Friday, May 10, 2019

Election material here in Warringah is overwhelming

I live in Tony Abbott's safe seat of Warringah. Recently I started collecting campaign material that has been turning up in targeted ads on the internet generally and social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. There's a lot that turns up by post too.

The majority of the material is anti-Zali Steggall. A lot of these negative ads don't even mention Tony Abbott so I guess they think that he's a bit of a liability and it's better to go negative and leave it to the voters to hopefully tick his box.

I've had personalised letters from Scott Morrison and John Howard. Here's a collection of things arriving in the letterbox.

It's interesting that Morrison says "I understand that many people in Warringah have strong opinions about your local MP, Tony Abbott".

John Howard's pitch came on rather dated looking letterhead and basically frames Tony as an old mate. Howard has some other mates too, that's not necessarily going to save him.

There's an anti-Zali billboard up on the fence at the school oval - which strikes me as inappropriate.

Zali has sent a few notes and we've had door knockers from her side too who seemed to think that it's going pretty well for her.

A mobile billboard came around one day and it was amusing to see it parked next to a tiny Tony poster.

There has been some mail from Zali.

Clearly there is support in this suburb on both sides and some houses have put up posters, sometimes they face each other.

Most striking have been the unrelenting negative ads I got every time I opened Instagram.

In the end I reported the ad as misleading and that's stopped them for me. The funny thing is that sometimes they left comments on and they're pretty funny as you might imagine. (Click images to enlarge them).

I've been surveyed several times and had a live call from someone who said that Tony had asked him to call to check that they have my support. Yesterday this text message came through.

Interesting that the issue today is a tunnel or not.

Tony Abbott and team are spending serious money here, I guess that means they're genuinely concerned. It's been a very negative campaign on the Liberal side. The drumbeat line saying that a vote for Steggall is a vote for Labour may not work if there's a big swing to Labour.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Prescription glasses for $22? Yep.

Prescription glasses often cost me hundreds of dollars. As I end up buying a few pairs of reading glasses, sometimes sunglasses and a bi-focal or progressive lens it gets very expensive. My eyes change quite a bit every two years.

I feel manipulated during the process. The eye testers are now connected to a retailer and they do what they can to not give me the measurements. They really try to push you to the retailer to buy glasses. I insist though and make sure it's legible.

This year at a supposedly low cost place the sales person showed me a presentation on an iPad that explained that for $100 I could get progressive lenses with a narrow clear area, for an extra $100 I could get that good area wider and for yet another $100 I could get a wider clear area. Given that lenses are all made on a computer controlled grinding machine I asked her to explain why it costs more to get a different curve on the lens?

She could not justify the cost so I just went for bifocals with the lowest density plastic. I carefully noted the IOD (inter ocular distance) she measured so I could order on line.

There are numerous up-sells including amazingly expensive frames, various anti-glare coatings and hardening, but they do give you a little bottle of cleaning spray and a soft cloth. (Here's a tip - get isopropyl alcohol from the hardware store and clean them with that).

I ordered a pair of prescription glasses from Aliexpress and paid just AU$12 including frames and shipping.

The glasses take a few weeks to arrive and they are great. The lenses are correct for my eyes and the frames are good. The density of the lens is better than what I got locally. Interestingly they describe lens index as:

"Lense index is numerical representation of the speed when light enters the transparent medium. Lense index more higher, the lense more thinner. Please choose suitable number based on your own circumstance. And 1.59PC is for impact glasses."

After this initial success I ordered two pairs of reading glasses and I've now ordered a pair of progressive lens glasses which cost $130 but still a fraction of what they would cost locally.

A story in the LA Times recently suggests that we are being conned by the industry "The bottom line: You’re paying a markup on glasses that would make a luxury car dealer blush, with retail costs from start to finish bearing no relation to reality."

There are numerous sellers on Aliexpress and I suggest looking around. I went cheap, but it's probably worth paying a bit more.

Progressive Multifocals too

After the success with single focals I went on and paid $135.50 for a pair of progressive multifocal glasses. These have arrived and are excellent. I have paid $500+ for the equivalent locally in the past.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Mac mini failing? Here's a $2 fix

We've used a 2011 Mac mini since it was new and it's been very reliable. In the past the RAM has been upgraded and of course it now has an SSD.

Recently it started playing up, the first symptom was weird colours on screen and vertical colour bars during boot. I ran the built-in hardware test (by booting while holding the D key).

The hardware test had no complaints. (I've seen bad RAM in the past). The clue was that resetting PRAM (parameter RAM) seemed to fix the screen bars briefly. In the end it wouldn't boot at all.

