2 years…

Wow. 2 years since my last post. This wont be a long post, or interesting, however I am surprised it’s been exactly 2 years since I last wrote on here.

Funny thing is, I’ve spent the last few hours looking at alternatives for WordPress. No idea why – I think I just fancied a change. Looks like I better write more before I worry about what backend the site uses!

There will be updates. I don’t know when, or have a plan for them, but they will involve my YouTube channel, my PiDashCam project (which is coming along… slowly), my 3D Printer(and the amount of issues it comes with) and other boring stuff that most people will probably not find at all interesting.

Until then!

Electronics Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi Dash Cam Project – Post 1

I’ve been toying with the idea of building a dash cam using a Raspberry Pi for a while. Every now and then I’ll buy something I think I’ll need for the project, hoping that I would get some time to work on it.

I’ve had a few days holiday, and one of my aims was to at least build a prototype in the days I had off.

I haven’t built a prototype, but I have the majority of parts together and verified that they worked! And it was surprisingly easy, apart from a 1.8″ Display (more on that later!).

Firstly, why not just buy one? Because I think I can build this, and I think I can enhance it and add to it, especially if I splash out and buy a Raspberry Pi 2! Also, why not?

My plan is to have the Raspberry Pi Camera Module recording as soon as the Pi boots to an acceptable state. A GPS receiver should then log the current GPS Position, heading and speed to a text file, and hopefully output some of that to a display. Likewise, an accelerometer and gyroscope should hopefully offer some additional readings to show the standard of driving.I plan to power the Pi via the cars 12v source (the accessory port or cigarette lighter). I will also have to create a safe power circuit so that once the vehicle has been switched off, the Pi shutdown gracefully. I will also have to make sure that when the vehicle starts there won’t be any sharp spikes in electricity which could fry the Pi.

So far I have:
The Raspberry Pi (Model B – Model B Rev 2 if required)
Raspberry Pi Camera Module
A DS3231 RTC (i2c)
A GPS Receiver (UART)
1.8″ Display (SPI).

I have backed a BerryIMU, which has an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer, which will connect over i2c, but that has still to be delivered.

To mount the camera to the window, I purchased some suction pads (the ones with nuts) and I’ll create a custom camera mount to use them with.

Yesterday and today I spent some time with the equipment I have to make sure it all works together, which, excluding the camera, it does! I’ve excluded the camera during this round of testing I want to get everything else working first. Heres the equipment, breadboard style. Please excuse the dust! The Pi was stuck behind my TV.

Heres a quick video of the Pi being powered up in my car, using the equipment I already had to hand. Sorry about the black box, but this GPS Receiver is pretty accurate!

Just now I’m running stock Raspbian, but I have also been playing with buildroot, specifically gamaral’s pre-built image.

It really does boot that quick. Once I have everything set up in Raspbian, i’m hoping a few more days of compiling will get me a full featured Dash Cam that boots that quickly using buildroot. I’m hoping that the recording will start within 5 seconds of power being applied.

All my goals for the system as pretty much listed above. I just have to start learning Python! Good think I backed another Kickstarter project!

With regards to the 1.8″ Display, that was a bit harder to set up.

I was under the impression the Display I had used a ST7735 driver, as everywhere online said thats what the display used. It doesn’t. It actually uses a HX8353 driver.

There is some commands below. Each command is on a separate line and should be executed separately.

I had to install a custom version of the Raspberry Pi’s firmware, developed by notro using this command:

sudo REPO_URI= rpi-update

and then

sudo reboot

This custom firmware contains all the drivers needed to use the screen on the Pi. I could compile the software myself, but this is a proof-of-concept to make sure everything works. I then shut down the Pi, and hooked up the display as per this wiring diagram (please excuse the rubbish 5 minute job):


One thing to note is that I hooked the Backlight directly to 5v, so the backlight is always on when power is applied to the screen.

I then fired the Pi up, and typed the following commands:

sudo modprobe fbtft dma
sudo modprobe fbtft_device custom name=fb_hx8353d  gpios=reset:25,dc:24 speed=16000000 rotate=270 bgr=1
con2fbmap 1 1

This gave me the console on the screen. I then modified /etc/modules  (using sudo nano /etc/modules), and inserted the following lines at the end

fbtft dma
fbtft_device custom name=fb_hx8353d  gpios=reset:25,dc:24 speed=16000000 rotate=270 bgr=1

It’s as easy as that!

