Thursday, December 28, 2017

Benjie S5 music player (and language setting)

I noticed recently that Sony is pitching their music players by arguing that it's annoying to listen to music on a phone that's constantly distracting you with messages. There's something in that and I recently purchased a single purpose AU$52 Benjie S5 music player from Banggood.

"BENJIE S5 Metal HiFi Lossless 8GB OLED Touch Screen Mini MP3 Music Player with FM Support APE/FLAC/WAV" is how they describe it.

For anyone else interested in these I thought I'd share a few observations that might help.

Switching to English

My unit arrived in Chinese language mode. To change it press the “back” icon (bottom left) until you’re at the top level menu which has square icons in the middle. Roll through the top menu items until you see one with a torso of a person in a square.

Press the round physical button at the bottom to enter settings then go down until you see “Language” (happily in English). Scroll down the large list of languages until you see English and press the round button to select it.


The device is a little slow to respond to button touches or presses so tap and wait a bit before trying again.

On the left side are the volume up and down physical buttons. Mine arrives set at full volume, which is quite loud. Below is a micro SD socket. The card goes in with the front of the card facing the back. I found it a little hard to get it to lock inside the socket but it did after a few attempts.

On the right side is a hold switch that suppresses all buttons when in the up position. Power button tap turns off the screen, long press to power off (it counts to 3). Long press the power to turn the unit on again. The small hole on the lower right side is to reset the CPU if required.

On the bottom is the 3.5mm headphone socket and micro USB socket for charging and file transfer.

Front panel touch area has up, down, left and right. Below is back and menu.

The round physical button on the front is play / pause and is also used for selecting items in menus.

Transferring music

Plugging the USB into a computer shows a menu on the device defaulting to “charge and transfer” or just “charge and play”. If you let it default of choose the first option the device mounts on your computer as a USB storage drive. If you have a micro SD card plugged in it also mounts. When I ejected one, the other was unceremoniously ejected as well.

After adding files either by USB copy or via micro SD card the unit offers to index the files and creates a database of Songs, Artists & Albums. I simply dragged a large collection of music folders from my iTunes library over and so far everything seems to play.

Navigating music

I am using a 32GB micro SD card for music. When you go into the Music menu the first time after inserting a card the first items show you the music stored on the device, to get to your card scroll down and go into “Cardfolder”. It will ask to “create list”, say Yes. It takes a while but when done lets you navigate by Song, Artist or Album from the top of the menu.

Note that the device comes with three tracks with Chinese names that sort to the top.

FM Radio

In the RM Radio menu, press the menu button (bottom right) and get it to auto-tune.

Audio recording

They say it does this. I haven't tried it.


Build quality is good, the unit has a very solid metal frame and presumably could be tethered to a bag by the metal slot at the top. The OLED screen is clear but a little short for many artist and track names. The touch buttons work well but do respond slowly.

Sound seems crisp and clear to me. The supplied in ear headphones are not as bad as expected and it drives my Sony MDR-7506 phones very well. Bass is more pleasing when using Sennheiser HD 212Pros. There is various equalisation settings available but I prefer to run without.

With 3,600 tracks on board it's time consuming to get around, there's no search. Takes me back to the players that were around pre-iPod. It's a pity that the touch controls on the front don't have some sort of scroll bar capability.

Weirdly, mine arrived with an international to Australian mains power plug adapter. No need for this as it charges from USB (came with a cable) and no mains power pack.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Decoding WSPR from an SDR on Windows

Really a note to future me. I'm using an SDRPlay with the excellent SDRuno software on Windows. (Why isn't there comparable software available on Linux?). The trick to getting the audio out of one piece of software and in to another is to use a Virtual Audio Cable (VAC). I paid money for one some years back but it's not as good as VB-Audio Virtual Cable from the excellent folks at VB-Audio.

The deal is that you get one virtual audio device for free and can pay money for additional devices.

Here's how the output is set in the program that produces the audio we want to decode:

Here's how the audio input is set in WSJT-X:

Note that although I've set an output it's not used with a receive-only SDR.

And here's the full configuration with WSJT-X decoding WSPR on 20m. (Click any images here to enlarge).

Third party Windows time synchronization software no longer needed.

I don't know when this changed but it used to be that to decode WSPR on any version of Windows you needed to install third party software to sync the clock well enough. This appears to no longer be the case at least for me running Windows 10 Pro, Version 1709.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Useful directory of short wave broadcasters "hfcc"

Just stumbled across while hunting for DRM stations. It seems like quite a good database of what's on shortwave right now.

Xmas movie, Die Hard, an archetypal analysis

Prompted by a mention of “Die Hard” as a classic Christmas movie, we watched it again on Christmas night. The 1988 action movie it holds up really well and I recognise many of the action sequences that have been replicated in later movies. Jumping off a ledge held by a fire hose turns up in both The Matrix and again in Atomic Blond.

