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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    Shipping to France

    Unusual for me but this is a bit of rant …. but ultimately a helpful one.

    As we were on a short visit to France we flew out this time on that ‘Irish airline’ from Bristol to Bergerac.  To avoid their complex baggage costs we put all the heavy and bulky stuff in box, taped it and strapped it and booked it with DPD to ship to our house in France on their 2 day door to door service.  Potentially this would arrive a day after us and we would have some clean underwear.

    DPD are usually excellent …. you book the package, take it to one of many local nominated stores who act as agents and two days later the package is delivered in France.  I can never understand how this is possible for the price.(20kg for GBP30)

    This time it didn’t go so well.

    The package dimensions and associated weight did not allow drop off to a local store but instead had to be collected by DPD themselves.   I booked the consignment at 9am on Tuesday and immediately got a message to say the package would be picked up that day before 5pm.

    Which it wasn’t.

    Contacted customer services, apologies, new shipping label issued, pick up tomorrow promised.   Strangely enough after the re-booking I received an acknowledgement giving me a pick up time slot which I did not receive after the first booking.

    Now we were leaving early next day (Wednesday) by the aforementioned Irish airline so we would not be home to hand over the parcel.   Customer support pointed out that we did not need to be there for the pickup but we should leave a note on the porch door indicating that the parcel clearly visible inside the porch was the item to be picked up and taken.   Without this the courier would not pick up the item even though it had a DPD label clearly in view.  It was pointed out that the package would not be insured until collected which is clearly the correct approach.

    On arrival at Bergerac we received an email to say the package had been picked up, was on its way and would be delivered on Friday.   Great news.

    Now our house is on the edge of a village.   We have no house names and no house numbers in the village.   French postcodes are totally useless.   Their postcodes can cover an area the size of Greater London so the courier is between a rock and hard place.  We are somewhat spoiled in the UK where postcodes only cover maybe 10 houses maximum in a very tight local.

    Given the knowledge that the courier is not going to easily find our house we give a mobile number which appears on the DPD label and as a belt and braces I taped ‘finding our house’ instructions to the outside of the box including the GPS coordinates.

    You can see where this is going …… Friday morning in France we received an email from Chronopost to say the package will be delivered that day between 11am and midday.

    I sat patiently waiting until noon when an email arrived saying the driver needed more instructions …. follow the link and give more details.   The link box provided allowed 70 characters.  Ever tried fitting instructions into 70 characters when Rocamadour is one of the words ?

    Gave up and just wrote along the lines of ‘the instructions are on the box for all to read and so is the telephone number.   Read and use please’.

    Reply comes back – package will be delivered on Saturday between 8 and 12.

    Package did not arrive on Saturday …. contacted DPD via their interactive web dialogue.  Lots of apologies,  Chronopost need more instructions etc.   Told DPD to tell Chronopost to forget it, I would go to the depot on Monday and collect it.

    Monday morning at 8 am email arrives from Chronopost to say the parcel will be delivered that day between 11 and noon.   I now had the local depot contact details so I rang them and asked if they really meant it.   They said they had instructions on the parcel on how to find us.  Revelation indeed.

    And yes the package arrived at 11.30 am on Monday.   The two day service via DPD to France had taken 6 days including the weekend.

    The conclusion to all this is that I suggest if you send a parcel from UK to France, perhaps with DPD, then when booking in the shipment, in the Company name field, put in capital letters and brackets ( ITINÉRAIRE À CHEZ NOUS SUR LA BOÎTE).  This will appear on the courier address label and will also appear in their master routing manifest.   If you have a French phone number use this rather than a UK mobile.   They do not seem to like ringing a +44 number judging it to be a potential franglais session or just too difficult or not allowed.   Then on a separate label, in French (use Google Translate as a starter) and in large bold print, detail exactly how to find your house and stick it to the box.   If you think it might help add a picture as appropriate and also add the GPS coords.

    This should give them zero room for wriggle and you might get your package in the promised 2 days …. but remember that as ever in France …. ‘demain’ rules.

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