Project: Extracting & Geographically Plotting DTRS Site Information

As a radio enthusiast, and highly observant public transport user, I’ve made many notes about the deployment of the new Digital Train Radio System (DTRS) sites. This new system is based upon GSM-R in the 1800Mhz band, and is intended to replace the end-of-life Siemens Metronet analogue/digital hybrid trunked network that is currently in use and installed in 1997. From what I’ve been told, Huawei base stations are being used for the deployment.

As the sites haven’t yet come online to my knowledge, and new sites are still springing up, it seems that they’re still in the build phase. I haven’t seen much information about our DTRS deployment online, and I assumed that it was all under wraps as most infrastructure projects seem to be.

That assumption of mine was challenged when I passed the Villawood DTRS site on my way to Cabramatta in a car. I saw a project sign which clearly delineated the site as part of the Digital Train Radio System. There was a free call project enquiries number as well which I noted down and searched.

A Treasure Trove Waits to be Opened

As it turns out, the information was online (duh) and was posted on the Digital Train Radio System page under Transport for NSW’s webpage. On their Current Works and Upcoming Works pages, various documents were available for each site. This included the Review of Environmental Factors (REFs) which is sort of like an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which details everything about where, what, why and how of the project. Additionally, there are Determinations (which notes the outcome of community consultation), Conditions of Approval (in case of objections) and appendices.

As I don’t live in an area immediately adjacent to the DTRS bases, I didn’t have a chance to be alerted to this. Apparently the procedure includes letter drops which alerts residents to these projects, however, in most cases there are no submissions to the public display documents and construction is approved as per the REFs.

Smash and Grab

A recursive wget managed to net me about 3Gb of PDF documents (about 800-900 individual files) which I could then go through to get information about site locations, mast heights, equipment involved, etc. I decided to go all out and mirror it straight away, knowing that these kinds of things could go offline at any time (and the archive.org copies are limited).

Unfortunately, some sites were missing their REF documents, so an estimate of location based on other text from determinations or on the listing was used to provide the location. This is contrary to the determinations which say that the documents are made available – they aren’t, at least not for one of the Booragul sites, Doonside, one of the Emu Plains sites, Padstow and Rydalmere (Dundas). If you don’t believe me, you can check it for yourself.

Other REF documents were scans (especially the later ones) which needed to be OCRed and suffered from some errors in transcription, so I can’t guarantee accuracy.

From the REF documents, there were a few interesting key facts I thought was worth highlighting:

  • It addresses several recommendations of the Waterfall Special Commission of Enquiry
  • It will provide 100% radio coverage across the 1,455 kilometre electrified rail network and 70 kilometers of tunnel.
  • It has an expected design life of at least 15 years.
  • Main switching centre at CBD location with back-up at Homebush.
  • 675 train cabs to be equipped with on-train equipment.
  • About 250 BTS sites and others in tunnels.
  • About 65 dispatcher terminal units.
  • Capability to equip staff with handheld terminals.
  • UGL Infrastructure has been contracted to design, construct, commission and maintain the DTRS.
  • The platform will be used for future development of Automatic Train Protection System.
  • The majority of the antennas used are the Commscope Argus Panel antennas.
  • The DTRS project has an overarching value of $225 million including design, supply and install plus five-year life support.

If you’ve seen the REF documents, you’ll see how much work needs to be done just to get one of these projects approved. On the whole, it seems each site is going to cost just shy of $1 million to get up and running.

The Plot

I extracted the co-ordinates for each site and plotted it on Google Maps. Some of the site names do not match the site names on the TfNSW page, although their locations should match. This is because the distributed base stations feature several antennas per site, and for ease of plotting, I’ve labelled each antenna as a separate site, sequentially numbered.

