This might be the first in a series, I will see, but the reason for this post is that I have a need to connect two properties in the mountains of Greece that aren’t exactly line of sight but it’s pretty darn close. You can see one house from the others through the trees but it seems that there isn’t enough clearance to actually punch through with traditional WiFi solutions. I’ve tried classic WiFi bridges from TP-Link and Ubiquiti but even with 16dB of gain they can’t get through those darned oak trees.

What was I to do? I considered going back to my satellite days and using some old L-Band satellite modems and punching a powerful signal through the trees, but old modems aren’t a bargain and the electronics to do that might get complicated because it would need high-speed serial connectivity not seen on more recent routers.

Then I remembered that there were some new standards for Sub-1GHz WiFi a few years ago, but I haven’t seen them in consumer products yet. Where are Super-WiFi and HaLow WiFi? Well, it looks like SuperWiFi hasn’t gone far and it’s more targeted as a competitor to 4G? But HaLow is a consumer standard and it looks like there are modules and chipsets for it.

https://www.silextechnology.com/hubfs/Resource%20PDF/SX-NEWAH-ProductBrief_20200214.pdf

https://www.mwee.com/news/halowtm-wi-fi-built-raspberry-pi-3

These are two modules with evaluation kits, the first one has a EVK available from an electronics supply company and the second one seems to be nowhere.

Cue my search around the web for something that would be more suitable…. and arriving at Alibaba. There were also modules there but with no documentation and no information on them, its more risky. But… then I found a company selling an 802.11ah module for $12-14 which looks like a router/bridge and that’s exactly what I am after! There is still no information on that product other than pictures and generic data, and the company appears no where on the web. But…. if that’s actually an 802.11ah module then I want it and it’s cheap enough for me to give it a chance. I ordered samples which only cost $10 each plus delivery (which doubled the cost) and we will see what arrives. 

If they work then it could be very cool and a worthwhile product to have. I will test it with some antennas I already have and then eventually put some little yagi antennas for extra directionality.

The village where I live has an issue with water pressure, it doesn’t greatly affect me but the other side of the village can lose pressure quite substantially. The water company keep insisting that they are supplying the required pressure so I thought it would be good to find a way to fight their presumption with data. Data always wins in such arguments!

Here is my methodology, it might evolve and change from here but this is the first part of my exploration and I wanted to share it.

The stated minimum pressure in the UK is 1 bar which comes in around 14PSI, although it can be 3 bar (45PSI). It is also worth noting here that atmospheric pressure at sea level is around 15PSI. I looked for a pressure sensor which could measure water pressure, I found lots of relatively low cost pressure sensors “1/8 NPT Pressure sensor” and they are available with a selection of pressure ratings. I initially chose 30PSI because I wanted to accurately measure low pressure, but I found that means measuring at my house is at 100%, not great for testing! So I have also ordered a 100PSI unit for comparison.

These sensors produce an output from 0.5V to 4.5V with a 5V supply, the 4V range is equal to the full range from 0 PSI to maximum (e.g. 30PSI or 100PSI). So I need an analogue to digital converter that can handle 5V inputs, this is important.

My next step was to look what WiFi micro-controllers I have in my toolbox, I have plenty of ESP8266 modules that I have acquired over the years. My first attempt was with a NodeMCU because it fit nicely into my breadboard for quick development, I have an ESP-01 as well which I want to use up so that may come into the production design. I haven’t actually done much with Arduino before so I decided to do a test run with just lighting an LED to prove I had everything working. Then I tested reading A0 which is the analogue input and that worked, writing out to the serial port. I then attached the sensor but using a 3.3v supply (from the NodeMCU).

The A0 analogue input read just over 100 and when I blow hard on the input it comes out at about 160, so that’s great, I am reading something and it’s useful.

I then took a look at what IoT platform I wanted to send this to. I have a soft spot for MQTT but I elected to not bind myself too tightly. I was about to do it with AWS IoT, but that looked a little complex for this simple use case. While looking deeper I found ThingSpeak has a free, non-commercial, tier for 3m data points and four channels, so that should be enough for our needs.

I heavily modified the ThingSpeak reference sketch and here is my first draft. I should say that there are some things that were wrong with that sketch that still aren’t fixed in here, notably the WiFi parameters are a bit weirdly arranged and I will fix that in the end.

