Friday, 22 September 2017

Burton Menswear - A farcical organisation!

This just has to be written down in order to understand the frustrations as a customer I've been through trying to order a suit!
I needed a good suit/tux for a black tie event I'm attending on Saturday 23rd. So, me being a little last minute (I'll admit to this bit!) I ordered what I wanted on Sunday the 17th.

So I placed the order online at burton.co.uk at 18:19 and got email confirmation. I selected and PAID for next day delivery, which as it was a Sunday, it would be Tuesday 19th when it would arrive.
Tuesday 19th it arrived, I took it home and tried it, it was the wrong size. So next day I thought I'd go into the nearest Burton store to exchange it, hopefully getting it off the peg and swapped there and then.
Wednesday 20th went into local Burton store and looked for the outfit, of course they didn't have the right sizes in store. Assistant said that we can order online for next day, so she brought the suits up and found the right sizes, type and everything on her iPad. She then carried out the return/refund and went to pay for the new order. However, the card readers on the iPad were currently not working, so she couldn't simply refund me and then charge me again on my card. So she had to use a gift card, charge it with the refunded amount, get it authorised then pay for the new order via their online (staff) ordering process. This seemed to work (Only took 1hr in total!) and she was very apologetic that it was a hassle. I thought fine, it'll arrive tomorrow and all ok. I gave my email for the order confirmation.
In an hour I got an email through confirming my instore order and delivery to me (at work), for Thursday the 26th! (A week later) Again something has gone wrong.
I got straight on the phone (2pm 20/09) to their support, sat for 45 minutes waiting (long hold times) and spoke to somebody about the issue. They said yes they must have chosen the wrong delivery option, very sorry, and will need to cancel it, refund and I can then re-order it again myself.
However, it was a gift card, so they can't refund to me, they have to refund to another gift voucher, which I can then use. They were going to credit it with the full amount+next day delivery to be sure, and I would receive the gift voucher within 1hr. OK fine, so left it there and waited. And waited. And waited. Now admittedly I should have rang back after 1hr passed, several passed and still no voucher. OK I'll leave it until the morning.
Thursday 21st, still no gift voucher, so back on the phone (25 minute wait this time) and they said that gift vouchers take 12-24hrs to come through, couldn't have got it in the hour as last advisor said. However, they went and spoke to the right person who found the voucher request and said they would do it for me to come through. They said, definitely 1hr, if not ring back and be doubly sure! They were true to word this time, the voucher came through within 30 minutes. Great, I can now go on and order again!
So I order the items again online, choosing fastest next day, expedited delivery, product was down to low stock so was getting worried, but order went through. Order confirmation came through and confirmed delivery Friday 22nd. I get an order dispatch note late on 21st evening, all looks good and tracking data will appear tomorrow.
Friday 22nd I click the tracking link to Yodel, and it states "21/09/17 23:35 Your parcel is at our sort centre (Wednesbury)" as the last update. Hmm, I'd have expected it to be at local sorting office by now (Which as it happens is nearby where I work, so I know it's not a far delivery!)
I then go on e-chat with Yodel to get a more concise update. Here is the chat (After i've given security info, delivery address, etc):
YODEL: Thank you. I will just be a few moments looking into this for you.
ME: no problem. Thank you
YODEL: Looking at your tracking, this parcel is currently in the sort centre. At this point in the delivery process we are unable to confirm the delivery date. I would expect the tracking to update within the next 24-48 hours. If
there have been no further scans within this time, please come back to us and we can advise you further. You can also track your parcel at yodel.co.uk
ME: the parcel is due for delivery today so it can't update in 24-48hrs? This was a timed/paid for Friday delivery
YODEL: I'm sorry to say this parcel will not be delivered today. Its still in transit
Now it's not specifically Yodel's problem, although they have failed to deliver on their paid for service, but that's an issue between Burton and Yodel.
So again I ring Burton, again 30 minute waiting time and get through to Ricky Russell on Burton support who sounds like a trainee, as he has to put me on hold almost after every statement or question! He states that it's dispatched and according to the courier will arrive today. I explain the above chat and he says, ah, so unfortunately we can't do anything for 24-48hrs. Which is of course no use at all! So I then ask the order be cancelled as I'll go and get something myself from another shop that I can find (hopefully!), but this is problematic. The order has dispatched, so they can't cancel it now, I'd have to return it.
Finally we agreed that I would refuse delivery, when they got the delivery back they could then refund it. TO THE GIFT CARD, so I then stated that I never bought a gift card, this was their own do-ing but apparently they have to refund to the gift card. I then would need to contact and complain and get the gift card refunded to my bank account. How well this goes remains to be seen, but for now I'm down the money spent to Burton, plus I'm now going to have to go and buy it again myself.

All in all this has been a terrible experience with Burton, online and in-store, and unfortunately means I'll never be using them online or store again after this farce of an order.
I'd like to know if anyone has had other experiences, I will of course me adding my review to as many online review portals as I can to express my displeasure.

Oh and to top it all off, I had a rant on twitter @'ing Burton, whose twitter account replied to me later on saying to DM them should I wish them to look in further, only to find that they have not followed me, therefore I cannot DM them!

UPDATE 25/09:
I've had an email from "Arcadia group customer service" who own Burton, and they advised:
Dear Customer,

Regarding your recent online order.

Thank you for shopping with us.

Unfortunately, Yodel have advised there has been a slight delay with your parcel 
and you may not receive it in the timescale requested however, we will aim to 
deliver your parcel as soon as possible.

As your order will not be received on the requested date, if you have paid for 
delivery this will be refunded and credited to your original method of payment 
and will take up to 5 working days, dependent on your bank processing times.

If you do not receive this refund within the timeframe advised please contact 
your bank for further assistance.

Unfortunately, we are unable to make any amendments to the delays above.

Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Should you have any further concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me by 
replying to this email address.

Kind regards,

Lauren
Arcadia Group Customer Care
Which isn't a great way of explaining how they've messed up with this. I've replied back to continue and push them to cancel and get the money returned to me.

UPDATE 02/10:
I've had an email from Arcadia customer service again advising:
I would firstly like to thank you for your patience in awaiting our reply.

I am sorry to hear that you have not yet received your refund on your recent order.

After looking into this further, I can see that this has now been received by
our warehouse team and I have therefore processed the refund today.

An amount of £85.00 has been refunded to both the Gift Card and the Paypal
account on the order. With £63.20 to the Gift Card ending ***8330 and the
further £21.80 to the Paypal account. Please be advised these funds can take up
to 5 working days to show in your account. If you are unable to locate the funds
in your Paypal account, please contact them directly.

If you no longer have your Gift Card, please reply to my email and I would be
happy to arrange a replacement.

I hope that this now resolves your query and I apologise again for the delay.

I reply the next day to this confirming that it was their gift card and that I wish the full refund in cash to my account/paypal as that was my original purchase method. That reply was sent by me on 03/10.
No reply as of 06/10 so I send a reply for an update.
No reply as of 12/10 so I send another reply (I've now removed the # reply number in the subject, knowing this will generate a new ticket in their system so another set of eyes then can take a look)
(I got an automated reply with a new reference number so will see what that reply shows)

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Tiny chinese MD81S 9527 CCTV camera

This was an odd impulse buy, after ordering other stuff from banggood.com I added this to my cart. It was cheap, under £10 shipped from China, so shipping time was a few weeks. Surprisingly it arrived in a UK post bag with UK postage so I'd assume they have UK shippers that handle the final leg.

Firstly, ignore the badly translated manual that it comes with, bits of it are correct but bits of it are totally miselading! "it can also automatically penetrate and apply to all the walls" and other such exciting Chinese translation failures!

Anyway, the unit is tiny.

The large black piece is the rechargeable battery pack. The smaller black piece below it is the circuit board (covered in heat shrink) and on the end of the ribbon cable is the camera. The camera is tiny pinhole sized.
Less than a finger nail width!

So, powering it on, either by USB or by battery you get two LEDs on the top of the unit flickering. RED appears to show power and BLUE some sort of activity indicator. It takes around 10-20 seconds to boot up, once booted if you do a WIFI search you'll find MD81S.
Download to your android phone the "9527" application. Which is used for setting up, etc.
Then connect your phone to this AP and set WPA2 password to 12345678. It'll connect and give you a 192.168.1.x IP address. One you have connected, launch the app (It's called Plug&Play) and after clicking through the tutorial, along the bottom menu, select LAN.
It should then find the camera, if not click the top right refresh icon and the camera should appear. To view the camera image click the image to the left of the screen and you'll get the streaming video.
To setup the camera, click the blue right arrow. You can then join the camera to a WIFI SSID.
NOTE: I couldn't add it to my hidden wireless AP that doesn't broadcast it's SSID, but that may be a limitation. Join it to the AP.

At this point you will be told it will reboot. Mine never rebooted so I pulled it's power. You then switch the AP switch (J on the instructions, so for mine it appeared to be the switch on the right of the unit, where the battery cable comes out the bottom on the left). Switch that and it should switch over to connect to AP.
Mine appeared to do this. If it has problems it will revert back and the MD81S wifi AP will re-appear, which is a reasonable indication of problems.

Once done you can access it from your normal WIFI.

They also have their own "cloud" at http://ie.scc21.com/ which lets you view it over the web. You put in the username and password sticker on the device itself, and in theory you can view this over the web. I've not got this working again at the moment, but need to do some more investigations and testing!

Example image:
(NOTE I wasn't particularly trying or framing a good image here! it was just random where the camera was hanging/pointing at the time!)

All in all, the camera image is really impressive actually, considering it's tiny lens. And it just works, once you've got the hang of the configuration and settings. Longevity? I'm not sure. The main board gets very hot when it's powered so I suspect a component is being over-driven, I may peel the black shrink-wrap off at some point and take a look at the components to find out what is getting so hot under there!

Let me know if you've got this or given it a go and your opinion too!

https://www.banggood.com/DANIU-Mini-Wifi-Module-Camera-CCTV-IP-Wireless-Surveillance-Camera-for-Android-iOS-PC-p-1108657.html

Extra notes:
If you plug into a USB power supply that isn't enough power, you seem to get a red and dim blue LED on constantly and it doesn't boot.
RED solid, BLUE flashing in a slow pulse seems to be the boot sequence.
Rapid BLUE flashing seems to indicate activity/ready

UPDATE: After a few days of use, I'm finding it only stays operational for less than 24hrs, it seems overnight it stops working. I've yet to discover when it fails, my guess will be during a DHCP renew, wifi renew or similar. The blue light stops flickering and I only have a red LED lit. I'm also going to try an alternative power supply in case this is the issue in that it's not receiving enough current.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Grandstream VOIP phones - Mass reboot script

Here is a little snippet of code that I've written to reboot all Grandstream phones on a VOIP system (Asterisk).
It's very simple, it queries the Asterisk running process for all extension numbers, then uses the SIP NOTIFY method to send a reboot to the phones.

I've tested this on GXP1620 handsets so far and it works great, the phone reboots almost immediately. I've added a 25 second sleep in between each phone reboot, the idea is not to reboot your entire estate at the same time, leaving no phones available. Change that as required. My plan is to schedule this on a cron job overnight anyway, but still spacing reboots out seems to be more sensible.

Caveats: The script simply grabs all extensions and iterates through them all, so it'll try extensions that aren't Grandstream, or aren't phones (e.g. trunks) but those will just get ignored anyway.

