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July 2004

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

Welcome to the July 2004 edition of BeechLog.

This month sees a bit of a move around of the various BBRC websites. There are a number of reasons for this, mostly covered elsewhere in this issue. But to make things clear, here are the addresses:

BBRC club website: http://beam.at/bbrc/

BBRC Information for newcomers to amateur radio: http://bbrc.info

Beechlog websites: http:/www.beechlog.org.uk and http:/www.beechlog.co.uk

BeechBlog, the Beechlog Weblog: http://beechblog.blogspot.com
Someone suggested that I set this up, although I'm not sure what to do with it! If anyone would like to be able to post messages to this blog, please let me know.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this issue. There are a few pictures, some links that you can click on, and even an article written by someone other than me! If John can write something pretty good, so can the rest of you lot, so keep the articles coming in:-)

Roger GØHZK, Editor

Contents

A report on the Sailing with Radio day
Make your own PSK31 machine
Even more films for eccentrics
Email pain
A new experience


Report on the Sailing with Radio day

Paul G6TSF, and I, John G1LMI, as the only members who applied for the four slots available, met at 7 a.m. Sunday the 30th May to go sailing with Roger Beasley 2E0RFB. Roger owns a 28ft, 6 berth, keeled sailing boat.

We used the M3 and M27 to get to Gosport, in about an hour and a quarter, arriving at about a quarter to nine.

My interest in sailing derives from reading most of the Patrick O'Brian books. These are novels about 18th century sailing with Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin. Recently these were the subject of the film Master and Commander. I therefore knew nothing about modern sailing at all really.

I had talked to someone who had a few days sailing under his belt, who recommended layers of clothing and waterproofs of some kind. This turned out to be good advice as it is surprisingly chilly and occasionally wet even on a good day. This applies especially when crossing the wake of one of the big container ships using the Solent.

Weevil Lane, Gosport, leads to the Gosport Cruising Club's mooring area. The lane is so named as it housed the victualling place for ships at one time. We met our skipper Roger and his crew man Stuart M0SAR, an Echelford ARS member, at GCC's car park area. While they chugged off in a club dingy to fetch the boat we got all our kit down to the jetty.

Soon aboard the 'Umgrummit' we set off towards the mouth of the Portsmouth harbour and into the Solent under engine power. When out into the open the mains'l was hoisted which helped stop the pitching (or was it rolling?). Roger had to actually attach the Genoa as it had been to the sailmaker for an estimate of minor repair. The repair however could not be done for 6 weeks or so. The sail feeds up a slot in a bow to mast top device, part of the forestay which can be rotated by rope to furl the sail in or out. Very clever!

Ropes for furling, and moving, the Genoa from one side to the other, and raising the mainsail, are run back to winches around the cockpit area. I was a bit taken aback to find that if the winches are wound clockwise or anticlockwise they still pull the rope in, but with different gear ratios. The ropes always go clockwise around the winches. With three turns of rope around they do not slip provided tension is kept on the rope tail until cleated off.

We sailed across the main deep-water channel, doing about 4.5 knots, towards Ryde and then tacked towards Cowes. Finally we turned back across the main channel for the Beaulieu river, dropping back to engine power as we entered. A short way up the river, having passed Lepe beach, we dropped anchor.

The radio was set up with Pauls Yaesu HF radio with my LDG AT11MP auto tuner and some wire up a pole and 'earth' around the boat. This did not give very good results and Stuart's very portable 'Buddy Pole' was tried. It was then that it was discovered that Paul had a fault in his N type to PL259 adaptor. Why did I get a feeling of déjà vu at this point? I am sure this has happened previously at a setting up of a McMike rally talk-in. Anyway after replacing that adaptor a few contacts were made by Paul calling G6TSF/Maritime Mobile. That call extension seems to get a fairly immediate response - could be useful for competitions!

Contacts included G0FQN/P in the Worth Valley, MI5KAW/M on a Northern Ireland Beach, and MI3YWW in Londonderry.

Roger did the chef bit and heated up some pies and tinned veg. We all were suitably refreshed and Roger took a nap. Stuart was just going to take the mike when Roger arose and indicated it was time (gone 4 p.m.) to set off back.

