Sunday, May 26, 2019

WIA conference day at Dural

Today the WIA conference moved to the NSW site at Dural. It was a beautiful day and a good crowd was in attendance to see the stalls, feast on the roast dinner (I'm not kidding), and hear a talk from the incoming president and some technical talks.

As you can see on the right, Peter, VK2EMU, has outclassed Stephen, VK2BLQ and I in the home brew headwear department. He was sporting a monogrammed red berét.

Their were many fine displays under sturdy tents with lots to see and ask about. The home brew group had an excellent table as always.

Incoming WIA president, Gary, VK2GPK, gave a rousing speech and then it was on to the first presentation by Rob, VK2DIO on the Allstar system.

Al was brilliant at quelling the enthusiastic crowd when they got a bit rowdy.

I had to slip away before the second presentation but I'm sure the standard was high.

Thanks to the WIA and ARNSW for another very well run day.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Attended the WIA Annual Conference

Today, for the first time, I attended the Wireless Institute of Australia's annual conference in Sydney. (Or "two days in may" as Stephen, VK2BLQ, suggests).

The conference was very professionally run, in a great venue, with excellent facilities and food. I can't speak highly enough of the organisers.

While I primarily signed up to go to the technical sessions, the annual general meeting was surprisingly interesting and even edgy.

The WIA has experienced some turmoil in recent years and the board who run it now are a fresh group and seem to be doing an excellent job under the circumstances. The financial reports and general reports were presented and all seemed well.

Peter Wolfenden, VK3RV, was awarded a beautiful and well deserved medal. (Pictured here with Jen, who I can personally attest makes a wonderful sticky date pudding).

There is some controversy as the WIA last year lost the ACMA contract to run the license exams. This removes a source of funding and there was some soul searching about why this happened. Next, a new organisation representing radio amateurs in Australia has appeared called RASA. The Radio Amateur Society of Australia.

Reading the financial report I noticed that the membership numbers are declining and that decline is accelerating. I've drawn a graph here:

RASA is rumoured to have about 600 members and it's possible that some of those have quit the WIA and joined them.

I asked a question without notice about this decline and if the board had ideas about why it was and what could be done about it.

The answer was a detailed and well presented discussion of the issue but essentially we are facing a problem unless something changes.

On the technical track I attended David Rowe, VK5DGR's excellent update on FreeDV. There was a fantastic demo of the upcoming high quality 2020 mode which for the first time uses machine learning in the speech generation.

The session on Cubesat missions and how one was reactivated after antenna deployment failure by Tony Monger, VK2KZ was fascinating.

The epic VK Microwave Tour by David Minchin, VK5KK, was amazing.

Secrets of KiwiSDR by Jamie Campbell, VK2YCJ, was excellent as well.

I've never seen the hardware, which is a "hat" for a Beaglebone (like a Raspberry Pi).

Jamie demonstrated using the VK2DDS receiver via he also mentioned that KiwiSDR can decode multiple WSPR bands simultaneously but with the addition of a Raspberry Pi it can even decode 8 bands simultaneously.

Tomorrow the conference moves to the regular meeting and Dural and mostly likely I'll have more to report from that.

A great day, very well run.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Election material here in Warringah is overwhelming

I live in Tony Abbott's safe seat of Warringah. Recently I started collecting campaign material that has been turning up in targeted ads on the internet generally and social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. There's a lot that turns up by post too.

The majority of the material is anti-Zali Steggall. A lot of these negative ads don't even mention Tony Abbott so I guess they think that he's a bit of a liability and it's better to go negative and leave it to the voters to hopefully tick his box.

I've had personalised letters from Scott Morrison, Mathias Cormann and John Howard. Here's a collection of things arriving in the letterbox.

It's interesting that Morrison says "I understand that many people in Warringah have strong opinions about your local MP, Tony Abbott".

John Howard's pitch came on rather dated looking letterhead and basically frames Tony as an old mate. Howard has some other mates too, that's not necessarily going to save him.

There's an anti-Zali billboard up on the fence at the school oval - which strikes me as inappropriate.

Zali has sent a few notes and we've had door knockers from her side too who seemed to think that it's going pretty well for her.

A mobile billboard came around one day and it was amusing to see it parked next to a tiny Tony poster.

There has been some mail from Zali.

Clearly there is support in this suburb on both sides and some houses have put up posters, sometimes they face each other.

Most striking have been the unrelenting negative ads I got every time I opened Instagram.

