Ricochet Firmware Update

I’ve just had a product bulletin from Texecom which has left me scratching my head a bit:

new firmware

This is obviously something to do with the forthcoming v4.0 firmware version for the Elite panels, and Texecom have already announced that they are releasing a range of other home automation devices which will form part of the Ricochet network. However this suggests that you won’t be able to use at least some of them unless you have the latest version of the Ricochet firmware.

The bulletin then says ominously “wireless expanders are not field-programmable” and so this would suggest that you will need a new expander if you are going to use the new gear. This is a pain, as they are quite expensive and presumably the hardware is exactly the same.

What isn’t clear is what happens if you have the panels which have the built in Ricochet (Premier Elite 48-W etc) – perhaps the wireless upgrade will be rolled in to the panel firmware?

It’s a pain for me as I have the 8XP-W expander and I don’t really fancy buying a new one. However I am hoping that this announcement means that we will see the v4 panel firmware released soon.

UPDATE

I’ve now got clarity on this – the expander firmware is not upgradeable and the -W panels with the integrated expander are the same. So unfortunately this will mean replacing either the expander or the whole panel if you want the new version. It appears that some of the new devices may still work with the older expanders but that remains to be seen.

Rounding up a few updates

There have been loads of interesting comments and I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed. A couple of things to highlight:

You can get cheap and compatible tags on ebay which are much cheaper than the genuine proximity ones.

capture

I’m reliably informed that these ones and I imagine others like them work fine with the panel. They are pretty cheap too so well worth a look. I’ve not tried them before but I’ll get some in to play with. I’ve always been a little unsure about them though, someone said to me once “well you wouldn’t write your alarm code on your keys” and this is a similar idea. However I think there is value for example if you want to give a tradesmen access for a few days and don’t want to have to set up a new code etc.

You can get much better voltage regulators than the one I bought. There’s been a lot of discussion in the comments but this one has been popular:

capture

It is very hard to argue with the price, and it’s much smaller and neater than the one I  used. I still find it incredible that you can get anything delivered direct from China for less than a dollar all in.

Thanks again for all your contributions, please keep them coming!

Repairing a (fake) PS3 Dualshock 3 controller

I’ve had a PlayStation 3 for a few years and although I don’t play it much it is a fun thing to have around. I got it second hand from CEX some years ago. The controller that came with it was a bit shabby but worked OK and has done for a while. I bought another one along the way.

Just recently one of them stopped charging. Reading around a bit it at first seemed like a battery fault so I ordered a new one. I consulted various guides (including ifixit) and it seemed a simple matter to replace. However, once I got it to bits I was surprised to find it looked rather different inside than the photos.It looked a lot more basic and quite a few bits were missing. Something like this:

I’ve borrowed this picture from another blog, but mine is exactly like the one on the left versus the other one I have which I think is a real one, which looks like the one on the right:

Image result for fake ps3 controller

It is obviously a fake and much more cheaply made that the real one. It seems that there is now a huge industry in faking these controllers, and given the PS3 is now discontinued it seems to be increasingly hard to buy one which is genuine. The packaging etc is all very closely copied and umpteen ebay or Amazon sellers say that they are ‘Official Genuine’ but it seems very likely that they aren’t.

Having said all this, in use the fake controller is (to me anyway) almost indistinguishable from the real one. Also I didn’t really want to have to pay out for a new one so I investigated further. Once I changed the battery, the fault remained. On plugging it in, the four red lights would flash for a few seconds and then go out. I had read elsewhere that the controllers do need a ‘proper’ USB connection to charge, and so I wondered whether the problem lay in the USB connection itself.

The USB socket on the fake controller had been damaged for ages although it didn’t seem to affect it in use. However, it was very loose and looked bad, so the next thing to do was replace it. These controllers use the once-common mini-USB connector, but they are still easy to find on eBay:

usb

The only problem I could see is that it is quite awkward to solder given the very small pins. However I thought it worth a try. I used my combined solder sucker / iron to remove the old socket and clean up the holes:

img_20161110_204439-copy

I’ve taken the board completely out of the casing here and you can see the vibration motors at the bottom.

The new connector fitted well and it proved easier than I thought to solder it in again. The key was to use very small amounts of solder and get the joint heated up properly. The pins were so small that they wicked the solder off the end of the iron and on to the pad with relatively little effort.

Putting it all back together I did some have problem with the ribbon cables connecting some of the buttons together, but after a bit of wiggling it all went back together and now works fine again. The connection is positive and firm as it should be now and it charges from the PS3.

So even a fake controller is worth repairing… and it looks like if I need any more controllers I will have to put up with fakes. Having said that for my purposes they are probably good enough!

Repairing a Dynamode SW240010-R switch

At church we have a combination of computer and audio gear which I am loosely responsible for maintaining, and I’ve written about some of this before. A couple of years ago we rationalised the racks by the computer and as part of this I put in a rack-mounted switch. I was on a budget so ended buying as new from ebay a ‘Dynamode SW240010-R‘.

This was inexpensive (which is why I bought it) and ‘as new’ from ebay. I was a bit wary of it because I wasn’t familiar with the brand but it looked OK and worked fine when installed.

However, a couple of weeks ago it became clear that the network wasn’t working, and one glance at the switch showed that it had failed. The main power light was flashing on and off weakly and none of the individal port lights were working. There wasn’t much time to consider a fix as it was important to get it going, so we bought a new one (TP Link this time). However I wanted to see if the Dynamode could be reapired. From recent experience, I have found that a lot of these failures are due to power supply problems – and specifically capacitors. Particularly in cheap equipment like this the capacitors are of poor quality and deform when they get warm over time. The actual solid state stuff is pretty robust these days and much less likely to fail. The voltages from the power supply wander all over the place and this causes very strange behaviour.