#!/bin/bash
EXTENSION_LIST=`asterisk -rx "sip show peers" | cut -d "/" -f 1 |cut -d " " -f 1 | grep -o '[0-9]*'`
while read -r line; do
    echo "Rebooting extension: $line ..."
asterisk -rx "sip notify spa-reboot $line"
echo "(sleep)"
sleep 25
done <<< "$EXTENSION_LIST"

It's very simple and rough but will do the job!

Saturday, 16 September 2017

5 in 1 Satin Wave curling wand

You're probably wondering already, how did he use a curling wand on what is a quickly reducing amount of hair? Well in this case my daughter and wife tested this product out for me, immediately opening the packaging up as soon as it arrived home.


It comes in a nice gift box, so you can give this as a present with minimal wrapping up. All of the accessories are in the box, and there are loads of them!
You have the main 'wand' itself that has the electronics and the wire to plug in, then you have the 5 attachments for different thickness of curls. When plugged in you can set the temperature, you click through 9 different temperatures which are displayed on the LCD screen.
My daughter gave it the first go, she has long thick black hair and it tacked it with ease! Curls abounded and she found it really easy to use and light enough (She's complained in the past of them being too heavy) to get the job done. The curlers get hot right to the tip so makes it easy to make sure you get maximum curl!
One minor point was that the warm up time is a little long, but that's a teenagers impatience for you. Otherwise she liked them, and they've now vanished up into her bedroom which is normally the thumbs up from her, using them regularly now.

Take a look for yourself:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01EM6TR7Y/ie=UTF8?m=&amp;keywords=curling+wand
And I think you'll agree for the cost they're an excellent buy, let me know what you think of them in the comments or if you have any questions before buying.

Note: I received this product in exchange for our review.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Vauxhall spark plug assembly

This one is a minor rant, it's about a stupid design that a manufacturer went for, apparently for no other reason than to be different, or to make parts difficult/unique to them!

This is for the Vauxhall Corsa (D edition 2010), and it came about when I was carrying out a routine service. I decided to change the spark plugs, so duly took the top plastic cover off the engine, and found that Vauxhall did things differently!


This is the top of the spark plugs, no rubber boots per plug or anything "normal", this large block houses a set of 4 rubber boots with springs in them that push down onto the spark plugs.

Now, slight problem here. The rubber boots are a very tight fit around the plug housings. Add to that heat, cooling, vibration, etc. You can imagine the rubber isn't so great! Therefore seeing a crack in the rubber boots isn't exactly surprising.


However, what is a problem is that when these rubber boots have cracks or damage to them, they can cause the spring in the middle not to make perfect contact with the spark plugs, and hey presto you get:


Which is of course because the electrical contacts aren't connecting properly to the plug!
Luckily you can source just the rubber boots from our friend ebay and replace that alone, otherwise the whole thing is almost £150!

So I've ordered the above to solve the problem. Thanks Vauxhall for making that more difficult than it should be.

SENSSE hot and cold facial toner

Here's an unusual one for me, this is an electronic gadget but it's for health and beauty! The Sensse hot and cool facial toner unit is a compact device, charged via USB that will heat up to open up your skin pores to help cleanse, then have a cooling action to close the pores and tighten up the skin around your facial muscles, to give your face a 'temporary facelift effect'. All in a little gadget!

And here it is, very small handheld unit, and it's charger base (It uses inductive charging so no need to plug into the unit itself to charge, just drop it on the base).



Before you open it, it comes in a nice presentation box, so this one is again a good idea as a present, as it comes all included and in this nice box with instructions, charging base and the "wand" itself.
After unboxing, you charge it up, and it's ready really quickly. You run it on hot and run it over your face for a couple of minutes, make sure you hit all the curves and creases (I have many!). Hot also has the vibration function which helps absorption of heat and was the setting I felt it worked best on.
The second option is the one that I'm sure many will want to use, the cooling function as the cooling effect helps to tighten face muscles and skin and helps to remove those tiny lines and wrinkles that most of us are starting to get. You do this 2-3 times a week and it helps!

note: I received this product in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Let me know if you have one or tried on and how you got on with it!
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XZYHGQZ

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

help: clear skin for men

This one is a little different, it's a product to help maintain clearer skin for men, and it's in a soluble drinkable form, not what I expected at all!

When it arrives, you get a box with the 28 packets in it. You use them one a day and dissolve them in any of your normal drinks (hot or cold) or even sprinkled on your food.


The principle behind them is to provide a top-up to your body that helps give a boost to protect and nourish your skin. It has various ingrediants such as Oligofructose and zinc gluconate (to name a couple) that should help clear up your skin!
So a one-a-day to give it a go, so here is the obligatory BEFORE pics. As you can see my skin has a few blemishes but not particularly bad.




















And here is the first one. I thought I'd try the first in just water to see what flavour or any taste I could make from it. You mix it with at least 250ml so here is 250ml of water!


And I was pleased to find it didn't have a bad taste, or any taste really, so drank it down easily enough.
Day2 and I tried it in a cup of tea, again no flavour or noticeable taste or change to the tea so all good there!

And jumping forward I've now tried this for 20 days and the result:


See for yourself, my skin does appear to be clearer, how much this has done the job I'm not 100% sure but it certainly isn't a bad thing! So one to try for yourself I'd say as worth a go and see how you get on, I'd like to know how you get on so please do comment.

Also, why not have a go at winning yourself a pack!
Win A help:clear skin 28 day pack of your choice

disclaimer: I received this item for review and to provide my unbiased opinion on the product.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Chrysler Grand Voyager flexplate replacement

Here is the long write-up of the saga of my Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.8CRD automatic. It's a 2004/2005 model (sometimes called the facelift edition) and I love it. It's the second of the Grand Voyagers I've owned as I think they're great bits of kit, comfortable, big (7 seats, and they are BIG comfy armchair type seats) and lots of gadgets.

