Smart Plug Showdown

Intro

I’ve recently started using smart plugs throughout the home – initially stemming from the fact that I bought a TP-Link HS110 because I wanted to measure the charging rate and total capacity of my new plug-in hybrid. However, after using it for a while, I found I was using it more and more elsewhere within the house (or knew of locations I could use it) so I bought myself a few of the cheaper models (HS100 – the same plug but with no power monitoring).

The use of these peaked when we got an Amazon Echo Dot when we upgraded our central heating with the Hive smart thermostat. With the Echo, it makes turning these switches on and off remarkably easy (when Alexa understands what you’re saying!)

Anyhow, after a while, whilst the TP-Link plugs generally worked, the power meter on the one I use for the car charger seemed to be playing up, so I decided that I’d get one of the Elgato ones I had been trying to decide whether to get it when I purchased the initial plug. These were more expensive than the TP-Link ones and only work with Siri and Apple’s Homekit – so no getting these ones to work via voice activation with Alexa.

So after using them both for a bit, I thought I would write a review.

Ease of Setup

Both plus require setup when you purchase them to get them on your network. This is where Apple’s “influence” is apparent with the Elgato Eve plugs. Setup was as simple as opening the Eve app on iOS (or Apple’s Homekit app) and then scanning the code on the side of the plug and that’s it – all setup and ready to rock. However, this is perhaps down to the fundamental difference between the two plugs – the Elgato ones connect via Bluetooth and the TP-Link ones use WiFi (the 2.4GHz band, so you’re out of luck if you run a 5GHz only WiFi setup). Apparently, this is supposed to prevent interfering with your network and browsing speeds whilst on the internet, however, I’ll discuss that a bit more in a bit.

The TP-Link plugs require you to connect them to the internet via the WiFi. To do so on iOS requires that you plug the TP-Link plug in, wait for it to boot up, connect to the plugs own internal WiFi that it generates as a new plug, set the plug up via the Kasa app which consists of entering your own WiFi details and then switching back to the local WiFi to control it. Whilst it’s reasonably simple, it is more of a hassle than the Elgato.

The TP-Link one during the setup, let’s you create an account. Initially I didn’t create the account and was only able to control my items whilst I was on the same WiFi account which wasn’t the best. However, once I gave in and created an account, I was able to control the plugs from anywhere and have been able to control them with the Echo.

So overall, the Elgato ones are the easiest to get setup.

Ease of Use

The setup of the Elgato plug shows that the setup of the Eve plugs was the easiest. However, in general use, these are actually more of a hindrance to use than then TP-Link ones.

One of the reasons for having the smart plugs (for me), was the fact that I could use remotely control them and could set timers for the individual plugs or a schedule. For this, the TP-Link ones are much easier to setup.

The image below shows the default page when you open the app – the schedule button is clearly shown at the base of the image.

Once you click it, you can setup a schedule like below. Sunrise and Sunset are based on the device location, which can be set by the app. Having used this setting for the Christmas lights, this appears to be pretty accurate.

The Elgato plugs however? These are buried deep within the settings. For whatever reason, Apple and Elgato have put this under the Scenes section and it’s called a timer. In terms of creating a repeating schedule, you have far less control over the timer without creating more than one for each device that you want to use. This can be, as you might imagine, a pain.

I think the features for the Elgato plugs and Homekit rely more on location services than actual timers. For example, it’s really simple to create events that occur when you arrive or when you leave a geofenced area (like your house). This is something that I’ve not noticed on the TP-Link one – I believe you have to buy the TP-Link hub to get this functionality. However, it’s not something I’ve been majorly fussed about.

Features

The Elgato one allows you to create locations for the devices – assuming that you will fill the house with items. Admittedly, at this point in time, Elgato have more smart home products than TP-Link, so this is probably a handy tool to have if you do have a device in every room. For me, it just makes it easier not to turn off the computer switch by accident.

The Elgato plugs, by default, contain a power meter. The TP-Link plugs do not have a power meter, unless you pay extra for the privilege (the HS110, rather than HS100). Here the Elgato plugs really shine in comparison.

You are able to input the cost of your electric in cost per kWh and the plug is then able to give you a total cost and estimated cost for the year.

Drilling down in to the total consumption graphs gives details on how often the plug is being used and what the power draw through the plug is. You can download the data in a CSV format which is interesting and it allows you to reset the data at any point you want. Ideal for my use case of charging the car, where I want it reset to 0 every time I start a new charge (though with the benefit of the stored data, this is less of an issue).

