Sunday, 6 December 2015

Regarding the horrific multiple stabbing at ‪‎Leytonstone‬ tube station...

Regarding the horrific multiple stabbing at ‪#‎Leytonstone‬ tube station: This is not likely to be a terrorist incident, in my less than humble opinion.

Despite all the media hype over this, I'll do you a crystal ball on this one: ‪#‎hesnotaterroristbruv‬

  • He's likely a loner.
  • He's likely got a history of trouble with the Police. 
  • He's likely got a history of mental issues.
  • While I doubt it, he may be a Muslim, but I doubt anyone'll lay claim to him from any of the local Mosques.
  • Then someone comes up with a catchy little hashtag ‪#‎youaintamuslimbruv‬, the media catches hold of it, and the result is...
  • Every talking head out there starts doing a Chicken Little screaming "The sky is falling in!" and "Terrorism" at the top of their lungs, because (a) the demented chunderwit yelled "Syria" and (b) the hashtag.

Good grief, we've got enough ruddy problems without this being blown out of all proportion - and much more newsworthy tragedies while I think about it: did anyone notice that a pensioner was killed when he was blown by a gust of wind care of Storm Desmond here in London? No?

Read this: I really feel sorry for the bloke's family; they lost a father, a granddad, a loved one, not three weeks prior to Christmas. THAT'S a tragedy.

See, you hear Terrorism, and instantly you're thinking the worst. ONE lone NUT JOB managed to make you a media addict. He does NOT deserve the airtime or the newsprint.

Get a grip, people: One lone whack job with a Stanley knife does NOT a terrorist make. It makes a horrific incident, yes, but it doesn't make the chunderwit a terrorist.

What, some MP stubs their toe next, and yells it's a terrorist plot to stop him voting on what toilet paper to use next?!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

LINUX, WINE, and cheap software not always being the best...!

Bit of a geeky posting, this, so bear with me ;)

As many of my friends know, I've been into paper-and-pencil style role playing games for close to two decades; I both play, and referee these games. Over the last decade and a bit, though, the opportunities for me to play have been somewhat diminished by the simple obstacle of shift-working :( However, there's nothing to stop me planning evil adventures, scenarios, and campaigns for the poor saps - I mean players *cough cough* - who I eventually run games for...

So, with that in mind, I recently started up working on a few ideas. And hit a bit of a snag; some of the software that I used to use to do such things as floor plans, deck plans, maps, and so on, were designed for use with the windows operating system, not what I currently use, which is Ubuntu Linux.

Luckily, there's something called WINE, which allows some - not all - windows software to run in what is effectively an isolated sandbox of windows within Linux. Now note I said "not all". I used to use FloorPlan Plus 3D. Not any more, sadly. Excellent package, but only 32-bit, and for some reason, not at alll reliable under WINE. Ho-hum. However, not all of this is bad news - some packages run VERY nicely.

Profantasy Software market a very handy CAD package called Campaign Cartographer, and being modified from a professional CAD package (under licence), it's very well-suited to being used for RPG mapping purposes. I bought a few of their packages, first Campaign Cartographer, then Cosmographer Pro, and several other bolt-on packages under the CC banner. Buying from Profantasy is also more handy than you might think; although I have the discs - currently buried in storage - I also have an online account with ProFantasy, created when I first bought CC several years back; they archive and make available your purchases, in case you lose discs, or similar, and thus I was able to download the installer files, and use my licence numbers to install them under WINE - they work perfectly, thanks very much :)

The moral of this story - use a decent operating system, and buy software from decent companies when you have to part with your hard earned wedge, and things will tend to be better in the long run.

Put simpler than that: Buy decent kit, and it'll deliver time and time again. A penny saved is not always a wise penny, after all ;)

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A few small updates...

I just realised that I hadn't updated a couiple of posts on here, so now's a good a time as any to do so.

Following on from Thursday, 7 May 2015 ("Oh, pooh. On two counts :-(")...

You already know how the installation of Ubuntu Linux 14.04 LTS went, but the other issue raised, that of an inability to get the computer and Baofeng UV-5R radio to talk to each other was NOT hardware related: It was software related.

CHIRP, the software I was using to try to talk to the radio from the computer, has two main version: 'Stable', and 'Daily Build'. It turns out that the daily build version is able to talk to the radio, but not the stable build. Go figure.

Anyhow, that's been rectified, and I've been able to successfully get the radio programmed how I want it, which was the aim of the game in the first place. So, job done.

And Chirp is still an excellent bit of kit ;)

Another problem I recently had was with viewing DRM material that I'd bought from Amazon Prime and Google Play (in YouTube) (streaming movies and television shows). They just would not play under Linux.

In order to watch these movies and shows, on Amazon, you have to have Silverlight installed in your browser. Problem the first: It's made by Microsoft, and they don't give a tinker's cuss about support to Linux users, the intransigent wossits.

While Silverlight and Flash are not supported under Linux, there are third party  applications, the first being Moonlight, which is sadly no longer available, the second being Pipelight, which is. Problem the Second: Making it work.

The ironic thing here is that I DID manage to get it to work briefly, then suffered a system lock-up in Firefox, had to perform a cold reboot, and then suffered login lock-up, resulting in my having to reinstall Unity. And after that, Pipelight failed to play, despite retracing the exact same steps to get it playing as before. The various help forums were of no help at all in this regard, and that's not a very good advert for Linux, sadly.

I did however, find a work-around.

Using Wine, I installed the windows version of firefox, then the windows version of Flash. Now successfully watching Amazon instant material. It'll do until Amazon bins Flash, by which time, hopefully more effective HTML5 support will have been generated within Firefox et al.

I really wish it hadn't had to be done this way, as there's absolutely no elegance to it: It's a brute-force sidestep but, on the other hand, it got the job done, so I guess I shouldn't whinge too much.

