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April 2003

Beechlog
 
The on-line magazine of the Burnham Beeches Radio Club.

Blog title

April 2003 Edition

Contents

Welcome to the April BeechLog!

Designs.
Another Visit to the USA.
Email.
Small Displays.
Useful Links.

Welcome to the April edition of BeechLog.

There has been quite a gap between the last issue of BeechLog and this one, and for that I apologise. It's not that I haven't had the time, for I was out of work for much of that period, but there you go. I could have spent the time on the radio, but that didn't happen either. In fact I don't know what I have been doing, apart from decorating and feeling miserable. But I'm working again now, thankfully.

A good friend of mine retired about five years ago. He was a very active amateur, but guess what, his radios have been idle ever since. It's funny, isn't it, we get these ideas of what we want to do when we have time, but it doesn't always work out.

At the moment I'm working alternate early and late shifts, so you won't see much of me. It means I get the morning off to do things, but have to work to 10 pm. The alternate weeks I work 7am to 3pm, not too far from normal hours, although I tend to stay up late and so don't really get enough sleep. Anyways, here's BeechLog for you. not much radio, but plenty of other electronic stuff.

Roger GØHZK, Editor

Designs

It's a funny old world, isn't it. 2002 was an interesting year for me, with high spots like my trip to Italy, and low times like when I found myself out of work. Last November saw my final trip to Northampton with my son - this time he was awarded his degree, and so I no longer have any reason to go there again.

At the latter ceremony in Northamptons Derngate, I saw a long succession of students collecting awards in unlikely sounding subjects. Amongst these were degrees for variations on the art of design. Obviously we need people with these traditional skills,but I sometimes wonder whether they are actually adding anything to enrich our lives?

Let's look back awhile. Growing up in the fifties, I suppose I saw the tail end of a great tradition. There were still examples of buildings and products of the Art Deco style of the thirties, but the rot had set in. On the estate where I lived, Richings Park, each house differed in design from the dwellings either side. And although a number of standard designs were used, these were varied significantly enough to make each street have its own character. These were regarded as cheaply built houses in their day, they were not particularly expensive, even my parents were able to rent a detatched bungalow,where my father and sister still live.

However although Richings Park was not developed further, new estates were built all around.The agricultural land to the west of my home was soon built up, with row upon row of identical terraces, dull and dreary, and where I live today! The new residents in the late fifties tried to make something of them GWR - I remember the garden competitions, house after house with a flood of colour in the front. Some still have carried on this idea, but alas many front gardens have been concreted over, or are repositories of abandoned motor engines and supermarket trollies overflowing with rubbish.

Around the periphery of Langley are tower blocks. These places show a complete lack of design effort, which has infected many of the residents. The last signs of design effort in Slough were pulled down last year. The stylish buildings along the Bath Road have all disappeared now - Flexello and Xenovia are no more. I suppose that there has been a little effort in the new buildings, after all the Slough Estates HQ looks a lot better than the John Crane or the old Aspro buildings. But they are still a mismatch of ideas, not really coherent.
GWR As I grew up there were so many well designed everyday objects around. The trains I went to school in were pulled by well designed and decorated steam engines, and the stations and carriages were decked with wonderful posters of the GWR holiday destinations: Torbay, Penzance, St. Ives and other places. Will we remember todays advertising posters in 2050?
Devon
Everday objects reflected the design ideas of the age. Even the old Bakelite radios, and the early transistor sets, the latter whose design can still be seen on the shelves of Comet today. Even our coinage - the elaborate coat-of-arms on the back of a half-crown or florin;the Euros I have to use on holiday are such depressing things. Technology from my childhood showed that someone had though about the design - I still have my old Nikon camera, whose design and construction begs you to pick it up and fondle it. Remember the old Valve Quad II amplifiers - Half Crown the rounded lines of the preamp and tuner, and the exquisite KT66 amplifier; although the latter was always hidden out of sight, it was still an object of beauty. The Collaro tape deck with its thirties echos, even the humble Austin A30 and the Routemaster bus showed that thought had gone into their design.
Quad From an early age I was an avid reader, and in this distant past, even books showed the designers art. The illustrations in books like Winnie the Pooh, or The Wind in the Willows were masterpieces. Even with todays disgusting Disneyfication of the former, Shepherds drawings are still sought after, and can still be seen in the high street. The earlier classics by authors such as Dickens were illustrated, as were many of the novels published before the war. Todays books have a bland unrelieved expanse of text, so dull.
Routemaster I've commented before about the abysmal design of todays amateur radio gear. Look at the FT847, although it may become an electronic classic, the style and usability is mind bogglingly awful. How did they get it so wrong? My domestic stuff is no better. I bought a video recorder last year. It's a horrible looking thing (no choice, they all are), and after years of critisism of the way these things are programmed, they just have not learned. My TV is designed along the same lines, a geat slab of metal like plastic with a window in the front. And my computer, oh dear. We have a selection of cassette and minidisk machines - the design of these changes every couple of months, but the looks never improve, and they get more difficult to operate. Why?

