A Bit off Piste – An eventful flight to Toulouse

This has nothing to do with model engineering but thought you might find it amusing/interesting.

Following my wife having spotted some low cost tickets to Toulouse from London Gatwick, we decided to make a quick trip to France to check out that all at our house was OK. The flight bookings were with a well known budget airline that has orange corporate colours. 

We checked in OK and the flight pulled away from the stand dead on time but 5 minutes later we were back where we started from.   As the Captain said ‘one of his shortest flights’.   Apparently a critical sensor in the port engine had gone AWOL.  Technicians were called and we sat for 2 hours on the plane while they analysed and fixed the problem.

Off we went once again but having missed our takeoff slot we were now at the back of the taxi queue.  Finally we were sat at the end of the runway and the brakes were released …. only for pandemonium to break out in the cabin.   The crew started rushing round and shouting to stay in our seats.   The take off was aborted and we sat mid runway.    Within minutes the plane was surrounded by all manner of fire appliances. 

Apparently a passenger’s lithium power tank had burst into flames.  I guess his or her laptop or phone’s battery had died while we were waiting for the sensor to be fixed and while topping up from the power tank the charging current surge had upset things.   The crew had been quick to put the offending article in a fire proof box.

After blocking the runway for 6 minutes, we were escorted off the runway by the fire crew vehicles to a quiet area of the airfield.  A team of fireman boarded the plane and took away the offending article. 

While 6 minutes does not seem long there would have been a lot of landings and takeoffs blocked.  Had we been airborne when the smoke appeared we could have been sliding down escape slides and the weather outside would not have made that much fun.

Because there had been an incident the airline procedure required that the crew had to be changed so they could be debriefed.   We were therefore now faced the delay while a new crew was found.   Further to this an offer was made that anyone wanting to leave the flight could do so (they didn’t ask for ‘any passengers of a nervous or superstitious disposition’).   A number of passengers decided this was the best option.  This meant a baggage crew had to be found to find their bags in the hold.   So we had a baggage crew and a flight crew to wait for.

When the new crew arrived they had to search the cabin to match bags to passengers to ensure nothing owned by the departing passengers had been left behind (suspicious or otherwise).

After a total delay of 5 hours (still sitting in our allocated seats), we finally got airborne for Toulouse.

I won’t extend your boredom by telling you about the hire car shambles on our arrival.

We think we might think twice about flying to Toulouse another time but I have to say all credit to the flight crew, the technicians and the fire services for their swift and professional actions.

Postscript : – better to travel hopefully ….. we then had a 3 hour delay on the way home.   Weather at Gatwick delayed the flight out to Toulouse.  Think we will stick to the ferry next time.

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January in France

Bonsoir Monsieur Macron

Decided to make a quick visit to France to catch up on jobs and make sure the house was surviving winter OK. All went well until we got south of Limoges when the Autoroute overhead signs started signally a problem at the junction we normally leave the A20.  We passed through our local toll peage and it was swarming with gendarmes and when we came off we were met by an equally large contingent of boys in blue.  We were turned back from the exit and sent further south on the A20 to the next exit to come north once again.   At first we thought this might be a ‘yellow vests’ protest but it later transpired that Monsieur Macron was holding a meeting with the regional mayors in our local town and the town was in lock down as a result.

Tado Thermostat System

The Tado thermostat system installed last time has worked really well.   I turned up the house temperature via GSM as we got off the ferry and we (finally after our Macron detour) arrived to a warm house without the usual standing around with our coats on while the wood burner thawed things out.   Lovely system and have now fitted three of these to family properties.

Wireless Tag Monitoring

Temperature here is around 5C with nights dropping negative.   I have fitted an 80W tubular heater inside the spa pump cabinet with a frost stat on it.   This is doing a good job in keeping the temperature around the pumps above 5C regardless of the outside temperature.   I have fitted one of the Wireless Tags inside the cabinet so I can monitor what is going on remotely.

Super Blood Wolf Moon

Woke up last night in the small hours and thought the outside security lights must be on it was so bright in the bedroom.  Looked out and it was like daylight from the moonlight.   Didn’t think anymore of it and went back to bed only to discover on this morning’s news that I had missed the lunar eclipse.   Having received a Philip’s 2019 Stargazing Guide for Christmas I really should have read it before the new season started.   That having been said it is way too bright to get the telescope out during this visit.  

