All posts by aussiegeekdad

Garden Reticulation with Raspberry Pi and OpenSprinkler

So a couple of weeks ago I noticed that my lawn was starting to dry out. We’d only just turned the system back on and I’d gone around and checked that it was all working ok.

I went out to the box and noticed that it was displaying a FUSE message on the screen. Not good.

A quick google search sent me to this article explaining that it is normally a solenoid coil that needs replacing. OK, a cheap part but I can do that.

First I had to identify which solenoid was causing the issue. This was a simple process of disconnecting each in turn to see when the message was caused.

It seemed on every station, so the culprit was likely the master solenoid.

It was easy enough to find, but not so easy to dig out

It was under a rose bush, and full of sand.

A trip to Bunnings was the next step to buy a new solenoid to use for parts (as cheap as buying a new coil on it’s own, Bunnings also don’t stock just the coil and being a Sunday it was my only option).

I replaced the coil, wired it up again and tested everything.

Still tripping with FUSE…

At this point I’d run out of time and available tools to diagnose the issue any further. The following weekend my father-in-law came around armed to the teeth with multi-meter and tools to help find the issue.

Each solenoid was receiving voltage, each was turning on. There was no problem in the wiring, or the coils.

The problem only seemed to occur when both the master solenoid and the zone solenoid were both turned on. The conclusion we came to was that the cheap controller we had installed by the landscapers when the house was build 14 years ago wasn’t coping with 2 open solenoids.

The temporary work around was to disconnect and manually open the master solenoid and leave the zones as is so that only 1 needed to be opened at a time. It worked!

It worked as a workaround. I wasn’t happy with keeping it that way for long. Doing it this way meant that there was only 1 point of failure between me and a leak and a massive water bill and still dry lawn.

I had been looking into projects to do with Raspberry Pi microcomputers for a while and had previously stumbled on OpenSprinker. At the time I didn’t have a compelling case to buy another Pi, and expansion board and set it up.

This was now my chance. I was going to need to buy a new controller anyway, and if I wanted anything other than a cheap, basic, dumb replacement I was going to be up for at least $300.

OpenSprinkler here we come! Within a week of ordering, I had a new Raspberry Pi 3B+, an OpenSprinker Pi expansion board and a new 32GB micro SD card.

The whole process was very simple, quick and well explained from both Raspberry Pi for installing Raspbian, and OpenSprinkler for installing and setting up their board and software.

Once that was done inside it was time to take the Pi outside to the control box and swap the existing wiring over from the old controller to the Pi.

OpenSprinkler Pi uses the existing 24V AC power supply from the old controller. Then the common wire and all the individual zones wire in to the bottom of the unit.

This was the moment of truth. I took my phone out, loaded the web interface for OpenSprinker and started a zone for 10 seconds. Instantly the solenoids opened and the water started to flow! Perfect first time!

I ripped the guts out of the old controller, mounted the OpenSprinkler Pi into the weather proof enclosure and shut the door. You wouldn’t know the difference. Just how I like it and very high on the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor).

I can now test and flush out sprinklers without having to run around the house to get to the controller. I can make sure my programs are running from anywhere in the world, see the history of when they’ve run and turn them off for winter without ever needing to go down the side of the house.

With a bit more research, I can even get it looking at local weather to either water more if it’s been hot, or skip a program if there has recently been rain.

Just another gadget in my ever growing list of conveniences in our house (up to over 30 network connected devices including TVs, smart speakers, smart lights, smart power points, laptops, phones, tablets, computers, NAS, security cameras… the list goes on.

Tidying up Home Network

My home networking equipment has grown over time with all sorts of new stuff, spread across a few locations.

New Network Setup

We connected to the NBN a few months ago and there were a few changes to how I had everything set up. What used to be our study is now our middle child’s bedroom, so the copper line coming into the house is under her bed.

I had an ethernet port put into this room years ago to connect to a switch at the top of the pantry next to the house alarm. This was also where all cables came back to for our IP Camera setup. Good in theory but not so good in practice.

With a switch and cables at the top of the pantry, every time something was moved around up there (think sandwich toaster, medicine box etc…) inevitably a cable or two would dislodge be it ethernet or worse, power.

So a while ago I moved most of this to the garage on top of an old fridge. This was a better location as could have everything coming to 1 place (and it is only a 2m (other side of a wall really) from where most of equipment already was.

The problem was still that it was a rat’s nest. Cables, power boards, switches, routers, wireless APs all over the place and some not even plugged into anything.

I decided I needed a better setup than this so set out to build a network rack. I slowly bought the pieces I needed and assembled them. The last piece came last week, which was the rack itself.

I got a 6RU wall mountable network rack. I mostly have small items that needed to go into it. A Mac Mini to run the IP cameras, a router (Ubiquiti USG), a 24 port switch, an 8 port POE switch, a 6 outlet PDU and a couple of other small items.

I still need to patch the cameras into the back of the patch panel to make things neater and more organised, but so far this is a great improvement over the mess that was there before.

The next step is to get the NBN/phone line patched into the cabinet and move the modem from under the bed into the cabinet.

