Sunday, August 11, 2019

Faithful Maytag washing machine gives up after 30 years

Our Maytag washing machine made screeching noises and smelt of burning this morning after 30 years of hard service.

I think we've had it serviced twice in that time. It's been moved a few times and bashed about a bit in the process.

This machine has handled the nappies and clothes from two babies and given reliable service along the way. Recently I put some bleach in the bleach input and noticed that it drained out on the floor.

Do washing machines even have settings for Permanent Press any more? I enquired about repairs and the bloke that took the call laughed and said "you've had a good run". Spares are difficult to get and service people aren't keen to open them up.

Made in Newton Iowa, USA. Max working pressure: 10 bars. I doubt the replacement will last 30 years, mind you.. I may not either.

The replacement has arrived. I wonder if the touch sensitive buttons will last as long as the mechanical knobs did. Great that it shows how long to go.

Where's the permanent press cycle?

Hmm, sounds ominous.

Manly to Spit bridge Sydney walk

It was cool but sunny. A spectacular day to do the walk from Manly to the Spit bridge on Sunday with Peter, VK2EMU.

There are spectacular harbour views along the way. (Click to enlarge).

The city looks great too.

We did the walk pretty quickly and it does involve some steps up and down.

I felt pretty tired and sore the next morning but would recommend this walk to anyone visiting Sydney. A great way to do it is to start by catching the ferry to Manly.

Friday, August 09, 2019

NSW house sale prices data for free

I have a new interest in the prices that houses in my state have sold for recently. Searching for this data turns up many services that provide it but generally they ask for a fee or even a subscription to give access. It seemed to me that surely this is public information that the government has for stamp duty or other reasons.

The information is available on a weekly basis from Property NSW on the Bulk property sales information page. The data "is available under open access licensing as part of the NSW Government Open Data Policy and is subject to the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Licence". Great stuff!

Each of the blue buttons is a zip file of .DAT files with sales data in them, the format is a little inconvenient but is well documented here.

To make use of this data, by loading it into a spreadsheet, I've written a little python 3 program that takes a folder with downloaded zip files, extracts the .DAT files, parses them and outputs tab delimited CSV files that will open in a spreadsheet.

# Read house price data files from:
# B;001;4229165;5;20190805 01:00;;;86;MAURICE RD;POKOLBIN;2320;1.038;H;20190613;20190725;850000;;R;RESIDENCE;;;;0;AP418234;

# Directory that contains the zip files
DOWNLOAD_DIR = "Downloads"
FIELD_NAMES = ["Record Type",
"District Code",
"Property Id.",
"Sale Counter",
"Download Date / Time",
"Property Name",
"Property Unit Number",
"Property House Number",
"Property Street Name",
"Property Locality",
"Property Post Code",
"Area Type",
"Contract Date",
"Settlement Date",
"Purchase Price",
"Nature of Property",
"Primary Purpose",
"Strata Lot Number",
"Component code",
"Sale Code",
"% Interest of Sale",
"Dealing Number"]

import os
import zipfile

def main():
files = os.listdir(DOWNLOAD_DIR)
for azipfile in files:
zip_file_path = os.path.join(DOWNLOAD_DIR, azipfile)
archive = zipfile.ZipFile(zip_file_path)
data_file_list = archive.namelist()
for data_file in data_file_list:
if data_file.endswith(".DAT"):
for line in
lineStr = line.decode('UTF-8')
if lineStr.startswith("B"):
fields = lineStr.strip().split(";")
for field in fields:
print("%s\t" %field, end='')

def printFieldHeaders():
for fieldName in FIELD_NAMES:
print("%s\t" %fieldName, end='')

if __name__ == "__main__":

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Van "house" battery has died

My first trip in the van since returning from crossing Australia. The battery that powers the fridge and  lights was no longer holding charge. While driving the fridge would run but as soon as I stopped the voltage dived to 8V and the fridge would turn itself off.

When I took a closer look there was melted plastic on both sides of the battery. It looks like some cells have short circuited. The battery has been in use either in my shed or in the van for ten years so it's no surprise that it has given up the ghost.

I haven't seen a battery fail this way and it's pretty alarming.

I've replaced it with a 120AH deep cycle battery which will hopefully last me at least four years.

Slow scan activity on 20m

PSK31 activity used to be common on 20m but it has been killed off by FT8 in recent years. Stephen, VK2BLQ, tipped me off that there's quite a lot of SSTV activity on 14.230.

I'm using the Windows MMSSTV which seems capable but a little cryptic to operate. Here's how VK2BLQ looks at my place.

Here's how I reply back to him:

For some reason I can't get MMSSTV to automatically log received pictures (Update: I found the history images in C:\Ham\MMSSTV\History) but here's a few I've grabbed just this morning. ZL2CC:


VK6AAL (who, I might add, is a very entertaining SSTVer)


Catch you on 14.230 SSTV! Here's a few more.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Upgraded home Wifi to Google Wifi

Stories of home router vulnerabilities prompted me to check for updates to my home TP-Link router. In my case the router works well but there have been no updates for more than three years. Although the house is well covered, I sometimes notice pauses in streaming and I thought it was time to try something new.

Friend, and neighbour, John recently switched to the Google Wifi mesh network system and spoke very highly of them.

Researching online I found that the price for the three pack varies from AU$499 down to AU$347 at David Jones. Of course they don't have any stock locally but I was able to get another store to price match.

