Beechlog‎ > ‎

May 2000

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

World Wide Web Edition May 2000
Welcome to another (late) edition of BeechLog! As you will see, I am playing around with the layout of the mag, and this time have come up with something different again. I hope it is to your liking, but if not please get in touch, and I'll try to react to your comments.

This issue consists of just one web page, which should enable you to read it off-line. I have kept the format very simple though, so it should load quite quickly. I have produced it using a different program, HoTMetaL PRO, so while I am unfamiliar with it, be prepared for anything! This is my second attempt, the first ended when, almost finished, I reduced the document size to zero by some unknown means!

Roger G0HZK, Editor
Contents

Going Digital, Johns experience of digital TV
A Typical sales Conference - Rogers latest jaunt to Cyprus
Browser Wars, what's the most populat browser and OS?
Third Generation, new services for new phones.

External Links

The BBRC website. You can find 'what's on' here.
The RSGB for all about Amateur Radio
Going Digital...

Having asked around the club and elsewhere, and having been concerned about the eventual switchoff of analogue TV transmissions, I have decided to make the decision we will all eventually have to make, as to how to best upgrade the digital television capability here. This as some will know has involved some debate about the pros and cons of digital terrestrial TV vs. Sky satellite digital TV. I already have a twin lnb 80cms black mesh dish looking at Astra 19 degrees east and Eutelsat at 13 degrees east in analogue, so what I choose would have to be in addition to these channels, and bearing in mind that Murdoch has plans in hand to finish analogue transmissions on Astra in approximately the next year.

As you probably know, both Sky and ONdigital offer free digital boxes linked to monthly subscriptions, so neither are really free. The contract that comes with the Sky box additionally insists on your linking it to the home telephone line, something which instinctively has put me against the Sky box. ONdigital is however also different to the Sky satellite option, in that (1) the ITV companies hold an interest in it, and offer both ITV and ITV2 through it, and this is not available through Sky, and (2), one also has the option to buy the ONdigital terrestrial box outright. It is my belief that ITV programming will never be available from Sky, because whilst the BBC has a mandate in its charter to serve the UK population, ITV has no such duty placed upon it, and can therefore choose its own distribution methods, which currently it limits through its own choice to analogue terrestrial, cable, and ONdigital. The ONdigital box costs £350 to buy outright, however when one considers the cost of paying for it through subs at £6.99 per month, it can be seen that the outright purchase option pays for itself over around 3 years. One does not need to link the box to ones telephone line unlike Sky, although the cable is provided to link the onboard modem and will be an option later once additional services are available if one chooses.

Some dealers hold a book of postcodes and can look up the signal strenths of ONdigital in your area I was told that I was in a weak signal area and to this extent buying the ONdigital box was a gamble as one cannot return it for credit on the basis of poor received signal strenth. In this case they will then try to sell you an upgraded antenna, which for obvious reasons I would not be interested in! In fact some 4 years ago I had the TV antenna upgraded here and in fact I can receive all services with no problem. The ONdigital box even comes with a basic S-meter and confirms my picture received strength is good.

I opted for the Philips version of the ONdigital box, model DTX 6371. It comes with a smartcard which must be inserted in the slot. This applies to all digital receivers. Installation is straightforward, although the instructions do not show interconnection with VCR and an existing satellite receiver. There is a helpline service. The box worked first time, and the box is upgradeable over the air, so I opted to do an immediate "Auto Upgrade". This took about 10 minutes, and the box upgraded itself from data downloaded over the air automatically. I suspect that this was to enable receiving of text transmissions, which would not have been available at the time the box came off the production line.

It is capable of decoding video data at a rate of 15 megabits per second. I think the present transmission rate is around 2 megabits per second. The remote control unit for the ONdigital box can also be used as a universal RC with codes per the handbook to control the television, VCR, and to enable switching to analogue easily should you wish. One can set the viewing preferences so that in my case I can continue to watch the output full screen in 4:3 format, however as and when I choose to go widescreen, I can select 16:9 and in that respect I am now futureproofed.

