Friday, February 27, 2009

Multi-language madness

Picture 2.pngRecent weeks have been dominated with work rather than hobbies.

In the current climate I'm pleased to be fully employed. I'm working on a very ajaxy web application and jumping between PHP, Javascript and python which is driving me slightly around the bend.

When doing modern web development you realise just how vital a tool FireFox with Firebug is, but this week saw the release of a beta of Safari 4. Safari's built-in tools are getting really good and partially because of the speed I've moved over to it for my primary testing, debugging and general web use.

If, like me, you had the Growl notifier for Mail.app installed you'll find that Mail crashes right away after you install Safari 4. You need to remove the growl plugin from ~/Library/Mail/Bundles/.

For the last few years I've been working in Python and using the Django web framework. The project I've just taken over is built with an excellent PHP framework called CodeIgniter.

Like any MVC style framework there are two immediately good things: there's a place for everything and everything has it's place, and you do get some good stuff for free. It certainly helps someone coming to an existing code base to quickly be able to guess where in the tree parts of the code are.

I like CodeIgniter, but Django is a hard act to follow and I find myself comparing how few lines of code would be needed to do each part in Django/python. PHP just feels like a mess of a language and library compared to python.

The tools I'm using mostly at present are:



I'm off to visit my end customer in Malaysia tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how the "multimedia super corridor" is faring these days.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New kitchen radio AWA Radiola 565MA

Picked up my new valve radio last night.

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A magnificent item of architecture I hope you'll agree. Many of the original capacitors have been replaced and internally condition is excellent.

Here it is tuned to 2FC, err ABC Radio National. Hums a bit but sounds very official. Great to see some 1950s technology still going strong.

Friday, February 20, 2009

80m dipole antenna back up

Over the past year or two I've been incrementally improving my HF antenna situation here. I've pushed higher and higher and on a windy night early in the week it came down.

Luckily I still had a spare line over the branch of the gum tree out the back and was able to get it back up again pretty easily (the hard part is getting the line high into a tree).

The configuration looks like this:

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There's a magnificent tall gum tree in the neighbour's yard at the back and a tree in the street in the front. Happily the power runs down the other side of the street.

The central support is a netball hoop base, with a steel pipe and then a long two part extension from a pool cleaning pole. It's guyed on the sides and the dipole forms the other guys kind of.

The antenna consists of a 40/80m trap dipole and I have a 20m dipole off the same balun going at another angle. The extra 20m dipole detuned the 40m part a bit but hasn't affected 80m.

In fact I'm getting terrific reports on 80m with many stations in a net saying I have the best signal of the group. In the Friday night, 8:30 QRP Natter Net on 3.615MHz, both Barry, VK5BLS and Gerard, VK4TGL were complimentary. I dropped to 25W and was still quite strong.

As Gerard said, "if your antenna stays up - it's not big enough".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Antique radio collectors

Local ham Rob, VK2ZNZ called me after the Sunday broadcast to propose an excursion to visit some chaps he met at the Historical Radio Society of Australia.

First stop was Joe and Anne's place where the decorative furniture included this amazing cabinet radio.

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Joe spend many years working on ships and has built boat style storage spaces throughout the house for storing radio restoration parts including a huge range of valves. Here's the view up a trapdoor above the loo into some previously wasted space.

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DSC01872.jpgOff a small but lush garden, the workshop is actually a tiny cupboard like space but is surrounded with all the parts he needs easily at hand.

Throughout the house there is no wasted space that is not filled with bits and pieces, this includes the attic all the way down to a crawlspace under the floor.

Upstairs there's an official long wire antenna that looks like it might do for transmitting too.

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Valves are even stored under each bed.

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So no bouncing I guess. Lots of drawers are full too.

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Everywhere.

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If you want something, it gets looked up in the catalog..

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Ah.. it's in a box under the floor near the front door, off we go.

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There it is!

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Next we were off to visit Jack, he also has an extensive collection of valves.

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Now Jack was quick to say that he's not a radio collector but he does seem to have accumulated a few sets.

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In several rooms.

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Around the house.

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Here's radios for listening to while doing the washing.

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I found a set to buy, Jack turned it on and wasn't happy with the sound so got to work fault finding.

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I'm going to collect it next week.

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Thanks Rob, Joe, Ann, and Jack for a very entertaining Sunday afternoon.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I want my GreenPlug

greenplug-widget.gifWe have dozens of little power adapters, sometimes I want to use a gadget, but can't locate the particular plugpack or special little charger that it needs to live - the device becomes useless.

GreenPlug came to my attention a couple of years back and I've been waiting patiently for devices to appear. The recent Consumer Electronics Show was another missed opportunity.

