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March 2006

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

Welcome to the March 2006 edition of Beechlog.

Once again it is time for another Beechlog, here we are in March already. Outside it's cold but very sunny, quite a nice day to sit and do nothing. Nothing much has happened here, I'm still waiting for the exchange of contracts on the sale of my home, it's like being on suspended animation, although you have to carry on as normal. When I get the call from the solicitor, all hell gets let loose. Firstly, find somewhere to live, then it's crunch time for 25 years of my collection of the detritus of my life. Frequent trips to the council tip, farming out useful stuff to friends and relatives, and so on. Someone once wrote that you need no more belongings than can be fitted into the back of a car, and there's something to be said for that.

I've pulled down most of my aerials already. After 20 years aloft, my 2m Tonna was past its best, and has already been thrown away. Most coax has been given away. There's still a small "white stick" aloft, which will come down at the last moment, although I confess it's seen no RF input for months.

So this is probably the last Beechlog from this address. There's the usual collection of largely non-radio related mutterings below, so get stuck in. As usual, your input is always very welcome, you know where to send it.

Roger GØHZK, Editor


The move
All Good Clean Fun
Here we go again
Recording DVD

The move

My Garden When I have actually moved house, I'll be able to start considering radio again. This house is a bit limited due to a small garden, but I've always managed to get some aerials aloft, although nothing much suitable for any DX. However it's a possibility that I'll be living somewhere with no garden, which will make things more difficult.

I do have a few books which purport to address this problem, although only as an afterthought. Most authors seem to have acres of land, so their adea of restricted space tends to mean that their topband dipole has to bend a bit at the ends! Many many years ago I used to read Short Wave Magazine, and I remember competition between writers about using coat hangers and tintacks as aerials, so maybe there's some hope! It might mean that I have to brush up (understatement) my Morse skills, although perhaps one of these new digital modes might be worth investigating.

Another alternative is some sort of concealed aerial. I once knew some locals who "came out at night" to erect wires around their neighbourhood. One friend had a top band inverted L, and the horizontal part ran along his street to a tree in the woods at the end of the road. Every night after dark, he would be out with his ladder! Another, again a top band enthusiast, strung wires across a Slough car park. The council regularly removed them, but it seemed they never figured out who was putting them up!

There is always the possibility of a magnetic loop, or one of those aerials that the pundits in the magazines and the newsgroups love to criticise. They always compare them unfavourably with dipoles, but the whole point is that there's no room for the dipole. When I lived in a flat in the town centre I had access to the loft, with a variety of VHF and HF aerials up here. Practically no-one knew, except for the man whose video recorder suffered from the output of the 4CX250B amplifier! He watched only skiing programs, and the video was rented, so he wasn't too bothered.

Wires along gutters and drainpipes might give me the chance to catch up with my friends on forty. An HF loop round the loft should work, although goodness knows what QRN it will receive, and how many others to which it would cause interference. I suppose QRP might work, although I've always found that 100W wasn't enough to reach the interesting stations calling on even a quiet band. My small 70cm beam is easily concealed, but I've not heard anyone on 7ocm SSB, and few on FM simplex for ages.

The other option is to become a mobile or portable operator. I remember a G4 who used to drive to the Hogs Back most nights, and operate on ten metres to a 5/8 vertical. He had a valve linear in the boot, and did rather well. A quiet spot with a long hedge is ideal for inter-G using a dipole threaded in the hedge, it could be left there, and all I'd have to do it drive up to it and connect the transceiver. When I helped set up the GKØJFK station at Runnymede, forty was up and running within minutes of arriving, by simply draping a hedge with a dipole. Low HF dipoles work very well around the UK. All I'd have to sort out would be a means of powering the transceiver for a couple of hours.

All Good Clean Fun

I've written before about the various French films I get to watch when I'm at work. What I am supposed to do is to repair tape players from the entertainment systems found in airliners, and these often arrive with a tape inside, sometimes mangled up, but often intact. These are mainly from european airlines, although some come from more exotic places. Anyway, the other day I received a tape from an Egyptian airline. This featured mainly western type entertainment, including various musical performances.

