Flashing upgrades update

There has been a flurry of comments lately on firmware flashing so I thought I would round up a few of them to summarise experiences, and hopefully help out anyone else who encounters problems. Many thanks to yulasinio for some of the pictures here and sharing his experiences.

The problems have arisen largely from the use of 3rd party USB serial cables when flashing the upgrade, and this is the case whether you use the official flashing PCB or the DIY version featured in previous posts here. The genuine USB-COM cable from Texecom uses (like many other devices) an FTDI 232 chip, and the flashing software looks for this specifically. So if you want to use a 3rd party cable or interface to flash you have to find one with one of these chips. They are plentiful on ebay, but many of them are counterfeit (or simply very poorly made) and it is very difficult superficially to tell which is which.

The interfaces do superficially work, and are probably OK if you just want to upload programming data. However for flashing they seem to be very unreliable and fail, often leaving people with an apparently ‘bricked’ panel. The good news is that this does seem to be recoverable with the right interface.

People seem to be having particular trouble with cables like these:

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I’ve had a few of these myself, and although they worked OK at first I didn’t try flashing with them, and after a while they have either stopped working completely or else keep failing with various errors. So I would not recommend these sorts of cables for any purpose. You can get genuine FTDI ones which I’m sure would fine but these are very expensive (£20+).

What seems to happen when trying to flash with one of these cables is that it gets so far and then fails with an error like this:

PremierElite48_FlashingError

If you are really unlucky then the panel may not recover from this and you’ll get the same error if you try to reflash. However, given that it is the verify phase which is failing this is consistent with the idea that something is going wrong with the writing process and it’s losing data or getting corrupted.

The good news is that if you use a better quality interface then you should have no problems. Several people have reported success using small ‘red PCB’ FTDI boards, and I’ve done this myself too:

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So the moral of the story is to use good quality interfaces and avoid those ‘all in one’ cables. Also just to mention that Texecom tech support were very helpful in diagnosing and resolving this issue.

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Standby for action

It’s been a while now since I’ve written anything about my Texecom alarm system, which is largely because I’ve not done anything interesting with it or added any bits lately. However, this is about to change. We are having some building work carried out at the moment to extend our kitchen which will give us a completely different space so that will need a different approach to the security system.

Also (and I’m very excited about this) a very helpful contact has provided me with a large box of Texecom kit (sensors, expanders etc) to play with:

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So I will be posting up my impressions and experiences with these over the next few weeks… might even try some Youtube videos to show the detail and how things work.

There may be some interesting home automation angles on the new kitchen so I will post on this too.

Repairing a Sennheiser freePORT radio mic

The Sennheiser freePORT radio microphone was a very popular vocal mic, being inexpensive and good quality. It is very much at the budget end of the Sennheiser range and doesn’t have all the fancy features of the more expensive models but still does a solid job.

SenMic

We have a couple of these at our church which we use for portable use and they get quite a lot of abuse. One of them recently broke so I had a look at it, always being keen to repair rather than replace. The handset had got bashed and there was no audio coming through.

One difficulty with these mics is that it’s not obvious how to get into them. The best place to start it by unscrewing the top of the handset to expose the capsule:

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The problem here is pretty obvious, in that one of (very thin) wires which runs from the capsule into the body of the mic has broken off. So a repair should be a simple matter of resoldering it, although there is no slack available here so the whole wire needs to be replaced.

The next thing to do is to remove a screw in the battery compartment, and the collar at the top which fits on to the pop shield:

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Then you have to remove the shiny black plastic piece which says ‘Sennheiser Freeport’ and covers the electronics. This is much easier if you remove the collar as well:

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I ended up replacing both of the wires on the right hand side of the picture by desoldering them from the board and replacing them with new. The wires are very fine, and I used two cores from a burglar alarm cable which were the thinnest thing I could find. You have to thread them through the collar to get to the capsule. The black wire goes to the pad marked with a blue dot on the capsule. Once done it’s a fairly simple matter of putting it all back together again.

The other problem I have had with these mics is that the power connector on the receiver tends to get worn out. This is also dead easy to replace. So with relatively little effort you can keep this working in spite of some quite rough handling.

 

More Texecom Updates

There have been a couple more interesting updates lately.

Firstly there has been another minor firmware upgrade to v4.02:

Firmware

I think that this is the last of the v4 upgrades, and it adds some features to do with tamper monitoring for the SmartCom unit and some changes to the translations. I’ve still not updated to 4.01 yet so probably time for a change, although in reality I probably won’t notice any difference.

The other news is that there is now an Android version of the Texecom Connect app:

connect

This looks really nice and is a big improvement over the previous efforts, which I never really got working properly. However I can’t use it without getting a SmartCom in… which I really need to do.