Each bubble represents a site, and the information on the site is attached as a text comment. The sites are colour coded to their mast heights as follows:

  • Aqua – 0m or attached to buildings <5m
  • Green – 5m, 5.5m, 7m
  • Yellow – 10m
  • Purple – 14m, 15m
  • Pink – 18m, 19m, 20m
  • Red – 25m
  • Blue – 30m, 31m, 35m

The map itself itself is embedded below. I’ll do my best to keep the map updated as new sites are announced. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of all the information, as it was compiled by hand with some documents OCR’ed and missing information “estimated” based on summary information. If you wish to share or embed the map, please make sure you provide a link-back to this page, thanks!

The map itself shows the high density and almost predictable distribution of the base stations along the suburban train network lines. Outside of this area, the distribution is less predictable, however, large concentrations of base stations are seen along the windy and tunnel-laden route of the Blue Mountains line. It’s a lot of sites and a lot of money for sure – and some sites even in the Metro area aren’t yet physically built out yet.


View DTRS Site Locations in a larger map

Due to Google Map restrictions, the view below only contains the first page of sites. You will need to click on the link to Google Maps to view the page listing on the side to toggle to the second page of sites.

Otherwise, you may download the full KML here and browse it in Google Earth, similar to the image below which has the railway layer enabled (under More -> Transportation -> Rail).

DTRS-Site-Locations-Google-Earth

Posted in Radio, Telecommunications, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Random: Site Update, Sydney Trains & Opal Stuff, Tech News, etc.

It’s been a rather busy week, so I think it is understandable if the random post is a little more limited in scope than usual.

Site Update

It seems that my content is being more and more widely discovered each day, but a side effect of it is that it seems to be more and more plagiarised each day. I just want to draw your attention to several things:

  • It seems that there are some sites out there which are translating my content for a new audience without providing any attribution (and, at times, collecting revenue of their own for my content). While I’m not totally thrilled about this, I suppose that they (might) have put some effort into translating it and are opening the content to a new set of eyes, so it’s probably a net positive.
  • Others have been stealing my images and using them in their advertisements or postings to prove a point without the context or a prominent linkback.

In both cases, I think it’s dangerous to just look at a few pictures, or a graph without also the context that I provide in the article. Some people think it’s too long, and they don’t bother reading (i.e. the TL;DR generation), but this means they can come to the completely wrong conclusion based on the data itself. Please, if you are sharing the content here, make sure you provide prominent link-backs to the content so that people can benefit from fully reading the article.

Furthermore, if you are translating the documents, please also make an effort to read the related articles, linked articles and updates. As this is a log that resembles an engineers’ logbook, I don’t go specifically looking for old articles which could be out of date in order to update it – I will often post a follow-up instead.

In some cases, this is evident from the statistics themselves – where people are being linked to an old article only despite there being a follow-up or update article linked at the top in large bold text. They are missing out on all the facts.

It is because of a lot of this, that moving forward, I would make a more concerted effort to watermark all images being posted to avoid their misuse.

Sydney Trains Meltdown

At around 5pm on Thursday 11th September, around the closing time for ElectroneX, an empty train derailment at Central station occurred with three wheels off the track. This caused rail chaos, with platform changes, but extensive delays across the Western and South lines as trains were banked up waiting to get around the loop. I managed to hop on a train to go out of the city, and for the most part it was a strange sight to be speeding along outbound with trains waiting at the minimum signal distances from each other in a line from Central radiating out to near Strathfield on both the inner west tracks and the western line tracks.

But the joy was shortlived, as my train passed Lidcombe, it stopped for a lengthy period of time as the trains ahead of it weren’t clearing signals fast enough due to lots of switching trains between tracks.

It seems that such meltdowns aren’t that common, but when they occur, widespread disruption happens.

Sydney Trains Station Upgrades

People who have been following along with my observations at Granville would have noted that the new terminus was almost ready for use as of last week. This week, on Wednesday 10th, it was already in service with cars in the new carpark and buses utilizing the new layup area. There were still staff in high-vis vests finalizing things.

20140910_083902 Panorama

Wednesday 10th September 2014

By Thursday, they were nowhere to be seen. We’re now officially in business!

