Adding an external sensor to the WS1

We wanted to measure the soil temperature in the greenhouse, so we ordered an external sensor for the Ubibot WS1 that we have just bought. It wasn’t expensive – £16 from Amazon. We thought that soil temperature might be just as important to the plants in the green as the air temperature.

The sensor arrived next day and it simply plugs into the micro USB port on the side of the WS1. What did surprise me, however, was that the WS1 measures the temperature of the external probe AS WELL AS the temperature from the WS1 itself. In other words, it is measuring two different temperatures. This obvious as soon as you look at the Ubibot dashboard.

WS1 external temperature probe
External probe available for the WS1 on Amazon

This makes the WS1 and an external probe a really cost effective solution. If you didn’t want to measure soil temperature, you could measure the temperature outside the greenhouse as well as inside the greenhouse. This was something that I was already considering. And all from one sensor!

Ubibot dashboard
Temperatures from the WS1 itself (top left) and from the attached external probe (bottom right)

New outdoor WiFi access point

Looks like I was a little optimistic about the WiFi in the house reaching the greenhouse! Although my iPhone was showing 1 bar on the house WiFi, the Ubibot sensor could only hold onto the signal for about an hour or so. Clearly, the WiFi from the house was at it’s limit. Time to invest in an outdoor WiFi access point!

I updated our internal WiFi access points (we have 3) in the house last year to TP-Link EAP225. There are three of them in different parts of the house. These were installed about a year ago and we have been pleased with the performance. See here. However, they do need to be rebooted every 2-3 months. After this period, they don’t appear to be able to hold a connection for any significant period of time. I have the latest firmware installed on them, but this hasn’t fixed the problem. Rebooting them does the trick! Maybe a future update will fix this issue.

I decided to use the outdoor version of the new WiFi access points that we are using inside the house. The first unit arrived quickly from Amazon. Unfortunately, it was DOA and had to be returned – the green light on the POE injector went out every time that the EAP was plugged in. Not good. I tried different cables. I even tried different POE injectors. Same result. Like a flat tyre that I put on three different wheels. It was still flat!

The replacement unit arrived next day.

I think longer term the right place to install this unit is actually in the greenhouse itself. This will keep it out of the worst of the weather and I have a conduit installed to the greenhouse. It should be straightforward to run an Ethernet cable out to the unit and power it using POE. But for now, I am just going to install it temporarily to see how well it performs.

Greenhouse temperature

Having just installed a new greenhouse, we thought it might be a good idea to monitor the temperature in greenhouse. You would think that there are lots of solutions out there. Nothing complicated. Just a display in the house showing the current temperature in the greenhouse, plus maximum and minimum. Maybe a graph. And connected wireless somehow.

There must be loads around. Let’s look on Google! MMMmm. I must be searching on the wrong terms. Where are they?

The closest I could find is a solution from a company called Ubibot. You will find them here: Ubibot.com. They produce a variety of WiFi environmental sensors for industrial and commercial use. I bought one of their cheaper sensors (WS1) for £78 on Amazon just to see if I can get it to work. Ubibot have a store page on Amazon. You will find it here. The WS1 sensor measures temperature, humidity and light levels. More than a enough for a greenhouse!

Image of the Ubibot WS1 sensor.

According to the blurb that comes with the device, 2xAA batteries will power the device for 4-6 months based on readings that are taken every 15 mins. The device connects to the internet via WiFi and the data is stored in Ubibot’s cloud based platform. There is no subscription fee and it is free to use within certain usage limits. It is clearly designed for much larger scale use and I doubt that one sensor in a greenhouse is ever going to reach the limits of the free account.

The Challenge

The main challenge with this device is setting it up. Obviously with a device at this price point, it has a pretty limited user interface and this can be a challenge when setting it up. Combine this with some fairly scant instructions and if it doesn’t all go to plan first time, then you can be in trouble. This happened to me as something went wrong when I was trying to connect it to me home WiFi. I was trying to do this using my iPhone and connecting to the devices on WiFi network. Somehow, it all went wrong. Even though I had followed the instructions. I reverted to the PC based pages. That didn’t help either.

I finally cracked it by using Ubibot’s PC offline tools. You can download them from here. There was the briefest of mentions of it in some of the Ubibot support pages. It allows you to connect to the device using the micro USB port and set it up without connecting to it via WiFi. You have to download some software from the Ubibot site (the install was a little quirky!), but it was a cinch to set up via this route. I wish I had tried this in the first place as it would have saved so much time! It was much easier than trying to connect to it via WiFi.

Once set up, it connected to my home WiFi network and started posting measurements every 15 minutes! The device (and it’s measurements) appear on the Ubibot data warehousing pages. The main screen shows the latest readings and clicking on the device opens up a set of historical graphs. Wow!

