Saturday, 20 August 2016

Thoughts on installing the ham radio gear into the Maroon Monster...


OK... geeky posting, so if this bores the crap out of you, keep on scrolling down the page ;)

Right; I have a rough handle on how I'm going to be fitting my amateur radio gear into the Maroon Monster; there are two main avenues, and a couple of minor ones;

Major Method #1

Mount within the leaf-hand load space storage compartment in the 'boot' area, running the power from the connectors to the accessory socket mounted in the trim panel. The antenna cable would then run around the top of the tail door to the right side of the vehicle.

Major Method 2.

As per #1, but in the right-side , the power running from the fusebox forward of the drivers seat, the cables running along the lower trim into the storage compartment. The antenna cable would run from the radio to its mounting point (see below)

Minor Point #1

The antenna would be mounted via a through-body New Motorola mounting system and a connector converter to the pl-259 VHF connector on the base of the antenna, preserving watertight integrity of the body of the vehicle. A hole would have to be drilled in the bodywork to facilitate the NMO mounting to be fitted.

Minor Point #2

Utilise my existing boot mount, the cable running from the load space storage compartment between the trim and the body panel, to the tail door, onto which the boot mounting would be fitted. Special care would have to be exercised to ensure as water-tight a fitting as possible, given that the antenna cable would be running on top of the door seal strip, presenting a possible ingress point for water leakage.

Minor Point #3

I also have to decide how I'm going to run the remote head extension cable from the radio to the remote head that houses the radio controls; it's a limited length cable (19.7 feet, or 6m), so some intelligent thought has to go into the issue. That might sound a lot, but it's likely got to negotiate some rather odd paths to get to the front of the wagon; in addition, I've already got cable for the dashcam running along the headlining to the top of the left of the windscreen, so that's got to be considered as well. Like I said, I've got some thinking to do!


So...


I'm in two minds about MM 1&2; they both have strong points in favour of either method, so the jury's still out.

However, MP#2 will be the way I go for the antenna mounting. While I do like the idea of a water-tight seal as envisaged with the Motorola mounting system, it is not designed with the loading that would be imparted to it by the mass of the Comet CR-8900 quad-band antenna under wind or impact loadings; it is designed with smaller, sleeker, and infinitely more flexible PMR radio antennas (typically single whips with a small or no loading coils in the base).

The boot lip mounting system from Comet (their K-405 boot-lip mount, one of the units recommended for the CR-8900 antenna) is designed to take the loading that the antenna will exert on it; further, I don't need to drill holes in the body of the Discovery. It has the capability of accepting impact loading from two axes (X- and Y-), thus hopefully helping to preserve the antenna under tree strike conditions. SO, all things considered, it's going to be Minor Point #2 for mounting the antenna.

Now I have to make my mind up about which side of the wagon I mount the radio.

More on this sooner than later...

New wagon... :)


Having been asked what my new wagon looks like by a few folks, here it is Behold: The Maroon Monster

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Time for a replacement car...


Well, it's that time again...

The Ford Mondeo I got a little under a year ago was a stop-gap measure to give me breathing room to keep me on the road; it's been a champ, and done exactly that. It's the second of these cars I've owned, and while some curse them, it is, to me, one of the few wagons that Ford got right, straight out of the gate. It's not let me down once, and I put cars to hard use, trust me.

So, time to get a replacement wagon as, sadly, this one's now on it's last legs.

I also own, as some of you might know, a Series 3 (Siii) Land Rover, a former military one, no less. Unfortunately, I haven't really got the skill set to keep that one on the road, so that's going too. It's already sparked interest from a couple of enthusiasts (both known to me), so it'll get a new lease of life with either of them, whoever makes the best offer ;)

To replace both of these wagons, I need a bit of a combination. It's got to have four-wheel drive (4WD) capability, it's got to have the load-carrying capability of the Siii, the ease of use of the Ford, be able to take a few additions/modifications, and above all, be comfortable for long drives (say, to France and back).

After a lot of chat with friends and those much more knowledgeable in mechanical issues than I am (remember: I'm an electronics nut, not a mechanical nut), the conclusion is that I need a Land Rover Discovery Mk 2.

Yes, there are more reliable off-road-capable cars from other manufacturers, but I like the Land Rover marque, so there ;)

But why a "Disco" Mk 2? It is, basically, the same as a Mark 1, but with a little bit of refinement; most of the issues of the Mk 1 were already ironed out, and the Mk 2 took all of these improvements, and added a few more features here and there. The result is a slightly better wagon in many respects, not the least of which of the TD5 engine, a five-cylinder 2.5 Turbo Diesel, that's apparently miles more reliable than earlier engines in the Mk 1.

