This month, our Net Work columnist tries an Internet-enabled weather station, reveals some ‘dark patterns’ in PC software and flags up more online services that have been unceremoniously shelved by their providers.
Meteorology can be fascinating hobby in itself and today, a large range of amateur weather stations is available that monitor and log all the common weather parameters. This month’s Net Work starts with news of my own trials with a modern weather station, the mid-priced Ecowitt HP2551, which has an outdoor array transmitting data at 868MHz (for the UK version), over a distance of 100m. It monitors rainfall, wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, UV index and solar radiation levels. Indoors, a console with a good quality TFT screen displays data, and an indoor sensor checks temperature, humidity and pressure. Data is logged and maximum/ minimum data is stored, and alarms can be set. It will host up to eight external temperature & humidity sensors. After entering my geographical co-ordinates (found using Google Maps or a compass app), the moonphase was also displayed accurately along with sunrise and sunset times relative to my corner of England.
^ The TFT LCD is crisp and clear (dark theme shown). Colour-changing rings show temp, min & max, indoor and outdoor. There is a wealth of other meteorological data plus sunrise/ sunset times and moonphase.
I found the high-contrast TFT display to be particularly crisp and clear. Data captured over the past 72 hours can be scoped and displayed in graphs, and it was interesting to see how the wind speed and direction changed over the course of a few days. I could also tell how much rain had fallen overnight, and when. Other factors such as dew point and wind chill/ ‘feels like’ are also available on this model and some data can be saved to an optional microSD card. I found the instruction manual to be comprehensive and exceptionally clear, obviously being written by a knowledgeable English author.
Below is a selection of graphs taken directly from my own Ecowitt LCD display to illustrate the wealth of information captured. Users can check data for the last 12 hours (minimum) – plotting backwards with zero hour (the current time) being over to the right. It can be condensed to display date over the last 72 hours.
^ Left to right: Humidity (indoors and outdoors) over the past 72 hours; Solar radiation; temperature indoors and outdoors; UV Index.
^ Left to right: the white theme option – a bit bright and dazzling for my taste; wind & gust over the past 12 hours; wind direction noting the change of wind direction. Data is transmitted every ten minutes. RF and WiFi performance has been faultless.
Other graphs (not shown) include rainfall and atmospheric pressure. The TFT display can be timed to switch off at night times. Some data is also recorded to a microSD card as a csv.
^ Some samples of the web-based graphical data downloaded from the Ecowitt website. It can be private or public. Connectivity has proved excellent so far and the quality of data presentation is high.
^ My DIY hardware mounting kit to fit the sensor array to a concrete post. It must point to true north for accurate wind direction measurements. (Google Maps will help.)
Last month I mentioned the design trait of ‘dark patterns’, techniques used by web sites, apps and software that try to manipulate users into navigating down a particular route.
An example surfaced recently when I was rebuilding a Windows PC from scratch which I’d decided to transfer to a new owner. My problem was that Microsoft had tied down the computer’s Windows activation key, OneDrive and App store logins etc. to the current user’s Microsoft account, details which I obviously could not share with the new owner.
The challenge was to rebuild the Windows PC while skirting round all the old Microsoft account details. My first port of call was Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool, which builds a convenient Windows installer onto a dual-layer DVD or USB memory stick. The Windows 10 installer came from http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10/media-creation-tool-install. The final build was 22H2 (ie 2022, 2nd half of the year). Windows 11 users can visit https://www.microsoft.com/en-in/software-download/Windows11 instead.
This month’s article reveals the workaround for this ‘dark’ pattern of behaviour. Deep in a Microsoft forum I found in-depth guidance for a clean re-install, see https://tinyurl.com/2cefc55w. There was just a single line of advice about using local accounts to overcome that nagging Microsoft account problem: during installation and activation, simply choose the option ‘I do not have Internet’. So I didn’t connect the PC to Wi-Fi to begin with, just to make sure, and this worked perfectly for me. The PC rebuild went ahead and was problem-free.
Another task was to import the new owner’s documents into the rebuilt PC. Some files used filetypes that our new software did not recognise. The solution was to use the excellent online converter Zamzar.com which converted some data into Excel format. Zamzar also convert ebooks, multimedia, CAD, PDFs and many other filetypes online, and is a website well worth bookmarking. Free and paid-for plans are available. Another handy tool is Ninite, which can be configured to fetch and install your favourite choice of apps en masse, see https://ninite.com/.
Last month I flagged up the problem of how the demand for cashless payments can discriminate against those who do not, or cannot, use a smartphone. Eventually, a single common app – the National Parking Platform – could be introduced that would work across the country, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Early details are at https://npp-uk.org.
The author has been grappling with Android Auto, the Google app that mirrors Android smartphone functions onto a car’s ‘head’ unit (the LCD entertainment and info screen). I hoped to try mobile apps such as Waze or Google Maps in-car, although some users say their smartphones get very hot after continued use this way. After many hours of fruitless fiddling I discovered that, firstly, my own Honda dashboard no longer connected to Honda’s ‘Connect’ server at all. The digital services supplier whose URL appeared on-screen didn’t reply when I quizzed them about the outage, but it turned out that Honda had silently abandoned the Honda Connect service altogether. As the under-developed Honda App centre was mostly useless anyway, I hoped to give the system a new lease of life with Android Auto instead.
I learned that my car is now stuck with an Android 4.04 head unit with no chance of running Android Auto on it. As far as online apps go, I’m left with a clunky web browser on the LCD screen (don’t worry – it only works when parked) and not much else, as upgrading the head unit or side-loading Android installers is not for the faint hearted. More details of Android Auto for UK users are at https://www.android.com/intl/en_uk/auto/ noting the compatibility list failed my own checks. It is also strongly recommended that a top-quality USB lead is used. Android Auto is now being built into the latest generation cars, so using it should not be a problem: just install the app on your phone and connect it to the dash. Apple users can check for Apple Car Play compatibility at https://www.apple.com/uk/ios/carplay/available-models/
Regular Net Work readers will recall how the author’s Home Hub LCD was ‘bricked’ following an update, believed to be due to Google’s new Fuchsia OS not playing nicely with older kit (unconfirmed). Google was silent on the matter and the perfectly good screen had to be scrapped. Some owners of Google-compatible smart devices are now starting to rue the day they invested in this ecosystem, one disgruntled user airing his views on Android Authority at https://www.androidauthority.com/google-smart-home-3319869/. It does make one think twice about investing in a technology that may be abandoned at a moment’s notice, leaving owners with nothing but burnt fingers!
More details in this month’s Net Work magazine feature. See you next month!