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Sunday 30 December 2018

Discovery 4 the best 4x4 by far

We have had five Land Rovers over the years and driven a few more. All of them have been off-road.

Today we took our Discovery 4 off-road for the first time. We did the Christmas Pud Shakedown with the Essex Land Rover Club.

We played in the wet clay for about an hour and half, or so, and our conclusion is that all the electronics and buttons do a fantastic job. The Discovery 4 is perhaps the easiest, to get about in the rough, than any of the other car we have driven.

There was a section where the car pulled through, with what seamed like ease. That same section stopped us completely in our previous Discovery. This year the car took it in its stride, even though one side had to be dragged along a muddy bank and one wheel must have left the ground. 

A cross country vehicle (CCV) did that same section after us, admittedly in the opposite direction, but it struggled as it cross axled at one point.

Wet steep slopes, in the Discovery 4, were, almost, point and let the car adjust the traction to get up. It was not quite that easy, it did require the right pressure on the accelerator and a little bit of adjusting the steering, from side to side, at appropriate points.

It pulled, with ease, through water filled holes with loose gravel bases. The first time through one hole, I used a bit too much power. It created a great wave of muddy water over the bonnet. That was unnecessary because the car could drive it, easily, without the theatrics.

I was amazed by how good the Discovery 4 is off-road. As the slogan goes... 'best 4x4 by far.'


Saturday 29 December 2018

Fitting a dashcam to a Discovery 4

Another car another dashcam.

Probably stating the obvious but most of the work is running the wires. In previous cars I have always managed to find a suitable wire near to where I needed it to splice in to. The Discovery 4 circuit diagrams are so complex that it is difficult to identify a wire that will come on and off with the ignition and have sufficient spare capacity to use for anything.

I decided it was safest to run a wire back to the passenger fuse box and jumper off there.

I opted for Fuse 20, which is designated for a heated steering wheel, which I don't have. It's a 10Amp circuit, so plenty for what I needed.

Getting to the fuse box is easy, just depress the curved stays on either side of the lower glove box and it then folds down freely to gain a nice wide opening behind the dash.

Removing the interior A pillar trim is also amazingly easy. It has an air bag inside, so I was very careful. Before I started I disabled the airbag using the key turn on the end of the dash.

Behind the plastic airbag warning symbol, there is a single torx head screw. With that removed the trim pulls out easily.

The more scary, is removing the interior light cluster. It's held in entirely by clips. Grab the edge nearest the windscreen and pull. It takes some pressure to get it out but the clips will give with some care.

The end furthest from the screen has deeper hooks overlapping the headlining, so no point in trying to pull that end.

Threading a wire was not too difficult. I started from the fuse box end. The only tricky bit was getting it over the headlining. It was just luck that the wire went in the right direction and I could manage to reach it through the hole in the middle.

I took the opportunity to run an earth lead back to the dash because there is so much plastic that I could not find a good earth near the fuse box.

I found a handy M6 nut, welded to a plate, in the roof so I scratched and sanded down to bare metal to make a good earth.

I removed the end panel of the dash. It gave an improved view but was unnecessary to thread the cables. The panel is only held on by clips and just needs a good tug from the bottom edge to remove.

The metal spring clips sprung off and needed to be recovered.

I used a fuse piggy back jumper for the live and I powered the camera with a 12V to USB adaptor.

I ran the USB cable inside the mirror trim.

I filed a small notch in the trim to thread the cable.

Once connected I tested the camera before refitting anything.

Attaching the A pillar trim is fairly easy. It just needed the felt door trim pulled gently over the top and the screw refitted.

The interior lamp pushed back in easily. One wire did try to get in the way but just needed to be held in while pushing it together.

It's neatly installed and works nicely.


Passenger Compartment Fuse Reference:
Fuse number, ignition or permanent feed and usage
16 Ignition - Cooler
20 Ignition - Heated steering
28 Permanent - Unknown usage
29 Permanent - Unknown usage
34 Permanent - Electric fuel cap
55 Ignition - Auxiliary sockets
63 Auxiliary sockets but there is not enough space to fit the jumper.

There are plenty of unused fuse holders that have permanent live feeds but without knowing if they are connected to anything, it is a risk using a fuse jumper in them. It would be possible to use a single blade however the maximum current capacity is also unknown.

I prefer to use a known fuse for a system not fitted to my car.