A quick summary of jobs/checks covered here:

  • Balance Shaft Assembly on base of engine
  • Accessory belt removal/replacement
  • Oil Sump removed
  • Balance Shaft Assembly removed
  • Injector return leak test
  • Flexplate removal (Separation of the gearbox and the engine)

However, as it turns out some of their parts, mechanically aren't so great. My first Grand Voyager unfortunately died with a cracked block. Yes that's right, the actual block had a crack it it (I suspect this damage was from when I suddenly lost all oil one day travelling for work, limped it to the office, filled back with oil and hoped for the best. Replacement oil cooler and other parts didn't help).

So onto my current GV and this one suddenly developed a really bad rattle noise at idle. The noise got worse over a very short period, perhaps 4-5 days and the noise only happened when at idle. Increasing the engine revs either in idle or drive would lose the noise.

Here is the video of the noise I was experiencing:


So I went about diagnosing this noise, as it was unusual. One automatic gearbox specialist and two general garages listened to the noise and came up with conflicting and bad news.
One said it didn't sound like the automatic box itself but it was related.
One said it was the balance shaft assembly and was difficult to replace.
One didn't know but wouldn't go near it as it was a VM engine (VM Motori which is an Italian engine manufacturer known for their diesel and agricultural engines). Apparently VM engines in consumer vehicles don't have a very good track record.

So after that I decided to go do my own testing. First option was to remove the accessory belt, this would discount:

  • air conditioning clutch and pump
  • power steering pump
  • alternator
  • idlers and pulleys
To remove the belt was relatively straight forward, you can slacken it using the tensioner, just get a relatively large ring spanner over it and twist it towards the rear of the car. This removes the tension. I found I had to attach it to a screwdriver to get a little more length/movement on it to make it easier. Once you have the tension off slip the belt off.
You may need to also remove the steering pump belt. On mine this is on the outer of the main drive shaft pulley and is a short separate belt to the power steering pump. To slacken this you need to undo the bolts around the power steering pump and turn the pump so it slackens the belt. This is quite a tricky job as it is very tight when held in place and took many attempts to get this right.

No change after removing the belt, so it wasn't that. Next was to drop the oil sump and take a look inside, firstly at what is in the bottom of the sump and secondly what I could see into the bowels of the engine. Dropping the sump came up with a few little items in there, nothing big or significant:

PS: Nobody could explain what these were or how they got there, best guess is some previous work left them lying around. But nothing there that would explain it fully.

Peering up at the underneath of the engine not much could be seen, this is due to the balance shaft assembly covering the entire base of the engine.
this photo is looking up at the driver side (right hand drive car) so you can see the main big end bearing (top middle).
Top left and the oily pipe is the suction intake for the oil pump.
Middle to bottom (with the two central rings) is the balance shaft assembly covering the rest of the engine big end bearings.


As this was suggested as another possible issue, I then removed the balance shaft assembly.

NOTE1: DO NOT do this unless you have to! This proved a dead end and was very problematic re-attaching at the correct timing sequence point (You have to use the timing kit an 'set' the flexplate to the correct point in the cycle, then use the timing pin in the balance shaft assembly to set those).


That is the balance shaft assembly when removed. The two cogs on the right connect to the base of the engine crank to spin the balance shafts. The two shafts have counterweights on them and simply spin in a counter-rotating manner. They are supposed to remove knock and judder from the older diesel engines and make them smoother. There are records of these being removed without any harm to the vehicle (A lot of Sebring owners remove them for the 1-2bhp performance increase they give). BUT when removed the oil distribution system is altered, there is a hole that feeds the balance shaft with pressurised oil for lubrication so removing it you have to tap off these feeds, etc. It's OK for a test but not long term.
Again, I started the engine with the balance shaft removed (sump refitted and oil back in) but the noise was still there.

Next was the injectors, to see if they could somehow be causing the noise. So I did the leak test on them initially. This is done by removing the diesel return pipe off the injectors and see how much is being returned. A very large amount indicates an injector problem.
The injectors are at the top of the engine. Remove the plastic cover, and the rubber cover (If you have them) and you'll see the four injectors. On the picture below the injector is in the middle of the photo with the return pipe on the top with the clip (braided hose). The high pressure inlet is the metal pipe off an angle to it and it's power is the plastic clip going off the middle bottom of the photo.


To test for return leak you remove the clip and hose from the top and place a pipe to a jug or bottle to collect the liquid. You do this on each injector. Because the middle injectors have an in and out 'join' pipe you need to feed two pipes to your collecting jug or bottle.
Each injector has a small metal clip on the top as you can see in the photo above, use a screwdriver or pliers to remove the metal clip, once removed the plastic fitting will lift up and out of the injector. You then have to prise the pipe off it so you can attach a temporary pipe going to your collection jug/jar/bottle.

Here is a quick video showing the diesel being collected (See how I've used multiple pipes or blocked pipes so I can collect from each injector):



Then the output after a few minutes of engine running:


Not much at all which is good, shows the injectors are working relatively efficiently. So again, this wasn't the source of problems.

Now this limited what I could do. It was either major engine failure or it was to do with the automatic transmission.

At this point, comparing to others on the internet it suggested the flexplate. The flexplate is used on automatic gearboxes and on a manual would be called the flywheel. It bolts to the main engine crank, has the toothed gear for the starter motor to engage with and then bolts to the torque converter.
(a bit of background info on flexplate is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmuDtGZxuDc though it is a promotional/marketing video!)
So this looks like the source of my trouble. The problem? To get to the flexplate you separate the auto gearbox from the engine, i.e. the bell housing bolts come out and you split the two.

So, to do this you need to get the car up on jack stands securely, take both wheels off and then remove the hubs to allow movement along the drive shaft. We didn't remove the drive shaft as we had enough movement from removing the hubs:

Above you can see the hub removed (and supported with straps). We did the same for the brake caliper too.

