Digital Radio is dead

June 25, 2013

Where do we listen to the radio? There are quite a few answers to this, we each have our own, but for me it is in the car. That is the only time for me. There are other sources of entertainment when I am not driving – but in the car there is no choice but to just listen. Radio is essential in the car.

The UK has a long history of government stifling radio with rigid government control proscribing what the BBC can broadcast to us and that for the most part only the BBC can broadcast to us. In answer to the question ‘Why can’t we have more choice?’ there was always the answer of a lack of available frequencies.

There have been a few little improvements over the years giving the odd local non-BBC station some limited local coverage on FM or the already obsolete AM, but there was never an even playing field. The BBC got a 12KW transmitter when the local competition got just 600W. Eventually we got a national non-BBC FM station playing the music we all wanted to hear, classical. The government really did their market research thoroughly when deciding that one at a time when 3% of the radio audience wanted to listen to classical. Marconi would be turning in his grave if he knew what was happening in the country that invented radio.

With the advent of DAB and a new commercial environment for radio, there was a golden opportunity to put things right. Loads of bandwidth was allocated internationally in Band III and L Band, every radio station had a chance. Our national network listening experience, pretty much the only thing suitable for listening to in the car if you are going further than popping to the shops, could be extended from government proscribed pop music, government proscribed MOR, government proscribed news, government proscribed classical and commercial classical. There was a chance that we could listen to something interesting in a country with a rich music culture.

It did happen for a short while. Driving around London there were around fifty radio stations available on DAB on the national and regional multiplexes, less so away from the capital, but still we had choice of rock music on the radio at last. That alone was worth buying a new radio for the car, even if it was a little expensive. I really loved my Woodstock 52. It still looks really good and mostly still works, although it is showing its age a bit. The CD drive won’t work, it is fussy about which SD cards I put in it and the volume control is a bit dicky, but it still sounds as good as the day I bought it – apart from one thing, most of the radio stations have gone, and most of those that are left are broadcasting at such low bandwidth that no one wants to listen any more. A mono MPEG1-layer-2 stream at 64kb/s or if you are lucky 80kb/s is not hi-fi by any stretch of the imagination.

What is one to do. As someone who loves radio, likes the variety and the commentary from good D.J.s that care about the music this is a very sad time. Planet Rock is so distorted now it is too hard on the ears to bear, The Storm has gone, The Arrow has gone, the regional multiplexes that carry Real XS are closing down in the next few weeks. It is a very sad time for radio.

Could it be revived? Of course. The government like having little surveys every now and then that tell us that everyone who tries listening to their normal FM bland crap on DAB thinks it sounds much better, so digital must be successful, but that hides the real story of OffCom fiddling while rome burns. All is not rosy, action is needed.

Commercial interests who do not care for the output of their radio stations will never set a quality threshold. That is the job of the regulator. In the beginning when the radio operators accepted that they were going to burn a bit of money at a time when only the wealthy could afford the radios the sound quality was good, with 128Kb/s being the minimum and some operators using higher bandwidth as much as 192Kb/s. Now alas competition and the regulator caving in to requests by the operators to use the available bandwidth for other non-radio activities has seen that eroded to joke levels of bandwidth.

Unfortunately we have a culture of left wing governments squeezing anything that they can regulate of tax until it is dead, and then squeezing some more. Government is forgetting that it is supposed to be working in the public interest and that broadcasting is a public service. Government should not be allowing, and especially should not be actively encouraging valuable broadcast spectrum to be used for other things just because it can be taxed, using the excuse that other countries are doing it, completely missing the point that their governments are corrupt and that they have no need for the spectrum themselves.

What should be happening now? Number one is to set a minimum standard of sound quality. We have had stereo for around half a century, it should be a given. 192Kb/s minimum (or the equivelent for non- MPEG1-layer-2 streams) should also be a minimum.