The return trip was with the wind and tide, and the mainsail was not required as the Genoa gave us nearly 5 knots on its own. Both Paul and I had another go at steering the boat and found that it was more difficult to keep her on the same heading. Also if you watched one of many small aircraft doing aerobatics high above, you found the yacht had decided to point to a different target, when you reapplied your attention.

Crossing back across the main channel towards Gosport, was more than a little delayed as a stream of large vessels (containers vessels full of cars etc.) had to be allowed to go by before we could turn to the new heading.

After some choppy water at the entrance we came off sail and back onto engine. We motored past our berthing place to go a little further up the Gosport water to have a look at the 'flying submarine'. This is attached to the Gosport Submarine Museum. The sub has been jacked up out of the water, but even so it is rusting badly. I am told you can go round inside it from the museum.

We turned back and passed the 'Whitbread' and 'RS' yachts before returning to the GCC jetty. After having a final cuppa, and giving Roger some funds to cover food etc. we departed for home. Arriving back at about 10 p.m., rather weary, somewhat sunburned, but very happy with the day, and what we had learnt.

Many thanks to Roger and Stuart!

P.S. Stuart is soon to give the club a talk on Kite Antennas.

Make your own PSK31 machine

These days, few amateurs manufacture their own radio station. Trying to build something to compete with recent 'rice-boxes' is not easy - components are not so easy to get hold of, and the cost can easily be greater that the £200 or so that a second hand all-band 100W HF transceiver might cost.

There are, however, options for those who with to concentrate on particular aspects of operating. We have all seen Bryan (and others) home built kits - and the one that appeals to me is the Small Wonder Labs PSK20 transceiver. PSK modes are quite appealing. There is an element of simplicity that comes from lack of need for a full range VFO, and the nature of the weak-signal properties of the mode mean that plenty of contacts should be possible without the need for high power. The PSK20 is thus relatively simple, and pretty small and portable.

Having a small transceiver is one thing - the next problem is the computer to drive it, especially if you want a neat solution. A standard PC does the job well, but can be a bit large compared with the radio. PSK modes usually require the PC audio circuits to be set up in a particular manner, and this may not be compatible with the other jobs that the PC may be used for. Another solution may be a laptop, which also gives an element of portability, but these machines are also a bit pricey, although prices are coming doen these days. Laptops are still rather large - manufacturers seem to want to produce machines with big screens, understandable I suppose, but as a person who has always found small devices more attractive, there must be another way. I know that Sony and JVC make small laptops, these tend to cost around £1500 or so, a bit too much to dedicate to PSK.

The answer that I am looking at is the Via EPIA range of single board computers. These are small boards intended for embedded applications, and use a number of processors specifically designed for the intended applications. These are perfectly compatible with PC operating systems - so you don't have to write your own software!

The cheapest Via board costs £63 including VAT. This is a mini-ITX design, about seven inches square. Included on the board is a 533MHz Eden CPU, AC97 sound circuitry, an ethernet port, graphics chip, USB ports, standard ATA hard drive connections, and floppy connections (depending on the model), and much more. To turn this board into a working PC you need a hard drive, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and memory.

This basic board is also fanless - the 533MHz CPU does not need a fan to cool it, so the PC can be pretty quiet! Power requirements are fairly low too. A standard ATX power supply can be used, but many people use a laptop 12V 5A power brick with a small adaptor board. This latter, silent, solution means that you need low consumption peripherals. You can get away with a standard hard drive if you don't need a CD or floppy drive, although a laptop HD has about a fifth of the power consumption which means that you can include a laptop-type CD drive and maybe even a floppy. For setting up purposes you can use a standard power supply and peripherals, and slim the machine down to the 60W supply when everything is working.

With a bit of careful construction, both the EPIA card and the Small Wonder Labs board might be fitted into a single small box. This would do away with much external wiring. Careful internal screening would be needed to prevent the EPIA card from wiping out 20 metres!

While an AC97 chip will run PSK31 there may be benefits from using a modern audio card. Cheapish cards such as the Audigy range will give an increased dynamic range, perhaps 20dB more. You can then disable AGC in the receiver (easy on the Small Wonder board) and let the PC handle this, with hopefully better copy on fluctuating signals. Just as well the EPIA cards have a PCI slot.

