Sunday, May 30, 2010

Amateur Radio NSW Home Brew meeting at Dural

Another great meeting out at the WIA shed at Dural today. Stephen VK2BLK has been busy mixing integrated circuits and valves:


His shortwave radio is really beautiful and has enough dial lighting for the whole room:


At first I thought Brian VK2TOX had built a home brew pacemaker but it turns out to be an electrical treatment for back pain:


We had "show and tell" where I showed my "Retro-75" AM transceiver, but the main presentation was by Mark VK2XOF on circuit simulation with LTspice.


Watching the demo was a great help and I look forward to playing around with this software in the future. The day was well attended.


Despite some worries about the weather turning bad.


The new shed makes it all much more comfortable than the old days. Thanks to everyone who organised this, the hot dogs were great and there was even a home brew electric car on display.

I came away with a Wagner 1729 HF radio at a very good price ($10).

Update: An excellent video by dx2hunt who left a comment:

Here he is shooting part of it:

video guy.jpg

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Big screen VNC from a small netbook

Netbooks are great, but sometimes 600 vertical pixels isn't enough.

Ubuntu includes screen sharing but it's just a mirror of the small screen, so here's a tip to serve up a vnc desktop for use on a larger screen client computer (I use MacOS X's built in VNC client).

Here's how it looks:

Screen shot 2010-05-29 at 1.28.37 PM.png

To do this, at least on Ubuntu 10.04, but probably the same on earlier versions:

  • aptitude install tightvncserver
  • run vncserver once so it creates a .vnc directory in your home
  • edit ~/.vnc/xstartup like this:

  • #!/bin/sh
    xsetroot -solid black
    gnome-session &
    • Start the server like this:

    vncserver -geometry 1500x1100 -depth 16
    • Connect with your VNC client, on my mac it's vnc://
    • Stop the server like this

    vncserver -kill :1

    Obviously adjust the geometry XxY pixels above according to the size of your client screen.

    All credit to this thread on the Ubuntu forums.

    I think it would be a great feature if Ubuntu had a headless mode that would share a vnc screen without the need to run a gnome session on the physical laptop. One issue is that there is no wireless connection until you log in.

    Friday, May 28, 2010

    Australian iPad Launch - what content is available?

    Regrettably the iBook store still only appears to have free books this morning. It's great for project Gutenberg as it will draw many new users to that content.

    Other content, such as magazines, are available via an app created for each title. This seems a weird platform but does lead to creativity by each publisher.

    APC (Australian Personal Computer) have a free app that is a store for buying the magazine and reading it.

    APC Magazine.jpg

    APC offers little more than a PDF version of the magazine, you can't even click on the articles on the front page to go to them you must page through sideways.

    Tapping in the middle of the page brings up four icons, a wheelbarrow of logs, two house-bricks, a HyperCard home and a calculator. One of them "flip view" lets you spin through page images to jump to them. Very mysterious.

    The Australian (newspaper) has done a great job on the iPad.


    The news updates when you open it and the front page articles click through to the stories. Across the top is a finger touch version of a menu bar that lets the user navigate the section. Ads pop up full screen and you must close them to go on. Fair enough I guess.

    I subscribed for a month at a fair price.

    It's no surprise that the masters of this new media form are Wired Magazine who've been working on this for some time.


    Great choice putting a Pixar still on the cover (notice how Pixar movies are often used in TV stores to show off television sets?). It looks fantastic on the iPad screen.

    Everything is clickable and the magazine is navigable in all sorts of interesting ways.

    While I guess it's no problem having each publication distribute via its own app, it might be good if someone came up with a common platform and created iMagazine that could be used by smaller titles without the budget to pay for their own developer. I know this has happened in the comic book reader area to some extent.

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Minor musings


    Played with a neighbour's HTC Desire, running Android 2.1 on Telstra, over the weekend: a very nice phone!

    Certainly up there with the iPhone although Telstra have added some junk which is a pity.

    It sounds like the next iPhone will be announced at WWDC on June 8 but until then it looks like there's stiff competition at last.


    .Ubuntu 10.04 is totally awesome. I'm running it on two netbooks and the server edition on my linode server.