Number 2 is to provide a second national multiplex for the BBC. They already spend a vast amount of money making programmes in hi-fi stereo, so it will be only a small expense to broadcast them in reasonable quality so we, the public who have paid for them can actually get to listen to them. The BBC is a public service BROADCASTER, we should not be expected to download everything. Allowing the BBC to broadcast properly will at least set a standard. Unfortunately the BBC does not set the same standard in radio that it does in television, but it might put up a fight if it is allowed to compete as a quality broadcaster.

Number 3 is to stop the focus on local radio. Local broadcasters are never going to have sufficient revenue to provide top quality radio, even when there was just a single local station in each area outside big cities they did not make enough money to do a good job, so how are three or four going to compete on each of the local multiplexes, they are not. We need a good infrastructure for national broadcast, not the single monopoly multiplex we have at the moment that can charge an extortionate amount for a 64Kb/s mono broadcast because it is take it or leave it.

Number 4 it is time for satellite DAB on L Band. Unfortunately the government has cocked it all up here by delaying use of L Band such that few radios sold today can receive it, but it will be cheaper to broadcast from a single satellite transponder than from a national chain of transmitters on the ground.

Radio can be saved, and I am hopeful, but I suspect I might have to invest in an MP3 player soon and find a way to gather together some music that I like, and perhaps mutter to myself in between tracks – just like a D.J. Perhaps it is time to write to my MP again…

Home Grown Mushrooms

October 22, 2012

Over the years I have had several goes at growing mushrooms, and never got any to eat. Now that all might change, has anyone got any menu suggestions for a single Shitake mushroom?

Image

It is organic, I even grew my own Silver Birch logs!

Strange rules

August 28, 2011

Does anyone know why HMRC require me to submit a receipt for enough fuel to drive a thousand miles, in order to claim expenses for drivingHer Majesty's Revenue and Customs logo seven hundred miles? I wonder if they have given any thought as to where I am supposed to get such a receipt from?

The kind looking man behind the counter in the filling station looked at me strangely when I requested a VAT reciept, “Could I have a large one please?”

An old fashoined Shell filling station So what is the answer to my dilemma to needing 30% extra fuel. I suppose there are a few choices:-

1. Empty the excess fuel that will not fit into the tank down the drain at the filling station. This will still make claiming economically viable.

2. Leave the car idling for about three hours to use up the excess fuel.

3. Purchase a printer to print my own receipts that look just like the ones from the filling station.

4.  Perhaps I can purchase some receipts from somewhere? Might be cheaper than a whole printer.

5 Maybe if I ask nicely I can get a day off work each week for a threePenelope Pitstop from Wacky Races hundred mile joyride round the countryside. It is not like I am driving enough anyway.

Rules that are a pain in the bum are one thing, but rules that are impossible to comply with (legally) are just plain stupid.

I would complain to HMRC directly, but I would have to complain about there being no contact details for the relevant department on the website first. Does anyone know who is the current minister for administrative affairs? I am sure that Sir Humphrey must have had his finger in it somewhere.

oil portrait of Sir Humphrey Appleby, personal private secretary to the minister of administrative affairs.

Summertime

April 20, 2011

It is nice that we are in April now, that traditional time of year when the ground is crackedThe ground is cracked with large fissures where the clay has dried out and shrunk and parched so you have to be careful not to drop anything into a gaping chasm.

At least now I no longer have to stick to metalled roads for my daily walks because I can take the paths and tracks across the fields without getting bogged down in mud.

There is a lot of native wildlife and my walks often take me to the local SSSI where it is quite easy to see the unusual flora, but the fauna is a little more elusive.

I was reminded today that I live in a major Adder stronghold.

Adder basking beside the road

Basking adder

There is a report of six people being bitten on one footpath alone in a day so they must be quite common. I try to be very wary when walking through long grass because they are not that easy to notice – you have to look for them. I have not yet seen one in the grass, but today was a good day for basking and I saw this one lying on the edge of the road.

The rape is now coming in to bloom so I thought I might take a snap.

Suzie kneeling in front of yellow oilseed rape with grass in the foreground

Suzie x

Down the Drain

March 31, 2011

As well as the ‘glass ceiling’ defining what girls can and cannot do, there is also the ‘Mud floor’ that tends to have the same effect.

