Bargain

I got an unused IKEA VATTENTÀT kettle from a charity shop the other day, £2.

It still had a paper IKEA label underneath, so had never been used. IKEA UK don’t seem to sell it, but I found it in some European IKEA stores inline for around €15.

I mostly use an electric kettle, but if the power goes off or I just want a change, I’ve now got a traditional kettle. And it whistles! Maybe it’ll make my tea taste extra nice too.

I have no phone

I’ve unplugged my home phone for fault diagnosis, but really, I’ve hardly used it in this past year. I’ve always got my mobile with me and that’s so much more convenient.

About 6 weeks ago, my internet connection was disconnecting a lot. Internet access would slow, then stop, and the green light in the router would turn red before flashing orange then coming back green a few minutes later.

This happened several times a day, but very intermittently. On one day it happened 5 times. To add to the annoyance, when the connection came back up, sometimes it would be extra slow.

I reported the problem, expecting a fault on the line. I’d listened on the phone handset, and didn’t hear any crackles, but something wasn’t right. I was asked to plug the router into the test socket.

This is a cunning way to isolate your home phone wiring. Any extra sockets in the house are wired through the master socket in such a way that when the faceplate of the master socket is removed, all the other sockets are also disconnected. This also reveals the “test socket”, into which you can plug a phone or router. And it’s the demarcation point of Openreach’s responsibility. If the fault is in the house phone wiring, you have to pay or fix it yourself.

I have no extra phone sockets, just the one Openreach socket, so I doubted that using the test socket would help, but I went along with this so that that part of the help desk script could be ticked off and we could get Openreach to fix the line fault.

Openreach socket with the faceplate removed. Router plugged into test socket via an adaptor.

So I plugged the router into the test socket via an adaptor, and all worked. And continued to work. It worked without fault for 6 days! This was unexpected.

After 6 days, I plugged the faceplate back in and the router back into that. And… I had some problems over the next week. Not many, but some.

(I deliberately left the phone disconnected, as I wanted to change one thing at a time to pin down the fault.)

I’m now back to the router plugged into the test socket with no faceplate, seeing how long it will run for. It’s been around 6 days days so far. (It would have been longer but I unplugged the router for some unrelated tinkering last week).

I’ll give it another week or two, then put the faceplate back on and see if that brings the fault back. If it does, I’ll log another fault, as that’s all Openreach’s responsibility. They can come and fit a new faceplate. I may see if they’ll move the socket higher up the wall. It’s currently on the floor next to the window which steams up a bit in winter, so it may be the socket gets damp. I could drill holes in the wall for the cable and screws, then all the engineer has to do is poke the cable through the new hole, not much work. Moving a socket is usually a chargeable service, but if I do some of the work and it’s part of a fault repair, perhaps I’ll get it for free.

Mk4 front faceplate with built in internet socket & filter for the analogue phone
Inside the faceplate

The MK4 faceplate is a clever design. It has a filter for the analogue phone to remove the internet noise, it has a filter to help remove interference, and it automatically disconnects your phone sockets when you unplug it. You don’t even need a screwdriver to connect it up, the wires just poke into an IDC plug which you snap shut and it makes the connection.

But these sockets have been criticised as they are built down to a price, and have been unreliable. The connection pins are prone to corrosion. I can’t see any of that on mine, but it may well be that there’s something wrong with it. Further tests will hopefully show where the fault lies.

Meanwhile, I have no phone!

🔥 Fire! 🔥

Since I was small, I’ve had a mild obsession with electric (or gas, but usually electric) heaters that have a fake coal or wood-log effect. As a kid, I got my dad to get me a fireglow bulb, the bright red source of “flames” in 1970s coal effect fires. It didn’t resemble a fire, of course, and I was disappointed. It still needed a plastic coal effect, and a rotating shiny baffle to make it flicker. I just had a 60 watt red bulb. I still liked looking at it though, and I accidentally melted a hole in the plastic finish of the wardrobe in my bedroom with it.

It looks more convincing if you squint

My house has a coal-effect electric fire in the living room that I’ve written about before, when I cleaned it up and fitted it with LED bulbs. It’s tolerably convincing, and the flames move about when it’s running. It’s the main reason I bought this house.

But I don’t use it very often, and it still uses around 60 watts of electricity for the effect, so usually it’s dark. What I wanted was a cosy glow from the fire in the winter, that wouldn’t waste electricity

Bodge? No, it’s a prototype

I bought a pack of 5 flickering red LEDs online. If you’ve ever seen the battery operated candles that flicker, especially the ones that look like a tealight, these are the LEDs used. In the candles they’re yellow, here I’ve chosen red. You apply a voltage and they flicker randomly.