20140911_081341 Panorama

Thursday 11th September 2014

If we compare this to what the terminus looked like before the upgrade, we can see the old dilapidated facilities, but also the decline of Granville as an important interconnection hub. It’s sad to think that they’ve not only lost many buses in the early 2000’s, but now they’ve also declined in train volume too.

Station-View-Granville-BusInt

20140909_133122A close look at Granville also sees the old fiberglass slat-based benches being replaced by new “personal-space-preserving/anti-hobo” metal benches from Street Furniture Australia. These ones are probably a better choice when it comes to long term maintenance, as the former fiberglass ones needed frequent repainting. Some might even have layers of red paint under the blue CityRail paint for when State Transit Authority was the guys in charge.

Another “improvement” at Granville seems to be the removal of an old concrete stanchion foundation on Platform 1.

20140910_084427

The foundation has been filled in with bitumen tar, however, I do miss the old concrete foundation. It was a mound which many people waiting for the train used as an impromptu seat – myself included. Trains rarely stop at Platform 1 at Granville anymore, but when I did catch one earlier this week, I instinctively walked up and tried to sit on the mound, and promptly noticed its absence when I reached the end of the platform without finding it!

Work seems to be underway replacing tactile tiles across the network – this an example from Strathfield of what happens when the tactile tiles see too much weather and become brittle. It doesn’t help that people probably rub their shoes on it and snap them off …

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In the meantime, it seems LED replacement of pole-mounted platform lights seem to follow a similar sort of methodology as the ones pictured earlier at Granville – it seems different stations are getting different solutions.

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For example, these ones at Redfern seem to have their own photoelectric cells at the top to turn them off during day-time (but their thresholds don’t seem to be properly set).

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A closer look of another one at Redfern that was off appears to show it uses a total of 36 high powered white LED packages.

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Whereas these at Lidcombe seem more similar to the ones at Granville, and seem to contain more LED packages. This is probably because they have been installed based on the expected lighting requirements.

I don’t know whether it’s intentional but it seems that the LED lights at stations are running for most of the day as well. Maybe it’s for testing or burning in, but at times, the platform seems plenty bright but the lights are still on.

I had the opportunity to get a close-up look at the LED lights at Redfern and it seems they are Philips Master LEDtube Value 19W tubes. They claim to be visually indistinguishable from regular fluorescent, but hey, I could tell the difference the day it was put in! The colour rendition and the light spread of LED tubes tend to be slightly different, and some have hot-spots, but to Philips’ credit, their tubes are very nicely diffused.

20140909_140527

A closer look around Redfern station had me seeing about two dead tubes, whereas at Granville, I identified two dead tubes as well (one flickering one went out entirely). It seems that the LED replacements might be suffering infant mortality due to a failure of components or constructions despite their long claimed lifetimes.

Because of scheduling of trains, this week, I had to take a train outwards to Parramatta and change for a train to return back to Granville. This gave me an opportunity to examine the luminaires at Parramatta, which seem to have been entirely replaced.

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A new sort of luminaire with a clear glass front and, what appears to be, a waterproof design have been employed. The tubes inside are LED tubes, and of a different vendor than those seen to date.

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I tried to take as best of a photo as I could, but I determined that these are eSAVE 22w units, with a manufacturer LED lifetime of 50,000 hours. I suppose this means eSAVE isn’t standing by this when it comes to the whole assembly, which could mean disappointment in the future if the electronics fail ahead of time. The LED chips are from Epistar, a Taiwanese LED chip manufacturer which I’ve seen others deal with, but aren’t the first name to pop in my head for quality.

I didn’t have much time at the station, but I didn’t see any dead tubes in my short walk, which was good.

20140912_142642

There was also an OSRAM LED floodlight to illuminate the subway station escalator entrance. I think it’s only a matter of time before all the stations across the network go LED for their lighting, to improve reliability, reduce maintenance and power costs.