Stereotypes are there to be broken, so when Bella identified that some corners had been cut in the renovation of her new house they had to be tackled.

Suzie digging the trench

I need some prettier wellies.

Yesterday’s task was sorting out the kitchen drain. In order to save time and money the builders had thought it was a good idea to just tee the sink and washing machine outlet into the rainwater downpipe which goes into a very small soakaway. The result of which is a very slow draining sink and error messages on the washing machine saying the outlet is blocked. When ground level is below sea level anyway a soakaway is never going to be very efficient! It needed to go into the main drain.

Bella and Suzie posing while digging a drain

Working Girls

Surveying the site and making a list of what was required did not take long and we went shopping. Bella had a pretty good idea of how much it would all cost, but it all cost double my estimate. Plastic pipe is jolly expensive!

Fortunately there has not been much rain recently and the ground is not waterlogged. We stripped the turf and started to dig the trench making quite a big hole in order to get the core drill in. I am not sure what the man from the hire shop thought of two girls laying a drain when he came to deliver the core drill!

Bella standing by the inspection hole apparently on fire.

Bella was working so hard she almost caught on fire.

Had it been a brick built inspection hole we had to connect to I might not have bothered with the core drill, but for thirty quid it saved an awful lot of work making a 100mm hole through the concrete.

Trench filled with pea shingle

Neat job

It probably would have taken me two days to do it on my own, but with Bella it only took us a few hours and we had it done in time for lunch.

I don’t understand Bella at all. Digging is so much easier in a leather skirt.

Suzie x

The price of a free PC

March 30, 2011

How much does a free PC cost? The answer would appear obvious at first glance, but it may not be quite so clear cut.

As someone who has had pretty good access to supplies of redundant computing equipment over the years I have often been able improve and upgrade with minimal cost and still have a working system.

I started with an 8088 based system in the ’80s which I was given as a tool to do my work at the time, and gradually upgraded it with new system boards, peripherals and drives until eventually I had a nice 100MHz 80486 with a 120MB hard disk and 32MB of RAM running Windows NT with dial up web access and Netscape Navigator 4.

Times change and things move on. I persevered  with the little system still in its XT case but eventually around the turn of the millennium most websites stopped supporting Netscape and I had to bite the bullet and buy a new PC that would run Internet Explorer. It was a time when PC use was expanding and no one was throwing out anything that was capable of running NT. The big issue was memory – you just could not get enough in them.

I bit the bullet. Of course I did not go and buy an off the shelf PC from a shop. I bought the bits I needed from various sources, and even bought a smart new case big enough to fit the optical drive, LS120 drive, floppy disk drive (NT still needed a real floppy as well to load the drivers!) and a pair of 30GB hard disks and a system board with integrated RAID. I had been around long enough to know that PC component failures were in the following order 1. CRT monitor, 2. PSU, 3. Hard Disk. I wanted my PC to keep running.

Old habits die hard and I could not miss an opportunity to obtain a second hand 900MHz AMD Athlon processor and a discarded AGP graphics card to keep the costs down. With 256MB of RAM this PC was going to last forever. I had spent a grand, bear in mind this was back in the days when a grand was a lot of money, and it made me realise what I had achieved over the years by recycling all those unwanted parts.

The new PC ran Windows 2000 and with the enhancement of another 500MB of RAM and a pair of 200GB hard disks lasted for a decade with minimal investment. As Internet Explorer had caused the demise of the old PC, the new cause of failure was Facebook. People were not able to play the games because it was not fast enough to run the flash based applications. The OS was a little out of date and no longer supported with security updates and I could not get a realistic amount of memory in it.

I soldiered on, but my tales of woe did not fall on stony ground.

Second hand black PC“I’ve got something better than that you can have.” There was some rummaging, and out popped a PC in a black tower case. The colour was interesting because all my previous PCs had been beige. That is the way it was!