Add to this that it can be easily upgraded/modified for off-road use, and the parts and accessories for it are plentiful and, in the main, relatively cheap, when compared to similar products for other makes and marques.

So, what do I plan on doing to my new wagon, once I get my mitts on it? Well, here's a non-exhaustive list...

  • Phone mounting:
    (easy, not difficult at all, already have the suction mount for the windscreen)
  • Additional 12 Vdc accessory outlets cab and load space:
    Easy, socket extenders for both.
  • Additional Security:
    Thatcham Steering wheel lock (Disklok) (via Amazon.co.uk)
  • Radio Fit:
    Quad-band Amateur Radio transceiver + quad-band antenna, PBR set and antenna (VHF-UHF), poss CB as well (to be decided)
  • Dashcam:
    DDPai M6+ GPS, WiFi, Magnetic Mount (Techmoan recommended best cam)
  • New Tyres:
    To be all-terrain-capable, not yet specified/sourced
  • Light guards for front and rear:
    Not yet sourced
  • Snorkel (for deeper water wading):
    To be sourced
  • Front bumper and winch kit:
    One of the units from Extreme 4x4
  • Strobes/beacons (Yellow):
    To be decided/sourced
  • Tree guards:
    To be decided/sourced
  • Roll bars:
    To be decided/sourced
  • Sump, differential, tank, and other under-body shields/guards
    To be specified/sourced
And the chances are good that I'll add other bits and bobs to the mix, over time, too ;)

The great thing here is that most of these don't need to be added immediately; they can be added in piecemeal fashion, allowing me to spread the cost of obtaining and fitting them over time, which is nice.

In terms of additional specifications for the Disco, I'm looking at the five-seat version, the one without the extra fold-down seats in the load space, as the 5-seat ones come with two very handy light storage bins, which I've already got ideas for ;) Also, the five-seat versions omit the self-levelling air suspension system, which can, in some cases, cause problems. The less to go wrong, the better, after all ;)

I've already identified three Discos that I like the look of (one belongs to a mate, and is tentatively on the market), and I'm going to be looking at the others over the next week or two; there are others, of course, but not as nearby to me.

I'll keep you all posted on how the search progresses :)

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The benefits of future-proofing your phone...


For a while now, my phone has been acting up a little. I'd already addressed the two-year-old degrading battery (it wasn't able to hold a consistently long charge any more, which is fairly normal for regularly-charged batteries) by replacing it for a new one, but there were other problems to contend with; Some apps had been locking up, others falling over. It was all down to a lack of available space on the device storage, both onboard (32gb) and on the storage card (another 32gb).

There are only so many things you can do in these situations, and I'd done most of those by yesterday; those were, in no particular order:

  • Deleting unused or seldom-used apps;
  • Deleting old photos (I use Dropbox to back them up, so nothing's been lost);
  • Clearing out old data (pruning).

But it was clear yesterday that I had to do one last thing. I got a bigger storage card. The phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, running Android, is capable of addressing a maxim card size of 64gb. So, I went looking.

A LOT of high street tech shops were asking silly money for both branded and unbranded kit, so I began looking online instead. However, I wasn't about to go to e-bay for this, being mission-critical kit (some things, yeah, I'll use e-bay, but not vital electronics like this, as there are too many knock-offs). Amazon, however, stepped up nicely.

With Amazon, you can generally be safe in the knowledge that even their third-party 'marketplace' concession retailers have an assured supply chain to the brand-name kit. In this case, I found a 64gb microSD card from Samsung listed for under FIFTEEN QUID?! Wow. I snapped that one up for same-day delivery faster than you could say "Cool!"

Amazingly, it arrived by 6.30 p.m.! Good Job, Amazon Logistics! :D

It's a Samsung-branded 64gb class 10 microSD card, and was in the proper packaging, WITH hologram. It had Japanese printing on the packaging, nothing surprising there, it was likely a grey import, hence the price. I have no problem with that for simple tech like this.

So, I set-to immediately and backed up the old card (I'd done this a couple of days ago already, but it's a good habit to get into when swapping around storage media.

I then de-mounted the old 32Gb card, installed the new 64gb one, mounted it, formatted it just like you're supposed to using the phone, and that's when I hit a hiccup. The phone did not now want to talk to my computer. So, I tried putting the card directly into the card slot on the laptop (via a card adaptor). No dice, it couldn't read it. So, back into the phone, and try again. No joy.