LED Display Shelf

Mr 5 loves lights! And I mean loves them. He has numerous night lights,

grow clocks, torches, lanterns and garden lights around the house. Every trip to Bunnings involves a stroll through the lights section.

A few months ago I thought it would be a good idea (my wife didn’t think such a good idea) to buy a remote controlled LED strip off Ebay.

We’ve taken a while to sort out what to do with it, but today at much insistence from Mr 5 we found a place for them. He has a 4×4 Expedit bookshelf in his room. So as an incentive we said if he tidied it up and made a display shelf out of one level, then I would stick the lights to the back of the shelf to light it up for him.

The results are pretty good, and he absolutely loves it! Total cost about $8 🙂

Weekend Project: Solar Powered Cubby Light

On the weekend, my son and I had some time to ourselves, so we set out to Masters to do a bit of hardware shopping. The goal was to find a birdhouse to hang in a tree, but we had a voucher so we spend some time looking around the shop a bit.

In the lighting isle, we found a solar powered shed light (approx $10) which looked to be perfect to use in the kid’s new cubby house. We had already setup some push button battery LED lights, but they go flat pretty quick if they aren’t turned off when the kids finish playing. The solar powered light (to recharge included batteries for those playing smarty pants at home) should get them at least a year of pretty good light.

The solar panel is on the end of a 1.8m cord, which we located on the norther side of the cubby to get plenty of light during the day. The wire was fed up under the tin roof and through a small hole in the ceiling where the light is mounted above the black board. Setup took all of 10 minutes, however the instructions say to let the light charge for at least 48 hours, which is pure torture for a 3 year old.

Fatherhood: Losing Friends Is Easy To Do

You kind of expect to lose a few friends when you have kids, especially if those friends don’t have any of their own. There are any number of articles about the subject which will tell you that the best thing to do is to go out and make new friends. That’s great, and for the parent looking after the child(ren) this is made easier by Mother’s Groups, Playgroups and the like.

But what isn’t really covered is what about the other parent? Here’s my experience as a working father so far:

Too Many Friends

When you first bring your baby home from the hospital, every man and his dog comes to see the new life you’ve created. You’ll feel so grateful that you have so many friends. This will last a few weeks as the outliers come for their visit. Then at about 5-6 weeks they stop coming.

The Gradual Decline

To be honest at this stage you don’t really miss them. You have your hands full with Baby, getting used to the routines, sleepless nights and probably just starting to get back into work depending on how much time you could take off.

You might still see your friends if you play a sport, or work with them. But you’ll probably only see them during these activities. Those friends you don’t see in this setting might occasionally text or email about how “we should catch up soon”. Don’t count on it.

You won’t be getting invited out at night, or if you are you can’t go because you’ll be with the kid, not yet confident enough to leave them with a grandparent for the night. It doesn’t take long for the invites to stop coming.

Meeting New People

It’s about this time that your partner starts meeting new people, through organised groups of new parents (usually mothers) in your area. They’ll start spending an afternoon together during the week while you’re at work. Once every so often you might have a BBQ on a weekend where the other fathers come along, but it’s not something that’s going to start a close friendship.

I sometimes stay at home for the day with our son, while my wife goes to work (as a casual relief teacher). This means that I sometimes, depending on the day, take my son to swimming. My wife will sometimes go for coffee with the other mums after swimming. I get the polite “Hi” and “Bye”, but generally nothing more. Not that I blame the mothers, it just the way it is.

Self Doubt

Once the usual excuses don’t hold water because you now leave your baby with a babysitter to go out, you start thinking your old friends might come out of the woodwork. The thing is, they’re used to you not being around. They have other friends that are, so they’re not really missing anything.

This is the point that the self doubt starts kicking in. Is there a reason they’re not calling? Were they really that good a friend in the first place? Did I do something before kids that drove them away and gave them a good excuse?

It’s not something to dwell on though. It is what it is.

The Future

So what should you be doing? What am I doing?

I’m not all the way through this yet. My plan is to try and get to know the other fathers (the ones attached to all the other babies you know). We have a fantastic entertaining area out the back of our house which we are planning to put to good use this summer. Having regular Sunday Sessions, with kids playing, parents talking and enjoying a drink or two.

Some of us fathers might have something in common other than the age of our kids or the friendship of our wives. The kids are getting to the age where we as fathers can take them down to the park.

I’m also planning to do more networking in my professional life. You’d be surprised how much easier small-talk gets when you have kids. A lot of contemporaries have their own kids and experiences, and it gives you a chance to talk about something other than “work topics”.

Networking events do tend to take time away from family though, and my family will always be my first priority.


Ok, so this has turned into “one of those articles telling you to go out and make new friends”, but it’s true. It’s harder for a working parent, but the benefits are the same. So make an effort, because it sure as hell won’t happen on its own.

Have you been through this before? Do you have some great tips for meeting new and interesting people post-kids? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

How To Balance a Passion Project and Your Family/Personal Life

I read an article today on Gizmodo Australia with a similar headline to this one. I was a little disappointed with the substance of the article though, as there was only one sentence which related in any way:

I’m a broadcast graphic designer by day and an indie game developer by night. Or should I say after midnight, once I have sorted out all my family commitments.

