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September 2001

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

World Wide Web Edition

September 2001


Welcome to the September edition.

Hello readers. Amazing! This issue of BeechLog appears more or less on time! Although traditionally BeechLog has published every two months, I am currently working on producing a minimum of four issues a year. The main problem, which I keep harping on about, is the lack of input from you lot. So this issue was composed in my head during the last month or so.

The next issue will be in December. Please send me something I can include, even if it's just a picture of Paul lighting the barbeque at Basingstoke, or the empties outside the tents. Your views, thoughts, opinions of new gear, etc., are all welcome. Please email them as usual to:

Roger G0HZK, Editor

Contents

Licence Changes, Thoughts of the forthcoming changes.
Messing with aerials, Rogers mighty DX magnet.
Computer Junk, Still resisting buying something modern.
Security, Is your data secure?


Licence Changes

As I write this in August, there is much discussion of the licence changes which the RA will announce at the Leicester Show on the 21st September. Whether I will be able to get BeechLog out before then is a different matter, so there is a chance you will be reading this after the bombshell which will indubitably hit many amateurs.

At the moment we can only guess what the changes will be. The RA has already offered a Foundation Licence for discussion, and the RSGB has also allocated funds for "administration" of this licence. Since this licence is likely to include HF privileges, it is probable that changes to the current licences will be made too. There are rumours about a short training course... Whatever the changes entail, there will be plenty of amateurs who will be unhappy with the new structure. Some of these people are already complaining, and manipulating RA statistics to prove that interest in Morse is growing, and that the hobby is in good shape.

Those of us who actually operate on the bands will know that although there has not been any appreciable decline in the numbers of licence holders, activity on VHF/UHF, is much less than ten years ago. It's more difficult to judge what is happening on HF, since we don't usually hear UK amateurs due to the nature of ionospheric propagation. It has also become obvious that fewer young people are joining us these days, when compared with the year I became G6AMN.

It's not difficult to guess the reasons why this is so. twenty years ago, amateurs were privileged to be able to speak to numerous people abroad. The Internet was largely inaccessible, and few people made international phone calls even at work. The electronics industry was still booming, and many like myself found out about amateur radio from colleagues at work.

Today the UK electronics industry has changed dramatically. Young people are ill advised to join what still exists, as it's a sure route to unemployment and unwanted skills. The Internet provides all the communications required by modern enthusiasts. You don't need a licence, and you don't need to moderate your language, and you can be anonymous. Costs are similar, although there is an ongoing charge to maintain your connection, whether dial-up or fixed.

The RA has decided that the status quo cannot last. These changes have been initiated by the RA, although there has been consultation with others. Whether or not we like what they are doing, at least they are looking forwards, unlike many amateurs who look the other way.

I hope that we will accept newcomers, who we will meet on the bands, with courtesy and give them all the help and encouragement they need. Some of them may be less technically skilled than we are used to, but given time, they will learn to develop their techniques.

Those of us who refuse to accept change are the ones who will really suffer. People who are embittered generally cannot hide their affliction, and become less pleasant to engage whether technically or socially. Let's hope that the RA initiative is successful, and revitalises the entry to our hobby.


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Messing with aerials

Around the time I was writing the last issue, I decided to try out my six metre beam, which has spent the last ten years languishing in the shed. Now testing such aerials in the past has entailed a rather tricky assembly of stepladders and rubber bungees, so this spring I dug a hole next to the shed. A steel pole was inserted inside, and steadied with a mast bracket screwed to the shed. The hole was filled with concrete, so I ended up with a hand rotatable mast base.

I mounted my six metre beam on a six foot length of aluminium pole, and planted this into the top of the steel pole. The idea was that I could adjust the gamma match while standing on the shed roof. This I did, and worked a couple of Portuguese stations who conveniently popped up on the band. I did have a problem deciding which was the front and back of the beam, and the wind tended to blow the affair in the direction it wanted, which didn't help. However my neighbour was rather upset by the assembly, even though it was only 15 feet off the ground.

So I marked the gamma match settings with a felt pen, and dismantled it, with the intention of fitting it to the main mast later on. I've not got round to this yet.

The next aerial I had to evaluate was my dual-band 28/50 mobile whip. I can't remember what make and model it is, but I fitted an old mobile mount to the six foot ali pole, and screwed it in. This was fitted to another similar ali pole, and stuck in the top of the steel pole. So the base of the whip is about 21 feet off the ground.

