Category: Domestic

Debugging poor home wifi at the Snell-Pym residence (by )

So, we have a fairly complicated network at home - the Snell-Pym Family Mainframe has a dedicated DSL link with a static IP for hosting various Internet-facing things, as well as providing internal services to the home LAN. The home LAN has the usual mix of desktop computers, the laser printer, and two wireless APs for mobile devices to connect to - one in the house and one in the workshop, because one can't get a good signal to both locations. And there's a separate infrastructure LAN for systems control and monitoring.

Now, we've often had on-and-off poor connectivity on the wifi in the house; this used to happen sporadically, usually for around a day, then just get better. The wifi signal strength would remain good, but packet loss was high (10-20%) so stuff just didn't work very well. TCP is poor at high packet loss; it's OK once a connection is open, but packet loss during the initial SYN/SYNACK/ACK handshake causes it to take a long time to retry on most implementations.

I went looking for interfering networks (we live in a pretty wifi-dense urban area) using an app called "Wifi Analyzer" on my Android phone, and it showed a strange network, always on the same channel as the house wifi (as in, if I changed the channel, it would move too). The network never had a name, and the signal strength was about the same as the house wifi; sometimes a bit stronger, sometimes a bit weaker. Read more »

Redesigning my workspace (by )

So, I work from home - and a lot of my hobbies involve sitting at the same desk, as they're computer-based or electronics-based. My workspace is an outbuilding at the end of my garden, with power and Ethernet connecting it to the house. Half of it is a workshop, and the other half is my computer / electronics lab. The workshop end is pretty good since I made my custom welding bench, but the lab end was just made from furniture I had lying around that fitted in, so has been a compromise for some time. I am forming a plan to fix it!

Read more »

The effect of the pandemic on my mental health (by )

I'm definitely not alone in finding the current pandemic a time for difficult emotions, but it's taken me a while to unpick the emotions I've been having. Having managed this, however, I'm documenting them here - as a record for myself, to save me repeating myself when explaining them to people who ask how I'm feeling, and in the hope that it might provide some ideas for people who are still trying to work their feelings out; you might have something in common with me.

Read more »

12v DC Power Distribution (by )

What with not needing to spend quite so much of my time driving my family to places these days, I've been catching up on household maintenance, DIY, and vehicle maintenance tasks, and one of those has been to finish a 12v DC power distribution unit (PDU).

Why do I need such a thing? Well, our van has an auxiliary power system - a pair of large lead-acid batteries in the back that are charged from the engine while it's running, which then power internal and external lights, a microwave oven, a mobile amateur VHF/UHF band transceiver, and things like that.

This is useful compared to just running from the vehicle starter battery for three reasons:

  1. While the starter battery is optimised for brief, intense, surges of current to start an engine, the auxiliary battery pack is optimised for energy storage so can store a lot more energy more efficiently.
  2. If I leave things on and run the auxiliary batteries flat, I can still start the engine from the starter battery (and thus recharge the auxiliary batteries).
  3. I can mumble things like "Switching to auxiliary power" and pretend I'm piloting a spaceship.

However, the auxiliary power system was installed in the van's original life as a work crew support vehicle, so it was hardwired to a few appliances and the lights. Somebody who owned it since had attached a set of four "ligher sockets" - perhaps the nastiest 12v accessory socket in common use to a fuse marked as "spare" in the fusebox. But I ripped that out and used the "spare" circuit to run the transceiver instead. On the other hand, where the van had originally had a hot water system for making hot drinks that was removed before it came into our hands, a 50A fused circuit terminated in a large SB50 Anderson connector.

I had nothing that would plug into such a socket, but did want to plug in things such as:

  • Chargers for various kinds of batteries I use
  • USB sockets for charging phones
  • An inverter to run things I don't have DC power supplies for
  • Amateur radio equipment (which usually runs at 12v from 30A Anderson Powerpole connectors)

So the solution was obvious: Make a Thing that plugs into the 50A socket, and then itself has lots of different sockets on so I can plug stuff in. Desirable extra features are:

  • Individually fusing all those outputs, as if most of them pulled 50A in a short circuit (which the upstream circuit can provide) it probably wouldn't end well.
  • Integral voltmeter so I can check the battery status.
  • Usable in other off-grid power situations as well.
  • A commonning point for RF grounds for antennas and ground stakes and stuff for radio gear.