Time to check the old internet. And came up successful in my search for a solution. Seems that occasionally, when changing cards, the interface settings get upset. So, I confirmed it to be set to 'USB Mass Storage Device' instead of 'MTP Device', and we were back on the rails again. Nice :)

So, I copied the backup of the 32 gig cad onto the new card, did some more general data pruning, moved a few on-board apps to the card, and whoopee - I've got back close to 15 gigs of space on the on-board storage on the phone, and still have over 40 gigs of space on the new card :) I call that a win, folks :D

As a result, this phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 3), which was 3G (4G-capable) when I got it, and which three months later was software-enabled to 4G (UK Three network), has probably another year to two years of practical life left in it (by which time, chances are some form of 4.5G or 5G will be on the horizon, if not in service already) :)

This is another reason why I buy phones with card slots and removable batteries :) It's called Future-proofing a phone ;)

Also, a hint - take regular back-ups of your data, whether it be a phone or a computer; you NEVER know when you might need to access those backups!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Normandy 2016: Postscripts and notes...


OK, a couple of things I forgot to mention.

Roy, the RMP veteran who took a tumble at the 46 RM memorial, got back to England alright, and as at the last information I had on him, was recovering at home. We're looking forward to seeing him next year, if he can make it.


Lessons learned:
  • Sunburn's a right royal pain in the wherevers!
    Remember the damned sunscreen cream!
  • Kids and early starts tend not to mix.
    It's been agreed that the kids are staying home next year!
  • Péage works from the left of the wagon - they drive on the WRONG side of the road over there!
    Consider using a Sanef electronic tag payment method for next year - there are five - possibly more - Péage stations to negotiate next year, and the less hassle and fiddling for change, the more relaxed the trip, thus more enjoyment!
  • Sundays are generally closed in France.
    If not in a hotel or B&B accommodations bring, or buy in-country, food for decent English-style breakfasts (and the facilities to prepare/cook it, too)!
Aside from the above, it was all good - and I'm looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 4 (Last day)...


The start of Day Four was pretty-much the usual thing: Roll out of bed on hearing an alarm clock. Check the time. Realise it's 05:30 and you're not due to be up for another HOUR AND A SODDING HALF. Mutter dark imprecations, and fail to get back to sleep. So, I grabbed a shower, and got up in slow time manner.

There then followed an episode that I'm not particularly happy or proud about, but which was, in hindsight, probably inevitable. A drama with one of our teams kids came along. The increasingly sulky teenager, who had decided to be an irritating little twit from pretty-much day two, and who had been causing frayed tempers a lot, had been refusing to move out of bed (a sleeping bag on a folding camp bed, both of which had to be packed away before we could make a move towards Bayeux and breakfast). So as we all chuckled about the laziness of youth, I played reveille to her (it's one of the alarm clock themes on my phone!). Everyone but her was amused by this. Not her. She made a VERY ill-judged comment towards me, and got my temper on Dial Setting Five (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mean_Machine_Angel) with sixty seconds-worth of parade ground-level roar of non-repeated non-sweary English Language from me as a result.

Regrettable or not, it had the desired result, however, as she vanished at high speed to the ablutions immediately thereafter.

And yeah, I apologised to her Dad* once I'd taken a short walk to get a grip again (said kid hardly said a word to me for the rest of the day: Bliss!). Anyhow, that aside, we were packed and ready to go by 08:30, half an hour ahead of schedule!

The CMP Memorial
Close-up of the
CMP memorial
Our first port of call was for breakfast at the café in Bayeux again (Ham and eggs, of course), and we then made our way to the Museum of the Battle For Normandy, where the Liberators service for the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 2nd Battalion the Essex Regiment, and the Corps of Military Police was to take place.

Staff Sergeant Redpost!
Note that it was still the CMP in 1944; the Corps only received the Royal prefix after the war, in 1946, then becoming the Corps of Royal Military Police (RMP).

It was while we were waiting for everything to get set up for the service, that we ran into our old mate, Staff Sergeant Redpost. Still having his beetroot-red complexion (from all the shouting, while being a 'drill pig', we were led to believe), it seems he's taken up a post-army career as a fire hydrant!

The Essex Regiment
memorial
The Sherwood Rangers
Yeomanry memorial

The service, attended by the RBL, the Mayor of Bayeux, and various local dignitaries, was a small affair by comparison to the previous days event.