Friday 28 December 2018

Alexa and Sonos Play 1

I have the older Sonos Play:1 speakers that do not include Alexa. I wanted to include some voice control for these. I investigated a couple of options but Amazon's Alexa looked like the best bet to get the desired features.

As a proof of concept, the first job was to setup the speakers on the mobile App. In my case on Android.

Setting up the Android app was fairly easy:

  • Download the Alexa App
  • Login with my existing Amazon account
  • Go to Devices > Other devices
  • Detect Devices
  • Once it found the Sonos devices it required me to authenticate with Sonos and grant permission for the Alexa app to manage the Sonos speakers. That took two attempts.
  • Then I had to detect the devices, again. This time they all appeared and Alexa required me to setup each speaker.
  • Setting up each speaker was no more than adding it to a group.

With that done I could control the Sonos speakers from within the Alexa app.
I also made the Alexa app the default personal assistance so I could hold the menu button to talk to Alexa.

On an Android phone, Alexa will not listen until a button on the phone is pressed, either from within the Alexa app or by activating the default digital assistant.

I could use voice commands such as, 'Alexa, play ZZTop in the kitchen.' or 'Alexa, stop the music in the bathroom.' or ' Alexa, play Absolute radio in the kitchen.'

Much to my surprise, this gave me access to the library on Amazon Music.

With that set up and working, the next step was to add an always on smart hub, of some sort.

Apparently the disadvantage of using an Echo Dot or the larger Echo version, is that Alexa is most likely to play from their speaker, rather than the better quality Sonos.

The Echo Input, is the only option, that does not include a built in speaker. Various sites, say it is not compatible with the Sonos speakers but others say it is the same as an Echo Dot but without the built in speaker so it should work.

Only one way to find out for sure, and that's to buy one and try it out. At £35 it was worth taking a chance.

Having set up the Echo Input, I understand why there are mixed messages about its compatibility. It works perfectly to control the Sonos speakers BUT the Alexa voice will not play from the Sonos speakers. She will only play from the connected speaker.

That was a minor issue and means there is no point in using an Echo Input with Sonos speakers.  Might as well buy an Echo Dot.  It's tidier.

It does have a tendency to play the music via the connected speaker instead of the Sonos however I solved this by creating extra groups. The Echo needs to be in its own group and each Sonos in separate groups. In the Echo group set the preferred speaker to be one of the Sonos groups.

Using that setup, the Echo always played the music on the Sonos speaker.

None of that was the problem. The problem was that we do not use music streaming. It is very difficult to get the Echo to play from music saved on a mobile phone.

You can do it but you have to initiate it from the phone so there is no advantage over using the Sonos app from your phone.

For that reason Alexa does not add any benefits for us.


Summary - Using Amazon Echo with Sonos Speakers
- The Echo devices will not talk through the Sonos speakers
- The Echo Input is therefore pointless for use with Sonos speakers.
- The Echo Dot would be a better choice
- The Echo voice control will play music through the Sonos speakers
- The Echo voice commands will control the volume of the Sonos speakers
- The Echo voice command cannot directly play music from phone playlists
- The Echo voice commands will plays streamed music such as Amazon Music or Spotify through the Sonos


Thursday 27 December 2018

Active photography bag strap

My preference for holding a camera, is freely with a wrist strap however, that is not comfortable for long periods between photographs, such as when I'm on a walk. In those cases I prefer to use a cross body strap, where the camera hangs to my side and allows the camera to be quickly brought to bear.

The first brand I had of this type of strap was BlackRapid. I'd used that for many years and although I liked the motion and where the camera hung, it was distracting having to regularly slide the strap back on to my shoulder.

There are variations with slings under the arm to help hold the strap in position but they did not work to my satisfaction

I have come up with a solution that I have been using for a few months and I am happy with. It's as simple as using a bag so the weight of the bag keeps the strap in position. The strap of the bag acts as the harness to support the camera.

The reason I use and like the cross body straps is because the camera is easier to carry but also still quick to use. I can also easily remove it from the harness and use it with a wrist strap.

I struggled to find a bag exactly the size I wanted and in a style I liked. I came back to my favourite bag producer, Billingham Bags to get something close to my ideal. They only had one with the features I needed and a size that was not too big.

It fits a 300mm zoom lens, some spare batteries and even a small charger, if I wanted. There is an open pocket on the front, ideal for a lens cap.

I don't stow my cameras while I carry them. I want them ready to use. There is no reason a larger bag could not be used that did have space for the camera.