I am not complaining about the technical capabilities of this technology, but its aesthetics. Much of it is designed in Japan, a country with a long tradition of art and design. So what have they done? Why does it have to be like this? With all these popular courses in art and design, why are the products so bad? What are these designers doing? I despair sometimes.

Another Visit to the USA.

Following on from previous visits I was invited by Mark KC2ENI a fellow BBRC member to go across and stay with him. This would be by my reckoning my sixth visit to the USA, but in early March there were hardly any decent air travel deals available to get across there, until I saw in the window of Thomas Cook in Peascod Street in Windsor a deal offering a return Virgin Atlantic flight to New York for £190 plus £30 of duty free vouchers. This was placed in the window at 9.30am and by the time I responded at 11.30am, the available tickets were sold out. Nonetheless, the staff there found me another acceptable deal of £195 with Continental Airlines out of Gatwick which I finally went for, but a word of warning to the wise; when I checked in I was told that I was on the "oversold" list, which meant that I had to wait until the airline decided I could board, effectively I was on standby! Needless to say I was not a happy bunny but it worked out OK. The moral: check the status of any cheap ticket sold to you by a travel agent.

Arrived over there on March 27th and was met at Newark Airport by Mark, returned to his house via a Pizza joint, then dumped and unpacked my kit. I took my laptop but apart from a GPS receiver and leads, no ham gear. Before travelling to the States I had made bookings at a few hotels in the Baltimore area to cover a period over the weekend when Mark was unavailable and for this time I had decided to make my way separately to a ham convention in Baltimore. It turned out that there was also a meeting of the New Jersey QRP Group known as Atlanticon also being held in the hotel where I was staying so I had the chance to look in there as well. The hamfest or more properly the "Hamboree" as they called it was held about half a mile from the hotel in the Baltimore State Fair Grounds and filled four large halls in addition to there being an outside flea market. It was probably the biggest event of the year to date on the East Coast of the USA and was bigger than a lot of the events I have attended here in the UK. It was not much smaller than the Dayton Hamvention that I attended the previous summer, that said, several people remarked that there were not so many traders there this year, possibly a function of the economic downturn, and the only major manufacturer displaying was ICOM. The weather over the weekend of the 29th March there was also pretty grim and it did not take too much to discourage the outside fleamarket traders. As far as I could tell I was the only G station in sight! I was lucky in that I followed some other hams from the Morristown New Jersey area down to Baltimore which made the journey easier but it was an early start at 4.00am.

Once there I set a waypoint on the GPS and could see it was 145 miles back to Loftys house in Morristown. The following morning I travelled a further 30+ miles the other side of Baltimore towards the state line of Maryland with Washington DC, and again was lucky being fairly close to a Metro connection to Washington. I got a day travel ticket for the Sunday and went with the specific intention of visiting the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This in fact took almost 4 hours to get around and is highly recommended. It didn't leave much time to see the rest of the city but I did manage to walk what is known as the Federal Triangle including the Capitol Building, The Library of Congress which sits behind the Capitol, the Washington Monument (most would recognise this from TV and film as the Obelisk), and then onto the White House, which these days one cannot get too close to because of installation of crash barriers blocking off pavements within the vicinity of the building. Tours of the White House are not available to the general public, only to veterans and schoolchildren groups by prior arrangement, so the place is not particularly friendly or welcoming these days, but I was impressed by the architecture and layout of the Administrative part of Washington.

John
John at the White House

The following day Monday the 31st March I went back towards Baltimore but wanted to make a side trip into that town. I have to say that I wasn't particularly impressed with that either and apart from one or two points of minor interest I was happy to think about making my way back to New Jersey.

So I set up the GPS and followed what I thought was the correct road back. The first 15 or so miles clocked off correctly but after a while I norticed that not only was I not making progress but that the pointer to Loftys house was starting to swing east. After a few more miles I knew things weren't going well when I saw a sign saying "Welcome to Pennsylvania"! It was at that point I stopped off at the stateline border welcome centre and got a map. As there was no way back and I was about 70 miles off course I forged ahead and took a detour through places called Lancaster and Reading (where true to form there was a traffic jam) whilst then "riding the pointer" back to Marks house.

