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October 2006

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

Welcome to the October 2006 edition of Beechlog.

Hello, late again! I've been busy with other things and haven't found much time for writing much, so it's a wonder this issue got out at all. Seriously, after my move, my connections with radio are diminishing and I hardly know what's going on (except for how M3s have saved/destroyed the hobby). My shift pattern seems to ensure that I rarely get to club meetings, so I don't know how all of you are getting on. So I think it's time for someone else to take over Beechlog. A new look, articles about radio, you know what's needed. Then I can read Beechlog, and maybe one day GØHZK/M might appear on the bands.

Roger GØHZK, Editor

Contents

Virtualisation
Chinglish
Fireworks, School Trips and Spinning Discs
Handel and Podcasts

Virtualisation

Not having solved the problem of how to get on the air again, I've had to content myself with playing with computers. After all the messing about in the last ussue, My machines have all been working OK, and so have those that I 'fixed' last time. So I found time to explore an aspect that I've not really looked at before.

For a good many years, computer processors have been able to work in a slightly unusual manner. Normally the whole of a CPU is dedicated to the task in hand, but there is another way they can operate, that is handling quite seperate processes simultaneously. I don't mean multi-tasking, which is the job of the software running in a single operating system, but the concept of virtual machines. Here the CPU is effectively divided up into a number of discrete processors, each running quite different software, isolated from each other.

For a while there has been software available to exploit this, although the specialist nature has meant that it has been out of the public gaze. However recently there has been a number of more polished commercial products available, at reasonable prices or indeed free. For PC enthusiasts, Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 has become available as a free download. There is also WMware which comes in free and paid for forms.

Here I'll just deal with the Microsoft product. It's a fairly small download, about 18 megs, and runs in Windows 2000 or XP. It's easy enough to install, and dead simple to use. All you have to do is create new virtual machines by specifying the size of virtual disk and amount of virtual memory, then starting the virtual machine. What you see then is a window with what looks like a PC bootup sequence, then it stops! So if you put some sort of install disk in your and restart the virtual machine, click inside its window, then the install will start from the CD or floppy disk.

I tried this with a number of operating systems. Firstly I installed FreeNAS, which is a network storage solution which can be installed on any PC, turning it into a standalone file and FTP server. This software is based on the FreeBSD Unix core, a simple command-line application. There's not much to see on the PC that's running it, as most of the configuration is carried out on any PC on the network, using a web browser. But on the image below you can see the virtual machine running on my old Windows XP machine. FreeNAS running here has it's own IP address quite seperate from that of the host Windows machine, the latter which can access and use FreeNAS as if it were running on remote hardware.

This is one of the uses of this software - you can test out anything else without having to wipe hard disks etc., as the virtual machine consists just of a couple of files which can easily be copied or deleted, without upsetting your main Windows PC. Just for a laugh I created another virtual machine, and installed Windows 3.1 from floppies. No problem - it just worked! The image below shows both FreeNAS and Windows 3.1 running together in different virtual machines.

So here we have 32 bit Windows, with Unix and 16 bit Windows running within it. This is not emulation, all three operating systems run their own native code directly accessing the CPU. Of course it's not quite that simple, as some of the PC hardware is emulated. You can't have three operating systems trying to access the hardware at the same time, so there are 32 bit Windows processes that pretend to be the PC bios, sound card, graphics and suchlike. But other than this, the code is sent unaltered to the CPU, so the speed of these virtual machines is much faster than emulation.

Virtual machine software is also available for other machines. Apple's switch to Intel Core processors has meant that more efficient virtual machines can be constructed. Windows cannot run natively on the old Mac IBM Power PC CPUs, but was designed for Intel! So software like the Parallels Desktop have enabled Windows to run natively inside Mac OS X. Once again you can install Linux, Unix, DOS, all sorts of Windows, etc., into a Mac Virtual machine. To test this out, I installed Windows 98 into a Parallels virtual machine, the picture below shows Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer displaying the BBRC web site.



Chinglish

Recently there have been reports in the news about the Chinese government's preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. In particular they have expressed concern about the use of Chinglish, which any visitor to the international cities of China will have seen in shops, on signs and on clothing.

These are basically confusing or amusing translations from Chinese to English. Chinglish has a long history. Originally it appeared in countries colonised by the British, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. There it was a sort of Creole or half-way language, and some phrases have crept into normal English, for example "long time, no see". In China today it is more often mistranslation. Chinese words that have more than one meaning are often victims - the use of a Chinese-English dictionary results in the wrong meaning being translated. The misunderstanding of English grammar results in some hilarious signs, and words which just do not exist crop up frequently.