With those removed, you need to get to the automatic gearbox top mounts, brackets and cables. Remove the battery, it's plastic base and the bits around it (Remove the wiper assembly top too as that gives you access).


Here you can see looking down towards the automatic gearbox (battery and base removed). You can also see the bolts that hold the gearbox in (two bolts towards middle right of photo, there are another two hidden above those). Also to the left middle you can see the shift lever which we detached (simple clip removal).
The starter motor needs removed (More awkward as you get at it through the gaps you can see here, the main obstacle being the water cooling pipe in the left middle of picture.



You need to loosen all the bolts attaching the gearbox to the block and mounts, as you will be fully detaching the gearbox (torque converter and housing) from the engine enough to remove the flexplate.
In the above photo you can see the flexplate teeth and mount where the starter motor fits (Starter motor was just moved and jammed up out of the way, see it middle right on the photo here with the black ring round it)

 Identifying where all the bolts that need to be removed was one of the hardest parts. There were 3 towards the rear of the automatic gearbox, one of which we had to remove using a long socket extension bar fed from the driver side wheel arch right under the body to the middle. Once the breaker bar did it's job they were all loosened.


Remember not to remove them! That's what holds in the automatic gearbox. Towards the front of the automatic gearbox are the automatic fluid pipes. These had enough flex in them so were not removed.
Also remove the electrical connections to the automatic gearbox (These power the solenoids for the automatic shift. As a note we forgot to reconnect these and caused the gearbox to run in limp mode).

Finally to separate we unbolted the flexplate bolts that were holding the flexplate to the torque converter. These were difficult to get at from the bottom (the supposed flexplate access hatch).




However, once logic was engaged, you can see these bolts clearly through the hole where the starter motor sits, so that's where you bolt/unbolt. DO NOT try through the flexplate access hatch at the bottom which seems how some may have done this, it chews the bolts up! When we removed the bolts they were VERY chewed up and not in good condition at all. (So we sourced replacements. Not OEM from Chrysler but high tensile similar replacements)

Once we were happy with this, we used two hydraulic jacks, one to support the right (when looking towards back of vehicle from engine bay) of the engine (engine mount loose) and one to support the entire gearbox. Once supported slowly removing the bolts (The last three holding it on were accessed through the passenger (left) side wheel arch, as we removed these we made sure the jack was holding the weight (i.e. no pressure on the bolts when removing). Once loose we had to 'wobble' the gearbox along moving the jack on it's wheels slightly to separate the gearbox from the engine.

We separated it enough so that we could reach into the bell housing and undo the central bolts holding the flexplate onto the main driveshaft. Once removed we could bring the flexplate out and inspect it.
Here is the removed flexplate. The central bolt holes are the ones that connected it to the driveshaft and the outer ones to the torque converter.

As you can see there are some serious cracks and damage around the central ring, and it was only just holding itself together!


You can see from this photo how much light is coming through the cracks/damage to the centre of the flexplate. This is typical flexplate damage and causes the noises heard at idle (i.e. mainly when the flexplate isn't under a large amount of strain/pressure)


So now to do the reverse, to install the new flexplate, line it up similar to the one we just removed.
We used threadlock when bolting it back into place to ensure they wouldn't come loose and also ended up replacing the bolts that connect the flexplate to the torque converter as these were badly chewed up. We're unsure how they were in such a bad way, other than potentially somebody doing similar work on the flexplate in the past and not tightening securely (i.e. spanner slipping on the nut, etc).

Once the flexplate was re-attached to the driveshaft we needed to bring the two halves back together, again using the jacks we slid them back together and aligned them using a couple of the fixing bolts to ensure it was lined up correctly.
Re-attaching the bolts around the bell housing and the rest of the gearbox to hold it in place. We didn't tighten to full torque yet as wanted to get them all bolted and lined up first before tightening up fully.

Once it was joined up, starting to tighten each bolt back up and reconnecting everything we disconnected (Remember any connectors you disconnected to reconnect!) and re-assemble which was relatively straight forward.
Back together and starting the engine all sounded good, no rattles or noises and everything was working great.

One other point to note, if you find that your gearbox won't shift out of the lower gears (So sticks in 1 or 2 gear) then this points to the solenoid or 'electronic' shift. In our case it was because we'd left the connector off on the gearbox ECU and so it wasn't communicating with the main ECU correctly. An easy fix luckily!

I hope this helps anyone else with a similar problem, or for a few tips on getting it apart and back together. I welcome comments and info on this one from anyone in a similar position or had similar problems.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Xupo object finder

This is the Xupo (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06ZYF9JJY?m=AHOB6CU4GK0BX), a pretty small object you can attach to your keys, wallet, purse, handbag or anything you can clip it to. The idea is you pair it with your phone (using bluetooth) and should you lose either one you can blip it and tell it to beep the lost item.

It's pretty small and very lightweight:


Here it is attached to my keys for a comparison on size, you can see it's smaller than my key itself:


And has a hole on it to clip round your keyring or object. To set it up is fairly easy, download the app (The description on Amazon says iPhone but it has Android too) and then click to pair it, you hold down the button on the Xupo until the light starts flashing and it lets you pair it.

Mine seemed to be in a bad mood after shipping, it wouldn't go into pairing mode, so I popped it open, removed the battery and re-inserted it which got it working. Worth remembering if you have difficulty!
Once paired it seems to work OK. I say only OK as the Xupo app on my phone said it was a "Development edition" and not fully complete, and there were a couple of bugs (It didn't always find the Xupo, nor the Xupo always find my phone) so this meant I'm not giving it a 10/10.

