Friday, August 31, 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.

Wednesday, August 29, 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.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

New keyboard chat digital mode FT8Call

The incredible popularity of FT8 has come at the cost of other digital modes. I like chatting keyboard to keyboard with PSK31 or RTTY but at the moment there is almost no activity. Thankfully a new mode that brings the weak signal properties of FT8 together with a more interesting QSO capability has been created by clever KN4CRD and friends. It's called FT8Call.

The software is based on the WSJT-X software, re-jigged for QSOs. There is a discussion group. A Facebook group.

Full documentation is here. Download links for Linux and Windows here. I'm on 20m and beaconing here in Sydney.

There's a little bit of activity visible. It will be interesting to see if this takes off.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New 10W 40m QSX40 from QRP-Labs

I very much enjoyed building the QCX CW transceiver and there have been rumours that QRP-Labs was working on a sideband version. It seems the rumours are true and the kit is being built at a "Youngsters on the air" meeting in South Africa at the moment.

It seems that it's a 10W output kit for 40m (and presumably other bands too) but nothing formally announced or available for sale at this time.

All of this post is now redundant as Hans has posted info here. Can't wait to order one!

-- older comments below --

There's a few comments in the QRP-Labs forum, a tweet, and some clues in the Facebook page of YOTA. I'm very much looking forward to learning more about this kit.

Great that they're testing the build process on a group before launching it. I can wait and would rather build a debugged kit with accurate manual rather than rushing in too soon.

Just spotted this interview with Hans:

There's a lot of information in the video, I've taken notes to make it easier to take in. The new rig features:

  • 10W SSB, AM & FM
  • USB CAT control and Audio
  • USB host for keyboard to use with no-PC PSK31, RTTY & CW (decodes to the display)
  • Iambic CW keyer
  • 40m initially and later 10 band
  • Real time clock (with provision for battery backup)
Hans has worked on this for over 6 months.

Designed a 40m 10W SSB transceiver kit. It will also do AM and FM.

It's an all software defined radio, with no PC necessary. Internally it uses a powerful 32 bit ARM processor. The user interface is quite minimal, just two rotary encoders and four buttons. It’s designed to be used with a standard iPhone/Samsung headphone with mic. There’s an RJ45 mic socket on the back for a Yaesu/Kenwood standard mic.

There’s two USB sockets, one A and one B. You can plug in a USB keyboard which you’ll be able to use with PSK31, RTTY and CW. Decoding will be displayed on screen standalone - again no PC needed for those modes.

If you plug a computer into the USB B socket the rig will appear as a 24 bit sound card so you can use it with a PC for digital modes such as FT8.

Like last year’s QCX, it has built in test and alignment hardware and software.

It’s a high performance radio using a 24 bit A/D converter chip for high dynamic range and a 24 bit D/A on the output of the SDR. The large heatsink is designed to handle continuous digital modes without overheating.

In the next couple of months a plug-in filter board will be designed which will let the rig cover 10 bands from 160m to 10m. (This will include the 60m band).

There will also be an optional extruded aluminium enclosure.

The exact price hasn’t been decided but it’s hoped that the 40m single band version will be about US$75 and the whole thing including the 10 band filter board and enclosure will be about US$150.

There's a thread discussing this enthusiastically on Reddit.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Windows 10 - still not finished

While my iOS phone is undoubtedly the computing device used most often in my day, when I want to do some serious computing work I use macOS and Linux. There is some software that still only runs on Windows so I have a Windows 10 computer. Windows can be annoying but it's superficially looking much nicer these days, but from time to time cracks appear.

I use "natural scrolling" where the direction of the trackpad or mouse wheel moves the content as if you were scrolling on a touch screen. On Windows 10 I have a Logitech wheel mouse and I wanted to make it work the same as every other mouse here.

First I go to the Mouse settings which looks like this:

Nowhere in there is scroll direction so I click "Additional mouse options" and I'm thrown back into a Windows 95 settings user interface:

Wow! they haven't got around to updating the settings to the new look. This must make it hard for touch screen users. I looked all around here and there is still no way to switch the direction of the scroll wheel.

I found the answer here. Unbelievably, one must get the HID device path, open the registry editor and set 1 as the value of the "FlipFlopWheel" property (after navigating five levels deep in the hierarchy).

A lot of older Windows software runs well under Wine on Linux. That may be the ultimate answer.

LTSpice seems to run just fine on Linux under Wine.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Another van trip north

I've just returned from a few nights away in northern NSW. On this occasion the driving was shared with another ABC alumni, Peter Cave.

We're not sure if the van is driving better or if it's just that we've got better with the worn gears, but it seems smoother. It's still using a bit of oil and coolant for some reason but is otherwise reliable.

Along the way we dropped in at the Williamtown Fighter World which I can recommend as an excellent display of military planes near the base. From time to time jets fly over and it can be quite a display.

Here's Peter with a type of fighter that once took a shot at him:

There are two large sheds full of planes, trainers, and even some missiles.

And who could resist the attractive observation deck so beautifully promoted in the flyer:

While exiting through the gift shop, I bought this excellent key ring tag for the van:

After Williamtown, we dropped in on another ABC alumni, the venerable Tim Bowden, who was in fine form.

Tim is an experienced camper who has advised me on various aspects of the van. He was more than happy to try it out.

The stay at Dorrigo was again relaxing and entertaining. It's a place that has very high rainfall but at the moment even it looks a bit dry. I'm sure the federal minister for climate change is working on the big dry and planning for our carbon reduction as a top priority of government...