Visitors to China currently accept this as one of the charms of the country, but the government looks more seriously at the matter. Slowly the signs that say "The Slippery are very Crafty" are being changed to a more reassuring warning of slippery road surfaces. However local shops and products still display much to cause amusement. Somewhere on the net I saw a cafe menu with items such a "Corrugated Irom Beef" and various dishes featuring "detonation".

Clothing can be quite amusing too. Like in Britain, the Chinese like to display images on T-Shirts. Since their written language is pictorial, Chinese characters often crop up instead. These are not meant to be read literally, but have a pleasing pattern, or are meant to convey an aura of cool or whatever. Some of these get translated into English, where the effect is not quite the same, but is often very amusing.

A search for "Chinglish" will reveal many amusing items, and I've nicked some for you below.

Fireworks, School Trips and Spinning Discs

I'm sitting here late at night, and it's a toss up between doing the washing up, ironing, or writing this. Getting some sleep is not on, as it appears that today is Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. In this case, the lights are provided by fireworks, mostly loud ones.

Diwali is a five day holiday, with most of the action on the day of the new moon, I guess that's today. The Hindus celebrate Diwali for a variety of reasons. The Sikhs also celebrate the same day, the anniversary of the day Guru returned to Amritsar after being released from imprisonment by the Mughal Emperor. In a couple of weeks it will be November 5th, so I guess this will spill over 'till and beyond firework day. Still not to worry.

I've not been celebrating anything, although last month I earned the right to a free bus pass. This was once G3 territory, but the requisity number of years have passed. I've not used it yet, but I have received two free prescriptions, which at least has saved me some dough. This has marginally offset the cost of my son's school trip - I took him to the airport to catch the afternoon flight to Osaka. He went in a party of 15. Apparently on boarding the plane they were all upgraded to business class seats. I don't know why, maybe the crew thought they'd be better contained seperate from the rest of the passengers. The 10 day trip is supposed to help him towards his GCSE Japanese next year, and it's also served to dent the finances of his parents. His Mum and I watched him check in, and we both decided he'd never be the same again. That was our little boy.

I felt green with envy. I'm not sure I want to go to Japan, but I resurrected my idea of going on the day train from Paris to Venice. I know this train exists, but searches on the web lead mainly to the Orient Express, which is a night train, so you have to exchange the views through the Alps for posh meals and new clothes to wear while eating them. I eventually found details. The train leaves at 8.00 from Paris, and arrives late afternoon in Venice. It does this by going at 180mph, I guess mainly on the bit between Paris and Lyon, I think it must ease off a bit through the mountains. Unfortunately I was unable to book my ticket, because whatever I entered in the web form caused an error "you cannot book less than 7 days in advance". Oh well.

I did have a new experience as a result of my birthday - my son bought me a ticket to the Albert Hall. The concert was an unusual performance marking the centenary of the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich. Unusual because it was accompanied by film. A large screen had been hung behind the orchestra. There were two 'songs' (to use the current digital terminology) - an orchestrated performance of one of his string quartets, and his 15th Symphony. The former was accompanied by film and stills of Shostakovich's life, and the latter was mainly scenes of Russia during the war. There was one curious bit of film showing people trying to sit on a rotating disk, which eventually shot each one off into the surrounding crowd. This produced a rumble of laughter - the 15th Symphony is quite dark and introspective - so it was rather unnerving. Presumably it meant something to the large numbers of Russians in the audience. The symphony was supposed to be about the bombing of Dresden and other horrors, but was really thought to be descriptive of life in Soviet Russia under Joe Stalin. Shostakovich was wise not to enlighten anyone, but reference in the music to Wagner, and oddly Rossini's William Tell have led to all sorts of interpretations.

Still, it was good to hear a full orchestra with lots of percussion - Timpani, Glockenspeil, Castanets, bloody great drums, Cymbals, and a Celesta, an instrument that looked like a wicker upright piano (as heard in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy). A full complement of eight double basses, a huge-looking tuba, as well as the usual instruments. I now have a reference to what a big orchestra should sound like!

I walked back to the Tube along with crowds of the decorous London night people, in particular I noted a young lady in a furry white polka dot cowboy outfit, and plenty of others in slightly less flamboyant clothes. Earlier in the evening the setting sun illuminated the City and the bridges along the Thames, viewed from waterloo Bridge, was very photogenic, which was why I left my camera at home.

Handel and Podcasts

I wrote recently about listening to 'radio stations' on a PC, but during the last few months I've been exploiting another technology, Podcasts. When I first read about these, some years ago, I couldn't figure out why anyone would be interested. But after idly trying a few, I suppose I'm now addicted.

