pfBlockerNG & GeoIP and the unintended consequences

For anyone using pfBlockerNG with GeoIP enabled there are a couple of hidden gotchas if you like Streaming Services !

During this COVID-19 crisis I was able to work from home remotely. During this time I noticed that every hour at 1 minute past the hour that various streaming services would loose connectivity for approximately 60 seconds. Apart from being very annoying and embarrassing, my co-workers began to set their clocks in meetings by when I dropped out.

So after ruling out the usual DHCP issues on my WAN, ISP issues, low level hardware issues etc I then remembered some weeks before this COVID-19 malarkey installing pfBlockerNG using instructions from one of my favourite YouTube channels Lawrence Systems (click). There are no such things as co-incidences.

So investigating various options and double checking configurations I noted this unassuming check box at the bottom of the pfBlockerNG IP configuration page;

So thinking about this a little, what it means is every hour on the hour this will force any current IP states in the firewall found to be within a blocked range to be cleared. This includes established states. It was about then the penny dropped, what if the streaming services I was currently using were in a GeoIP blocked group, every hour on the hour any established connection would close, then be forced to renegotiate a connection. Sigh. So this is how I had configured my GeoIP settings;

What you can’t see here is within Oceania I’d unblocked my own country “Australia” from these rules. What made me twig to this being the problem is some of the streaming services I use were not being interrupted, upon a little digging all of these used a CDN (mainly Cloudflare) and were coming from IP ranges that were not being blocked. Where as services like Foxtel Go, Microsoft Teams and even ssh connections to my virtual server in Japan were dropping with frightening regularity.

To stop this from happening all I needed to do was not enable the kill states and away it went again. I could have also taken a longer route and identified IP ranges for stream services I wanted to allow, and may investigate this further. YMMV.

Surprise Visitor on Doorstep

This week in Adelaide we’ve had a heat wave, where the minimum over night temperatures haven’t dropped below 35 degC (95 degF) with maximums up and over 43 degC (110 degF). It’s been hot, damn hot.

In Australia we typically find our koala’s sitting in trees, however during heat waves we find them seeking cooler places.

So today I found this little munchkin sitting on my front doorstep when I got home from work, it was a small ball of misery when I first saw it.

It would likely be last years Joey, so about 1-2 yrs old and only just separated from its Mother. I believe I has seen this juvenile koala on his mothers back last summer, there are two females and a male that visit our house regularly.

So given a little water in a big flat dish, a light misting with a water bottle I quietly snuck inside opened the front door and turned the evap air-conditioner on. There was a fair draft of cool moist air headed out that door. With a few hours to cool down and a bit of a nap it once again sat up (a good sign apparently) had clear eyes and bottom. I’m guessing that once darkness falls and it cools down my little visitor will go and find something to eat.

Thankfully a cool change has just arrived and temperatures are finally plummeting back into the low 30’s (mid 80’s F).

And for an encore we also took a swim…

I’m going to have to admit that Juvenile Koalas are very cute and rather photogenic.

The Bus Pirate & my High-2-Sea Adventure.. Arrrrrrr !

This past week I’ve been busy hacking on an Arduino project that uses the I2C bus. It’s been ages since I’d used the Wire library so I was more than a little rusty. Thankfully when it came time to test the code I’d written I could reach into my test equipment box and yank out my Bus Pirate. I’ve been saving up that post title for a while now.

Looking in the test equipment box I noticed at some point in the past I’d purchased one of the SeeedStudio v4 bus pirates which I’d forgotten about. Until now I’d typically used the Sparkfun v3.6 design. Hmm don’t remember when I purchased the new unit, must be old age.. Anyway seemed like a good time to take the plunge with the updated unit.

This new Arduino project monitors the voltage and current in a few external supply rails. Which can then be read by another device over the I2C. I’m sure at some point you’ll find the project code sitting in a public repository along with some hardware files as I complete and test a bit more of the project.

The bus pirates are great if you need to drive and interact with I2C devices. It implements a very simple macro style interface which means you can also edge case test and send out of order I2C signals to make sure your code is working.