So I left with my free PC under my arm. OK so it was not quite state of the art, but it met the spec for Windows 7, and the Semperon processor was around three times faster than the old Athlon – what could go wrong.

I knew that the 1GB of RAM would not be quite adequate, so a splashed out fifty quid on 2GB of DDR to fill it up. OK, so £50 for a new PC was not too bad a price to pay. It would not be totally awsome, but it would be a lot better.

The memory arrived, I put it in, now to install the OS. After a fair bit of faffing around it transpired that the DVD drive was not in tip-top condition and would only read CDs. OK I will have to buy a new drive, no big deal.

I can’t install Windows 7 from the DVD but can install Vista, so at least I get an OS installed. Buy a nice new Blue Ray writer (silly not to really) for £85, and the SATA controller card for £30 because you cannot get an IDE Blue Ray drive.

OK so not too bad. My free PC has only cost me £165 so far, and running Vista is perhaps not that bad – apart from it crashing a few times each day.

“We want the old PC back. It’s no good. Why did you waste all that money on it.”

“It was free…”

At this point things are not looking good. Well, I have got the new optical drive, lets try upgrading to Windows 7. Perhaps that will be more stable than Vista.

It wasn’t of course. Lots of fiddling to remove everything that was not essential to the running of the PC (sound card, AGP graphics card). Flash up the firmware, play with conservative BIOS settings. Still no good. Removing the graphics card reduced crashing to once per day, but it was still crashing. Still referred to as Satan.

By now the donor of the ‘free’ PC was no doubt feeling a little guilty. “Well, I have got this core 2 Duo processor and 2GB memory…”

Will it work I think to myself.  I did not want to be in Ground-hog day. I was sort of there already. Accepting the new parts would result in more expenditure. I would have to buy a new system board.

I had no choice. I had to succeed. I am an IT professional. People pay me a lot of money to make things work. I can do it. I will succeed.

System board and new PCI-e graphics card arrive for a mere £75. Running total is now £235.

“They had new PCs on special offer for about that. We could have had a proper one…”

I did not dare mention the Blue ray writer that the ‘proper one’ would not have had.

I build the new PC, and success. PC runs like a dream. All of the ills and trauma are forgotten and everyone is happy. Happy Aquarium runs like a dream and everyone can now feed their virtual fish without tearing their hair out.

What became of the original free PC? Well you might ask. I put the bits in another case, installed Fedora on it and used it as my Linux test PC. Crashing once a day would not be an issue, and I was getting two PCs now for the price of one. One interesting observation of course – it does not crash running Linux!

Glossary (in order of appearance!)

8088 – Microprocessor made by Intel and used in the first IBM PCs. It is a 16-bit processor similar to the 8086 but with an 8-bit external bus to keep the cost down and to keep the PC simple.

IBM – International Business Machines, the company that made the PC very popular worldwide.

PC – Personal Computer. A small computer with just enough processing power for and intended to be used by one person and not shared by many as most computers were at one time.

MHz – MegaHertz, the number of millions of things that a processor can do in a second.

80486 – 32-bit processor made by Intel and based on (and backwards compatible with) its earlier 8086 processor with an integrated numerical co-processor to speed up arithmetic operations and the ability to work with much more memory.

MB – Megabyte, 1048576 bytes (a little over a million, hence mega). A byte is enough storage to typically hold one character or a number from 0 to 255.

Windows – A popular operating system family produced by Microsoft.

Operating System – The software that runs on a PC when you first switch it on which allows you to run your applications.

NT – The first version of Windows that did not sit on top of another operating system and was stand alone. Very much based on OS/2 that Microsoft had produced for IBM. The NT stood for New Technology since it was very different underneath to the previous versions of Windows although it looked the same and was very similar to use.

OS/2 – A completely new operating system intended to replace DOS on personal computers which did not gain much popularity outside of business which made good use of the improvements that had been made to PCs since IBM introduced the first ones.

DOS – Disk Operating System, the original operating system produced by Microsoft for the IBM PC.

RAM – Random Access Memory, the memory which holds data and programs only while the computer is turned on.