Action hero John McClane is troubled by his poor relationship with his wife due to the fact that she’s pursued a successful career as an executive on the West coast, while John works as a New York police officer with some issues with authority.

Our hero fights multiple “terrorists” led by unemotional Hans Gruber while running up and down in the building. John is progressively broken down through this battle, leading up to a scene where is is pulling glass from his bare feet while talking on a walkie talkie to a friendly local police officer who he asks to pass on is, previously unexpressed, love for his wife.

The building represents McClane’s mind. After the initial attack he goes up a few floors to think about how he should handle the emergency. He even carries out a dialog with himself, as might a consciousness, trying to rationalise the situation.

The various terrorists are archetypes in his mind. They speak another language, and are therefore not clearly understood by John, who must fight them. The leader is Hans Gruber, an unemotional, super rational, archetype who in a penultimate scene continues to hold on to McClane’s wife until he falls to his death. He holds her by the “hands” (Hans).

The terrorists are not really terrorists, they are simply sophisticated robbers, driven by money, and I think in defeating them John has overcome his focus on what financial success he or his wife has achieved and finally been able to express his emotions.

The building, as indeed any skyscraper, might also represent McClane’s penis and the additional clue of two FBI agents both called Johnson (a common penis nickname) is a rather curious joke but suggests that someone is thinking along these lines. McClane’s marital estrangement might have been triggered by impotence due to his inner turmoil over his wife’s financial success exceeding his own.

McClane is often seen running up and down floors in the building. The top is presumably consciousness which is linked to the outside world where, in theory, helicopters and rescue him and the hostages.

The tables are turned in John’s favour when he drops explosives down a lift shaft and blows up deep in the unconscious.

There is inner turmoil in our hero’s mind but attempts at external help, perhaps from therapists, are ham fisted and either turned away or just make matters worse as they refuse to take John’s calls for help seriously. The only person to get through to him is the local, west coast, cop who takes him seriously and does little except be there for him. There are references to “typical California” where things are a bit hipper than they are in the east and perhaps finding this sole mate is John’s bridge to defeating his inner demons.

It’s possible that the whole story is actually a dream experienced during the flight back to the family where McClane’s unconscious is trying to help him to heal his trauma and get back with his family.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Multi-band uBitx arrived and boxed

The brand new uBitx from HFSignals is sure to be a major success. Following on from the terrific Bitx single band transceivers, this new design covers multiple bands from 3-30MHz and offers 10W output.

For US$109 you get a fully built and tested board and the sockets and controls. There are plug-able connectors so when you wire it up the board can be removed if required.

I managed to fit mine in a standard 184 x 70 x 160mm case from Jaycar catalog number HB5446. It's a bit of a tight fit but works well. The regulator on the display/CPU board needed to be bent a bit but all works nicely.

Here's how it arrives in the postal box.

Twin IRF510 finals.

Tuning around 40m shows that it receives down to band noise as well as a commercial rig. Transmit audio sounds pretty good but I'll get some more comments after some contacts hopefully later today.

I'm getting only about 4W out on peaks but that might be due to low audio from the microphone I'm using.

The accelerating tuning action works really well and it's great to have a proper rotational encoder rather than the pot scheme that was used on the BitX.

Tonight I was able to participate in the ARNSW home brew group net using the uBitx. Here's a clip.

This radio is clearly great for modification and the Bitx hacks site is the place to share ideas.


I've been struggling a bit with low RF output on SSB due to low mic audio. It seems that the supplied electret mic has excellent output even compared to other identical looking ones. In the end I swapped out the insert in a hand mic for the supplied one. The hand mic didn't have a hole for me to talk through so a drill has been used to help audio in that was as well.

It's paid off and I've just had a VK2 to VK7 contact with VK7DIK who reported me as readable 5 but not strong.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

It should be easier to report internet outages

Since switching to the NBN via Telstra I've had a good experience in terms of speed. So far I've noticed two outages. (Presumably there may have been other outages that I didn't notice).

Yesterday our connection went down. I checked the cable modem and the lights were flashing. I rebooted the modem and it continued to flash. I visited Telstra's new outage site and at the time it said there was no known outage in my area even though my connection had been down for at least an hour.

My neighbours on both sides had also lost their internet connection.

The annoying thing is that the outage site has no link to let us report an outage. The only way to do this is to go to the troubleshooting page and then start a "24x7 chat" session.

I can understand that it must be frustrating for Telstra to deal with customers who's problem is in their own home network but many of us are equipped to diagnose problems but we must go through this time consuming process.

Info: Thank you for choosing Telstra 24x7 Live Chat. A representative will be with you shortly. At the conclusion of your chat please take a few moments to give us some feedback on your experience today.
Info: You are now chatting with Shah.
Peter: telstra cable NBN internet down at XXX, Killarney Heights. Neighbours on both sides also down.
Hi, you are chatting with Shah. How may I help you?

