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January 2005

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

Welcome to the January 2005 edition of BeechLog.

Here we are again. My apologies for the non-appearance of the November issue. Work and domestic excuses, I'm afraid. If anyone feels that they could do better....

A happy new year to you all. As I write this, 2005 is a couple of days away so here am I with a few days off work sitting in front of the PC. Of course it has caused me a bit of trouble as usual - this time I had problems with my olde version of Photoshop Elements. I installed it as Administrator, changed the scratch discs as requested and lo! Next time I started it as a normal user, It told me that the 'file is locked'. What file I have no idea. But pressing shift-control-alt as Photoshop starts allows me to delete the settings file, so now it's working again. These things try us. Running Nero was also changing the desktop from XP theme back to Classic theme, goodness knows why!

Anyway, I solved that one with the help of the Nero Burning Rights control panel thingummy.

As I write, beechlog.org.uk is under threat. It is coming up for renewal on the 5th of January. The company who are doing this managed to lose me beechlog.co.uk a while ago, so fingers crossed. I still have two domains registered with this outfit, so if they lose them I shall re-register with a better company when they becoma available again. That's all for now, I hope to see you all again soon, provided my shifts tie up with club nights again.

Roger GØHZK, Editor

Contents

Ramblings on technology and radio
Aaargh, bloody computers
More reviews
Peace on earth

Ramblings on technology and radio

It is interesting how some technologies advance while others do not. I've written before about the lack of progress in the amateur radio field, change has been so limited that it would be difficult to detect what the operator at the other end of the QSO is using. It is perfectly conceivable that his transceiver might be thirty years old, and provided it had been maintained well you would be none the wiser. In fact a good many radio amateurs prefer to use such ancient equipment.

KT66 One would be surprised if they also used any other 1970s technology. Yes I know there are plenty of Quad II systems driving the 'firescreen' speakers. Basic audio reproduction was at a fairly high level, within certain limitations, towards the end of the fifties, and although most of us listened to an ECL82, a pair of KT66 or even EL84s could give a performance as good as most domestic kit today.

But looking around the house there is little sign of elderly electronics. I have a Psion Organiser 2 from the early eighties, and a Sinclair Cambridge calculator - goodness knows how old that is. The boiler timer has been in use here for about 20 years, although the boiler was replaced quite recently. The audio gear I use varies a bit in age. The amplifier goes back about 20 years, although I still have most of my homebrew 1971 Hi Fi News amplifiers and even the Tobey & Dinsdale precursors from about ten years earlier. Every few years I think about getting these going again, but finding OC35 transistors for the Dinsdale might be a trifle difficult.

My music source all those years ago was the 12 inch vinyl disc. I had a variety of things to play them on, including a Thorens turntable and SME arm. I went through a succession of pickup cartridges before I found one that worked well in the low temperatures of my unheated bedroom, it was a Danish Ortofon. I guessed that Denmark was a coldish country, so they were the best bet.

Today most audio comes from CDs which presumably don't mind if it's a bit chilly. But it is curious that this field of optical devices is suddenly advancing. I've been clearing out piles of old magazines, and looking at the computer bits it is quite evident that certain things are moving at different rates.

PC Magazine from 1996 is full of first generation Pentium machines, with clock speeds up to 200MHz. Not all of the new models had CD drives, and there were very few CD writers. The cheapest I found cost £399 plus VAT for a double speed device, although there were some at four times speed for between £500 and £800 + VAT. By this time last year we had 48X CD writers, now they seem to have hit a plateau at 52X, although the price has come down to about £15 to £20.

The 1996 mag also featured a 2.6 Gig optical drive, but no prices were mentioned! This must have been a fabulous machine, given that PCs current at the time had hard drives half that size. DVD writers were still a few years away, alas I didn't keep any magazines that show their introduction. However about a year ago the prices started coming down, under £100 for a 2.4X drive. Now we find 16X drives for less than £50, and the drives handle both popular disc types, including dual layers.

