Alexa Notify Me Skill and Node Red

Here’s another winner for Raspberry Pi (though not specifically) and thanks to my good friend Aidan Ruff for taking time out of his busy schedule and bringing this to my attention.

tmpCDAs regular readers know, I try to use Node-Red for just about every aspect of my home control here in Spain and back in the UK – and Amazon Alexa is no exception. I use node-red-contrib-amazon-echo now instead of HA-Bridge and other ways to control devices with Amazon Alexa…. and now, thanks to the skill Notify Me from Thomptronics,  and node-red-contrib-notifyme I can send myself regular pill reminders (10pm every night) for example.  Thanks to the people who put these items together, well done.

I have an alarm for my phone which uses my voice but thanks to Google, it only works if I happen not to have my phone on mute – useless. This on the other hand works by having your Echo light up and beep whenever you have notifications (which we already get for Amazon deliveries) and then lets you listen to the notification or notifications at your leisure.

On your Echo, add the Thomptronics skill i.e. tell Alexa to “enable notify me skill”  -  in the skills section of your phone’s Alexa app, enable notifications in the “notify me” skill settings and then link the skill to your Alexa account. Finally, “launch the notify me skill”. You will hear instructions then receive an email with an access code which you should not lose or give to anyone else.

Then add the notifyme node to Node-Red, note that it will prefill with a username and password – WRONG – empty that out. Ensure the first field is blank and the second one is filled with that access code and SAVE. Then add an Inject node and set that to string. Put your message in the payload of the Inject node. You can then use that immediately or using the usual inject repeat commands. You can then add as many other inject nodes as you want.

Your Echo will give the usual notification warning then you can ask it to play notifications and hear the message you left. The rest is up to you. Have fun. I’m currently running this one one of my Raspberry Pi 3 units along with a ton of other things it is doing at the same time.


SQLITE3 Raspberry Pi Problems

I KNOW I’m not the only one who has issues with SQLITE3 in Raspberry Pi and Node-Red, so next time it happens to you..

I just did this operation on a Raspberry Pi 3 upgraded some days ago to Buster.

As user PI… go to the /home/pi/.node-red directory

npm rebuild sqlite3

That’s it, nothing else, just those 3 lines exactly as above. Will take several minutes for the rebuild to complete before you restart node-red.

I needed to write that down – I didn’t invent it, but Node-Red hung up on me again, in the past it was when using Raspbian Stretch, now days after an UPGRADE to Raspbian Buster (not a new install)….



Raspberry Pi 4 Arrival

At long last, my 2GB Pi4 arrived this morning from the UK. My good friend sent me a micro-HDMI to HDMI adaptor along with the Pi and a 3d-printed case he made – except he didn’t…. the adaptor is a micro-USB to HDMI adaptor – NOT what the RPI4 uses.

Pi4 and bitsBecause I’m impatient I’d already upgraded my RPI3 setup from Raspbian Stretch to Buster so I had both SD and USB3 backups lying around….

Raspberry Pi 4 2GB

I tried USB3 to a QuickCharge 3 PSU and also the normal USB output from the charger – I tried both SD and USB sticks – nothing. Nice red light on power up and maybe a hint of green at first… but SSH would not connect. I checked to see if the fixed IP had moved – no sign of the board in advanced IP Scanner on my PC.

Finally I put the USB stick back into my original Pi3 to make sure it was not corrupted – works just fine there.

I’ve tried putting a blank ssh file in the root of the FAT32 section of a brand new BUSTER SD made with AlenaEtcher - no further forward. A mouse triggered some minor green light flashing but still nothing showing on my PC in Advanced IP Scanner.

Eventually I went out and bought a mico-HDMI to HDMI lead and LO, everything started to work, except USB boot, which, inexplicably doesn’t work yet (see RPI forums). It will, they just don’t have it working yet. You can boot from SD just like a Pi2 and run everything else from USB…. but really guys…. right now apart from speed of USB3, this is a backward step from Pi3 which DOES run and boot from USB. That /boot/config.txt OTA mod that enables USB booting on the Pi3 no longer works on the Pi4.

So right now I can run my Buster Pi3 upgrade on Pi4 SD – or a new Buster installation on the Pi4, not yet uploaded a test mod to the script for this – I suspect that Java will fail.

I’m currently looking for BASH SCRIPT expertise… my check for version 9 or later of Raspbian fails – syntax error…

if [[ $OPSYS == "BIAN" ]] && [[ $DISTRO >= "9." ]]; then

THIS original works (on Pi2 and 3).

if [[ $OPSYS == "BIAN" ]] && [[ $DISTRO == "9." ]]; then

Right now on Pi4e using a copy of my Buster setup on Pi3, my CLS command works but reports false RAM ie 1G/1G which is wrong – I’ll fix that. It correctly (I believe) reports the speed as 15000Mhz and temperature as 60c.

