Saturday, November 17, 2018

Transcribe Helper macOS App soon for the app store

In recent years I've worked on and submitted many iOS apps to the Apple app store, but today, I've submitted my first app to the macOS app store.

My wife, Phillipa, is doing a PhD and interviewed numerous people. I was roped in to help transcribe those recordings. She had some software that worked with a dictation recorder and used a foot pedal to control pause/play and rewind but it was old and dreadful.

I've also been transcribing interviews of past winners of GovHack, so this was an application I needed. Searching the app store turned up nothing.

The app is a simple text editor but it lets you drag in an audio file and then control the playback with some keys that are not normally used in transcribing speech.

  • ] is play pause
  • [ backs up 5 seconds
  • \ plays at half speed without changing the pitch
The keys, and the number of seconds and slowness are all configurable. 

In the main window you see how far though you are, the number of words typed (one of my transcriptions was 10,000 words from a very fast speaker), and how far to go.

While writing software in Swift is a joy, compared to developing for iOS, the macOS AppKit framework is very dated and overcomplicated. Some tasks, like making the help bundle, are poorly documented and it was only some small clues in StackOverflow that helped me get through it.

I wrote this utility for myself, but I've had valuable feedback from Terry and Jill Brett and encouragement and a wonderful icon from Apple's Peter Watling - thanks to you all!

While it's a simple utility, I've decided to ask for a small amount of money, AU$15, as I think it brings great value to those who need it. My thinking is that this is cheap enough to avoid purchase hesitation and just enough to encourage me to continue working on it.

At this point the app has been submitted for review, I understand that this takes longer than it does for iOS apps and being a new app I guess there's some things I'll need to address. I will update this post when it's available.

SDR software on macOS survey

This morning I thought I'd listen to the ARNSW Sunday broadcast on a Mac using an RTL-SDR dongle, just for a change.

First I tried my old favourite, CubicSDR.

I like CubicSDR largely because of the nice keyboard commands for tuning around and zooming.

Next I ran GQRX 2.5, which works well. I noticed I could also receive the broadcast on 1273.5MHz.

Finally I stumbled across waveSDR in source code format by Justin England or getoffmyhack.

This is a wonderful piece of source code in modern Swift, very clearly written. Thanks Justin! It seems to have a memory leak and there's a runtime warning about reading a view's bounds off the main thread.

I had a bit of trouble figuring how how to tune it, the secret is to choose Tuner from the popup in the left panel. You can also click on the spectrum but dragging doesn't seem to work.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

QRP By the Harbour November 2018

Yesterday we held another QRP By the Harbour meetup in Sydney at McIlwaine Park, Rhodes. A small friendly group turned up and happily the weather was kind. (Yesterday was 36C and a previous event was hailed out).

I set up a simple end fed antenna with a counterpoise. The end was held up on a 6m squid pole tied to a steel garden stake. I had a contact on 40m. Peter, VK2EMU, hung a giant dipole out to two trees and operated on 80m.

The most interesting station was Colin, VK2JCC, who put up a magnificent squid pole supported vertical. The rig was a wonderful military radio called a Clansman PRC320 that seemed to work very well.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Micro Men - docu-drama about the early PC industry in the UK

Just watched an entertaining 2009 TV program called "Micro Men" that tells the story of the early days of personal computers in the UK. Clive Sinclair is portrayed in competition with Acorn in the battle to produce the computer to be used in a BBC show.

The program is available for free viewing and even download here at the internet archive. I found it fascinating and it includes a soundtrack with the highlights of the 1970s - 80s.

Acorn went on to produce the ARM CPU that we find in almost every mobile device. I still have a ZX80 computer here in the shed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Labor backs a revival of Asia Pacific broadcasting

Great news!

In a foreign policy speech yesterday opposition leader Bill Shorten gave the Pacific a priority it hasn't had in decades and today Penny Wong has backed it up making explicit Labor's desire to see a revival of Australia broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific.

Bill Shorten's speech is here. Penny Wong's here.

Regular readers (and listeners) know that I've long called for a re-vitalisation of Radio Australia in the Asia Pacific region and this is a hopeful sign. I personally think that rather than being a relic, shortwave can continue to play an important role in reaching audiences and is particularly important when there are disasters or censorship. But shortwave is just one technology that should be used today including FM relays, podcasts and live streaming.