So the first surprise with the new v4 unit was when I plugged it into my Windows 7 Dev machine, it needed a driver. I found it here here in the bus pirate archive (click), it actually wasn’t that easy to find. Once I’d updated the “driver” Win 7 it then did its usual thing and turned into a Serial Port.

Connecting to the Bus Pirate with PuTTY is relatively straight forward once you’ve found the serial port number, serial speed is 115200. It was then time to connect the wires. Dangerous Prototypes have a great page on how to do this, you can find it here (click). In a nutshell on my v4 board MOSI connected to SDA, CLK to SCK and GND to GND. Now back to the console. Firstly we need to get the Bus Pirate into I2C mode, so I used the following commands;

HiZ>m
1. HiZ
2. 1-WIRE
3. I2C
4. SPI
5. 2WIRE
6. 3WIRE
7. LCD
8. DIO
x. exit(without change)
(1)>3

I2C mode:
 1. Software
 2. Hardware
(1)>1

Set speed:
 1. ~5KHz
 2. ~50KHz
 3. ~100KHz
 4. ~400KHz
(1)>2
Ready
I2C>

As you will see I decided to select I2C software mode and a speed of 50kHz to start with. So now we need to turn on the power supplies and turn on the pull-up resistors to talk to the Arduino.

I2C>W
Power supplies ON
I2C>P
Pull-up resistors ON
Warning: no voltage on Vpullup pin
I2C>

Umm… hold the boat ! What’s happened to the pull-ups? That one threw me for a bit, I don’t remember the Sparkfun v3.6 units doing this.

Well if you’ve only skim read the Dangerous Prototypes v4 page like I had you would have missed you need to connect the Vpu pin to one of the internal supplies, so in my case I used another wire to short Vpu to the 3V3 pin, conveniently they were adjacent to each other.

If you look closely you can see a yellow wire in the top right of the image above, that joins Vpu to 3V3 and is the secret sauce to making this work. Ok so now that’s solved I could then try to get the power supplies and pull-ups working again;

I2C>W
Power supplies ON
I2C>P
Pull-up resistors ON
I2C>

From here it was straight forward to the rest of the testing. Another good tid bit is the following macro is great for checking things work as expected, essentially it scans the bus and will report all of the devices it can talk to;

I2C>(1)
Searching I2C address space. Found devices at:
0x40(0x20 W) 0x41(0x20 R)
I2C>

Sweet. The Bus Pirate found my device and tells me I can read and write to it. More importantly I know what address to use, sometimes things get a little screwy due to the 7-bit I2C address and the read-write bit. Dangerous Prototypes have a good guide that allow you to work out what macros you need to use to build your I2C commands (click).

Here’s an example of me reading a single register from a specific address from within my Arduino I2C firmware;

I2C>[0x40 0x50[0x41 r]
I2C START BIT
WRITE: 0x40 ACK
WRITE: 0x50 ACK
I2C START BIT
WRITE: 0x41 ACK
READ: 0x08
NACK
I2C STOP BIT
I2C>

So the macro above can be read from left to right and in words;

  • send a start condition
  • the write address (0x40)
  • a data byte (0x50)
  • a second start condition
  • the read address (0x41)
  • read byte
  • stop condition

.The bus pirate then prints that it READ a value of 0x08 from that register. Actually that value tells me there are 8 bytes in that register strucutre, so I can modify my macro and read the entire contents;

I2C>[0x40 0x50[0x41 r:8]
I2C START BIT
WRITE: 0x40 ACK
WRITE: 0x50 ACK
I2C START BIT
WRITE: 0x41 ACK
READ: 0x08 ACK 0x20 ACK 0x1C ACK 0x00 ACK 0x00 ACK 0x98 ACK 0x3A ACK 0x00                       NACK
I2C STOP BIT
I2C>

You’ll see that the last part of the above macro is now set to read 8 bytes and you can see the response from the unit appears to have data in it. The nice thing with an Arduino is you can have it print out messages on it’s serial port and then check the responses match, so I’m gong to call that working !