The design

So I settled on the following design:

  • SB50 connector on the end of a few metres of nice flexible 8AWG silicone-insulated cable, to plug into the van.
  • Incoming +ve splits into an eight-way blade fuse box I had lying around
  • Two lighter sockets, for legacy devices.
  • A panel-mounting 12v-fed USB charger, with two outlets (with a power switch, as it draws a tiny idle current even when not in use).
  • A voltmeter, powered through a pushbutton so it's not draining the battery when not in use (I ran this from the same fuse as the USB charger).
  • A set of binding posts, for attaching arbitrary wires or banana plugs (also useful as a power INLET by hooking up my bench PSU in the workshop).
  • Four 30A Powerpole sockets.
  • Four banana plug sockets for RF earthing, joined together, with a switch to join them to the -ve DC power line (I can turn it on to bind RF earth to DC -ve at the box, or turn it off to break a ground loop if it's bound elsewhere - basically, just fiddle with the switch and see which produces less noise in the current situation).
  • Every output has a ceramic 100nF filter capacitor in parallel across it, to try and cut down on power line noise.

Then, as the supporting cast:

  • A set of battery clamps hooked up to another SB50 via a 50A fuse (plus a single Powerpole connector on a 20A fuse in parallel so I can plug small stuff in directly) so I can also run the system away from the van, from an old car battery in my possession, or nicer deep-cycle batteries I might own in future.
  • A powerpole connector with a 5A fuse hooked up to a little 1.2Ah sealed lead acid battery I happened to have lying around, so I can run the system away from the van without lugging a huge battery around at all, for small loads only.

Building it

Electrically, the system is dead simple. But mechanically, fitting it all in the box and making it sturdy enough to survive camping trips was challenging.

  • Cables capable of carrying 50A without a problem are bulky
  • I didn't have panel-mount Powerpole connectors, so needed to improvise.
  • The fuse box I had just had spade terminals for each end of each fuse, without a common busbar.
  • The fuse box was meant for mounting to a bulkhead; I wanted the fuses to be accessible from outside the box, while keeping all the spade terminals inside the box so no live stuff was easily pokable.

I dealt with the latter point by cutting a rectangular hole in the front panel so that fuses could stick up, while the electrical connections where beneath the front panel. Long screws through the front panel went down through the mounting holes on the fuse box that should have mounted it to a bulkhead, and a nut on either side of the mounting flange held the fuse box in place at a fixed distance behind the front panel so the fuses stuck out enough to be easily accessed, while the spade terminals were kept amply away from the front panel. I covered the back of it in insulating tape, just in case.

To common the positive connection in, I crimped a massive ring terminal onto the incoming positive wire (I had to buy a special massive hex crimper to do this!), and bolted it to a strip of thick copper I cut to size. I drilled eight holes in it such that I could pull the insulation off of eight female spade terminals and solder them into the holes, then press the entire strip onto the spade terminals along the top of the fuse box, thereby commoning them. Lots of insulating tape and heat shrink then covered all the live (and directly connected to the 50A incoming circuit) parts.

For the Powerpole connectors, I 3D printed some mounting places with suitably sized rectangles, then used them as a guide to cut slightly larger holes in the metal case. I had PCB-mounting powerpoles connectors, which I soldered the filter caps directly onto the backs of, then soldered the negative lines together to common them. Wires were soldered onto the common negative and individual positive lines, and protected with heat-shrink.

I then poked the connectors into the holes (they were a push fit) and used generous gobs of Sugru to protect them against being pulled out or - worse - pushed in. Since Sugru is slightly flexible, I increased the rigidity of the setup by using a length of thick steel TIG welding wire across the backs of all the connectors, embedded in the sugru (and electrically isolated from everything).

I couldn't easily fit filter caps onto the lighter sockets and the USB charger, as they used crimped spade terminals, so I made a bank of filter capacitors fitted to a screw terminal block on the front panel. I glued it in place with epoxy.

Here's a shot of the interior partway through construction, to give you an idea:

12v PDU internals

I put in 15A fuses for the lighter sockets, a 3A fuse for the USB and voltmeter, 10A for the binding posts, and a range of fuses for the powerpoles - 10A, 10A, 20A and 30A.

Finally, to document what each fuse drives, I put a simple schematic of the circuit on the outside - by drawing lines with a permanent marker from each fuse to its load (going via the switch in the case of the USB outlet).

The finished product

Once all those fiddly details had been addressed, and many many crimp connections made, I was delighted to find that the box would close with only gentle pressure!

I carefully tested it for short circuits with a meter and, none found, gingerly plugged it into my bench PSU through the binding posts on the front and crept the current limit up from zero... it didn't explode!