For more info there is a Facebook group for supporters.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Vanlife: Rebuilt with bad carpentry

The van, as it came when I bought it, was built for sleeping and not much more. The whole back of it was filled with a double bed spring mattress. Under the mattress was a large drawer at the back and if you lifted up the mattress in front there was storage there - but it was difficult to do.

I decided to rip all of the original interior out and replace it with a storage cupboard / bench top along one side and a single bed / couch on the other.

My hope is that when the weather isn't pleasant, I can sit on the bed and make dinner comfortably inside the van.

While my skills at pulling things apart are excellent, my basic carpentry skills are almost non-existent.

On the top right here you see how it looks now. There is a small sink with a grey water tank below. A hand operated pump tap is on the way and will go next to it.

The long bench is really cupboards all the way along with lips in front and on the sides to stop things sliding off as we drive.

The far left cupboard with plywood hanging in front is the chemical toilet. The refrigerator will sit on the floor while driving and when stopped I put it on the back of the folded down passenger seat.

There is a sink with a pump tap. Under the sink is a large grey water tank connected to the drain.

There's a slide out desk for eating and laptop use.

Before the upgrade

Here's a reminder of how it looked before. The large drawer at the back was good but so big that things would get lost in there.

The mattress was so thick and the base so tall that I couldn't sit on the bed without my head hitting the roof of the van.

Living space was very small in the old configuration.

I'm sure that a few days away living in the new space with throw up lots of ideas for improvement but at least now I feel a bit more confident about modifying things myself.

I took the van to QRP by the Harbour and showed it to Peter, VK2EMU. When I mentioned my poor wood working skills he said "it's carpentry not cabinetry".

Monday, October 22, 2018

Exporting Notes from iOS 12 in python

A friend, who doesn't use iCloud, asked me how to export the Notes on an iPhone. Searching around I found that the way to do this is to do a non-encrypted backup of the device and then pay a surprising amount of money for an app to read the files and export the notes. There are multiple apps and they are free for the first few notes and then $60 or more to get the rest!

Backup files, including notes, are stored as sqlite3 files (but using cryptic names).

Here's the procedure.

Connect your iOS device to your Mac and say yes to any trust questions. Click on the little icon of the device that appears and look for the "Manually Backup and Restore" panel:

Click "Back up Now".

You don't need to transfer purchases if it asks. Under normal circumstances it's best to encrypt backups but in this case you must click "Don't Encrypt"

When the backup has completed. Go to Preferences in iTunes and click on Device Preferences. Select the backup you just did.

Now, right click on the backup and choose "Show in Finder". You'll see a scrambled mess like this:

Copy the highlighted folder (by holding the Option key and dragging) to your desktop.

Below a little python program I wrote that you run with the path to the copy of the backup folder. It will create a folder on your desktop with all of your notes as separate HTML files.

I hope this helps you and saves a little money. Apple should make this easier. Note that this only works for iOS 12 and it's likely it will break in the future.

import sys
import os
import sqlite3

output_folder = "%s/Desktop/Notes_exported" % os.path.expanduser("~")

def main():
    if len(sys.argv) < 2:
        print("Usage: %s " % (sys.argv[0]))
    backup_path = sys.argv[1]
    notes_db_path = "%s/ca/ca3bc056d4da0bbf88b5fb3be254f3b7147e639c" % backup_path
    conn = sqlite3.connect(notes_db_path)
    c = conn.cursor()
    c.execute("SELECT COUNT(*) from ZNOTEBODY;")
    all_rows = c.fetchall()
    total_rows = all_rows[0][0]
    print("There are %d notes found" % (total_rows))

    print("Checking for %s" % output_folder)

    all_rows = c.fetchall()
    counter = 0    for row in all_rows:
        note_text = row[0]
        if note_text:
            file_name = "%s/Note%04d.html" % (output_folder, counter)
            out_file = open(file_name, "w")
            counter += 1

def create_dir(directory):
    if not os.path.exists(directory):
        print("Creating %s" % (directory))

if __name__ == "__main__":

Update: A reasonable commercial option

One of the commercial options I looked at was iMazing. I rejected it as I thought that US$70 is a lot to pay for a one time use. In a Reddit thread on this topic, Minority shared a link to a US$20 offer.

I think this is a reasonable price and I have bought the program. It's good and does what I want and lots more.