The remaining three days were spent each day in Manhattan , during which time apart from other things I managed to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Lincoln Centre, The American Museum of Financial History in Broadway, The American Museum of the Indian, and the United Nations, which offers a (very timely) guided tour.

I came back on the evening flight Thursday 3rd April arriving Gatwick on the morning of the Friday. Not having had proper sleep for around 24 hours meant that I was not fit for almost any thing except sleep and my sister who met me at the airport very kindly offered me her guest room, and later told me I was snoring for England! This brings up and interesting point: when flying east to west to the USA one loses 5 hours, effectively arriving only 3 three hours after one takes off from this end. This means you gain a day. On the return journey however you have to add 5 hours to the journey time, which means you are forced to make a decision... fly overnight and see if you can get sleep on a perhaps turbulent plane, getting the advantage of having a full day in New York without incurring a hotel bill, or fly on a morning departure arriving here during the evening, so that one can then turn straight into bed in the hope that you are available straightaway for work the following morning. Whilst I favour the former because I happen to be self employed and "budget" for the hassle of the extra day, I can see the advantages to companies of sending their people by the latter method, perhaps getting them to undertake projects on their laptops whilst on the plane during the day. Either way I had an enjoyable time whilst there. Marks wife Suzanne is now great with child and I want to take this opportunity on behalf I feel sure of the whole club of wishing them all well for the future.

John GØGCL

Email

It must be about 10 years since email started to become commonplace. Then I used an early form of Microsoft Mail on the company PC, and this linked to the internet via the company Netware system. Previous to that, I used a mainframe based system around 1984, this was on a VAX/VMS system. I didn't get many replies to my emails, probably because few people knew the strange incantations on the keyboard that were needed to bring it life.

Spam 2 I had my own Compuserve account for a while, and also joined Cix. I last used the former when on my trips to the US, and was able to keep in touch with my family - mostly it was Alex, aged 3 at the time, who had sussed out how to read and send emails at home; he had learned to read and write very easily. Back then, about 1995, I didn't get many emails, but today things are very different. Actually I still don't get many, but the spam makes up for that. Although I have my emails filtered for spam and viruses by Brightmail, the spammers are getting too clever and finding ways round this. I probably get about 10 to 15 spam messages each day after Brightmail has done its work, and the Brightmail box probably catches two or three times that amount.

So what can be done about all this? In practice, not a lot. For any spam filter to work, it needs to be able to tell whether a mail is wanted or not. Many email clients have 'rules'. The client looks at the email and processes it according to rules that the user specifies. The problem here is that the spammers know how to avoid these. Not long ago, a spammer would send out millions of mails over a period, all identical. They might post from the same domain many times. But now spam emails can be different for each recipient, which makes your filter think the mail is a wanted one. For example, they can embed fake html tags in the mail.

Html ignores tags it doesn't know about. By deriving the tag from the recipients email address, each individual email gets different fake tags, so each email is different. I often get mails with embedded tags like: <!-hzk>. These often occur mid-word, and serve to split up those words which would immediately suggest something suspicious! When the mail client displays such a message, the fake tags are ignored, and so the dodgy words appear intact to the reader.

Spam 1 Html mails can be more difficult to filter. Words can be disguised as described above, and web links can display text that isn't in the mail. Worse still are mails that encode all of of the mail as Base 64 mime compliant content. To the filter, there is just a continuous block of meaningless characters.

Spammers forge as much of the mail header as possible. Any addresses shown in the header are compiled from a list of addresses, so that once again they are all different. This makes it difficult for machines to decide whether the mail is spam.

As I wrote earlier, it's difficult to get round all this. But there are some rules that are useful for some people. You can filter out all mails where the 'To' field does not contain your address, or allow only those mails from someone in your address book. You can filter out all mails containg html tags (but you may lose some valid ones), or mails which appear to be from countries like Russia, Korea or China. These ideas work best if you don't expect mail from strangers, but are not much good if you publish your address for anyone to respond to.

You can filter out mails containing suspect words; I won't mention any here, as BeechLog has been blocked by some systems in the past - goodness knowswhat these systems found objectionable! However some spams disguise these words - a certain drug whose name begins with Vi is often spelled using the number 1 instead of the letter i, and sometimes its generic name is used. But in the end you are still going to find the spam getting through, so be resigned to having to hit the delete key every few mails.

Where did they get your address?