Nisma Abdel Aziz One that struck me featured a young Egyptian woman called Nisma Abdel Aziz. She was not dressed as we might expect, but very western. However her performance was unusual, as she played the marimba, in a very lively sort of way. I've found a picture for you, which shows her with her instrument, just in case you couldn't figure out what a marimba was.

Marimba Despite being fond of music, I must confess that I couldn't put a name to her instrument! But Google is my friend, and I soon found out more than I wanted to know. To save you the trouble, it features xylophone-like rosewood keys, arranged something like a piano, with metal resonators hanging underneath. The picture clearly shows the tubular resonators. There is also an earlier version of the marimba which is found in South America and parts of Africa. I've borrowed a picture from Wikipedia, which shows an instrument with gourds as resonators. It looks to me like a cross between a xylophone and a continental delicatessen, and somehow slightly rude. The performer (wearing a headscarf) is quite unlike Nisma, and the woman on the right must be some sort of American anthropologist.

20th Century Organ Works Enough of that. Over the last few months I've bought a little music, nothing with marimbas I might add. But my tastes vary a bit, so there has been the occasional 'wild' purchase. One recent disc was Twentieth Century Organ Works, featuring music by Jonathan Dean Harvey, Malcoim Williamson and Peter Maxwell Davies. Some of this music is quite challenging. One of my sons thought it came from some thirties Dracula film, although there are various modern styles. The Harvey pieces seemed to fit into the 'random unexpected chords' category, but after a few 'listens' it's growing on me. Malcolm Williamsons contributions include Vision Of Christ-Phoenix, which was written for the dedication of the new organ in Coventry Cathedral in 1960. This piece is in some way strangely familiar, although I can't imagine where I might of heard it before.

I really don't know how to describe this music. And I don't know why I find some of it appealing.

In a more conventional mode, I bought one of the collections of music sung by Emma Kirkby. Ms Kirkby has been recording music from the periods before 1800 for at least a couple of decades. Such music does not attract the typical sopranos of today. Even if it did, they would probably make a hash of it by singing with the ugly excessive vibrato that is apparently so necessary today. Among the recordings on my disc, is You meaner beauties of the night, a poem by Sir Henry Wotton and music by Michael East, both seventeenth century:

You meaner beauties of the night,
That poorly satisfy our eyes
More by your number than your light;
You common people of the skies,
What are you when the sun shall rise?

You curious chanters of the wood,
That warble forth Dame Nature's lays,
Thinking your voices understood
By your weak accents; what's your praise
When Philomel her voice shall raise?

You violets that first appear,
By your pure purple mantles known,
Like the proud virgins of the year,
As if the spring were all your own;
What are you when the rose is blown?

So, when my mistress shall be seen
In form and beauty of her mind,
By virtue first, then choice, a queen,
Tell me, if she were not design'd
Th' eclipse and glory of her kind?

There are many other pieces on this disc, including J S Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze, unusually it'sperformed as originally intended, by strings, recorders and soprano.

Byrds Masses Another English recording is of William Byrds Masses for four and five voices. These are performed by a choir at Oxford, and thus they are sung properly. Alas many continental choirs lean too much on modern operatic technique, spoiling the music. Byrds Masses are quite exceptional, and are equalled only by Bach, Mozart and perhaps Verdi, whose mass is intended to be sung in a more operatic style.

Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal On a lighter note, I bought a few boxed sets of music recorded in the late sixties to early seventies. None were up to the standard of Legend of a Mind, but these sets generally go quite cheaply and have a few tracks worth listening to. I've already got some of this music, mostly on LPs bought at the time, so it's nice to have scratch-free copies that I can listen to in the car.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis Firstly Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal takes it's title from the track by Dr. Strangely Strange. These are recordings released on the Island label, and include the singing of the long-departed Sandy Denny (also singing in Fairport Convention and Fotheringay). Also Traffic, Mott the Hoople, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Quintessence and much more.