It seems like the white LED market is a big one, and it has reached maturity in terms of being economical for businesses. The number of these tubes that are being installed will only continue to rise and more companies will want in on the profits. I just hope that they do reach their reliability expectations, and don’t sour the early adopters, as well as have good electrical characteristics to avoid contributing to the problem of low power factor distorting loads.

Other Changes Across the Network

It seems they’re starting to embrace advertising as a source of revenue, as Central Station’s interchange area is now completely plastered with advertisements, even on the pillars. I’ve never seen it at this scale.

20140912_103017

They did do something less complete for advertising the Opal card, but it seems now they’re just leveraging the normal advertising channels with billboard advertisements as well as “on train” advertising.

20140912_143516 20140909_164249

I’ve also noticed some changes to the carriage numbering of the former outer-suburban Tangara carriages (i.e. the ones with reversible seats, toilets and luggage racks). Formerly, these had the prefix O added to their carriage numbers to denote their outer-suburban status, and would take  the form of OD68xx or ON59xx/ONL59xx. The O seems to have been dropped now, as I boarded one with the O scrubbed from outside and inside!

Further looks at Tangara carriages seem to show that they have had their lighting replaced with LEDs as well. The original fluorescent tubes always gave the trains a “warm” yellow light feel, but the one I boarded felt a little different.

20140909_164803

It’s not visible in the photo, but a close up examination as in the photo below …

20140909_164831

… shows a multi-faceted corn-cob style construction tube with LEDs arranged in a diamond pattern (i.e. :·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·:·).

I wonder who makes these LED tubes, and whether there had to be some special re-engineering, as I expect the ballasts in trains to be specialized for use with the 1500V DC electrification and different AC buses on board, so they might not provide the same output as the retrofit tubes expect (i.e. mains AC) but would be suitable for regular fluorescent tubes.

I mentioned in my last random post that signage has been changing to take the orange colouration – here are two examples:

20140909_141137 20140912_142009

Finally, they have also updated the signage on Opal buses with new labels containing a blue footer that informs you where to get your Opal card.

20140912_143956

I have noticed that some Opal enabled buses have difficulty in enabling the readers at each stop. Maybe they’re having GPS difficulties, or they’re not using GPS at all. Maybe they’re using wheel measured distance? I saw some changing from Please Wait to Tap on/off here just before the stop, and then changing to Please Wait when the doors open. It seems that the driver’s console allows them to manually select the stop and that “enables” the readers.

If you’re using Opal on the bus, you definitely have to see the driver if the readers aren’t operating when the doors open, otherwise you’re going to be charged default fare which is the maximum for that mode of travel and it won’t count towards the daily travel cap! Hopefully these things will get ironed out over time.

20140909_134724

Also, in the randomest of random, I thought I’d throw the above image in. This is where two electrical segments meet on the overhead running wire/catenary. In order to isolate two 1500V DC circuits, they use this thing that sort of looks like a hook on the running contact wire. In the direction of travel, from left to right, the pantograph runs along the wire until it hits the hook. The hook then pushes the pantograph down and transfers it to the next running wire.

The catenaries above are terminated into an insulator joiner, whereas the running wire is threaded through the hook like arrangement. The body of the hook is conductive and connected to the right circuit, with the wire joining the insulating body of the hook.

You might be thinking that you’re shorting out two power supplies momentarily when the pantograph runs and touches the hook as well as the left running wire, and it seems you’re right to some extent. This is the main place where you will see bright blue flashes from the tops of trains.

The effect is somewhat current-limited by the fact that the current has to travel through the pantograph, and the contact material is graphite which can be made to conduct better in one direction than another. This same phenomenon is used in Variac brushes to limit the problem with shorting adjacent coils together. At least, that’s what I could deduce from what I know and seeing one in person.

Good Work E*Trade

This week, I got an e-mail from E*Trade about keeping your account secure.

ANZ-Etrade-Anti-Phish

While I’m pretty sure it’s a legitimate e-mail, if you can’t proofread your own e-mails properly, you are bound to confuse your own customers. Having such typos erodes customer confidence in the e-mail as they are one of the common traits of phishing e-mails!