Netscape Navigator – The first popular web browser that has become eclipsed by Internet Explorer.

XT  – The first version of the IBM PC to come with a hard disk. It had a distinctive case style that was much copied by other manufacturers.

LS120 – A floppy disk drive that works with disks that hold 120MB of data rather than the usual 1.44MB.

System board – The main circuit board within a PC that contains the processor and has connectors to plug in other devices.

RAID – Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. A method of using a group of hard disks to store data in such a way that failure of one disk will not result in any loss of data.

CRT Monitor – Monitor with a cathode ray tube and curved screen like televisions used to have.

PSU – Power Supply Unit, the part of a computer that takes mains voltage and converts it to the lower voltages required inside the computer.

AMD Athlon – Microprocessor made by AMD to be broadly compatible with Intel processors but a little faster and cheaper.

AGP Graphics card – Newer type of monitor adapter which plugs into a special AGP slot in the system board and is much faster than the previous type that just plugs into and ordinary slot.

Facebook – A popular social networking website.

Semperon – An AMD processor more advanced than the Athlon.

DDR –  Double Data Rate memory, a type of RAM.

DVD – Digital Video Disk, optical disk originally intended for video but used widely to store data.

Blue Ray – Optical disk with more storage than DVD.

IDE – Integrated Drive Electronics, an interface type used for hard disks and optical drives to connect them to the system board.

SATA – A newer and faster interface than IDE to connect drives to the system board.

Firmware – Software that is held within the hardware to control it, nowadays it tends to be held within flash erasable memory chips which can be updated by a process called flashing when any software errors need to be corrected.

Fedora – A version of Linux produced by Red Hat, who’s logo is a red fedora hat.

LINUX – An operating system originally produced by Linus Torvalds which is maintained by the open source community.

Open source – Software which is produced where the source code is published freely for anyone to use.

Suzie x

Linux

March 11, 2011

I have a real enthusiasm for Linux, the freedom, the open source, and the zero cost. There is so much that commends Linux to be used, to be loved and to be acclaimed.

Linux penguin logo

Linux Penguin

When I was given a PC the other day with a 2GHz processor which happens to be faster than all my existing PCs, and initial assessment proved it to be unsuitable to directly replace anything I currently had (it was not a laptop and did not have hardware RAID), I thought that it might actually be a bit more useful if I put Linux on it.

The processor should be fast enough (I have run Red Hat on a pentium 90 before) and 2GB of memory should be handy too. So, not being one to change unless it was necessary I downloaded the latest Fedora KDE ISO and had a go.

Fedora core 14 logoUnfortunately the reality of using Linux is that it is not quite as straightforward as it should be. The basic install is all very straightforward, once I had found a hard disk that had not been previously used in a RAID array to use as the boot disk. The setup program felt the need to identify the former RAID disks as software RAID disks and could not find them to boot on.

A 6GB disk should have been big enough, but Druid did not think so. It insisted on telling me it was not big enough and that I should replace it with one bigger than 2GB – no useful message as to why, no option to look at how it was trying to partition it, no option to edit its suggested partioning – just the option of doing my own partitioning from scratch – with no meaningful information provided as to what partitions were required.

Ok, so I had a guess. 5GB should be enough for the OS, 500MB for swap, and leave the rest to play with later. Should not be too hard to make adjustments later, Disk Druid looks like a handy utility that should be easy to use, that is if it is available – which it is not of course. It is an install time only utility. A couple of hours research on a Windows PC managed to turn up how to configure the swap partition manually.

The rest of the install plods along nicely, and there I have it, a nice Fedora 14 PC for free.

I try a few things out and find out the sound is not working. Change the BIOS setting from AUTO to ENABLED and it springs to life, not too much of a problem.

Using the built in utilities and applications is fine. They appear to work OK and do what they are supposed to. I can even do a bit of web browsing on Konquerer. That is handy because now I can get on the internet and download some useful applications.