Now all I need to do is write a script that can then test all of the I2C edge cases to ensure my code really works and I’ll be able to move on to a more interesting part of the project.

Arduino Micro from Scratch

For a while I’ve been building small projects and widgets with combinations of either the Arduino Micro or Leonardo’s. These platforms both use the Atmel ATmega32U4 which is now owned by Microchip. So while working on a recent “ham radio widget” I decided to embed my own custom made Arduino based on the micro platform. This design used DIN rail enclosures which require a fairly funky shaped PCB, so it was time to take the plunge and stop using modules purchased from eBay.

Finding a suitable schematic and parts list was not difficult, laying out the PCB was also uneventful. Since this module would be mounted vertically in an enclosure, I decided to simply squash up the pins on the micro into a double header. This was neat as it then allowed me to re-use the standard Arduino Micro pin map. Anyway a picture speaks a thousand words;

This board is fairly straight forward by design, however it did end up requiring 4 layers to fit within my enclosure with components I could see with my naked eye.

Once built I could then use the 6 pin ISP connector which you can see in the foreground above and my trusty AVRisp mk2 programmer. So now for the crux of the problem and the reason for this post, programming the bootloader.

Since I use AVR Studio and my AVRisp mk2 for professional software development, I had not swapped the usb drivers to libusb-win32 which meant I could not simply use the “burn bootloader” option in the Arduino IDE. So I had to do it the “hard way”.

After a bit of googling I found the bootloader hex file was already on my machine conveniently located within a the standard Arduino IDE directory. I found it in the following sub-directory here;

hardware\arduino\avr\bootloaders\caterina\caterina-micro.hex

The next question is what fuse settings are required. Now I struggled to find any references with practical solutions to this question on google. Searches ended up taking me off to ATmega328p or Arduino Pro bootloaders, not the micro. There are a many different fuses that can be set and if you get it wrong you can brick your processor, so playing around can lead to bad things.

Anyway after much nashing of teeth I found a practical guide to setting the fuses for a Leonardo, so I figured they should be the same or similar. So before simply blasting in these fuses I spent a bit of time to understand what exactly would change. There was nothing sinister there other than turning off the JTAG (unused) and swapping to an external 16MHz oscillator, jeez I hope I’ve got the right crystal and caps.

Below is the fuse settings I ended up with;

Low:  0xff
High: 0xd8
Ext:  0xfb

After programming the FLASH and fuses I then unplugged the programmer and external power supply and attached it to my PC via USB. I was happily greeted with detected new USB device, installing drivers, device is ready to use on COM62. Phew it worked !

All that was left was to fire up the Arduino IDE and create the ubiquitous blinky led program like so;

void setup() {
  // put your setup code here, to run once:
  pinMode( 13, OUTPUT );
  digitalWrite( 13, LOW );

}

void loop() {
  // put your main code here, to run repeatedly:

  delay(100);
  digitalWrite( 13, HIGH );
  delay(100);
  digitalWrite( 13, LOW );
}

Hitting the “upload” button saw the code compiled, AVR dude did it’s thing and my RED led flashing merrily. Problem solvered ! Now to continue putting these modules together and getting this board setup in PlatformIO.

DMX RS485 Interface

After having configured a Color Kinetics RGB LED driver I need a way to generate a DMX stream to validate it worked as expected. I searched my project boxes for some RS485 USB interfaces in my workshop, but as usual I had put them in a “special” place. So there was nothing for it but to crack out an Arduino and the soldering iron.

This isn’t the first RS485 interface I’ve built for an Arduino, but if you haven’t done it for DMX then I suggest reading this article on Instructables (click) that explains why the standard RS485 shields available are not suitable. However this interface (click) is one that I have found to work, just note that the TX and RX should be Pins 1 & 0 respectively and the enable input (ENB) should be connected to Pin 2.

I like to use the Freetronics Basic Protoshields when building with Arduino’s they are different around the connectors and seem to have more clearance. The photo of the interface (right) was taken just prior to the RS485 safety resistors being mounted across the output of the RS485 bus.