It should be noted that the plugs only record the data for every 10 minutes.

Compare this to the TP-Link device which only gives the following screen.

Comparing the two screens, you can get the highlights on all the Elgato plugs in a single screen, where as you can only view an individual TP-Link plug at once.

Hardly any comparison! The TP-Link plug also resets the daily consumption figure at midnight (as you might expect for a daily summary) and therefore if I was using it to charge my car up overnight, if it had turned on before midnight, I’d lose the total charge that the car took, unless I remembered what the weekly summary said and was able to calculate it. This led me to setting the charger to activate after midnight, which, in fairness wasn’t to much of an issue.

One of the perks of the TP-Link devices are remote access. These can be adjusted outside of the house, meaning you can always check and see if you’ve left something on when you’ve left the house and if needed, turn it off or on. The Homekit devices are supposed to be able to do this if you have an Apple TV but I’ve found this to be pretty poor and I’ve not yet had it work.

The TP-Link has a feature called away – this will switch the device on and off to replicate someone being in the house and using the device. It does this at random, though perhaps this isn’t the best idea – I mean, once things get dark outside, the lights would tend to remain on in the room being used. Setting this up with a timer would perhaps be a better idea.

Compatibility

Neither of the two devices are compatible with each other, so I’m stuck using two different apps to control each one. However, this isn’t really to much of an issue. The biggest issue is that the Elgato devices are Homekit devices and therefore only controllable using an iOS device. Not much use for someone that seems to switch between Android and iOS regularly!

As they also connect using Bluetooth, the range is significantly less – I can’t for example, look at the Computer plug whilst I’m in the bedroom. Using the Apple TV as a home hub is supposed to negate this, but it doesn’t work, so in effect, I can’t view half of the plugs whilst I’m the other side of the house. And this is a standard 3 bed semi.

In terms of third party compatibility, Elgato works with Siri and TP-Link works with Alexa. I’ve found Alexa to be far better than Siri and therefore, voice activation of the TP-Link devices is much better than Siri.

Cost

The Elgato devices are almost double the cost of the TP-Link devices. Are they worth it? I don’t think so.

If you’re desperate for a power meter on every plug and to still have the smart functionality, then the Elgato ones aren’t bad. If you’re a stats hungry person, they’ll beat the TP-Link one hands down.

However, if you’re not to fussed about the cost, you can get the TP-Link ones for about £20 in comparison to £45. That way, you can equip twice as many plugs with them.

Points to note however, is that the TP-Link ones rely on the TP-Link service. If this goes down in the future, you’ll only be able to connect to the plugs locally on your network. The Elgato ones technically rely on the Apple Homekit, and should in theory, last as long as Apple supports it, but as I can’t get it working myself currently, it perhaps isn’t to much of an issue!

Conclusions

Overall, I’d probably side with the cheaper option for my use cases. The Elgato one is better for me for the car charger. However, in this instance it’s purely for recording the amount of energy used to charge the car I’m interested in, less so of the remote control ability.

The TP-Link plugs however steal the show from the Elgato plugs in my view. In this case, cheaper is better. I’ve found that the range is significantly better (as I can get wifi all around the house, I’m not stuck for being out of range), the timer functionality is so much simpler to use and and they’re significantly cheaper. I’ve seen none of the slow down on my wifi network that Elgato say that would be caused by having the plugs on the network – perhaps they’re referring to a whole house full of plugs, rather than the 3 that I currently have. Yes, the power tracking isn’t as good, but for simple remote switching on and off, they’re ideal.

Overall, both are perform pretty well and do the function they are supposed to – it’s just that the TP-Link one is far simpler to do it. If I was to get more, I’d go for the TP-Link ones again (though I’m eying up their bulbs next for some lamp purchases!)

New Brompton

I’ve had my Brompton Loki for over three years now. It has served me well. However, it’s had a number of changes to it since owning it after I figured out what I wanted:

  1. A dynamo and lights were fitted. The Shimano hub and lights have served me well, but made things easier in terms of lighting – I was never left without lights if I had gone out and I don’t have to worry about batteries at all.
  2. The handlebars were replaced with mountain biking bars so that it was of a similar height to that of the M type.

