Swiss/Italian border

Earlier this year my wife and I had the opportunity to do a bit of travelling in the Simplon area of southern Switerzland under the pretence of academic research. I say under the pretence, it was pretty much all research with me just tagging along for moral support.

Zwischenbergtal - so freaking green

Zwischenbergtal – so freaking green

We flew into Milan, hired a car and drove up to Domodossola, just south of the Swiss/Italian border. We spent one night there before driving on to Simplon. We spent 6 nights at the Simplon Pass Hospiz before continuing on to two nights in Brig. At the end we spent our last 3 nights back in Domodossola.

Domodossola (you should hear the GPS pronounce it) is a small, sprawling city nestled in the foothills of the Italian Alps. It’s a beautiful city with a small town feeling, especially in the central areas where the architecture is all stone and has an old feeling to it.

Domodossola at night

Domodossola at night

Not much English is spoken, but you don’t need to communicate a heck of a lot to get by. We stayed just off the main square, and there was a big festival on our first night there, that continued long after we went to bed. Everyone was out in the streets with kids playing everywhere, really great experience.

Simplon Hospiz Way bigger in person

Simplon Hospiz
Way bigger in person

We travelled up to the Simplon Hospiz, located at the peak of the Simplon Pass just over 2,000m. It’s a massive stone building, with walls almost a metre thick. It’s not the prettiest building, but fits well in the surrounding splendour of the mountains. Accomodation included breakfast and dinner which we shared in a hostel like fashion at mixed tables with the other guests. Few of whom spoke English, and yet they were some of the friendliest and nicest people I’ve met. Mostly locals (within 100km), all taking a break at the Hospiz.switzerland-24

We spent six nights there, followed by two nights in Brig where we stayed at the Schloss Hotel. The Schloss Hotel employs an ATM type machine for check-in. And I love it. Put in your booking reference, swipe your credit card, and voilĂ  you have your room key. It was everything I could hope for for the future of check-in procedures.

Butterflies were everywhere, and not shy

Butterflies were everywhere, and not shy

Brig was beautiful, another old European town, stretched out along the Rhine. Our last three nights were spent back in Domodossola before returning to Milan. On our very last day our co-travellers were flying out at 10h00, but we only flew at 22h00. As such we took the train into town, and spent a few hours in the central area of Milan, before heading home.

Appropriately named Chaltwassergletscher

Appropriately named Chaltwassergletscher

Every day we spent driving around the countryside, up tiny little streets to the tops of mountains, or hiking up along the cattle trails. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. We were there end of July so the weather had warmed up nicely, most of the snow had melted and we were left with beautiful green sceneries.

These sheep were adorable.

These sheep were adorable.

We were amazed by the extent of the hiking trails through the mountains. Anywhere you want to go you can find a small marked path taking you there. Town to town, or even just up to a peak. You might even find a little hut with a fire and baked goods for sale.

No Touchy

No Touchy

Switzerland was (it still surprises me) expensive, but if you’re interested in the border areas you can legitimately stay in Italy and do some day trips. It was a wonderful trip through beautiful scenery. I’ve spent time in the Alps in winter on two occasions, but seeing them in the summer was something else entirely.

Particle Internet Button with Photon – Web status notifier

After a fun weekend at the Hackaday Super Conference I came out with a few toys. On Sunday I took part in the Particle IoT workshop, where they were kind enough to provide us all with a Particle Internet Button and ran us through setting these up and getting them to do things.

The board is essentially an add-on for the Photon board that can be purchased stand alone. The Photon is what you’re actually programming and includes a Wi-Fi module and runs an ARM Cortex M3 microcontroller. The Internet Button adds an accelerometer, four buttons, a buzzer and 11 RGB LEDs to the mix.Particle Internet Button

It’s powered by USB, and can be setup with just their cellphone app, although I had problems due to the terrible way my internet is setup at home (I have no control over it, yay rental). I ended up using the CLI via USB. This was necessary to give the Photon the Wi-Fi details to connect to the internet.

Once it’s connected to the internet, all the programming takes place wirelessly via Particle’s online IDE. There’re a host of examples and libraries to pull from, so it’s amazingly quick to get a simple program running, pulling data from the accelerometer and making everything flash multiple colours. Particle also has some built-in integration for internet notifications and interactions, being able to control aspects from Particle’s console and elsewhere.