I’d caution anyone against building RS485 interfaces without these safety resistors. With new RS485 receivers you can get away with out using them, but with older receivers they are mandatory. In a nutshell the safety resistors ensure there is always a 200mV differential across the receiver input that ensures the output of the receiver sits in the “UART idle” state. Otherwise what you find is the receiver will either not toggle it’s output or oscillate, in either case it doesn’t work. You just never know if the device you’re talking too has an old or new receiver, so it’s safer (boom boom) to have them than to not. YMMV.

Once the basic interface was built I then realised that this wasn’t going to work with your standard Arduino Uno. You can’t share the UART with both the USB programming and serial debug interface with the RS485 driver without their being bus contention problems, steering resistors can be used with varying success. So the simple solution to this problem was to switch to a Arduino Leonardo, since they have both an on-chip USB interface for debugging and programming and a separate UART connected to pins 0 and 1. This was not without it’s own problems, so much so there is separate blog post to deal with these (click).

So all that was missing was a DMX library. Now this is something of a mine field, there are so many DMX libraries it got confusing finding the right one. After a lot of searching, downloading and fiddling I settled on the “DMX Library for Arduino” written by William van der Meeren (click). What set this library apart was it would transmit a full DMX 512 byte frame every 26ms from a much smaller buffer held in RAM that was non-blocking. It also has a mechanism to signal to the main loop when it had finished a full frame (click) allowing the firmware to quickly update the DMX channels and then allow it to carry on. This meant that colour washes could be kept atomic and smooth.

Below is one of the test programs that I wrote using the DMX library to test a few ideas on what may be possible with this interface. I have also included the PlatformIO config file that includes the necessary build flags;

#include <Arduino.h>
#include "Conceptinetics.h"
#include "math.h"

#define debug_output_enable()	Serial.begin(115200); while (!Serial){}
#define debug_output_f(...)    	Serial.print(F(__VA_ARGS__))
#define debug_msg_f(...) 	Serial.println(F(__VA_ARGS__))
#define debug_output(...)      	Serial.print(__VA_ARGS__)
#define debug_msg(...) 	      	Serial.println(__VA_ARGS__)

// structure to hold RGB colour information
typedef struct
{
  uint8_t red;
  uint8_t green;
  uint8_t blue;
} mycolour_t;

// DMX addressing information
const uint8_t DMX_DEVICES = 6;
const uint8_t DMX_CHANNELS_PER_DEVICE = 3;
const uint8_t DMX_CHANNELS_MIN = 1;
const uint8_t DMX_CHANNELS_MAX = (DMX_DEVICES*DMX_CHANNELS_PER_DEVICE);
const uint8_t DMX_BREAK_USEC = 200;
const uint8_t DMX_TXRX_PIN = 2;       // pin 2 used for RS485 TX/RX pin

// setup DMX master control object
DMX_Master dmx_master( DMX_CHANNELS_MAX , DMX_TXRX_PIN );

// convert sine wave to half wave, clamp value to zero for non-negative
// sine ouptut
float non_negative( float degrees )
{
  if( sin( degrees * DEG_TO_RAD ) < 0.0 )
    return 0.0;
  else
    return degrees;
};

// Initialise our hardware
void setup( void ) 
{
  /* Leonardo has separate USB serial port which is enabled when 
     plugged in.
  */
  debug_output_enable();

  // display something to user when deubgging
  debug_output_f("Mallee DMX Test\r\n Initialising...");

  // setup our DMX master
  dmx_master.enable();
  dmx_master.setChannelRange( DMX_CHANNELS_MIN, DMX_CHANNELS_MAX, 0 );
  dmx_master.setManualBreakMode();
  debug_msg_f(" Done!");

  // all done
  return;
}

// our main loop that will do stuff
void loop( void )
{
  /* Check if the DMX master is waiting for a break to happen, 
     the function below runs every 26ms (44Hz) which is the DMX
     maximum frame rate.
  */
  if( dmx_master.waitingBreak() )
  {      
    // Temp storage for RGB information
    mycolour_t colour;