As a power source, I used another of the solar battery compartments from a broken IKEA SOLVINDEN solar light. I removed its one white LED and soldered wires to it, wiring the 5 flickering red LEDs onto the end.

I removed the pieces of coal from my fire, and arranged the LEDs on top of the plastic base of the fire. I tried to set them into a random pattern where coals might have glowing hotspots.

Cosy but hard to photograph

I was very pleased with the result. With the coal back on top of the LEDs, it looks like they’re gently burning, glowing and flickering. It feels cosy to look at them. They could perhaps be a little brighter, so I might take it apart to check the voltage is right. I used the solar battery light because I had it handy, with the idea I could stick it to the window and the fire would just start glowing when it got dark. But I may change this for a simple solar cell, batteries and a switch, so that the batteries are charged by the sun but I choose when to switch the coals on and off. This simpler way will also make it easier to adjust the brightness of the LEDs I think, by varying the current limiting resistor.

I also discovered that the effect isn’t very convincing in photos, not even video where you can at least see the flickering effect. So when looking at these pictures, imagine that it looks even more like real glowing coals than it actually does.

Cosy

Now I need a way to make an artificial coal or woodsmoke smell, and a way to simulate soot and sparks burning holes in the hearth rug. That’s next week’s project.

Charity Bargains Converted

£8 the lot!

Back in June, my phone reminds me, I went to the local charity warehouse, and they had a lot of IKEA stuff on sale, donated from IKEA. Some was new unused, some was open box returns.

I came back with two toilet brushes in ceramic holders, a matching ceramic toothbrush pot, four of the classic IKEA tumblers, a pair of curtains and a Duggregn children’s nightlight. £8 the lot, and all were new except the children’s light that was in an open box but otherwise appeared unused.

It’s a bit ugly but curious

I’ve quite liked the DUGGREGN night light for some time, it hangs on the wall and casts mysterious shadows with details like a fox and branches of the tree highlighted as cutouts. It’s made of metal, and has a standard IKEA 24 volt adaptor to power the LEDs inside. But what was I going to do with it?

SOLVINDEN unsolved

I’d previously had two IKEA solar SOLVINDEN lights. They look like the classic IKEA round circular lampshade, but are waterproof and have a solar module inside, so you can hang them out in the garden. Which I did. However, while they were waterproof, they weren’t so wind proof, and over winter, the papery shade ripped itself to bits. I was left with the solar module, which still worked. So… could I make the solar module power the DUGGREGN night light?

one battery one LED

The DUGGREGN works on 24 volt, and the solar light has 1 X 1.2 volt rechargable battery. So, at first look, no, it won’t work. (There is a bit of electronic trickery in the solar light to boost the 1.2 volt from the battery up to around 3 volt to power the LED, but that’s still not the 24 volt needed for the night light.)

I count 6 LEDs in there

But, maybe I could replace the LEDs in the night light with the one from the solar light?

I like taking things apart

Inside the night light, there are 6 LEDs in a little plastic case, with a curved transparent lens along the top that makes it cast streaks of light on the wall. Maybe I could fit the one solar LED inside this instead of its 6 SMD LEDs?

It comes apart

A bit of prising, and the LED block came apart quite easily. There’s plenty of room in there…

Some steps omitted.

I desolderd the LED from the solar light, and instead soldered it to the end of a length of bell wire, which I attached back to the solar light. So I now had an LED on the end of a wire. Removing the 6 LEDs from the block if the night light, I glued the single solar LED in instead. It wasn’t as bright as the original nightlight, but had a more pleasing warm light. And it still cast the fingers of light!

Corner

But what was I going to do with it anyway? Well, there’s a corner of the landing that’s dark at night, especially once the street lights outside switch off at midnight. So I hung it on the wall in the corner, with the solar panel part stuck to the window nearby. This window gets lots of sun in the afternoon to charge the battery.

Free electricity! Free light!

And now it lights up the dark corner, coming in automatically when it’s dark outside. And I think it looks rather nice, I think the shadows and rays of light are rather pleasing.

Historic time (washing) line

Sorting out the spare room recently, I gathered all the old sheets and covers that I’ve been using as dust sheets when decorating, to put them all in one place.

They were dirty, so this morning I’ve washed them all, and as I hung them out to dry, noted that many of them came from my mum and dad’s house, and that I remember them in use in my childhood. A eiderdown, two sheets, a tablecloth

Time Line

Electric shock

At the beginning of the year, I was looking at moving electricity supplier from Bulb to Octopus. When I joined Bulb, they said that new tariffs would be coming that varied every 30 minutes, so you could save money by changing your electricity usage patterns. Run the washing machine at night, for example.

The variable tariff didn’t appear, and so I looked at Octopus, who were offering such a tariff.