Overall, it’s done well. However, I’ve always regretted not getting the colour that I wanted when I purchased it and on occasion, I’ve missed not having a rack.

So, with a new job in Manchester, I decided that now would be the ideal time to upgrade, especially as I would be cycling to work on it daily.

Hermes

Hermes is the newest addition to the stable.

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It’s a Brompton M6R. M type handle bars, 6 gears and a rear rack.

I’ve named it Hermes – so, I’ve had one called that before…

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But then I rarely rode that one and I didn’t keep it for very long. So I’ve named this one Hermes.

2017 Brompton Model

I’ve already noticed that there are some benefits to the 2017 version of the Brompton.

The new brake levers and gears are a massive improvement over the older gear levers. In fairness, the ability to upgrade these would be well worth doing on an older model.

The newer M type bar is OK – I’ve not noticed a huge difference over the older versions that I tried, though it is a bit different to my MTB based one that I’ve just left. However, I’d say that it’s pretty good.

Overall

Overall, I’m impressed with it and I look forward to using it! Loki has now been retired from active service and has been sold off, so I’m down to just this one. Looking forward to using it!

iCloud Online

It’s been a while since I’ve sold my Mac and have been relying on Windows and Linux – almost a year has gone by since I got rid of the MacBook Pro. I’ve not really missed it since it’s been gone. In general, I’ve been well served by my Windows gaming rig and my Lenovo X220 laptop running Xubuntu.

In fact, I’ve tended to prefer open source software and my Xubuntu laptop. I’ve taken to using LibreOffice more than Microsoft Word and I’ve taken to using other open source apps, like GNUCash, Zim, KeepassX (and Keepass) and Clementine. I’ve not really had any issues using these over the commercial apps that I used to use.

I did have some issues previously – for example, getting Zim working on the Mac was a right pain and in the end it was part of the reason that drove me away (I was using Zim for some revision and I replaced Day One with as my journaling software 1 when Day One went to a proprietary sync solution which meant it was harder to backup and wasn’t supported on Android). However, in general, it’s been rare for me to think “Boy, I wish I still had my Mac”.

iCloud

Perhaps that is, until today. I tried to use LibreOffice and then Excel to try and setup a tracker (well, a table) so I could track my required Continuing Professional Development hours. My profession requires me to undertake 25 hours a year training and the easiest method of this seems to be the creation of a table and adding new items to it as and when needed.

However, I was put off by the results of both Excel and LibreOffice. Whilst I wasn’t expecting much from LibreOffice (it works, but nothing it produces could be considered other than functional really – it isn’t one for prettiness, at least not without some work), I was at least expecting Excel to produce something reasonable but it seems like I was mistaken.

Functional, but not pretty

It was at this point that I realised that Numbers would give me a decent enough table – but with no access to a Mac, I thought I’d be relegated to using my iPad and having tried to use Excel and Google Sheets on my iPad, this didn’t fill me with joy. Thankfully, iCloud is online as well, so I can make the document I need online via the iCloud website.

There was some initially some issues – iCloud doesn’t like Linux and complains that it isn’t supported (but seems to work fine). Windows has no such issues – at least not if you use a supported broswer. Currently using Vivaldi, and whilst it’s not on the supported list, as it uses Chrome as the base, it doesn’t generate a not supported message.

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Using Numbers online hasn’t proven to be to much different to using Numbers on the Mac. Yes, it’s not quite as nice as using the Mac version, but it gets the job done and I don’t have to use it on the iPad. I believe the version on iCloud is slightly cut back when compared to that of the Mac version, but for the simple table that I’ve needed to create, it hasn’t been an issue.

iWork

In fact, using the Numbers online again has brought back reminders as to how good the iWork suite actually is. Whilst Pages has a number of limitations when compared to Microsoft Word that’s meant that I didn’t use it much (a lack of referencing support made it difficult for using it for for academic reports), Numbers and certainly Keynote give Microsoft a run for their money. In fact, I prefer Keynote for presentation creation – Powerpoint feels quite far behind in comparison. However, Numbers isn’t going to give Excel nightmares when it comes to serious number crunching, but for general day to day use without macros, it performs well and I’ve not really had any issues.

There are a number of apps that I do miss from the Mac days – 1Password on Windows is a poor shadow of its Mac counterpart which is a shame, whilst Windows and Linux are also missing any serious markdown editors – Ulyssess is a fantastic app and something similar doesn’t seem to exist on the other operating systems unless you use something like Simplenote online. I tend to run all my blog posts through Ulyssess on my iPad before posting as it can tidy up any code that I write in Atom on the desktops.