/*
ESP8266 --> ThingSpeak Channel

This sketch sends the Wi-Fi Signal Strength (RSSI) and A0 of an ESP8266 to a ThingSpeak
channel using the ThingSpeak API (https://www.mathworks.com/help/thingspeak).

Requirements:

* ESP8266 Wi-Fi Device
* Arduino 1.8.8+ IDE
* Additional Boards URL: http://arduino.esp8266.com/stable/package_esp8266com_index.json
* Library: esp8266 by ESP8266 Community
* Library: ThingSpeak by MathWorks

ThingSpeak Setup:

* Sign Up for New User Account - https://thingspeak.com/users/sign_up
* Create a new Channel by selecting Channels, My Channels, and then New Channel
* Enable one field
* Enter SECRET_CH_ID in "secrets.h"
* Enter SECRET_WRITE_APIKEY in "secrets.h"

Setup Wi-Fi:
* Enter SECRET_SSID in "secrets.h"
* Enter SECRET_PASS in "secrets.h"

Tutorial: http://nothans.com/measure-wi-fi-signal-levels-with-the-esp8266-and-thingspeak

Created: Feb 1, 2017 by Hans Scharler (http://nothans.com)
Modified: 26/08/2020 by Bob Hannent (http://www.orbit.me.uk)
*/

#include "ThingSpeak.h"
#include "secrets.h"

const int analog_ip = A0; //Naming analogue input pin
unsigned long myChannelNumber = <THING CHANNEL>;
const char * myWriteAPIKey = "<THING PASSOWRD>";
const int LED = 13; //Naming LED Pin

#include <ESP8266WiFi.h>

char ssid[] = "<SSID>"; // your network SSID (name)
char pass[] = "<PASSWORD>"; // your network password
int keyIndex = 0; // your network key index number (needed only for WEP)
int httpCode = 0;
long rssi = 0;
WiFiClient client;

int pressure = 0;

void setup() {
Serial.begin(115200);
delay(100);

WiFi.mode(WIFI_STA);

ThingSpeak.begin(client);
pinMode(LED, OUTPUT); // Defining pin as output
}

void loop() {
// Measure pressure from analogue pin.
pressure = analogRead(analog_ip);

// Connect or reconnect to WiFi
if (WiFi.status() != WL_CONNECTED) {
Serial.print("Attempting to connect to SSID: ");
Serial.println(SECRET_SSID);
while (WiFi.status() != WL_CONNECTED) {
WiFi.begin(ssid, pass); // Connect to WPA/WPA2 network. Change this line if using open or WEP network
Serial.print(".");
delay(5000);
}
Serial.println("\nConnected.");
}

if (WiFi.status() == WL_CONNECTED) {
analogWrite(LED, pressure/4);
} 
else {
analogWrite(LED, 0);
}

// Measure Signal Strength (RSSI) of Wi-Fi connection
rssi = WiFi.RSSI();

ThingSpeak.setField(1, (int)pressure);
ThingSpeak.setField(2, (long)rssi);

// Write value to ThingSpeak Channel
httpCode = ThingSpeak.writeFields(myChannelNumber, myWriteAPIKey);

if (httpCode == 200) {
Serial.println("Channel write successful. RSSI:" + String(rssi) + " Pressure:" + String(pressure));
}
else {
Serial.println("Problem writing to channel, field 1. HTTP error code " + String(httpCode));
}

// Wait 60 seconds to update the channel again
delay(60000);
}

This works great and logs to ThingSpeak fine for me, it also outputs to Serial for logging purposes.

Now, next steps:

  • The sensor is powered by 3.3V and I am not sure what that’s doing to its range. 
    • I have ordered some AD7705 ADCs which are 5V tolerant which should help.
  • Plugging the sensor into a tap it went to 100% straight away, so either 3.3v is the issue or the pressure is.
    •  The ADC should help and I have ordered a 100PSI sensor as well.

Check back for more progress and comment with any suggestions or questions.

After many years of using Joomla I have given in to WordPress, frankly for a blog I think Joomla is overkill and its page mapping process is just silly.

My big dilemma now is how to resolve all the old 404s with the content moving.