There is a battery to back up the PRAM and I read that the lifespan is about five years. This Mac is now eight years old.

I followed a guide on iFixit and extracted the motherboard, flipped it over, and replaced the battery. It's not the easiest repair job and oddly, the iFixit guide doesn't match my hardware even though the model and date matches. Reading the comments was a help.

Anyhow, here's the battery I replaced.

Now the Mac is working well although unfortunately I can't run macOS Mojave which I need to run Xcode 10.2.

Apple is often criticised for making expensive products but I have to say that features like built-in hardware diagnostics and recovery along with the fact that we've been using this computer for nine years make me think that their products are better value for money and I prefer to think about that rather than simplistic up front price.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Receiving Peter, VK3YE's 100 microwatt WSPR beacon

Prolific ham radio writer, Peter, VK3YE has put up a video about his attenuated WSPR beacon being picked up by a number of stations and happily I'm one of them. I'm VK2TPM by the way and am over 700km from Peter.

Another frequent receiver is Phil, VK7JJ, who gets amazing WSPR reception reports. The trick, of course, is low noise reception. I'm doing pretty well for a suburban block. Phil is on a property in Tasmania and has taken considerable steps to reduce noise.

Ross, VK1UN, makes a good point that with this much attenuation it might be that signal leakage is actually being transmitted rather than what goes through the attenuator.

I think that decodes from directly synthesised WSPR transmitters, as compared with audio modulated SSB transmitters, are easier.

Thanks for the contact Peter!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

WSPR receive antenna comparison

My normal 40m antenna here is in the back yard hanging between the house and a tree. Operating position is at the front of the house so a long run of co-ax is used. I've tried dipoles at the front of the house but they've always seemed more noisy - presumably because of the power lines in the street.

Yesterday I ran WSPR receive on both antennas and found just how amazingly more noisy the antenna at the front is than the normal one out the back.

The front antenna is reported as VK2TPM/1. As you can see, signal to noise ratio is consistently 13dB worse out the front. Now, these are different receivers but I doubt they would make that much difference. There is also a 3Hz difference in reported frequency.

Keen eyed observers might notice that I'm searching WSPRnet for "vk2tpm*", yes wildcards do work in some contexts. The app here is WSPR Watch.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Home again - after crossing Australia

A very enjoyable adventure. Being away, living in a van, helps me appreciate the comforts of home. This post is a collection of observations on the journey.

I slept in the van for about three out of every four nights.

TVs in motels often don’t have all the available channels. I auto retune them and find more. Perhaps a result of re-stacking?

There are people riding bicycles over the Nullarbor. The road is quite narrow and this seems very dangerous.

I saw two groups of vintage cars being driven. Beautifully restored.

There are large numbers of people towing caravans across Australia.

Nullarbor is Latin for no 4G coverage. Just kidding, it is Latin for no trees.

There are about four parts of the highway which are marked up as Flying Doctor emergency runways. You can pull off to the side if a plane lands.

Signs showing the distance to a service station also show the distance to the following service station so you can make a decision about whether you need to stop. The longest run I did between refuelling was 460km, I think the van would make 500km but I didn't test this.

Oncoming drivers will often raise a finger or make a peace sign, or wave, as you approach. I think it means that if you broke down they’d stop to help. Most truck drivers don’t bother but some trucks are aware of the effect they have on me as we pass and will pull way off to the side as they approach, I give them a friendly wave of thanks.

Google maps is superior to Apple maps in several ways. It has a lot more points of interest, particularly in the outback. Google maps seems to behave better when there’s no data, I guess it caches more. In Google maps, you can drag up from the bottom and do a “search along the route” to find petrol stations for example.

The Google maps search ahead feature makes odd choices about what to display, it shows the brand or name, the number of stars in Google reviews, and that it’s a “quick detour”, it does not show how much time to get there or the kilometres.

Motel rooms have a can of insect spray in the room.

Many small towns have FM stations. Larger ones have relays of ABC Radio National, News Radio and Local Radio. Sometimes the ABC relays are distorted and on one occasion the carrier was there but no audio. In most cases two FM stations are working, the horse racing station and the Christian propaganda station.

Australia is often called a “wide brown land” but my observation is that a lot of it is very red. In some places the earth is red, trees are red and green and the sky is deep blue.

During the trip I listened to some music but many podcasts which entertained and informed me. What a fantastic new media.