So what have I got for all this money? Channels available with an ONdigital box purchased outright and with no monthly subs paid are:- BBC1, BBC2, ITV London/LWT (from Crystal Palace), Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV2, BBC Choice, BBC News 24, BBC Knowledge, Shop! (similar to QVC), and BBC Parliament (in audio only). It is possible to call up on a channel as it is viewed a programme synopsis, plus detail of the next programme on that channel. There are also 2 text channels, one from the BBC and one ITV Teletext. These both function and have a superior font and legibility to the analogue teletext, but at present do not have the scope and variety of data available on analogue teletext/ceefax. One can however get news, weather, sport, and basic financial information, and programme guides with an interactive feature enabling one to switch directly to the desired channel.There are good graphics and the odd photo thrown in. Programme subtitling when available is superior to the analogue service. Digital teletext with ONdigital is in my opinion somewhat slow, and I suspect is awaiting an upgrade to system speed. Additionally there are a further 3 channels on test, but with no indication of what they might be. Over and above this it is possible to pay subs and buy additional channels which are listed but blanked.

Criticisms are: firstly that the standard of assistance and help given by dealers is very poor, some not even having a demo box to show output from in the shop, poor advice stemming from a lack of interest in what the system is capable of delivering, and in one instance a dealer attempting to switch sell me to Sky. ONdigital really need to clamp down on poor dealerships with education and visits to dealers who are not performing. There is also pixellation of picture, probably about 3 times per day, and blocking, where the picture freezes solid for a few seconds but the sound continues, but this happens a lot less frequently. I suspect this might also happen with the Sky system however. Against this there is an improvement in picture quality which I suspect most people would notice especially on BBC2, which on my analogue picture has a small amount of herringboning, but has disappeared with digital. I believe that I have made the right decision, it might however be a while before the xyl agrees with me!

John G0GCL

Olive tree


A Typical Sales Conference?


Yawn. Barely back from the US, here I am 7 hours ahead of Boston. I don't think I have quite got over the jet lag, But there you go. I left Langley pretty early. Since I had some rather large and heavy cases of equipment, we had some fun getting it into the taxi! But we managed, and soon arrived at Heathrow.

All my colleagues were waiting, so we checked in OK and then took our equipment to customs. The idea was for them to stamp the paperwork I'd knocked up, so we could bring the stuff back without having to pay VAT. After a bit of form filling, this was accomplished, and the cases left with customs. Would we see them again?

When we got into 'departures' we were surprised to meet an ex-employee who was drumming up business with a demo. So we wasted a while chatting and admiring his 'assistants'! I was expected to be joined by an engineer from the US, but he never turned up. It seemed Boston was hit by a foot of snow which played havoc at the airport! He did manage to send a message to us, he hoped to cach a later plane and get here sometime in the early hours.

Anyway, onto the plane, an Airbus this time. This belonged to Cyprus Airways, you could tell inside by the various notices written in mathematical symbols. The flight was pretty good, landing around dusk. It's not a modern airport here, you had to go down the steps off the plane and onto a bus. But you couldn't get lost, and we soon found our way to customs via the red channel. A couple of customs officers came out to see us. They looked at our papers, asked what we were up to, and then waved us through. So far so good. They didn't stamp anything, so hopefully we will be able to get the stuff out again OK.

The hotel had sent a bus to pick us up, so we loaded our excessive baggage on and were whisked to the hotel in Limassol. It is a pretty swish place. Indoor waterfalls and massive chandeliers. There are 3 restaurants with a wide choice of meals. After a few hours of frantic equipment unpacking and checking, we settled for the Lebanese restaurant. There are seven of us, and we had a pretty good meal, a succession of small dishes that went on for two hours. Back to set up equipment and plan the layout of the main conference room, and then to bed at midnight.

Thursday
Woke up about 10 minutes before out scheduled breakfast. I looked out at the sea from my balcony, and was greeted by my boss, a couple of rooms further along. I had a standard sort of hotel breakfast, not as ambitious as the American variety, but pretty adequate. Then on to a day of setting up ready for the conference start the next day.

