Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Amazon TV Fire Stick

If you’ve been regularly reading the blog you may recall I mentioned the Amazon TV Fire Stick we purchased back in the middle of the year.  Amazon sells the Fire Stick with the intention of purchasers buying content from them.  The device enables video and music content to be streamed over the internet to a TV.  The Fire Stick looks like this…..

fire stick 1 

A small remote control with a 240V power supply and the Fire Stick which plugs into the HDMI port on the TV.

I’m most reluctant to purchase video content from Amazon and have planned to use the stick as a “client” for my proposed network media server.  I wanted to use the Kodi software and actually managed to install Kodi onto the Fire Stick.  The problem was that whilst Amazon had left a “hole” in their software security making it possible to install Kodi on the device, it requires a significant number of keystrokes to find the Kodi application.

Today I discovered someone far cleverer than me has been able to produce a “work around” which circumvents the proprietry Amazon main screen and replaces it with one showing the applications I have installed on the Fire Stick.  The program is FireStarter and the installation link is here.

We now have two “clients” for the proposed network media system.

<Phew>  Another completed boring nerdy post on a cold and rainy day! Smile

Jan here….. Yawn!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Airborne Rats

What a great day to be cruising, it’s hard to believe New Year is only a few days away.  We set off just before 9am with the intention of reaching The Cheshire Cat pub.


The day just kept getting better.  We only saw three other boats on the move and all the crews were cheerful commenting on the sunshine.

Both of us noticed the cygnets feeding in the field on the off-side. 


No sign of mum and dad so we guess they have been kicked out of home.  They must have been very late chicks!

There is a very long line of permanently moored boats around Golden Nook Bridge which seem to take forever to pass on tick-over.  There a boatyard adjacent to the bridge with a large number of boats on the hard standing.


It was rather hard to take a photo looking back as we were facing almost due west and the sun was right behind us.


Both of us noticed the roof of a canal side house in Waverton which was covered in airborne rats.  Why this roof when there were so many others nearby?


Look at that clear blue sky!

There were plenty of vacant moorings outside The Cheshire Cat.  I walked off to Sainsbury’s whilst Jan did some cleaning.  One of the passing dog walkers mention to her that the boat moored in front of us on the 48 hour moorings in the prime spot outside the pub had been there since early December.  Then with a small smile mentioned “Probably engine problems!” 

There was a Halfords next to Sainsbury’s and I decided to check if they had any Fabsil for cleaning the pram and cratch canvas.  The three youthful male staff were chatting behind the counter.  Pimples told me there was none in stock. Acne nodded in agreement whilst Zits just stared.  When I returned to Waiouru I used the Halfords website to checked the store stock level.  According to the website they do have stock.  Their loss!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Wide Locks

The weather forecast for today and tomorrow is better than the rest of the week which resulted in the obvious decision to cruise on Monday and Tuesday.  We’re heading north and back onto a wide canal, which also means wide locks!

Our first stop was at Calveley to make use of the CRT facilities.  Whilst in Llangollen there had been an instance of miscommunication between us.  On the same day we had each separately purchased two CRT cards.  Four cards is too much money to have lying around and we decided to use one of them to fund the emptying of the black water tank using the CRT self-service equipment. 

IMG_8689There must be something different about our diet as the perfume aroma on the breeze had heads popping out from surrounding moored boats.  The water pressure here was poor and the washing machine had completed a full cycle before the tank had filled. Last time we came this way there was a queue waiting to access the water point.  Today we had it to ourselves.  One of the advantages of cruising in winter.

We have yet to meet Adam & Adrian of nb Briar Rose.  However today we saw the real Briar Rose.

IMG_8690Just beyond the CRT wharf are some 48 hour moorings that have been designated winter moorings.  As you can see in this next photo; apart from one boat, they are empty!

IMG_8692 And the sole boat on the winter moorings is


One of the CRT boats.

We cruised on to Bunbury Staircase Locks where an expert lock keeper worked Waiouru down.  At this point we had only seen one other moving boat.


The Anglo-Welsh base is at the bottom and we noticed one rather new looking hire boat on the end of the row.


It’s nb Merlin, safely delivered by Ian & Irene yesterday. 

Three locks on Jan happened to notice this collection of tudor style buildings beyone the railway line to the south of the canal. 


We didn’t see them last time we cruised this part of the canal, probably because they were obscurred by the vegetation.  You see so much more of the countryside in the winter!

Beeston Castle is sufficiently high to never be obscurred.


