Category Archives: Truly Random Stuff


The speed of changes of modern tecnology never ceases to amaze me. Got myself a MicroMite – a single chip PIC-32 with MMBasic firmware…..

Result? – add a 47uf tantalum cap, power up at 3.3v an away we go. 100% functional computer with a simple yet powerful Basic interpreter built right in. Amazing. Needs a $5 TTL – USB serial converter but thats it! My TRS-80 had less power than this puppy will get you started including where to source the bits.


4WDs – time to stick the boot in – The “FAT ARSE” campaign begins

I was driving in the rain the other day being overtaken by 4WDs. Apparently someone has told them that 4WDs are “safer” in the rain so they actually speed up. Forget about compromised tires, higher centre of gravity, higher weight with consequent poorer braking. Let’s not forget the suspension compromises. But someone told them they are “safer” in the rain. Forget that they are “less safe” in the dry!

I’m now starting a campaign to make 4WDs less attractive. If we do that, then maybe a few more potential owners will think about their choices and attitudes.

Ever notice that most 4WDs have a “huge, fat rear end”? Right! from now on all 4WDs will be called “Fat Arse …….” so from now on, Landcruisers are “Fat Arse Toyotas”! The Porsche Cayenne (surely one of the ugliest cars on the road) is now a “Fat Arse Porsche” – think about it – its so right. Its acceptable to distinguish a model as a “Fat Arse Prado” or a “Fat Arse Landcruiser”. Some examples –

  • Nissan Patrol = “Fat Arse Nissan”
  • Range Rover = “Fat Arse Rangie” (or whatever).
  • Audi Q5 = “Fat Arse Audi”

I figure that if enough people ask “are you driving that Fat Arse Toyota” then a few people may resent that and realise their cars really have a “Fat Arse”!

Let the heckling begin – you heard it here first.


Lightning! You just can’t beat it.


Here is my collection of SPA-3102 VOIP Gateway devices that have been fried by lightning over the last few years.  @ $ 55 a pop, it’s still cheaper to use VOIP but it gets a little boring after a while trying to keep up with the replacements! I’ve ordered some new lightning arresters to try and cure this but I’m not hopeful.

Combined with the one that is in service… This makes 7!

By the way Pennytel, can you stop sending a new GE handset out each time… I already have 2 of them! More than one is one too many.


Chucking stuff out 2

My wife reported our little Sunbeam coffee maker was no longer working. It wasn’t pumping water etc. Here we go again I thought. Another unrepairable appliance!

We have had this Sunbeam for about 5 years and it made OK coffee, as long as you gave it plenty of time to heat up. There was also a lingering problem with puddles of water under it but I always assumed (that word again) that the problem was related to the removable plastic water tank on the back.

Totally ignoring the warnings “no user serviceable components inside” I pulled the back off and immediately noticed rust on several components –

Now that wasn’t cool. Rust doesn’t happen the moment something gets wet and this looked long term. I could understand rust on lower components getting there from a leaking valve but the bracket holding the pump (blue component on right) was rusty. Could see anything spectacularly wrong so I plugged it in and watched. Once I started the coffee cycle, the problem was obvious almost straight away. The union on the hose above the pump sprayed water over most of the innards of the machine. Why it hadn’t tripped a earth leakage breaker was unknown.

That accounted for the leaks and the rust. Once the coffee cycle starts the pump starts a rhythmic thumping and this had loosened the union.

20 seconds with a spanner, 2 minutes to put the back on and its as good as new. Made my day as for once, I didn’t have to “Chuck it out” Yay!

Arduino 2!

Well the Arduino project has grown again. I think Arduino must be Italian for spontaneous growth! Here a picture of the latest state.

It now sports a few additions.

– Freetronics Ethershield – It has an integrated prototyping area which holds a “Dead on RTC – DS3234” which is running (as is the Ethershield) on a SPI bus. I had minor moment when, while testing, either the ES or the RTC ran (not both). A bit of digging and the ES needs SPI MODE 0 while the RTC needs MODE 3. The RTC now means that my wife can turn the system off when it rains. Previously you had to turn it back on around the time you started watering but now its agnostic about the startup time.

– Freetronics LCD shield. The buttons on the shield are used to manually start the watering cycle if required.

