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Feeling my age

Yesterday, the 12th, was Mom's birthday. So we decided to go "Down South". South, in this case, is specifically a town called Clisson. A town in the area of the vignoble (that means wine growing area) with Italian style architecture.

It is also the location of HellFest - not that you'd know it:

This is in the middle of a roundabout, and it is huge. At least big enough to match some of the acts that play in the hard rock festival.


After doing some shopping at a very nice supermarket (that puts the ones around here to shame), we went a little off the beaten track towards a town called Le Pallet, where we stopped to look at a medieval church and dungeon (there wasn't much of either left). Just beyond the giant wooden crucifix monument, the ground dropped off sharply:

Mom didn't want to go down so I said "a hundred and eighty seconds", as in I'll just pop down, get some photos, then come back.

Going down was, obviously, fairly easy. At the bottom was a dinky wooden bridge, with a calm river (the Sanguèze) on one side of the bridge, and "rapids" on the other:

I got a few photos, and the count was ninety seconds, which gave me a minute and a half to get back.

I made it. One seventy six. But I felt like my legs were going to give up working and I was breathing so heavily I'm surprised my heart didn't give up. When I first came to France (a billion years ago), going up there would be a "no sweat" kind of deal. This time, I needed several minutes recovery time at the top. I think this is the first time I can say I really felt my age.


Next time we'll take a walk slowly.


The smart weather station

It was a nice Sunday. That usually means one thing - a vide grenier. Yup. The season is starting again. And a tenner got me a LaCrosse Technology WS2300 weather station. I'd wanted one of these for a while. The unit builds upon the usual wall-mounted weather stations by providing a wind speed/direction sensor and a pluviometer (rain sensor) in addition to the usual outdoor temperature/humidity sensor.

The equipment comes with ten metres of cable for each of the wind and rain sensors (they plug into the outdoor temperature sensor) and then an optional 10 metre cable to connect the outdoor sensor to the display unit. This is the preferred way to run the system as the display unit can be plugged into a little power pack and when used like that, the display unit will power the sensors so the batteries will be used just for backup in case of power cuts.

Unfortunately there are no locations that are really suitable for mounting the wind sensor. I guess the ideal position would be on the chimney, but good luck if you think it'd be easy getting up there.
I had thought of fitting it to my dish mount (and accepting that it wouldn't be able to detect a north wind), and that would have worked except for the small fact that the mounting system requires that the sensor face east. I can't say it's a shame that it must face East, as it is supposed to be mounted somewhere free of obstacles, where anything blocking East would be...an obstruction.

So I have set the system up temporarily in the garden and am using the 433MHz transmitter. I didn't want to use radio transmission as thick stone walls tend to be something of an impediment, but there's no choice at the moment.

Here's the wind sensor mounted 'rustic':

The wind speed sensor was somewhat unreliable and reluctant to move, so I gave it a quick puff of WD40 and blew into it really hard. Now it is able to move for slower winds, such as 3-5kph, that would not have made an impact on it before.
Note that it is mounted flat (kind of needs to be!), the photo is slightly skewed...

If you think that's bad, here's the rain sensor:

Both of these plug into the temperature/humidity sensor:

The cable with the little knot at the end is from the wind sensor. The other is the rain sensor.

This should be connected to the display unit, but in the absence of practical ways of making that work, it transmits at 433MHz to the display unit:

As the LCD didn't appear so well to the camera, I have processed the LCD in this photo to boost the contrast. You can see the display is broken into three sections. The top shows the time/date (it is supposed to pick up from DCF77 but I had to set it manually - not sure why as the wall clock is radio controlled and that works okay). Below that is a "trend" setting that is determined by evaluating what the sensors indicate to try to work out what the upcoming weather is likely to be. And below that, the atmospheric pressure (shown here in hPa/mbars). There are two choices, an absolute reading, and a relative reading (that can be tailored with respect to the pressure indicated in weather forecasts). Pressing the Pressure button switches between absolute and relative.
The second part of the display is for temperature and humidity. 10.7°C and 47% humidity is the external reading. The Display button will select between internal and external readings. As I'm interested in whether or not I need to keep an eye on the (well water) pump, this will likely read external all the time.
The bottom of the display shows wind direction and speed. Shown is a NE wind at 7.2kph. It is possible to configure all sorts of options (kph, mph, m/sec, beaufort...). Pressing the Wind button switches between wind angle in degrees, wind direction (as in "ENE"), and wind speed.
The Alarm button is because you can set up all sorts of alarms to go off when things are below or above a minimum or maximum threshold. I've set an alarm to sound if the temperature goes below -1.5°C, though with the device in the living room at the moment, I'm not sure I'll hear it!