So, I plugged the small sealed lead-acid battery into a Powerpole socket and tested the internal voltmeter:

Testing the internal voltmeter

It doesn't show so well in the nice sunlight we've been having, but that's registering a healthy 12.79v. And not catching fire or exploding.

Next, I plugged it into the car battery using the big SB50 plug, and checked the voltage with my multimeter on the binding posts:

Big battery and DMM

Also all good. Finally, I plugged a USB voltmeter into a USB outlet and turned on the outlet:

USB 5v works nicely

(And, of course, I checked every outlet with the multimeter to make sure everthing was connected properly and all of my fuses were good).

So, with testing complete, it was time to put it to work. I was due to check the tyre pressures on the van, so I plugged the SB50 into that auxiliary power socket that started this whole adventure, and plugged my tyre compressor thingy into a lighter socket, and did all the tyres - after quickly checking how the auxiliary batteries were doing, as I'd not driven the van in weeks:

Active in the van

The pump actually draws eight amps according to the label on the underneath, so this was a test of the system under non-trivial current. It still didn't catch fire.

Things I'd do differently

  • Use proper powerpole panel mounting outlets. Doing it myself was skanky.
  • Put a handle on the thing. As the surface is so covered in sockets and things, it's not actually easy to hold it. Fine when it's sat on a surface, which is what I designed for, but carrying it around feels ungainly.

What next?

I've already got a 240v AC inverter and various chargers with Powerpole connectors, but I want a few more Powerpole accessories:

  • Lighting strips on hooks, so I can set this up inside a tent and light the tent (while also charging all my batteries). I've ordered some cheap 12v LED light strips; I'll put cables with Powerpole connectors on them.
  • A plugtop 12v mains PSU, so I can run this lot from a wall socket easily (for small loads).
  • A DC-DC 12v battery charger, so I can charge my car battery and my little sealed battery from the van's auxiliary power system (just wiring 12v batteries to each other isn't a good way of charging them...) or, in an emergency, charge the van's starter battery from the auxiliary power system.
  • A portable solar powered 12v battery charger for free, clean, energy.
  • A boost-converter DC power supply for my laptop, so I can run it without the wasteful step of running an inverter to generate 240v AC for my laptop charger to drop back down to 18v DC.

That Which Does Not Kill Us…. (by )

I used to write about "The Curse" a lot - so many damn things go wrong for us that it has just become a kind of on going sitcom comedy type situation. I tried to twist things round and be more positive and things were great for a while... then they weren't but it was the Head Injury and the migraines before it and the recovery and I generally forgot about the curse.

And of course this year has had lots of wonderful, amazing things in it but it is also a dark time for us. A sad time, a devastated time - the last 2 and a bit years have been full of tragedy and pain. I haven't felt up to sharing a lot of it... the people we are missing, the physical after affects of miscarriages and the shake up of domestic things to try and make sure everyone who needs stuff has it.

It is too depressing in many ways.

But I do want to be sharing stuff a bit more again - and there is joyous, wondrous and creative stuff in the mix but I am afraid that is not what this post is about - nope - this is about the crap!

Not the deep sorrow stuff just the crap.

Where to start?

Well my new computer (not new now I know but still not exactly old) has never really been fast and I have had issues with stuff just working on it, with email and the spam thingies stopped working on my blogs and I have over 20 so my emails got broken by all the spam, some of the blogs got broken with the spam, our wifi is periodically being blocked by something that likes to move channels and therefore follows our attempts to get away from it. This means that a) it as well as emails was hampering work greatly and b) has meant my phone bill is a lot higher than it should be because I wasn't checking what it was using and it was on roaming data whilst I was watching videos in bed rather than on our wifi :/

Yes stupid me.

I did amazing arty things in the summer and mostly it was absolutely a positive experience but some of it was really soul crushingly negative and had me not wanting to go to events and thing - such nastiness does not belong anywhere let alone the creative sector. This was multiple things and they all bundled up and have made me hacked off with Gloucester and I don't want to be hacked off with Gloucester - it is my home.

On top of that I still have not been paid for three different things I did in the Summer - let alone my autumn stuff - this has had ramifications and has seen me having to trek out to bank meetings - fitted in between physio for Jean and other medical stuff for my mother (I need to book my own appointments and just haven't managed!). Bank meetings where fun!