More soon.


Raspberry Pi 3/4 Power

For one of my (up to date) Raspberry Pi (SBC) installations, I have a 5v supply able to deliver sufficient power i.e. over 3 amps… I don’t need a full uninterruptible supply, but I thought it would be nice to use one of my USB battery packs in between the power supply and the Pi in case of short term glitches… the battery unit I have is able to shove out enough power also to keep the PI happy but its stabilisation is by the look of it rubbish, as such, from time to time the RED Pi power indicator flicks off momentarily.

No harm done yet but as I’m not using the Pi graphical desktop, I use the warning indicator as a sign I need better power supply. Even at 100% charge, I'm getting this warning on and off.  Anyone aware of a battery unit (doesn’t need a lot of capacity) or even one supplied without batteries that is KNOWN to be stable and deliver 5v, not 4.7v, , can send out 3 amps and charge at 3 amps at the same time??

This blog entry started off challenging battery solutions but now I’ve no faith in the validity of tests out there – it looks like a power voltage test (as against cpu, gpu etc) might’ve worked on Pi2 but not on later units. Thoughts? A problem with the internet is that sometimes incorrect or out of date info persists, often for years out there. No doubt I’m guilty of some of that myself but I do my best to update old blogs.

So I just found Python scripts for testing the power on Pi, but they don’t look right to me on Pi3 and people out there say that all the tests do on Pi3 is load the processor, not give actual power tests. Using an RPI3 upgraded this week (July 2019) from Raspbian Stretch to Buster, I’m getting power readings that don’t make a lot of sense to me so I’ve made a new(ish) script to cover this.

In my office right now, the temperature is 30c and the Pi stated temperature is up to 80c when running tests, maybe 58c otherwise (who would have thought a simple test with SSH output could cause such a rise). No heatsink or fan, clear plastic case. (an example of possibly old material out there, one fellow refers to the Pi3+  throttling to 1200Mhz from 1400Mhz at 60c, well, at 75c, mine is still running at 75c… and yes, I do plan to fit a fan when I find where I hid them.

import RPi.GPIO as GPIO , time

GPIO.setup(redLED, GPIO.IN)

while True:
        print "V below 4.63v on Pi2, just stressing on Pi3+" + " " + str(((int(open('/sys/class/thermal/thermal_zone0/temp').read()) / 1000))) + "c"      
        powerlow += 1
    powerlow =0
    if (powerlow  > 3):
        print "Low power for " + str(powerlow) + " seconds"


This test suggests the voltage is dipping below 4.63v (and I’ve added the temperature monitor) almost constantly on my headless RPI3 (only a non-operating OLED display attached to the pi), erm, no, after discussions in here I’ve replaced my power supply with a QC3 charger perfectly able to keep the supply at around 5v (above 4.9v offload) and the RED light now never goes off. The script then in this case is merely loading the Pi as evidenced by the temperature rising over time – the “below 4.63v” reading being, I believe, nonsense in this instance.

I don’t have a scope handy but I do have a precision meter stating 4.9v to 4.95v while connected to the Pi3 edge connector, the red light on the PI is on constantly (visually).

Thoughts, ideas, am I right for RPI3 and Buster or am I missing something?

The Pi3 here was live upgraded from Stretch to Buster recently and generally works a treat, it is running Node-Red and Mosquito constantly.

In fact I’m running these tests on 2 near identical setups, one is running a Pi3 (hence 1200Mhz tops) the other a Pi3 B+ (hence 1400Mhz tops).

Right now it is looking like a carefully chosen QC3 charger and decent short lead is the way to guarantee sufficient power to run the Pi. Quick Charge 3 as you may know can ramp up the voltage given the right info, but this is NOT what we want for a PI. Mine runs at 5v as it needs to – standard practice for QC3 unless given the right signal by a connected device. No guarantees that if you get the wrong combination of lead and supply you won’t blow up your Pi. Note that in my tests using QC3.0 chargers which ALSO had non-QC3 outputs, the non-QC3 outputs were not as good as the QC3 outputs so it isn’t just a matter of overall capacity. 

And THANKS to Antonio (Mr Shark) and others for the feedback. I’ll cover Pi4 in later entries – see “Raspberry PI4 Arrival” entry.