I did some calculations, using the data from my smart meter, which is recording my usage every 30 minutes.

I concluded that I’d save a small amount – sometimes just a few pence a week – by moving supplier.

So I didn’t bother moving. But then Bulb increased their prices, and if I moved to Octopus but stayed on the traditional fixed price plan, I’d save money. So I switched to Octopus back in the Spring.

It was still my intention to try out the flexible plan, and see how much I could save by reducing my electricity usage at peak times.

I made a little graph display from a microcontroller and e-paper display, which plots the prices being charged on the flexible rate, showing you when the cheapest period is, so that you can plan ahead.

oof

With the recent electricity issues, I’m rather pleased I didn’t move to the flexible tariff!

At the moment, I pay 17.42p per kWh. If I was on the flexible tarrif, I’d be paying 27.3p as I type this. The cheapest rate today is 22.3p.

This also helps explain why the smaller electric suppliers are going bust. Their customers are in fixed plans, paying around 20p per kWh. Meanwhile, the suppliers are having to pay way more than that. They’re running at a loss.

I’m still in favour of the variable rate. At times when there is a glut of electricity, the rate can drop to just a few pence, occasionally actually paying you to use electricity. And I think this is the future for demand balancing electricity with the more variable generation from wind and solar.

But right now, I’m pleased I’m on the fixed tariff! Price increases are sure to be on the way though.

Seedy

Since the last installment of the front lawn… not much has happened. I ran out of time planting the former tub plants in the grou d, which stirred up more large stones, so didn’t get to sow the grass seed. I wanted to get rid of more stones first.

I think my neighbour thinks I’m mad, that I want to dig up all stones. But I just want to remove the larger stones from the surface, and ideally not have so many smaller stones on the surface either. They’re invariably going to get caught in the mower blades in future.

It’s been wet and rainy for several weeks, so didn’t get to finish the raking of stones until today.

Yesterday I took a how to the surprising number of weeds (mostly dandelions) that had come up. Then it rained again.

Today was raking day. I knelt down and raked with a small hand fork thing, loosening the soil, picking out large stones by hand, and evening up the ground some more.

Stones be gone

This worked well, and wasn’t too hard either. There’s still plenty of stones remaining, but fewer of the large ones. I collected 4 builders buckets full of stones, as well as removing a few more weeds.

I then raked it a little more and sprinkled lots of grass seed over it, which itself got lightly raked in. A few more stones made their appearance, but were soon dispatched.

Lawn to be

It’s been watered this evening after the sun went off it. Annoyingly there’s no more rain forecast for a week or so, but maybe that forecast is wrong. I’ll keep it watered when it’s dry.

Meanwhile Jeanette tidied up the Acer tree that’s in a pot by the front door. The soil was covered with moss and grass, so she dug this out and had the idea of putting stones on the top. Agh stones! They will haunt me.

Tree in a pot

Now that’s finally done I’ll finish painting the wall and jet wash the path to make it all smart.

Meanwhile the water butt has sprung a leak, so there’s that to fix.

Front Lawn Progress In Pictures

I forgot to take a proper “before” pic, but here’s an early “during”. The green is weeds growing in between the slabs
Underneath the slabs was a lot of sand that had to be dug out
Tatty. But only a thin layer of sand now that soon got dug in
Even without the lawn, it’s looking better. The potted plants are now in the soil, including two nearly dead ones. I hadn’t intended to keep the bird bath but changed my mind

When the weather dries up in a few days the soil needs one more rake to get rid of the larger stones that got disturbed when planting, then finally I can get the grass seed sown. Any future weeds will just get mown with the grass, so it’ll look much tidier than the slabs with less work. And with shrubs and grass making it a greener area, maybe birds will actually use the bird bath!

Dawn of a new lawn (nearly)

Spent all afternoon and evening raking the stones from the front garden ready for the lawn.

On the original patio slabs were a number of pot plants, and my plan was to plant some if these into the ground, so there’s fewer pots that need watering.

I really dig holes, man

Unfortunately, some if the holes had to be quite deep as the plants came from large pots and were all pot bound. And I hit stones and rubble. A lot of it. In some places it wasn’t possible to dig deep enough, others I retrieved heavy lumps of stone. This restricted me a bit where I could put the plants, and also stirred up a lot more stones.

As a result, I didn’t quite finish by the time the light was fading today. It needs raking over again to get the larger stones off the surface.

I’d hoped to get the grass seed sown today as there’s 5 days of rain forecast, but never mind. The rain can wash the stones and settle the soil a bit, and once it dries up I will take it over and get the grass seed finally sown.

Jeanette, resting

It already looks neat (better than the picture makes it appear) once it’s had a wash of rain I can take it over, pick out the big stones and get the grass seed finally sown.

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