The good stuff

  • Even though my iPhone was showing only one bar on my WiFi, the WS1 has connected to our WiFi in the house. I am guessing that it is 20m to the greenhouse through a number of thick masonry walls. The WS1 only supports 2.4G WiFi and not 5G WiFi so it is more susceptible to physical obstructions between the access point and the sensor.
  • Now the data from the WS1 is on the Ubibot platform, I can set up a number of alerts (e.g. sending an email) if some of the data readings reach particular limits. There are some really cool options here. Most of them totally OTT for a greenhouse!
  • Now the data is on the internet, it is possible to view it from anywhere or even share the data with others. Just on the off-chance that someone wants to know the temperature in your greenhouse!
  • It integrates with Alexa too! You need to add Ubibot as a skill to Alexa. Just follow the instructions here then you can say “Alexa, what is the temperature of the Greenhouse?” It took me a couple of minutes to set this up. I wasn’t sure how useful this feature might be – either way, it makes a cool demo!
Summary table from the Ubibot site displaying the WS1 sensor that has just been installed.
Here’s the view from the data warehouse table view.
Detailed information page for this sensor from the Ubibot site.
Here’s the detailed sensor view. There’s not much data here yet as I only got it working this morning!

And we are back!!

WordPress.org logo - Manually updating WordPress

I have had a bit of a nightmare with WordPress for the last few weeks. It seems that an automatic update at the end of last year didn’t work as it should have and a number of the core WordPress files were missed out during the update. The result was the blog went offline and should did the admin dashboard! I had no way of getting into it to fix it!

Here’s the error message I was getting: “PHP Fatal error: Cannot redeclare _wp_register_meta_args_whitelist() (previously declared in /home/j6yrsllk82zz/public_html/blog/wp-includes/meta.php:1394) in /home/j6yrsllk82zz/public_html/blog/wp-includes/deprecated.php on line 4060”.

So today was spent getting things back up and running. Fortunately, it seems to be back working

The fix entailed:

  • Background reading on what to do and how. Unfortunately, I am not a WordPress expert;
  • Backing up all of the content and the database for my blog (I didn’t want to lose any content);
  • Installing a new clean set of WordPress files and overwriting any old ones that might have got corrupted previously;

Now we are back up and running. We are on the latest version of WordPress (5.7) and I everything looks like it is working as it should. I haven’t had chance to check all the pages, but it looks like there isn’t anything missing. And the good news is that the content is backed up too! All 2.3Gb of it!

There is a good article here on what to do if you need to manually install WordPress: https://wordpress.org/support/article/updating-wordpress. I also found this video helpful too: https://youtu.be/5UH7F_tGyRs

TV distribution amplifier

LDU608G

I guess that it isn’t surprising after living in the house for five years that some pieces of kit need to be replaced.

This week I have had to replace one of the TV distribution amplifiers. Not surprising, but not the first one that I have had to replace since we have been here. The TV signal started to get a “bit blocky” on some of the HD channels. Eventually, I tracked it down to one of the amplifiers – there are two in the property (I wish I had labelled some of the cables better!). I suspect a recent thunder storm might have been the culprit.

Anyway, I have taken the opportunity to replace it with a slightly better unit. This Labgear amp looks and feels particularly well made. They aren’t expensive either – about £50 from Amazon.

Light sensor

We now have a light sensor connected to the lighting computer.  This means that we can programme the lights so that they come on after dark and turn off during the day.

It is another relatively cost effective piece of kit from Loxone.  The main issue was climbing on the roof to fix it in position.  We have sited it on the small apex at the rear of the property (away from any street lighting or security floodlights).

It is connected to the Loxone kit using Cat5e cable.  One pair of wires is used to supply it with 24v.  Another pair of wires send back data on the light level (as a 0-10v signal).  This is then connected to one of the Loxone’s analogue inputs.

The sensor is positioned high up on the small gable end in the extension.  This is away from any light from street lighting or from the security light at the front of the building.

The sensor is positioned high up on the small gable end in the extension. This is away from any light from street lighting or from the security light at the front of the building.

Inside the lux sensor.  Orange and orange/white used to supply 24v and green and green/white for data.  It then simply supplies a 0-10v signal to the Loxone kit based on the amount of light outside.  The dip switches can be used to adjust it's sensitivity.

Inside the lux sensor. Orange and orange/white used to supply 24v and green and green/white for data. It then simply supplies a 0-10v signal to the Loxone kit based on the amount of light outside. The dip switches can be used to adjust it’s sensitivity.

 

WiFi throughout the building

tp-link

There are wired Ethernet sockets in all of the rooms throughout the property.  The home network is provided by two Netgear Gigabit switches (one in the old part of the property and one in the plant room in the new extension connected via a CAT6 cable).  These are then connected to the Internet via a BT Home Hub 4.  Longer term, we will probably replace this with something more sophisticated. Since we are in a rural area our broadband is not the fast – 13Mbps download and around 1Mbps upload.  It works fine for us – just as well since there isn’t much we can do about it.

Additionally, the BT Home Hub 4 provides WiFi access (both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz) in the older part of the property.  However, this quickly drops off once you get to the new extension.

