolutely immense, earlier Wifi standards on 5 Ghz couldn’t get much past 50 metres with obstructions, trebling that is very impressive.
Finally, I got various other odds and ends done. I installed LED strip lighting for the garden shed:
I completed the 57v DC wiring in the mid services box including surge protector to detect accidental connection of the DC wiring to AC and direct everything to earth:
I got the hybrid inverter installed with everything except input from mains:
I still disconnect everything and put it inside safe end of each day. It’s not so much the cost of replacement if it got robbed, it’s the time to replace which concerns me.
Tomorrow I expect to complete installation of the front and rear cameras and properly tune and configure them. I therefore hope to have more shots of their view next time I add an entry here.
These are on bare unlevelled earth, they need to be removed, the ground levelled and packed crushed rock laid on top as a foundation, and then the blocks laid into their final positions. I reckon it’ll take the three days especially as the weather is not looking great. After that, what remains for me and the digger is to wait until after the end of September so I’m legally allowed clear the vegetation behind where my future vegetable garden is, I intend to clear it and lay down permeable membrane to hold down future growth. I then lay the last of those lego concrete blocks, and the rear boundary of the site is ready for the soil spill pile from excavating the foundations of the house.
I do still need to fit under that soil spill pile vermin and damp proof underground storage for potatoes to be covered with soil. I haven’t even figured out how to exactly do that yet unfortunately. I have in my head some sort of buried tank, like a Graf Carat XXL tank but its manhole is only 0.6m wide, which seems annoyingly tight to get sacks of potatoes in and out. I fear a prefabricated underground solution will be a lot more expensive than building an underground room with concrete blocks properly tanked to keep the damp and vermin out. Time consuming though.
In terms of progress on the site, I put in conduit and wiring for the garden shed: it now has ethernet, 1.5 mm2 three phase AC, and 16 mm2 DC main connections:
I almost completed the middle services box, only item missing is a 100v DC surge protector to protect the DC mains from getting shorted against an AC mains:
When I say ‘almost completed’, I mean before the build begins. Off the bottom of that box will drop a number of conduits taking electricity and internet to the house. They’ll be fitted later of course, and I only learned today during the M&E design meeting that building regs require that 10 mm2 mains cable (entering mid-right, currently unconnected except to earth) to be 16 mm2 even though my domestic mains connection couldn’t supply so much power. It’s not the end of the world, I’d actually fitted 16 mm2 up to the inverter which isn’t too far from from the middle services box, so it’s only a hundred euro wasted.
Finally, I got started on wiring up the far and near camera and flood light poles, here is me testing flood light placement:
The shipping container and temporary site office block most of the light unfortunately, however unlike them this pole is expected to be permanent and once they’re gone, that light should flood my front driveway most effectively.
In terms of everything else in getting this build going, I went to see a builder’s factory to see how the timber frames get made. Not a lot is different from the 16th century apart from the wood used and a very mild amount of automation – a human hand designs and draws the frame plans to match the architect’s plans. A Polish fellow manually chops up German sourced spruce wood and nails them into panels, cuts out the insulation to fit and staples it into the panel. The watertight membrane is then stapled in, and that’s your panel. When I say ‘Polish fellow’, I mean a specific one – there is only one person making panels for that builder, he does it all day long and that’s all he does there. Tedious work if you ask me, nice fellow though, friendly. And it’s certainly an honest day’s work.
Anyway, after he’s made all the panels, they get assembled onsite on a concrete base and within a week they’re done. You just need the glazing people to turn up quickly enough to get the glazing in before rain gets the panels too damp, after that it’s fairly weatherproof. I did ask about more automation, apparently the machines cost €80k each and if that builder did more than seventeen to eighteen houses per year, a machine might have payback before he would retire. But at his rate of house building, the numbers don’t add up, so you get this 16th century type of manual construction of everything. At least you get the human touch I suppose!
Regarding financing, the AIB have dramatically increased the amount of cash I need to raise before they will give me a mortgage. I no longer think I can raise it this year, so I am actively considering bridge financing instead. There are two options here, one is something like https://www.bridgingloans.ie/ where they will lend up to 65% LTV for around twelve months at a fairly eye watering interest rate, typically between 8% and 14% APR. The idea would be that you use that loan to complete the build, then take out a conventional mortgage at a much lower interest rate to repay the bridge loan.