This change over the last year seems quite significant. My old drive wrote a 2.4X DVD in about half an hour, or a bit more if there were a lot of files. Now I can fill an 8X DVD in just over 6 minutes. 16X discs are available in Slough, although I've not tried them. But the difference between six and thirty minutes is quite an advance, think of it as a saving of 24 minutes. It's the difference between not having time and a quick job.

A 16X DVD should write in the same time as a CD. This must be close to a practical ceiling. I don't know how fast the DVD rotates at, but the data transfer rate is approaching that of a hard disc. Well, my hard disk anyway. I measured this at about 38,000 KB/s. The 16X DVD speed equates to 21,632 KB/s. There will overheads that bring the hard drive speed down - data has to be fetched from all over the drive, files will be fragmented so the hard drive rate will be slower as it assembles and streams each file to the DVD. Note that a CD drive is much slower, a 48X drive reads/writes at 7,200KB/s. I have also seen dual layer DVD+R discs in Slough. These are all 2.4X speed at the moment, although current drives can handle 4X. I imagine an 8.5GB dual layer disc will tale twice as long to write as a standard 2.4X DVD-R, so that 8.5 GB will take an hour or so to write.

As well as speed increasing, prices of media are reducing too. Looking in the local shops, you can get 25 8X DVD+R Philips discs for about £15. Last year they were about three times the price. Slower discs are cheaper.

The rewriteables are cheaper too, I bought 10 4X DVD+RW for under £10 in Dixons yesterday. That would have been £35 for 2.4X discs a few months ago. And all these discs can be much cheaper mail order via the net, I've seen 25 DVD+R 8X at less than £6!

blu-ray disc In the near future blue laser discs will be getting cheaper. Current drives can manage a bit over 20 GB, but hopefully things will improve. In a couple of years we should expect 50 GB discs on sub-£100 drives. At current fastest DVD rates, a 50 GB disk would take over an hour to fill.

The optical drive in the 1996 magazine was capable of backing up the entire contents of a typical PC at the time to one disc, with room to spare. Should we expect the same today? Hard disk sizes in todays PCs are around 200 MB. There are 500MB external hard drives, but removable storage of similar size seems years away.

This is a pity because in these days of constant attack from virus and trojans, the risk of data loss is rather worrying. Of the various PCs I have been asked to fix over the last couple of years, none had a backup of any sort. I manage with a combination of hard drive, CD and DVD backups, but it's a bit fiddly to do this, so often gets neglected. I've been meaning to build a low-power silent PC for backup over the network, but haven't got round to it yet.

I'm surprised that there are almost no inexpensive boxes available for this purpose. USB hard drives are so-so, but you really want to site your backup far from your PC, where it will be less like to suffer the same fate as your PC, such as burglary. A kitchen cabinet, broom or airing cupboard, or even the garage or shed.

Going back to radio, there was a chap on Cix the other day who wanted to record some radio programs. Various suggestions were made, but it appears that there has never really been a radio equivalent of the video recorder. I suppose that since most stations provide something like non-stop-pop (or these modern genres that sound like they have been composed by a computer), no-one would really want to record that stuff anyway.

The Bug There is a recent DAB receiver called The Bug or something similar, that can actually record programs to a flash memory card. I don't know whether it has a single or multi event timer, but it sounds like a glimmer of hope. Whether there is a market for such radios I don't know. If most of the worlds radio broadcasts are of the background music type, then it seems unlikely. Which is a pity.

Someone else on Cix wanted a car radio with a record button. He said that he often listened to Radio 4 while driving, and the button would come in useful when he arrived at his destination half way through an interesting program. Many a time I have arrived home and sat in the car for another ten or fifteen minutes listening to the radio. It just cemented my wifes assessment that I am not normal.

Aaaargh, bloody computers

This is a story about computers and radio, and it all happens because of my children. Just one of them this time. He is 13 and has been sharing my PC up until now, which means I had restricted access until he went to bed. So I have been looking out for a machine that he could use, freeing up mine.