    // local count variable
    static float angle = 0.0;

    // how much we'll increment our counter per frame
    angle += 0.25;

    //if we overflow wrap back to zero
    if( angle > 360.0 )
      angle = 0.0;

    /* calculate out our RGB values, including our phase offsets;
       not a lookup table in sight !
    */
    colour.red = (uint8_t)( 255 * sin( non_negative(angle + 120.0) * \ 
                            DEG_TO_RAD) );
    colour.green = (uint8_t)( 255 * sin( non_negative(angle + 0.0) * \
                              DEG_TO_RAD) );
    colour.blue = (uint8_t)( 255 * sin( non_negative(angle + 240.0) * \
                             DEG_TO_RAD) );
	
    /* Now we can update all of the attached devices, note that the DMX
       channels and the lamps are configured by the Color Kinetics 
       QuickPro software separately.
    */
    for( uint8_t i = 0; i < DMX_DEVICES; i++ )
    {
      //calculate DMX address for each lamp device
      uint8_t addr = (i * DMX_CHANNELS_PER_DEVICE) + DMX_CHANNELS_MIN;

      //update individual channels are sequentially addressed
      dmx_master.setChannelValue(addr+0, colour.red );
      dmx_master.setChannelValue(addr+1, colour.green );
      dmx_master.setChannelValue(addr+2, colour.blue );
    }    

    // Generate break and continue transmitting the next frame
    dmx_master.breakAndContinue ( DMX_BREAK_USEC );
  }
}
;PlatformIO Project Configuration File
;
;   Build options: build flags, source filter
;   Upload options: custom upload port, speed and extra flags
;   Library options: dependencies, extra library storages
;   Advanced options: extra scripting
;
; Please visit documentation for the other options and examples
; https://docs.platformio.org/page/projectconf.html
[env:leonardo]
platform = atmelavr
board = leonardo
framework = arduino
monitor_speed = 115200
build_flags =
  -D USE_DMX_SERIAL_1
  -D __DEBUG_ENABLED__

Color Kinetics PDS-150e

The Color Kinetics PDS-150e is an integrated power supply and driver that was popular during the early 2000’s. It is also the “magic” piece that I need for the Solar Mallee Trees project I’ve been working on.

Inside the unit is a power supply and integrated driver. Each of the six output channels are capable of driving up to 25W of RGB LED’s. So this is easily able to power a single Colorburst 4″ RGB LED per channel, they use just 10W. There are four RJ45 connectors across one size of the PCB that present Ethernet, DMX IN, DMX LOOP and DMX Repeater capabilities. I was certainly keen to see what we could do with the Ethernet interface. For these RGB LED drivers Color Kinetics offers a tool called QuickPlay Pro (TM) as a free download for Windows PC’s.

To use the Ethernet interface is relatively straight forward. The PDS-150e device is already programmed with an IP address somewhere within the classic 10.x.x.x Class A network. So I configured a Windows 7 laptop Ethernet interface with the arbitrary IP of 10.0.73.1 with a subnet mask of 255.0.0.0. I was simply crossing my fingers this wasn’t where the controller was, but it would allow the laptop and PDS-150e to find each other. I was pleased once QuickPlay Pro was started that I could find my PDS-150e listed in the “controller” drop down box. At a guess QuickPlay Pro and the PDS-150e either listen to a broadcast address or have some form of mDNS capabilities to “discover” each other.

Once I had connected QuickPlay Pro to the PDS-150e I was able to test the lamps individually, experiment with colour washing and configure the DMX channels and addressing. Below is an example of the colour wash function within QuickPlay Pro;

(C) 2019 Faith Coleman

I will have to say I’ve been doing this type of work for many years and Lighting Control Software has always been a painful experience. Either the software or devices would do “odd” things, not work, fart, spit, sulk or have quirks that required work around’s. However I was pleasantly surprised when QuickPlay Pro just worked, did what it said it would do without any fuss and or bother. So the Color Kinetics Engineering team have done a great job making this system work so well.