Opening up the unit as expected there was a small power supply board and quite a lot of fresh air:

psu

What was immediately obvious was that one of the capacitors was obviously bulging (circled in red above). It is a 10V 2200uF part, as is the other one on the right hand side. I removed the board, desoldered and replaced both of the capacitors, plugged it back in and held my breath…

Success! The switch now lights up properly and works fine again. Very pleasing to be able to get it going again. It is now surplus to requirements for church so will either keep as a spare or sell on. I am confident now that the replacement capacitors are much better quality than those I removed so hopefully the fault should not recur.

Texecom ComWifi – DIY

As outlined in previous posts I’m very interested in coming up with DIY or low-cost alternatives to the various Texecom communicators and accessories. I’ve been quite happy with my ComIP solution and my panel is connected to the wired network in the house. Since I bought mine Texecom have brought out a Wifi module, unsurprisingly named ‘ComWifi’:

comwifi

This is sold significantly cheaper than the ComIP for some reason (about £50) even though it looks rather more complicated. Also, I do wonder slightly about the wisdom of mountinga Wifi module inside a metal box. Some enterprising ebayers have picked up on this as well and are selling custom enclosures:

comwifibox

I have heard from someone who has succeeded in building their own version of this, taking a big hint from the labelling on the official product – ‘USR-WIFI232-G2 UART to WiFi’. Sure enough this part can be obtained from the usual sources (Chinese sellers via eBay or other places) for little cost (about £7 although there do seem to be different versions out there).

schematic

The schematic above shows the G2 variant although there are others (including S and T) but I’m not quite sure what the differences are.

My correspondent has made this up into a board and installed it in the housing:

There is a certain amount of work needed to configure the module, which is done via a web interface:

Overall a very nice job!

There are similar such interfaces for wired ethernet as well, so you could do the ComIP DIY interface using one of these if you didn’t have a computer to hand to run ser2net on.

I’d be interested to hear of any other experiences.

Premier Elite Firmware v3.02

As noted by ComTexeStarter there has recently been a new firmware release of v3.02

Consulting the release notes shows no major changes other than a carbon monoxide sensor is now supported, plus some unspecified changes to resolve COM port malfunctions.

All sounds good… but hopefully v4 won’t be far off. I’m not quite sure whether to go to the effort of upgrading but probably will in due course.

More details on the Texecom site here:

http://www.texe.com/uk/news/#premier-elite-v302-firmware-release

Occupancy Detection for Heating Control

Since I’ve been tinkering with control systems in general I have been thinking about new ways of interconnecting them to get additional functionality out. One of my main interests in the heating control project is trying to reduce the amount of gas the system is consuming and thus the overall cost of the heating. I’m also trying to improve the overall efficiency of the system by trying to match the heating supply to the demand.

I’ve wondered for a long time about the time the house is unoccupied, and what the best thing is to do with heating. In the past I have tried using the time clock to turn the heating off during times of absence, but this doesn’t really work because it isn’t that easy to accurately time periods when the house is empty. So if you are in when you are meant to be out the house is cold, and vice versa.

However once I installed the Texecom panel  I realised that of course one can easily derive simply occupancy data from whether the alarm is set or not. We always set the alarm when we go out, so if I could read the status of the alarm and use this to adjust the heating control it would give me a 100% reliable trigger and so the risk of sitting in a cold house or heating an empty one would be reduced.

There are numerous means of getting an output from the panel. and Fhem (which controls the heating) is pretty good at monitoring events and doing something as a result. However it wasn’t immediately obvious how best to do it.

I settled in the end on using an Arduino with the Firmata  fimware. I’d never heard of this before, but it is directly supported by Fhem and allows direct access to the various inputs and outputs on the Arduino into Fhem. I bought a very cheap Arduino Nano clone from ebay for about £3:ArduinoNanoFront_3_sm

Then I loaded the Firmata firmware on to it using the usual Arduino software. I won’t go into the detail of this as it’s extensively covered elsewhere but will answer any questions about this.

The next thing to do was to get a signal from the panel into the Nano. This is quite simple, as the panel has a number of programmable outputs. These are highly configurable via Wintex and the output can be set high (or pulled low) in a whole range of different conditions. All I need is for it to change an output when the panel is set.

The Arduino has loads of inputs and outputs, and for this you need a digital input – either on or off to represent armed or disarmed. I was initially unsure about how this would work, especially as it runs at 5V and the alarm panel is based on 12V. I am using the ‘panel outputs’ of which there are two on the Premier Elite 48 (and more on the bigger panels) – labelled ’12’ below:

outputs

The fact that they are labelled with a ‘-‘ sign is significant, and indicates that they are so-called ‘open collector‘ inputs. This means that rather than switching 12V on to the line, instead it allows ‘sinking’ a voltage from the board. So you can connect the output to one of the digital output lines on the Arduino, and the voltage differential doesn’t matter because it is not putting 12V into it.

So what I have done is to connect one of the digital inputs (so I have used D1) to OP1- on the panel above. I’ve not got a great picture of it, but it just a single wire linking soldered to the D1 point on the Arduino to the OP- screw terminal. I’ve fixed the Nano inside the alarm box along with the other bits.I do now have quite a few USB cables coming out of the alarm box… it might be good to have a USB hub in there but I’m running out of space!

That’s the hardware side done – next post I’ll address the software side using Wintex and FHEM.