The hardware is nicely presented and designed. I would say it's Apple level industrial design. The pucks have two gigabit ethernet ports and USB-C power. The status light can be dimmed via the app for bedroom use.

Setup was smooth using the iOS app which discovers the devices as you plug them in via Bluetooth and configures the mesh. I had trouble with one device which didn't complete setup but I walked away and perhaps got out of Bluetooth range.

The iOS app is good and includes useful tools for measuring and testing both your internet connection right on the router and the mesh strength.

Wifi signal strength is uniformly strong throughout the house now, previously there were some small drops in signal. Measured internet speed over Wifi to a laptop running chrome is slightly lower than with the previous setup but it might be an anomaly.

I'm pretty happy with this performance. We are on NBN over HFC here.

The network is and so I had to restart a bunch of devices to get them to update their addresses.

The device serves a web page on, with a mDNS hostname of which simply shows that it's online and offers links to the Android and iOS apps. It would be nice if there was a bit more that could be done through the web interface but I guess the phone app is the right focus.

There is also a web server at which lets users control Philips Hue devices apparently.

The following ports are listening:

nmap -p-
Starting Nmap 7.70 ( ) at 2019-07-25 10:02 AEST
Nmap scan report for (
Host is up (0.0096s latency).
Not shown: 65530 closed ports
53/tcp   open  domain
80/tcp   open  http
5000/tcp open  upnp
8080/tcp open  http-proxy
8081/tcp open  blackice-icecap

Nmap done: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 5.36 seconds

Port 8080 shows this:

 Port 8081 shows this:

The hardware is impressive, a quad-core ARM CPU running at up to 710MHz, 512MB RAM and 4GB eMMC storage. AC1200 2x2 Wave 2 Wi-Fi, Simultaneous dual-band Wifi (2.4 GHz/5 GHz) supporting IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, and transmit beam forming.

The devices implement the IEEE 802.11s mesh networking standard (along with some Google innovations, they say).

Note that the Google router sets the DNS to Google's it would be nice if I was told this rather than having to find out by drilling into the settings.

Note that ethernet is still faster than wireless. Here's a speed test over ethernet.

Here's a speed test over Wifi.

After being in use for a week it has gathered a log of internet speeds:

It's a pity that Apple has left the home networking market but I feel that quality alternatives now exist such as Google Wifi.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Classic macOS nostalgia

There's a way to run macOS 9 in a PowerPC emulator based on SheepShaver. Download Mac OS 9 for OS X to try it out. The disk image comes with lots of software and has nifty ways to exchange files with the host machine.

Last century I used to write apps for classic macOS and it's amazing to find that there are big archives of software from the day and one of them had my shareware app "Transform Reports".

SheepShaver is a pun on the 68k Mac emulator for AmegaOS called ShapeShifter.

I also wrote a utility called TurboFind and while I've found the German version, so far I haven't found the English one.

Such nostalgia, I loved HyperCard. Gosh, it looks so small these days.

I guess this won't work:

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Excellent free grammar checking: LibreOffice and LanguageTool

My wife is finishing her PhD and proofreading is hard. It's particularly hard to pick up errors in text you've read many times and are familiar with. She paid for Grammarly, which despite their advertised claims that it's free... is definitely not. Grammarly also doesn't work well on macOS.

Google is said to be adding machine learning powered grammar checking to Google Docs but as far as I can tell it's not there yet.

There are various other solutions around, many we cloud back ends, but happily I can recommend the open source LanguageTool when used as an extension to LibreOffice. Note that you need to install the official Oracle version of Java for this to work. (I think I also needed the JDK but I'm not totally sure).

The grammar suggestions are very useful and while there are a few false positives, it's very valuable. As well as basic grammar and spelling errors, it has high level recommendations including things like collections of sentences that begin with the same word and ideas for simplifying text.

Microsoft Word, particularly when working with a large document (this one is over 100,000 words) and with the EndNote app feels quite flakey. Several times we've seen weird errors such as being unable to save a document due to file permissions - restarting word fixed this. EndNote hangs sometimes and it, in turn, locks up Word.

LibreOffice on macOS feels solid although the user interface is not native and no where near as nice to use as Apple's Pages. I also tried it in Visual Studio Code which worked but tried to do the whole document in one go and wasn't practical.

Academic documents have their quirks and LanguageTool doesn't seem to handle references very well but over all it's been a great experience, and we've found many embarrassing typos and grammar errors that would have been submitted and printed without it. My thanks to the great people who've given us LanguageTool.

Update: Google Docs now has grammar checking

Logged in this morning and Google Docs is now offering me grammar checking and it seems very good.

I wouldn't like to be in the commercial grammar checking business.

Friday, June 21, 2019

PlatformIO Arduino Conflicted extensions with IntelliSense service error

Just a note to my future self... I've been doing some Arduino programming with the ESP8266+Oled board I purchased recently and went back to the Visual Studio Code PlatformIO environment after a break and ran into some weird behaviour including this error:

"Conflicted extensions with IntelliSense service were detected (Arduino). Code-completion, linting and navigation will not work properly."

Yes, I had all sorts of problems and could kind of get it to work by quitting and re-starting VSC.

When getting set up the first thing I'd done was install the Arduino extension and it turns out that this is not only not needed but causes problems. Remove the Arduino extension so you have C/C++ and PlatformIO IDE.

After importing my Arduino .ino file I converted it to "proper" C++ and all works well.