Well, it just so happened that they had a clear out at work. This summer they bought about 100 new machines, and eventually they ended up with a room full of the old ones. So they decided to remove the hard drives and sell the rest. A sale date was advertised, but it was a day I was on the late shift, so I almost forgot. Anyway when I got to work I rushed down the road to the building where they were having the sale, in time to see people struggling to their cars loaded with laser printers and the like. There were a few PCs left, so I grabbed the cleanest looking one. How much? Twenty quid? So I now had a diskless HP Vectra.

When I got the thing home I discovered that it wasn't a bad bargain. Hardly used, it had a 800MHz CPU and 256MB RAM. My stock of spare hard drives had almost run down, but I slapped in a huge 127MB drive circa 1995 just to verify that it worked. So all I needed was to get hold of a bigger drive and that was that. So a moved some data around in my PC and removed the second drive, a 20GB model. This was bolted into the 'new' machine, loaded with an OS and Alex had his own machine.

The next job was to get him connected to my network. The Vectra had an Ethernet port, but I had a slight problem with cabling. Now is the time, I thought, to get rid of all these wires and go wireless. Well, these things are quite easy these days, so soon a second router was added to the network, and Alex was connected. Over the next couple of weeks I put wireless cards into two other machines, and then had a bit of fun.

If you've ever installed any type of network, fun is to be expected. I wasn't disappointed. Everyone was complaining about connections coming and going, and it took a couple of days to sort it all out (crossed fingers). Having two routers made things a bit more tricky that they should have been, especially as I connected the new one as a client of the original router. Using the DHCP servers on both routers, everything worked at first, until I decided that it would be better if the new router was given a static address. Then the whole thing fell apart and I lost contact, and thus the ability to reconfigure the main router. So extra cables were run about the house, and I managed to get it all working again.

There were still a few problems. These seemed to be resolved when I let the wireless client software govern the PCs, rather than the default option to let Windows manage the client cards. Windows XP SP2 has a new facility which is supposed to do this, but it worked best if I turned this off! Except of course the machine with XP Pro, which could not find the network until I re-enabled its wireless client service and removed the OEM client software. Why Home and Pro should differ, goodness knows.

Of course, it doesn't end there. A couple of weeks later I got a new hard drive to replace the one I installed in Alex's PC. I set this up and reloaded Windows. Everything seemed to work OK, except that the machine seemed to have slowed down. It wasn't a dream, for I ran a bit of software called DriveSpeed which revealed that the new drive was running at a tenth of the speed of the older one! Now this last month I have had to return about three other faulty devices to shops, so I was gearing for a repeat trip. But I found what was wrong. The new drive was an Ultra ATA133 type, but Windows had set it up to run its PIO (pathetic in-out) interface.

When this sort of thing happens, you don't think of the obvious, which in the case of Windows is to remove the suspect kits drivers and let Windows rediscover it. But I did find an interesting tale. Apparently this problem is quite common with CD/DVD drives. Windows is clever (too clever), and if it gets more that six consecutive read errors, it switches off the DMA interface and enables PIO. In my case it had obviously had detected the fact that I hadn't plugged in the data lead properly. I cured this with a registry equivalent of removing the hardware.

All seemed to be working now, perhaps working too well. While kipping downstairs one night I was woken by the modem dialling out. I popped upstairs to see who was responsible, and found all PCs were turned off. And of course, the evening before, there had been an item on the news about people hacking into wireless networks. Now the wireless router keeps a log of all the user activity, but lo, there were no entries at the appropriate time. The log in the dialup router is much shorter, but also showed no activity. So what was going on?

The problem was solved a few days later, when the thing dialled out while I was eating breakfast. This time the log revealed all, the wireless router was connecting to a Japanese time server, to correct its internal clock. So nothing to worry about after all.

