Tuesday 29 December 2015

BirdBox2016: the role of the Picaxe

As 2015 gives way to a new year, so its time to ready those bird boxes for the coming nesting season.

My original 2014 Raspberry Pi box remains unchanged, although it will be sited higher than previous years, this time maybe 3 metres up the trunk of our Canadian Maple.

But last years (2015) Picaxe + Pi box has undergone a few more changes, so maybe this is a good time to mention them.

Thursday 17 December 2015

PicaxePi: in circuit programming

I used the combination of Picaxe and Raspberry Pi for the first time a year ago.

At that time I programmed the Picaxe by temporarily soldering a connector to the board and connecting it to my laptop.

But I've now made a few simple modifications to my BirdBox2016 controller so I can program the Picaxe from the Raspberry Pi.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Picaxe syntax highlighter for gEdit

I hate trying to understand and edit source code when its presented as plain black text.

It is funny how just a splash of colour can make so much difference to the readability of a source file.

So if you have to examine Picaxe source files on Linux (and you cannot use the LinAxePad editor) you need an alternative.

Sunday 6 December 2015

BirdBox 2016: fitting the UV LEDs

Although initial testing with a bunch of UV LEDs did not look too promising, I've decided to push ahead and fit them to a bird box anyway.

They were very cheap, and I'd like to say they were easy to retro-fit into last seasons bird box.

But a wiring error resulted in a blown Darlington driver, so it took up more of my Sunday afternoon than I'd expected.

Friday 4 December 2015

Making the case for the StupidPhone

A couple of months ago my Smart phone started playing up, then it stopped working as a phone.

It seemed to develop a hardware problem whereby I was sending more noise than speech.

So I had to decide whether to invest £100+ in a new Smart device, or consider the alternatives.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Lubuntu/LXDE: cannot add apps to launch-bar

Having installed a fresh image of Lubuntu 15.10, I found I had a problem adding newly installed applications to the Launch Bar.

A quick search of the internet did not reveal anything useful, so I had to open a few files and work out what was happening.

Strange that I hadn't noticed this problem before!

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Supe up your computer with a Solid State Drive

The cost of Solid State Drives (SSD) has dropped to a level where replacement of hard drives is now a reasonable option.

But can you really expect to notice any improvement in using an SSD in place of an old hard drive?

Having replaced a couple of HDD at work, I decided to invest in an SSD for my light-weight home laptop.

Friday 27 November 2015

Gambas with Class

The simple principle of "code re-use" is an easy way of reducing project development time and improving the quality of your software.

It is clear that using existing code snippets will save you time by avoiding the task of "re-inventing the wheel".

And if you also keep a personal store of code that you have previously designed and tested, this should help improve the quality of your software projects.

Saturday 21 November 2015

RaspberryPi, Device Tree & why my DS18B20 app is broken

One of the problems with writing about Linux, the Raspberry Pi and technology in general is that posts can quickly become out of date.

I noticed several weeks ago that my server was no longer producing nice graphs showing me the temperatures both inside and outside my house.

I've only just found some time to investigate.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Linux: network OK, but no internet connection

I've performed the Raspberry Pi upgrade from Wheezy to Jessie a few times without any real issues.

But a recent attempt left me with an unusual networking problem.

I know I won't remember the details the next time I have this problem, so I need to write it down.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Hanging on the BlockChain

There has been much discussion (and some excitement) in our house recently about the BlockChain.

Interest is also growing in large financial institutions, and companies are beginning to invest in research & development to ensure that they don't get left behind.

So will the BlockChain change our lives, or is it a techno dead-end?

Thursday 12 November 2015

GPS: extracting Tracks from XML files with Gambas

You would have to be crazy to write your own XML editor when there are so many available, right?

Well, when opening the XML file from my Garmin eTrex in a variety of editors, my low power Linux laptop grinds to a halt.

As I only need to extract individual Tracks from the eTrex file, I decided to write my own program.

Friday 23 October 2015

BirdBox 2016: sexing blue tits

In England, if you put up a bird box with a small entrance hole, the most likely species to make use of it is the blue tit.

So how do you tell male from female? Chances are you won't be able to.

But blue tits don't seem to have a problem picking a mate of the opposite sex. How do they do that?

Sunday 4 October 2015

My Camray is choking

Our Camray central heating boiler developed a fault about 18 months ago.

Despite our boilerman spending a few hours trying to fix it earlier this year, the annoying little problem has persisted.

However, it looks like my efforts last Friday afternoon may finally have made the boiler behave itself.

Thursday 1 October 2015

GPS Data Visualisation

I must admit that I haven't used my Garmin eTrex 10 GPS that much this year.

Now that the weather has improved, we tend to take our Pentax cameras out when wondering around this green and pleasant land. So have little time to fiddle with a gps, entering waypoints, looking for geochaches or whatever.