There's nothing special about podcasts, after all they are just standard audio files. The delivery method can be different, but is really only a simple means of keeping up to date and getting the files onto your player. The process of 'subscribing' is just a means of automatically downloading the files as they are published. You don't have to do this - you can just download them at will. I get mine via iTunes, which collates all the stuff into one place, so you can just browse the lists and pick what you fancy. There are other applications available, or you can just go to the websites and get the files in the usual way.

Most of my listening is done at work, especially on the long lonely late shifts. No-one talks much after about 7pm, so I bring my own entertainment! There is a wide selection of stuff about, from all over the world. Some of the podcasts are simply repackaged radio broadcasts, and others are created specifically for the media. There is a wide range of 'professionalism' from programmes created by established broadcasters using well-know journalists and presenters, to stuff knocked up in someones back room. The former group include dozens of BBC programs - including programs I would never be around to listen to. The latter are indeed a curious mix, and often have an unexpected charm of their own - you're not likely to hear these programmes any other way.

It's often interesting to compare UK broadcasters with those from the USA and Australia, for there are quite different styles. And the 'home made' group have an even more marked difference. While American producers seem to try to mimic their professional counterparts, it's not that way with the British stuff. I suppose it doesn't appeal to everyone, but the British presenters don't take themselves so seriously! For example there's Will Green's 'British Mac'. Now there are loads of US Mac podcasts, often very similar in content and delivery. Wills podcasts start with Michael Caine's countdown from The Italian Job, followed by Rule Britannia. Will reminds me of a certain BBRC member. His slightly hesitant manner, and sometimes apparent lack of knowledge about his subject, is very addictive. Unlike the professionals, he doesn't seem to bother much about the niceties of copyright protection (this aspect is most frustrating in the professional podcasts), and anything can turn up. Recently we had a long dialog from Julian and Sandy (from Round the Horne - some of you might be old enough to remember them), and Peter Sellers and a George Formby contest have cropped up too. Nothing to do with Macs of course.

Another one I tried recently is the Wiggly Wigglers. Heather, Richard, Phil, Monty, etc., are very enthusiastic, bordering on the totally insane, rather like Will Green. It took me ages to figure out what it was all about, and even so I had to study the web site to see whether it was real or not. Marvellous stuff.

I mentioned the copyright problem, which applies in particular to the more professional podcasts. As you might expect, you're not going to find full recordings of well known music here, especially as these downloads are free (you don't think I'd pay, do you?). For programs about current affairs, science, technology, etc., this isn't really important. But it does rather limit the scope of music programs. In some cases they manage OK, like in the BBC series Discovering Music. These are long programs recorded with an orchestra, so there are frequent small snippets of music which illustrate technique, themes, etc. But the complete performances that conclude these programs have been removed. If you like British/Irish Folk music, the situation is better. Since these musicians are less mercenary there are complete performances, although often from less well-known performers. The same with independent new popular music, where performers are more keen on getting known, and publicising albums, than collecting every penny in royalties.

Now on to Handel. While I was up in London for the Shostakovich concert, I popped into Oxford Street's HMV shop. Go downstairs and through the door into the classical section, and it's an Aladdins Cave of music you never knew had been recorded. I picked up two double albums for less than £10 each.

The Triumph of Time and Truth is one of Handel's lesser known compositions. I heard some of it on the radio about twenty years ago, but had never found a recording. It was written as a public entertainment, and this Hyperion recording was made in 1982. It's absolutely wonderful, but most record shops have heard only of the Messiah and Water Music, so it's no surprise I hadn't found it earlier.

Speaking of the Messiah, the other recording is brand new, and is of the 1751 version. Handel produced the Messiah many times in London, and this version stands out because he replaced the sopranos and altos with trebles and countertenors. I heard a bit of this on the radio recently and was spellbound. It was recorded on Naxos by the Academy of Ancient Music and the Choir of New College, Oxford. The three boys who sing the treble parts were aged 11, 12 and 13 but sing so wonderfully. It's hard to believe, especially in the duet with the countertenor. Trebles are rarely heard in concerts, as their singing career (as treble) is very short - after 13 the voice breaks and it can be years before they develop a good tenor or bass technique. But these boys start in the choir at age 8, and here they are singing solos just a few years later. I suppose it is true that they can never become as accomplished as conventional voices, time is not on their side, but the purity of voice is seldom matched by sopranos. In my opinion anyway. The only place you are likely to hear these youngsters is in a C of E cathedral choir. I managed to hear such a choir singing at Canterbury earlier this year. This is something uniquely British. Continental choirs are quite different. Even the singing at the Requium Mass at the Vatican a while ago was not of the same standard of that at Charlie and Camilla's wedding the following day. But there you are. I'm not normal, I suppose, like Will Green and The Wiggly Wiggler team. New Beechlog Editor required.