So not a bad little gadget if you're always losing your keys, phone, etc and does the job. Can't comment on battery life, but the Xupo app does tell you the battery state of the little gadget.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06ZYF9JJY?m=AHOB6CU4GK0BX

disclaimer: I received this item for review and to provide my unbiased opinion on the product.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Virgin Media business cable and static IPs

Here is an interesting problem, if you have a Virgin Media cable (Not fibre or leased line) connection (for business) and have requested the static IP service, initially their sales will try and put you off the static IP asking if you need it and saying there are some issues with the service, but won't really tell you why!

Well unfortunately I've now discovered the issue, so thought I'd post about it for others to be wary of this "business class" service. Firstly, we know how the VM cable network works, they have co-ax to the premises that take you back to their cabinet, from there they mux it back to their central exchange. Now the observant of you will note, no separate cabinet for home or business cable, no separate links to the exchange for home or business, so at all times you are sharing this portion of the network. Not a huge issue as capacity is normally good, but something to be weary of that during 'home' hours (after 5pm generally) the service will be noticeably slower.
So this now bring the interesting problem to light, you are connecting to a home service with business features (static IP, etc).


Virgin Media uses a DHCP-based cable network (DOCSIS) and so when your router connects it asks for an IP and is given it, from what I'm assuming is kit at the head end (not cabinet). This is where the problems start, they don't have the ability to add a static allocation from here (Probably how their pools of IPs are allocated to local exchanges/cabinets, and/or their DHCP servers).

Inside the street cabinet doesn't reveal much active equipment, the magnavox amplifier unit is line powered from the main co-ax uplinks (Big chunky cables coming in bottom left) and then split to the cable junctions to end users (bottom middle) and potentially legacy twin-core/pair copper to the right.



This setup of sharing the residential with business then causes them a headache when a business customer asks for a static IP, how to solve that with the DOCSIS implementation Virgin Media has used? What they do is create a GRE tunnel using the business hub (Hitron router) to their datacentre, where they allocate the public IP on that end of the tunnel and allow it to connect out from the datacentre. This also allows them to bypass any content control, filtering, etc, as it is then emerging from the tunnel at their datacentre rather than the regular pool.

Most of you are probably hearing the alarm bells ringing now. GRE tunnel to datacentre, so the tunnel is established using the Hitron router on your premises and breakout is somewhere in the VM datacentre network. This to me shows several potential problems, the first being MTU.
Over the GRE tunnel MTU can and will be reduced, my conversations with VM support suggest this is down to 1440 but I've not fully tested this.
The second is that I'm not not sure where/what is doing the NAT for our connection. Although the Hitron allows me to setup DMZ, port forwarding, etc, I'm not clear if this is working through the GRE tunnel or not! This also introduces a further complication, you CANNOT use the Hitron router in modem-only mode, so you HAVE to use the NAT functions on this router, again not good for a business class product aimed at people who would want to do their own NAT or control via their own server, etc. So you're stuck with the firewall and NAT functions on the Hitron, and whilst basic they seem to do what's needed.

That is until you start to use SIP/VOIP. This seems very problematic, as allocating the RTP data ports seems spotty, registration to a SIP gateway on udp/5060 also seems to be affected as sometimes it works, then stops and won't start again for a long period of time. This is regardless of if you setup your voip server as DMZ because some issues still remain.
Then you have the major showstopper I hit upon, after some arbitrary time the connection will drop (no surprise, they have to upgrade, have outages, etc) but when it comes back, SIP registrations will FAIL. For some reason packets don't make it out of the Virgin Media network. So from your originating server, you can tcpdump and see the traffic, but the receiving end doesn't see it. No matter what you do (reboot Hitron, reboot your server, re-recreate connections, etc) it won't recover, and this brings me to a theory. There is some sort of session being held on the remote end of that GRE tunnel for your static IP. And as such it is blocking/stopping new sessions to the same destination IP, causing your SIP registration to fail and your VOIP solution to stop working. My guess on this is because it depends on what is on the other end of that GRE tunnel, and what it's involvement is in your connection. It may be some type of firewall, in which case it's trying to keep state of UDP sessions and failing miserably. It may be a router, in which case I'd not be expecting the issues we have seen, but it's still possible.

So far Virgin Media have confirmed that there is a known issue with static IP addresses on their business cable solution, but before you buy they won't go into much detail, and after purchase unfortunately you're stuck in this solution where you can either live with the issues on static IP, or drop back to a dynamic DHCP allocated IP and not have the GRE tunnel.

I suspect the solution to this is to move to a dynamic IP on the service and then switch to modem-only mode so nothing is doing NAT on the connection. I'll post back on further diagnostics that I carry out to further explore what the issue is and if it can be worked around. So far no work-arounds I've tried have worked, other then connection out using an alternative UDP port for SIP (Which most SIP providers won't do).

--Update--
After some conversations with VM they have switched the connection to a dynamic IP. Beware, as when they do this they reconfigure things their side, tell you to reboot the cable modem and it takes you offline. That's because the GRE tunnel information is still coded into your cable modem. Factory resets using the front button, rear pin press button and control panel interface for factory reset doesn't seem to work (Doesn't appear to factory reset at all as settings do not revert to when shipped) so this causes you outage. In this case Virgin Media had to send an engineer out to do another reset to the cable modem to resolve this. When they did that the modem connected up and got an IP from the dynamic local pool.
After this connection was restored, and sure enough the VOIP sessions re-established and maintained their connection to the VOIP provider. (Again the VOIP server was setup as DMZ target on the Virgin Media Hitron hub) So this has appeared to solve the issue with SIP registrations over the service.