However, even with the eTrex just turned on, it records data every 10 seconds, including latitude, longitude and elevation.

Friday 18 September 2015

More on "Broadband Speeds & other Mysteries"

Back in June I posted about my Broadband Speeds & Other Mysteries and then upgraded my contract from 7Mbps to 17Mbps.

I have continued to automatically monitor download speed and occasionally done a few manual checks.

It looks like there has been an improvement in service, but not exactly what I was expecting.

Friday 14 August 2015

Email, and other dangers

We recently had a spate of emails arrive at work, some claiming to be from RBS and some from Santander.

My curiosity got the better of me, so I saved the attached Word document, brought it home, and studied it on a Linux machine.

It turned out to be rather easy to pull apart, but rather difficult to piece together and understand.

Monday 10 August 2015

The FG-100 DDS Function Generator

I needed a stable sine wave oscillator that I could use for a couple of projects.

After a quick search on the net I found I could buy a multi-function generator via Amazon for only £27 post free.

A couple of weeks later the FG-100 arrived, with absolutely no documentation. Fortunately it is very easy to drive.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Bat Detector Overhaul: Portable Field Unit

Sooner or later I'm going to have to accept that the bats are not coming to me, so I need to get out and find them!

I could do that now just using the hand-held bat detector. But I'm thinking it would be nice to test the whole automatic design illustrated in an earlier post.

So I've put together a rough outline schematic and started collecting bits & pieces.

Friday 31 July 2015

Bat Detector Overhaul: Automation

In England, the number of bats is declining, and has been for the last 100 years.

Organisations like the Bat Conservation Trust are always looking for volunteers to gather and post information on bat numbers and species in your local area.

While I'm neither a bat expert nor a bat volunteer, I thought it might be interesting to automatically gather data from a fixed location (...as this would save me poncing around the fields in the dark!).

Wednesday 29 July 2015

The Adafruit USB Audio Adapter

This USB module is recommended for the Raspberry Pi, but one of the sales bullet points for this module says "Not recommended for Mic input"

Why would you buy it just for the audio output when the Pi already has an audio output?

Well I need it for the audio input, and for just £4.77 post free from The Pi Hut via Amazon, it was worth a punt.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Robins, Newts & a Rapidly Changing Landscape

We are so fortunate to be able to enjoy a garden with such a variety of wildlife.

But with the current surge in local house building, more people and busier roads, I wonder what it will be like in years to come.

What will future generations find crawling around their back yard?

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Bat Detector Overhaul: Logging Bat Data

I have to admit to being a lazy person, so even the effort of standing in the garden pointing my bat detector at the sky is too much for me.

It can also be a bit boring. Especially when its 11pm and I'm not seeing (let alone detecting) any bats!

So the next step is to leave the bat detector outside unattended and try to log any activity on a computer.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Bat Detector Overhaul

About 8 or 9 winters ago, I made a bat detector based upon a circuit published by Chris Eve.

It has never quite lived up to expectations, and has been modified a few times over the years without great effect.

But now its time has come, and I'm looking more closely at ways to improve performance.

Friday 17 July 2015

How many bits in a RaspiCam lens?

I've never really thought much about the Raspberry Pi camera lens.

They are very small, just like the ones in my Sony mobile phone.

But if I'd been asked what they consist of a couple of days ago, I'd have probably said...

Wednesday 15 July 2015

PiCam: replacing the RaspiCam lens

I wanted to get a closer view of the robins nesting in my garden shed.

So I decided to replace the standard RaspiCam lens on my PiCam with an M12 threaded lens.

This is the third time I've carried out this modification, and I still have a 100% success rating!

Saturday 11 July 2015

Robin nest 2015

During May we discovered that our resident pair of robins had nested in a blue plastic container inside our shed.

Once they had left, I put an old open fronted nest box on a shelf inside the shed, in the hope that they might return.

They did, and after a couple of weeks sitting on the eggs, we noticed a few days ago that the female was disposing of egg shell and starting to bring small morsels of food for the emerging chicks.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Some thoughts on Wifi coverage

As our resident robins have built a second nest in our shed, I've been doing what I can to improve the wifi link between wifi router and PiCam.


My efforts may also be useful for next season (BirdBox 2016), as I plan to install two boxes further down the garden than in previous years.

It is tempting to assume that a powerful router/wifi node will solve all your problems, but I don't think that is the case.

Sunday 5 July 2015

The Insomniacs Bedside Radio

If you ever have difficulty getting [back] to sleep, you may find that reading a book or listening to music for a while will make you sleepy.

That's OK if you sleep alone, but turning on a light to read a book or cranking up the volume on your MP3 player at 2am may make you very unpopular if you share your bed.

But maybe you can get away with listening via a pair of headphones, if you keep the volume turned down low on your radio.