Last time we moored above Wharton’s Lock  I walked to the castle.  It’s no longer on the bucket list so we kept going.  By now it was starting to look like a late lunch and we decided to stop just beyond The Shady Oak pub.   It was here we saw a moored nb Amy-Jo.


We sounded the horn but there was no sign of Steve & Chris.  Either they were in the pub or otherwise occuppied in the bedroom. Smile

Weather permitting we’ll reach The Cheshire Cat tomorrow.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Moving Again!

An early start today as we wanted to make the most of the predicted fine morning.  It was a particularly interesting view out the side hatch whilst waiting for dawn to appear.  The big lens on the camera actually captures far more light than the human eye sees so these next two photos don’t really convey how dark it was.


Looking east


Looking west

The first task was to cruise through Nantwich on tick-over to the winding hole on the southern side of the town. No boaters were woken during this movement! Smile

It was very misty around Marsh Lane Bridge which made visibility difficult.  The winding hole is on the other side of the bridge and there seemed to be a boat across the canal.  Actually it looked like there might be two boats adrift.

P1020220Eventually we established it was a 70’ boat winding.  We’d been beaten to the winding hole by 5 minutes. I loitered under the bridge until the other boat had winded thinking he would then get to the water point before us. 


However to our surprise he simply returned to his permanent mooring on the embankment.  We did wonder why he had bothered to wind so early in the morning.

The water pressure at the CRT services block isn’t very strong and it took almost an hour to fill the top half of the tank.


It was a lovely clear and crisp day by the time the tank had filled.  We slowly headed north towards Barbridge Junction intending to make the most of the weather. 

When you live in a 6ft diameter steel tube you realise space is a precious commodity. You become very adept at maximizing the space right down to buying square rather than round containers.  you also become very tidy.  Being a hoarder can create significant issues.


Every window in the boat looked like this.


The plan was to moor outside the Barbridge Inn and enjoy a Sunday roast lunch.  Unlike summer, there were no mooring shortages.  Actually there was only one other boat.  Last time we were here we had the company of Barry & Sandra (nb AreAndAre) along with the wasps in the beer garden.  This time we couldn’t get through the door to the pub.  It appeared to be closed and the door locked.  Jan was about to head back to the boat and make jam sandwiches when I suggested we try the door on the street side.  Well both the door and pub were open.  Apparently the door from the beer garden is known to jam! 

We had one of our best lunches to date.  Very tasty (10/10).  The beef was cooked to perfection and delicious.  Vegetables were also great.  It was not the cheapest Sunday roast we have had but the quality was well worth It


I wonder if they are able to maintain the same quality during the busy summer season.

Later in the afternoon we had unexpected, but most welcome visitors.  We last saw Skippy and Tam at Aldermaston.


Tam & Skippy on a partially fitted out Waiouru in Sep 2012

They are now living afloat in this part of the country and since our first meeting have been joined by a much smaller third member of their crew family.

It was very good of them to travel out of their way and meet us again.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Vicarage

One of the things I have noticed during our travels around England are the number of vicarages.  Until today I thought the word vicarage meant the building where the vicar lived.  However I now understand it means the entire area under the control of the vicar.  I’m only interested in the homes so where I refer to the vicarage I mean the house.  What particularly interested me about the vicarages is their size.  Those we have seen are rather subtantial, which leads me to believe vicars were generally not poor.   

Of course I’d already known about the expression “Eldest son gets the title, second son goes to the army/navy, and third son to the church.  However I hadn’t linked this to the matter of vicarages.  Nor had I realised the consequences of all these vicarages.

By the mid 17th century England contained some 17,500 Anglican clergy, with many of them being the sons of the gentry.  Apparently the pre-qualification was a university degree and it didn’t have to be theology.  Many of the rural vicars and rectors might only have 250 parishioners.  A clergyman’s pay came not from the Church but from rents and tithes and the average annual income was £500.  A very significant figure for the time.

So we have wealthy, educated rural clergy with plenty of spare time.  Most of them don’t have a degree in theology.  It is therefore not surprising that within this group of intelligent and educated men a number made significant contribtions to society and science.

  • Edmund Cartwright, rector of a rural parish in Leicestershire, invented the power loom effectively accerating the industrial revolution.
  • In Oxford the Reverend William Buckland wrote the first scientific description of dinosaurs.
  • The Reverend William Greenwell of Durham was a founding father of modern archaeology.
  • Octavius Pickard-Cambridge became the world’s leading authority on spiders.
  • Vicar Adam Buddle in Essex became a notable botanist.
  • The Reverend John Mackenzie Bacon of Berkshire was a pioneering hot-air balloonist and the father of aerial photography.
  • Gilbert White in Hampshire became a famous naturalist.
  • John Michell, a rector in Derbyshire, taught William Herschel how to build a telescope, which Herschel then used to discover Uranus.  Mitchell went on to work out how to weigh the earth.
  • In Devon, the Reverend Jack Russell bred the terrier that shares his name.