Charger Doctor

No doubt you’ve seen ads for the little “Charger Doctor” gadget from China – well, my advice is to avoid it like the plague.  I have two of them, I’ve used them in the past but never on a Raspberry Pi. It turns out that given a 5.2v input, one of them reduces the output voltage to 4.8v, the other to 4.6v as measured by a 5-digit meter on the Pi edge connector.

Charger Doctor

If I take the same load, the same charger and the same short lead with no “Charger Doctor” inline – I get the original 5.2v. i.e. same start up conditions, same meter, same everything – the only difference being the presence or absence of the “Charger Doctor”.

Spec for Charger Doctor is 3.5v-7v in, 0A-3A out. The loss is not specified – and in my book is WAY too high.

In the bin – both of them.


ESCAM Solar Powered WIFI IP Camera

My new camera arrived recently from Banggood (links below) – marked as ESCAM Model YN88-WIFI-130W and with the simple name “Solar Camera”.

ESCAM Solar IP CameraThis section updated July 14, 2019: Unless I find out otherwise, I’m holding back on recommending this camera as it is not reliable. We’ve had great weather here in Southern Spain and the last 2 days have been particularly hot. The last time I used the camera was a couple of days ago, no problems, then tonight at 6pm, I started up the app to check the view on our hill. All worked perfectly. I handed my phone to my wife to take a look, the camera stopped working. I reset the phone as I did last time this happened a week ago – made no difference.

This happened last week, I reset the camera and all was well. No doubt the same will happen again but clearly this is no good for remote operation. I have two other (cheap) cameras which have not failed once in 2 years.Just checked again – nope, it’s staying off until I go poke it.

Right, the camera is in my office in front of me. Still nothing, access panel open, switch to off, then on, seconds later all is well. I can’t rely on this otherwise excellent camera as things stand.

End of update

Sizes, info and more pictures are in the links over the break, suffice it to say for now that this is a monster, running entirely off the sun and talking over WIFI. I’ve not plugged it in or physically connected it to anything. After being in transit for several weeks (thanks to a pretty useless courier mentioned elsewhere) and after getting only half an hour of sun yesterday, the camera came up straight away, IR lights running at full steam, it then lasted the night and was working perfectly this morning. I am well impressed.


Continue reading ESCAM Solar Powered WIFI IP Camera


Raspberry Pi 4 + Buster

The new Raspberry Pi 4 is out and about. The new model has something folk have been screaming for i.e. 2GB and 4GB RAM options, not only that but BUSTER, the new version of Raspbian which is not only supported but recommended – and it is backward compatible. In my limited experience it is also beautiful. Read the July 9 update after the break… I wrote the original article when the Pi4 first appeared but a lot has happened since then – see also the comments in here.

Raspberry Pi 4 with dual HDMI

The Raspberry Pi site states prices (in US dollars) from $35 for the 1GB RAM version, up to $55 for the 4GB version. The new board has both USB2 and USB3 but the original standard HDMI connector has gone in favour of two micro HDMI connectors, great for 4K dual screen action, all good stuff but totally wasted if you’re planning headless operation. We are now looking at a 64-bit 1.5Ghz quad core Cortex A72 (Arm V8). There is now USB-C for power – (3 amps). The new board is supposed to be backward-compatible with previous models and the new operating system version (Buster)certainly is in my very limited experience (I’ve been using Jessie for a long time now). I’m awaiting delivery of the 2GB model of the RPI4 just to get extra RAM without losing the very useful RPI-Clone (and let’s not forget the extra speed). Gigabit Ethernet is of course built-in along with Bluetooth 5.0 and WIFI. I’m assuming that serial port remains as grim as in the past (competitors have up to 4 serial ports) but that’s just an assumption. I’ll soon report on that first hand.

Not sure about HDR yet for the video and we never did get a decent Android + PlayStore running on the Pi3 – my own Pi use case does not involve multimedia as I prefer a decent Android-9-based TV box such as the H96 Max – but that’s just me. If a TV box won’t run ShowBox then I’m not interested. As a home controller however, having tried many different SBCs over recent years, I remain committed to the Raspberry Pi so the Model 4 is likely to get at least one job, probably two or more.

Continue reading Raspberry Pi 4 + Buster


Samsung Galaxy and Gear Watches

Samsung Gear S2 Classic BlackSo the latest is that the new Gear 4 watch won’t be called that at all, just Samsung Galaxy watch – and for anyone who has been living in a cave for some time(I have, but a cave with WIFI) can there be any doubt that this is the best watch in the world?