Here is the Facebook comment I made about it:

Due to multiple people having not payed me - I had to go to the bank to try and stop credit card spiral debt - I explained the situation but nope... they would rather lock me into a spiral of debt than give me a loan to pay off the credit card I'd had to put stuff on and then cancel the card - reason is they won't cancel the card but are worried I'd just rack the same debt up again as my spendings been erratic - well yes because I wan't paid when expected by multiple people and I thought the money would be through before the end of the first month and I am now getting to more than four months down the line and the interest is now more than I spent in the first place. I've found a way around this but only because I... am married to someone with a high end job and even then when I say sorted I mean we've just stopped the spiral being unmanageable but I'm still going to be paying the bank back about 4 times min what I actually spent - and none of this would have happened if I'd damn well been paid on time. I am so annoyed - I tried to sort it out the first month when it looked like the money was going to be on the card a while but we couldn't prove who I was - AGAIN - so proving I exist has been fun :/ I hate banks - oh and the spends where so I could continue working not random shizzle. Interest rates make a huge difference to debt management - hence wanting the loan - but also they don't like freelancers.

The support I've been offered from family and friends over this has been amazing but I feel embarrassed that it has come to this :/ And worse - if this was the money that paid the mortgage and/or food rather than DIY and festivities and vets bills and opticians then we would be screwed.

Incidentally I need new glasses desperately - the anti scratch coating got scratched in the summer - probably all the rock handling sessions I did - blooming meteorites! But obviously I have been putting it off until I get paid... and so it goes and goes around again :/

Wednesday was supposed to be the big Christmas shop were we go up to Bristol and make a day of it and see friends etc... but what happened was that I found 3 of our new hens dead. I have never lost them in a batch before which had me contacting hen experts and asking if others had experienced the same on forums and facebook etc... the conclusion is that they were either sickly to begin with - they weren't from the rescue org I normally go with and where a direct rescue via a friend so that was very probable or Mr Fox had scared them to death.

Illness in live stock is a serious thing and bird flues etc... can be passed on to humans so this was a bit of a stress and involved poo picking and of course a little hen funeral 🙁 Also just be extra disturbing some chickens have a tendency to have movement after death - hence running around like a heads chicken - they really can do this - I have in fact seen this as a kid but this was the first time I'd seen it in one of my chickens - it is very disturbing.

The dead chickens where bad and stressful enough but there was an added issue - the kids are supposed to check for eggs in the morning and feed and water the chooks after school - they are very slap dash about this so I tend to go out at lunch time to do a check up and remove any packaging from pellets etc... that the kids have left behind. So the chickens should have been found by the kids - obviously it kind of a good thing they were but... it means that the kids didn't check on them that morning.

I set a trap by which they could lie and dig themselves deeper but both independently told me the same thing - the crooks had been very "chickeny" moving about and chasing them for food but they had forgotten to do the chickens - I was actually impressed with their honesty and they were very upset about the chickens but the duty of care to the animals is very important and can not be shirked. This means they are not in as much trouble as they could have been but combined with some other things I had to call a family and put the entire house on chore lock down.

I will confess I can not cope with the housework and Alaric is great but is finding he can't even start helping with dinner because the kitchen needs cleaning before he can start so dinner is getting later and later.... so everyone has a semi screen ban - the xbox, blue ray and fire stick are unplugged and tablets and phones are rationed - for everyone - including the grown ups, including Nanny.

There is more laundry to do that before and I am trying to work and take my mum out on a regular basis - Mum has had two lots of cancer and is in her 70's and still heart broken from the loss of my dad. Domestically we are in a bit of a pickle as I try to fit another house into my already cluttered home - the kids toys are currently covering the living room being culled and sorted etc... and it is taking me forever because I too do not have motivation, time or energy and so have had to set a time when we all just plough into this sorting and cleaning. It falls to pieces every time I have to disappear out of the house for events - nothing gets done and that is something that can not continue - I have mobility issues and mum is a wheel chair user and we have had to have a stair lift and stuff fitted - things can not be left on the floor or in piles in the way - it's just not going to work and is unsafe.

Sadly this is a source of stress for Jean as she has a lot of home work some nights having started her GCSEs and it takes her ages and hurts her due to what now appears to by her version of the hyper-mobility that plagues the family. She felt she had no time to begin with - so we have had to sit down as a family and draw up a plan of exactly how this is going to work and work best for everyone,

So we didn't do our big Christmas shop - this is normally the big outing that gets the bulk food for December and January plus some treaty things and presents and is our family outing with pizza (I have jacket potato these days due to that whole not being able to eat the yummy foods anymore).