Left: All Green - good Right: white is checking site, red means a site failed - bad

Left: All Green – good
Right: white is checking site, red means a site failed – bad

I didn’t really know what to do with mine, so after playing around with all the examples, I set out to make a notification device to tell me whether my websites are all running or not. I have four websites I’m interested in, they’re all on the same shared hosting package, but separate domains.

This project is nothing amazing, but was fun to do, and I was able to get it working in one afternoon. Most of the time wasted was just due to being out of practice with programming.


  • Polls four separate websites to see if they are running.
  • Shows a green or red light to indicate if the website responded correctly or not. Shows a white/orange light while it is checking it.
  • If a website fails a check, the buzzer tones.
  • Checks all websites every 10min.
  • Can trigger earlier check by pushing button 3
  • If one or more websites have failed a check, you can shake the controller to get it to recheck just the failed websites.

At the moment I don’t get very good information from the website. I basically hosted a plain html page on a subfolder of my websites which contains a string. I then compare the string the Photon loads to what it should be. I want to look into the package a bit more to see what info I can get and differentiate between server not found and other errors.

Online log: left it running overnight. a couple failures. I blurred website address as they're projects I'm still working on. Failure is due to cheap hosting I believe, not the Particle.

Online log: left it running overnight and saw a couple failures. I blurred website address as they’re projects I’m still working on. Failure is due to cheap hosting I believe, not the Particle.

The code isn’t very pretty, I’ve got silly little delays all over the place ’cause it’s working and I’m lazy and a lot of the stuff was imported and copied in. I may update it someday, but you can view it here. I made use of the Internet Button library as well as the HttpClient library (self confessed requiring work, but I can’t complain).

Ballona Creek Bike Path

While some may say calling it the Ballona Creek Bike Path gives it a far more romanticised name than a concrete river deserves, as you get to the sea some natural vegetation and wildlife does appear. And regardless, the beauty I see in the bike path is not in the visuals, but the ability for me to escape the hustle and bustle of the LA roads and ride without being impeded by traffic lights.

After a successful ride along the Marvin Braude Bike Path, next on my list was Ballona Creek. Starting in the heart of Culver City, the bike path takes you 6 miles all the way to the sea, just south of Marina Del Rey where it meets up with the Marvin Braude.

I continued my cycle north to Santa Monica, before cutting back through traffic to University Park.

Once again I strapped on my GoPro and went for a ride, you can see the compilation below:

More info on the route can be found here.


Bridge to Nowhere

A few weeks ago we got the opportunity to do some hiking in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. A group of about 8 of us hiked up there for 3 days passing by the Bridge to Nowhere.

img_4417It was our first opportunity hiking in the area and we were fortunate enough to have great weather. We drove up to the trail-head on Saturday morning, arriving around 9AM. The parking lot was packed. We had to park several hundred metres down the road and hike up. Parking requires a pass, and free permits were available a little way on by the camping area.img_4454Although the parking lot was full, the trail is long and wide enough that you rarely have any problems with other people on the track. Majority of the people we saw were situated at the Bridge to Nowhere itself, watching or taking part in the Bungee Jumping. We had no idea about this when we were hiking in, and none of our hiking mates mentioned it to us until we got there, assuming everyone knew about it :) Coming from SA it’s not the biggest bungee jump in the world, but more than enough to get a thrill, especially with the really close cliff faces. None of us tried it though.img_4504The hike itself is not too strenuous, a 10 mile round loop to the bridge and back, made up of meandering paths and some river crossings. When we hiked the area was extremely dry, so I managed to keep my shoes out of the water the whole time, but there is usually more water, requiring some wading. Although there are a few areas with a slight climb, over all the route is flat with only about 200m of altitude gain.img_4499We arrived at the bridge and had lunch there, but our plan was to continue past the bridge. We carried on and set up camp on the side of the river a few hours later. Once you get past the bridge you are walking in a canyon the whole time, criss-crossing the river. It’s really beautiful and was great to get out of the city.img_4474We saw a snake. It was super chilled, just doing it’s thing. Also many people panning for gold. Apparently there’s still some left, but the further upstream we got the less people we saw, but the more remnants of previous mining activities showed up.img_4477Also poison oak. Something we haven’t seen before, and we were fortunate enough not to have any bad experiences with.