Now, to learn Python!


Installing an SSD

So I decided to purchase an SSD for my Mac mini using some of the Amazon Vouchers I received for Christmas. After much research, I decided on the Samsung 840 EVO 250GB SSD from Amazon UK, which, at the time came in at £85.80. I bought a small fitting kit from eBay for £10.

I’ve uploaded a video to youtube. It is a highly sped-up version of me installing a Samsung 840 EVO 250GB SSD. I run a pretty standard 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7 Mac mini, with 16Gb RAM that I installed as soon as I purchased the machine.

You need an additional kit to fit the hard drive, which I purchased from eBay for £10. Beware however. The kit I purchased came with everything I needed, but the rubber grommets were too stiff and thick! I had to cut one grommet in half which fixed the issue.

All in, it took me about an hour to do taking my time and verifying everything I was doing with the iFixit site.

Before starting, my primary and pre-installed (1Tb) hard drive was showing as the bottom hard drive caddy in System Information.

On opening the mini, the Hard Drive was sitting at the top of the caddy, which, when the mini is sitting the right way up, would make it the bottom drive. The original SATA cable was plugged into the left port as you look at the mini being disassembled, which is the one nearest the bluetooth and Wifi antenna connector.

Eventually I put the 1Tb Hard Drive into the upper bay, transferring the black sheath around the original Hard Drive to the new SSD, and used the new SATA cable for the existing Hard Drive. I then put the new SSD in the bottom part of the caddy and used the existing SATA cable.

I swapped the cables as I read a few stories about read/write errors using third party SATA cables in the mini that only affected SSD drives. Better being safe than sorry!

I have a full video of my installation, including the issue with the grommets.

Before starting, I took a quick video to see how long it took to boot. My start was switching the mini on. The Stop mark was when the TomTom update helper popped up letting me know I had updates flashed onto the screen. I was a few milliseconds slow in stopping the video after the SSD install, but even with the time given, its still an astonishing difference.

Mac mini with no SSD boot time: 3 minutes, 15 Seconds.

Mac mini with SSD boot time: 56 Seconds.

I reckon thats near to a 72% speed increase in the boot time alone.

Generally I keep the mini running 24/7, so boot up times are not all that important, but the difference in software starting is astounding. iPhoto loads lightning fast, as does pixelmator. iMovie also. Other apps don’t even blink!

I’ll give it a few months and measure the performance again to see if it can keep it up.


iOS and Mac App Store

Its been said many many many times that the App store is broken. Several of the podcasts I listen to have discussed it at length. The search is terrible. The ranking system is awful. For new apps, it must be extremely hard to gain any traction.

I’m not an App developer (as much as I wish I was), but from a user perspective both the iOS and the Mac App Store are pretty painful to use.

Don’t get me wrong, if the App has a unique name, its pretty easy to find. It’s even better if its on one of the front pages. Apart from that? Good Luck.

One of the issues I have with both versions of the Store is the lack of interoperability.

I was looking at the Desk App online, via the developers web site. It looked pretty neat, had what looked like a good feature set, but no price. To see the price, I had to check the Mac App Store.

At the time, I was on my iPhone, and not near a computer (I use a Mac mini, so its not overly portable). Safari on my iPhone detected it was an App Store link, and fired up the iOS store, where I got the ever so helpful “Desk […] is only available on OS X” with no price. There is a handy “Learn more about this App” link, however that just takes me back to the developers website,

This isn’t directed at the developer of the App, but at the App Store itself. It just put off a potential impulse sale until I was back at my Mac.

I completley forgot about the App until just now, when I was using my Mac. I was installing Xcode, and on the main page of the Mac App Store, there was a featured App called Notability, tagged as “App of the Year”. Reading the description, I saw that it was both on sale and that there is an iOS version of the App.

Now, the reason for this whole post. Even though these apps are from the same developer, and will most probably be used together, nowhere in the Mac App Store (or the iOS App Store) does it provide an easy link to view the App for the different platform, nor provide an option to purchase it immediately.