I learned of the fate of my colleague from the States over breakfast. He had a nightmare trip. About 18 inches of snow had fallen in Boston, which meant he was three hours in getting to the office. The US were unprepared for this, because they had decided to close down their weather forecast system computers for an upgrade! He then battled to the airport, just in time, and found the BA Jumbo was to leave on schedule. Hundreds of other flights had been cancelled, but he was lucky, or so he thought.

The airport fuelling system was in chaos because of the weather, so they were unable to fuel the jumbo. There must have been a large quantity already on board, because the pilot announced they were to fly to Toronto to refuel, which they then proceeded to do. This meant he arrived at Heathrow in time to miss the Cyprus flight. However there was another flight eight hours later, which got him to Cyprus at about four in the morning. However there was one final thing to contend with - his luggage had not travelled with him. Twelve hours later on, BA still had no idea where his luggage was.

Anyway, while he was in bed, we had a pretty good lunch, and then continued our setting up. By about 5.00 pm most of the others had arrived, from Germany, the USA, Spain (who found it quicker to fly via Heathrow than direct) and Norway. We also had some snow, the first in Limassol for a hundred years, someone said. But it hardly reached the ground, and it was still 30 degrees warmer than some of the places the guests had come from!

We had a pretty lively dinner. The Slough office extroverts showed us some lively 'dancing' to the band, there is photograhic evidence to prove this. Tomorrow is "death by Powerpoint" for most of the day, but an evenings entertainment has been arranged to counteract this.

Friday
Woke up at 7.25, although I had arranged a final check of the equipment at 7.30. Had a hasty breakfast, and managed to make a prescence early enough to make some last-minute changes. Then the conference.

We had a good ninety minute break for lunch, which was another fabulous buffet. Although we had snow yesterday, today the sun is shining, the sea and sky are blue. The temperature is like on a spring day, the air is cool, but you can feel the heat of the sun. This is perfect weather for me, I can wander around in shirtsleeves and enjoy the sun, which I did. I walked down the beach to the waters edge, and phoned my wife so she could hear the sound of the waves. I don't think she appreciated it however. But all good things come to an end, and the conference re-started.

In the evening two coaches arrived to take us out to dinner. So we had a ride through the centre of Limassol, which consisted of a large number of restaurants interspersed with show shops and banks. There were topless bars and other shadier looking places. McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC were in residence, although I cannot think why anyone would want to eat there.

The restaurant we dined at was a rather old, shabby sort of place. There was a continuous stream of dishes of various sorts, with ample bread, wine and Ouzo. Entertainment was provided by a trio of middle aged men playing presumably traditional Cypriot songs. Various people came in selling roses, but no lucky white heather. Strangers took our photos, I don't know why.

Some sort of drinking contest took place between some of a our Sales and Marketing staff (the French and Germans seemed to be having a smoking contest). It was very noisy. This isn't the place to go into too much detail, but eventually we were bussed back. This was not without incidents, as one chap was celebrating his birthday, and became separated from his clothes. This hilarity continued in the bar until about 2 in the morning.

Saturday
There were a few people missing in the morning. A team was sent out to wake them, but with mixed success. There was some convenient loss of memory, although photos had been taken! The business ended at about one o'clock, so now we had a free afternoon to do what we liked. In my case it was packing away the equipment.

I finished at about three, and went out for a walk to clear out the cobwebs. It was a sunny day, although quite breezy. I don't know how hot it was, probably in the high fifties, but the sun was quite warm and pleasant. I spoke to one of my American colleagues, who told me the temperature in Boston was down to zero Fahrenheit again, but she was flying from here to Miami in the morning, where the temperature was in the low seventies.

Tonight there is a "Gala Event". Those who had been on these trips before tell me that this is a pretty wild affair. All I know is that it starts off with a wine tasting in the mountains, and ends up in a night club. We shall see. There is another trip in the morning too.

The "Gala Event" turns out to be unforgettable. A coach arrives at six-thirty to take us up to a village in the mountains. As we get higher, the ride gets bumpier, the coach swerving about the road, jerking about with the driver continuously changing gears. During the swerving there is talk of "two thousand foot drops" as the wind is put up some of the ladies! Several times the coach judders to a stop and rolls backwards! Suddenly the engine finally dies and the coach swerves off the road. Although it looks like foot deep snow outside, there is a mass exodus fom the coach. Goodness knows where we are, no a light can be seen, but the stars in the sky are amazing. We can even see the Milky Way, and Saturn and Jupiter are vividly shining down on us. There is no snow, just white rocks, but it's pretty cold.


