Monday, June 19, 2017

Lo-Key features QRP by the harbour

Thanks Lo-Key for featuring QRP by the harbour on the cover and in a feature article. It's a great newsletter of general interest beyond just CW operators. More info at

Thanks to editor Terry, VK2KTJ, for promoting the event and giving us this coverage in such an auspicious journal. I encourage readers to subscribe via this page.

Future of Radio Australia Shortwave broadcasting - Senate Committee Hearings begin

Last Friday the Senate Committee hearings into a bill by Senator Xenophon to compel the ABC to resume short wave broadcasting began.

The SWLing Post reports that former RA transmission manager Nigel Holmes appeared. He jovially described being "grilled like a breakfast kipper" but I'm confident his encyclopaedic knowledge would have served the committee well.

I think it's important that there is a discussion about the value of short wave broadcasting at this time,  there have been many interesting submissions, in my submission I argue that it's not the archaic technology as it has been presented and in times of conflict or natural disaster it's the only thing that gets through.

Geoff Heriot has written that abandoning shortwave is just one more step in the winding down of Australia's engagement in the Pacific. Graeme Dobell describes the end of our shortwave service as "technical bastardly".

The inquiry has been granted an extension of time and will report on 9th August 2017.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Switched to the NBN - seems good

We've been receiving letters for months from ISPs offering to be the ones to connect us to the NBN which has just arrived in our area.

As we were already on Telstra cable we decided to switch with them. I chose to self install the modem and a router arrived a week ago. It was puzzling because it didn't have a cable connection on the back.

Today the missing piece, the black box shown at right, appeared and it connects to the cable and to the router.

The router is a white box titled "F@st 5355TLS" made by Sagemcom Broadband SAS, not a company I was previously aware of. It seems like a competent device with 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, two ethernet ports (not counting the WAN port), USB file sharing, and a telephone line port which we don't plan to use.

In the past I had put the Netgear modem into bridge mode and used a TP-Link wireless router which served us well and I may well switch to that again if the Sagemcom box proves unreliable. So far all seems good and the measured speed is more than I was expecting (I'm paying for 50Mbps down and 20Mbps up).

Ping time is better than reported there, normally around 10-12ms. I'm not clear if the Sagemcom box is actually needed given that I have other routers here I'm happy with.

I had a few problems getting ethernet connected devices going, in the end connecting them one by one did the trick, there was some sort of network storm going on possibly triggered by the change in IP address range.

It's weird that when switching to the NBN you are compelled to get a landline phone - something we have not had for some years. Here's the bit of the signup form that forces you to get a phone:

I tried putting my mobile phone in there but it wouldn't let me. (Probably a bad idea anyhow). A few more tests tonight:

Update - first problems

Tonight I started to see high ping losses. This is from the router:

 Pinging with 64 bytes of data:

 Reply from  bytes=64  time=7  TTL=59  seq=1
 Reply from  bytes=64  time=9  TTL=59  seq=2
 Reply from  bytes=64  time=8  TTL=59  seq=3
 Reply from  bytes=64  time=7  TTL=59  seq=4
 Request timed out.
 Reply from  bytes=64  time=7  TTL=59  seq=6
 Reply from  bytes=64  time=8  TTL=59  seq=7
 Reply from  bytes=64  time=9  TTL=59  seq=8
 Request timed out.
 Reply from  bytes=64  time=8  TTL=59  seq=10

 Ping statistics for
  Packets: Sent = 10, Received = 8, Lost = 2 (20% loss),
 Approximate round trip times in milliseconds:
  Minimum = 7, Maximum = 9, Average = 7

Telstra's service status shows no known issues, but I'm not sure if that is relevant any more.  Rebooted the router, no change. Rebooted the NBN cable interface box fixed it.

Now ping from my computer on the network looks pretty good:

Friday, June 02, 2017

Good value laptop for linux - not what you might expect

There are very low cost laptops around but they're often unsatisfying in the end. The family is down one Mac laptop at the moment due to a fault in the keyboard and I had a look at what's available second hand.

Generally Apple gear holds its price very well, which is great if you want to sell to upgrade but not so good of you want to get a cheap Mac.

There is a regular trickle of Mid 2012 MacBook Pros appearing on eBay. This model is the last one before they went retina.

With a 2.5GHz i5 CPU, they are built like a tank but are very easy to open and work on. Some people even say "The 2012 Non-Retina MacBook Pro Is Still the Best Laptop Apple Sells" and while that's not really the case if you value a high resolution screen and light weight, they are attractive at the right price.

I was pretty lucky and got one for AU$415. The battery wasn't great, a few key caps had been substituted, it had 4GB of ram and a slow spinning 500GB disk. Otherwise it's fine.

A few standard cross head screws aside and you're in and able to upgrade the machine.

As it came, and as they were at the time, the machine felt pretty slow. I added the following enhancements:

  • 120GB SSD
  • Extra 4GB RAM to take it to the maximum of 8GB
  • New battery
The SSD makes a huge difference and if you are still running a spinning disk I can't recommend this upgrade enough. Four or five bounces to launch Safari is now just one.

These machines will run the latest edition of macOS, Sierra, and support AirDrop and Handoff.

A non-retina screen is a shock after getting used to it on every other device I look at. Apple's switch to the San Francisco font actually makes a non-retina screen look worse. There is a utility to switch the system font back but I found the font metrics are so wrong that you see lots of glitches running like that so I don't recommend it.


It turns out that dual booting Linux on a Mac does not require Boot Camp or any of those fancy EFI boot tricks.

To install boot into the recovery system by holding Command-R during power on and use Disk Utility to resize the main partition down to leave free space for Linux. Hold option during power up to boot from a Linux USB install drive.

Fedora Linux was installed into the free space on the disk. To choose which OS to boot into you simply hold the Option key down during power on and you get this nice menu.

Wifi doesn't immediately work after a clean linux install due to proprietary drivers but happily this machine has an ethernet port and I simply followed this recipe to get the driver installed and now Wifi works well. 

Everything else just works including volume, screen brightness keys and sleep on close.

It makes a very respectable Linux laptop. One thing to note that after the install you should boot into macOS and set the startup disk in System Settings so that by default it will boot into macOS (if that's what you want).