Peter: Have restarted modem. Light still flashing.
Peter: says no known outage.
Peter: what's the best way to report an outage?
Sorry for the inconvenience caused to you. Don’t worry I will be more than glad to assist you with the fault today. 

For NBN? 

Peter: yes
I will now need to transfer our chat to our specialist team who can help resolve your issue

Peter: telstra cable NBN internet down at XXX, Killarney Heights. Neighbours on both sides also down.
Info: Please wait while your chat is transferred to the appropriate group.
Info: All agents are currently assisting others. Thank you for your patience.
Info: All agents are currently assisting others. Thank you for your patience.
Info: You are now chatting with Aijaz.
Peter: telstra cable NBN internet down at XXX, Killarney Heights. Neighbours on both sides also down.
Peter: what is the best way to report this?
Hi, you are chatting with Aijaz, I am checking with the previous conversations.

Peter: telstra cable NBN internet down at XXX Killarney Heights. Neighbours on both sides also down.
Yes, Peter I am checking with that and forward the issue to the specialist team on high priority.

My apologies for the inconvenience caused.

Before we proceed, I will have to authenticate your account for security purposes. Could you please help with your full name, date of birth and home phone number with the area code?

Peter: I thought you were the specialist
Peter: why do you need all that?
I am from the technical team. I will forward to the specialist team. Because to raise a complaint and forward it. 

Peter: don't worry, I'll report it on twitter. Thanks for your time. Have a nice day.
Thank you for choosing Telstra. Have a good day.

Peter: ha!

I guess these operators are handling multiple simultaneous conversations at the same time. Given that I've come via the customer web site (using mobile data) it seems bizarre that I need to prove my identity "for security purposes". Next I went to twitter, which seems to be the best way to interact with many organisations.

On Twitter I asked why the outages site doesn't have a button for reporting outages. They replied:

I also asked why they don't monitor the network so they know when there are outages without customers having to fight their way through to report them. Cas said they do monitor some things.

By now, outages now showed an outage at my address but I find this process very user hostile and if Telstra ever gives statistics on the low numbers of outage reports I would treat these numbers with scepticism.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan - ham radio heaven

Japan has the world's highest number of ham radio licensees per capita, 0.343% of the population. This means that there are a good number of radio and electronics shops catering to home builders and the place to go is Akihabara in Tokyo.

I walked but there is a station at the heart of the place. (Click photos to enlarge them by the way)/.

There are literal department stores full of independent electronics shops. Some are multi-story.

Inside you'll find all the components you could desire plus boxes and boards.

There's a well stocked valve store.

There's some interesting home kit gear on show too. Here's a crystal set with a spider coil.

A 40m SSB transceiver I haven't heard of before.

Lots and lots of shops selling commercial gear with VHF/UHF handhelds in huge quantities.

All the big black boxes are on show and I notice, looking at the FT-817 price index, that prices vary significantly. 

A big store, Rocket Radio, also has a good collection of antenna parts. Interestingly they have a surprising number of loop antennas available.

Great to see that they are well stocked with morse keys.

Not a lot of English is spoken and unfortunately the shop keepers seem rather embarrassed about this. I did a bit of pointing and tried to be friendly.

Anyhow, I'm very lucky to be here this week. If you do get to Tokyo don't forget to check it out.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Archive of early technical magazines

American Radio History is a fantastic archive of early electronics, technology, sound recording and broadcast magazines. Mostly UK and US. It includes some classics including Byte, Popular Electronics, Modern Electronics, Wireless World, and some educational titles.

I saw this on Roger G3XBM's excellent blog that is (mostly) about ham radio but I find the occasional diversions most entertaining. Roger wants an IC-7300 for Xmas I see.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tuning 40m at a low noise location near Dorrigo

What a pleasure it is to tune the 40m band at a location where the only noise is the occasional "tick tick" of electric fences. Here's a bit of a tune around this week.

We need some remote receivers at places like this. Unfortunately there is no mobile reception at this property.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Low RF noise location - near Dorrigo

This week I'm spending a few days at a very low noise location in northern New South Wales near Dorrigo.

Yesterday I tuned around 40m and experienced S0 noise. There were some stations in Victoria and Tasmania coming through well. Tonight I will try to join the Home Brew Group's net. Here is my squid pole hanging off a stake. (I'm told there are much better stakes, normally used for electric fence supports, available for about $4 - will investigate).

The local paper, the Don Dorrigo Gazette, here is printed with the old letterpress system and looks amazing.

Internet here is pretty slow so I won't be posting much.

These posts, seen below with the orange loop at the top, are widely used to hold up electric fences. They have a convenient foot hook for pushing them in to the ground.