In the end I reported the ad as misleading and that's stopped them for me. The funny thing is that sometimes they left comments on and they're pretty funny as you might imagine. (Click images to enlarge them).

I've been surveyed several times and had a live call from someone who said that Tony had asked him to call to check that they have my support. Yesterday this text message came through.

Interesting that the issue today is a tunnel or not.

Tony Abbott and team are spending serious money here, I guess that means they're genuinely concerned. It's been a very negative campaign on the Liberal side. The drumbeat line saying that a vote for Steggall is a vote for Labour may not work if there's a big swing to Labour.


Friday, May 03, 2019

Prescription glasses for $22? Yep.

Prescription glasses often cost me hundreds of dollars. As I end up buying a few pairs of reading glasses, sometimes sunglasses and a bi-focal or progressive lens it gets very expensive. My eyes change quite a bit every two years.

I feel manipulated during the process. The eye testers are now connected to a retailer and they do what they can to not give me the measurements. They really try to push you to the retailer to buy glasses. I insist though and make sure it's legible.

This year at a supposedly low cost place the sales person showed me a presentation on an iPad that explained that for $100 I could get progressive lenses with a narrow clear area, for an extra $100 I could get that good area wider and for yet another $100 I could get a wider clear area. Given that lenses are all made on a computer controlled grinding machine I asked her to explain why it costs more to get a different curve on the lens?

She could not justify the cost so I just went for bifocals with the lowest density plastic. I carefully noted the IOD (inter ocular distance) she measured so I could order on line.

There are numerous up-sells including amazingly expensive frames, various anti-glare coatings and hardening, but they do give you a little bottle of cleaning spray and a soft cloth. (Here's a tip - get isopropyl alcohol from the hardware store and clean them with that).

I ordered a pair of prescription glasses from Aliexpress and paid just AU$12 including frames and shipping.

The glasses take a few weeks to arrive and they are great. The lenses are correct for my eyes and the frames are good. The density of the lens is better than what I got locally. Interestingly they describe lens index as:

"Lense index is numerical representation of the speed when light enters the transparent medium. Lense index more higher, the lense more thinner. Please choose suitable number based on your own circumstance. And 1.59PC is for impact glasses."

After this initial success I ordered two pairs of reading glasses and I've now ordered a pair of progressive lens glasses which cost $130 but still a fraction of what they would cost locally.

A story in the LA Times recently suggests that we are being conned by the industry "The bottom line: You’re paying a markup on glasses that would make a luxury car dealer blush, with retail costs from start to finish bearing no relation to reality."

There are numerous sellers on Aliexpress and I suggest looking around. I went cheap, but it's probably worth paying a bit more.

Progressive Multifocals too

After the success with single focals I went on and paid $135.50 for a pair of progressive multifocal glasses. These have arrived and are excellent. I have paid $500+ for the equivalent locally in the past.


Since I wrote the notes above I've had a few problems. (I've ordered quite a few pairs now).
  • One lens was wrong and the paper note with it showed the error. The seller sent me a free replacement.
  • The progressive multifocal glasses at the end were great but the frame broke. I went to a local store and chose smaller lensed frames and they ground the lenses to fit - very happy now and I wear these every day. I think I saved $400 overall.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Mac mini failing? Here's a $2 fix

We've used a 2011 Mac mini since it was new and it's been very reliable. In the past the RAM has been upgraded and of course it now has an SSD.

Recently it started playing up, the first symptom was weird colours on screen and vertical colour bars during boot. I ran the built-in hardware test (by booting while holding the D key).

The hardware test had no complaints. (I've seen bad RAM in the past). The clue was that resetting PRAM (parameter RAM) seemed to fix the screen bars briefly. In the end it wouldn't boot at all.

There is a battery to back up the PRAM and I read that the lifespan is about five years. This Mac is now eight years old.

I followed a guide on iFixit and extracted the motherboard, flipped it over, and replaced the battery. It's not the easiest repair job and oddly, the iFixit guide doesn't match my hardware even though the model and date matches. Reading the comments was a help.

Anyhow, here's the battery I replaced.

Now the Mac is working well although unfortunately I can't run macOS Mojave which I need to run Xcode 10.2.

Apple is often criticised for making expensive products but I have to say that features like built-in hardware diagnostics and recovery along with the fact that we've been using this computer for nine years make me think that their products are better value for money and I prefer to think about that rather than simplistic up front price.