A side effect of using Numbers today is that I’ve found myself defaulting back to the Mac keyboard shortcuts! Yet, I’ve found that I’ve moved a personal finance spreadsheet back into iCloud because the method of using tables in Numbers suits the creation of lots of little tables, rather than the enforced grid layout of Excel/LibreOffice.

It may come to pass that I’ll start using it more often over the coming months for various other items as well. I can’t pretend that the auto sync doesn’t come in handy as well, though without a Mac, backing up the files is restricted to manual downloads of a file, which perhaps isn’t ideal.


1.
You can read about setting it up here where I set up my iPad to create Zim compatible text files in Dropbox. ↩

Rack Bag Purchase

Rack Bag

A few weeks back, I looked into how I was going to carry around my spare inner tubes and pump on my cyclocross bike, especially after I’ve ended up with two punctures on the cyclocross bike! Part of that was to move the Carradice saddlebag I used on my commuter onto the Verenti and to find another solution for the Dawes.

In the end, I settled for a rack bag, as I thought that with the rack on there, it made sense to have a bag that didn’t leave the rack.

I’d been trying to decide on a bag when I ended up spur of the moment getting one from Evans Cycles whilst I was in there one time – an Evans own brand, FWE Rack Pack. I had been considering either the Carradice Super C Rackbag or the Carradura Rackbag but I think being able to see and feel the bag before purchasing it (and an easy return if it didn’t fit) meant that I went with the Evans one.

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Fitting it to the Dawes was simple – it just attaches via velcro. Put the straps around the underside of the rack and thread it through the D rings and back under and it’s secure. Movement forward and back shouldn’t be an issue on my rack as the straps are near the supports so should be OK in regards to movement.

One of the major downsides I’ve found though is that I can’t use my panniers at the same time. This is because the attachment points for the panniers line up exactly where the velcro mounting strips for the rack bag and therefore they are prevented from attaching.

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This isn’t the end of the world it would seem – as the sides of the bag are able to fold out and allow you to fill them as panniers as well.

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However, there are some occasions where this wont be sufficient! My work laptop is to large for the bag and clearly doesn’t fit – it’s not a huge laptop either (a Dell E6440 – 14” laptop) but it does mean that I’m limited as to when I can use it!

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Having cycled to work with this bag instead of my panniers, it made a big difference in terms of noise – cycling with this was silent! Usually there is a degree of rattling from where the panniers attach to the rack but with this one, there was none of that. Space wise, it’s smaller than my usual pannier setup, so I’ve got to be more careful with what I take with me. I can fit a change of clothes, towel and my puncture repair kit, but other than that, I can’t carry much more so I’m not sure where I could pack in a packed lunch!

New Bike Parts

I’ve picked up some new bike bits over the Christmas period that I’ve finally got sorted and fixed to my bike.

Brooks Saddle

The first part I got hold of was a new saddle. I wasn’t after one, but this came up for a price that was entirely reasonable so I decided to snap it up.

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I’d been considering getting a Brooks Cambium saddle for the Verenti for a while – it was either that or a Charge Spoon. I’ve a Cambium on my Brompton since they were released and I released that I wasn’t going to get on with a Charge Spoon on my Brompton. If I was going to get one for the Verenti, I wanted it to be a black one to match the colour scheme, but this one was going for a song compared to brand new so I thought I’d let the colour scheme suffer for a bit.

The Spoon is what I’ve got on my Dawes and it’s the same saddle I’ve had for quite a while. I think I’ve moved it from my first bike I bought from when I got my first bike after years off the bike back in 2011. It’s been extremely comfortable, with the exception of my Brompton. I’ve used it on road and off road and it’s performed excellently in each type. Now that I see that they offer a camo version of the Spoon, I might have to reconsider my Brooks purchase….

Spoon-GrnCamo

Alpkit Fuel Pod

Alpkit are an outdoor equipment designer and retailer. I’ve purchased a few items them recently and I’ve been incredibly impressed with the price and quality of the items they have.

For my Dawes, I have a Carradice Super C Audax Saddlebag that I carry around my puncture repair kit and assorted other items I may take out on a ride (though I’m beginning to think that a rack bag might be a better option for the Dawes). I’ve nothing that’s similar on the Verenti, so I decided to get myself an Alpkit Fuel Pod.