Now one of the things that really bugged me about other weather devices is that the remote sensor picks a 'random' code for itself when batteries are inserted. This means that the base unit invariably needs to be reset in order to be able to pick up the transmitter again. It is stupid to have to reset the base (and lose min/max, settings, etc) just to change the batteries in the outdoor sensor. Now so with the WS2300. Simply hold the + button for a couple of seconds and it will sync into the sensor again. This is a big plus for this unit.

Then comes the part nerds will like. There's a serial port.

Included in the box was a USB to proper serial interface (as I don't actually have one - my USB-serial interface is 3.3V serial with Tx/Rx only for debugging on the Pi). The interface was usefully based upon the Prolific chipset (I don't know if it is real or clone as it is a sealed plug, I'm guessing real as it looks a better quality than the usual Chinese clones). Useful, too, as I refuse to run any FTDI (real or otherwise) in respect to FTDI's choice of intentionally damaging clone devices. Refusing to work with them is acceptable. Actually messing with them is a step too far.
Anyway, the serial adaptor plugged into the WS3200's serial lead, which plugged into the WS3200 itself, and I got COM2 to use.

That was the simple part.

The software is of the Windows 98 era, but amazingly it is still available on-line, at heavyweather.info, so I could download and install it. That was simple as well.

What wasn't so simple is that it crashed on XP. I set the compatibility to Windows 98/ME, but it still crashed (error 0x00000005). The error tipped me off. The "0x" prefix made me think that the program is likely written in C, and the '5' suggests to me that it was a SIGSEGV error, a bad memory access.
This rang a bell in my head, so I popped over to the system settings and added the application to the DEP exclusions list.
That "fixed" it. I say fixed in quotes as the program is probably still trying to access bogus memory (NULL pointer?), but now DEP won't kick in and terminate the program with extreme prejudice.

The software takes a good few seconds to populate the display, so I'm guessing we're running at some treacle-slow data rate, like 1200 or 2400bps. It's a shame that I can't determine the capabilities of the microcontroller inside the WS3200. I know there's no point taking it apart because firstly any messing with the LCD runs the risk of missing segments (I've taken apart enough calculators to know that touching the display and its contact strip in any way is a really bad idea), and if I get to the chip (depending on where it is inside), it will either be a custom part, or the information will be removed, or the whole thing buried in a splodge of hard epoxy.
At any rate, I expect it to be... slow. Slow keeps the batteries going for longer. I also expect the serial protocol to be bizarre and borderline incomprehensible. I have had a "personal agenda" that had a serial interface. I was able to log the serial conversation and, boy was it weird. I rather expect similar things here. But someday I might have a crack at it. The urgency level depends upon what happens when I plug the USB to serial interface into the Pi. As it is Prolific, the short answer is "nothing". Somebody has written an FTDI driver, but as yet there is nothing for Prolific.



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David Pilling, 18th March 2016, 15:04
...no Google I did not mean "Hey Ricky".  
The 433 MHz protocols for many of these weather stations have been discovered and coded up for Arduino. So all you need is a good 433 MHz receiver (see ebay, a quid) and an Arduino (see ebay another quid) and you've got a comprehensible serial data stream. 
I did this for my Oregon sensors, producing something that logs the data to my computer (Logger - see my wiki). 
It is fascinating to listen (connect 433 MHz receiver to amplifier) you can hear all the 433 MHz devices in the vicinity. 
I've found 433 MHz good at going through walls etc. 
Apparently those SDR dongles can also be used to grab the data. 
David Pilling, 20th March 2016, 15:24
So if someone said "this is the best Toni Basil fan site", does Google explode. Click bait maybe, incipient trollism.

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