Likewise (and again, I’m not a developer) I’m guessing that App Bundles can’t be used for cross-platform purchases.

It seems like Apple is missing a trick here. And for the record – I still haven’t purchased desk.



I’m going to give this blogging thing another go…

Electronics PHP

Just a little bit more.

That’s what I’ve been like over the last few days. Every time I try to move away from my computer I think of something I can change, or a small bug that I can fix over at

I mentioned that site in my last post. It was going to be a quick script. A quick play around with PHP to keep me fresh, however still help me decide what price plan to get the new iPhone on, and possibly help others. I think, today, barring any bugs being found, it’s finished – excluding extra price plans being entered from MNVO’s.

A total of 1259 lines of my own code spread over 5 files. That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things. That’s not a lot point-blank. But for something that started out as a simple exercise  turned into a little bit more. I’m proud of it. My next task, being as its possibly only valid for a few months until the UK Carriers start offering cut price plans, is to turn it from procedural code into object orientated code.

I’ve been using PHP since Version 4. Version 4 was really easy to get into. It wasn’t strict with coding styles (as long as you followed the syntax), and has garnered a reputation as helping to create the worst developers in the world. PHP 4 was almost exclusively procedural, as well as a whole host of other things I won’t even pretend to understand. PHP 5 came along and changed all that, and I didn’t really keep up with the times. I’m aware of some of the syntax, and the reasons, but I still don’t fully grasp the idea of OOP. This small site will be a great stepping stone!

Electronics General PHP

A new iPhone?

Well. It’s sort of guaranteed that I’ll be buying the new iPhone when its launched. The announcement is in 4 days, and the Keynote will be streamed live. I hope it’s streamed via the Apple TV again.

Countdown to Apple Event
Countdown to Apple Event

I’m not going to post about the handset or the specifications. That has been done again and again.

My biggest issue when it’s time for me to upgrade my handset is trying to figure out the best plan, and whether its worth purchasing the handset outright and taking a SIM only deal, or taking out an actual contract.

In the UK, we have a number of options for phones. The first (and most common) option is to take out a (now standard) 24 month contract. You pay more per month, but in that monthly payment you pay for the handset and for the service. Taking an iPhone 5S for example, I can grab a 16Gb iPhone 5S on the o2 network with Unlimited Minutes and Texts with 2Gb of 4G data for £43 per month, with no charge for the handset. Thats it. You walk in, get a phone, no payment, and walk out. Alternatively, I can pay £49.99 for the handset with the above options, and pay £38 per month. So, two options already and thats for the same contract. Doing the math and basing it on the average monthly cost, ( (£38 x 24) + £49.99 = £40.08 vs £42) shows the better deal to be £40.08.

Then we have SIM only deals. This is where you purchase the device out right (usually at Apple prices, then its “Factory Unlocked” – gives a greater re-sale value) and then pay monthly just for the plan. Again, you get different deals if you take out a “rolling” 30 day contract, or a 12 month contract. Again, using o2 as an example, the same plan as above would cost £22 per month for a 30 day rolling contract, vs £20 per month for a 12 month contract. Again, doing the math and basing it on the average monthly cost over 2 years, factoring in the price of an iPhone 5S 16Gb ( (£20 x 24) + £549.00 = £42.87) shows the better deal to be £40.08, i.e paying £49.99 for the handset and paying £38 per month. I’ve only included the £20 per month tariff as I’m basing this on a 24 month contract.

So, I have maths. Thats only comparing 1 plan with 3 options. To do this with every tariff available in the UK with the various handsets would take a fair bit of time. To that end, I created a website. Its pretty simple. Right now, it only allows you to enter a purchase price for a handset. As soon as the new mobile tariffs are announced for the iPhone 6 (or whatever it will be called), I will update the site with the various bits of data required. You will then be able to choose the handset, and the site will give you a nice, already worked-out table for your comparing pleasure!

The above assumes a lot of things. It assumes you have the cash available to purchase an iPhone outright. It does not take into account any interest rates imposed by credit card companies if you purchase the handset on a credit card (although that is a pretty good idea – new feature request!) and it does not take into account any loyalty or other discounts you may be offered.