All Good Clean Fun Ars Longa Vita Brevis includes The Nice, Humble Pie, Fleetwood Mac, Julie Driscoll, Chicken Shack, Juicy Lucy, The Kinks on it's three discs. All Good Clean Fun features Hawkwind, Bonzo Dog Band, Brinsley Schwarz, Groundhogs and Idle Race. Maybe not the best stuff, but fine for the car when I'm in that sort of mood.

I have also bought CDs and DVDs of quite different genres for other family members. I think the Amazon recommendation machine has had a field day try to work out what I'll buy next. I get some pretty strange recommendations. This week it's Gather in the Mushrooms, with Pentangle, Spirogyra, Lesley Duncan, Sandy Denny, so I suppose that's not a bad guess. Also they suggest Let No Man Steal Your Thyme [the Shelagh McDonald Collection] which is curious, as I actually have the LPs from which the tracks are taken. Less accurate are the DVD suggestions, which include The Odyssey [1997] (hard to spell!), Lawrence of Arabia - Two Disc Set [1962] and Edge Of Darkness - The Complete Series [1985]. But this month I've had a major car service, the cat 'done', and a few other expenses so I won't be buying much!

Here we go again

I wrote a few months back about my difficulties when trialling the local 3.4GHz internet service. These were caused by the signal being unable to penetrate through the walls, windows and roof of my house. Still being in the waiting room to move house, it is likely that I would not have any sort of internet for a while when I actually have to move out. Well I suppose I could use my XDA as a GPRS modem, but there's a bit of hit and miss setting up (if you go by the forums). The XDA isn't quite to solution I hoped it would be, so I decided to curtail the airtime contract and look for something else. Personally I think my Palm Tungsten 2 was more useable, being quicker, the software more stable, and the battery life considerably longer.

Internet via the XDA was so-so for email, useless for the web, quite good for Windows Messenger. I rarely use the latter, so I won't miss it. So to fill the gap I have got a 3G data card for the laptop.

3G Datacard I did wonder whether it would actually work in my house. My mobile phone, on 1.8GHz works fine, so the 2.1GHz from the new card was a distinct possibility. And indeed it does work, although the Vodafone 3G network is not that strong according to the "S meter" that is shown on the driver application.

The Software Although a CD was provided, I downloaded the latest software from their website. This installed with no problems. Plugging the card into the PC card slot produced an initial flurry of messages as it installed goodness knows how many drivers and adaptors, but having done that, it is quickly recognised whenever I use it now.

The theoretic speed these things work at is 384k, and there is a display that shows the actual speed as you use the net. The maximum uplink speed is only 64k, however that's twice the speed of a V90 modem. Unlike the net via my XDA, the system is pretty responsive and much faster than my dialup gear. Where 3G is deemed to be absent or too weak, the system drops down to the GPRS network. In a couple of locations I have seen it switch between the two every minute or even less, but apart from slowing down, communication continued without any adverse effects. However I have set up profiles like "3G only" and "GPRS only" so the card can stay locked to one network. An amusing effect of this switching between networks is that each time it switches it counts as a new session. The online billing system shows how much data is used for each session, along with date and times!

Of course there is a price to pay for all this. Since I started using email and suchlike via GPRS, I've always been careful with my usage. The cost of using the XDA was about 50p per MByte while under the contracted limit, and with this 3G card it's about 12p per MByte. This covers up to 250MBytes per month. That's about 8MBytes per day, which will easily cover me when there's no other internet access. Looking back this week, the maximum I used in a single day was about 6MBytes, mostly it's about 2MBytes. As you may gather I'm not one who's downloading movies all day and night.

3G coverage is increasing, you can find Vodafones map here. Click on the map at the bottom of the page, thern click on the 3G icon.

To use the card, you simple plug it in, and run up the Vodafone Connect application. This provides the means of toggling the 3G network on and off, shows statistics such as current data rate and monitors your usage. There's also an SMS text message application, an instant messenger and various other stuff. I noted that the connection comes up protected by the Windows XP firewall.