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Broadband Speed & other mysteries

Just as I thought we had been completely overlooked by BT, a team arrived and started digging holes in our street.

We have been stuck with 8Mbps download speed for years, but now we seem to have a number of double digit speed choices from Plusnet, our ISP.

But broadband speeds are not what they seem. What is a connection speed, an IP Profile or a Noise Margin?

Saturday 6 June 2015

Battery Monitor for Pi using Picaxe

Small, low cost Picaxe chips are ideal for developing or enhancing control system functionality.

Battery powered computer systems really need some warning when the supply is failing or lacks the level of charge required to safely start.

The low power consumption of an 8 pin Picaxe makes the 08M2 a good candidate for this task.

Sunday 31 May 2015

BirdBox 2015: eight chicks face the world

During the week, all 8 of our blue tit chicks left the security of the nest box.


We have been away for a few days, so missed all the excitement, but have been able to catch up with the story, thanks to the video and data saved on the Raspberry Pi camera system.

We have not seen much of the blue tit family since we got back, but I did see about 6 of the chicks plus the two parents feeding in the apple tree this morning.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Raspberry Pi Serial Comms: Gambas + wiringPi

I've been playing around with serial comms on my Pi/Picaxe dev rig.

Using Gordon's wiringPi library makes it easy to open the gpio serial comms port on the Pi and write code with Gambas.

So this post involves writing a simple Picaxe program, and then using wiringPi and Gambas on the Pi to communicate with the Picaxe.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

BirdBox2015: who's she?

A few more days of feeding and the chicks continue to grow.

They are now about two thirds of the way through their time in the nest, with a predicted departure day of next Tuesday (26th May).

And we still seem to have 8 healthy looking chicks, and 2 very capable parents.

Friday 15 May 2015

BirdBox2015: chicks are doing well

It is now just over a week since the blue tit chicks hatched out and started demanding food.

They seem to be growing fast and are starting to look like prototype birds.

And by this weekend they will be half way through this stage, with only around 10 days left before leaving the nest and having to face the world outside.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Picaxe Programming with Pi

You can write Picaxe programs, compile and download to the device using Windows or Linux x86/64.

And it is also possible to use a Raspberry Pi and a few cheap components to develop and load your programs to a Picaxe.

This brief post describes how.

Thursday 7 May 2015

BirdBox2015: It's a girl!

OK, so its not a princess, but the arrival of chicks in the blue tit nest is of more interest in this house than a royal baby + a general election.

They must have started hatching over night, and by 6am Thursday morning there were at least 4 chicks in among the remaining eggs.

So let's hope that both parents and chicks can survive for the next few weeks and successfully fledge!

Saturday 2 May 2015

RaspberryPi, Serial Comms & PHP

I've been playing around with serial comms on 2 Raspberry Pi computers for the last couple of days.

And I now understand a little of the black-art required to get this working, including how to send serial data via a PHP web page.

So I thought I'd write up the details before I have time to forget it all again!

Tuesday 28 April 2015

BirdBox2015: we wait patiently

Our female blue tit has been sitting on her clutch of eggs for 5 or 6 days.

So it may be another 9 or 10 days before we start to see chicks breaking out of their eggs and demanding to be fed.

That is assuming that the local predators don't carry away mum or dad first!

Sunday 26 April 2015

The Moths are back!

It's that time of year again, when Emperor Moths emerge from their cocoons, and ours have been doing just that.

They appear to be about 10 days later than last year (just like the blue tits) but this weekend a female emerged first, followed by a bunch of guys and gals.

I think we have also found a way to hurry them along.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Raspberry Pi GPIO control with PHP

When I setup my Raspberry Pi server 8 months ago, one of its potential uses was for me to play with PHP and hopefully learn more about this language.

I found a bit of time this week, so decided to try making a minimal PHP program to control the Pi gpio from a remote computer or phone.

What I've come up with is a simple file using HTML and a few lines of PHP code.

Friday 17 April 2015

Raspberry Pi Software Defined Radio

OK, so I failed in my attempt to get the GQRX Software Defined Radio (SDR) to work on my Raspberry Pi.

But I've now come up with a simpler arrangement using rtl_fm that does work.

By using rtl_fm and some simple lines of code, I now have a Pi SDR with preset stations and the ability to fine tune.

Thursday 16 April 2015

SDR: Software Defined Radio

Having read a couple of articles on SDR (Software Defined Radio) I seem to have accidentally clicked the "Add to Basket" button, and ending up with some cheap hardware.

The required software is even cheaper than cheap. Its free!

So instead of doing important stuff like fixing the car or protecting our blue tits from sparrowhawks, I've allowed myself to be distracted.

Friday 10 April 2015

BirdBox2015: do we have our first egg?