I started writing a comment about the fact that the headline was misleading, then thought that I should address the problem in my comment by adding some useful information.

So here’s what I wrote about balancing a passion project and your personal life:

If at all possible, work on your passion project first thing in the morning. The motivation to work on side projects is really low after doing everything else you need to do in a day like your job, dinner, bath-time and putting kids to bed.

Further to that, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s hard enough keeping your energy levels up without skipping sleep to work on your project at 1-3am.

And finally if you don’t feel motivated to work on your side project don’t. As soon as it becomes a burden, take a break and come back to it in a day or two. Side projects are about enjoying your craft and furthering your skills. The more it feels like your day job with obligations, the more you’re going to start resenting it.

These were just a few quick thoughts on the topic, and I’d be interested in your thoughts on the matter. What steps do you take to allow you to be competent at your day-job, attentive partner and parent, and also allow you time to work on pet projects?

Let me know in the comments

Does Commuting Cost 66 Workdays In Your Year?

How much time do you spend going to and from work every day? Is it in any way productive, or are you driving and unable to do anything but keep your eyes on the road?

Jef Claes recently did the math on one of his previous commutes and figured that he was wasting 66 working days worth of time every year by driving himself a long way to work.

He concluded that he’d be much better off on a train, where he could allocate 75% of that time to doing something else (reading, working, email etc…), and gain a little back.

Of course, another way to get that time back is to bring your workplace to you instead of going to it. I’ve written about this before in How To Work From Home and Spend More Time With Your Kids. If your employer is open to the idea then this will give you more than just more productive time for work, but also the chance to be closer to your children as they grow up.

Imagine that you had a 15 second commute from one end of your house to the other. If you worked the same amount of time that you used to be away from home, you could potentially take 60+ more days off per year! This is a lot more holidays than most people get in 2 years.

This all depends on your type of work employer of course. If you’re stuck in a situation where you need to go to the workplace then do as Jef says and move closer to the office.

Only Dad in the Pool

This morning I took my 15 month old son to swimming for the first time (mine, not his). It was an interesting experience to say the least.

Last night, my wife went over all the finer details with me: Pack the bag, starts at 8:45, get him ready, get yourself ready etc…

“Oh, and don’t poo in the pool!”

I’d heard that from her before. Apparently if a baby poos in the pool, the whole centre is shutdown for 8 hours while the filter is cleaned. Ok, got it, don’t poo.

After getting up this morning, we got the poo out of the way – all good. About 30 minutes later my wife says, “I don’t know if he’s done another one”. We check, nothing there…

My wife left for work, we finished getting ready and off to the pool we went. We’re the first ones there, in the heated hydrotherapy pool. I started getting his stuff ready, towel, bathers, swimming nappy.

I took his clothes off, then his nappy and just as I’m putting the old nappy in the bag, I feel something against my foot…

He’s done a poo! Straight after the nappy came off this little thing dropped to the floor and rolled over to hit the side of my foot. AAAARRRGGGHH!!

Luckily, as we were the only ones still in the room I was able to retrieve and dispose of it without being seen! And it went no where near the pool, so we didn’t have to evacuate the centre.

That scare out of the way, it was time for class. This part went off without a hitch. He’s a confident little boy in the water, not phased by going under at all. He was distracted for a bit after seeing a Thomas the Tank Engine toy amongst the teacher’s props.

When the class finished it really hit home that I was the only dad in the pool. I obviously knew this intellectually, but the reality of it was apparent by the use of change rooms.

There are three change rooms in this particular section of the centre. One is a unisex, with a picture of a man, woman and child. One is female, with a picture of a woman and child. The one down the end looked to my like a male room, with a picture of a man and a boy.

Women went into all three!

They must be so used to only having other mothers in the classes that they take over the whole place! I’d been warned this might be the case, so I ended up just putting on a dry shirt and changing my son.

So all in all it was an eventful morning, so much so that he fell asleep on me on the couch after we got home 🙂


Lemon Melting Moments


My wife sometimes has an urge to bake. It’s probably not the best for my waist line, but I do enjoy the taste.

Last night I came home from a late game if indoor cricket to find her finishing off a batch of Lemon Melting Moments. Ok so they weren’t really for my benefit (she was off to a morning tea with friends today), but I did get to put a couple in my lunch box.

I must say, the they were devine. I’d say just like a bought one, but they were better 😀

I can’t wait to see what’s next, and thanks Aussie Geek Mum!

Tips for working outside the office from the Work Awesome Blog

I love the Work Awsome blog, and today they have a great article with 5 Tips to Successfully Work Outside the Office

One tip that is on every article about working from home ever written is to have a dedicated space to work:

This area should preferably be a dedicated office, but other areas can be used to so long as you have the space and privacy you need to work effectively. If there are other people at home while you work, consider playing some soft classical music that will drown out the noise they make but won’t be distracting to your work.

I find that playing some music on some decent noise cancelling headphones (like the ones you get for aeroplanes) does a great job of letting you zone out. Just remember to keep you phone in your line of sight below your monitor so you don’t miss any calls!