So that was Wednesday then there was Thursday - I try and take my mum out and about every other day but sometimes it's only once a week - and Thursday was the only day I could really do this an we went to Dunelm to get her some house thing - we ended up with house things too - because you always do when you enter such shops! This was an extended lunch break for Alaric who then has to make the time up later - but this seems to be working ok at the moment.

Anyway she decided she wanted to push the boat out and get her medicines by herself. So Alaric dropped her off at the ASDA as they have a pharmacy - this was the first proper out on her own that she'd done since my dad died in April.

Her scooter had been fully charged but then she didn't come home and I began to fret - it was starting to get dark - she didn't have her phone on her - it was in her bedroom :/

It was now starting to rain - I started opening the door to check for her - I ended up getting the neighbours to look for her... she was fine she'd gone to look at the cloths in ASDA as well but by the time she turned up I was frazzled and she was being sleeted on and was cold and wet even in her big yellow Mac and me and Jean just helped her into the house and were fussing about making her warm drinks and getting her dry cloths. When I went back the scooter was gone - I thought Jean and Al had put it back in the car... I was wrong.

The mobility scooter - my mum's life line to going out of the house had been stolen. From our front garden and taken down to the carpark at the end of the road and smashed up. Of course I wasn't going to find that out until Friday evening.

Friday I had been given the opportunity to attend a free training course and series of talks including on photography - it was also a networking event with free lunch!

Yay! Things were looking up - I was a little stressed due to running slightly late but my friend and co-story teller was also running late - in fact later than me so other than ending up in an awkward seat it was fine. And I got an entire pack of biscuits to myself - yay for the no gluten or yummy food thing - also the biscuits where yummy.

I met lovely people and was leaning things and had bought a blanket so I wouldn't get cold etc...

Lunch time arrived and I had HOT food and the session I really wanted to attend was after lunch. I ate my food and then took the lift down to the toilets - leaving my phone behind me because I am being paranoid about bad things always happening to me unless I have my phone on me and this was a safe space - so pikachu was relegated to guarding the note book.

I was saving my energy for the event so was using the lift - I am still having to use a crutch to walk any distance at the moment.

All fine... I get into the lift to come back up - the basically new lift in the refurbed historical site and it shonks out... "going going going going going up" reeeee "going going going..." The door won't open to let me out. Dude at the desk spots me and comes over and does magic reset and the door opens and I want to get but think I am just being daft - being trapped with no way out is a big thing for me - just writing this makes my pulse quicken and the panic in stomach and throat start. It's not claustrophobia as I am perfectly happy with small spaces and the trapped in space can be huge and I will still be panicking if I can not see an escape route.

Anyway - he's reset the lift so it should all be fine and I give him the thumbs up and up I go until CLONK it comes to rest almost exactly between the two floors - so that now I can't even see out of a window - there is maybe 20 cm of the window for the ground floor visible at the bottom of the lift. I hit that alarm button until muffled voices appear and the faff starts...

The events organiser appears and I have to tell him that I have seizures and the chances of seizures goes up with stress levels and I don't like being trapped. I say it all calmly and I was working very hard on calm because the last thing I wan't was to have a seizure and plus my instincts tell me to kick and climb my way out of such situations - in the natural world this makes sense - in a lift in a building that is not on fire - it doesn't

I end up sitting on the floor because standing up is too much hard work - literally my legs start shaking with fatigue and I am in pain and now sitting on the floor which I was trying not to do because I know the chances of me needing help back up are really high and Alaric is not there and I can't phone him or even play Pokemon go and there is a poke stop just out side - damn me and trying not to be taken over by my paranoia!

Any way the events organiser stayed by the lift taking to me to keep me calm and then the engineer was there and fixing things - but it seemed like forever - I think the whole thing was half an hour maybe 40 mins and the engineer worked really hard to fix the lift for when I needed to come back down but I opted to go slowly down the stairs.

I had missed the rest of lunch and most of the photo workshop but the talker gave me his contact info so I could ask questions later - I was shaky and got hugged lots. I was going to walk home to a) do fitness and b) to hatch pokamon eggs but I phoned Al and he came and got me.

Then we found the scooter was bashed up and then there was contacting the police and then Saturday we took Mum out in the wheel chair to a caftfair - we have to be careful with the wheel chair as Alaric has sciatica and issues with his back and Jean has issues with her wrists, neck and back.

The craft fair was lovely... the cafe however was very busy and our large lunch order.... well after waiting for over an hour they had to come and give us a refund as they'd run out of food!

Fortunately there was a chip shop but there were hanger issues occurring (angry because you are hungry!) - so yeah that is kind of where I am - it's been one hell of a week

WordPress Themes

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales