Sunday, January 31, 2010

Birdbox - Upgrading the central unit

The camera in our birdbox was connected to a 10 year old PC which just coped with recording the photo stills and the odd video clip but it was showing it's age.  To replace it I was after something small, cheap and low on electric use.  I've built all my PC's over the past 10 or so years mainly for the fun and the knowledge is good for troubleshooting problems.

Costing out parts for a really small unit always came out above my budget because small cases are expensive, I looked at an atom based build for the low wattage draw but was undecided as the atom motherboards didn't offer much flexibility.  Acer have a Atom Revo base unit that would have been ideal as it was so small but in the end I wants to build a new base unit.

So I took the bullet 2 weeks ago and ordered all the parts (not many really) consisting of motherboard, cpu, memory, harddisk, case and wireless keyboard.

Following is a short timelapse of me putting the PC together - as you're see there's not much to it, a little screwing and then connecting wires, biggest surprise is that it runs on 50watts.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Birdbox - Countdown to Springwatch starts

Two years ago we had our first attempt at having a camera in our garden birdbox connected to a tv. It didn't go well as the diy infra-red failed to work resulting in a dark mess only slightly bettered for an hour a day when the sun was in the right place.

(Birdbox, with experimental camera setup)

Last year we tried again and expanded, got a couple cheap IR CMOS cameras of eBay, put up an extra birdbox and reused an old PC and tv card. The new box didn't get any birds, the original box had the returning bluetits though. The old PC was usable, connected via wifi for remote access but the downsides were, the video was recorded uncompressed, having USB 1.0 meant transfering out of the PC was slow and being an old PC meant more regular transfers to stop the harddisk from filling up were needed, and some editing to avoid our main PC's harddisk filling up.

(Bluetit prepare to enter the box)

Well this year we're planning some improvements, not massive leaps but small cheap upgrades to make life a little easier.

In my next post I'll go through our main upgrade, but will leave you with some pics from last year.

 (Bluetit outside box)

(Bluetit on top of WiFi aerial)

(Close up of CMOS camera - available on ebay)

Monday, January 25, 2010


I use a website called to keep track of my car usage and help me identify problems, I've been asked a few times how I'm maintaining a good mpg on my car so the following are some tips which have helped me:-

* Feather use of the accelerator - press of the peddle just enought to maintain speed, majority of the time I'm only need to lightly touch the accelerator.

* Keep acceleration and braking to a minimum - Generally they are not many situations where hard acceleration is needed, replace the need to brake with gear changing to allow the engine to slow you down.

* Get used to reading the road ahead, if there is a pedestrain crossing ahead look for people that are likely to cross, workout if it's better to let the engine slow the car down to give the pedestrian time to cross without you having to stop.  This will help avoid unnessary braking and accelerating.

* Same with traffic lights, if they are a distance in front of you and the lights are on green then they're more likely to change to red when you get to them so you might as start slowing down so you don't need to brake. If it's a regular route then pay attention to where traffic is coming from to better work out whether it's worth slowing down etc...

* For cornering get used to knowing what is a safe speed to go into them so you can workout when you need to start letting the engine slow you down and what gear to by in so you reducing the need to brake and accelerate.

* Keep a note of your mileage, fillups, road conditions on a site like fuelly, this will help remind you which journeys affected your mpg and help you think what you did differently, it'll also give you early warming if your car may need early maintainence, ie you have a low mpg but you know the driving style was the same.

    In following these tips you'll probable find you're driving speed reduces 10% but the travel time will be roughly the same because you're doing less stopping plus you brakepads will last longer, and maybe even your tyres.

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Snow - Weather Predictions

    Well the snow/ice is quickly disappearing, from the past few weeks we've learnt a thing or two:-

    As technology gets better the weathermens predictions get worst, they predicted a hot summer and mild winter, how wrong can you get it.

    Councils can't co-ordinate when it matters (gritting), but can co-ordinate a press statement on the situation 2 weeks after the event has started (but they did need a prod from our local MP)

    National media demostrated their southerness by taking no interest the snow situation affecting most of the UK until it fell within the boundaries of the M25 2 weeks later

    Twitter demostrated it's local value, snow updates, photos, grit watch

    Local MP can add snow clearer to his CV for the experience he gained in the area clearing paths of OAPs, I'm sure he's taking bookings for next year ;)

    So if it over?  Well driving home this evening listen to Five Live they were talking about yesterdays announce that the distribution of grit would reduce by 25%, well they've now increased that figure to 50% - Channel 4 News Story

    Once the snow/ice disappears the next big problem will the newly formed potholes, if you see a pothole then I recommend you log it on

    Friday, January 01, 2010

    2009 - Year of Twitter & Facebook

    It's the start of 2010 and social networking reached another level during 2009, changing the lifes of many and also confusing many others, following are my views on the two most popular at the moment and other services I've used that may make a bigger mark during 2010.

    Different generations go for different social tools, the school gen used Bebo, music fans used MySpace, my gen (working folk) used FriendsReunited.  These mediums are aimed at those interested in seeing what people they know or interest in are upto and may wish to keep in contact with.  With FriendsReunited it was free to view profiles but you had to pay a subscription if you wished to contact anyone you knew.

    Then Facebook came along which was original aimed at the Bebo generation (those still at school) but they cottoned on that it was better to open it up to everyone and soon everyone on FriendsReunited was moving over to the free Facebook. Over it's short life it's changed alot, originally you navigated to each friends profile page which was peppered with various useful/annoying gadgets. Over time it's evolved to it's current focus of a live feed of friends updates and photos.  Expect Facebook to continue to change, probable more in the direction of Twitter, read on for an idea of what maybe changed... 


    The first time I tried Twitter was in 2008, at the time I couldn't see the value in it, wondering what the point was, who's interested in knowing what someone is doing. A few months later I gave it another go and it clicked on how valuable a social tool it was. I see Twitter as mainly a communication tool to people you mainly don't know but may share some common interests. I've found it invaluable for finding out what's going
    on locally both news wise and event wise, when Kendal had the floods last month Twitter became the networking tool for finding out what local roads were closed/passable, the river level height and seeing all the photos everyone was taking (mine included).

    The same networking happened over the past couple of weeks with the unusually long period of snowfall in the south lakes.  Twitter has been a good avenue for networking of local businesses, it's impressive how local businesses are using the tool in an interesting way to make their business presence know (no annoy spamming tweets going on). I can see twitter and facebook playing a big part in the run up to the 2010 elections, will be interesting to see how all local candidates use these tools, some are on a good start, others not out of the starting blocks, hopefully these tools won't be abused to spam the electorate.

    Twitter has improved with a Lists feature where instead of following an individual you can add them to a personal list or if they belong to a list subscribe to that list. I use this for grouping people I'm interested in into categories to make it easier to follow what's going on. I can see making/following Lists becoming more important than following individuals, I have Lists for Kendal, Cumbria, local-news, local-gov, cumbria-enterprise.

    An application well worth using if you use Twitter or Facebook is Tweetdeck this tool makes it easier to see all your Twitter followers, Twitter Lists, Facebook live feed altogether as well as see live update results of Twitter searches which is useful for finding new interesting people to follow.  You can write a status update and have it sent to your Twitter and Facebook accounts at the same time saving effort.

    Other services for Twitter have sprung up, I used one called TwitterMail to good effect during 2009, first time was in the spring when we rigged our birdboxes in the garden with camera's connected to an old PC (our local SpringWatch).  I wrote a script that would periodically take a photo and using TwitterMail post it to my Twitter account for everyone to see.  Later on in the year I did a 12mile geocaching walk around Wetsleddale where on my iPod touch I did a series of diary entries of the route with photo, back home merged the photos with the diary entries then sent them to Twitter using TwitterMail.  Hopeing to use the service again this coming Spring (subject to the Bluetits returning)


    Friendfeed was touted as the replacement to Twitter, but really it's just a service for aggregating all the various services that are used in a central place, all updates from blogger, twitter, facebook, youtube, picasa automatically appear on my friendfeed page. If people I know are wanting to know where to find me I usually send them the friendfeed so they can see everyone.  It's very google as looking at links in your feeds and for photos or videos placing a thumbnail in your friendfeed.
    During 2009 Friendfeed was bought by Facebook so you may see alot of Friendfeed's features appearing in Facebooks Live Feed in the near future, I'm looking forward to uploading photos to Google PicasaWeb and have Facebook automatically add a status update to the live feed announcing the new album to my friend, will save me manually uploading them to Facebook. 


    You may of heard of Audioboo if you use Twitter and have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Audioboo allows you to record a short audio clip using your PC or iPhone/Touch which once you're happy is uploaded to the audioBoo website and a link sent to Twitter and/or Facebook (as I write this expect alot of Happy New Year audioBoos on their site).  I experimented with it during the summer on a local geocaching hunt and it turned out easy to use.  I could see it being an important communication tool where a short audio clip to put a message across is better than a typed message to Twitter / Facebook.  Example maybe if this week the council were using Twitter / Facebook to give an update on the gritting situation, an audio statement of the position maybe better, quicker and less likely to misunderstood.  Wouldn't it be great if after a local council meeting each councilor did an audioboo on why they voted a certain way, same could be suggested for our local MP after a vote or debate.

    This ramble has gone on too long - Happy New Year