Previous attempts at working with Linux had been rather stifled because all the instructions for doing anything expected that you had an online connection to the internet, not just the ability to download elsewhere, burn to a CD and install from that. The coming of ADSL has been jolly handy.

I say all the instructions, but for some reason, and this appears to be peculiar to Linux, any attempt at doing anything other than very basic things are always met with the statement “If you need to ask how to do this you are too stupid to be doing it” or words to that effect. This is mainly found around trying to install drivers or something that needs you to recompile the core. Very frustrating and not really in the spirit of open source. Why should an IT professional be too stupid to understand how to recompile the core?

So, I fancy using Firefox as my browser. Konquerer might be OK, but I know how to use Firefox. Go to the Firefox website, download it, click on the downloaded file, and we are away. Firefox installs and runs, all the familiar stuff – excellent. Close Firefox.Firefox

Next day, switch on Linux PC, log in, fine. I would like to do some browsing. Konquerer is there in the start menu, but where is Firefox? It isn’t there. It is not exactly rocket science to add a shortcut I wouldn’t have thought, but still, this is Linux – not for ordinary people.

A quick search in Dolphin and there is Firefox. Hmmm. Perhaps I can make a link to it myself. What runs it, ah, this shell script seems to do it. Click the shell script and Firefox fires up. Excellent.

Drag the shell script to the desktop, choose make link. Click the link and see the shell script open for editing. Not quite what I was expecting and not very useful. Ah well, at least I can launch Firefox now if I need it by finding it in Dolphin. Konquerer will probably be OK most of the time.

Ahh. Google Chrome is available for Linux too. Why not give that a try. Shock Horror, it installs and puts a shortcut in next to Konquerer. So it can be done.

I am on a roll now. Openoffice.org here I come. this surely will install OK. It has a big organisation behind it so will be designed for easy install.

No. That would be silly. People might use it. I download the archive, and unzip it. Lots of RPMs to install now. None of them are signed so I have to give root authentication twice for each one. An hour later with the forty or so individual packages installed, it is time to try it.

I will try it one day when I find out what you are supposed to run to use it! No shortcuts in the applications menu (or none that I can find anyway).

As an open source developer myself, who always strives to the highest standard of documentation to ensure that what I produce is fully usable, and usable by anyone, I am appalled at what is produced for Linux. I am sure that the underlying code is pretty good, but there does not appear to be very much testing of either the product or the documentation. Google appear to know what they are doing but that is about as far as it goes.

OK, so I don’t like what I see.

“Do something about it yourself then!” I hear chorused.

err, no. I do my own development for the open source community, and it is a community. We all do our own bit and the result is there for all to use. I do not expect everyone who uses my code to contribute code as well. Not everyone can code but everyone can contribute to society That is good enough for me.

Open source is not about second rate, is not about being ‘Geeky’, it is about contributing to society for the greater good. Professionalism has the same place in the open source community as elsewhere and there is no reason that Linux can not become first rate, but it has to be taken seriously, especially by the developers.

Suzie x

Publishing

October 20, 2010

No one is more surprised than me that I have got involved in the publishing industry. Anyone who has read my blog will know instantly that I am no serious writer, and I never quite got the hang of successful joined up writing. Thank goodness for the invention of the word processor.

Bookshop with neat and tidy shelves stacked full of books

Circumstances come to pass, and having slightly better grammatical skills than the author, I end up editing a book, and publishing it.

It is just a book, and I don’t make a lot of money out each one, but as each one is sold I just so want to hug whoever has bought it and thank them for choosing it over the millions of other books that are available.

Alas the anonymity of the distribution channel means that I have no idea where the books have gone – but whoever you are, wherever you are, thank you.

Suzie x

Virtual Gardening

August 19, 2010

Screen shot of the best garden in Facebook's 'Garden life' application

Marianna's Garden

The sky has been overcast the last couple of weeks, and still little rain, so Mrs. Suzie has not had much to do in the garden of late. This has also been the case with her keen on gardening family, who, ever resourceful have taken to playing online games.