Then there were the children of these rectors and vicars. John Dryden, Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Thomas Hobbes, Oliver Goldsmith, Jane Austen, Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Horatio Nelson, the Brontë sisters, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Cecil Rhodes and Lewis Carroll.

So what happened to make so many of these vicarages subsequently pass into private hands?  It started with the industrial revolution and the movement of the population from the land to the cities.  Then in the 1870’s there was a major agricultural depression.  In six years, one hundred thousand farmers and farm workers left the land.  The vicarage income was based on the value of the land which had collapsed.  By the end of the 19th century the average English clergyman’s income was less than half what it had been fifty years before.  A career in the church no longed looked as attractive as other options.  In his book on the subject Professor David Cannadine wrote ‘By the turn of the century the best minds of a generation were outside the Church rather than within’.   Finally, the church needed to move its clergy to where the majority of its parishioners were based and as a result many of the rural vicarages were either no longer required or the incumbent didn’t have the income to maintain them.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Another ordinary day


Jan wanted that bit….

Well it has been another cold and wet day.  We didn’t even leave the cabin contenting ourselvesby looking out the portholes at the wind whipping the surface of the canal.  Jan prepared a variation of the traditional family lunch.  This particular tradition was born in the early years of this century.  We were living in Adelaide, South Australia but had been up to Brisbane, Queensland for a holiday.  On the way back we stopped at Forster in northern New South Wales to spend a couple of nights with Jan’s family.  We left on the 24th of December and managed to drive the 760km to Wagga Wagga arriving in the early evening only to find almost everything closed.  Fortunately one motel had a vacancy.  The only open restaurant was the nearby MacDonalds.

On Christmas Day we headed west towards Adelaide.  About four hours into the journey Jan started to ask what we were going to do about lunch as we had no food.  I assured her there wouldn’t be a problem.  However every little town was closed and after 550km we eventually reached Ouyen in the middle of nowhere around 1pm.  There we discovered the dusty roadhouse had closed at 12.30.  I was just thankful we had two 20 lire jerricans of diesel in the back.  Jan wasn’t very happy.  No doubt she was remembering the Jones family doesn’t have much of a tradition celebrating Christmas lunch.  Actually my mother served tomato sandwiches one year.

Anyway we stopped and Jan managed to find some stale sliced bread.  She had a mamalade sandwich and mine was jam.  We then drove on making It back to Adelaide that night.

For lunch today Jan produced a variation on the traditional Jones Christmas lunch.  We had tomato soup and stale buns.   And I’m not complaining! Smile

Friday, 25 December 2015

The Battle of Nantwich

It was a rather wild and windy night.  There was little protection from the elements as the mooring is high on an exposed embankment.  Jan spent much of the night lying awake listening to the rattling of the solar panels and wondering whether we’d lost anything (we didn’t).  I suppose we could have moved to a more sheltered location, but then there is the risk of a tree being blown down onto the boat.

This morning Jan decided to thoroughly go through the galley cupboards.  Apparently we have had a christmas pudding for the last two years.


As you can see from the expiry date, it will have to be eaten this year!  She also found two christmas cakes which need to be consumed before February.

IMG_8675It makes you wonder about the quantity of preservative in the cakes and pudding!

The front had passed by 1pm and I decided to go for a short walk disposing of the rubbish in the CRT bin along the way.  My route took me to the site of the “Battle of Nantwich”. 


The battle was fought here on the 25th January 1644 during the English Civil War.  Prior to the battle the Royalists forces had taken control of most of this part of England except for the town of Nantwich.  The town was held by the Parliamentarian forces under the command of Colonel George Booth and under siege from the Royalist forces commanded by Lord Byron.  The Parliamentarian forces in the town comprised some 2000 men whilst Lord Byron had approximately 3500.  A second Parliamentarian force arrived from Manchester to break the siege.  Unfortunately for the Royalists the weather turned and and the thaw (it was winter) saw the River Weaver rapidly rise forcing Byron to split his cavalry from his infantry and artillery.  The latter moved NW of the town. 

The Royalists were in the west with their headquarters in the church at Acton whilst the Parliamentarian forces were in the east.  The Royalist forces were divided and this contributed to their defeat.  There HQ came under attack and some 1500 Royalists in and around the church subsequentially surrendered.  Signs of musket ball strikes can been seen on the south side of the church.