    They've really thought things out well. It's fast and careful on the server side.


    .Antony Funnell from the excellent "Future Tense" program rang this week and we had a chat about Homophily. I have a small contribution but it's an interesting idea and the show goes to air on Thursday morning from 8:30 on ABC Radio National.

    The question is: does the internet lead us to mingle with people who share our views or does it help us expand our horizons?

    Never heard the word? Neither had I, read this.

    Google I/O

    Watched the keynotes on Youtube. The most interesting bit for me was the Google Apps for corporate stuff. I'm using virtual machine hosting, Amazon, and Google at the moment. It's a buyer's market. I can't see any reason to have a data centre.

    The question is, could I build a data centre with the power, network, aircon, and backup that Google or Amazon could at a similar price - not likely.

    Google is really aggressive at the moment, several speakers were honest enough to say that they are an advertising company, which I'm sure is not how the person in the street perceives them.

    iPad in Australia

    Finally it's here, well, on Friday at the opening of the Bondi store. I really like the iPad and it will sell well here for sure.


    Super busy, having fun, but the greatest pleasure is from the retro-75 80m AM transceiver kit which has gone together nicely.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010

    iPad App and Books stores are active in Australia

    Just noticed that the App and Book stores now work on an iPad in Australia.

    iBook store.jpg

    Last time I tried there were just error messages saying they aren't available in Australia.

    Nothing by Emma Daniels that I could find just yet. It doesn't have any sort of Australian "feel" to the collection, I guess it's just books that are permitted to be distributed here.

    One more week folks!


    I spoke too soon. What we were seeing above was the US store. Shortly after that, the store emptied out:

    empty store.jpg

    And later it filled up with free books:

    free store.jpg

    Actually I like the prominence of the free books, in the US store there is no category for free books so you are constantly being shown commercial texts.

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    National Manufacturing Week in Sydney

    This week I took a day off and visited National Manufacturing week which was in Sydney at the Olympic Park Show grounds.


    Last time I went it was at Darling Harbour. My guess is that it's bigger this year. The exhibitors clearly go to a lot of trouble and expense to put on a good display.

    robot row.jpg

    Even the largest robots have an accuracy of 0.5mm and this is put to good use pouring drinks and stacking CDs. The crowd is a mix, lots of students, lots of blokes in fluro gear:


    There's "factory porn" everywhere to be appreciated.


    The huge plasma cutters, stampers, benders and welders are great fun.

    This year, the thing that struck me was the large number of Chinese manufacturers with stands. There were about 30 booths and these guys will cheerfully turn your drawing into physical products in a few short weeks. They regard Australia as too small for decent quantities but they're happy to help.


    While Australian manufacturing has continued to grow in dollar terms it is shrinking as a proportion of the total economy. It was pointed out to me that Asian manufacturers are more competitive not because of lower wages but because of great business processes.

    Sunday, May 09, 2010

    Building an AM transceiver kit for 80m

    I'm having a lovely weekend building the "Retro-75" kit from Small Wonder Labs.

    It's an AM transceiver ostensibly for the US 75m band but easily moved to our 80m band. I'm running it on a 3.58MHz computer crystal.

    Step one was to clear the bench in my "shack":

    1 clear bench.jpg

    I started construction with the smaller components, resistors first then capacitors:

    2 fit components.jpg

    The board is excellent quality.

    3 capacitors.jpg

    I didn't rush but it came together over two days without much trouble save my own sloppiness.

    4 coming together.jpg

    For me the shack is a real haven away from domestic life. I must spend more time there.

    5 the shack.jpg

    The kit is missing a few parts on the receive side which Small Wonder Labs will post when they have them in stock - they are T1 & T2 inductors used for the front end and near the detector, I should be able to rig something up until they arrive.

    At this point it's transmitting and putting out a solid 2W. I called up local ham Rob, VK2ZNZ and had a first contact.

    6 First contact.jpg

    Initial reports are rather distorted audio, my guess is RF feedback, so I'll start looking for a suitable metal enclosure and see if that improves things.

    A great kit, thanks Dave K1SWL. There is a Yahoo group where constructors discuss the project and Dave has announced that he has the missing components.

