News from 9th September 2018
James does ICAN bicycle ride
James is riding from Melbourne to Canberra, touring their actual Nobel Peace
Medal to raise awareness of the new UN Treaty on the Proliferation of
Greta Remote Control
Pacific National, as part of their restructuring, called for a provider to
allow their 'Train Storage Facility' at Greta to be controlled from a remote
location. The work was granted to 4Tel, which is also the signalling provider to
John Holland for the Central West Area of NSW.
Flowtrack has been in a partnership with 4Tel for over 7 years to provide a
RVDS (Rail Vehicle Detection System) so that 4Tel has a full set of
offerings to cover all rail needs. Up until now, 4Tel has been unsuccessful
at getting work to install this system, even though it is far cheaper and in
many ways far more capable than offerings by the big players.
This is a satisfying continuation of the software lineage that traces back
to the first mouse controlled signalling system in NSW (1993) and remained in use
for 16 years runnng the Junee/Albury CTC.
Open Source Hardware
Much work has been done by James this month on an Arduino application.
Both the hardware and the software has been added to in order to do a
"brain transplant" on a coffee roasting machine for Mountaintop
Plantation. The breadboard is below.
Compared to the previous controller the Arduino is able to connect to
more sensors, controls and to offer communication and screen driving. Components were stacked in order to
provide I squared C interface, connections to grey coded pots and voltage
supplies to the LCD.
Above is the prototype stage with the boards stacked. Open source
software for the Arduino was helpful in getting a good
screen layout.(Open GLCD Library)
Kali had a senior moment last week and left a bag containing
Flowtrack credit card, cash, keys and documents in a SUBWAY sandwich shop
at Thrumster (Port Macquarie interchange). She was obviously distracted
eating a 6" and did not discover the error till Coffs when cleaning up the
Amazingly helpful staff at the BP roadhouse franchise rang south and
got the bag posted free of charge back to Nimbin where it duly arrived!
So please go to
SUBWAY and give them good
Their food is good too.
4Tel have opened a new
facility near Newcastle University
James and Kali went to the event and were impressed at the scope of the
project. Obviously expansion is anticipated.
Derrel the CEO in his speech said as much.
The minister for Bega led the ceremonies and the tone was stressed
that this was an export oriented company.
The nice, clear, graphics the company have been providing even extended to
the cake which was toppped by a printed ricepaper programme!
JZA Google success
We were approached by UGL in August to assist keeping aged JZA
telemetry systems going for the Melbourne rail system.
We have experience in the manchester encoded sychronous stream
telemetry used by this system, having twice interfaced to it in the
The new proposal was best shown to be effective by doing some of the
work - which ended up in the whole system being built using
open-sourced hardware and very simple interface cards.
It was not however a simple translation system as the JZA system has
timing requirements that cannot be simply met. We have previously
created buffering systems and they were applied to form a solution for
Unfortunately, UGL sacked the person we were dealing with, and the
others involved refuse to answer our communications.
So, if anyone out there requires interface from any telemetry protocol
to JZA 711 or 715 systems, we have the solution for you.
2015 and still in business!
2014 was a messy year but activity is now increasing with lots of repairs
and alterations and completions of unfinished work. Rainbow Power Company
have assigned hydro enquiries to us, and there have been solid proposals,
as well as annoying ones by people who think marketing trumps physics. It
is so shocking to have to quote high school physics formulae and then be
called brainwashed by science!
Our release of open source software met with deafening silence! The only
interest came from the very inferior Windows version of "schematic".
Apparently we are behind the wave in supporting Schedit which is too old.
At least we have had good in-house use of Schematux in printing out our
old circuit diagrams.
Distractions have been many. Sick cows near the workshop demanded
attention. Kali has needed to build a new shed to house hoarded junk such
as a vacuum tube collection. James has swapped most of the essential
organs of his Alfa 90. Roger has been harried by customers needing repairs
done and by virtuous organisations like the school needing banking help.
Ian Dixon made a short film about Rainers Nitelite under encouragement by
and back in 2014:
Qt in KDE
Our software for the last ten years has used the graphical widgets
supplied by the Borland Libraries. We became known in Lismore as the
people who actually bought Borland 6 - not cheap!
Customers all wanted to use Windows so that was all well.
But learning to use Qt creator and to compile programs in Linux would
extend our opportunities. A good test project was to rewrite our SCHEDIT viewer
in a form where it can be released as GPL and make a contribution to the
wonderful open source community. (and make Kali happy)
We have just put it on our downloads page as an unfinished alpha
stage and we have not yet worked out all the dependencies, but the program
runs and handles enormous diagrams with virtual windowing and excellent
zoom and colour/font/line options.
Magnets from China
We had been making low speed pelton wheel generators from local magnets in
an inelegant kludgy manner and several attempts to find a curved magnet
Eventually a reply to an email from China had us sending the requirement
off to an unknown supplier who actually replied!