Well, the whip didn't match up very well on ten metres, until I added a quarter wave radial. On six it matched rather well, so I left it up for a while, and it's still there. It seems to function rather better than I expected. Sky-wave signals do not have the same polarisation as when they left the antenna, so I reckon the fact that everyone uses horizontal polarisation is not a big drawback.

The vertical obviously has less gain than the most basic beam. It seems to work like a dipole, although it's not quite long enough. But the results have been quite promising, in fact most stations I called came back to me, even in modest pile-ups.

As I don't use any HF bands, I had a bit of trouble identifying some of the stations. Where was OM3EY, T97V, and YL1AP? What are all there EH calls? It seems that all the countries which broke away from Milosovic's Yugoslavia now how new prefixes like S, OM, 9A, but whatever remained still uses 4N, YT, YU, etc.

There are also a lot more countries on six than 10 years ago. I've added a few more to the list, including Poland, Estonia, Slovakia, San Marino, Ireland, Spain, Latvia, and Austria. Also I've found new squares in Germany, Belgium, Switerland, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, Faroes, and Denmark. I have heard some Americans at good strength, but the pile-ups were amazing. This cycle has not been very good for 6 metre enthusiasts, and only the amateurs who eat, sleep and breathe six metres have worked much F2 DX. However there is much to work with E layer range. A good few hundred locator squares are on offer, although not enough countries for DXCC. Perhaps if I can find the BBRC award rules I might put in an entry! So although I didn't get to put my beam up, I've been quite pleased with what I have achieved with the simple whip. It's a relatively cheap antenna, just 21 feet of pole and the seven feet of steel whip. It can be erected in the smallest space, and takes very little time to put up or take down. It doesn't seem to be affected much by high winds. Maybe I can find some more poles to get it up a bit higher for next year.

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Computer Junk

Like many radio amateurs, I'm the sort of person who has a great interest in all sorts of technical things, much to my wifes disgust. The house gets cluttered up with all sorts of useless equipment. You will have read about the various iterations my computer has gone through - I've never actually bought a complete PC, just stuck various (mostly scrapped) bits together. Well recently I've been having a clear out, and have transferred several computers and even colour monitors to the Langley tip. The other day I received a phone call from someone who had been given a PC - would I come and look at it?

The PC was an old 286, complete with VGA monitor and a dot matrix printer. It was in perfect condition, with a range of top quality (for 1989) business applications. However it wasn't much use to this family, whose son was doing a GCSE in some IT subject, and needed some more modern kit. Well, I thought, I still have the odd 486 knocking about, so I loaded one up with Windows 95 and took it down to its new home.

Talking to the family, they told me about the various old useless PCs they get given. They had just loaded up their van to take some down to the tip - included a wondrous machine that they had given up on. Well I now possess that wondrous machine.

It's a Apple Macintosh Classic from about 1990. In perfect condition, complete with its inkjet printer, I couldn't see it ending up as landfill. It's an absloute classic design that nothing mainstream has surpassed, not even the current iMac, which follows similar principles.

It had a few applications installed, including MS Excel and Word, although at some point, Word had mysteriously vanished. Goodness knows where it went, but it's not there any more! Excel still works, although I can't figure out where the application files are - presumably hidden somewhere?

This machine was quite advanced back then. It has 4 megs of RAM, a SCSI port, and various other mysery connections. Goodness know how the thing works. The floppy uses some strange Mac format, so PCs can't read them, although I found a PC application which did the job. I'm not sure how big the hard disk is, although there is about 20 megs free.

All things are different on this Mac. The keyboard, for example, doesn't have any function keys, but has a few extras, like Option, Apple, and Clear. I discovered that if you press Apple-Shift-4 (or is it 3) it does a screen dump. I found out by trial and error that these are PICT files, and could be read with some Windows graphics editors. I've included some for you! These include the famous After Dark screensaver, and an Apple GUI shot.

The GUI looks like the one on my old Atari ST, although it is much more powerful, although it is a mystery to me. I haven't figured out how to load applications onto it - files are associated with applications somehow, but there doesn't seem to be any tool to examine or change this.

I don't know what I shall do with this wondrous machine. It doesn't seem to have a serial port, so I can't use it with a TNC or whatever. But people must do this sort of thing- how do they manage? There isn't an audio input, so other data modes seem a non-starter. Any ideas gratefully received!

The famous "After dark" screensaver on the Mac:
Flying Toasters - takes me back a few years:
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Security

During the last few weeks there have been a couple of TV series about surveillance. Ranging from the monitoring of our movements via street TV cameras, to cookies on our computers, there seems to have been some journalistic licence, but it made me wonder about the vulnerability of modern life.