 

Yesterday I decided to resurrect my website and blog which I took down about five years ago when my dedicated host died. My domain has sat empty since then and I had not been sharing my wisdom with the world. So I’ve decided to bring it back, but the database was Joomla 1.6 and the new Joomla is 3.x and that is one hell of a leap in versions, clearly it wasn’t plain sailing. I imported the database elements I needed from an SQL dump that I had from my backups and they had a different Joomla table prefix which was essential because the tables had different schemas (the columns were different). The important thing was finding how I could make a transfer of the articles from the old table to the new table, I started to construct an insert statement which mapped all the new table to the old values, but I am impatient and I wondered if there was another way of doing this. Fortunately I found the upgrade SQL for 3.x: https://forum.joomla.org/viewtopic.php?t=760150#p2910019 then I used a simple “Operation” to transfer the “_content” table in phpMySQLAdmin. Then I needed to fix the “_categories” section and there were some numbering issues which needed dealing with. My work is not complete but it has filled things out!

 

I’ve been playing a lot with home automation, one of the interesting things that I have found are the products of Itead.cc and in particular their Sonoff home automation products. I just received one of their latest products the Sonoff LED Dimmer. Of course I don’t care about their software, I want to make it use the ESPEasy firmware, which will need a re-flash, so I stripped it down and it is time to share those pictures with the world. The next step is to make it work by attaching a TTL-USB adaptor to the header that is visible on the ESP8266 card that rises out of the main board.

 {oziogallery 118}

I would comment that the build quality of the PCB is relatively poor, with lots of scrap solder and scratches on the bottom. The board has two channels attached for LEDs but there are also RGB points marked out on the PCB which are calling out to be tested.

For some time now I have been worried about the present batch of “Alternative Energies”, their biggest problems are to do with efficiency and their ability to deliver energy when it is needed rather than just when it is available. Great savings can be made in energy efficiency in order to reduce our need for energy but fundamentally in order to achieve a low-carbon existence we need ways to make “Alternative Energies” work for us, and by “Alternative Energies” I mean taking advantage of natural sustainable sources of energy such as wind, wave and solar power. Making best use of these sources is even more important since the German Government decided to shut down all of it’s nuclear power generation earlier than planned, because now European fuel prices have to rise dramatically because Germany will now be vastly more dependent on Fossil Fuels until they can fill the gap with viable alternatives.

Currently the way we store energy if there is an excess in the grid is to convert the excess electricity into potential or kinetic energy until it is needed again later. There are many water storage facilities in the UK which pump water up-hill to large reservoirs in a technique called “Pumped Storage Hydroelectricity“. By pumping the water up-hill when you have excess energy you can then let it come back down again and recovery the energy with hydroelectric turbines. Each time you do something like this you waste some of the energy because of energy conversion inefficiencies.

Wind energy is interesting, when the wind blows we get a fair amount of energy returned by the gigantic wind turbine. The most you can ever capture from a wind turbine is 59% of the available wind energy passing through, this is a fact of physics proved by Albert Betz in 1919. However that is the upper limit, in reality there is conversion from kinetic energy (the motion of the wind) to electrical energy and such conversions always result in a loss of efficiency in gears, dynamos and power couplings. Because this energy is available “When The Wind Blows” and at no other time there have been issues where the National Grid has had to shut down turbines because they weren’t needed and this is a great waste of their potential.

Solar energy is another area of great interest to many people and I struggle to get excited about what should be a great source of energy because everyone gets excited about Photovoltaic (PV) energy which uses chemically doped materials to directly convert sunlight into electrical current. The reason I struggle to get excited is that PV isn’t very efficient, typically high quality solar panels are about 14-17% efficient and that really isn’t very much. Also solar PV cells need various exotic chemicals in their production of which only a portion is recycled and they aren’t exactly “low carbon” in their transport around the world. Solar energy is logically only available during the hours of sunlight and again, logically, is subject to the intensity of the sun in the location.

In an “Off Grid” environment, where a home owner has no access to mains electricity from the grid, it is quite common to store energy in batteries so that the peak energy availability can be disbursed over a longer period. Not everyone has access to a source of large quantities of water and a reservoir pond (or two) to store it in. Batteries are great for our mobile phones, they store energy in chemical form for good periods of time and release it on demand. Some batteries can release their energy quickly or some can release it slowly over long periods of time. But fundamentally batteries are flawed because they depend on harsh chemical processes which break down the components over time and can result in failure of the cell. Also you can only really discharge a deep cycle battery to 70-80% before you start causing premature damage to the battery cell, thus you need to be careful with your management of supply and demand.