    Anyone interested in an AM net on 3.58MHz?


    The modulated audio is very distorted. Tracing from the mic input with a tone connected I see clean audio after the pre-amp (pin 1 of U5). I've clipped the collector of Q10 which disables the audio AGC and now things look much better. Not sure what's going on there..

    Update 2

    Peter, VK2EMU, very kindly sent me a crystal for 3.6864MHz so I can participate in the AM net. Although this crystal is a common computer frequency, Jaycar no longer stock them, they do stock some nice boxes so the rig is now in a case:

    boxed retro.jpgUpdate 3

    The missing IF transformers arrived and I'm now receiving. Had to remove 3 turns from L2 to get the receiver centred on my target frequency of 3.6864. Tuned up very nicely and now I'm hearing sideband stations and static crashes - not super sensitive but probably quite enough for contacts who can hear my 2W.

    It's been a really fun kit, very easy to put together and get going.

    Wednesday, May 05, 2010

    Splurging on MacOS software

    I write software for a living so I know how much work is involved and as a result of that I'm more than happy to spend money buying software.

    Here's a few things I've purchased in recent weeks which make me happy.

    EyeTV 3Upgrade to Elgato EyeTV 3 (well 3.3.3 by the time I got to it).

    I use it to record TV programs so that I can avoid the curse of "FreeView", the interminable ad breaks. The great show "The Pacific" is almost ruined by them.

    V3 has a very cool ability to stream live and recorded shows to an iPhone app not only around the house but out over the internet. You can also view the TV guide and set it to record remotely.

    I'm using an old Firewire Elgato box that has run for years and serves me well just on rabbit ears.


    1Password Maybe it's just me but my world of passwords had turned into a bit of a shambles and it was time to sort this out. 1Password will generate and securely store all your passwords. It has a neat browser plugin that pops up when you log in to something and offers to store the password.

    When you do come to a login page you can right click and it will select the likely username and password for you and then fill in the form. There's even an iPhone version that does a similar cute hack.

    MarsEdit 3I'm writing this in MarsEdit 3, another upgrade. It's just more pleasant to create blog posts on a local app than in the web page.

    This version add a styled editor that I'm not sure I'm in love with but it's been a solid product for many years and I'm a loyal upgrader.

    Free stuff


    Evernote is certainly a great thing. Store random notes and they are synced between your computers phones and pads.

    When I say free, it has unobtrusive ads and I don't use it enough to get into commercial territory. It has the ability to take a scan of a page and OCR it for searching but I'm yet to get in to all this paperless living.

    As an aside, increasingly I'm getting invoices and pay slips electronically rather than in the post. While they claim it's to save paper, really it just transfers the printing from them to me. (My accountant isn't quite ready to not get a pile of paper from me). It saves them postage I guess.



    Dropbox syncs a folder on one machine to a folder on your other machines. You get 2GB free and then you pay beyond that.

    It works amazingly well, astonishingly well, so well, I wanted to understand how. Today I dragged the disk image of the new Google Chrome beta into my dropbox sync'd folder (26Mb) and it was synced in a second.

    The trick is that they look across everyone's files (securely) and if you try to sync a file that matches one they already have somewhere they just point to the one they have. Beyond that I guess they do something like rsync because it's all very smooth and fast.

    This works so much better than the Apple Mobile Me iDisk that gave me all sorts of grief, I've decided to let go of Mobile Me when my subscription comes up. Very disappointed with Apple on this - it all looks lovely but apart from the calendar and contacts sync it's overpriced and under powered.


    Notational Velocity is a little notepad with search as you type that works as well as a wonderful notes app I used to use in the old days of System 7. I think it came from the folks that made Omnis 3 but I can't remember what it's called.

    Evernote could learn from this product's search as you type.

    Old Favourites

    While I'm here, other things I use on a regular basis include: Almost everything from the Omni group : OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, and OmniPlan. Parallels, Coda, Sequel Pro, BBEdit, TextMate, iWork, CocoaModem, Eclipse and PyDev.

    Now I'm buying apps for the iPad which continues to make me happy.