Friday, December 31, 2010

Dick Smith GH5930 HD Recorder mini review

Screen shot 2011-01-01 at 1.33.55 PM.pngAt $59.98 it's hard to resist the Dick Smith GH5930.

As well as being a High Definition digital set top box with HDMI out, it has a USB host port on the front and can record to a USB key drive. The device has the electronic program guide broadcast from each station and you can select a program in that and it will record it.

The user interface is pretty clunky but it does the job and works well for me with a USB flash drive (I'm using an 8GB stick). I tried to get it going with a 750GB hard disk but ran in to multiple problems: it wouldn't format unless I'd already initialised the drive FAT32, formatting took ages, when I did record it seemed to lose the plot and didn't record.

There's a good thread on Whirlpool about this device and I'm not alone having FAT32 drive issues.

Pretty good for the money.

Update - firmware update

Just noticed there is a software update available here. It installed smoothly for me and all seems well.

Nothing terribly dramatic in the update, they say:

This (Nov 2 2010) firmware upgrade eliminates the SA Daylight Saving Bug. The following improvements were also added
  • During Record, the orange “Record” graphic and the elapsed time indicator can now be removed from the screen by pressing the “Exit” button. If you attempt to change the channel or switch the unit off during a recording, the Record Symbol will re-appear as a reminder.
  • The “Recording Complete” message now disappears after a few seconds instead of remaining on the screen until “Exit” is pressed.
  • After a Time Limited recording (30, 60, 90 etc) the elapsed time indicator disappears at the end of the recording
  • The “Do you want to re-scan” message now only appears with a major programming change, and disappears after a few seconds.


Aside from some problems recording to certain USB sticks, I'm still happy with this device for the price.

Time Magazine, why more expensive on iPad?

Screen shot 2011-01-01 at 1.01.03 PM.pngMany years ago Time Magazine purchased a site license for some Mac software I wrote. I was grateful and in return took out a five year subscription to the magazine. The weekly overview of what happened is a cycle I like, it tends to overcome the daily need for news reports to come up with a big story when perhaps there isn't anything.

After a while though Time seemed tired and old so I let my subscription expire. Having been a subscriber I now get amazing offer letters from them trying to woo me back. They offer a deep discount on the cover price combined with a free gift. (The gifts look bad even in the picture they provide). The current price offer is $1.85 per week delivered in "dead tree format". The gift is a travel bag and binoculars.

Despite their obviously poor editorial judgement in choosing Mark Zuckerberg over Julian Assange as the person of the year, I thought I'd grab the iPad app and have a read.

Screen shot 2011-01-01 at 1.08.30 PM.png

First up, the iTunes store is awash with bad ratings and comments for the iOS edition. Secondly they want you to pay $5.99 per copy to read it on a tablet. This smacks of a paper based publisher that wants to appear to track the trend to e-publishing while engineering a failure.

Why on earth isn't it cheaper to deliver electronically than printed to the door?

I bought an issue and the magazine looks great on the screen. The app uses a side swipe to move story to story and a vertical drag to read an article (there's no "pages" as such).

So, note to Richard Evans, President TIME International, who writes to me each year, I like your discount price for subscriptions but please let me have that in my iPad. By the way, I love the way they want you to peel off a "Yes" sticker and stick it in the FREE gift box - so oldey timey.

While I'm here, it's clear that Apple needs to come out with a bundled iMagazine app that avoids every magazine publisher re-inventing the wheel.

Update: cheap on kindle

I've just noticed that Time is $2.99 per month on the Amazon Kindle so that's about 75 cents a copy compared to $5.99 a copy on iPad. Also the 75 cents include delivery via wireless broadband.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Portable ham radio station gear

We spent Xmas at Fisherman's Paradise (presumably AKA "Fish Hell") so I was keen to enjoy some ham radio reception without all the electrical noise of a big city.

Here's my portable kit:

go pack.jpg

It's hard to beat the Yaesu FT-817 for portable operation, all HF bands plus VHF and UHF, about 350mA on receive, built-in rechargeable batteries and lots of advanced features in there (if you can find them in the menu system).

I also take a sealed lead acid battery and a small solar charger which is easily able to top it up.

Co-ax and wire dipoles are coiled on mains extension cord holders (a great buy at Bunnings). I took antennas for 20m, 30m and 40m.

To get the wires up in the trees I use a "Bait Caster" (no, it's not a sling shot) to fire a sinker on heavy fishing line right over the tree and then I connect a line to the dipole leg end and pull that up. This system works really well but the local bird life likes the new perches a bit too much:

20m antenna.jpg

The noise floor was very low, usually S1 or below, compared to S7 here in Sydney, but even this location has some TV sets that pollute the spectrum.

My thanks to Henry, VK2HE, who heard my callback to the VK2WI Sunday broadcast and passed on my details. Henry was about 1,000Km north of me and could hear me pretty well on 5W mid morning.