It’s just a simple, quick and easy tool to work out What Plan Should I Get.

The site itself is written in PHP. It uses MySQL for backend storage, and bootstrap to make it look nice. I’ll post the code at some point, but as its a public facing site, I want to make sure I haven’t left any data destroying bugs (either server or client side) in the code. For more information thought, you can head over to

Electronics General

Moving to Android.

People that know me know I’m an “Apple Fan”. I’ve put that in inverted commas because I love my Apple stuff. I love how easy to use and good looking they are. I have a Mac as my main computer. An iPad. An iPhone. Apple TV. The list goes on.

I’m not the type, however, that likes to bash other peoples preferences. Just because I like something dosent mean everyone else should as well. I play with Ubuntu on my laptop. I mess around with the RasperryPi. I have a radxa. I still use Windows on both a Virtual Machine and in Bootcamp.

Recently, I’ve started to get frustrated using my iPhone 5. The phone itself is amazing, but it just lacked the customisability that I was after, so I decided to buy a Samsung Galaxy S5.

Now. Before I went out and bought a new mobile on a 24 month contract I figured it might be a good idea to have a play with Android first, then decide if a 24 month contract would work with a new device. After some asking around, I decided to swap my iPhone 5 for a Samsung Galaxy S4. In the whole, it was a fair trade, given that my iPhone had seen a few bumps and drops, and was definitely not in factory-fresh condition!

Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Galaxy S4

So. A Samsung Galaxy S4, with a free 32Gb memory card. I was sorted. What follows is my first week’s impressions.

Right away, I loved the screen size. Its bigger, but still as sharp. The device itself is light in the hand. I have an incase which protects it from my clumsy hands, which adds a bit of bulk, but its a reassuring bulk I’m more than happy with. The phone still fits in my pocket comfortably.

Setting up was a breeze and playing around with the settings and throwing some apps onto the device let me see how customisable the phone actually was. This is where I came across my first problem. I’m probably the only person who could complain about it being too customisable. By that I don’t mean the amount of settings or apps that can be installed and changed, I mean the inter-app connectivity. Certain apps just don’t work well together. Others require other apps to be installed when it looks like a simple bit of code could work in the main app. Being the way I am, I continued on and managed to get a decent set up that worked for me.

The next annoyance I had was the notifications. Android is renowned for its quality notifications, but I’ve became so used to the iPhone system of something popping up, swiping, and heading straight to that app. Again, where theres an issue, theres an app and there were a multitude there to take the iPhones lock-screen place. NiLS, cant do the “Swipe to unlock” per app as its a widget, and widgets don’t have the capability to read gestures. Full screen replacements work a lot better, but don’t integrate as well with the system when using a PIN Code to unlock (the main point for me was not changing the wallpaper to match the currently selected lock screen).

All in all, these are not the worst criticisms for a phone. I came to Android to see the difference, and I’m trying to set the device up as if its an iPhone. It’s all about changing my workflow.

Then a few software issues cropped up. Again, nothing too serious (well, the alarm not sounding was pretty annoying – good think I woke up early that day!) but just buggy.

The Alarm didn’t sound one morning. I couldn’t figure out why not until I went to change the alarm tone. There were no tones listed. No stock tones. Nothing, excluding one option which just unhelpfully stated “14”. Thats it. I then had a peek in message tones and ringtones, again, with the same “14” shown and nothing else. Wondering if I managed to delete ringtones from the device without realising, I downloaded an app which let me download ringtones, and after a few minutes, I had one ringtone set. I figured if it was a bug, adding a new ringtone should load the rest back up again, but I had no such luck. A quick power cycle seemed to clear this up. Not ideal.