The stuff which was on the Sparkfun prototype area has all moved to the breadboard including the run LED and the water on LED as well as the driver for the relay. I ran out of digital pins on the Arduino, the LCD uses 7, but the analog pins work fine.

Naturally, if you add ethernet to anything then a web server is required. You can check out the status of my watering system at The other great use of an ethernet interface is you can sync the RTC to NTP on the *net. Its REALLY important that your watering is synced to UTC.

What next? I think a rain sensor is coming as well as the aforementioned connections to the staghorns. Biggest issue there is hiding the ugly black Irrigation pipes!.



Now this is fun. Bought an Arduino / Sparkfun  UNO experimenters kit from Little Bird Electronics. Talk about easy to get running. The little workhorse is now driving the irrigation system in both the upper and lower greenhouses. Here is a pic

I built a 240V -> 24VAC transformer into a jiffy box – its 72VA so I added a 6A fuse. This drives the bodgy little power supply on the left and is switched by the relay into the . 24VAC becomes 12VDC and this then drives the Arduino and the relay. The heatsink on the 7912 voltage regulator is an old Pentium 1 heatsink. Most of the wiring on the breadboard is to

  • accept input from the single switch which either starts or stops the timer
  • drive the piezo which plays a small tune on water on and off
  • drives the servo on the right which provides visual indication of the timer cycle
  • drives the flashing “power (yellow)” and “water on (red)” LEDs
  • holds a single transistor to drive the relay

This is the business end

$19.50 24VAC solenoid from Bunnings and some poly pipe fittings. This irrigation setup is fed by a tank and the valves work OK with this pressure. The fine solenoid cable back to the Arduino is just inserted 100 mm underground using a spade to cut the turf and (this is important) a “stick” to shove the cable to the bottom of the cut. Its not really terminated with insulation tape, there is some soldering and heat shrink under that.

At the moment the Arduino is simply turning it on for 15 minutes every 11 hours and 45 minutes. Future improvements will include

  • A more permanent board for the interfaces
  • LCD for cycle indications
  • A RTC (real time clock) for timing.
  • More relays for different circuits. I need to connect Jacq’s staghorns on the eastern deck into regular watering.

Most of this, of course, is dependant on me not sacrificing the Arduino into the next project……   THIS! Muah-ha-ha

Chucking stuff out

I’m getting depressed about this. Lately we’ve had a spate of electronic failures. Most of it is not repairable and even though its (comparatively) cheap – especially compared to 10 years ago – I’m getting jack of just “chucking stuff out”.

The recent casualty list is accentuated by a freak lightning hit but I just can’t fix this stuff and the cost of professional repair is more that buying new stuff.

The DEE (Dead electronic equipment) list includes

Panasonic SA-DT100 home theatre system. Its almost 10 years old but it now says “F61” when it starts and this means the audio amplifier board is toasted. Problem here is I now have 6 speakers (inc subwoofer) which are now virtually useless.

Netgear EV100 – the NIC is dead and won’t go online. I could use it for USB playback but I bought it for TWIT and YouTube.

CABAC ADSL router – all NIC ports now dead. + El Cheapo 8 port 10/100 only has 2 working ports.

I just hate just throwing this shit out. I can’t reclaim any of it, even recycling is tough. About the best I can do is keep the power transformer (for copper) and cases from the Panasonic for the steel. The rest just chucked in the garbage.

I’m getting a real feeling that someday, we as humans, are going to pay for this, one way or another.

Really – how stupid do they think we are?

Latest in advertising. A battery powered dispenser for “anti-bacterial” hand wash. The kicker? “germs can live on the top of an ‘ordinary’ dispenser”…… For SHIT Sake – your skin has a million more ‘germs’ than the top of dispenser bottle. On top of that, you are dispensing anti-bacterial hand cream which should KILL everything in site.

Are people really so insecure about the normal stuff that has inhabited our world for the last 3 BILLION years?

When is this sort of mindless CRAP going to end?

Fun with media players

In a moment of weakness, I bought a NETGEAR EV2000 “Digital Entertainer Live” in “Hardly Normal” the other week. I’ve been praying for some of my older media gear (DVD players etc) to die spectacularly so I can justify an new Gigabyte Micro ATX MB and the rest of the kit to build a Media PC. Alas, Alack – Panasonic kit is almost too good. Every bit of Panasonic kit we own – including our (now) 8 YO Home Theatre just keeps on trucking. I recently bought a 42″ Panasonic plasma (just HD – I can’t tell the difference with 1080p) and its fabulous. Great picture, solid remote etc and only $799.

The EV2000 looked the goods and it was on special for $160 with an included HDMI cable. That price was before a 30% Weekend discount. Its a small black box with the normal NETGEAR clear bezel. In the back is

  • HDMI
  • Power
  • Composite Video and Audio on a 3.5mm jack
  • 10/100 RJ-45 Ethernet
  • 2 x USB ports

Getting it connected was trivial. We have full walk in headroom under the house so I’ve wired Cat5 up to the back of the TV which is the only way to fly. The EV found my main computer (E8400 Win7 HP) and the UPNP Windows Media Player almost straight away. All my media is on this computer so this is where the EV needed to be. This is where the issues began.

The EV would find the WMP and then I’d get a really variable “user experience”. Sometimes it would find media and begin to play. Most of the time, the “Wait a bit I’m working” icon would appear and then about 3 times out of 5 it would exit back to the main menu after giving up. There are no user settings that relate to getting at system logs so figuring out what was happening was frustrating. I tried for a couple of hours and (wrongly) concluded I’d bought a dud. I tried all sorts of things including

  • XMBC
  • The EV included PlayON software
  • Some bodgy web based UPNP media streamer
  • etc etc

Nothing seemed to work.

Next step was to package it up and try to return it. Hardly’s didn’t want to know about it and stated that I couldn’t return it until I’d contacted Netgear support for an RMA.

It sat in the box for about 2 weeks and then I rang NETGEAR. The guy on the other end took all my details and reckoned that as this device was a “specialist” class box, someone would get back to me within the hour. This never happened but I did some more hunting around and noticed that my “WMPNetworksvc” was running at 50% of the processor time. This is the Windows Media Player (WMP) network streaming service. As this is a dual core machine, I effectively had this one process monopolising one core. Hmm. I dragged my laptop out and the EV connected perfectly, smooth easy navigation and great playback.

Obviously the EV wasn’t connecting reliably as the WMPNetworksvc was busy off doing something else. Figuring out what was causing this 100% utilisation didn’t take long. Google of course. I don’t know how we did support without it (mind you it was REALLY simpler in those days too). Some threads indicated that WMP gets its knickers in a knot if it finds corrupt AVI’s. I pared the WMP libraries back to just my music collection (It took me a day to rip all those CD’s) and “voila” the EV is now working perfectly. 

When I was trying to debug, I had it hooked up to a LCD monitor with a pair of Logitech stereo speakers (the TV is in another room) and the sound was fine. I have 2 pairs of these speakers, one set is hooked up as the computer speakers and at the time, the other set was hooked to the EV. The sound was noticeably better from the EV. The M/B in the E8400 (I sometimes really wish I’d bought the Quad) is a Gigabyte with the default ALC chipset – its not going to be anything amazing – but I was very surprised at the difference between the 2 devices on the same speakers. Next step was to hook it back up to the stereo / panel and now it works brilliantly.

I took a couple of hours to re-sort my media collection – basically getting it all into folders based on artist and then album. Things are much easier to find. The only criticism of the is the you can’t (for example) select artists by first letter – the device provides an onscreen keyboard for YouTube – this makes scanning through the list a bit tedious. Still, its pretty quick and some judicious use of playlists should help.

At some time I now have to go through the video collection and find the corrupt AVI. That’s something for another day. That said Microsoft need to revise the code for the WMP sharing service and get it to “get over” media that it can’t figure out.

CD Covers aka “Jewel Cases”

This is a LONGGGG term “this really shits me” post.

How many stupid, mongrel, busted CD covers do you have?

One of my biggest wishes is to meet the stupid prats that designed that one. Probably Phillips – Sony had their design shit together in the 1980. Were probably in the ’80s where Apple is today.

What total crap! Scratches easily, the stupid lugs on the cover break and the thing is then stuffed.

Can you remember the first time (ever) you tried to open one (25 years ago for me)? It was “intuitively obvious” – NOT!

How many times have you busted one just opening them, or dropped it (an busted it) just because it was (and still is) one of the worst cases (sic) of industrial design in the 20th Century.

Bottom line….

Complete, total, EPIC Fail!