Once I’d gotten over my surprise it was a simple task to configure the RGB Lamps that I had into a sequential series of DMX addresses. Each of the Colorburst RGB lamps uses one DMX channel per colour (i.e. 3 channels for RGB), so I simply stringed the lamps together starting at address one;

DMX ADDR:  01  02  03  04  05  06  ........ 13  14  15
CB4 CH#:   R1  G1  B1  R2  G2  B2  ........ R5  G5  B5
Lamp       \---(1)---/ \---(2)---/ ........ \---(5)---/

One thing I did notice is that each Colorburst 4″ RGB lamp has a unique serial number that is displayed in QuickPlay Pro. This suggests that once each lamp is configured this won’t change if you start swapping the port it is connected too. I was pleased to find this is indeed the case, so once I know which tree each lamp is mounted too I can reconfigure the DMX addressing to be a little more logical.

Now I just need to start sending DMX at the controller and see if the lamps respond. Time to go and find a RS485 interface.

Curse of the Black Pearl, Err wires…

Having serviced and re-furbished a good portion of the engine and accessories I had one more small trivial, quick task to perform. That was to replace some very manky looking battery terminals. So out with the beak nosed cutters, lop the terminal off, strip back the wire to reveal, the copper wires were all black. Oh dear it was going to be one of “those” days.

The picture above shows the very manky looking battery terminals and the original orientation of the battery. For reference the terminal in the top of the image is the battery positive, the copper pipe above it is the cold water side of the heat exchanger, err yes that is technically earthed and the battery un-restrained. There is no way we could leave it like that.

So getting back to the wiring, at some point in this poor boats life it had been wired up with standard automotive copper wiring. Now for the majority of the time this is fine in cars and perhaps houses, but in marine environments where corrosion is rife this is a recipe for disaster. The black manky looking stuff is actually a form of copper oxide which is non-conductive and hard to remove. Once it starts to form it doesn’t stop until every strand along the entire length of (and within) the cable has oxidised as well. The worst part is the wires were to the starter motor which relies on a very low impedance.

Thankfully there is a local Jaycar electronics store around the comer that caters to the “Doof Doof” car audio community. This car audio community seems to like big high power amplifiers that use too much gold plating (IMHO) on their connectors and fuse blocks, but it does however mean they stock marine grade Tinned Copper wire in useful sizes from 14 gauge through to 4 gauge in both Red and Black. Better yet it is fine stranded with a soft silicon durable sheath making it very flexible and a pleasure to work with. Below are the ones that I like to work with, hopefully the part numbers out live any URL changes that may occur on the Jaycar site;

If you haven’t already found self sealing automotive crimp terminals I suggest you wander off and google these too I’d never seen one until I stumbled across them on one of my YouTube feeds, a big thanks to Damien & Jess from Project Brupeg for putting me onto these when they wired their wheel house. There are also nice kits you can get from eBay for reasonable prices. This type of connector once crimped, you hit with the heat gun and they shrink and seal the end of the connector. It certainly saves a heap of time not having to cut and use a separate small piece of glued heat shrink. Better yet you can see the internals with the heatshrink being semi-transparent, which means if they corrode you’ll find out before it’s too late.

So once armed with cable, connectors and a few roles of Electrical tape it was time to start cutting wires to find the extent of the black wire syndrome. Needless to say I ended up rewiring the entire engine bay, from battery to starter motor, alternator to battery and the remaining Kettering ignition system.

I was thankful that the wiring between the engine and gauges while not tinned had not suffered anywhere near the same level of corrosion. So I stopped here noting that at some time soon I’ll be up under the dash re-wiring this as well. So the proof is in the pudding, here’s a few photos of the completed work.

You may also notice that I’ve turned the battery through 270 degrees so that the terminals now face the bow of the boat. This puts as much distance between the battery terminals and the engine and accessories as possible. Directly underneath the battery is a false floor where I should be able to screw a hold down strap to secure the battery in place. Not forgetting to seal the screws since this is a wet bilge. Unfortunately the cover that goes over the battery no longer fits, it’s pretty clear why the previous owner had rotated the battery to where I found it. We don’t technically walk where the battery sits, so I’m thinking of raising up the floor here just an inch to clear the terminals. I’ll do this when I make a new engine cover.