The second option is that I take a Director’s loan from my company ned Productions Ltd for 75% of my normal gross income before tax, and pay myself almost nothing in salary that year. This effectively shifts the tax from one tax year to another, letting me borrow the tax I would normally pay to Revenue in a tax year (the other 25% is required as a refundable security by Revenue for the loan). The following year having completed the build, a conventional mortgage is used to repay the Director’s loan with interest. The company then makes twice its usual income, so I would be paid that tax year’s salary as well as the salary for the year preceding combined, which as a double salary would pay double the tax so Revenue get what tax they would have gotten with a bit of cream on top. This is fully legal, it just requires paperwork to be filed. Obviously, this isn’t as effective as a bridging loan – I normally pay around 50% of gross income in tax, so this approach can only yield 25% of gross income in additional financing. It is however much cheaper, as the interest paid at 4% half of it would come back to me salary later, making this form of financing have a total cost of maybe 3% during the loan’s duration as higher income means higher marginal rate of tax.
Cheapest of all of course remains the mortgage thanks to the €30k Help to Buy subsidy, which I lose if I don’t get a self build mortgage. So I’ll keep pursuing that option for now, though it’s looking increasingly unhopeful.
There has been zero physical progress since my last post on my future house build as I went from wall building at the start of this month straight to Varna, Bulgaria for an ISO WG21 C++ standards meeting. To be honest, I didn’t much care for that meeting, I have been finding the atmosphere at WG21 meetings a touch negative since they resumed post-covid. There are a lot of people bitching about other people by name, others actively spreading negativity about other people by name, and well it didn’t used to be like that pre-covid. Last two meetings I must admit I’ve found them trying, I don’t care for people being mean to other people when what we’re supposed to be doing is standardising engineering practice. That ought to be collaborative, positive, be in terms of ‘how can I/we enable?’ rather than ‘how can I/we disable?’. Let’s hope it passes with time.
As much as my mood there was suboptimal and I found myself recoiling from participation
from the endemic pervasive negativity,
we did make substantial progress on P1030
My enormous thanks to Elias Kosunan and Robert Leahy for staying up with me until the
early hours to create a R6 based on LEWG requests earlier than day. I really do owe you
guys a big one for that.
I especially thank Robert because I abandoned him at the end of that week by leaving MayStreet London Stock Exchange Group, where he was my manager and longest-putting-up-with-me coworker. I worked at MayStreet for four years three months or thereabouts, which is actually the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere in my whole life. The reason I stayed so long was the fully remote, the culture, the work, and the pay, all of which were up to the LSEG acquisition were well above average in the industry, and a combination of all four at once was rare. Unfortunately, the LSEG transition particularly impacted me more than most at the company – there was a generous payout if one stayed for three years after acquisition, but only if one signed an employment contract which required me to remove ALL my open source software from being open source. I felt that a showstopper for the monies on offer, LSEG were ‘take it or leave it’. Very much to their surprise at the time, I said no. I walked away from a six figure number rather than sacrifice my open source. LSEG HR was simply incapable of understanding why I would do that, they just didn’t get it. And that obviously started a clock ticking on me moving on.
For reference, old MayStreet did their very best to retain me, within what LSEG allowed them to do. The new contract it paid reasonably well, it had very generous expense allowances, and an immoral amount of vacation time. But total annual pay was capped by LSEG, there was zero accommodation to the Irish tax system which meant taxes were maximum possible, and there was no retention bonus like all the other MayStreet folk got. More importantly, I didn’t feel there was a long term future there for me – very clearly LSEG was going to grind MayStreet down by forcing out all the expensive staff and replacing them with cheaper staff, so MayStreet would become like the rest of Refinitiv. And that’s okay, they own the business now so they can do what they want with it, but that’s not somewhere I want to work.
Because I had no retention bonus, it cost me nothing to move on now rather than two years from now, so I started looking for a new US-based startup, as it tends to only be US startups who are willing to pay US levels of pay to fully remote European workers. I lucked out: I had been wanting to move into crypto finance, and a crypto fintech which looked promising turned up: https://www.monad.xyz/. They aim to build a better mousetrap of something well established, which I absolutely love in a startup. So after several months of campaigning, and also thanks to a particularly good recruiter named Chris Burgess, we got a deal done.
I started work at Monad at the beginning of this week, which has returned my pay to what I’d consider around current market pay for my skillset – MayStreet LSEG had implemented a pay freeze this year, plus hadn’t kept up with the increases in pay during the recent tech boom, which appears to have raised market pay by about 50% excluding inflation, so maybe 25% including inflation. So I’m back to market rates, and that enormously improves my ability to fund house building. But more on that later.
As part of new hire induction at Monad, I went straight from Varna, Bulgaria to New York where I had two days of onsite getting introduced to people and having meetings discussing what needs to get done and where everything is at. I returned home on Friday, and have been readjusting to all these time zone shifts with some difficulty since then.
It’s interesting to compare startups. I’ve worked for four or five at this stage now. They’re all unique. MayStreet very much had a ‘seniors only’ hiring policy, they only hired senior devs and usually ones from the WG21 committee at that. So most unusually you usually only needed to explain yourself once, and everybody was ridiculously capable. In this MayStreet was unique in my career, and I probably will never experience that again.
Monad is much more a tradititional startup – there are lots of twenty-something old devs, and three Gen X senior devs including me. Apologies now in advance for the use of Gen Something labels which some readers may interpret negatively, however I’m not sure at this late hour what would be better – We’re there to enable and facilitate the Gen Z’s. In any case, the Gen Z’s they very much treat their work life as being interchangeable with their private lives, much like the later Gen Y’s were doing but even more so, I couldn’t really disambiguate from spending time with them where they thought one began and another ended – which in itself is the wrong way to think about it, because they’re all just ‘fused’ from their perspective, as there is no separation.
I as a Gen X obviously can’t and never will understand that, so I won’t even try. Common to all younger people irrespective of generation is focus and concentration, specifically that they lack both due to being easily distracted. That was the same for my generation when young; people were complaining about it in Roman times so it’s certainly universal. It will be mine and the other ‘old men’s’ jobs to help them become more productive.
Anyway, the new job means that I think the cash funding gap should be closed by the end of the summer, before when the mortgage Approval In Principle expires. Assuming that build commencement could now occur before the end of 2023, I appointed lots more expensive design people. Here’s a list of them all, for completeness, in order of appointment:
Robert (Bob) is one of the two Passive House Certifiers in Ireland, based out of Wicklow. His fees are what they are, they are actually set by Passive House HQ in Darmstadt so if you want certification, that costs what it costs.
Stephen is a qualified Passive House designer, with offices in London and Cork. His fees to date have been reasonable for the quantity of work done in my opinion. His is a brand new practice, only been in business for a year when we brought him onboard.
They are UK based. I just appointed them for M&E having found nobody in Ireland willing to take on this project, which was disappointing. I tried really quite hard to find a M&E designer in Ireland ideally a small business who was not tied to a specific manufacturer, and would be independent. Everybody I approached in Ireland either refused the work, or didn’t respond at all. So I gave up, sourced the M&E design work from the UK, and to date (two weeks in!) they do seem okay, albeit rather expensive.
Hilliard is becoming something of a minor legendary engineer around southern Ireland, so I was very glad to have snagged him, however also slightly appalled at his expense because he is most definitely not cheap. He is based in Fermoy, Cork. I went to meet a bunch of other engineers around Cork, and I gotta be honest, I was not impressed. Hilliard impressed me, he has different opinions to me but he can justify them, and I didn’t have to teach him what I’m building here. He also answers email, and what you see is what you get with him. Most other consulting engineers around here could learn a thing about those small things, like replying in a timely fashion and actually studying the plans to have an idea about the client’s project before taking a meeting. Hilliard has come across as reliable, and that is very much what you want from an engineer. So I pay his fee, quality usually costs money.
Still remaining unchosen: landscape and garden designer
We originally had a landscape architect before even Stephen was appointed, but she rescinded her agreement which was unfortunate. We have made half hearted attempts to appoint a replacement, but because the garden keeps radically transforming in our minds, it seems a waste of money until we’ve definitely settled on what we’re looking for.
Still remaining unchosen: possibly a lighting designer, and possibly a kitchen designer
Megan is keen on a lighting designer for the main living space, probably due to anxiety about what I’ve got in mind for lighting the main living space. So I’ll probably buckle on that to relax her.
She also mentions a kitchen designer, though if I’m blunt, I think she’s spent so much time walking around her future kitchen in VR that I don’t know how much a kitchen designer could add to that. I also have walked from the hob to the pantry, to the fridge, counted steps and spent time within VR where all the appliances are expected to go. I think we’ve optimised those placements as far as they can go – any further improvements mean sacrifice elsewhere.