So yeah. <sarcasm>Good job.</sarcasm>

Loose Ends

Instead of writing long segments, I thought I’d just commentate on some of the recent news and discoveries in short form.

Apple Keynote

Most of the rumours came true, in which case, it’s rather uninspiring. New larger phones (who couldn’t see that coming), NFC payments, new watch. The phones are very pricey, but exclusivity is always the Apple drawcard. I’m not going to get involved with comparisons, as its really pointless now when we’re reaching the stagnation point with phones.

I suppose this is a big win for NFC especially because of the close working with banks, but also the fact that the majority of platforms now support it! This means that the institutions won’t be as hesitant as before in leveraging this technology.

I wonder whether the apps will be redeveloped, yet again, for a different aspect ratio screen for their iPhone 6+. At least it seems 16:9 aspect ratio is available, finally.

As usual, Apple is being hush-hush on the watch and battery life, most expect that it will need to be charged nightly. I don’t think it looks as good as I would have expected.

If anything, Steve Jobs is probably rotating in his grave much like a rotisserie chicken – many of this goes counter to his visionary path, and is a reflection of Tim Cook’s real influence showing through. Will people buy it? I don’t doubt that many will. But I won’t.

I think the more important milestone is the retirement of the iPod Classic, which signals an end to the invention that did the majority of the work in getting Apple noticed and reviving the company as a whole. Single function audio players have been almost entirely cannibalized by multi-functional smartphones, it would seem.

Storage One-Upmanship

It’s been interesting to see the continued one-upmanship in the hard disk storage arena. A short time ago, Seagate announced 8Tb drives with 10Tb to be coming in around a year and it seems that Western Digital were just hanging back waiting to smash their competition with 8Tb and 10Tb helium models using Shingled Magnetic Recording.

It’s not an apples to apples comparison, of course, and the use of helium, more platters and a new recording technology is sort of cheating, but it does sound the death knell on plain Perpendicular Recording Technology. We’ve been through this several times – PRML+GMR based longitudinal recording, RLL, MFM for example. But it might mean some changes in how those drives are used due to Shingled Magnetic Recording peculiarities.

It also seems that they are also game to sell drives at odd capacities which seems to be a great thing. Predominantly targeted at offline storage, it’s true that all drives are manufacturer tested and each head/platter combination has subtly different recording capacities due to track width, head response and defect differences. It’s no good for RAID of course, but as a plain drive, it’s not a bad idea. If only they could allow us to overclock our own drives by adjusting how much area is reserved for spare sectors, and tinkering with the encoding ECC protection level …

But that’s not all. Sandisk decided to launch a 512Gb Extreme Pro UHS-3 SDXC card. It’s big, fast and pricey! But at least it’s fast, since most of the time the larger cards tend to be the slower ones. It might mean that a 768Gb TLC SDXC card is achievable already …

It also seems to be a big trend for SSD manufacturers to ship performance enhancing software such as Samsung’s RAPID mode, and Plextor’s Plextool. Looking at this KitGuru review of the M6 Pro, a basic consumer might be mistaken that the software is magic. It’s definitely not. It’s only returning high numbers since the benchmark is taking in place in RAM. It’s as if you have a large ramdrive and you’re testing that. The writes aren’t committed to the drive, otherwise they will be subject to the SATA link bottleneck and overhead.

Likewise, while there’s a claimed write-coalescence benefit, a less widely publicised fact is the danger of these acceleration softwares. The issue of a RAM cache for writes was recognized early on when disk caching software was invented, and servers have insisted on having battery backup on RAM caches on RAID cards, or disabling caching on writes (write-immediate).