I wanted a 25mm wide strap and luckily the bag I selected, came with that. I have added a wide section of two layers of 3mm thick leather to the end of the strap to stop the 4mm x 30mm (inside diameter), ring getting caught on the loop at the end of the strap where it attaches to the bag. It's just two bits riveted over the 25mm wide strap.

The leather had to be fairly substantial because it takes the weight of the camera when hanging freely.

The Billingham bag uses Sam Browne style studs to attach the straps. I like these and there was just enough space to fit the 3mm leather in between to hold it in place at the end of the strap.

I prefer my camera to hang from one of the strap rings on the top left of the camera instead of the more typical tripod screw. I've never understood why the camera had to hang upside down on a screw thread that could accidentally work loose!

My solution, from years ago, is that I add a 15mm or 20mm split ring to the left hand neck strap ring. I have a short strap between the harness and the camera so I am not tethered too close to the cross body strap. The sprung clip fits easily and quickly in to the larger ring.

One end of the short strap has a spinner so it can freely rotate. The end attached to the camera has an easier to operate sprung hook so I can quickly remove the camera to hold it freely. I use a wrist strap on my left wrist, in those situations where the camera is not attached to the main harness.

The wrist strap is just a loop of Paracord with two more loops of smaller strong cord to adjust the sizes of the loops. I keep an eye out for a more professional looking solution but very few are as efficient as my loop of Paracord.

I am very pleased with the bag as the harness to carry my camera. The strap stays roughly in place and the camera can be used quickly.

I can let it hang freely on the strap and I have it adjusted so I can easily hold the lens, which is more comfortable while walking.


Tuesday 18 December 2018

Linksys Velop mesh WiFi install

This article is primarily to set the record straight that the Linksys Velop WiFi routers can be installed as more traditional access points and retain the advantage of mesh WiFi.

Why did I want this?

I've had WiFi extended out to our stables and yard for many years however I have done it by simply setting the SSID and passwords to be the same.  This works but you cannot roam between them cleanly.

In the above setup a mobile phone or laptop will hang on to a connection to an access point, way beyond it's useful range. What is needed is mesh WiFi that negotiates between each access point. The portable device is directed to connect to whichever has the strongest signal.

In the last year or so, mesh WiFi systems have dropped to a more affordable level.

Why did I select the Linksys Velop?

The Linksys Velop wifi routers include the essential mesh technology I wanted and MU-MIMO with 802.11ac WiFi. I also deliberately wanted a tri-band version, which has one 2.4GHz band transceiver and two 5GHz band transceivers. There were very few on the market, outside expensive business systems, that met all of those criteria.

I was a little disappointed to note that all the WiFi systems, that had the features I wanted, were now routers. They also all used WiFi to extend their range and included consumer, supposedly easy to use, set up software or mobile apps.

It took a bit of reading but I was able to confirm that the Velop system did allow for a more traditional wired installation and that the mobile app provided enough control.

How did I set them up?

I followed the Linksys instructions. These are fairly clear but don't give sufficient help with trouble shooting.

Node one, the master worked without any issues. I had pre-configured my username and password first, to get the e-mail address verification out of the way.  I was right to do this because there was the typical long delay between them saying they had sent a verification mail and it arriving with me.

With the master node installed, and knowing that I wanted to use my existing gateway router, I changed the configuration of the Velop WiFi to Bridge Mode.

I knew I had to do this BEFORE adding the other nodes because their settings change depending on the mode.

The Linksys instructions for how to configure Bridge Mode are easy to follow. The important bit is that the smartphone you are using for the configuration must be connected to the node's WiFi.

Once changed to Bridge Mode, the Velop routers operate as Mesh Access Points in a traditional set up where a separate router or firewall is at the gateway.

It's fairly obvious to me, that in this configuration, not all of the traffic passes through the master node, therefore some features, such as parental control, DHCP and device management, will no longer be available. Those features would now fall to the gateway router, as I would have expected and how I wanted it to work.

Installing the rest of the nodes

Installing the second node went OK but the important bit is that it was done within about 3m of the master node.

The problem came installing the third. I tried to do this in situ, as per the instructions, where I thought it would work but, what I now know, is that the range required between these things is very short or, at least, should not have more than one wall in the way.

When the install got stuck, I tried lots of things to get it going again but what worked was to move the node back to be very close to the master node and the key bit was to not only reset that tertiary node but to also cancel the attempted install and start it again from the app.  It was that last bit that got me out of the endless stuck, retrying, loop.