Mallee Solar Tree Project

I’m not sure sometimes how I end up getting involved with community projects and this one is no exception. This one started as a three way trade involving my ex-wife, her neighbour and a knee operation which of course all sounds very suspect. However the crux of the problem was a community group had acquired an art sculpture through the usual mate of a mate kind of thing. However as this sculpture was passed along bits were lost, forgotten, used for other things and/or misplaced. In a nutshell it wasn’t complete and no one knew if it even worked, or how. Well my ex-wife knew that I’d worked professionally on lighting control systems in a past life, so could I take a look at it. So here we go !

Image copyright Natasha Stewart
https://www.weekendnotes.com/profile/103314/

So what were we dealing with ? It turns out the art sculpture in question was the “Solar Mallee Trees” that were designed by MPH architects and were previously installed just outside the Festival Theatre in the Adelaide CBD. They were recently removed as part of a “refresh” of the entire site.

These “trees” were made from curved steel structures, had solar panels mounted to the top of them and a Color Kinetics lighting system. It uses LED RGB spot lights to wash the colour under the solar panels. However while the spotlights were present, there was no sign of any Solar Inverters, power supplies or controllers. This was suddenly not going to be easy.

Looking closely at what was present I found the LED spotlights were Color Kinetics Colorburst 4 (TM) and they appeared in good shape. These lamps require three wires so there is more to them than just applying power. Ok time to go and call a few people I know still work in the lighting industry.

Thankfully this was a fairly common lighting control system used in the Noughties and Color Kinetics (CK) still have much of the data, manuals and software available online.

My lighting industries contacts had advised me that I was up for a few thousand dollars to replace lamps, drivers and power supplies. So rebuilding what I had in hand was beginning to look promising.

To drive the Colorburst 4″ spot lights what we needed was a custom PSU that included driver and smarts, called a CK PDS-150e. What I really liked was this PSU/Driver had a separate DMX input and Ethernet programming ports; making it fairly easy to control once configured. Generating DMX information is fairly easy now days with software being available for windows and linux PC’s with the right RS485 serial interface. I’d certainly been there and done that many times in the past, so bringing up this system by rights shouldn’t be hard.

So finding a CK PDS-150e driver turned out to really easy, there were a number of them on eBay for just a few hundred dollars. It was worth the risk to see if I could get this working, if not I could always drop it back onto eBay and pass it on. So a CK PDS-150e was duly ordered and now it was time to read the manual a few times, download some software while the unit was shipped from Greece to Australia.

More to come.

Changing the Raw Water Impeller

During the first sea trials of my Nereus at wide open throttle (WOT) it would slowly overheat with the coolant temperature rising from 85-ish degrees up over 100 degrees celcius. If I slowed down and dropped the revs the temperature would again slowly go back down. So either the cooling system was not quite able to pump enough raw water through the heat exchanger or the engine is producing too much heat. I certainly know that the heat exchanger is not blocked since it had been serviced recently.

When purchasing the boat the original owner had told us he’d changed the raw water impeller “a couple of years ago” so I’d purchased a spare impeller but not bothered to change it. The pump is right at the bottom of the engine in the bilge, so it’s a bit of a pain to get too which might also contribute to why it had not been changed.

Anyway I’d run the engine for about an hour on tap (towns) water but only at or just above idle, not under heavy load. So I decided to change the pump for peace of mind. A quick check on the internet and there was a YouTube video from 350vic that gave me some clues as to what was necessary, it didn’t look that hard.

Famous last words.

So first I had to get the pump out of the boat an supported by something that would make it easy to work on. Getting this pump out of the boat was as hard as I feared. There is not quite enough adjustment on the belt tension bolt to allow the belts to slip on and off the pulleys, in fact it hits the sump and if you’re not careful you can punch a hole in it. The bolts that support the lateral load of the pump and hold it in place you just can’t get a ring spanner on, so you have to feel for them using an open ended spanner and shift them a hairs breath, flip spanner, shift, flip spanner. If you’ve ever been forced to do this you will know how slow it is to back the bolt out just half a turn to loosen things off. With a few minor changes to bolt locations this could have been easily serviceable, oh well I do like a good project.