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This will let me hold my keys and/or phone to hand in case I need it for whatever reason.

However, since putting this on, I’ve done a ride with the bag on and I’ve come to the conclucsion that I wont get on with it – at least not on this bike. It was geting in the way slightly when I would have to get off the saddle to get up hills.

Final Product

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I’ve a few extra bits that I’ve purchased that have yet to make it onto the bike as well – I’ve got some mudgaurds that need fitting and I’ve new pedals (platforms, as I’m moving away from the cleats). They’ll be fitted when I have the time to do so.

Sunday Ride – A few photos and a puncture!

I managed to get out this morning for a short ride on my cyclocross bike – it’s been a while since I’ve ridden it as I’m using my Dawes touring bike for commuting and I haven’t had the chance to get out at the weekend for a while due to cadet activities.

So whilst the weather was good this morning, I managed to get out and about before the rain that was forecast for the afternoon. Whilst I didn’t manage to avoid the rain completely, it was a mainly dry ride and I’m glad I managed to get out.

As I said, took Atlas out for a spin. I’ve recently purchased a few items for it that are covered in a separate blog post and I was looking to try them out.

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I also decided that I wanted to get out and about on some unpaved routes as well to put the cyclo-cross part of the bike to the test. Whilst it did mean some road riding as well, I was able to get back on some trails that I haven’t ridden for a good while – not since I had my mountain bike and lived closer to them.

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The ride was cut slighty short by the fact that I got a puncture – oddly, not whilst I was doing the off road section of the ride but later, during the road section when I was starting to head back home anyhow! It meant that I had to cut my ride slightly short as I then ended up taking the faster route back home to avoid any further issues.

Changing the tube at the side of the ride, I found a slither of glass inside the tube that had caused the puncture – I can’t be certain whether this was what had caused the earlier puncture but I hadn’t fully removed the cause or not. However, the wet roads actually helped me find the cause – the bubbling water on the tyre as the air escaped betrayed the punctures position!

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Repairing the puncture, I headed home. Of all the cyclists that went past, only one slowed and asked if I was OK. In general, I’ve had better help in the past. I mean, if there’s a group of cyclists, I wouldn’t stop to offer a hand unless they looked like they really needed it, but I’m surprised that more people didn’t ask if a single cyclist was OK. It turns out that it wasn’t that much of an issue sorting the puncture so I wasn’t to bad.

However, I’ll keep an eye on the tyres. That’s two in less than four months – that’s two more than I’ve had in the past 12 months on my previous bikes! It may mean I have to look into some thicker, more puncture proof tyres!

In terms of how everything performed…

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer a huge fan of being clipped in. That might be different if I was just doing road riding or was off road on a proper mountain bike, but I wasn’t to keen on it on this one. Not being able to put my foot down if I wanted to in a hurry wasn’t good. Also, it requires some more playing to get my foot position right I think without it aching. I think flats would be the best replacement.

  • The bar bag isn’t in a good location, especially when hill climbing. I’d wanted it there for somewhere I could store my keys/wallet/phone but I think I’ll be replacing it. It might be better on a longer frame bike or one where I won’t be standing on the pedals to climb hills much. I’ve recently purchased a rack bag for my Dawes, so I’m looking at removing the saddlebag and placing it on this one instead.

  • I’m going to have to have to get used to riding off road again! And hills!

Overall, it was a good ride and I enjoyed it (even with the puncture). I’ve got a few things to change before I’m 100% happy with the ride (such as changing the pedals and changing the luggage options). Hopefully, I’ll be able to get out on the bike a bit more as the weather begins (slowly) to start improving.

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Eddington Number

Eddington Number

I’m a keen user of Veloviewer as it provides some excellent methods of viewing my Strava data in a way that Strava can or does not provide, whilst adding on additional statistics.

I like it enough that I pay for the premium version (£10 a year) and I feel tha this is money well spent. Whilst I’ve said before that cycling isn’t all about the numbers, I do find myself as an engineer enjoying looking at the figures as well!

Eddington Number

Veloviewer is able to calculate and display a cyclists Eddington Number.

The Eddington number in the context of cycling is defined as the maximum number E such that the cyclist has cycled E miles on E days. For example, an Eddington number of 70 would imply that the cyclist has cycled at least 70 miles in a day on 70 occasions.