There seem to be two main sources. If you have ever revealed your address on the web, or worse still, in usenet newsgroups, you can be sure it will be discovered. Once harvested, it will be sold on to other spammers. I get loads of spam to addresses I haven't used for years, much more than I get to the BeechLog email address. It's easy to extract addresses from usenet too. Just enter your address in any of the decent search engines, and you'll soon find if it's escaped. Even if you haven't published it, there's a possibility that someone else has.

If you are going to publish your address on the net, you can try to disguise it. It has been common practice to embed the letters 'nospam' somewhere in your address, like roger@beechnospamlog.org.uk, or embed other words in capital letters. Humans can easily suss out the real address, but it's possible that spam software can do this as well. Maybe removing tell-tale symbols and replacing them by words will work, e.g. 'roger at beechlog dot co dot uk' may hide your address.

This is OK for usenet, but it doesn't look good on web pages, especially if you are inviting readers to send you mail. I use a Javascript method on some pages - the various parts of my address are stored in variables at the lop of the page, and these variables are referenced at the bottom. To the viewer my address is perfectly clear, but in reality it doesn't exist in the html source code.

Another method is to have a 'contacts page' accessible by a password. This can be very insecure human-wise, like: 'Type the word beechlog into the box below and click on Submit'. A simple bit of Javascript adds '.html' to the word you typed in, and loads up the resultant page. As 'beechlog.html' is not printed anywhere on your pages, spambots have no means of finding it. You can use both methods - click here for an example.

If you don't want to use Javascript, there is another method. Simply use numeric entities instead of keyboard characters. For example here is a link to my address: roger@beechlog.org.uk
Although this looks and behaves like a normal link to, it actually consists entirely of the html character codes that make up the link. For example the word 'roger' is composed as follows: &#114;&#111;&#103;&#101;&#114; Look at the html source of this page to see the complete code.
Once again we hope that the harvester doesn't realise that this is a link to an email address.

Of course all of this will fail if someone else gives out your address. My address is on dozens of web sites, and even on usenet faqs. It is also possible for your email address to be asked for on, for example, an order form, and then sold on. You can always use a temporary free email address just to get the info you need, and discard it later. However some order forms do not accept the well known free addresses, so this may not be possible. If you own the domain of your email address, you can at least use a one time username, like 'gp22@beechlog2003.org', and filter this out in your email client. Note that this is just an example, the beechlog2003.org domain doesn't exist.

However much care you take, you will never be immune from a more recent method of spamming. In this case the spammer uses a known good domain name, and just adds a likely username to it. For example 'yahoo.com' is a known domain with lots of users, so johnsmith@yahoo.com, is likely to be delivered to a real person. Similarly 'sam@hotmail.com' or even dave69@hotmail.com is almost guaranteed to be delivered.

You can avoid the above by having an odd username, j33fzxz2e-glch.766@hotmail.com, not an easy one to guess, I am sure you will agree.

Some countries are enacting legislation against spammers,for example, after a pro-spam false start, the EU is to do this. Of course most spam comes from Florida, so this won't help much!

Most spammers post their email through open relays that are probably unknown to the isp. With the advent of widespread broadband, these relays are are difficult to control. The isps shut down such relays as soon as they are discovered, but by then it's probably too late.

A redesign of the internet email system might be able to reduce spam, but I can't see how this could be really effective. Although a system of controlled access by known machines and users could be devised, both machines and people could have cloned identities to circumvent the controls.

However there are other ways. If you can't hit the spammer, why not target the credit card comapnies that they use? Spammers do it for money, so maybe there is some milage here.

There is always something that isps can do. Some isps trap uploads from users when more than say 100 addresses are targetted. Of course many businesses do post large volumes of non-spam, and special arrangements are made for these. Currently much spam comes through open relays, so action could be taken here. Some companies that offer broadband scan all their users for open relays (my isp does this), this is an automated procedure, and such connections can be immediately terminated. Even simple packet monitoring could be used to detect undue numbers of '@' symbols in incoming headers. Time delays for unexpected bulk emailing might make it difficult for the spammer.

The current situation is getting so bad that something must be done before the internet grinds to a halt under spam overload.

Small Displays

Still thinking about design and modern eqipment, there are a few areas where the manufacturers have what would seem a complete freedom to produce a product. One of these is software, and in particular the 'user interface'. In designing the part of the product that the user actually interacts with, there are a number of aims. The appearance should be pleasant and inviting, and it should enable the user to find his/her way around without having to consult the manual too often. We have all seen the PC applications that are laden with numerous menus with a multitude of items, dialogs with twenty or more tabs, all of which can change when the software is in different states. Then there are the products with interfaces that seem not to have the controls needed to operate them. Where do you click?