When there is an incentive to churn out fast numbers for benchmarks which occupy about 1Gb, the RAM cache is now much bigger than before which makes the potential for data loss much bigger than before. Some of them claim to have methods to reduce data loss, but it’s pretty clear that performance above the SATA III link rate and no data loss are mutually exclusive goals! It’s not possible to accept writes to the drives faster than the drive can write it and not store it elsewhere, and if that elsewhere is RAM, it will vanish if the power is lost!

It also means that if you have RAM issues, it’s pretty likely you will corrupt the drive or your writes as well! I make it a point to avoid this sort of software, it’s barely going to make a difference in real life especially if you don’t have loads of “vacant” RAM to expend.

Lithium Ion Dangers

I’m not sure as to whether the editors interpreted this story correctly, but it seems a drone operator has had a few batteries catch fire in his case after they were loaded into cargo on the plane. From the article, it seems that the plane had not taken off yet when it was caught, but then it goes on to mention pressure and temperature changes.

It is possible that many new drone operators aren’t as aware of the dangers of lithium-ion cells. The drone environment can expose cells to significant heating, heavy current draws and even physical impact shocks. These can all provoke borderline or damaged cells to let go and catch fire. More experienced RC helicopter flyers are advocating fire-proof areas or enclosures to charge cells and to monitor cells in case of unusual behaviour.

I think it’s definitely good advice to board with all the Li-Ion cells with you in carry on luggage. The lower mechanical shock and active human monitoring will avoid catastrophes like an uncontained cargo fire.

Screenshots of Microsoft Windows 9 Threshold Leaks

It seems that the tech world thrives on leaks, but the cynnic in me seems to believe the leaks to be an almost intentional release of information to tease the public and test the waters before actually releasing something. After all, they can just claim that the rumours and leaks were false … and get away with it!

Unfortunately, this isn’t really confidence inspiring when it comes to consumers and creates confusion. The same thing happens when new models are announced but they’re not actually available on the market yet. In some senses, that’s anti-competitive too.

Anyway, back on topic – alleged screenshots of the new Windows 9 leak, and it looks like an indecisive meld of Windows 7 and 8.1 as expected. The new start menu seems to be needlessly changed in order to allow the tiles to show, while also cramping the functional parts of the menu. Eugh. It also doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing.

The whole metro-apps running in windows also runs counter to their initial idea to generate a store of “tablet” style apps, but it recognizes the importance of efficient multitasking. Unfortunately, that’s just going to create UI uncertainties with different sized viewports, and I don’t see their app store as being a valuable source of applications for the desktop at this time.

It also apparently removes the charms bar, which is a feature I don’t mind because it means quick access to certain settings and shut down. Can’t they ever get anything right? As it turns out, I’m not your average consumer, so they probably don’t care what I think. But regardless, I think it’s a necessary upgrade, forced down our throats because of DirectX12 and USB 3.0 UASP support amongst other changes.

Stray J’s in E-mails

I’ve seen stray J’s at the end of the line in some e-mails and I never bothered looking it up until now. Turns out there’s quite a backstory, which might interest some readers.

Conclusion

As usual, my random posts are pretty random and don’t suit all, but it helps me clear my mind for more important things. This upcoming week, I have many things to prepare and get ready, and unfortunately that means less time for blogging. If it’s a bit quiet for a while, now you know why!

Posted in Opinion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Visited: ElectroneX 2014

ElectroneX is the premier trade show for electronics design and assembly in Australia, and is held in Sydney and Melbourne in alternating years. This year, they were back in Sydney at the Australian Technology Park at Redfern, making it easy to attend.

The show floor was officially open on Wednesday 10th September from 10am to 6pm and on Thursday 11th September from 10am to 5pm. Preparations took place from about 2:30pm on Tuesday 9th September, and take-down occurred from 5pm to around midnight on Thursday 11th September.

Two years ago, when they were last in Sydney, I ended up missing out because I had something else going on that I couldn’t reschedule around. At that time, element14 was selling the original Raspberry Pi Model B’s, and I was still struggling to get my hands on it.

electronex-badgeIt was a big surprise as well as a big honour to be invited to demonstrate the new Raspberry Pi Model B+ for element14 at ElectroneX 2014. As a community member and enthusiast, I was enthusiastic about such an opportunity – it’s not everybody who can say that they’ve manned a trade show expo stand!