The Eddington number has units – so it can be measured in either miles, km, or whatever distance you measure your cycling (or running, walking or any other distance sport – any can have an Eddington number). And your Eddington number in one distance is not directly compatible with the other distance. For example, Veloviewer shows the Eddington in miles and in km. My overall values are 36 miles and 51 km – this means that I’ve cycled at least 36 miles in a day on 36 days and 51 km on at least 51 days. Converting the miles into kilometers shows 57.6, whereas my Eddington number is actually less! So the Eddington number is entirely different for the different measurement values.

Veloviewer have a nice blog post trying to explain it here.

Personal Eddington Numbers

Looking at Veloviewer, as I’ve said, I’ve got an overall Eddington score of the following:

36 ml and 51 km

Looking at 2016 however, the results are a bit lower…

29 ml and 42 km

And the graph could indicate why this is the case:

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though in miles, the drop off after 29 is more noticable

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The majority of my cyclcing last year was commuting – this is obviously a fairly set distance! I can’t move my house any further away from work (though I could Cycle a different route and therefore, distance). These commutes are clearly seen in the graphs, with a sharp decline after 29 miles!

Why am I discussing this?

Well it would be nice this year to increase my Eddington number above last years distances. That means 30 days of 30 miles or more, or 42 days of 42km or more so it gives me some ideas to aim for. I’m not sure I’d manage to make it much higher, but it’ll be worth a shot. It provides an incentive to get out at the weekend on the bike as well. I’ve applied for a place on Ride London this year again so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get my place on that and then my training rides would certainly help me to increase my Eddington number I expect!

Pi-Hole

Pi Hole

I had my Raspberry Pi lying around doing nothing. I’ve had a version 1 since they were released and I’ve had a version 2 for a while as well (in fact, I’ve been through two version 2’s). I’ve had this one in the draw for a while now doing nothing – it’s not really seen the light of day since I purchased my Synology DS116 as I had been using it as a home server and accessing my documents via SFTP outside the house.

However, after I stumbled across the Pi Hole project, I decided that it was time to dig it out again. Whilst the NAS is excellent (DS Photo allows me to backup mine and my girlfriends photos from our phones, DS Video allows me to stream videos to my Chromecast, DS Audio streams all my music to my iPad and it can act as a VPN when I’m out and about, though this is less of a benefit now I have a years subscription to Private Internet Access), it doesn’t allow me to block adverts which is what Pi Hole does. Quite successfully.

Setup was easy and I had the Pi Hole up and running within 30 minutes or less. Setup was as simple as downloading a fresh copy of Raspbian, installing that, remembering to enable SSH as the new versions of Raspbian have SSH turned off by default

For headless setup, SSH can be enabled by placing a file named 'ssh', without any extension, onto the boot partition of the SD card.

Once this was done, I updated the Pi and then downloaded the Pi Hole software using the command

curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash

This installed everything I needed and set it up. All that I then had to do was to set my router to give the Pi a static IP address and change the DNS settings on my devices to point to the Pi.

Once I’d done that, I’ve been able to enjoy ad blocking across all my devices.

The Pi presents everything in a web interface, so you can keep an eye on the drive at any point of time.

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This shows the DNS requests that are being made and you can even drill down into what sites are trying to be accessed.

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This shows the top domain name requested by devices and the top advertisers being blocked. You can also see what devices are requesting the most domains by IP address.

The downside I have is that the DNS records on my router cannot be changed, so I’ve manually had to change the details on each web connection. This isn’t the end of the world and actually can prove handy where I might want to allow an advertiser to track me (such as if I’m using a cashback site). However, it does mean that devices like my work laptop, ones that I cannot change the DNS settings on (in this case, due to admin lockdown), will not benefit from the blocking whilst on my network.

However, overall, the Pi Hole was easy to setup and manages to block a lot of adverts – browsing on the iPad, it’s surprising how much cleaner various websites are. There have been a single instances where the website has appeared to be broken due to the blockage and this was solved by white-listing the site. Whilst this should stop the need for running an adblocker in my browser, I’ve still got uBlock installed.

It’s certainly worth a try.

Annual Summary 2016

Yearly Summary

This year has been a roller-coaster year to be honest, full of ups and downs.