More reviews

No not radio reviews. I keep asking members to send me their impressions of their new radio kit, but no, nothing arrives at the editorial office. I haven't bought any new stuff for years, so I can't make up anything relevent. But I do get involved in other family things, and just yesterday I was asked to order a set of DVDs on the net.

Quantum Leap This was the first series of an American program, 'Quantum Leap'. This was aired in the US in the spring of 1989, and now pops up from time to time on various satellite channels. Anyway this was duly ordered, nine episodes for about £13.50. Of course this comes under the heading 'cult', so there are various web sites full of explanations and programe details such as this one. It whetted my curiosity, so I sent my memory back much further to see what I could find.

The PrisonerThe classic British cult TV series was 'The Prisoner', broadcast in 1967. This came to mind because there have been adverts all over the telly promoting a series a DVD bearing magazines about the series. Well, there were 18 episodes and you can get them all from Amazon for less than £30, probably cheaper than buying the magazine. I have only the first episode so here are a couple of frames for your perusal. This series quite annoyed my mother who never managed to figure out what it was all about. The program makers never volunteered any information either. I managed to catch part of a program on the radio recently, where they were describing their efforts to inflate weather balloons under water - apparently all but one exploded in the process.

Danger Man Going back even further there was 'Danger Man', from 1960 - nearly 45 years ago. You can buy all 39 half-hour episodes from the first series for £41, on six DVDs. There is also a 13 disc set for about £75 plus anything Customs & Excise charge when it arrives from the States, these being region 1 discs. I can't say I have seen any of these for decades. They were the sort of thing that we looked forward to back then, as this sort of stuff was pretty new, not really seen on the telly before.

Parrot SketchThe other main cult series Monty Python dates from 1969, and of course their are numerous offerings available. I have looked in vain for 'That Was The Week That Was', alas all that Amazon came up with was 'How Green Was My Valley'. Not the same thing. Possibly some episodes of TW3 are recorded somewhere, who knows? But Python annoyed my mother, she didn't find any of it remotely funny. My father watched it all creased up and shaking with laughter, much to her disgust. She was really a book person.

Also from the Danger Man era was 'The Avengers' from 1961. Back then women were supposed to be gentle and wear colourful dresses, so Honor Blackman (Kathy Gale) and especially Diana Rigg (Emma Peel) wearing tight black leathers and throwing the men around was really something. Women wearing trousers in public was really frowned upon, especially on the other side of the pond. But to a 15 year old me... The 16 disc set once again is an import from the US at £75 plus the UK government theft. The series eventually petered out soon after the McNee/Rigg chemistry was split, but was revived in 1976 with Joanna Lumley playing Purdey. But times had changed.

Avengers New Avengers The Professionals Adam Adamant The Tripods A Very Peculiar Practice

Along came a new breed of action, with women pushed back into the background. All 57 episodes come on 16 discs for about £42, although Cowley, Bodie and Doyle have hardly left the screen since 1977. Other stuff available include 'Adam Adamant' from 1966, 'The Tripods' from 1985, and 'A Very Peculiar Practice', alas only the first series.

Me, myself? I have only watched a little television over the holiday. I watched the likes of Little Richard and Chuck Berry blowing the minds of youngsters in the fifties. That was a treat. I must have seen some other stuff, but I assume I drifted off and watched it through closed eyes.

Peace on Earth

Over the holiday I have spent some time catching up with various bits and pieces that needed doing. Beechlog is one example. I also have been updating other web sites, including my Carabus site which contains locator and related calculators written with Javascript. Every now and then someone sends me an email asking how to do these calculations, so I spent some time producing a worked example that was easy to follow.

Having reinstalled Windows on my PC, I came across a slight oddity. As I tested the code, I got security warnings from Internet Explorer, although not from my usual browser. This didn't happen when I ran the code from my web site. What is different? What have I done?