So far the thing just works, which is rather pleasing. All my usual stuff works OK without having to change any settings. My anti-virus updates automatically, web, telnet, usenet and email are all fine. There is a Vodafone SMTP server for sending mail if your usual one won't work off their network. There's no Usenet server, but the University of Berlin one works fine (10 Euros per year, much better than my usual one). So far so good. But what's the betting that it won't work when I change my abode?

Recording DVD

A while ago, armed with my Christmas bonus, I went out and did some potentially unwise spending. Amongst the stuff I bought was a Panasonic DVD recorder from Tesco in Slough (and while looking for a picture to illustrate this article, I discovered that Tesco have now added about £70 to the price! It seems I bought it at the right time.) The trouble with things like this is you then find that there's nothing on the TV that's worth recording! Actually I did find out some interesting stuff while testing the thing out, so it's given me a few things to think about if nothing else.

Panasonic DMRE-S10 The Panasonic machine records on DVD-R, -RW, +R and DVD-RAM. Why the +RW variant is missing, goodness knows. Possibly something to do with licensing, as, I discovered, these recorders write to different discs in different ways. So when I tried to copy some of the disks I had made, things didn't work out as I expected. VideoReDo This meant finding some copying tools. Firstly I found a program called DVD Decrypter, which has a long story behind it! Enough to say you won't find on web sites hosted in the USA! Anyway this seems to read anything, although you have to click around a bit to get the right settings. Since video files are rather large, it usually takes me an hour or more before I discover I've set something wrong. Then someone recommended VideoReDo Plus, which is much easier, and makes editing simple too. This read the DVD-RAM discs too. DVD-RAM does not need finalising and can be played on PC DVD player applications. The video is recorded in a single VRO file, unlike conventional DVD-Video which for some reason seems to need a dozen or more files!

I use Nerovision Express to write the new, edited DVDs, it's very simple and I actually had a copy, so didn't cost anything.

Having sorted that out, I looked for some decent quality off-air video to record. The Panasonic records at various rates between 10Mbit/s down to 1Mbit/s. The fastest rate is probably pointless, and I'm not sure that all players can handle data at that rate! I've got analogue telly, which would be a good source, except for the various patterns, shadows and whatever that seems to plague reception around here. Curiously the machine seems to remove most of this without losing too much definition. Freeview pictures are fairly clear, or so I thought until I had a closer look.

Combing the net, it took some time to find any info relating to data rates. Apparently BBC1 is the only channel that has a constant rate, 4.4Mbit/s, slightly less than the default DVD Recorder setting. Some of the others run at abount half this rate, so much for quality. In fact most multiplexes use a variable rate, with each channel apparently fighting each other for bandwidth! I did find that the audio for TV programs has a greater bit rate than the radio channels, although Freeview radio has a greater bit rate that most DAB channels. It must be true, I found it on the net. No doubt bit rates are all heading in the downwards direction, any pretence of quality has been long forgotten.

Sky television seems to be a better quality that Freeview, but I couldn't find any up-to-date information on bit rates. Looking at the pictures, I suspect that you get what you pay for, with premium channels getting the better deal. However having made recordings at the standard rate (4.5 to 5 Mbit/s) the results are quite reasonable and free from noticeable added nasties. I did discover one problem with Sky, which seems to relate to their recent firmware update. I intended to record a film which started at 9.00pm on the TCM channel. All I got was a screen saying "Enter PIN Number". I was not too pleased, and was even less pleased when I discovered why. Apparently Sky do this on any 18 rated film showing before 10.00pm, regardless of how you have set up parental control. The same happens for lower rated films (above PG) after 8.00pm. Thus this makes the recording of films often impossible unless you happen to be standing in front of the telly, remote in hand. Sky have done this to satisfy the demand, presumably from people who wish to record the PIN request screen.

Comparing DVD recorders to video cassette recorders, one thing that worries me is the added complexity. There are all sorts of new things to be aware of. Plenty of people have enough trouble with VHS machines.