House build spend
Which brings us to this, as it’s been three months since the last house build spend update. This will be up to 1st July 2023:
- Spent: €195,759
- Committed to be spent soon: €21,303
- Current three month averaged spend rate: €3,696 per month
The four biggest ticket items in the past three months were: (i) Mains electricity connection fee (ii) M&E design deposit (iii) Continuing architect fees (iv) Even more ‘lego’ concrete blocks.
I think that’s the lowest monthly spend rate since I started this, so we have been successful in hoarding cash for the mortgage application. Obviously, that’s going to worsen shortly with all those design fees going out in the next three months. And, who knows, maybe a deposit to a builder? That alone would take the monthly spend rate over €20k per month. Sigh. That’s so much money .
Anyway, I don’t expect much further spending outside fees owed until the mortgage approval gets closed, certainly a month or two from now. It would be nice to see mains electricity activated however, so the fees for a RECI electrician to do the certification would need to go out for that.
The neighbour was to install 24 metres of the 34 metre length at their expense, and I was to complete the other 10 metres at my expense. This may sound unfair, however my portion was the earth retaining portion and the quotes which came in before we decided this were about equal if we paid others to do it for us. I elected to use these ‘lego’ concrete blocks and install the wall myself instead of paying others, and thus saving myself about six thousand euro.
The neighbour’s contractor had installed the poles for his fence, but left them unfilled so I knew exactly what height my blocks had to reach in order to be flush.
Firstly, I dug a trench using the 90 cm wide bucket down to 240 cm below the top of their fence pole:
This usefully revealed subsoil, which isn’t noticeable from the photo for some reason. But when you’re there in person, the subsoil is a distinctly different colour from the topsoil, kinda rusty coloured brown instead of darker brown. The different colour really shouts out, you couldn’t miss it if you were there in person.
As I was on my own, I couldn’t use a thwacker which is a machine for pounding surfaces hard as it requires two people, so I had to resort to the tool used for at least five thousand years – a tamper. This is quite literally a heavy flat sheet on the end of a stick. You repeatedly whack the ground with it to pound the surface. It is very considerably more effort than the machine, but I can do it alone, and well it’s like an extended gym session, it’s highly fitness inducing.
Anyway, after tamping the subsoil flat and ensuring it was level in all directions using a level meter, I then poured a few wheelbarrows of two inch down crushed rock, got those level, and tamped those hard too:
Now I could drop in the blocks on a perfectly level, well supported base:
As you can see, I have at the end a support column which cantilevers support into the next ten metre run of the wall. For a normal cavity block wall two metres high, you’d have a support column every five meters or so. The reason that we can get away with one support column every ten metres here is the sheer mass of these blocks making them much more effective at pinning lateral forces, but also the width of the blocks being two thirds of a metre and more than easily wide enough to walk along. You can give this wall a good hard shove from the digger and it realigns, but it does not tumble. And that’s a six tonne digger I was shoving it with!
After that came lots more soil levelling, tamping, crushed rock layering, more tamping. I didn’t do the majority of this, Megan did the bulk whilst I shovelled crushed rock into the wheelbarrow and brought it to her. We had in fairness spectacular weather, only once in every three or four years do you get consecutive back to back sunny days in Ireland for multiple weeks. We were extremely fortunate to be doing this work in one of those rare extended sunny periods for Ireland.
It took two full days of work to lay the bottommost layer of blocks due to all the finicketyness. Laying the next two rows was done in mere hours:
All that attention to detail about ensuring everything was level and firm in the foundation shows its payoff by all the blocks neatly packing together tightly without gaps. If the right side looks unsupported, note that just behind it is a packed earthern mound support made by me with the tamper – you pour in soil recently excavated, and tamp it until it forms the same earthern mound shape at the back of the neighbour’s property. This supports the blocks from the neighbour’s side right up to the third layer of blocks.
Total cost of this was €68.10 inc VAT per block delivered X 24 plus 2 X €385 for six tonne digger rental and its diesel = €2,404 inc VAT. Compared to the quote we got for over eight grand … this has been quite the saving. What we gave up was our time (three days, arguably five if including the sorting and moving these blocks to where they would be used!), and the additional space consumed by the size of the blocks which eats out of our garden.