January started with a new job on the outskirts of London – potentially meaning that I could get out on my bike a lot more cycling to work. However, I seem to have spent the majority of the time on my bike commuting to and from work and the social rides and just rides at the weekend have been missing. Part of this can potentially be attributed to doing a lot more with my air cadet unit, though some of it could be down to laziness at weekends.

Perhaps the other reason has been that I’d dug out my running shoes this year again. I’ve run 244Km this year, slightly under my PB of 246Km in 2012. Running had become part of my training routine again as I was trying to join the Royal Air Force and cycling unfortunately isn’t part of the training or entrance fitness test! However, I’ve enjoyed running again and it’s been good to see progress. I’ll look into trying to break the 300Km mark next year, though I won’t be joining the RAF as they have declined my application due to medical grounds. Whilst disappointing, I’m looking to run some of the local races again next year (such as the Welwyn 10K).

Whilst I say I’ve not done as much cycling, I’ve still managed to do my second best year in terms of distance – last year was a PB with 3,741Km total of running, walking and cycling and this year is 2,721Km.

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However, my climbing this year has been pretty pitiful.

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The main part of this has been that the route I take to work is fairly flat – going via an old railway line, so the path is fairly flat. Without the weekend rides to make up the elevation, my elevation has been fairly flat line – like my bike rides! 😉

New Toys

So I’ve had new toys this year, with the purchase of my Verenti Substance Sora from Wiggle in the later half of the year.

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The delay in getting it (thanks to some issues with my cycle to work voucher) has meant that I haven’t ridden it quite as much as I could have done (and then it managed to get a puncture only on it’s second ride out). However, I look forward to using this more next year.

Aims

Overall, the year hasn’t been to bad for activities and I look forward to 2017. It looks like that 2017 will be different and unique challenges to the table – for example, I’m looking at more hiking and walking expeditions this coming year, with the potential for getting registered on the Mountain Leader scheme and to become a Duke of Edinburgh assessor/supervisor. Obviously, this could make that cadets takes more priority over cycling again but I’ll see what happens. I don’t intend to stop cycling to work either!

However, that shouldn’t stop me setting myself some aims for the new year – just to keep things interesting.

  • I’d like to cycle to work at least 100 times in a year. Considering that I can’t really cycle to work on Tuesdays or Thursdays due to evening commitments with my cadet unit, this reduces the number of days I have available to cycle. However, I believe this should be doable.

  • I’d like to hit 3,0000Km of cycling and 300Km of running this coming year, with some more hiking etc thrown in for good measure.

  • Elevation wise, I’d like to see myself exceed this year. This means getting out at weekends or evenings during the summer and aiming for some actual inclines!

  • Perhaps a sportive or organised ride this year would prove to be a good distraction and training aim. I had wanted to do the London Revolution but I’m not sure I’ll do that this year, though I have my eye on the London to Bath route and I’d love to do the Devon Coast to Coast ride. That might include some of those hills I’m looking for as well!

  • Lastly, I’ve seen a club on Strava and I’ve seen a Road.cc post about it before about riding all the roads in the local area. I’m looking at doing this for Welwyn Garden City and then perhaps spreading out to nearby areas as well as I know there are areas of Welwyn I’ve never even visited since I moved here in 2014 and I know that I’ve rarely (never via bike at least) gone to old Welwyn either so I think it’s high time that I changed this. I’ll look into marking all rides I do this on Strava with the hashtag #RER (Ride Every Road) so then I can use the excellent Strava Multiple Ride Mapper tool to track this and keep a copy of the final results.

Summary

I’ve continued to track all my rides on Strava and I’ve now gone back to Garmin to also track data (with two Garmin devices, data goes into Strava through the Garmin Connect app, thanks to it’s auto linking). This way I’ll have two copies of my data online, though I also keep all the files from the devices as well so I have the originals – either by downloading from Strava in the earlier part of the year, before getting them from the device or from Garmin Connect. I’ve done this since 2012 so I’ve a few years of data now.

Once again, I’ve renewed my subscription to Veloviewer. I found the service excellent for looking at Strava tracks in more details and specifically I like the mapping feature where I can view all my rides on a global map. My Veloviewer infographic for 2016 can be seen below.

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Looking at the aims for the new year, Veloviewer will continue to provide excellent value for money for the £10 it has cost me for a year of service.

So onwards and upwards and here’s to 2017! Happy New Year all.

Proviz Backpack Review

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that winter is slowly but surely coming – it’s getting darker both in the morning cycling to work and in the evening cycling home.