So after a good hour of extraction I managed to get the pump out an into a vice for support, here’s a series of shots that shows the pump being supported, the rear cover having been removed. The impeller didn’t look that bad, there’s a bit of wear on the rear of the vanes but there were no missing vanes and the pump wasn’t hard.

I’m not a fan of using the two screw drivers method for impeller extraction, bruising the face of the pump is just a no no. So for my first time I used vice grips and a slide hammer, being careful not to loose the bronze Woodroffe key. I will certainly be looking at a set of impeller pullers when I have some spare funds in the bank.

Above you can see the backing plate and Woodroffe key, along side the pump housing with the new impeller ready to go back in. So what they don’t tell you about re-assembling these pumps is you’ve got to bend the vanes of the new impeller, while inserting the impeller into the housing, which is offset to one side AND you need to catch the Woodroffe key in one movement. Oh and if you’re supporting the pump in a vice, then make sure the front of the pump is chocked otherwise everything tries to run away.

Needless to say it took me four attempts and a coffee after two to settle my frustration before I managed to get everything aligned and the pump re-assembled. After the first attempt I also marked the Woodroffe key location on the back of the shaft and the impeller so I had a chance of keeping them aligned. It certainly helped to dob a bit of grease on the back of the Woodroffe key and make sure the front edge was slightly down, but not too far down or it would then force the key down and lock it against the pump wall. Sigh.

To prevent the pump running dry I also lubricated the pump walls with a little marine clear grease, I see on some forums people use silicon spray or lanolin, YMMV.

Hooray ! There’s the proof that I did get it back together and didn’t just go and buy a new pump out of frustration. I also dobbed a little “never seize” on the threads of the screws so it should come apart again in a year or so.

It was then just a matter of putting it back into the boat, reversing the disassembly process. Reminding me again why I need to replace the pump mounting assembly.

First Sea Trials

It’s never a good idea to go and place a new boat in the wire and head off into the blue yonder and not expect problems. So to keep things simple I arranged a couple of mates to help and dropped the Nereus into the North Arm of the Port River.

So far so good, it floats ! You’ll have to excuse the state of the pontoon, the local Pelicans have made it their preferred home during the Winter. Once in the water the obligatory “is water coming in” checks were done, it certainly did not have to go back on the trailer.

There was nothing left but to go for it and take things easy. So while cruising slowly towards the Port River the steering and gearbox (ie reverse) were checked, along with lights, bilge pump and the fish finder. Here’s a video of us just pulling away from the pontoon in the obligatory 4 knot zone coming out of the North Arm,.

Once clear of the North Arm we could then head towards Outer Harbour with a bit more power on keeping within the 7 knot limit. During this time we were watching the temperature of the engine and making sure things were going as planned.

Eventually however we were able to open the throttle and put the old girl up onto the plane.

Of course not everything goes to plan and the Log gland decided to spring a leak. It was certainly letting in a reasonable amount of water. A little more grease forced into the gland helped slow things down, but it will certainly need to have the two seals changed when I can find the time to pull it apart.

On the way back up river we managed a couple of high speed runs at wide open throttle (WOT). It was only then we found that the heat exchanger was not quite keeping up and the engine temp started to rise towards 100 degrees Celsius. Simply lifting the throttle and slowing down was enough to drop the temp back to normal. So this will certainly require some further investigation.

Getting out on the water in any boat is a great way to spend an afternoon even better when you can share it with a couple of friends. The trip was certainly successful with only minor issues found and nothing that resulted in us being towed home. We certainly can’t ask for more than that.

At some point I’ll also either capture a video or some photo’s of putting this boat on the trailer. There is a unique catch on the bow that allows the boat to be driven on and caught without having to get out of the boat. The first time we put her back on I was a little preoccupied with not hitting anything so didn’t capture anything. Next time.