Clearly, the profitable business in selling replacement plugpacks and chargers means that manufacturers have little incentive to move to a standard approach. A small chip, that talks the GreenTalk protocol would also be required. My understanding is that this chip is cheap, but perhaps it should be subsidised by state power suppliers or even mandated.

Imagine a world free of "wall warts", where your desk has just one mains lead into a clever little device with a display that shows all the devices and their state of smart charging. Imagine a world where there are standard charging sockets on everything.

To some extent USB has become the de facto standard, but it's not a great standard: only 5V, low current, and you still need intelligent charging circuitry in each device.

What can I do? I've voted through the link above, where you can nominate the gadget that means the most to you presumably to send the manufacturer a message. The other thing is to talk about this technology and take every opportunity to tell manufacturers that I would choose a GreenPlug equipped device over another in a heartbeat. Duh.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Wyong field day 2009 report

Today was the Wyong field day. What a fine day it was for it, not too hot thankfully.

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The crowd was a little down on past years but the vendors were very happy with the sales.

I bought a few panel meters.

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I bought a Philips 1.3Ghz frequency counter for $50 that seems to work fine and a calibrated Philips RF probe for $20.

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The commercial vendors seemed to be doing a great trade but happily I wasn't in the market for a black box this year.

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It was my pleasure to run into Peter who is a part of the excellent AmateurLogic TV video podcast. I thanked him for his excellent reports.

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Under cover it was very pleasant with a cooling breeze flowing through.

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Soon it was time to hop upstairs for a refreshing cup of tea.

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And some crackers and cheese cubes.

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The NSW Home Brew group had a great display and answered lots of questions.

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Even 13 year old girls are going for the foundation licenses which is a good thing.

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Wyong wouldn't be Wyong without the embroidery display which was excellent again this year.

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I bought a nice embroidered bag for $5.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

iPhone/iPod touch as an application platform

AppleStore.jpgI was invited to the Sydney Apple store today to get a briefing from Stan Ng, Senior Director of iPod Product Marketing and Christi Wilkerson, iPod Product Marketing Manager, who have trekked out from California to spread the word on how well everything is going.

There's no doubt they're doing really well at the moment - 4.4 million iPhones in the last quarter alone, available in 70 countries, the iPod touch is the top selling iPod (but mostly because it's the only model in it's class).

I asked if they had any comment on the recent decline of the Microsoft Zune and Stan said he "didn't want to hit them when they were down".

The proprietary iPod connector is spreading too, aside from a few cars, it's now in some United and Singapore Airlines planes and apart from charging you can show the video on the seat back screen. Pity about the lack of WiFi internet though.

Quizzed about the bungling over restrictions on apps available in the store, Stan gave me the company line about seeking to protect customers from objectionable or poor value software. He kind of argued that reproducing a built-in software feature was bad value, I suggested that surely the market should decide that.

The built-in App store works well for iTunes and the iPhone/Touch, I asked when we would get a version for the Mac itself? Stan said that the concept has now spread to GarageBand and he sees "a lot of future in this style of store".

We're starting to see some traces of new iPhone hardware in web server logs so just for fun I asked about a new model and got the amused "we don't talk about unannounced products" laugh.

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I expressed my frustration that the push service, expected last October, hadn't come out so things like staying logged in to instant messenger while the app isn't running are still not possible on the iPhone. No comment on that one of course.

ChrisIpod.jpgChristi demoed some nice apps including Sim City (which is said to be the most sophisticated version on any platform), a Ralph Loren collection presentation app, Hero of Sparta, and Word Fu which looks like a fun word game.

Great to see the local OzWeather doing so well in the store too - there's some wonderful success stories about small developers making good money through their applications.

A couple of pre-release games including Time Crisis from Namco were on show and I have to say that Chisti had done her preparation and seemed to play exceedingly well...

Platform vitality depends on the developers attracted to it. Apple has a good lead right now but Google Android, and Palm Pre are attracting a lot of developer interest. One possible weakness for Apple is that their developer tools aren't cross platform but it's amazing how over-represented Macs are amongst software developers at the moment.

My thanks to Stan and Christi for their time.

NSW Home Brew radio meeting

Here's a few shots from last night's meeting of the group at Seppo's at Putney. Being a nice warm night we had the garage door open.

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Lots of friendly chat about all manner of technical topics.

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I took along my 80m DSB transmitter and receiver, Kevin had some great work, but Stephen VK2BLQ has excelled once again with a very nicely constructed valve transmitter.

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Everyone's very much looking forward to the Wyong field day next Sunday.