Mattressnextday - delivery the day after @mattressnextday

You'd think a company advertising their name as mattressnextday.co.uk would be able to deliver a Mattress the next day? (Obviously within certain rules, before x time cut-off, except bank holidays, weekends, etc).
So when I ordered a mattress on a Friday at 10am and when asked for delivery dates (specifically by their website) and I choose the following Tuesday, that you'd expect them to manage that delivery day?
The delivery time schedule was one of those horrible all day things, 8am-6pm so my wife duly waited in all day, it got to 4pm and still no sign which is usually a bad indication! Sure enough, no delivery at all.
I email mattressnextday.co.uk and I've still not had a reply to this (Delivery was supposed to be Tuesday, almost end of Wednesday and not even a quick reply via email). But the mattress turns up Wednesday morning 08:50 without any warning! Luckily my wife was home and accepted the delivery, not even a sorry or any kind of message about being a day late!

Will keep waiting for the reply back from mattressnextday.co.uk and see what they say.
I checked and mattresspossiblynextday.co.uk is available to register, perhaps they should try that url instead?

Friday, 12 May 2017

TP-Link HS100 wireless switches for home automation

So my ongoing quest for ultimate home automation continues, and I'm still looking for the best solution for controlling sockets using my home automation server (Ubuntu) which allows me to check the current state of the socket, change it to on/off and also be able to be put anywhere in the house and still controlled (without ethernet to it).

I've gone through several different solutions over the years, one that was in for a while was X10 which used signals over the mains powerline through the house. This worked but had many flaws, ultimately the devices self-destructed as they couldn't cope with power spikes, etc, and because the equipment used the mains supply to transmit/receive it couldn't be protected using surge protectors, etc. So this was dropped.

I then experimented with the 433Mhz generic off the shelf controllable sockets. These are available from most retailers as Energenie sockets and generally come with a remote control and a combination of sockets. They work, but have limited range on the 433Mhz, again cannot be queried to find out if they are on or off and a lot of the commands are fire-and-forget (or hope for the best). I interfaced them with an Arduino using the 433Mhz transceiver pair but this still is a fire-and-forget so not really an ideal solution.

Onto my current idea, the TP-Link HS100 wireless switches:
These retail for around £25 each, so not the cheapest option, but they have some interesting features. Firstly they are wireless, so connect to your 2.4Ghz (only) wireless in the house, so anywhere you have wireless they will work. They can also handle up to 13Amp switching which is higher than most others (Although I'd still not connect it to a high load like washing machine, dishwasher, etc). And the even better bit, they use a communication method that can and has been tapped into, so over IP you can send commands to the units and query their status. Perfect for me as I want to use everything over my IPv4 (wireless) LAN at home to do the monitoring and control.
Researching them, there has been a very good reverse engineering job at https://www.softscheck.com/en/reverse-engineering-tp-link-hs110/ and the author has also provided a python script that will let you query and talk to the devices. This fits exactly with my home automation system.
Now, don't get me wrong, there is a flaw here, these units when you set them up, you install their app to your phone and configure their details using the TP-Link 'cloud' system, which means giving the app your wifi SSID and password, which sends it to the smart switch using a temporary unsecured WIFI AP in setup mode. The unit then talks to the internet/TP-Link cloud for it's command and control. So far nothing here looks too bad, other than it having the ability to snoop your home network and talk to TP-Link! However, since we won't use the TP-Link cloud for our control we could simply drop this and not use it even for initial configuration. Furthermore we can send a command to the sockets to change the server they talk to, in theory cutting them off from TP-Link completely, which if you're paranoid you can do. I'm not too worried about this, so will probably just leave them at default.

So now I have a socket that I can setup a static IP in my DHCP scope, and then use the python utility to query and send commands.
To grab the python code you need, take a look at https://github.com/softScheck/tplink-smartplug
So I setup a script to query my socket and write the current state to a state-file on my home automation server, the script was very simple:
tplink-smartplug.py -t 192.168.xx.xx -c info | grep "Received" | cut -d ":" -f 23 | cut -d "," -f 1 > /tmp/tplink_plug1.out
That gives me either a 1 or a 0 depending on the current state of the socket. To set the state you simply use the python script again:
tplink-smartplug.py -t 192.168.xx.xx -c on
It's as simple as that.
I cannot comment on the longevity of the devices, but so far they are built well, easy to setup and super-easy to use. So I think this might be a new winner for home automation, the only thing I'd like to see is cost drop a little more, but when you think everything that's in the box £25 is pretty cheap!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments please or if you've found alternatives too.
 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Garden upgrades

It's that time again, heading towards summer and the sunshine in the UK tempting us to go out into the garden. So I've decided that this year we need to make more of the garden, so far it's got grass, a few plants around the borders and a shed, nothing very exciting. Occasionally I pull the BBQ out but we've not really got anywhere nice to sit and relax, or use the garden very much, especially with the UK climate being a bit cold and where we live a bit windy.

So the plan is to improve the garden, and several ideas have popped up, the first to build a corner/seating area in the garden. The simplest way to do this is to use old shipping palettes, use them as the base and then cover them with some nicer outer wood/decking cover and you then put cushions on for comfort.
I'm going to have to do some preparation before we can do that though, as need to flatten and create a base first, so probably buy some patio/flagstones and use those as the base for our new seating corner, get those level and act as a base to it all. Then build the palettes up to the right height for the seats and the backs.

After that, I'd also like to go for a chimnea or fire pit/table setup, but still cannot decide on which one to go for, several are available at supermarkets and look pretty good, I'm just undecided which one I'd like to have, possibly the fire pit as a centrepiece would work better.

That's the plan anyway! Anyone got any suggestions or ideas that would help? I'm going to start posting back on progress and the initial work so hopefully will build up an additional resource here on my blog for anyone else going to aim for a similar solution.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

"Smart" energy meters in the UK

As many of you will know, the government and energy companies are pushing the "smart" meter upgrade throughout the UK. The set date for saturation is 2020 which is the government target date. They in turn have commissioned smartenergygb.com to be the 'voice' of the rollout program and to provide consumers with information on the rollout.