The defeat of the Royalists battle marked a turning point in the war with the Parliamentarians going from a defensive to offensive footing.

These days the canal cuts through what would have been the centre of the battlefield.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Three tasks Done and the Smart TV

This morning we wandered back into Nantwich for a few more supplies from Morrisons supermarket.  Whilst walking down Welsh Row a large white delivery van passed us and I happened to notice the large decal on the rear doors.  It was a large plate of fish & chips with words to the effect of finest supplier of quality fish & chips to the industry.  Well that’s another of my beliefs blown out of the water.  The damned fish & chip shops don’t make their own chips or batter their fish.  It’s all bought ready made for the second cooking.  Bloody lazy cheats! 

The battered looking kiwi flag has been replaced with a new Silver Fern flag.  By this afternoon the new flag was already starting to fray at the end!  The major problem with the old flag was the red stars.  The external edge of each star had started to separate from the main flag creating a star shaped hole.


We’ve been replacing them every year.  The last two were provided by dear old mum but we won’t get any further replacements from her unless they are purchased out of my inheritance! Smile

The second maintenance task was to check the 12V socket in the bedroom.  Jan thought there might be something loose inside.  I carefully removed the faux chrome bezel to expose the four mounting screws before removing it from the wall and extracting the 12V cylindrical socket.


After closely inspecting the socket I realised there was nothing wrong with it.  The module was then reassembled and tested.

The last task was to test the Raspberry Pi with the dumb TV.  I don’t have the equipment to setup a network access server which meant I could only test the “client” setup.  I randomly chose a few recorded TV series and copied them to a USB thumbstick which I insered into the RPi.  I then used the Samsung remote control through AnyNet+ to access the RPi which automatically loaded the main screen of the Kodi media player.

IMG_8673I don’t particularly like the default Kodi ‘skin’ (think blog template) but it’s easily changed. The next step was to check whether RPi and Kodi would display the TV series.  There are three display options. Large or small icons, or a list.

IMG_8670 Large icons


Small icons

So we now have a smart TV. The one remaining RPi task I can do without having the media server is to configure it for remote pc access.  But I can’t do this until I download some software directly onto it and that requires the RPi to have direct internet access.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Interesting Lunch and Remote Training

The weather was decidedly unpleasant this morning and yesterday evening we had made the decision to go shopping before lunch.  We held off leaving until 11am but the weather only got nastier so in the end it was a case of wrapping up and braving the conditions. 

We had just reach the centre of Nantwich when Jan ran out of energy and got the “shakes”.  She clung to me as I led her towards a food outlet where she could get a sugar hit.  On a previous visit I remembered there had been a tea room beside the craft and knitting shop down Mill Street.  What I didn’t know was it has been rated one of the top 10 tearooms in England.   Nor did I know they only sold food made on site from local produce.


I took a quick snap with the phone.  The tea room is next to the ‘STITCH’ shop.  The place was packed with locals and it was Monday morning!  We both opted for the Cheshire Breakfast (sausage,bacon, mushrooms, tomato, egg and toast) and afterwards realised why the locals were dining there.  The eggs were particylarly tasty.

Once Jan’s energy level had recovered we walked on to Aldi for a few essentials before returning to Waiouru.  Whilst Jan restocked the pantry I walked up to Nantwich Marina and checked their red diesel prices.  I’ve been thinking we should refill the reserve containers.  We don’t need any fuel (all three tanks are almost full) but at this time of year I do like to keep a reserve.  The fuel was 71ppl (domestic) which is about the median price.

In the afternoon I trained the remote for the Network Media Tank (NMT) to work with the Raspberry Pi.   It wasn’t too complicated.  I do like Linux operating systems because they are compartmentalised rather than integrated like Windoze and iOS.  The Linux infra-red moduel is LIRC and the configuration commands are in a file named lirc.conf.  All I had to do was run a configuration program (irrecord) which would record all the inputs from the remote.  during this process I had to enter the command from the selected and pressed remote key.  The irrecord program then produced an lirc.conf file in the Raspberry Pi.  The Raspberry Pi now recognised the specific remote key commands from the NMT remote.


Above is the Samsung TV remote on the left and the Network Media Tank (NMT) remote on the right.  The Raspberry Pi now accepts all the commands from the NMT remote.


If making your own IR receiver and teaching your remote to work with the Raspberry Pi seems difficult then there is an easier way.