Been a good trip so far with lots of ticks accomplished on my to do list so I might get some time to sit and catch up on my reading and writing before we head back next week.

Weather forecast is predicting snow ….

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tado° Radio Controlled Heating System

We have a problem in the house in France relating to the fact that we live on the upstairs floor and sleep on the ground floor.   It works well in this configuration but has the disadvantage that if we have the wood burner on upstairs it trips the boiler thermostat which is also upstairs.   This results in the boiler going off and we end up freezing cold downstairs at bedtime.

I have been pondering this for some time and finally arrived at a solution using the Tado components.   This is a 868MHz mesh network of control products consisting of a radio controlled Thermostat, radio connected RadStats and a thing called an Extension Kit which replaces an existing timer/controller.

The thermostat in France is currently in the wrong position on the first floor but the unit is hard wired back to the boiler down in the cave (cellar) so it is difficult to elegantly move.  The Extension Kit picks up the controller hard wiring as was and acts as a new controller for the boiler under radio command from the Thermostat.  Not only does the Thermostat set the temperature but it also allows the water heating to be controlled.   You can manually command on and off or use programmable profiles.

All the above components are brought together on a smartphone App that allows you to control the heating and water from anywhere.   The system also has GPS geo fencing.   This is really attractive as it means we can get it to bring the heating and water on as we come off the ferry.  No more sitting with our overcoats shivering when we arrive in winter.

It is a well conceived set of kit.   Pairing the items to talk with each other is straightforward but for some scenarios you need to get Tado to customise the software.   This is done via the internet and can take up to 48 hours to complete.   That aside once this is done it works very well.   I have had it running on the bench with a couple of light bulbs on the water and heating outputs to simulate operation.  Installation in France will be next week.

I have no connection in any way with Tado and I am sure there are similar products out there.   I just like nice kit that is well conceived and does what it says on the tin.

Tado Extension Kit and Thermostat

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Imaging Astronomy in France

We are fortunate that our house in France is in a small village in the middle of nowhere, on top of a hill and with very little light pollution.   As a consequence I have installed a 10.25″ Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain telescope so that I can do some star watching.  I think the only other place where I have seen better skies is in the middle of a desert in Namibia.   It can be absolutely breathtaking  to see the Milky Way in its full glory and some of the star clusters are mind blowing.

One of my closest and  long standing friends John lives near Limoges and he is similarly smitten by things mechanical, optical and horological.   He recommended that I invested in a webcam to mount on my telescope to take some digital imagery of the planets.    As a result I picked up a NexImage Celestron camera on Ebay and was ready to experiment.

The process is fairly simple (in theory) ….. you find a planet and lock the telescope to it and then record a few seconds or minutes of video.   The video is made up of frames and you use software to select the best frames and then stack the frames ‘on top of each other’ to enhance the image.   (iCap to get the video footage, PIPP to filter the best images, Registax to stack the images). The results are startling in that you start with a wobbly blob in the eyepiece and end up with a pretty clean image of the planet in question.   Thankfully there is a lot of help and assistance out on YouTube to get you to a result.

So here is my first attempt at Jupiter which I was pretty pleased with.

celestron-icap-pipp-registax
Jupiter image processed with Registax

Yes I know you might be thinking how many other things does this guy play at ?? ….

Some people when they get to mature years want to travel the world and see places.  I just like to make things, experiment with stuff, stretch and widen my technical knowledge.   Do stuff that I never had time to do while busy working in order to give me me time and resources to do stuff when I stopped working ….. keeping the grey matter active.

Fortunately I have a wife that tolerates my eccentricity and for that I am eternally grateful.

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    Wireless Tag technology for remote sensing and security

    Useful Wireless Tags for Monitoring Assets

    Some while ago I happened upon wireless tag net which market a range of simple to use wireless tags for temperature, humidity, movement etc.   These devices use short range wireless comms to a wireless node connected to the house broadband router.   Once activated the tags can be monitored and controlled via the web.   There are a number of extensions to this using other technology devices which all in all make them rather attractive and useful.

    I decided our house in France would benefit from the use of these devices and this would allow us to monitor the house from the UK.   I bought a package of 5 temperature/humidity/movement tags and a single moisture tag for the garden.

    These are really easy to set up and add to your web portal.   Results are graphed for you to see trends etc.   Really nice simple and useful product.

    I could put lots of pictures up but the best thing is to follow the link as above and read all about it.   Deliver to the UK was quick but got hit for import duty and VAT.

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