 

 

 

At the element14 Stand

electronex-floorplan

The element14 stand was B11 this year, a large double-size stand with an eye-line to the entrance/exit doors. It was nice and bright, and eyecatching because of the lack of “standardized” banners and stall-frames.

On Tuesday, I came in at about 3pm to an almost completely set-up stand, and came in to check my XBMC demo and dump1090 ADS-B aircraft-tracking demo were functioning properly. We finalized the cable routes and items for display, and I was entrusted with the cabinet key for set-up.

20140911_092401 Panorama

On Wednesday, the first show day, I came in at 9:25am to an empty stall. First on the stall, I set up the demo and started roaming around for a quick view of everyone else’s stall. Before long, the element14 team members arrived with the (pricey) exhibits and we finalized the set-up. It was much the same for Thursday, with the exception of a new set of team members and the fact I turned up even earlier – public transport is sometimes a little unpredictable. I was the only one there at the stand for all of both days!

20140911_092111Initially, it seemed a little strange since I wasn’t actually an employee of element14 to be on-stand representing them, but my instincts (from my retail and teaching days) kicked in. It helped immensely that element14 is one of the shops I most enjoy buying things from and I know what they do, and how they work.

I had conversations with many people with a variety of backgrounds, including industrial designers, hobbyists, teachers, consultants, hams and managers with different ideas and motivations to get into the embedded systems space.

It proved to be both exciting and tiring to have been on my feet for a good amount of both days, and I almost lost my voice in the course of it all. However, it was exceptionally rewarding to see quite a few dedicated people who were willing to return to my (at times, inconveniently timed) aircraft tracking demonstration presentation and to be in contact with some other enthusiasts. When like minded people with a similar vision get together, it’s so easy to talk and bounce ideas off each other.

It seems that the Raspberry Pi is extremely recognizable – I actually decided to grab one board and have it on my lanyard – and when asked why I was wearing one, I would reply that “it’s extremely fashionable, the latest stuff … it’s in season!” Maybe I should stop making jokes.

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(Titled: Worst pre-show selfie ever.)

The crowds were not consistent, with waves of people coming through interspersed with quiet periods. It seems a few people took advantage of our showfloor shop and special offer in getting themselves a new Model B+, enclosure, power supply, and NOOBS microSD card in various combinations.

It was just a bit of a shame that every time I ducked off for a quick check of other stands, there’d be someone there who is interested and waiting to talk to me. At the end of it, I didn’t end up taking many breaks at all – last time I did, I took it too late and there wasn’t any food left!

In all, I think it could only be called a success, and I definitely appreciated the supportive nature of the element14 staff which I had not had prior contact with. They were always up for a conversation, and their sense of humour was definitely important in passing the time during lulls. Of course, whenever there was a purchase request or something serious, I would have to defer to them … so it was great that they were around …

Canned Laughter?

DSC_8043One person from the team, who will remain unnamed, was asked about the can of conformal coating on the table and what it did …

“… uh, it makes the PCB shiny.”

Yes … it does … but more importantly, it’s there to protect the circuitry from influences of its environment, such as moisture/humidity to ensure the circuitry performs properly in extreme circumstances.

I got a good laugh from this one though, and it helped me get through the day.

I did end up taking a can of the Chemtools stuff home for a bit of fun. Having worn a Raspberry Pi Model B+ all day on my lanyard, I was sure it would be damaged by ESD. When I got home, I gave it a test, and sure enough it behaved strangely – it took a few goes to boot up, and showed random coloured rectangles and locked up. But it would make a great board to test out the coating … and entomb it forever under a layer of acrylic.

