Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Portable ham radio station gear

We spent Xmas at Fisherman's Paradise (presumably AKA "Fish Hell") so I was keen to enjoy some ham radio reception without all the electrical noise of a big city.

Here's my portable kit:

go pack.jpg

It's hard to beat the Yaesu FT-817 for portable operation, all HF bands plus VHF and UHF, about 350mA on receive, built-in rechargeable batteries and lots of advanced features in there (if you can find them in the menu system).

I also take a sealed lead acid battery and a small solar charger which is easily able to top it up.

Co-ax and wire dipoles are coiled on mains extension cord holders (a great buy at Bunnings). I took antennas for 20m, 30m and 40m.

To get the wires up in the trees I use a "Bait Caster" (no, it's not a sling shot) to fire a sinker on heavy fishing line right over the tree and then I connect a line to the dipole leg end and pull that up. This system works really well but the local bird life likes the new perches a bit too much:

20m antenna.jpg

The noise floor was very low, usually S1 or below, compared to S7 here in Sydney, but even this location has some TV sets that pollute the spectrum.

My thanks to Henry, VK2HE, who heard my callback to the VK2WI Sunday broadcast and passed on my details. Henry was about 1,000Km north of me and could hear me pretty well on 5W mid morning.

Amazing what a bit of wire and 5W can do.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eye tests with nifty microphotographs

Eye tests are pretty cool these days. This week my eye test involved a photo being taken of my retinas and the guy got a nifty image which he was happy to email me.

MARKS Eye scan.jpg

Those light dots at the top of the right image (my left eye) are due to age and are not currently a problem.

At the end of the measurements I asked if I could have a copy of the test (so I could have a go at ordering much cheaper glasses on line). He scribbled the copy of the prescription down so roughly I had to quiz him on what the numbers were.

It's the law that the prescription is to be available to the patient but clearly there's a racket here where the testers railroad you into paying huge margins to their associated glasses supplier.

Spectacles and frames seem to me to be vastly over priced. Perhaps they should charge for the services rather than ripping us off for the frames and lenses?

I've ordered a pair of glasses through the associated shop but I thought I'd have a go at online as well so I can compare. I'll let you know how that goes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wagner AX-200 manual antenna tuning unit

Old mate John Beeston was upgrading the radio gear on his yacht and kindly passed the old manual antenna tuner to me. It's a Wagner AX-200 Manual Antenna Tuning Unit clearly designed for matching to the back stay short vertical wire.


This is a fantastic tuner for long (or not so long) wires. I threw up about 5m of random wire and laid down a short counterpoise and this gadget matches it on 40m perfectly and it's easy to tune by ear and then peak using the meter or the rig's SWR meter.

So far I haven't been able to find any reference to it on the internet and would welcome any specifications you might have.

There's a bit about Wagner on the net from Malcolm Haskard.

I can see that physically it looks very similar to the ATU1A. Here's a picture from an eBay auction:


If you stumble across one, I'd recommend it although it's not small enough for use as a travel tuner.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Microsoft PHP Developer Survey

It was nice to see Nick Hodge at the PHP Unconference and he gave out some nice 8GB USB sticks with the slogan "Windows+PHP Platform of choice" on them.

Along with the gift was a scrap of paper with a url asking us to do a survey about Windows as a platform for PHP. One of the questions seems a little tilted to me:

Screen shot 2010-12-17 at 2.38.32 PM.png

Good luck to them with this push but I think if they're going to charge for the platform they need to be able to demonstrate clearly the value we get for the extra money.

Sydney PHP Unconference

I attended the Sydney PHP group's unconference last night held at Google. It's my first "unconference" although it's a pretty popular idea around the world.

Basically, rather than having formal presentations scheduled for the conference, the attendees write topic ideas on sticky notes which are then stuck on a board in columns for the groups.

We join the group with a topic of interest and while the person who posted the idea kind of moderates, it's really a free flowing discussion.


It worked better than I expected, although the groups were a bit big for detailed discussion.

I heard some interesting stuff and there were a few "alternative" views (people who don't like frameworks and would rather write everything from scratch every time for example).

Not being a user of PHP, it was fun to hear clues about how threatened many of the users are by the work being done in Django and Rails. (CakePHP sounds like a good response).

Thanks to the organisers and sponsors which amazingly included Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. (Good work attracting that bunch!). DMSBT bought the pizzas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MacOS Snow Leopard in VirtualBox on Linux

os list.pngI have an irrational desire to see MacOS running on alternative hardware. It's always disappointing but never the less I was boggled to read that it's now supported on VirtualBox 3.2 and later.

Strictly speaking VirtualBox supports MacOS X Server which can be legally virtualised, but I created a VM, stuck in my Snow Leopard DVD and following just a few simple steps from here or here, now have a real Mac experience on my old Lenovo Ubuntu laptop.

Basically, you need to grab an Empire EFI boot ISO to boot from and it in turn sees the install DVD. You need to use Disk Utility to format the virtual disk and finally when you do boot you need to boot from the EFI ISO each time and simply press right arrow and Return to kick off the booting.

mac on linux.png

I did a normal system update without incident. Networking works right out of the box, no sound though. The mouse is rather too sensitive but usable. Booting and shutting down is rather verbose and it doesn't properly power off.

I would never choose this over my MacBook Air but it's nice to know it works.

Wikileaks technology

This morning on ABC Radio National Breakfast, now with the Chaser's Julian Morrow, I had a chat about some of the technology behind Wikileaks. You can listen here.

Julian is hosting RN breakfast over summer and I'll be joining in each Wednesday to talk about tech.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Terrorist Watch: Casio F-91W

I wanted a low cost digital watch and a bit of research turned up fascinating information about an old favourite, the Casio F-91W which first appeared in 1991.


It's a simple, readable, watch with a battery life of more than five years.

The Wikipedia article reveals that this watch is reported to be favoured by those interested in building time bombs! Surely this is a testament to its reliability and hack-ability.

Picked one up for AU$21 on eBay and can recommend it, for telling the time at least.