It was at this service that we laid a wreath on behalf of those who have served, and those still serving, in the CMP and RMP. Notably, given that three regiments have memorials here, we were the only former members of regiments present to lay wreaths: there were no representatives for the Yeomanry or the now-amalgamated Essex Regiment (the Essex Regiment is continued, following several amalgamations, by 'C' Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment), which I thought rather poor show.

Maybe they'll fix that next year. One lives in hope, anyhow.


Hottot CWGC Cemetery
The RBL and local standard
bearers at the Tilly
CWGC Cemetery
After a sort drive into the French countryside, the next service was at the Hottot CWGC Cemetery (many of the fallen from the Bocage lie here), assisting the locals by request.

As you can see from the photo, the sun was really cracking down here, and, as it had been for the last couple of days, it really left an impression. I'd forgotten to pack my sun cream, and boy, were my face and arms starting to burn!

This service was followed by another short drive to Tilly sur Seulles, at the Place d'Essex Regiment, for another similar service by the museum there.

During the war, Tilly came under sustained and repeated attack from both sides, it changing hands over forty times in a matter of days. Little was left of the town by the end of its liberation. In one tragic incident, during one of the many counter attacks, an artillery shell, misdirected by an observer attached to the Essex Regiment, sadly landed amongst sheltering civilians, and the memorial is to both those victims, and the forces (including the Essex Regiment) who liberated the town from the Germans.

Flt Lt
Peter Roper
RCAF
(ret'd)
Flt Lt Roper's Plaque
There's also a memorial to a certain Flight Lieutenant Peter Roper, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was shot down over Tilly, in a 'borrowed' Hawker Typhoon - we had the absolute honour and pleasure of meeting this fine gentleman, who remembers everything about that day, and retains one heck of a sense of humour about it too - and mentioned in passing that he hoped no-one sent him the bill for the - ahem - 'borrowed' aircraft!

Then, it was off to Dieppe for dinner, and the ferry home again.

Dinner was taken in a restaurant that had opened that very day, Le Petit Bouchon, at 4 Rue Vauquelin, 76200 Dieppe, France
Menu du Jour,
Le Petit Bouchon,
Dieppe

The meal consisted (as best I could translate and taste):

  • Starter:
    Miniature melon with thinly sliced ham
  • Main Course:
    Chicken in mushroom and onion sauce with green beans and fries
  • Dessert:
    An apple tart with vanilla sauce

I've shown a photo of the menu (menu du jour), in case there are any French speakers amongst you who can translate this for me properly!

The staff were helpful, friendly, and we had a whale of a time. We'll definitely be back there again next year!

The ferry, however, was a rather mixed affair, and put an unfortunate dent in the week. We aimed for the midnight ferry, the idea being that it'd be fairly quiet, and less busy, thus easier to find a decent seat upon-which to crash out and get some much needed sleep.

The situation regarding illegal migrants from France to the UK has been in the headlines a lot over the last couple of years. It's finally hitting Dieppe, and while they've boosted the physical defences for the port (good quality security fencing and razor wire), the security manning at the entrance to the parking/waiting columns and the HGV entrance, is down to one unarmed, unarmoured youngster in a uniform, with a torch made of plastic. So much for either the British or French governments "doing all they can to prevent illegal migration".

We counted perhaps fifty or so of these "illegals", most of whom tried for the heavy Goods Vehicles (easy targets), but a couple made worrying approaches to cars and camper vans in the queues for the check point gates.

The single guard just couldn't cope, and we had to strongly discourage these couple of illegals from making any approach to our vehicles, which in the event was us standing outside the wagons, and suggesting to them that it would be a bloody bad idea to present any kind of perception of menace or threat, given that we had women and kids in the wagons. It seemed to work, as then didn't bother us afterwards, and we got through ticket and passport checks easily enough.

Departing La France - Au revoir, Dieppe!
Once on the ferry, the idea regarding the seating was taken up, and in my case, discounted immediately. Padded? Check. Comfortable to sit in? Check. Good enough to sleep in? BZZ, nope.

I eventually found a pair of chairs against a wall in the lounge, and managed to get a couple of hours of kip in those, but I had a crick in the small of my back, darnit. Those seats just aren't designed to be slept in (it's not an airliner or an overnight train, after all!).

Anyhow, while the trip there was four hours long, the trip back was five hours duration - seems the ferries travel a bit slower for safety reasons after dark. Makes sense.

Rolling off the ferry at 04:00 UK time (Europe is an hour ahead of the UK, remember), we got through the 'UK Border' - a.k.a. passport control, and headed off to Eastbourne, where upon coffee and a rest was had, before the rest of us headed back to points London and north, and home.