Some, like the standard Photoshop, have vast numbers of menu choices and hot keys, and you still can't figure out how to do simple tasks. I am particularly interested in the applications that run on small portable computers. Here there are many limitations imposed on the designer - there is not much screen 'real estate' for menus and dialogs, and maybe no keyboard either. Many such devices have monochrome displays, so the designers have to cope with this restriction too.

I have played around with many such applications. Some get discarded very quickly because the interface has completely hidden the controls, and other have such an array of mysterious icons that I am just confused. Some have found new methods of interaction that are not obvious - for example the function of a widget varies depending on how long the pen is held on it. But there are some good designs too. One of the reasons for the initial success of the Palm Pilot was the intuitive basic applications. Functions that would be awkward on a pen operated device were just discarded, and the applications were kept simple enough for technophobes to use. So some designs have continued this tradition, while others have incorporated great complexity with a simple interface.

One such Palm application is the built in Memo Pad. This is a very simple application that allows the storage of short text documents. This is useful for keeping all sorts of information, like your radio serial numbers, network settings, and so on. An application called Cryptopad builds on this - it simply allows you to encrypt any of these documents. The application looks just like Memo Pad, and uses the same file to store plain text, and an additional file to store the encrypted data. The extra settings to choose whether a memo should be encrypted are accessed through a menu.

DateBk5 Another such application is DateBk5. This looks very similar to the built in DateBook, and for the most part uses the same data file. But it adds lots of extra facilities, such as additional views, colour, templates, links, etc. But the basic interface is the same as the standard app which all Palm owners will be familiar with.
In the early days of Palm machines, users looked for a way of overcoming the limitations of the Memo Pad, in particular they wanted a way of storing and displaying text larger than the 4k limit of a normal memo. The Palm 'doc' format was born, as was a simple application which read screen-sized blocks of data from a text file of any size. Since early Palms had only 128k of memory, this text file was compressed, so increasing capacity. This was very successful, and easy to use. The only drawback was that just monochrome text could be stored, no colour or pictures.

One of the applications which broke this limitation is Isilo. This reads the earlier doc files, but also adds its own format, which allows colour, tables, various text sizes and attributes, pictures, hyperlinks and more. The clever touch is that the PC application which produces these files uses standard HTML files for its source. So you can read this directly off the web, or from any local drive on your PC.

Isilo 2 Isilo 1

Text, tables, pictures, etc. are resized for the small screen. For example, BeechLog is displayed beautifully, although I have changed the link buttons to make it more suitable for the small screen. Many web sites, like BBC News, have a PDA versions which easily converts to a single file. Unlike services such as Avantgo, no subscriptions are needed.

Isilo is an elegant Palm application. It is very intuitive and you don't need a manual. The screenshots show the controls, and a menu enables you to set the type of pen action you require.

Various decisions can be made on the PC which affect how the palmtop displays the translated file: whether and how images are displayed, colours, table formats, etc. Isilo is available for various Microsoft based machines as well as the Palm.

It's a pity that these elegant ideas haven't made their way into many radios. We still put up with front panels covered in controls whose functions are not clear or obvious. I still have to dig out the manual now and then, to figure out how to turn some functions on or off. Perhaps one day our radios will have proper menu systems and online help screens. However, since the radios are Japanese, perhaps this is wishful thinking - these people still haven't cracked the user interface on video recorders, after over 20 years of trying.

Useful Links

Would you like to stream music from a PC to your stereo? The Slimp3 enables you to connect your stereo to an ethernet cable, and stream sound files and internet radio from a remote PC.

You can find Isilo and IsiloX (the file creator) at these locations: http://www.isilo.com and http://www.isilox.com

Do you ever want to publish the address of a web page, but find that the address is so long that it gets wrapped in your email or newsgroup message? Try TinyUrl which is a free service that might do the job.

While on the subject of TinyUrl, can you identify the source and the date of these recordings? Click http://tinyurl.com/aeuj. I've had these tapes for at least 30 years.

Since I hand code BeechLog and other web sites, I'm always on the lookout for decent text editors. Currently I'm using Crimson Editor by Ingyu Kang, which is very nice indeed.

The HZK Javascript calculators are still here, they are due for a rewrite soon but still work well.

OPL, the language used on Psion computers, has now become open-source. See the OPL-Dev site for the latest information on using OPL on your Symbian based mobile phone.