The blue tits in last years box (the BirdBox2014 design) have continued to build and develop their nest.

Its team work, with the female doing apparently all materials procurement and building, while the male keeps guard and throws his little body at other blue & great tits that dare come too close.

And we may even have our first egg, if my interpretation of the event logs is correct.

Saturday 4 April 2015

BirdBox2015: no wait!....something is happening!

I dragged myself out of bed just after 7am to make the tea, and turn on the bird box monitor.

I was greeted by a blank screen, meaning both boxes were off.

But by the time I'd emptied the dishwasher, a female eSpeak voice proudly announced "bird box...on".

Friday 3 April 2015

BirdBox2015: any takers?

I'm becoming increasingly concerned that both Raspberry Pi powered bird boxes may remain empty this season.


Not only has activity dropped right off, but the expected "move-in" date has now passed.

Have we just been unlucky, have I done something wrong, or are the local garden birds running late this year?

Friday 27 March 2015

BirdBox2015: monitoring two video streams from motion

We now have two bird boxes which can stream video across our dedicated bird box wifi network.

Prompted by NestBoxTech I have spent a couple of hours this morning looking at simple and tidy ways to monitor the video created by the motion application.

The easiest way has got to be to use a web browser.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

BirdBox2015: the blue tit daily routine

A pair (or possibly more than one pair) of blue tits have been visiting our two Raspberry Pi bird boxes since early March.


They have a little daily routine which is likely to continue for another week, before they change gear, and start the business of nest building.

Both Pi powered systems seem to be working well, so I'll be ready when the real action kicks off.

Saturday 21 March 2015

RaspberryPi: Simple Time Server

Both my birdbox systems and my Portable (garden) PiCam need to know the time & date in order to properly time-stamp video clips and events.

Up until now I have relied upon an old HP Compaq D510 to help set the correct time, but I've finally got around to replacing this with a not quite so old Pi B v1 Rev1.

Although the D510 was quite economical, my Pi replacement should consume less than 5% of the power of its predecessor.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Gambas, mixing versions, & "Compile All"

This is a reminder to me.

And once I've written it down, I'll probably stop forgetting it!

This should stop me being puzzled when my Gambas applications don't execute as expected.

Friday 6 March 2015

BirdBoxPi2015: deployed at last!

I managed to finish off the 2015 bird box on Wednesday and attached it to an archway, just a few metres outside our back door.

Something triggered it around midday yesterday, but didn't stick around long enough to be captured on video.

I just have a small niggle where the system is taking 15-20 seconds to find the time file. But other than that, its all systems go!

Friday 27 February 2015

The RaspberryPi model B+ mark 2

I've just been given a new Raspberry Pi.

It is my 10th Pi and my first mark 2 board, the Raspberry Pi that is claimed to be 6 times faster than a B+.

So it is time to check it out and also measure the current drain using the same test conditions that I've used for my other models.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

BirdBoxPi2015: this 'n that

The clock is ticking, but things are coming together nicely, if a little slowly.

Our garden is alive with birds at the moment, with mixed groups of finches, common tits (blue, coal & great), and the usual favourites including blackbird, thrush and a pair of robins.

To be honest, once we switched one of our feeders from mixed bird seed to sun flower hearts, we have seen quite an increase in bird traffic.

Sunday 1 February 2015

BirdBoxPi2015: Jessie U-Turn & other troubles

Unfortunately I've had to abandon Raspbian Jessie and return to Wheezy.

But I'm now back on track, with both hardware and software performing as expected.

I started out using Jessie and had no problems with my Gambas applications, custom scripts and other applications that I rely on for my system, including VLC media player.

Sunday 18 January 2015

BirdBox2015: Picaxe controller details

Progress has been slow due to other commitments, and a heavy bout of man-flu.

But I've been testing the Picaxe powered controller with a RaspberryPi and it works just as I had hoped.

This low power controller may even be a useful building block for other battery-powered application.

Saturday 3 January 2015

An armchair review of the Garmin eTrex 10

I think Santa's plan was to make me more enthusiastic about "...going walkies."

The idea was to try and prise me out of my armchair by giving me a bit of tech to play with while exploring this green and pleasant land.

But what does a hand-held satnav have to offer a casual walker like me?

Normally, the first thing I do with a bit of new tech is install myself in a comfy armchair and spend the next day or two exploring all the options. This proved more of a challenge with the eTrex.

Friday 2 January 2015

BirdBoxPi2015: using a Picaxe controller

Looking back at my last 2 posts, I started thinking about how I might incorporate a Picaxe into the BirdBoxPi2015 controller.

Although the 8 pin Picaxe is a little more expensive than the 555 timer currently used, it does offer more flexibility.

My RaspberryPi bird box system runs from a 12Volt, 12Ahour "mobility" lead-acid battery.