Some time ago I started to wonder: why don’t we store more energy as directly coupled kinetic or potential mechanical energy? Wind farms, for example, I wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to install giant clock springs under them (or in their stems) so that we could regulate the release of all of that good mechanical energy. Now, giant clock springs sound silly at first, but actually many companies use kinetic energy storage as a power backup medium. In computer data centres, when you have a power failure it takes time to start the local on-site diesel generators and you need something to keep all the equipment going until the generator is up to speed. Some companies use giant banks of batteries which they carefully maintain and monitor, but I have seen a few UPS failures and they get rather messy and expensive. Plus batteries can release hydrogen gas which could cause harm to operatives working in the UPS battery room. The alternative that some companies really do use is to use a motor to spin a giant “fly-wheel” on a very efficient bearing, when the power fails that mass still has a great deal of momentum, and as the motor is no longer supplying force to keep it spinning it can be used as a generator to take that kinetic energy and turn it back into electricity. There can be enough energy in the momentum of a large enough mass to keep a data centre alive until the generator is ready to take the strain. This spinning mass technique however somewhat depends on the problem that you can’t store such kinetic energy for long periods, the friction of the bearings causes momentum to be lost over time and affects efficiency but it is great for short-term non-toxic energy storage. Some buses around the world are now using spinning masses as a means of kinetic energy recovery in breaking and they can then use that energy to help move the bus away from the stop before the engine takes over again, a nice and clean “Start-Stop” technique.

This application in buses and the idea of the hydroelectric storage leads me to another angle. The disadvantage of water as an energy store is partly because it can’t be compressed, it takes up a great deal of space and the disadvantage of kinetic energy is that the spinning mass can’t spin forever. Well, what about storing energy in a static way, under compression which can be quickly released on demand. This leads us neatly to: Compressed Air Energy Storage. Now of course I don’t declare to be the first to propose such an idea, because it is already in industrial use around the world to a limited degree. But what I would like to do is highlight the concept because it deserves more attention and also because I think it might have some interesting applications as a battery replacement technology.

In an off-grid situation we could see a tank being placed in an out-building which has a store of highly compressed air, this is generated through wind, solar or other inconsistent energy supply. In addition I think that some kind of Sterling Engine arrangement could supply the mechanical work for solar energy without needing to waste energy on conversion to and from electricity just to achieve compression. What about automotive situations? Many companies are installing very expensive and potentially unreliable batteries in cars, what about compressed air tanks which could be used as a kind of compressed air transmission instead of a gearbox? Directly drive the gears with the compressed air perhaps? Just put a 600CC compressor in and regenerative breaking, should have a snappy little number!

[Note: this article has nothing to do with my employer, they are my own musings and may not represent company policy.]

Recently I have been asked many times about Digital Radio in the UK, specifically about implementing DAB. This has required me to revisit the situation and fully understand the commercial/technical issues around the deployment of digital radio. The UK Government has asked the industry to work towards a switch-off of the current FM radio services, it was originally suggested that a decision about when to switch off would be made in 2015 but in the past year the government stepped back from any fixed dates for a decision and a lesser progress review will be done in 2013 instead. Once a review has been done they will know when they can start thinking about a more formal switch-off programme for analogue services. In this post I want to talk about what DAB means to me and what I would like seen done over the long-term.

To give some rough background: In the 1980s the DAB system was designed and in 1995 it was implemented by the BBC in the UK. It uses OFDM or DQPSK modulation and with error correction has a usable payload of 1,184kbit/sec. The audio codec is MPEG 1 Layer 2, which produces acceptable audio at about 192kbps.

According to the Guardian newspaper the first 5 million DAB radios were sold prior to 2007 and the next 5 million were sold between 2007 and 2009. Thus between launch and 2009 10m DAB radios were sold. If 5m radios are over 4 years old that means that by attrition quite a few of those will have been ‘retired’.