The answer is to install a second WiFi access point in the new part of the building and to use a wired connection to connect the access point to the internal network.  If you set up a second access point with the same SSID and password (and security settings), client devices (e.g. iPads, laptops, etc) will connect to the home network using whichever access point is providing the strongest signal.  Furthermore, if you connect via one access point and then move to a part of the building where the signal from another access point is better, the client device should change access points (and without dropping the connection).  To test this out, I stream BBC2 to my iPad in the old part of the property (using the BT Home Hub WiFi) and then walked to the furthest part of the new extension.  The iPad swapped from one access point to the other and didn’t drop a single frame.  There is a good article here that summarises how this works.

So what did we use for the second WiFi access point? I have been looking for attractive looking access points, but haven’t had a lot of success.  So in the interim, I decided to buy a TP-Link TL-WA801ND.  The reviews looked good and at under £30 it doesn’t matter if we replace it with something more attractive later.

The TP-Link access point is a reasonable piece of kit, particularly for the price.  However, the process for setting it up is a bit convoluted.  It defaults to an IP address of 192.168.0.254.  This isn’t really too much of an issue, except that the BT Home Hub defaults to setting up a 192.168.1.* network.  So none of my devices that were connected to the BT Home Hub could connect to the TP-Link device at the same time.

To get it to work:

  • I turned off the BT Home Hub.  You could alternatively turn off the WiFi on the Home Hub;
  • I then connected to the TP-link access point using the 192.168.0.254 IP address;
  • I logged in and set up the device as an access point.  This involves entering the SSID, password, and security settings so that they were the same as the Home Hub (you might want to write these down before starting this process);
  • Do not reboot the device until you have changed it’s IP address to something in the 192.168.1.* range.  This means that it can be seen at the same time as the Home Hub.  In my case, I changed it to 192.168.1.252.  My Home Hub is set up for 192.168.1.254 (the default).
  • I left all the other settings on the network tab the same.  DHCP needs to be turned off on the Access Point, but this is the default anyway.
  • Save and reboot the access point.  You are done.  You should be able to access the TP-Link device using 192.168.1.252 (or whatever IP address you entered).  This will then provide you with the login page. You can access your Home Hub via 192.168.1.254.

If you leave the TP-Link device on the default IP address and set up the access point with the same SSID/password, you will get a DNS error when a device logs into the access point – it will connect to the WiFi network, but will not connect to the Internet.

Why do WiFi access points look awful?

Answer: Because no one in the design process cares what they look like.

Having spent a fortune renovating (including re-wiring) a property, I need to install a couple of WiFi access points to make sure that WiFi is accessible in all parts of the building.

Trouble is they all look awful – most are white/grey plastic boxes with one or more aerials.  They are plenty of examples to choose from, but few, if any, that look half decent.

Their design seems to be a hang-up from corporate offices rather than something than anyone would want on display in their home.  As a result, most of these access points end up getting hidden away in cupboards, under the stairs, or anywhere else that they won’t be seen.  Ironically, these positions don’t really help propagate the signal, they perform better out in the open.

Isn’t it about time that designers had an input into the appearance of the technology that is fast becoming part of our everyday world?

Who would want to stick this on their wall and look at it everyday?  And if that wasn't bad enough, there are some flashing lights on it to make sure that you don't miss it!

Who would want to stick this on their wall and look at it everyday? And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are some flashing lights on it to make sure that you don’t miss it!

OK, so this one looks like a smoke alarm.  It is one method of disguising it, but it isn't exactly attractive.

OK, so this one looks like a smoke alarm. It is one method of disguising it, but it isn’t exactly attractive.

Probably the best we are going to find.  I will strip it apart and spray the outside case so that it matches the wall colour.  It will be a bit like the pottery uplighters that you can paint the same colour as your walls.

Probably the best we are going to find. I will strip it apart and spray the outside case so that it matches the wall colour. It will be a bit like the pottery uplighters that you can paint the same colour as your walls.

Telephone system

We are going to use the same cabling and sockets for the ethernet and telephone points.  This means that any ethernet outlet can be reconfigured as a telephone point and vice versa.  Since there are multiple ethernet connections in each room, this provides us with a lot of flexibility plus we won’t have to worry about those ugly telephone extension cables around the place.

We have a standard BT telephone line and master socket.  I have acquired a unit that will convert the incoming telephone line into 4 RJ-45 connections.  This is the standard connector for ethernet.

 All of the room sockets terminate in a patch panel, so it is a case of connecting the telephone line to the appropriate socket using a patch cable – rather line the old fashioned telephone exchanges you used to see on TV.

Once the telephone line is connected to the socket, it is a case of plugging in a short lead that converts the RJ-45 connection back into a standard BT plug (or an LJU socket to be more precise).  These are just a few pounds each.

In fact, the unit that I have bought is capable of converting two telephone lines into 4 ethernet connections each.  This means that if we ever get a second line (e.g. for business use) that this could be patched to any room in exactly the same way.

You will find the central unit is available from CyberSelect.  I did have a good look around and there aren’t many on the market.  They also supply the converter leads too.