Suitable small keyboards and mice are available, although small monitors are still expensive.

EPIA boards may be the solution to many other problems. Here I have a network of PC used by different family members. The internet comes via a tiny router with a modem connected (one of Netvigators 3.4GHz broadband boxes would also interface perfectly well). I have often thought of using a simple server to supply services such as email and storage to my family members, but have been put off by the size, noise, and power consumption of a standard PC. This seems an ideal job for an EPIA based machine. These boards probably would have made a good packet BBS as well!

Thinking back to PSK, I have messed around with an idea which would eliminate the hard drive. I now have a standard PC which will boot up normally, but has no moving parts! Instead of a hard drive, I have used a compact flash card. One of the lesser known properties of these cards is that they have an ATA (IDE) controller built in. All that is needed is an adaptor, which can consist of the appropriate connectors and some wire to join them!

I cheated and bought an adaptor - they cost about £12. Mine has leds, master/slave jumper, and a 3.3V regulator on board. So all that was necessary was to fit the CF card into the adaptor, and to plug this into anATA port. Preparing the CF card was just the same as preparing a hard drive. I created a FAT partition (it was a 16 meg CF card) and Master Boot Record with fdisk, and then formatted it with system files using the Windows 98 format application. Lo and behold up popped the Windows 98 splash screen and DOS was running the PC.

Since there are DOS psk31 programs, this may be all you need! You may need DOS AC97 drivers for the EPIA card - I don't know whether these exist. With a bigger card you could install Windows, although the flash memory has a finite numer of write cycles (100 thousand to a million) so this may not be ideal as Windows is always messing about with swap files and its registry. There may be other operating systems which don't do this - Embedded Windows 2000 or XP, Linux, Arcos, who knows?

Most of the computer stuff you read about concerns getting even more power, so it's nice to know that some companies are driving things in the other direction. The EPIA range now includes small board with 1.2GHz cpus (with a small quiet fan). These boards have plenty of power for most uses. I still have a PC running with one of the few prototype 500MHz Pentium 3 processors to reach the UK, and this runs Windows 2000 well enough. Via are now producing boards that run off a single 12V supply (by integrating the adaptor board I mentioned earlier), so you can easily run the thing in the car.

Even more films for eccentics

In the last couple of issues I have written about my rather odd taste in films. I suppose that being a radio amateur means that I am likely to be a bit eccentric or even mad. As you may have gathered, Hollywood doesn't really interest me, as most of such films seem remarkably empty. After all, what does 'The Hulk' or 'Guys and Dolls' really say?

Currently there are many interesting films being released which are more satisfying. Most of these are pretty old, for example Silent Shakespeare features a selection of films made between 1899 and 1911. The mind boggles. I found Shakespeare pretty hard going at school, but these films have no speech! I have not seen them, but there is great temptation.

Other silent films recently released on DVD include Pandora's Box (1928) featuring Louise Brooks as Lulu. The stills alone from this film are marvellous and tremendously sexy. The following year Brooks starred in Diary of a Lost Girl, where she is even more stunning and seductive.

I particularly enjoy documentary films from times gone by. Der Magische Gurtel (The Enchanted Circle) has recently been restored by the Imperial War Museum. Really a propaganda film made in Germany in 1917 about the exploits of U-Boat U35, it features sinking allied ships galore. The IWM release also includes a twist - a copy was obtained by the Allies, and the words changed to counter the propaganda. This film is not cinema though, the images are real.

During World War II there were many notable films made. The Crown Film Unit made A Welcome to Britain in 1943 specifically for showing to American GIs as they joined the war. The intention was to educate them about life in the UK, and featured Bob Hope explaining about pounds, shillings and pence. Other curious British peculiarities explained are warm ale, driving on the wrong side, and many more

Also still available are London Scrapbook, Bundles for Berlin, Green Mountain, Black Mountain (Dylan Thomas' script), Living with Strangers and Village School, again films made here for American wartime audiences. Home Guard is a recruitment film, and Citizens Army shows the 5 day training course for membership of the same, both produced in 1940. Unarmed Combat and A Fighter has Crashed are films made for showing to the new recruits. Another war documentary was made by the BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke in 1960, Blitz on Britain. The year between 10th May 1940 and the same day in 1941 is condensed into 63 minutes, an absolute classic.