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The team member was right – it does make it shiny! After several coats, it seems to have built up a pretty good layer … so I guess the stuff works. But not having used it before, I’m not sure how well it deals with sharp edges or whether there are any pin-prick holes. I didn’t bother trying to mask any of the connectors – it’s not going to ever be used again anyway. I will keep this as one of my momentos of the show.

I suppose it would make a good layer to protect my case-less Arduinos provided the connectors are masked somehow.

A Visit from Ross Mitchell

In some unexpected turn, I was visited by Ross Mitchell while at the element14 stand, and told about his new domain and place for community projects around the Raspberry Pi at the very memorable http://raspberrypi.education. He also took the time to let us all know about the OzBerryPi hackerspace meetups every month which accommodate people of every experience level.

I suppose these resources could come in handy for some people who are getting started with the Raspberry Pi, but then he also took his hand in helping out customers on the stand! That was pretty unexpected and very nice of him!

Visiting the Other Stands

When I wasn’t busy at the element14 stand, I took some time to visit some of the other stands. Sometimes, they even took the time to come and visit us!

One of the stands I was most looking forward to visiting was the one for EEVBlog‘s Dave L. Jones. He’s a great character when it comes to his videos, with a great sense of humour and a level of experience I could only be envious of.

Meeting him in person was a bit difficult as he was inundated with people at his stall. It seems that his status as an internet celebrity cannot be understated! But having had the chance to meet him in person, he’s the most down-to-earth person and he always seems to have a smile on his face.

It turns out he had some freebies to give out at the show as well – something he calls the μRuler.

uRuler-Front

uRuler-Rear

This was his original version of his ruler, and when I took one home from the first day of the show, I thought it was pure genius and the best abuse of PCB manufacturing I’ve seen for a long time!

The thing has very handy drilled holes along the side which comes in very handy to sort out very small drill bits (I’ve dropped my packet of bits more than once, and lets say, it’s definitely very useful!). It also has conversions for ounces of copper to micrometers, different mil-spacing rulers, SMD footprint tables with power dissipation, mil to millimeters, inches conversions, voltage spacing, current for given temperature rise for traces and VIAs, square pin to round hole conversions and tantalum size codes.

But then, it seems, there’s a newer version of it which I got the next time I turned up at the stand.

uRuler3-Front uRuler3-Rear

This time, there’s a few more conversions and even an “ohms law wheel”. There’s also some lead forming spacing at the end of the ruler. This thing is incredibly useful – it takes someone technical to appreciate it! It also got me thinking about what I’ve been doing wrong all these years …

The first thing I thought was, this thing definitely deserves a mention on my blog, and earns him a link! So here it is – if you’ve ever wanted to see video teardowns, or learn about designing things, Dave’s style is very enthusiastic and energetic and his humour is refreshing.

While at the stand, I was also fortunate enough to have seen Rod Elliot of Elliot Sound Products. While the name won’t be familiar to all, the ESP website at sound.au.com has been a great source of schematics and information on analog design topics, as well as other fundamental tutorials about electronics. I learnt quite a bit from his site, and while he does sell PCBs and kits, if you’re able, you can always build these things yourself! It’s also interesting to be able to put a face to a name.

While we were there, I also had a reciprocal visit from Ng Hwee Choon of Tektronix/Keithley who recognized me from the PA1000 RoadTest I did earlier on. I enjoyed visiting their stand and looking at the latest 6-in-1 Tektronix scopes being demoed on the MDO Demo Board.

Some of the companies I was already familiar with were there – Emona were demonstrating the latest Rigol Ultravision oscilloscopes, Hammond were showing their ranges of enclosures, Keysight Technologies were there with their new brand (formerly Agilent Technologies), Congatec were showing their computer-on-module and single-board computers. Other big names include Silicon Chip magazine, Mathworks (Matlab), Entech and Weller just to name a few.

Overall, I’d have to say that despite it being very tiring, I enjoyed my time at ElectroneX, both as an exhibitor and as a visitor. It’s a bit of a different event, given the trade-only nature of it, but it’s been humbling to have been amongst the most important people of the electronics industry.

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