One of the wonders of online games is that they are not much fun on your own. Needless to say it was not long before Mrs. Suzie was roped in to play with them as well. Now while Mrs. Suzie has been a computer user for many years – she has not had to gain the skills required for gaming where the mouse can be used for things other than just double clicking, and where it does different things depending on which tool has been selected. These things are all very alien to Mrs. Suzie.

So, for about a week, I have been doing application support for ‘Garden Life‘ for Mrs. Suzie as she tackles creating a virtual garden. In the end rather than have to find out what she was trying to do and work out what was supposed to happen at every stage and try and guess the strategy, I installed the app and had a play. So for anyone who wants to play ‘Garden life‘, here are a few tips.

1. Get as much land under cultivation as possible. Buy garden extensions as soon as you have enough money. you should have enough diamonds to buy your first extension – don’t spend them on anything else.

2. Grow strawberries. Ken Muir and Mr. Wilkin are not the worlds biggest strawberry growers, you are! They crop in five minutes meaning that each plot of strawberries will net you 36 experience points and 36 golds per hour. Experience points get you up to the next level.

3. While your crops are growing look around some random gardens for stuff to pick up. Go for ones on lower levels – the things are easier to spot. If you see a gopher wait for the gopher to appear, don’t click on the empty hole!

4. Get some Facebook friends to play too. You can pick up a pot of gold from every friend every day, and send one another (very expensive) free gifts. Get your gold and send a free gift first thing in the morning.

5. Whenever you receive a gift send a thank you gift back (it is the same as you have received). If your friends do the same you will build up a big collection of useless stuff that you can turn into gold.

6. Plan your crops based on how long you will be away from the computer. If you will be on it constantly grow strawberries, if you are going to pop to the bathroom with a copy of ‘The Garden‘ for half an hour – plant some pansies instead. You do not want to leave your crops to wilt once they have cropped. Pumpkins are a good overnight crop, or tomatoes if you are having a lie in.

7. Get hedgehog and Bunny hutch bases so that you can make use of all the free stuff and have lots of animated bunnies and hedgehogs in your garden when you are sufficiently wealthy

It takes about a day to get to level 9, so you can have a sense of achievement at an early stage. Lots of gold and friends means that you can have a pretty garden and not just a functional one! It is very easy to be seduced into buying pretty things to make your garden look nice.

Suzie x

Designing for cool

July 14, 2010

I have not posted any little technical tips lately, so here is a tip to make your micro-controller based projects suitable for the cool shelf and not the nerdy shelf.

Just as low voltage micro-controllers appeared that can be run on a 3V power supply which is easily attainable from a couple of AA batteries, so appeared blue and white LEDs at affordable prices, with their inherent forward voltage of more than 3V.

Blue LED tyre light on a car wheel

Cool gadget

Society has now decided that white LEDs are cool, blue LEDs are super cool, and violet LEDs are really mega cool. It has become very easy to visually identify how cool your gadget is by what colour it lights up when you turn it on. Clearly anything that has an orange, yellow, green, or dare I suggest red LED is just old fashioned and nerdy.

Designer clock with red light emitting diode display

Less cool gadget

This has resulted in a design choice with not always the coolest outcome. Your choices are:-

– You can increase the supply voltage by adding an extra couple of AA cells, probably making it a bit heavier, but getting enough voltage for a cool coloured LED.

– You can use an unfashionable coloured LED.

– You can play the green card and not use an indicator at all.

Here is an alternative, a way to run your voltage hungry cool coloured LED from 3V using little more than software and ten pennies worth of components:-

Circuit diagram showing how to connect a blue LED to a three volt microcontroller

How to drive a blue led from a three volt micro-controller

All you need to do is provide an anti-phase square wave output on the two port pins. This can be done as an interrupt routine or as part of a polling routine in software quite easily.

With careful selection of which pins you use you may even be able to use an on board peripheral like a PWM generator or timer to generate the signal.

Careful selection of the capacitor values and adjustment of the mark/space ratio of the output square wave will allow you to adjust the brightness of the LED in software for added kudos to take you up another level on the cool shelf.

Suzie x