Personally I am running the Gear S2 (photo on the right) with no urgent desire to upgrade despite spending hours of gadget envy at various stores featuring the Samsung, Apple and other watches here in Spain and in the USA, not to mention dozens of websites) because I prefer the bezel on my 40mm Gear 2 as against the later, larger versions (which are also a little thicker). My view of course may change but up to now I’ve managed to avoid putting any marks on the S2 whatsoever. I have the Black Classic version with decent leather strap. In the past I’ve had lots of expensive “real” watches and no matter what they claim, eventually they get marks on them. I’ve tried really hard to look after this one, so far, so good (2 years down the line).

Watch faces for SamsungHere’s what is so special about this watch and its variations… Depending on your mood it can be just about any watch on the planet!! I’ve reviewed many smart watches on this blog, some of which are really great. others not so but the thing they all seem to have in common is limited choice of watch faces.

Once you get used to owning the Samsung, it seems only natural to regularly change watch faces and other apps. The official Samsung App for Android phones (and no doubt iPhone) has countless faces available, many of them for free – but then there is also “Facer” – I just subscribed to their cheap “Premium” version and now I have not thousands but tens of thousands of watch faces and variations available to me, including those of well known up-market brand names and specials designed just for Samsung. I keep dozens on the watch itself at any time.

Watch faces for SamsungCheck out the Facer App and the “Galaxy Wear” app on The Google PlayStore. It costs nothing to look and it might just lead to a life changing experience. I sometimes waste more time hunting through watch faces than I do on Facebook. And today I figured out how to screenshot watch faces on the watch itself and transfer them to my Pocophone F1  (I’ve already automated phone-to-PC transfers) so that  you can see a tiny selection here. Forgive me for not showing examples of Tag Heur, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Cartier. Breitling, Omega and Montblanc, I got tired of most of those, months ago. Give me a few more months and no doubt I’ll end up back with the classics. The “Cactus” face I got this week, rather apt given the weather here in Southern Spain right now. But don’t get hung up on my strange tastes, go take a look elsewhere….

Watch faces for Samsung

Watch faces for Samsung


7 LED Solar Landscape Lamp

This little item turned up for me this afternoon7 LED Solar Lamp after languishing in the post for longer than I care to mention.

I don’t blame the Chinese supplier Banggood for this as Spain is a long way from China and they would not be aware that last-mile delivery company Seur are worse than useless – they know now.

The unit arrived with trivial (easily fixed) damage despite adequate packaging – again I suspect the company doing the local part of the delivery and I’ve warned Banggood and others in the delivery chain about them so the chances of you getting my experience are very slim.

Continue reading 7 LED Solar Landscape Lamp


Cubot X19 Budget Phone

The Cubot X19 smartphone arrived back in May, well packaged, complete with USB charger and lead (the ad describes charging as Type-C fast charge) and the first thing that came to my wife's attention was the COLOUR – she LOVES it. At sub-£100 sterling with free shipping to the UK and other destinations, while taking the low cost into account, this is looking like good value after being in constant use for several weeks in Europe. This is not the first Cubot we’ve had but is definitely the best looking so far. The last one was also a budget Cubot and was flawless.

The Cubot X19

If you’re used to unreasonably tarted up studio photos, these un-retouched photos should be refreshingly real. The photo above is the X19 sitting on my desk, taken with my Pocophone and NO adjustments made. As an aside, a conversation is starting in here about roaming overseas, nothing to do with Cubot but may interest some of you.


Continue reading Cubot X19 Budget Phone


Owon B35T+ Meter Revisit

Regular readers will know that back in December 2017 I had a very full postbag one day and lumped several items together including the Owon Bluetooth multi-meter. Well, I’d planned to give some of the items more coverage but again, regular readers will also know that shortly thereafter I had a stroke which put me out of action for nearly three months. Shortly thereafter, a long-delayed carpal tunnel operation once again reduced my writing ability and it is only really in 2019 that I started to catch up with my writing plans.

Recently I pulled out the Owon meter and the reason I fell for this device is all coming back to me. Reader Brian Gentles has supplied a handy link to date on the Owon site - here it is...


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K2 OLED HD Colour Display Bluetooth Smartwatch

K2 SmartwatchThis item turned up for me on my return from the USA late 2018: The K2 OLED Bluetooth Smartwatch. This is an updated version (June 2019) of the original December 2018 blog entry as I just successfully updated the app and watch firmware.

The watch has magnetic charging and an App for iPhone and Android – I used the Android version called “iband”. The app is referred to in the 12-sided booklet that comes with this inexpensive watch and it all works well. I had no difficulties at all pairing the watch to my Pocophone F1 smartphone, a process which thanks to the use of a QR-code took moments only. Unlike some other smart-watches out there which die after a day or two even if not used, the stand-by time of this watch is very long.

Continue reading K2 OLED HD Colour Display Bluetooth Smartwatch