Equally, you are looking at the first quarter of our future walled garden where in the future a fair chunk of our food calories shall be derived! I expect to mainly grow potatoes and carrots in this walled garden. It will be exactly square, so the 8.4 metre inside you are currently looking at will become 70 m2 of walled garden growing space.
Assuming the typical ten tonnes of potato per acre yield in Ireland, that equals about 172 kg of potatoes per year. Less if also growing carrots, which would yield 112 kg if using the entire walled garden.
To put that in perspective, the average 2023 Irish person would consume about 60 kg in a year, mostly in the form of fries. I chose 70 m2 because it would roughly approximate half the annual potato consumption of five adults, so with carrots and maybe peas thrown in, that’s about one quarter. The idea is that if all our children flee us in years to come, we will rarely have surplus to needs. But if they end up staying because they’ll never be able to afford their own homes as I expect will be the case, then we get a substantial subsidy to our annual food needs.
And also: there is zero comparison between shop bought food and the stuff you grow locally. Our potatoes, carrots and especially peas will be amazingly tasty in a way you can’t get from supermarkets. So there is a qualitative aspect in there too.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with a wide view photo of the whole boundary fence between our site and the neighbour’s, taken in sunshine just before we departed to get Chinese takeaway:
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
This time last year I thought a recession would be upon us by now, as interest rates rose above inflation in order to bring it down. I still think that will happen, it just hasn’t happened yet – interest rates are indeed many times higher than last year, but inflation hasn’t really dropped by much. So either there will be recession sooner rather than later, or interest rates will have to rise some more. In any case, a recession.
I won’t predict that for this time next year, as clearly I suck at timing. Let’s look at the new numbers. Well, the big stand out thing is that Optane storage lept forwards in capacity per inflation adjusted dollar. Like so much so that it nearly entirely eliminated how much it fell behind flash storage, so now it’s nearly tracking flash storage improvements. Who knew that Intel disposing of Optane would lead to such price reductions for that technology? Here’s hoping that only improves much further still.
Flash storage saw a better than trend improvement, whilst spinning rust stayed on trend. Do you know something interesting? Flash has nearly returned to an intersection path with spinning rust for the first time since 2012! That’s kinda exciting, back in 2012 flash storage was still in its linear improvement stage, had that continued it would have overtaken and completely replaced spinning rust by 2018. Obviously the linear growth turned into exponential decrease, however with these most recent numbers the regression predicts both trends go parallel (and very close, though without crossing) from 2050 onwards.
I personally think that unlikely, you can’t eek out that amount of density from silicon, nor the cobalt based magnetic alloys of hard driver platters. So at some point well before then, I would expect both to stop improving and plateau absolutely.
The question is which will be first? My money is on silicon plateuing first. Spinning rust has been around in one form or another since the 1950s, yet improvements in data storage density have been sustained since then. Whereas silicon based storage density started much later, but saw much steeper improvements so it caught up. I still think it is a ‘flash in the pan’ compared to spinning rust, and it’ll peter out first.
Hard to predict however – much of why spinning rust can now achieve such data densities is due to sticking what was a mainframe a few decades ago onto each hard drive to crunch the maths necessary to pack data so densely. So both technologies are actually in lockstep, and if silicon stops improving, that’ll impact spinning rust as well.
I’m sure you remember the GARE, the Ground-Air Heat Exchanger which was a 46m length of 200mm diameter buried pipe through which the air intake for the house flowed, thus cooling it in summer and heating it in winter? Well, it’s been ditched, I just couldn’t justify its cost for its benefits. Getting the pipes from Germany to Ireland was quoting at €8,100 or so, and certainly a further €3k to install them. I tried getting cheaper pipe, HDPE which is best material for conductivity requires a specialist contractor to fuse them, and thicker PVC pipe which only requires solvant glue to fuse I would have had to laid two parallel runs to achieve the same efficiency, so once again, back towards the 8k + 3k cost.
Ground-water heat pumps would be the next obvious alternative, these being what most people think of as ‘geothermal’. These work via a buried hose about 1.5m deep through which runs brine water. The heat pump exchanges heat between the inside and the outside buried loop in either direction. These were somewhat popular 10-15 years ago, but as air-water heat pumps became de facto obligatory in new builds in the EU after 2019, the ground-water heat pumps have become difficult to purchase, plus they have risen in price along with recent build inflation. I reckon you’re talking €20k for one now, and another €5k to install it because they require a specialist design team to prevent them freeze locking.