Not surprisingly I used up my monthly data allowance and the excess data fee is a high $10 per GB. On Telstra, I can buy data packs at a slightly cheaper rate but they will charge again in the following month. I've now learned that cancelling the data pack in the next month means you only get charged pro-rata which seems fair.

When data is scarce, it’s a new world. iOS lets me choose app by app what can use mobile data and I’ve turned off lots of apps. Free Wifi is very attractive but I’ve found it’s actually limited to 500MB and it’s easy to use this just downloading a few podcasts. Netflix downloads have been great.

I sleep a lot when living in the van. When it gets dark, it’s bed time although I spend hours tuning around on the broadcast band and particularly shortwave. When the sun comes up, I get up, make coffee and hit the road.

Listening to shortwave in a low noise environment, away from power lines, switching power supplies and plasma TVs is amazing.

There isn’t a lot of English on shortwave these days. China Plus is everywhere, a bit of Voice of America and a bit of BBC. I haven’t been able to receive Radio New Zealand International in the west so I guess it’s beamed at the Pacific. I really miss the Radio Australia inland shortwave service.

A shortwave broadcast from India talked about the anniversary of a masacre by the British, they reported the deaths as 1,000. The BBC covered the same story but reported 300 deaths.

China Plus sometimes refers to the “peaceful re-unification of Taiwan”.

My antenna is a dipole cut for 40m. It’s held up by a 6m squid pole tied on to the van. The wire is a figure 8 twin cable fed from the balanced output of my antenna tuner. I tied the ends onto any trees or bushes near by using brickie string.

I drive at about 100km per hour, the van gets much noisier at higher speeds and I think it’s more economical at this speed. Drivers approach at higher speeds and when it’s safe I indicate left and slow a little. After they pass they indicate left and then right briefly, I think this is a way of saying thanks.

The largest cost of the trip was petrol.

Some drivers are slow until there’s an overtaking lane and then they speed up.

There are cellular telephone towers on the Nullarbor but they’re not close enough for continuous coverage. There’s no 4G. When you get to one of these towers they are a sight to behold, the guyed tower is about 100m high and at the base are satellite dishes and solar panels.

Broken down cars can be seen at the side of the road. Recent ones have police tape on them, older ones are missing the tyres and are sometimes burnt out. Most have broken windscreens and I assume they’ve hit a kangaroo.

There are frequent skid marks on the road where a vehicle has hit the brakes. I guess these survive many years.

There are many museums in small towns and it's a great amusement to visit and see what's on show.

The most seen dead animal on the road is a Kangaroo. Signs warn of Kangaroos, cattle, camels and wombats. Leaving Broken Hill, heading west, there are a large number of goats but luckily goats walk away from oncoming cars rather than jumping in to their path.

On the way home I ran into a bit of a heatwave in northern South Australia. As I result I drove more than planned and have arrived a bit early.

I felt calm and happy during the journey. Watching the country change slowly is interesting. Tuning shortwave and the 40m amateur band was an absolute joy without all the noise heard in a city. Thanks to John VK2ASU and Kevin VK2KB for attempting contacts with me on several occasions.

It's good to be home again.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Crossed the country - but waiting for parts

It's official, well from the WSPR Watch map, I've reached pretty much the western edge of Australia.

I was able to receive Kevin, VK2KB's WSPR beacon. We tried for an SSB contact but while I could hear John, VK2ASU, calling he couldn't hear me. We'll try again when I'm a bit closer.

As I mentioned in a Tech Head spot on RN Drive, it's quite a drive.

A few days were spent with old friends looking around Perth, which is a lovely place. I took the opportunity to drop in on the local GovHack folks.

On the way to Margaret River I heard a noise under the van that sounded rather like I'd run over a branch or something. Later I noticed it was rather difficult to steer, particularly while parking. Bridgetown has a few car service places and it was rather obvious (in retrospect) that a belt is missing.

It's the belt that drives the power steering. So, I'm checked in to the Hotel on the main street waiting for a replacement and I'm going to have the vehicle serviced on Friday.

Quite a nice little town with lots of local art on display and for sale. How about a miniature shed for the van?

While enjoying a cider at the bar downstairs I chatted with a bloke who works at the local Lithium mine which he tells me is the largest in the country and going really well presumably due to big demand for the metal for batteries. He said it's half owned by Chinese investors.

Responding to user feedback, I've done some updates to the WSPR Watch iOS app. In particular there were problems using the settings view on the smallest phones and iPads. I'm now looking in to decoding WSPR on an iOS device (you can transmit in WSPR Watch as of a few months ago).