It's lovely here, audio and electrically quiet. The only sound on radio is the clicking of electric fences - how ironic.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Blog hits a million page views

A milestone today, the page views on this little blog has just hit one million. This blog is really a personal notebook where I write little posts that I can find again later to remind me how to do various things.

The first post was on October 12, 2006 back in the days when email spam was still a problem. Before this blog I had another, rather too serious blog. I found that I'd set the bar too high. Posts were essays and I couldn't keep it up. I was foolishly thinking too much about the audience. Giving that up and just posting notes to myself has done the trick.

The blog is never a chore and many times I've searched for how to do something and found my own blog post from the past. I fear that social platforms like Facebook are becoming the owners of our writing and much like GeoCities will some day disappear with all of that content. Arguably a blog on Google's Blogger suffers the same drawback but I hope that Google is more likely to keep it up.

Thanks everyone for visiting, for comments and for getting in touch.



Friday, November 10, 2017

Comparing antennas with WSPR

The new end fed antenna has obviously higher signals but also higher noise. The question is.. which antenna is better?

I now have three antennas that work on 40m (7MHz). The real test of an antenna, at least on receive, is the signal to noise ratio, and WSPR is a great way to measure this. I've set up three receivers, with three computers, all running wspr with the following call signs.
  • VK2TPM/1 is a half G5RV into an FT817
  • VK2TPM/2 is the new end fed into an IC7300
  • VK2TPM/3 is my old dipole fed with open wire feeder into a KX3
At the time of this first post, I'm surprised to report that my half G5RV is significantly better than the dipole or end fed for most reception.

Reception of VK2RG who is 48km away.

Reception of VK3AFE, who is 718km south of me.

Reception of ON7KO who is 16,732km away.

Comparing antennas is not simple. Each antenna is directional so performs better for stations in certain directions. Local stations are received quite differently to remote stations where signals come in from above. Some antennas pick up more local noise than others.

WSPR is a great tool for antenna comparison. Is there a better way to plot the data?

Update: I'm wrong

I think my analysis above is incorrect. Looking at all data over a 24 hour period it's clear that the big dipole receives more spots overall, which is a good measure of overall receive performance.

For what it's worth, here's the average received signal to noise ratio, spot counts and total distance of all spots received. (I don't actually think adding all S/N db figures makes any sense).

So in the end the dipole I think performs better even though signals (and noise) are higher on the end fed. John, VK2ASU, correctly points out that I haven't attempted to tune the end fed for 40m properly and that may well improve it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Built an end fed match box

At QRP by the harbour I put up a dipole for 40m and John VK2ASU put up an end fed antenna which seemed to work better. My dipole was held up in the centre on a 6m squid pole and the ends drooping down to ground stakes at each end.

John's end fed went straight up to a squid pole and then over to a nearby tree. He cleverly used a bottle filled with water to throw the end up there (to save weight {although he also carried a lead mallet for the ground stake}). In the end John's antenna was more in the air than my inverted V.

Inspired by David, VK3IL's build of a matchbox for an end fed half wave which was inspired by PA3HHO's end fed half wave article I reproduced their work today.

Like David, I used 150pF on the input.

Connected to my end fed inverted L it shows decent SWR on 40 and 20m. My transceiver's built-in ATU easily matched on both those bands. Compared to the 40m dipole signals are stronger but so is noise so perhaps the best way to compare is to run WSPR on each for a while.

Like John, I used an FT240-43 toroid and wound 0.8mm wire on it. Cable ties hold the core in place. The plastic box has a snap on base.

Thanks to all who went before. This is a very easy project to build and could be very handy in the field.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Active on 6m with new J-Pole antenna

My thanks to Peter, VK2EMU, who manufactured a few J-Pole antennas for 6m. A beautiful addition to the shed.

Thanks also to Stephen, VK2BLQ, who kindly gave me a length of water pipe to mount the antenna on.

The antenna is manufactured from square aluminium tube, welded and with a perspex spacer at the top of the J.

I found that mine was a bit short and have added a sliding section of right angle stock to the end to get it to tune up.

The 6m band is quite wide and it's hard to choose where to tune as I'm interested in both 52.525MHz for FM all the way down to 50.293MHz for WSPR and below for digital modes.

The taps for the stub are attached with U-bolts at the moment for easy adjustment. I'm not confident that the connection will be good after a while in the weather but so far seems fine. Peter also supplied some stainless steel long bolts and nuts that I'll switch to in time.

Here's the matching step connected to u-bolts:

I've wrapped the coax ends in self-annealing tape to keep the water out and used some hook and loop wrap to keep a loop of coax in place.

It's resonant at 52.28MHz although the impedance is a little low. My rig can tune it up without any problem.

As soon as I called CQ on 52.525, Ron, VK2GO immediately responded - it's great that there's people around responding to random CQ calls. Thanks Ron.