I could just bite the bullet on an air-water heat pump, though they’re costing €15k or so nowadays including installation. But then I discovered that Zehnder have launched two add-ons for their ComfoAir Q range of MVHR ventilation units:
For €6,200 inc VAT one can get the Zehnder ComfoClime 36 which is an air-air heat pump able to cool up to 1.7 kW and heat up to 2.2 kW at COPs of 3.0 and 2.5 respectively. No external fan unit needed, which is nice, but it would dump extra hot air into the greenhouse in summer.
For €5,450 inc VAT one can get the Zehnder ComfoFond-L Q ST which is an air-ground heat exchanger needing lots of metres of buried PE pipe 32.26.2 dimensions. It only draws 70 watts maximum so clearly cannot be a heat pump. It has no performance data, however it surely would be as efficient as the GAHE, and is obviously cheaper.
Of those two, obviously I’m rather liking the ComfoFond as it slots right in instead of the GAHE. Maximum possible cooling remains the same as this is the heat capacity of air: if outdoor air is 25 C, and below ground is 10 C, then:
- 350 m3/hr is 1.75 kW of cooling.
- 450 m3/hr is 2.25 kW of cooling.
- 600 m3/hr is 3 kW of cooling.
Actual cooling will be less than that, but you don’t need much to drop a passive house internals by 1-2 C.
What’s nice about this not being a heat pump is that any old joe can install the buried loop i.e. me, because the coldest brine you’ll ever send down there is the outdoor air temperature, and via anti-freeze you can abaolutely guarantee it’ll never ever freeze. This makes the pipe design very simple, no T-branches needed to spread a freeze load across trenches, you can use a single straight run of pipe which further reduces the chance of later leaks etc. 150 metres of pipe is around €180, and trenching it with a digger is well within my abilities. As you’ll only be putting 3 kW through it, 150 metres ought to be plenty.
I had been budgeting €20k for the site prep and GAHE installation, I think that has now been reduced to €7k if I install the loop myself. This is good, as I suspect the M&E design costs are going to well exceed the €10k I allocated for them, but more on that in another post.
I reckoned that my company whose office is on the site would be justified in purchasing security flood lighting, so I picked up two 200 watt LED flood lights. That’s not 200 watt incandescent equivalent, that’s 200 watts of electricity consumption. They are unsurprisingly therefore rather bright:
Using a wattmeter I verified that it does indeed draw 200 watts. Once warmed up enough, that does drop to 193 watts, but that’s the physics of LEDs for you.
So just how much light is there? Remember my cove lighting? It outputs plenty enough light with which to read comfortably in a nice even spread. According to my phone sensor, it reads 105 lux from the couch which is maybe 1.5 metres from the roof, with the light reflecting down. With the floodlight pointing straight up and a box hiding it from direct glare, the phone sensor reads 750 lux just from reflected roof light alone. I’m strongly considering fitting these into the vaulted space in the house as uplighting, a few of them together would be pretty decent and even coverage, and if you vary the colour temperature between them then the CRI won’t be half bad either.
The unit claims 22,000 lumen, but I have no way of testing it other than what I’ve done. I can say that my workplace high lumen lighting solution which keeps me awake and working productively late into each night:
… emits 806 lumen x 5 = 4,000 lumen, and my phone’s sensor reads 400 lux when about 1.8 metres away with the phone pointing at the light. So to get nearly twice that after a 2.5 metre travel and a reflection suggests the floodlight may be telling close to the truth – it helps trust that the units appear to be manufactured in Britain, and not in China. They’re also very well made, with big hefty heat sinks on the back which do a great job of drawing heat away from everywhere else. I left it run for half an hour, then took these thermal images, firstly of the front and then the back:
(In case you’re wondering, yes my Hikmicro thermal camera finally got a firmware upgrade which retains the visual camera image. Turns out said camera is dog shit bad and the images are saved with severe JPEG compression, but it’s much better than nothing)
As you can see, the front remains under 50 C with only the outer frame conducting heat from the back. The back meanwhile, well it gets up to 70 C or so. This is good thermal design, I also had it on its back so the heat would rise, if it were facing down like its designers intended it would be still cooler again.
Anyway, these particular units are destined for poles raised high over the site. Just need to get the mains electricity activated – it was paid for 11th April, so nearly seven weeks ago now. Here’s hoping they get round to it soon!