I am told that the UK needs 60 million new digital radios to satisfy the current market, this is for cars, kitchens, portable radios, bathrooms, bedrooms, etc. This means that while a portion of the market has been addressed only between 10-20% of radios have been functionally replaced and most importantly there has been very little take up in cars. The SMMT (the trade body which represents car manufacturers) has committed to ensuring that by 2013 all cars are fitted with WorldDMB radios which can be used all over Europe, but currently it costs up-to £2000 to have a digital radio fitted at manufacture.

Reception is currently quite limited (85-90%) and the system is prone to interference from impulsive noise sources.

So, as you might guess I am really not a fan of DAB.

I would like to propose an alternative, I don’t want to kill the millions of radios that are currently out there as that would make me wildly unpopular, what I want to achieve is a next generation system that can replace DAB in the long term. I know governments aren’t prone to long-term thinking but I think there should be a replacement to DAB which we can quickly work toward but not eliminate the current system entirely. It should be a system which is compatible with some current technology and which provides a substantial benefit to both consumers and broadcasters.

Some people talk about upgrading to DAB+, which uses AAC audio coding instead of MPEG 1 Layer 2, this provides a nominal 50% advantage and doesn’t address coverage issues. The current DAB system gives six channels per 1.7MHz channel in VHF Band III. Adding DAB+ would double the number of channels, but that isn’t a big advantage compared to the losses.

My proposal is to launch a new mux with DVB-T2A as the transmission system, this is the same transmission system as is used in Freeview HD but with much smaller bandwidth of 1.7MHz, this could be broadcast either at Band III, or in UHF along with the TV services even at full 8MHz bandwidth. For the purposes of this I will assume it should be broadcast at Band III VHF, to mimic the DAB licenses of 1.7MHz. I believe the DAB system could be held as it is, or rationalised to fewer channels. If one multiplex license was given to DVB-T2A then a single multiplex could broadcast fifty six services at an equivalent to DAB’s six services! This is a dramatic improvement with the same coverage and would also improve noise immunity. With less services the coverage could be increased at no extra cost!

Using DVB-T2A would allow the use of Multiple PLPs, this is a technology which allows different services to have their own specific space/time in a broadcast stream. Each PLP may have different transmission properties such as error correction, which would allow different services to pay for different levels of protection. A commercial service could have less protection, paying less money and get less reliable coverage. Also other services could be delivered in the payload, thus a low-data rate video service could be delivered to provide mobile TV. Current TV broadcasts are not very suitable to mobile reception (such as in car) and this proposal would allow TV channels to be received on the move with high reliability. They would be MPEG4 at relatively low quality. Also, because of PLPs, when the receiver is looking at one service it can ignore the other services and it can even not decode the other services it doesn’t need. Not decoding unwanted broadcast data would reduce the power demands of the product and would improve battery life.

Using a relatively cheap T2A Bluetooth device any smartphone could receive radio and mobile TV services. These would not demand a great deal of power and would be highly portable. The same system could also deliver IP data packets for other content related (or unrelated) to the broadcast. There could be regional and local information transmitted about network changes and devices could even be location aware for easy tuning. Just set your location in the product and it would be aware of what services to offer you. Channels could have service text which defined now/next and optionally broadcast a full week guide. Programme content could have series link information which allows for the consumer to be notified when a programme is being broadcast and even record that content to local storage.

A DVB-T2A radio would contain components which are commodity to a number of countries for their HDTV system, this provides an advantage because the volume of production for the components drives the price down competitively. Currently there are very few manufacturers of DAB radio silicon for manufacturers to use, but many large companies are producing large volumes of T2 silicon for the TV market. I believe the price of DVB-T2A radios could be highly commoditised, even more so than current models and many existing Freeview HD TV models could receive services without hardware changes (software updates may be needed to recognise them).

Because of the large number of services that can be carried in a single multiplex local radio could economically be transmitted nationally, which might be popular with consumers. Local multiplexes could be transmitted in existing DAB white space until DAB is ready to be retired in a further 10-14 years.

Brand-wise it would make sense to brand this as “Freeview HD Radio”, so that consumers don’t have to worry about “Digital” confusion, consumers can see the value of the quality increase in terms of the “HD” brand and the compatibility with TV could be established quickly.