Around the same time, Humphrey Jennings made a number of documentaries about the war years, Listen To Britain and Listening To Britain. These are remarkable films made between 1941 and 1946 and show a very different life not so long ago. Similarly the GPO Film Unit made numerous films between 1930 and 1950, particularly about fishermen, industry, and everyday things like how to make a phone call.

British Transport Films also made numerous documentaries, particularly during the fifties and sixties. To me this seems only a few years ago. Films about the countryside, towns, engineering, transport. These seem to be a strange combination of yesterday and an age ago. There are numerous VHS tapes available containing various combinations of these usually short films.

Changing from fact to fiction, there are a few films recently released on DVD that appeal to me. Under Milk Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole in the Dylan Thomas classic I remember reading at school.

A Taste of Honey, Rita Tushingham and Dora Bryan - I've seen this a few times over the last forty years, it's still a terrific film, even in 2004. Directed by Tony Richardson, who in the following year (1962) gaves us 'Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner' with John Thaw, Tom Courtney, James Bolam.

London Orbital is a film about the M25, well sort of. Made in 2002 this needs to be seen, not easy to describe.

Girl On A Motorcycle, Alain Delon and Marianne Faithfull. 1968, psychedelic, free love, and only £5.99 on DVD.

John Boultings films Brighton Rock, Privates Progress, I'm Alright Jack seem to be making the transition to DVD, as have all the Ealing Comedies. Not the stuff for M3s I suppose. For them, Noggin the Nog and all episodes of Clangers are now available.

Email pain

Elsewhere in this issue there are details on the current locations of the BBRC websites. My share in all this came about because (i) the original beechlog.co.uk domain became available again, and (ii) my battle with spam email.

Since beechlog.org.uk took over as the main site for Beechlog, I have used some of the space allocated to me as a Telewest customer. However since I am going to find somewhere else to live soon, that web space was likely to vanish. After pondering about using one of the free web services to hold beechlog issues, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I have registered the .co.uk domain again with a company that provided a decent amount of web space along with a load of pop3 mailboxes.

So beechlog.co.uk now hosts all of Beechlog with plenty of room for expansion, and the pop3 facilities have sorted my spam problem to a large degree.

I've now used the same email address for about ten years, and what with it appearing all over the web on other peoples web sites, and in numerous usenet articles and faqs, it's now well established as a target for spam. This started to become a problem a couple of years ago, enough to pay Cix an extra 99p a month for its Brightmail anti-spam service. This was a good thing, and by Easter 2004 it was removing around 8000 unwanted emails each month. However after Easter things got bad. I don't know the full story, but over the last few years Cix has changed hands a few times, and has now ended up being owned by Pipex.

However part of the service, Cix Conferencing, was hived by a previous owner, Norsk Data (or was it Telenor?), to a new company, Parkglobe, which comprises of the folk who previously looked after the conferencing system. So Pipex pay Parkglobe to provide conferencing, while Pipex retained the internet business.

Prior to the takeover, most support issues were dealy with on the conferencing system. This meant that everything was in the open, which benefitted the company as many reported problems were in fact answered and solved by customers using the support conferences. However Pipex knows better and ditched all this, providing an email address and aphone number for support. One Cix member immediately set up a rival support conference, where among other things people whinge about the length of the support telephone queue and the lack of replies to their emails.

Anyway, back to the spam. Shortly after Easter the level of spam missed by the filtered started rising. When I found over 200 each day, enough was enough. There was an interesting solution though. Parkglobe offered their own access to conferencing by dial-up or telnet. Since the Cix email addresses were sold as part of the conferencing package, Parkglobe simply redirect the mail to any other address - after first passing it through their own anti-spam filters.

Switching my subscription from Pipex to Parkglobe took about 20 seconds. I redirected my mail to one of the beechlog.co.uk mailboxes, so I now retain my ten year old email address, with an increase in spam reduction of between ten and twenty times. I have to post my mail another way - currently I use the Telewest SMTP service, but of course I can switch to using whatever servers I choose at any time, retaining the Cix email address.