However, it’s not yet cold enough that I can wear my Proviz jacket – not the Nightrider I reviewed back in 2014, but the REFLECT360+ that I purchased in 2015. The newer jacket still suffers from some of the same issues as the original one that I tried – I overheat very quickly within the Proviz jackets it seems.

Yet, I put up with the boil in the bag effect for the commute for one reason – visibility. The bright reflective jacket is fantastic for being seen. I can say that when I’ve seen other LBC members wearing the standard, non fully reflective Proviz jackets that I’ve been impressed. Though as the weather isn’t yet at the point where I can comfortably wear the jacket (sweaty as I might get), I’ve had to look at alternative solutions for being seen.

One such change in commuting habits has been the purchase of a Lezyne Macro Drive Duo head light. This headlight will be covered in a separate review but works really well. The other major changes has been the purchase of a Proviz REFLECT360 backpack.

Proviz RFLECT360

The first reason I looked at going back to a backpack was that with my touring bike, I’d moved to commuting with panniers. Likewise, when I used my Brompton, I used to normally use my T bag. Having a backpack on just makes your back sweaty and I find panniers more comfortable. However, I felt that with my panniers, I was carrying to much into work each day (often taking two panniers for a change of clothes, towel and packed lunch). I also felt that it effected the bike handling if I only took a single pannier and there are locations on my commute where the panniers make it difficult to navigate thanks to narrow openings. Also, not all my bikes are capable of mounting panniers (yet perhaps).

The second reason was when I cycled home in the dark one night after a late cadet night, I was cycling home with my 5.11 Tactical Rush 24 backpack on and realised that I probably wasn’t very visible to cars coming up behind me. With the 5.11 bag, I had been able to attach a light to the MOLLE straps but I still didn’t really consider that to be sufficient and wearing the bag would negate the effect of wearing the Proviz jacket anyhow, at least for the majority of the jacket and people driving up behind me (the arms and shoulders are still just about visible).

So I decided to move to the Proviz backpack.

Impressions

When the bag arrived, I was fairly impressed. The bag is still as reflective as the jackets and therefore allows the user to be extremely visible.

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This photo shows the reflection of the bag – not to bad for a photo taken under my desk with minimal light! I’d like to thing that it’ll show up more with headlights on the backpack.

Proviz state that the bag has a 30L capacity and it is pretty roomy. The 5.11 tactical bag I have is bigger and the Patagonia Black Hole 25L bag this sort of replaces is slightly smaller, so the 30L claim seems to be accurate. I’ve comfortably been able to fit in a change of clothes and assorted other items that I need to take into work each day.

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The bag contains a light loop at the base, so I can still attach my Lezyne rear light meaning I don’t have to worry about moving between bikes (if I use the same bag).

The bag is formed of a single large compartment and a small pocket accessed on the front of the bag. Inside the main compartment, there is a degree of separation – there are mesh pockets sewn into the front of the bag. These are fairly roomy, but would be of more use for storing easy to hand items like wallets or similar. I don’t recommend the front pocket on the front for anything, based on the fact that the pocket is pretty deep but the zip is pretty small! So even with medium size hands, trying to get anything out can be a real pain. There is a small section at the bag, designed for laptops, though this isn’t that padded and doesn’t fit the monster laptop that work issued me (only a 15” Dell, but it’s about 5cm thick!) so it might not be ideal for those that have to carry laptops daily.

Strap wise, the item fits nicely – one thing I’ve noticed over other bags is the adjustable height chest strap which is a step up other backpacks I’ve used.

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The waist strap (designed to stop the back moving on your back) is quite good and even features some of the reflective material on the strap, so people coming towards you will also get some of the reflective nature of the bag (like the shoulder straps).

I can’t really comment on it’s waterproofing ability but having lost a Kindle to water seeping into my Patagonia Black Hole bag, I now store all my cycling gear and anything else I don’t want to get wet within dry bags for my commutes. It looks like it would hold off for a bit but the zips aren’t waterproof.

Conclusions

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the purchase. I got mine direct from Proviz for a shade under £70 (they do a 10% discount for signing up to the email list). It’s perhaps a pricey backpack (in comparison to other backpacks I’ve purchased) but it is well made and at the end of the day, I’m paying for the reflective nature of the bag, rather than the bag itself. I could use the bag covers they sell but experience has shown me that I’ll not always use the cover, so having the bag as it is fine.