My theory with the wild price variations is that they make a large sum on people who desperately need the feature and still make sales for people with less urgency. I'd be pretty annoyed if I'd paid the full price.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Enhanced Frog Sounds low cost transceiver

The ultra-low cost CW HF transceivers you see on eBay such as the Pixie and Frog Sounds kits are great fun and certainly value for money. You couldn’t buy the components for the price.

Local ham Stephen, VK2BLQ, and I have played with these in the past (we had a Feld Hellschreiber contact once), but he’s gone on to enhance a Frog Sounds transceiver by adding a CDV VFO from OzQRP, a Rockmite iambic keyer and a variable CW filter and speaker amplifier.

Here’s how it looks.

As you see it's even "Juliano" blue.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Van trip north and an awning tent

On the latest trip north in the van I took along an awning tent that was on sale at Aldi recently for $190. It's quite good quality but takes a bit of effort to put up and wouldn't be worth it unless I'm staying in the one place for several days.

An awning tent is nice for giving a bit of privacy and protection from moderately wet weather. It wouldn't stand up to strong wind though.

On the way back I drove down the highway until about 4:30pm and then started to look for somewhere to camp before it got dark. Scanning around on Google maps, and using the satellite view, I looked for a track that ended without any houses near by. I found the place you see top right here which turned out to be a lovely quiet (free) spot for the night.

I did add the location to WikiCamps as it's clear people had camped here before and didn't seem to disturb anyone. While there's no signs relating to camping, there's also no signs saying that camping isn't allowed. There are probably many locations like this that can be slept at without causing any problems and modern mobile mapping is a great way to find them.

Here's the inside of the awning tent. It's big and airy enough to let me make breakfast without too much concern.

There is a sturdy ground sheet that can be zipped on to the walls to enclose the space.

I'm not planning to take the tent on every trip but will keep it for longer stays.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Centenary of first direct wireless contact from UK to Australia

Today marks one hundred years since Ernest Fisk in Wahroonga received the first direct wireless message from Prime Minister "Billy" Hughes in the UK. The transmitter was running 600KW of spark power!

There is a monument at the corner of Cleveland and Stuart Streets marking the location of Fisk's house.

Hundreds of people turned out for the reenactment which included a humorous town crier, and a choir who performed the Welsh and Australian anthem (of the time, ie: God Save The King).

In the nearby St Andrew's Church Hall there was an extensive display of old and new radio gear, and local radio 2HHH had installed studio to cover the day.

Here's a few photos from the event.

All credit to the Hornsby and Districts Amateur Radio Club and Ku-ring-gai Historical Society for a fantastic event.

A visit to the USA

It's a weird time to visit America. The election of a compulsively lying property developer as president has much of the world mystified, let alone the progressives in the US population.

The trip was triggered by the wedding of a dear friend from school who got married for the first time in New York. My daughter is studying at Harvard in Boston near by so we decided to visit her as well.

Watching evening TV by flipping between channels like CNN and Fox News presents the viewer with two strikingly alternative realities both accusing each other of speaking un-truths. It's hard to believe that they are reporting on the same basic events.

Looking out over New York (shown here from the Empire State Building) it's easy to understand the deep shock of the attack on September 11, 2001 caused and how that continues to resonate.

Radio is a superior medium in the US and it was great to listen locally to Podcast favourites WNYC and various PBS affiliates. I listened generally on FM but they talk about HD radio which I couldn't receive.

Often stations suggested asking your smart speaker to play the program and it seems clear that smart speakers are rapidly becoming an important part of people's homes and audio listening habits.

Uber is dramatically cheaper and better than taxis. In Boston, Ubers would turn up within two minutes sometimes and they make it clear they'll start the meter after two minutes if you keep them waiting.

Highlights for me include the Science Museum of Boston which has a Space exhibit on at the moment featuring some moon rock and Neil Armstrong's gloves.

America is truely bilingual with Spanish heard and seen everywhere.

The science museum also has the largest and original Van De Graaff generator. It's the actual one built by Van De Graaff at MIT. We attended an impressive, if rather cheesy, performance that featured large Tesla coils being modulated with sound as part of the show.

An unexpected highlight was the Isabella Sewart Gardner Museum in Boston. This place has an eclectic collection of fine art arranged in a quirky grouping.