My email does get diverted about these days. All the bbrc.info mail now goes via he Parkglobe anti-spam service (not that I've had any bbrc.info mail), so does the Beechlog and the gØhzk.co.uk mail. I also have another personal address which redirects to my T-Mobile Blackberry account.

Email is a changing thing these days. I have looked at the unique Mailinator service, which uses disposable addresses. You simply make up a user@mailinator.com address, and a mailbox is automatically created if any mail is received at that address. You can read the mail easily - so can anyone else because there is no password. But you cannot delete the mail, it auto-destructs after a few hours. It's ideal when you need to give an address in order to download something - after you have got the activation code you can then forget the address and the spam that comes with it.

There are other services which allocate different addresses to each individual who wants to send you mail, for use by them only. If one address 'escapes' and you get spam, you need only change that single persons address - it doesn't affect all your other correspondents who each send you mail at a different address.

I also use the address 'hzk@despammed.com' for usenet. This is also filtered before any hopefully wanted mail gets forwarded to you. I do get such email now and then, but as this goes via Parkglobe, a second layer of filtering is applied. There are also some addresses which you can legitimately use, that ensure that all email gets deleted. Many domain sellers provide this option too.

It's all a pain that we have to go to such lengths.

A new experience

It is strange how weekends seem to go so quickly. I had hoped to finish off Beechlog yesterday, but was sidetracked doing some other things. On Saturday I had to finish sorting out someones PC. This belonged to a friend of my wife, and had become severely screwed up, despite me reinstalling the operating system the week before.

"There are boxes allover the screen,and I can't connect to the net" she said. Hmm, virus, worm, trojan, thought I. Actually it was worse in some way, as a premium-rate dialler had become installed somehow. So the PC was dialling this 090 number when she tried to connect up! Well, I soon deleted that, and then found that it would not dial using the normal DUN profile. This was cured by removing a strange collection of AT codes that had been added to the modem properties.

Anyway to cut a long story short, I then removed about 300 other virus, adware, spyware, and whatever nasty things from the PC, and installed a firewall and other protection against such stuff. After all this it still worked, but that was Saturday gone.

Sunday morning was spent going to church(es) and visiting my father in law. And after that a new experience for me. Last Monday I had volunteered to give my sister a hand at the local horse show. So having missed three quarters of it, along I went.

Now this was not far away - it was the Iver Horse Show and took place in Langley Park - but as soon as I arrived a woman said "hello Roger, you're just in time...". I didn't have a clue who this was - it turned out that she was the daughter of someone who ran a shop in Richings Park a few decades ago. Last time I had seen her, she must have been about 8.

This happened a few more times - various other people recognised me, goodness knows who they were. Over 25 years ago I used to ride regularly, presumably they were the horsey little girls that used to ride all that time ago. Anyway, I got the job of being steward to one of the judges. This meant standing in the ring with all these horses, giving the 'handlers' instructions and generally doing whatever I was asked. Of course I had not a clue about what a steward did, but luckily the riders did. I was told that the judge was very nice, and she was, despite her stern appearance. She explained that this was deliberate - she had been advised to dress so as to frighten the entrants! She also showed me the speed trap detector in her car - this displays "X-Band" and the like, and apparently it was also triggered by the (RF linked?) cameras in petrol stations (I mention this as it provides the 'radio' interest to the articel).

We had several classes to judge, especially the "miniature horse" classes. Most of the horsey people were quite disapproving of such animals, but they are obviously quite popular - one owner told me that she had twenty-six miniatures. They were very small, whilst all my horse experience has been looking down from a great height, these seemed very tiny - most were around 30 inches high. Much too small to ride, they were led around the ring by their owners who got some good exercise that afternoon!

After the miniatures we had the classes for children. The ponies looked enormous, and in comparison to what I had seen earlier, they were. The older children walked, trotted and cantered around us, which brought back memories of when I was a mere lad of 30.

Five hours passed in a flash. Then with the show over, I helped out dismantling the rings in the now empty park, and then went home to find a broken washing machine, a perfect ending to a different day.