Another annoyance is the two-photo app setup. Gallery, for all the devices images (and online albums from Facebook, Picasa etc) and Photos, for images from Google+. Why there is two apps I have no idea. Which lead me to an interesting discovery. The Gallery app would not show any images I had saved when browsing the internet via Chrome. I know I downloaded the images, I saw the little download bar, but I could find them anywhere on the system. Same with PDF files. I downloaded a few, and they opened fine from the download bar, but using Adobe Reader for Android gave me a “File is Corrupt” warning. Even though, I was reading them fine from the download app. After a bit of Google Searching, I discovered that the security permissions for Android had recently changed, which meant that UNIX style permissions were being enforced more stringently. This means that there was a chance that apps reading and writing to other app’s folders and files was a no no. I can see the positive argument for this, given that the system is so open its open to abuse, but I think giving the user the ability to revert back to the old “permission” system would work better.

And then there was the Amazon MP3 app. This app alone is worth of an entire blog post. In fact, its the reason i’m writing this post just now. I’m currently waiting on a 1.4Gb Samsung ROM to download to make sure I’m not going crazy.

The Amazon Cloud MP3 app works brilliantly, as long as your playing from the cloud. Thats not always the best option, and given my limited (and often breached) monthly data limit, not something I would like to do on a regular basis. Its a good thing that the app allows you to download for offline use! Well. At least its meant to. Hitting the download button on either a song or an album, I get to watch the progress bar fill up, followed by a nice big tick to say the song/album has downloaded. I also get a notification to tell me the song/album has downloaded. Hitting the song in the app after its downloaded unhelpfully reminds me that its streaming. Not a great start. Pressing the notification or going to the “Your Device” section in the app greets me with a wonderful “No Music on Your Device” message. Wonderful. No matter how many items I’ve downloaded. No matter how many times I’ve uninstalled, reinstalled, force closed, cleared the cache, and swore at the app, it does not have any music in the “My Device” Section.

Hooking the phone up to my computer and using the Android Transfer Tool, I can see in the Amazon MP3 folder all the music and albums I’ve tried to download. All the file sizes look correct. All the names are right. I just cant transfer them from the device. Its so frustrating that I factory-reset the device just to see if it was a bad setting somewhere (after an hour installing ADB in Ubutnu JUST to get a recovery menu started on the phone).

I wrote the above on May 28th, 2014 at 10:01, at 14:20.

Whats happened in the intervening 3 and a bit months? Well. I fixed the Amazon MP3 issue by conducting a complete re-install of the phone. That also fixed the ringtone issue. I keep the handset for 2 weeks, and I loved it. However I missed the integration. I have a few Apple TV’s, an iPad, a Mac Mini. My friends and family all have iPhones and/or iPads. I didn’t realise just how much I used AirPlay, or AirDrop. I loved the customisability of Android, but it also brought a lot of problems. Due to the sheer customisability of the software, small things were missed out (like the PIN lock screen mentioned above). These small were small annoyances, but annoyances all the same. The hardware and software wasn’t as well integrated as Apple. Again, small first-world problems, but problems all the same.

I eventually sold the Galaxy S4 on eBay for £185. I replaced it with a temporary iPhone 5C which another family member took out as an upgrade (but was still happy with the Galaxy S3 they had). As soon as the new iPhone is launched I’ll pass this handset back to its rightful owner, and make a my family a family of Apple Users.

Maybe I’m a real fan-boy after all?

Electronics General

Radxa Rock – Unboxing, setup and bootup

So I finally found a few minutes to set up my Radxa Rock. I’m still not to sure on how to say the name.

It’s a pretty nifty little machine. I’ll have to spend some time with the documentation to see exactly what I can make it do (or not!).

RRP-7The video is 18 minutes long, and in HD. It’s a good thing YouTube decided to increase the video limit to longer than 15 minutes!

due to its length, it may not play on mobile devices, or anywhere there isn’t a WiFi connection. If it’s needed, I’ll split it into two videos and re-post.




The Nexus 5 Camera app is rubbish

They say the best camera you have is the one that’s with you. This is where the Nexus 5 fell down. I had to take a couple of quick photos of my niece, who generally is only still when she’s sleeping. My iPhone 5 normally handles this task with ease. Every now and then, there will be a blurry movement where she was standing, but generally the photo before or after captures a picture in pretty sharp detail. The Nexus 5 introduced a delay after trying the auto focus or tap to focus. This meant that when pressing the volume up button to take a snap, the delay introduced, although minimal, stops perfect snaps being taken. After this, I called Google and arranged a return of the phone.