It’s great to see that Texecom are developing the products still, and they have also rationalised the panel lineup as well and removed a lot of the integrated wireless panels. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Texecom release v4.01 firmware

Texecom have now released a minor update to the v4 firmware to v4.01.

I’ve not seen any specific release notes although from what is mentioned on the website it looks like mainly bugfixes and minor changes.

I’m not sure it’s really worth the effort of reflashing at the moment but I may do if I get an opportunity. I  need to do some maintenance on it as several of the USB serial devices have broken (note to self, avoid bargain basement serial interfaces!) and I want to replace them with a small USB hub and other devices.

I’m still contemplating getting some of the new kit in for review although not done as yet… maybe something for the New Year!

Choosing LED Bulbs

Although I’m keen on saving energy (hence the heating control project) I’ve never been much impressed with the various kinds of light bulbs that have come along purporting to be the energy-saving solution.

The first era was the compact fluorescent lamp:

cfl

There are loads of different types of these, as shown above. The earlier ones were straight (top left) and then there were various spiral designs. Although these clearly used a lot less power than old fashioned incandescent bulbs I didn’t like the colour of the light, and I particularly didn’t like the fact they took quite a few seconds to come on. Also of course you can’t use them with dimmer switches, and they don’t play well with the various home automation switches that I’ve been using.

More recently bulbs based on LEDs have been coming in. They have been around for a while but initially were quite expensive and couldn’t be used with dimmers. Also the colour of these was also a bit variable.

What has really prompted me to look at this properly has been the fact that it is increasingly difficult and more expensive to get hold of incandescent bulbs (around £1.50 each or more), and also the ones you get seem to last no time at all. I’m sure in the past they used to last for ages… but now seems only a few months at a time.

We have a lot of chandelier / candelabra light fittings, each of which uses at least 5 candle bulbs. These seem to be blowing all the time and not only does this lead to a dimly lit room it feels like it’s costing me a lot of money.

So I thought it was time finally to address the issue. It seems the market has moved on a lot since I last looked. I wasn’t keen on the ‘no name’ Chinese import brands and I also didn’t really like the ‘frosted’ look of the bulbs. Whilst you can find ‘filament’ style ones these are quite low wattage.

After a lot of digging around I finally found the Philips Master LED DiamondSpark:

There’s a lot to like about these – they are dimmable, they look good and in many ways resemble a real bulb (with the ‘DiamondSpark’ filament), and they weren’t very expensive. I got the 6W version from ledbulbs.co.uk whom I’d really recommend, and they were £4.50 each and actually cheaper because I bought a load of them plus had a discount code.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the results are really good – indistinguishable to my eyes from the candle bulbs they replaced, and the whole fitting now consumes less energy than a single one of the incandescent bulbs in it before. Also and just as importantly they work well with the Fibaro Z-Wave dimmers that I have scattered around. This is true for both the older v1 and new v2 versions, and I haven’t needed a dimmer bypass because the fittings have enough bulbs to be above the minimum load of 25W.

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So all in all I’m very impressed and am glad to have finally made the switch. I’m hoping it will save time and money, especially given the bulbs are rated at 25,000 hours each!

Repairing a Miele Dishwasher

I’ve always been keen on buying quality stuff where I can because it tends to last much longer and give better results. This applies to white goods just as much as anything else. I have had bad experiences with buying cheap washing machines etc in the past and so I now buy the high quality although expensive German brands – Siemens, Miele etc. This has worked out well so far and I’ve had years of good service from them.

The dishwasher I have is a Miele G975 SC Plus which is now pretty old (I bought it about 10 years ago). It has worked pretty much flawlessly all that time although there is one recurrent problem. They use a fan system to dry the dishes (so-called ‘Turbothermic’) with a vent on the front. Sometimes instead of blowing out hot air the fan starts spitting out water which makes a racket and a terrible mess. The reason for this is that there is a hose between the fan unit and the drain which gets blocked up with bits of food. The solution is to strip down the door and clean everything out.

Removing the front panel is a fairly simple matter of removing all the screws from the inside of the door and then various others round the plastic front panel. You also need to pull off the plastic mode selector knob:

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Then you can get to the hoses and fan assembly (fan at top left in the picture below). You then have to unscrew and fold down the metal front panel which you can do without disconnecting any of the many wires.

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The fan itself can then be unplugged and removed. There is a trick to this – it is held in place not by screws but by a circular grille on the inside of the door. To release it you need to twist the grille and the fan drops out. Be careful doing this or it can drop out unexpectedly.

Then you can dismantle the fan completely and clean out all the muck and old food, as well as cleaning out all the hoses:

It is then a matter of putting it all back together again, and hopefully it will all now work properly. It seems to go for quite a number of years between needing doing again.

I love the fact that these machines are so easy to work on and in my view they are definitely worth the extra money up front.