Products could be quickly developed and the standardisation process would be simple if based on existing core DVB and DTG standards. A Danish broadcaster is already running tests with T2A, thus the UK could not be alone. Finland and other Nordic markets use Band III for TV services on T2, so there is room for expansion.

I believe this is a cost-effective and economical way of delivering a high quality digital radio service, this is in contrast to the existing system which is limited and ageing quickly. Before we are stuck with a legacy of poor products I think we should introduce a system which is fit for the next two decades and keeps the UK competitive in the world. Once one country sets the standard many others will follow and the market could be commercially vibrant.

What is the migration path for DVB-T2A? Transmission technology has a thing called the Shannon Limit, which was determined to be a physical constraint of transmission capacity in 1948. This states that for any given transmission spectrum there is a fininte quantity of information that can be put through it. DVB-T2 is described as being really very, very ‘close to Shannon’. Thus as a transmission technology there is unlikely to be much that can match it within the same spectrum conditions. The error correction technique that is used is really intensive as well, previous systems where more limited by the chip processing abilities but T2 really pushed designers to implement everything but the kitchen sink. I am not saying T2 is all that can be done, but it is very, very fit for purpose.

The Fraunhoffer Institute recently started demonstrating a new audio codec, this is where I see the next advancement coming from, if more than a 30% improvement in efficiency could be shown then there might be a migration path for such products. The DVB model includes support for broadcasting software updates to receivers, with a system called DVB-SSU, while this can’t change the hardware it can be used to keep products in line with new software standards. Increasingly products are moving away from hardware media decoders towards DSPs and software codecs. It makes sense that in the future roadmap a design could be defined which allows for codecs could be upgraded (within resource limits). It is possible now to plan for a post 2020 design which implemented upgradable profiles for decoding of content. Also, as processing power increases and efficiency improves, not only codecs are being implemented in software but also the radio reception function using a “Software Defined Radio” and this *may* be standardised later but this presents a bigger risk. If you upgrade the radio receiver function incorrectly you will make the product non-functional and possibly not upgradable again.

I welcome comments, no doubt some will be harsh, bit I believe it is better to cut it off now before it gets much worse. Lets not be stuck with the digital equivalent of AM radio when the rest of the world is moving forward without a legacy.

References: http://bit.ly/qSP254

LinkedIn discussion: http://linkd.in/pu0O2G

 

 

This morning my brother asked me to tell him what I thought about the news reporting of the Greek issue, he asked about what are the alternatives. The only alternative I see is default, but I wanted to share some background and my views.
Currently the Greeks have a massive public debt because of massive public spending beyond any reasonable amount. Over 60% of the Greek workers are employed by the state, so less than 40% of the population pays for over 60% plus those on state support (pensions etc). Greece imports the majority of its fuel and manufactures very little beyond food. Tourism accounts for a significant portion of income but not so much to balance the entire economy and it has some ups and downs which would add risk.

Greece has been borrowing money since the late 1800s, each time they get close to paying it off some other disaster befalls them and they need another loan. They borrowed heavily after WWII and defaulted (as well as defaulting to some degree a few times before as well), so when they asked for another loan they ended up paying about 120% interest, it was like the other countries were being loan sharks. They are still paying loans with massive overheads and poor terms.

If Greece defaults it is far worse for France and Germany than for Greece, France and Germany have the greatest exposure, the top five French banks would be crippled if Greece defaulted. The Greeks import almost no food and while fuel might get very expensive they are already thrifty (almost no one has more than a 1.6L car) and almost all water is heated with solar boilers. The biggest problem would be currency devaluation for a decade (because they would have to go back to the Drachma), but there is enough import of foreign currency through tourism to help offset it. They have to stop public building projects and lay off lots of public sector workers, but these people are just a stone round the neck of the rest of the people because many of them aren’t productive because they effectively have “Job For Life”.

They have already started getting serious about corruption, so that should help a great deal, but corruption is endemic!
Every Greek born has €31,000 of public debt.
Unemployment is 43% among 15-24 year olds.
Every Greek will evade an average of €3,000 in tax in their lifetime
Europe has demanded €50bn of public assets to be privatised or sold (20% of GDP).