So much of our lives are now starting to depend on technology that these are becoming a target for outside forces. We are all aware of web sites being defaced by 'hackers', and the range of such activities must be increasing daily.

This year we have seen IRA bomb attacks on power substations in London. Not many businesses are able to continue without electricity for very long, so these are an obvious target. There must be many such targets that are the modern equivalent of the railway junctions and terminals bombed during the War.

It still amazes me that vital computer systems are connected to the internet. Recently a great many companies have suffered disruption due to the 'Code Red' worm. This bit of code transfers itself between various servers on IP networks, and causes 'data storms' as each infected server searches for others to infect. These storms saturate networks and slow down or stop normal communications. In order to fix the problem, every vulnerable server has to be patched. I've fallen foul of this worm a couple of times, by connecting up servers that had been locked away in stores, or out on loan to others. There are supposedly new variants of this worm in development, that exploit different bugs in server code. Someone with malicious intent just needs to connect one infected machine to the internet, to start really widespead disruption.

Those of who use email are probably familiar with the SirCam email 'virus'. This bit of code infects PCs which use versions of the Microsoft Outlook email application. An infected PC chooses documents at random from the computer on which it resides, and emails these to other addresses along with its infectious payload. The emails are usually about 200k in size, although I have received these emails of ten times this size. Apart from the nuisance value, SirCam like infections cause a great loading on networks. I know one man who receives about 200 SirCams each day. There will, no doubt, be developments of this 'virus' that will cause more disruption.

The problem with SirCam is that it targets the usual software used by non-technical folk. But Outlook is also used by many businesses (and maybe government departments?). I would suggest that anyone using Outlook variants should change to something else, but as it is standard issue with Windows I suppose there's not much chance of that.

Also while we are talking about the internet, there is the DOS (Denial of Service) attack. Here, many vulnerable servers are illicitly loaded with software designed to 'ping' or try to access other servers. The software is programmed to do this on a certain date and time. This results in a server or a network being bombarded with packets from a multitude of sources, thus preventing the owner from using the server or network. It doesn't matter what type of equipment is used at the target site, the only thing they can do is to trace the source of all the packets and get in touch with the owners of the infected machines.

Although the internet is a 'self-repairing' network, this does not mean that everything still runs smoothly if part of it is damaged. This last week there has been a noticeable slowing down of the internet, due to failure in one installation in the US. This was caused by faulty equipment, but far worse disruption could be caused by disabling carefully selected targets, whether by malignant software or by bombs.

I don't know whether there is an answer to all this. As technical individuals, we can carefully consider what sort of networking equipment and software we use. An avoidance of Microsoft Outlook variants would limit the spread of email nasties from out computers at least. An aviodance of Windows would help too, but may have the implication that we cannot run the software we would like to.

For businesses it is more difficult. MS Office is so entrenched that it would be very brave (and foolish) to adopt anything different. Firewalls cannot protect against every sort of attack, especially the types that saturate the network with otherwise innocuous packets. The flexibility of IP networks may also mean that these networks will always be vulnerable. Whether IPv6 will be any different I don't know.

The multitude of wireless networks now being introduced will probably also increase vulnerability. There are already areas of London where the RF band is already saturated. While wireless networking is very convenient, it only take someone to put a nice strong wobbly signal on 2.4 gigs to stop the networks working. And it's only a matter of time for someone to work out how to gain illegal entry into such systems.

I read, over the weekend, an article on how IT network managers and engineers should be treated when they leave a company, whether by choice or otherwise. There could be a real problem where these people could have knowledge of accounts and passwords, weaknesses in the company network, etc. It is very easy to set up a cloaked secret machine on a network, which could be used to monitor traffic or provide a path to insert malware.

The article suggested that the ex-employer should be allowed to search the homes of leavers, for the benefit of both parties. It sounds a bit extreme to say the least, but the idea was to ensure that no blame would be attached to ex-employees if there was a problem later on. However, if the ex-employee had intent, surely he would hide all evidence elsewhere?

We live in interesting times.

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Some useful links

How about a Minidisk player that plays 5 hour LP4 disks, with a battery life of up to 147 hours?

Or Human Markup Language, display humans in a web browser?

What does the editor get up to at work? Playing with this kit.

A PSK31 program that records and plays WAV files - the latest version of WinPSK.

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Beechlog is Copyright Burnham Beeches Radio Club 2001.