The warnings turned out to be due to Microsofts attempts to deal with a security hole in its implementation of Javascript. The nature of this scripting is such that it is unable to write to local drives, but Microsoft in their wisdom produced other mechanisms which can react to broken Javascript code and do naughty things. So the solution is to stop scripting from running from your hard drive. Easier than fixing the problem, I guess. You actually get a new bar appearing in IE which gives you the option of allowing the script to run. How the average user is supposed to figure out what is safe and what is not, goodness knows. He/she will either never click on the bar, or always click it, and there goes the security.

I read today a short account of one mans Christmas in Athens in 1944. At that time the Nazis were on the retreat, but civil war had broken out. The writer, a child at the time, recalls how all sides of the war seemed keen on killing others, however innocent. Spain was to follow the path a year later. I cannot understand how justice can be achieved this way. We are blessed that such war has not broken out in Britain for centuries. Unfortunately in Northern Ireland there are still two communities with significant numbers of members who wish to continue such actions. The tensions there also exist to a much lesser extent in Scotland, whose citizens have managed to keep one step back from violence.

What is it that allows groups with opposing views to live peacefully with each other? Here in Slough there is such a mix of people that it seems sometimes that I am the only one who speaks English as my native tongue. Shopping in Tesco I often hear white Europeans chatting with each other in unrecognisable languages. Where are they from? Latvia, Estonia, Croatia? But we are all able to shop together quite happily. I for one am grateful that we can live together peacefully whatever our differences, as the results of civil wars are often not worth the cost.

If we believe opinion polls, the vast majority of Britains population all in favour of being photographed, fingerprinted, and scanned, so that the state can keep records of what we are all up to. And we must pay £85 for the privilege. Quite what benefit there will be, I cannot figure out. The record for state data systems is not good. Anyone who has to use state services can tell you that the systems are often 'down', have no record of you, or are just incorrect. Until recently the Inland Revenue had me married to a woman whom I have never met. The NHS have not managed to get me a follow up appointment after a heart operation I had over three years ago. Hertfordshire Police claimed to have photographic evidence of me committing a crime in Watford while I was at work in Reading. The employment service claimed that I was not entitled to unemployment benefit because I had not paid any National Insurance contributions, and besides, I had not registered as unemployed.

It sems to me that an ID card scheme will be dogged by a non-working computer system, probably contracted to the same company who have failed to produce a working NHS system for decades. It will cost infinitely more than the sum already projected. It will inconvenience law abiding people, while having no affect at all on orginised criminals or would-be terrorists. Apparently something like 200,000 British passports are lost or go missing every year, one can only assume that ID cards will also suffer the same fate, but in greater numbers.

I think that this is all empire building by the Home Office. It is amazing that as all our employers have been reducing staffing levels, the Civil Service has been growing at record rates, doubling their staff levels in less than a decade. It is not surprising that government debt is growing, and taxation is increasing. Regardless of your politics, something's got to give.

Back onto radio now. There has been a discussion on the net about the legalities of a G3 who operated a UK voice over IP node (Echolink?) from somewhere in Africa. Since his voice went entirely within the internet until it reached the UK node, it was difficult to argue that he had broken any law in Africa or the UK. After some megabytes of discussion, someone came to the conclusion that as BR68 did not specifically state how his callsign should be appended (if at all), then we should refrain from using this licensed and Ofcom approved network.

What is up with amateurs today? When I was first licensed, the general opinion seemed to be that anything was OK unless specifically banned. Now we have amateurs saying that we should not transmit if others are unsure about how to say our callsign. Defeats me.

Another thing that puzzles me is the attitude of some amateurs towards others who call 'break' in order to join in a conversation. Goodness knows how they would have managed twenty years ago on VHF. During busy times, all VHF channnels were in use all the time, so it was often the only way to get a QSO. It seems to me that these days some folk regard amateur frequencies as their own private property, and stand by to repel all boarders. The internet has a funny effect on people. There is such bad language, rudeness, and point-scoring which I presume these people would never use face to face with one another. Or perhaps I am wrong? Do people normally behave like this? At school, at work? I live such a sheltered life, I guess.