Miraculously out of the darkness three small coaches appear and stop. They look as though they were built just after the first world war, rather like some unorthodox French design. They are on their way to transport villagers from a village wedding, but agree to transport us to our destination. There are great cheers as we climb on board, but the fairground ride is not over yet. To prepare us, the driver produces bottles of a clear liquid, and some plastic cups. The bottle is passed around, and we gingerly sniff the liquid in our cups. It smells like industrial meths, and the taste is quite undescribable. It turns out to be a locally distilled schnapps, pure spirit, a potent drink to start our evening!

The drive to the village is amazing. The driver obviously knows the mountain roads, and drives as fast as possible, hurling us round the corners. The noise is deafening, and we hang on for dear life. But eventually we arrive safely but warm inside.

The village is hundreds of years old, and the buildings are close together. In the side streets you can almost touch the buildings on either side at the same time. We are greeted by musicians in traditional dress, although I don't think they were there especially for us! So we are escorted to see an ancient winery, and then to a wine tasting. Suitable warmed by drinking country wine, we are led to a taverna where the evenings meal and entertainment were to be held.

The meal is a traditional meze, that is about 20 courses spread over a few hours, with liberal supplies of local wine. The entertainment is music and dancing, but my mind is a little hazy over this. Later on we all get involved in this, especially the girls who pile glasses onto the head of one of the dancers. This chap somehow ended up with over 20 glasses, and a wine bottle, balanced in a tall column on his head. When he finishes (they reach the ceiling), it is our turn. This was hilarious. I can't describe everthing that was happening, but the various normally sober business managers were having a whale of a time, especially the American girls. I have seen some of the photos (taken by one of our Vice-Presidents), they are amazing. (The pictures taken on a digital camera were accidentally vaped during the flight home - there were great sighs of relief fom certain folk).

Eventually the coach arrives to take us back. It's one in the morning. The next stop was due to be at a night club, but it was decided to forgo this and use the hotel bar instead. This was a relief to many of us who wanted our beds rather than more drink. The coach was the same one that broke down on the way here. I hoped that they had fixed it properly - at least it's downhill on the way back. The ride back was smooth with no mishaps. I went straight to bed, but apparently the merriment went on for some time in someones room.

Sunday
I woke up at about nine, feeling refreshed. This was not the case with everyone - there were red eyes at breakfast, and others were feeling a little delicate. As there was a trip arranged for eleven this morning, we all had to pack and load up the coach. Since everyone else had conveniently forgotton about the logistics of getting all our equipment back home, I had to sort this out. The couriers had picked up the larger boxes, so I had 6 flight cases (about 200 kilograms) to deal with. They all got loaded on the coach OK (not the same as yesterday), and we were soon on our way.

First stop was at a village where they made lace. We started with a wine tasting, and then had about 20 minutes to look round the village, which was up in the mountains. There were loads of shops selling silver jewellery and lace, and they had intriguing signs outside "Branches in Norwich and Liverpool", etc. One advertised connections with "Ragstone Road, Slough".

Next stop was lunch at a restaurant on the beach at Larnaca. Of course this was another "traditional" meze, so after a few courses some of us decided to desert the others and spend a while on the beach. It is a warm, sunny day, with a mild sea breeze, even the sea does not feel too cold. No one goes in, though!

After lunch, back to the airport. The equipment was unloaded and wheeled to the check in desk, where we explain once more why they are going to carry it for free. This sorted, there is about an hour and a half to get rid of our excess Cyprus Pounds. That accomplished, we say goodbye to Cyprus and board the plane.

The flight back is scheduled to take over five hours. It follows a more southerly route than the incoming flight, which presumably is why it is to take forty minutes longer. In fact it is longer still, for at Heathrow there is a half hour delay before we are allowed to land. During this time there are terrific views of Kent and London, and the final descent over a vividly illuminated London shows what a big capital city we have.