Neither the app nor the instructions make it clear that to recover from a failed install it is necessary to not use the retry link, as the app suggests, but to abandon the install and completely start again.

Go back to the 'Set Up a New Product' option.

Eventually I had three working nodes but they all had to be so close to each other as to be pointless.

I was disappointed with the very limited extender range of the Velop routers but that will have been affected by the number and type of walls in the way in my home.

My wired network

Luckily for me, I had always known that at least one node would need to be wired, so the need for all of them to be wired was not a big issue.

When I had been doing my research I came across quite a few postings with, what I am now confident, was poor network advice. So, to correct that, here are the facts, as I know them:

  • The nodes CAN be connected to a switch
  • The master does NOT have to be directly connected to the router (if used in bridge mode)
  • The master does NOT have to replace the gateway router (use bridge mode)
  • The nodes can be ANYWHERE on the LAN
  • The nodes do NOT need to be daisy chained

In short, the nodes use normal IP networking to communicate with each other so any normal LAN configuration will work, or at least it did for me.

My network

The important bit for my traditional LAN design to work, is that I have set the Linksys Velop to Bridge Mode.

Is it working?

Yes. Exactly what I originally set out to achieve, is working. I can roam inside and out and retain a good WiFi connection and I am still using my original dual WAN gateway router.


Sunday 16 December 2018

Email aggregation

If you have purchased your own domain name, or are thinking of doing so, it is likely that you want to standardise on just one email address, however, many of your contacts will still be using old addresses which you still have to monitor.

What is the issue?

If you reply to one of the old emails, invariably, you will be using the old 'From' address again but you probably want people to use an address from your own domain. The Reply-To field, that you can set, often does not give satisfactory results.

This is where email aggregation comes in. That simply means that all your mails get sent to just one mailbox, which you can check and, probably, most importantly, when you reply, you use your own domain email address.

What has to be done?

  • Buy a domain, if you don't already own one
  • Buy a mailbox with your domain that includes sending using authenticated SMTP
  • Create an account on Gmail or, if you don't already have one
  • Configure outgoing SMTP mail for your domain on your chosen Gmail or
  • Set forwarding on all your email accounts to go to your Gmail or mailbox

Optionally, configure your mobile phone, to:
  • Receive mail, via IMAP, from Gmail or
  • Send mail, via SMTP, for your domain 
IMPORTANT: Do not use any of the pre-configured wizards for any of this set up, especially on mobile phones. The results are not going to be suitable for this arrangement, they are designed for single mailboxes without any deviation from their expectations. Always use the Other or Advanced settings.

In more detail

Nearly any mailbox can be used to combine all your mail in to one place, I have typed up instructions for both Gmail and but others work in a similar fashion. I also have instructions for configuring mobile phones, both Apple and Android.

The area that appears to confuse most people is how to avoid having a different 'From' address to the 'Reply-To' address. This can look messy and confuses people receiving the mail.

The important bit of information that you need to understand to get mails to send cleanly from your own domain is that the outgoing mail details will be different to the incoming details and that the outgoing is always sent via the email host associated with your domain.

You will need to purchase individual email mailboxes from your domain provider with the ability to send authenticated SMTP mails.
You only need the most basic of mailboxes because you will set them to forward mail to your aggregator mailbox. You could use the mailbox of the domain provider for this purpose, in which case you will need to buy a more comprehensive mailbox package but that is unnecessary, if you are happy to use Gmail or

Incoming mail, uses the IMAP server details for Gmail or or wherever you are using.
Outgoing mail, always uses the SMTP details of the mail server associated with your domain.

All your old accounts and your domain account need to be set to forward mail to the account you are using to aggregate the mails. That can be Gmail, or wherever.

That's the easy bit, your mails are all in one mailbox but you still need to configure the send method.

To be able to send from your domain, see the PDF's with the instructions appropriate to the set up you are planning.


Email aggregation with Gmail (PDF)
Email aggregation with Outlook online (PDF)
Mobile email aggregation (PDF)


I deliberately do not use a mail client on my computers.  I find it more convenient to be able to access my mail from any computer using webmail.
I have, therefore, not included any instructions for configuring mail client software but the settings would be similar to those for mobile phones.


Sunday 9 December 2018

Laptop desk stand

To make a bit more space on my desk I've made an upright stand for my laptop.

It has the advantage that the laptop screen is now level with the main monitor.