In my opinion Greece should default, and the state should start operating just with New Drachma, don’t convert savings from Euro to Drachma but the government should only pay out in Drachma and should insist on taxes being paid in Drachma. State industries should only accept Drachma. They could sell their assets but it wouldn’t achieve anything. Most of the phone network is owned by the German telecoms company. The power company has an aging infrastructure and horrible regulation which no one would pay much for. Many of the major road developments are already PPP. They don’t have enough assets to sell at a good value! Tourism and natural circulation would restore the value of the Drachma in a decade or two, there could be inward investment and with restricted ability to import products there would be a boost to local industries/production!

In addition: after the push to get Greece into the Euro they fudged their economic data once in to show they were maintaining their financial performance, it was only later, after they were well embedded that it was realised.

My partner and I have often discussed that despite being declared the “home of democracy” the Greeks now have neglected their duty and forgotten about what it really means to be democratic. I believe also they are negligent because they don’t have independent checks and balances. Politicians have the right of asylum in parliament rather than the idea that they should fear even more because they are in the home of democracy! Greek higher education believes it is impure to mix business and academia, they don’t leverage their massive assets (even the waiters in the cafes in Greece have a Masters or higher!) and universities don’t even know what an “Enterprise Unit” is. The agricultural school sells their excess stocks because they have more than their canteen can handle, but that is a rare exception!

Hope that gives you an idea. Every one in Greece seems very subdued and depressed at the moment, but they are getting on and trying to live their lives with an average of 20% less money in their pockets.

So, this morning I was having a retro moment and wondered about the original Xbox, the classic one from 2001 which was so popular. It was build on a pseudo Windows system with an Intel processor. Then I remembered the PS2 slim which was reintroduced long after the PS3 had taken over as Sony’s flagship and how Sega have also licensed their technology to create retro clones.

If we look at the Xbox1’s original specification:

CPU: 700MHz Pentium III Coppermine
RAM: 64MB DDR1 @ 200MHz
GPU: Custom NVidia ASIC @ 233MHz
Audio: NVidia custom Surround Processor
Storage: 8GB IDE HDD
Optical: DVD-ROM
Security: Secure BIOS
Extras: 100Mbit Ethernet, Analogue Component HD, USB1.1, and other AV connectors

So, when you compare this to the CE 3100 from Intel, which is being used by set-top box vendors to build the next generation of multimedia products, you find some interesting parallels:

CPU: +800MHz Pentium-M
RAM: Up to 3GB DDR2
GPU: Intel GMA500 (PowerVR SGX 535)
Audio: Dual core 337MHz DSP processors
Storage: Flash or SATA
Optical: DVD via SATA
Security: Crypto-processor
Extras: GBit Ethernet, HDMI, USB2, and other AV connectors

So, Dear Microsoft, why not ‘Reload’ the old XBox classic as a new product and get some revenue from that old architecture? The CE range supports DirectX 9, so there should be legacy support for the graphics calls. I don’t know how the GMA 500 compares to the Xbox1’s custom ASIC but they are 8-9 years apart in development so they can’t be too different. If there are differences they might be resolved with a bucket of faster DDR2 RAM and the better CPU clock.

I would imagine an XBox Reloaded spec would look something like this:

SoC: Intel CE3100
RAM: 256MB of DDR2 @ 800MHz (a bucket extra useful for other things)
Storage: 8GB of Flash (shouldn’t need more, but can utilise USB 2 flash or HDD)
Optical: Slimline DVD-ROM
AV: HDMI, TOSLink, Composite
Networking: 100Mbit ethernet (GBit might increase power/cost)

The whole thing should be able to emulate the Xbox’s original design without much special assistance, just the addition of SATA support to the microkernel, modification of the security mechanism and replacement of the graphics drivers (the highest risk element). If there was any problem with this it might even be possible to use a microkernel bootloader or BIOS to emulate the IDE on SATA in legacy mode and possibly even map the GPU calls. I would put a bootloader on the box which booted a version of MeeGo Linux stored in Flash as an alternative media player tool and possible DVD player alternative function.

Thus you would have a decent media player, a TV browser and a most importantly of all: a very cool retro-games console capable of playing games like Halo, Project Gotham Racing, MotoGP and Splinter Cell. All for under £100 retail! I know you can get a new Xbox 360 for £160 but there is always a market for the retro and a lower end product. The return on investment could be good and it could reach new markets as a “computer for all” in developing markets!