The museum suffered a major robbery in 1990 where 13 works were stolen and have never been returned or even been offered for sale. They've left the empty frames in place on the walls.

At Harvard I attended a lecture with my daughter who told me it was "bring you dad to class" day. The class was Data Science and was an introduction to the Python Pandas module. I also went to a "brown bag" talk by a PhD on applications of the block chain for management of the Commons.

Television is packed with ads for medical drugs (complete with alarming lists of possible side effects) and there are many ads from lawyers offering to help you get compensation for side effects. It's no wonder the health system there is so expensive. I value Australia's system very much.

Travelling from Australia to the east coast of the US is a very long journey and it makes me even keener to spend time noodling around in the van rather than undertaking these sorts of trips.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Another review of interest to followers of the Broadcasting to Asia Pacific Review

I've previously posted here about the Australian Government's Review of Australian Broadcasting in the Asia Pacific (now closed for consideration). There is another review coming up by the Department of Foreign Affairs looking for submissions on Soft Power.

These two reviews overlap (in my opinion) in that sharing Australia's view of the world and our values can in large part be done by broadcasting to the world possibly in part over shortwave. Not everyone has Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

It turns out that the new review will not automatically receive all the submissions put in to the Broadcasting review so if you, like me, put a submission in to that review it would be worth while making a version for the new enquiry and submitting it there.

The Soft Power Review closes on Friday 28 September 2018.

The Facebook group set up by supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific is a good place to get more information and make contact with other interested people.

Before ending her time as Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop stated that the government did not support the decision to shut down shortwave. After the re-shuffle it might be a good time to lobby both the new ministers and the opposition on this topic.

You can read about Australia's soft power in a recent article by Caitlin Byrne in The Strategist.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review of $30 rechargeable voice recorder from Banggood

Recently I've been recording phone interviews which are turned in to stories for the GovHack website. The dictation recorder I've been using is an old Sanyo one that takes annoying AAA batteries. I've just bought a low cost, A$30, rechargeable recorder from Banggood.

There's no brand name mentioned anywhere.

It's described as follows:

1. One-Button recording by press REC
2. Three recording modes
3. VAR/VOR system (Voice Activated/operated recording)
4. Recording via high grade built-in microphone
5. Playing back via high quality speaker
6. Recording via external microphone
7. LCD screen with backlight
8. Working as drive free USB flash disk
9. Built-in rechargeable lithium battery
10. Low battery indicating function
11. Display hours and minute (24-hour format)
12. High Quality Recording for 48 Hours / Normal Recording for 60 Hours

Usage is a little cryptic. Here's my notes...

The sliding "power" switch on the side is also a kind of button lock in that the unit can go to sleep while on and then to wake it you press the play button.

The display is very clear and bright. The tiny speaker is amazingly loud.

To start a recording you long press the Rec button until the display says "init". After a few seconds the red record light comes on and recording starts. Yes, it's a bit slow to start recording.

To pause recording you press the pause button. To stop recording you short press the record button again.

Note that the default is HQ recording which is a stereo 48kHz 16 bit WAV recording - so quite large. Via the menu you can switch to record MP3 which they call SP. The audio sounds the same to me but the MP3 file is much smaller.

The microphones are very sensitive and it often clips when recording speech.

Having said that, it's very good at picking up anything said in the room. While recording you can monitor the audio by plugging in headphones.

The device is very light weight and very sensitive to picking up noise from touches to the case.

It has an A and B folder plus a folder for MP3 music. When connected to a computer via USB it mounts as a drive with a Chinese character name that doesn't render well on this mac. I couldn't get it to re-name.

Tap the menu button to roll through the settings:

  • A or B folder selection
  • Record mode SP or HQ (displayed H9) SP is MP3.
  • Voice activated recording on or off
  • Record via internal Mic or Line
  • Playback repeat cycle 
On a menu page, use the fast forward and rewind button to roll through the options and then press Play to select the item.

To delete a recording, move through recordings with the fast forward button until the one you want is displayed. Long press the side Mode button until a trash can is displayed. Press Play to confirm the delete.

Here's the internal view and as you can see the twin microphones on the top are bogus.


For the price, it's excellent value. It seems capable of very good recordings except that the mic sensitivity is too high and it frequently clips for me. The recordings are very intelligible and suitable for transcribing.