We found out, while catching up on the television news, once we got back to Eastbourne, that the EU Court has decided, in their infinite stupidity, that said illegal migrants cannot now be arrested for breaking the laws on border controls between France and the UK. What utter and complete rot and nonsense.

Anyhow, discounting the problems with irritable brats and garretty migrants, the week was a resounding success, we achieved everything we set out to do and more besides, and we're going again next year!




* Given that I have yet to receive an apology from the teenager for the comment she made, I don't feel in the slightest inclined to apologise to her for the parade-ground-level roar in response.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 3...


Normally on days off, or on holiday, I tend to sleep late. So much for that idea. At 05:30, I was woken by one of the lads (I’ll mention no names, Dave!) alarm clock. Ugh. So, realising that I wasn’t likely to get much more sleep at all, got up, and grabbed a shower. By 08:00, we were on the road, heading for Bayeux.

The Monday saw more traffic on the Péage motorway, but nowhere near the levels that I’d been expecting, even considering that HGV traffic was once again using the road. It was quite an eye ­opener, and made me wonder just how much of the freight that travels to all parts of France gets there ­ - do they use their railway that much more than we do? Guess that’s a topic for another time, anyway.

By 9 a.m. we were in Bayeux, and found a little café that the lads visited last year, which served a very nice ham and eggs - ­ no damned McDonald today! We also met the dogs that apparently tried to be *very* friendly with Dave’s leg last year... apparently, the poor mutt had learned his lesson from last year, to much amusement from the rest of us!

Still a bit misty, but the
gothic impressiveness
of the place takes your
breath away!
The Cathedral at Bayeux was the reason we were present, and was the focus for the Royal British Legion (RBL) service of remembrance for D­-Day.

There was one major spoilage to the event, however. The Air Cadets, who we met previously, had been asked to attend, and did so in their best uniforms, with flag bearers.

As they understood it, they were to take part in the parade within the cathedral.

Either this was wrong, someone got crossed wires, or someone changed their mind, as a completely and utterly disgusting insult to the Air Training Corps followed: The cadets, in entirety, were told to leave. In full view of the local media’s cameras.

Inside, before the
service started. Minus
the Air Cadets.
So, rather than cause a massive scene, they did as asked, with dignity; the cadets out of the side doors, their flag party smartly marching out the front doors. They were understandably upset, angry, and very hurt over this slap in the face.

Whoever told them to leave needs to be held to account, as it was a completely unnecessary insult to the Air Cadets and Her Majesty, as the cadets obviously bore a Colours flag bearing the Crown insignia (the ATC was formed on the command of a Royal Warrant, unlike the other Cadet services).

This is an argument for another place, by people with scrambled egg on the visors of their caps, but someone in the RBL needs to be brought to account over this disgusting incident. It cast a pall over the rest of the proceedings.

After the service, the remaining flag bearers and band marched up to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at the top of the hill (with one vastly entertaining hiccup ­ the band, leading the parade, took left turn downhill followed by a right turn uphill, smack dab into a cul-de-sac, and had to perform a swift about turn on the march to get back onto line of route!).

Normally, I’d expect the RBL to provide a marshalling team to prevent this sort of foul­-up, but apparently, they either didn’t feel it was necessary, or they didn’t turn up. Either way, it was the only amusing feature of the day.

Once at the cemetery, we kept a weather eye on both the veterans and the cadets again, as the day had turned out to be very hot indeed.

By the end of the service at the cemetery, several veterans and a few cadets had needed to be treated for heat exhaustion; the medics on­-site were excellent, and did what was needed, but the sheer volume of patients they had to work with was somewhat larger than they’d been expecting, so once again, we ended up providing immediate first aid to the cadets, to reduce the paramedics workload.

I’m glad to say that none of those treated required anything more than shade, cooling down, and water, and they all recovered swiftly.

After this, we made our way to Arromanches on the coast. Apparently, last year, the lads had made such a good impression with someone of some import at Rots, that we’d been asked to attend the Arromanches commemorations with a view to lending help with the marshalling of the event.

To cut a long story short, we liaised with the organisers, the Royal Marines (there to provide the Veterans escorts in the parade), the First Aid team provided by the QARANCs (Queen Anne’s Royal Army Nursing Corps), and the local security and Police Municipale. Quite a tall order, but we pulled it off nicely, with no bent noses, and quite a bit of fun along the way. I was too busy to take photos this time, but I’ll try again next year :­)

Dinner that evening was a burger and fries on the sea front (miles better than the McDonald’s stuff over here!)

And yes, we made a fair few new friends along the way :­)