This is all well and good, until you look at the technical aspect of what is happening and how it's been implemented. The basics are this. You have an electricity and gas supply to your home, at present this is metered for consumption and the values are used by the energy company to bill you accordingly. Traditionally these meters simply displayed the consumed units and either a meter reader (An employee of the gas or electricity distribution network) would come and read the meter periodically or you provide a meter reading yourself to your energy company. The rest of the time estimates were made on your use and billed accordingly. Generally over the year some bills were higher than they should be and some lower, and at the end of the year the credit/debit was organised and you continued paying the bills. Quite simple really, and to be honest I never had a major issue with this, the corrections were straight forward and not usually ridiculous providing readings were kept up with.
The smart rollout was to eliminate this, the smart meter was a replacement for the dial on the front of the meter and has a small embedded SIM card (Mobile phone data connection). This then lets the meter send it's readings periodically over the air to their control/contact centre who would then pass that onto the energy company to correct your bill and payments accordingly. This sounds a good system, the meters will be able to report on usage, potentially providing better savings for consumers, reduced overheads (No more meter readers going out to every home in the UK) and gave a generally more accurate view of energy consumption in almost real-time (This may also help the energy suppliers, i.e. they can see in a real-time view where is consuming lots of power other than relying on the grid consumption figures).
Many smart meters also come with an "In-home display" to show you in realtime what your energy usage is, and in this age of saving energy helps the end user cut down on their use of gas and electricity, reducing their bills but also helping the environment. These "in-home displays" use a low-range wireless signal to talk to the energy meter and are paired at installation (It roughly uses the Zigbee protocol but using encryption and key-pairs for security).
The installation of the smart meters is a quick job, as it's generally replacing just the front 'display' plate of the meter.
I'm unsure the battery lifetime in these units as typically there isn't a usable supply of power to the location of the two meters (Even the electricity meter, it would be tricky to tap into the power, drop it to a safe voltage, etc) so the assumption is that they all have batteries in them.

The figures for the rollout are around £11 billion to the uk, but are supposedly offset by the savings of an estimated £17 billion, so should these figures be accurate it is an overall saving to the scheme.

And now onto some of the downsides that I've observed and seen reported. Firstly the installation, you have to be there for part of the day to have them installed, this is because there will be a break in your supply as the meter is changed over. The scheduling of the engineer, etc, is all pretty smooth and for us went without any issues.
Then you get the in-home display, which is nice, but seems a bit lacking in features. For instance, the default display shows you the current tariff. Which isn't that useful. You need to switch screens to see your current consumption in kw/h so you can then watch and see when large amounts of power/gas are being used. The screen then defaults back to the tariff display after a few minutes. So this didn't really do what I'd hoped for. It also didn't have any output, connection, computer link or similar that I could tap into and add to my home automation screens/systems.
(At present I use a clamp meter style unit that gives me current power consumption for the house)

Then the really bad design. There are different smart meters deployed in the UK by different energy suppliers and different meter fitters. On top of that, they're incompatible with each other, some don't work with some suppliers, some don't work with any other suppliers and some energy suppliers don't support any of the smart meters. How on earth did that come about? Surely it should have been decided (By UK government perhaps) that the smart meters were built to a standard, all the suppliers had to form part of that standard and support all of them. That way when you switch supplier the new supplier can take on the smart meter and use it.

I've just hit this particular issue. After being with Ovo for a couple of years, I then switched supplier to get a better deal and the new supplier cannot read any smart meters, so requests manual meter readings.
This is also a bit of an issue, as getting a manual meter reading is harder than the old meters. On the old ones, the constant display showed the current reading, so just note this down and you're done.
On a smart meter the screen is off by default and there is a 0-9 keypad beside it. Pressing this triggers all sorts of menus and information, so knowing the right value isn't as obvious as it seems. However after trial and error, and reading up on them they all support pressing 9 for the current reading.

It is probably these last facts with lack of compatibility between meters and suppliers that show the whole system up with it's flaws. These seem a big drawback to the scheme and surely this will skew the final results. Each home in the UK may well have a smart meter installed by 2020, but each energy company may not be able to read it and you will seem to have created a perpetual loop of installers coming out to install the right smart meter for the particular supplier you have chosen.
Hopefully this is being resolved and investigated, but at the moment the initial view is that they have re-employed the meter readers as smart meter upgraders and will perpetually go out swapping the smart meter to the right one for your supplier! So I'm a little bit sceptical about where the savings will be.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Needing motivation?

So it's January and we've just got past the "Blue Monday" which is the Monday in January that most people feel depressed.
I'm not sure why or who decided it was "Blue Monday", this is like a lot of days that are randomly created and often leave me wondering, who did that, why did they do it and give it that name, or what motivated them to create a negative day?
My usual thoughts turn to the media and in many cases this is true, the news media always appear to be looking for a reason to report on something, so this one seems a good choice, you can pick pretty much any person walking down the street and talk to them on depression, needing motivation or wanting something a little better, so hardly surprising that it's a keen topic of conversation.

This is where I start to think, what motivation are we talking about here, to be motivated is a simple set of words and when you think about it, we're always motivated. Motivated to go and do something (Perhaps not something we want to do, but we know we should or have to), motivated to apply something, motivated to eat something, motivated to go somewhere, all sorts, so lacking motivation sounds more and more like a buzzword dreamt up in a dodgy corporate board room to use.

So, my thoughts on needing motivation? Surely you already have motivation, look around you, you probably have all the motivation and drive you need to achieve something but just haven't done it yet. That's OK too, we can't do everything we want or feel motivated to do, so just keep doing what you're doing! (Oh and ignore the media trying to tell you to be depressed, unhappy or otherwise, choose your own emotion and ignore the mainstream media news outlets a little more, it really does help ignoring them for a short time!)