The descent was rather bumpy. The captain had reported strong winds. The wings were flapping about a bit, and the plane was making frequent bearing corrections. We seemed to spend longer than usual a few feet above the runway, and after the final touch down there was a large amount of reverse thrust and braking, more so than usual at Heathrow. The Captain then spoke about his "interesting" descent, and told us "you should have seen it from my seat!".

We must have used the most remote gate at Terminal 1, for there was a very long walk to collect our baggage. When it arrived on the carousel, the largest flight case nearly stuck as it came up the conveyer belt, and then squarely rammed the suitcase in front when it worked free. Getting the cases off the carousel required an interesting technique, but eventually we were all set for an encounter with customs.

There was only one officer in Customs, so we had to wait a while before he could see us. He was quite happy with our paperwork, and then counted our bottles and things before letting us through. There were about forty of us on the plane, so we had booked loads of "executive" taxis to pick us up. Most were still waiting, although some had departed - we must have had a fair proportion of these vehicles based around Slough.

So, back home at 11.00 pm. An interesting start to the year, two trips to distant lands in the first four weeks. I wonder where next?

Roger G0HZK
Who is winning the browser wars? And how popular is Linux?

Apologies for getting off the subject of amateur radio but I know computing is close to the hearts of many of us too. As one or two of you know I run a couple of websites. Currently they're averaging about 1000 hits a week and visitors come from all parts of the globe. How do I know this? Server logs. I usually use Freeserve as my ISP (although I have 5 others set up in case I can't get connected. After using my free webspace for a while I decided to pay for my sites to be hosted so I had a more stable setup. In choosing a hosting company I wanted a) a low price b) a low price c) a low price d) a Linux server and e) access to raw logfiles. Fortunately I found one who fulfilled all five!

You might wonder why I chose to pay when I already had free space. There were several reasons. I could only upload files when connected via Freeserve. Which was fine except they went through a really bad spot when it was quite difficult to get connected for weeks on end. Another reason was that the site kept going offline. (How did I know? I signed up for free with NetWhistle which checks your server every hour and emails you if it's down.) Freeserve's service isn't bad but their servers use NT which seems unable to run for longer than a few days before crashing. Finally I wanted to know how many visitors I had and which pages they were viewing.

When a web server is handing out web pages it records all the details in a log file. the file even includes details about the visitors web browser, operating system and which page they'd followed a link from. And if they came from a search engine the search terms are usually part of the previous page URL.

Anyway now you know where the tables below came from. These are extracted from the last 6 months logfiles. As you can see Microsoft Internet Explorer is by far the most popular browser. You can ignore entry 3 which is the NetWhistle service. I had it running from the early days before I transferred the websites over which is why it appears so high on the list. Most of the rest are the search engine spiders and robots although I'm pleased to see Opera, the small & efficient paid-for browser come in at number 10!

The operating system list was a real eye-opener. I always thought Macs were popular elsewhere but these figures suggest not. And as for Linux...... I reckon there must be far more Linux systems operating as web servers than there are being used by humans!

Details about NetWhistle and lots of other useful free stuff on the net can be found on my CheapSkate website.

Mike G4RAA

Browser type No.of requests
1 MSIE 17,820
2 Netscape 7,940
3 Netwhistle 2.0 3,781
4 FreeFind 641
5 Netscape (compatible) 383
6 Scooter 200
7 Gulliver 159
8 FAST-WebCrawler 82
9 LinkWalker 76
10 Opera 53
11 Googlebot 53
12 Slurp.so 32
13 SearchExpress Spider 0.91 30
14 libwww-perl 26
15 MindCrawler v3.1 Analyzer 20
16 SearchExpress Spider 0.99obj 14
17 TeraCrawl 13
18 SiteKiosk 13
19 Bjaaland 12
20 lwp-request 11
21 [not listed: 20] 67