Amazing what a bit of wire and 5W can do.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eye tests with nifty microphotographs

Eye tests are pretty cool these days. This week my eye test involved a photo being taken of my retinas and the guy got a nifty image which he was happy to email me.

MARKS Eye scan.jpg

Those light dots at the top of the right image (my left eye) are due to age and are not currently a problem.

At the end of the measurements I asked if I could have a copy of the test (so I could have a go at ordering much cheaper glasses on line). He scribbled the copy of the prescription down so roughly I had to quiz him on what the numbers were.

It's the law that the prescription is to be available to the patient but clearly there's a racket here where the testers railroad you into paying huge margins to their associated glasses supplier.

Spectacles and frames seem to me to be vastly over priced. Perhaps they should charge for the services rather than ripping us off for the frames and lenses?

I've ordered a pair of glasses through the associated shop but I thought I'd have a go at online as well so I can compare. I'll let you know how that goes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wagner AX-200 manual antenna tuning unit

Old mate John Beeston was upgrading the radio gear on his yacht and kindly passed the old manual antenna tuner to me. It's a Wagner AX-200 Manual Antenna Tuning Unit clearly designed for matching to the back stay short vertical wire.

ax-200.jpg

This is a fantastic tuner for long (or not so long) wires. I threw up about 5m of random wire and laid down a short counterpoise and this gadget matches it on 40m perfectly and it's easy to tune by ear and then peak using the meter or the rig's SWR meter.

So far I haven't been able to find any reference to it on the internet and would welcome any specifications you might have.

There's a bit about Wagner on the net from Malcolm Haskard.

I can see that physically it looks very similar to the ATU1A. Here's a picture from an eBay auction:

atu1a.JPG

If you stumble across one, I'd recommend it although it's not small enough for use as a travel tuner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Microsoft PHP Developer Survey

It was nice to see Nick Hodge at the PHP Unconference and he gave out some nice 8GB USB sticks with the slogan "Windows+PHP Platform of choice" on them.

Along with the gift was a scrap of paper with a url asking us to do a survey about Windows as a platform for PHP. One of the questions seems a little tilted to me:

Screen shot 2010-12-17 at 2.38.32 PM.png

Good luck to them with this push but I think if they're going to charge for the platform they need to be able to demonstrate clearly the value we get for the extra money.

Sydney PHP Unconference

I attended the Sydney PHP group's unconference last night held at Google. It's my first "unconference" although it's a pretty popular idea around the world.

Basically, rather than having formal presentations scheduled for the conference, the attendees write topic ideas on sticky notes which are then stuck on a board in columns for the groups.

We join the group with a topic of interest and while the person who posted the idea kind of moderates, it's really a free flowing discussion.

unconference.jpg

It worked better than I expected, although the groups were a bit big for detailed discussion.

I heard some interesting stuff and there were a few "alternative" views (people who don't like frameworks and would rather write everything from scratch every time for example).

Not being a user of PHP, it was fun to hear clues about how threatened many of the users are by the work being done in Django and Rails. (CakePHP sounds like a good response).

Thanks to the organisers and sponsors which amazingly included Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. (Good work attracting that bunch!). DMSBT bought the pizzas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MacOS Snow Leopard in VirtualBox on Linux

os list.pngI have an irrational desire to see MacOS running on alternative hardware. It's always disappointing but never the less I was boggled to read that it's now supported on VirtualBox 3.2 and later.

Strictly speaking VirtualBox supports MacOS X Server which can be legally virtualised, but I created a VM, stuck in my Snow Leopard DVD and following just a few simple steps from here or here, now have a real Mac experience on my old Lenovo Ubuntu laptop.

Basically, you need to grab an Empire EFI boot ISO to boot from and it in turn sees the install DVD. You need to use Disk Utility to format the virtual disk and finally when you do boot you need to boot from the EFI ISO each time and simply press right arrow and Return to kick off the booting.

mac on linux.png

I did a normal system update without incident. Networking works right out of the box, no sound though. The mouse is rather too sensitive but usable. Booting and shutting down is rather verbose and it doesn't properly power off.

I would never choose this over my MacBook Air but it's nice to know it works.

Wikileaks technology

This morning on ABC Radio National Breakfast, now with the Chaser's Julian Morrow, I had a chat about some of the technology behind Wikileaks. You can listen here.

Julian is hosting RN breakfast over summer and I'll be joining in each Wednesday to talk about tech.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Terrorist Watch: Casio F-91W

I wanted a low cost digital watch and a bit of research turned up fascinating information about an old favourite, the Casio F-91W which first appeared in 1991.

f-91w.jpg

It's a simple, readable, watch with a battery life of more than five years.

The Wikipedia article reveals that this watch is reported to be favoured by those interested in building time bombs! Surely this is a testament to its reliability and hack-ability.

Picked one up for AU$21 on eBay and can recommend it, for telling the time at least.