Many other enquiries had led to nothing.
We sent the sketch:
They actually made such devices and shipped them to us.
They turned up in a nice flux shieled box and even magnetised North and
the source was http://www.king-ndmagnet.com,
We were amazed that the dimensions and every other detail was as we had
BETTER BICYCLE HEADLIGHT
The headlight battery on the Giant bicycle James rides had become
very old and its heavy lead battery had actually broken. After much
discussion we decided to get to know more about Lithium Ion batteries. Our
neighbour has been using them in a radio controlled model plane, but they
have been exploding occasionally...
So we got a 2.5 amp hour 16 volt unit and adapted it to the purpose.
The case looks suspiciously like a pipe bomb, but was goodto strap
alonside the steering bearings, adding beneficial front weight to the
To run the 6 volt bulbs a switching regulator was needed,
implemented with a FET running at 3 KHz and 16% duty cycle.
We were surprised to find the internal impedance of the litium cell is an
order of magnitude higher than the lead cell and a current levelling choke
might be advantageous in future designs.
Vale Mt Olympus
Well, not the mountain, but our long time customers house on it.
A much photographed work of masonry in the Gaudi style has been
demolished. Its main crime, apart from leaking, was to inhabit million
dollar real estate on Dorrigo plateau. Only just on the plateau; if you
rolled over in bed there was the horrible sensation that you were about to
fall 1000 metres into Thora!
The flowtrack connection was the major work of keeping the
micro-hydro system running in the face of extreme lightning attack. The
generator controller ended up with no electronics except for six oversized
rectifiers. Its heat dump was incorporated in the masonry of the building!
A removeable plug took the transmission line to a hook on the other side
of the front door, but a strike then went from pillar to pillar, leaving a
hole in the side of the controller box.
Now the electrical system is running on a much less valuable property
the other side of Dorrigo.
Meanwhile the dome Kali built thirty five years ago has just
been rescued from self destruction with a copious application of scraper
and zinc filled paint. It does not have to suffer the indignity of being
worth less than its site as it sits where nobody wants to build on land
that can't be sold.
Our fifteen year old train control system at
Junee at last fell to a Phoenix system after an exemplary record. But more
work was needed at Muswellbrook where the aging S2 telemetry had become
unmaintainable. The "Rabbit" based boards made by Kilgour Electronics (NKA
& Associates) were installed at thirteen stations to Werris Ck and their
data was transmitted to ARTC's NCCN (Newcastle Train Control) centre.
Enabling software was written by James. Features of this package included field
logs of train movements stored efficiently in the Rabbit modules.
We have hopes of finding other neglected S2 telemetry racks in other
corners of the globe.
Wind Transformer Repairs
The Venus Bay machine was not starting so Kali eventually mounted
a repair mission. Yes, the smoke had escaped from the 3 phase transformer,
but not just one phase, two! This was a problem as only one had been
lugged over the desert in poor old GKN700.
There were efforts to post one from Nimbin, but it was Easter and
there were various other holdups. So in between several PV system upgrades
Kali had a go at the Peter Freere kludge and got the machine running with
This got the machine running to 500 watts, enough to carry the
system along with the extra PV, and all the heavy bits were brought back
to Nimbin through the sandstorm,
At Newcastle a spring gave way and the price of steel has cleared the
wreckers yards:-( Thankfully Newcastle is a place where you can get
springs made for a reasonable price and quickly.
ELECTUS DISTRIBUTION TURBINE MG-4510
We had to try out this thing! Everybody criticises its design, but for
different reasons. They all focus on their own forte....
Well it eventally arrived with all the wires in the controller broken
off, and a joke of a stub tower, and no obvious way of stopping the wires
twisting up. BUT it seemed adequately solid and conventional in design so
Kali made a 10 metre tower out of square Duragal with a Barret truss in
the middle and John has taken it to Dingo Ridge to erect this weekend, yes
in the continuous rain.
Check out this turbine here.
(type wind into the Electus search engine)
And the circuit diagram they should supply of the controller ...
After all the wonderful performance of the Rabbit modules we went
through some other data taking options. Rainer has been sceptical of the
posted efficiency figures of several refrigerators (too high!) and we
need a test rig to leave running.
So we got out the Protek506 and the Digitech 1538 and the Australian
DSOA by Tronnort Technology and tried to make current computers and
operating systems talk to them. There were many nasty tricks.
We wrote a minimal program for running the Protek from Linux and found a
quite good one for running the Digitech.
Here they are:
source code Protek506
Archives: 1999 * 2002 * 2005
FLOWTRACK Pty Ltd
ABN 68 079 207 168
0266 891431 (a/h)
0266 890408 (b/h)
OFFICE: The Brown House, roads end,
Upper Tuntable Falls Road, NIMBIN