Operating system No.of requests
1 Windows total 24,572

Windows 98 11,590

Windows 95 9,518

Windows NT 3,034

Windows 3.1 290

Windows 16-bit 120

Windows 32-bit 12

Unknown Windows 8
2 OS Unknown 5,717
3 Macintosh total 938

Macintosh PowerPC 858

Macintosh 68k 80
4 Unix total 186

SunOS 92

Linux 44

Other Unix 26

IRIX 17

AIX 7
5 OS/2 6
6 Amiga 5
7 WebTV 2







Third Generation


For the last few months I have kept an eye on www.spectrumauctions.gov.uk which shows the progress in the auction of the 3rd generation mobile phone licences. Not very long ago, before this started, the government decided to offer the new licences to the highest bidders, and, contrary to 'expert' advice, decided on five licences instead of four. This decision was heavily criticised at the time, as it was thought that this would make it more difficult for the licencees to make a viable business case out of a fifth of the available bandwidth. However the goverment calculated that they might raise half a billion pounds for each licence, i.e. £2.5b in all.

I suppose the goverment thought that more licences equals more competition. Business in general doesn't like competition, and loudly wailed. I think that generally a business can cope with up to two competitors. Sainsburys has Tesco and Asda, Microsoft has Sun and Apple. Banks cope with more competion since banking is a service required by all adults, hence Barclays, Lloyds-TSB, NatWest, HSBC. This doesn't do the customers any good, since there are usually cosy arrangements to preserve the status quo.

However, in the case of phones, some idea of how much money is expected to be made out of a fifth share can be illustrated by the current status of the auction. Instead of the £2.5bn expected, at the time of writing over £22bn has been bid! Remember that these bids are for licences only, and the successful bidders will have to build networks, market and sell there services before they get any income.

Generally for a business to raise a lot of money, it needs to provide a product or service which provides a solution to a problem. In the case of the first generation analogue phones, this was simply the provision of a portable telephone service that could be used almost anywhere in the UK as required by the customer. The second generation, GSM, expanded this service almost worldwide. Even up in the mountain villages in Cyprus I was able to dial my wife back in Slough (at 40p per minute) with no fuss. Ten years ago this was Dan Dare wrist-radio stuff. GSM also added a few other extras such as privacy due to encryption, and slow-speed data facilities.

The third generation will provide a great improvent in the latter, i.e. more user bandwidth for data services, while preserving everything from the earlier generations. However what data services will be implemented still remain a big question. No-one really knows which will be the big sellers to recover the cost of licences and equipment.

I think that the prime target will be to provide a service that will greatly increase the users time spent 'on the phone'. At present the internet seems to be one such target. This is an addictive service with low startup costs. There are about 250 subscription-free ISPs in the UK alone, all of which make their money from interconnect charges and advertising. One thing for sure, this keeps large numbers of people connected to the ISP via their land-line phone for hours at a time. There are questions though. What sort of phone would I need to receive the 27 meg email attachment I got (at work) last week? And what would I do with it? However a laptop with a third generation phone buit in might do the job.

No doubt there are numerous services to businesses which might achieve the same ends. Remote database access for sales and marketing staff would probably be useful. Banking facilities, especially with the growth of branchless banking. These are possible other ways, including via second generation systems. Videoconferencing - I have been in this business for about 20 years, but it hasn't really taken off yet. However providing passport photo sized images reduces the computing power required, and also the costs. This creates a few other problems though, participants will have to find a new way of using their phones, think about it - do you want to watch the other persons ear? Video streaming from a server may be more suitable and provide perceived good quality pictures, although whether anyone wants to spend pounds every day on this I don't know.

One thing missing is American participation. There is a GSM service in some US cities, but it's pretty low key. In fact there is no US second generation digital service with anything like the European coverage - you need to stay analogue for the best coverage in the States. The problem is that US companies like to dominate their markets, and are generally unwilling to share them. The usage of some US technology in our third generation system has already delayed the programme. A US company, TIW, is bidding for one of the UK licences - maybe one day they'll get the picture.

Certainly there are interesting times ahead. Whether everyone will want to switch from GSM and pay more for hardware and more call charges I don't know. However the companies will want as many customers as possible, regardless of whether they want or need the new data capabilities. Income will be needed to pay back the massive investment.

Roger G0HZK