Since the mid 2000’s many electronics manufacturers built their devices to comply with the CEC protocol.  CEC stands for Consumer Electronics Control which allows HDMI connected devices to control each other.  If your devices comply with the CEC protocol (check your user manual) and are connected together with a HDMI cable then it is possible to control connected devices using a single remote control.  I have the Raspberry Pi connected to the Samsung TV using a HDMI cable.  The Samsung TV is CEC compliant.  Samsung’s proprietry name for CEC is Anynet+.  Using the Samsung remote I went into the TV system settings and turned on Anynet+.  Then I pressed the ‘Tools’ key on the remote (see next photo).  This listed all the CEC compliant devices attached to the TV via a HDMI cable.  The Raspberry Pi was on the list.  I scrolled down to the Raspberry Pi option and hit ‘Enter’ to select it.  The Samsung TV remote now controls the Raspberry Pi. 

samsung remote 

‘Source’ key is used to select the HDMI port connected to the Raspberry Pi.  ‘Tools’ key enables me to select and control the attached CEC compliant device.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Nantwich and the IR Receiver

Jan confused the hell out of me when she said “Well when are we leaving for Nantwich?” Yesterday there was a comment about not cruising on the weekends!  It was certainly ideal weather to move with a slight wind, mild temperatures and a blue sky.  We topped up the water tank above Hurleston Locks and deposited our rubbish in the CRT bin.  The top lock was empty, but the other three were in various stages of being full.  At one point we could see a boat at the bottom of the flight however it continued on towards Nantwich.  This is the first time we’ve done the flight without passing another boat.  Jan stopped to talk to a man out walking.  When she caught up with me Jan told me he was an Aussie who had been living in the UK for 18 years.  His abbreviated story was “I was at a beer festival in Brisbane where I met a backpacker.  Be careful who you sleep with when you’re pissed!”
It may be some time before we next go up the Hurleston Flight
At the bottom of the flight we turned south and headed towards Nantwich.  This is a very familiar part of the network so no need for the canal map and gps.  On reaching the moorings at Nantwich we noticed how full they were.  This is in marked contrast to our last two months on the Llangollen.  Nantwich must be a winter “honey spot”.  It was our lucky day because after passing a long line of moored boats the prime mooring adjacent to the walkway into the town was we moored up.  Jan needs to clean the carpet in the boat after tramping inside wearing her muddy boots.  She went inside to check the diesel stove which was emitting more smoke than usual.  It was probably my fault because I’d noticed the excessive smoke and asked her to check if the stove was still alight (it was).  However I’m not going to admit to any error or responsibility on my part.  Besides I know Jan loves housework!  I try not to make too much of a mess in the boat because I know you can have too much of a good thing.
Nerdy Bit
Reader Ade asked for the links to the project components
The Infra-red Receiver
My homemade IR receiver and remote will consist of an IR receiver; an old cable from a CD Rom drive and the existing remote control from the media tank.  I’ll replace the remote control with another old remote at a later date.
The first thing I had to do was remove the plugs from the end of the CD Rom cable.
I did this by borrowing one of Jan’d sewing needles and prying up the small plastic clip on each of the three wires.  Each wire can then be pulled out of the plug.  The wires already have a pin terminal crimped to the end.
The above photo is blurred but you get the idea.  The cable terminals are just the right size to fit onto the IR Receiver pins.
IMG_8636 Now you know why I wanted an old CD ROM drive audio cable.  And you thought I was just a pretty face! Smile
I used three small pieces of insulation tape to insulate the bare terminals.  Then I pushed a short piece of shrink wrap over the insulation tape and used Jan’s hairdryer to tidy up the wires.
I will probably apply more heat at a later date and shrink this slightly more.  My plan is to find a short length of 16 gauge steel wire and attach it to the IR sensor as a support wand.  The wire will be secured to the cable using a second layer of heat shrink.  The wand will then be bent to allow the IR sensor to be positioned on an edge of the TV (probably under the lower edge) where it can receive the signals from the remote control.
I then drilled a hole in the RPi plastic case and fed the other end of the cable into the enclosure.  Once there was sufficient cable inside the case I tied a cable tie around the cable to act as a stop.  This will prevent the cable from accidentally being ripped out of the case.
The three wires were then attached to the Raspberry Pi GPIO connector.
This isn’t my RPi but the GPIO pin layout is the same.
The last task was to test if the IR sensor was receiving commands from the remote.  I pushed a few buttons on the remote whilst pointing it at the sensor and the LED on the RPi blinked.  So the sensor is wired correctly and receiving commands from the remote.  But the Rpi doesn’t understand the remote control commands.  That’s the next step.  The IR Receiver has cost me 43p.