Oh, and it took a Linux Mint (NOT an Ubuntu one, to my utter disbelief) tutorial to give me this solution. Here's the link, in case you're curious:

Make of that what you might!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend :)

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Next up... the netbook... (Part three)

Well, I've identified a few issues, and solved them, chief amongst them being the keyboard layout and language selection. Ye gods, that was annoying.

Seems it defaulted to the system keyboard layout, with no regional settings. I managed to bumble about in there until I found the right settings, whiuch only to a week or so of on and off prodding, prying, and poking, in between work, sleep, and so on.

So. I've got it working the way I want it working. The next step is to load the essential software on there, and test it again.

Once that's done, I'll have two Linux machines, one for carting about the planet (and emergencies), the other to stay at home.

Can I say that I'm rather pleased with myself?

Yes, I can

Monday, 8 June 2015

Next up... the netbook... (Part two)

OK, part two...

Following the problems with Xubuntu, I looked about, and sought advice. Damnsmalllinux was suggsted, but the information on the current state of the project did not make for optomistic reading. In addition, there was no LTS version of it available. So, no to DSL then. Pity, but that's life.

Lubuntu - yet another fork of Ubuntu - then appeared on the horizon, mostly dut to the listing over on wikipedia relating to lightweight Linux distros ( I decided to give it a try, and downloaded the 64-bit LTS iso, again using Startup Drive Creator to create the live thumb drive; it worked with no problems, and when I tried it in the Acer netbook, WOW, twenty seconds - maybe even a tad less - to boot up into the desktop.

WiFi worked first time, and logged right into the home broadband system.

I've not yet played around with the rest of the nuts and bolts of it, but it was appreciably quicker and more responsive than the existing Windoze 7 installation.

I'll be testing it on and off over the week, but it very much looks like I may well have found the flavour of Linux for my Acer Netbook :-)

More when the testing is done :-)

Next up... the netbook... (Part one)

Flush with my successes on my Toshiba notebook, I dug out my old netbook, with it's catalogue of problems; the ultimate goal here was to replace the pain-in-the-backside operating system (Windows 7 Professional) with a low-overhead version of Linux.

Before I could do that, though, I had to fix a fairly major problem.

The keyboard was giving me all manner of grief before the machine was retired, and the Toshiba became my main machine. A lot of problems could be squarely laid at the door of a faulty keyboard, but at the time (a few years ago now), replacement keyboards were selling for silly money, so I shelved the idea until prices came down. Well, prices HAVE come down, and looking about, Amazon had them at around £35, and Ebay for less than a tenner. Guess who won ;-)

At £8.45 (including postage and packing), the replacement keyboard was sourced from Ebay. It arrived within 48 hours of ordering, which was a very nice touch indeed.

Removing the old keyboard, however, was... interesting. There are copious videos (you tube excells, of course) on this topic, so I consulted a couple of them, finding the advice to be pretty-much the same. The original keyboard, however, thought otherwise, and was a pig to get out. But, come out it did, and a managed not to damage the netbook in the process, which was nice!

Fitting the replacement keyboard was a doddle, compared to removing the original, and the power-up test of the Acer netbook went fine. It still runs under windoze 7, but at least all the problems I had with it could be safely traced back to the faulty keyboard as the original cause :)

Then, I looked at what flavour of Linux to use. The decision process was fairly logical, for a change (I intuit a lot, I'm not a programmer by any strech of the imagination!)

  1. I already use Ubuntu 14.04 LTS on the Toshiba notebook, and I'm reasonably satisfied with it.
  2. The netbook specs are markedly lower than the Toshiba (Acer Aspire One D255; Intel Atom N450 1.66GHz, 512kb cache, 1Gb RAM, 250Gb HDD, 10.1" screen, 1024x768 screen res, processor "64-bit ready"), other details at
  3. Ubuntu 14.04 LTS will not work properly on the Acer netbook due to these lower specs.
  4. A smaller 'footprint' of Linux, with a correspondingly smaller set of system resource requirements, was therefore required.
  5. Given that I was already familiar with Ubuntu from its installation on the Toshiba, a netbook version of Ubuntu would be preferred.
  6. Problem, Ubuntu for Netbooks did exist, but was folded back into the main development program a couple of years ago.
  7. Ergo: A different Linux product had to be sought.
  8. Research indicated that a distro incorporating the Linux Xfce Desktop Environment would be best for the Acer (specifies very low system requirements, good for so-called 'legacy' equipment), so it maked sense to make sure that this is used in the Linux Distro I eventually selected.
  9. Ideally, any distro should be a Long Term Service version (LTS), for ease of maintenance and support.

As a result of the above, and a litle further research, I came to the interim conclusion that Xubuntu 14.04 LTS ( was most likely to be the best choice for the Acer (and me!).

So, I downloaded an iso of it from, and unpacked it onto a USB Thumb Drive using Startup Drive Creator (a Linux program available from most Linux software repositries). It worked as expected, and the thumb drive was runing a 'live' copy of Xubuntu 14.04.2 LTS.

However, when plugged into a USB2 slot on the netbook, things did not go as expected.

It took forever - almost ten minutes, the first time I tried to boot it up. So, I saved the configuration of the session, and shut it down.

I then booted it up again, to see if this was a one-off problem. It took five minutes to boot that time.

In both cases, once up and running, Xubuntu ran just fine, even if it didn't recognise the correct characters whe  the "|" key was pressed (that's minor configuration issue, nothing for me to worry about at this point).

I thought that such a long time taken in booting might indicate a problem with the thumb drive, so to see if this was the case, tested it on the Toshiba notebook, via one of the two USB2 ports (the other is a USB3 port).

The Toshiba booted up from it in thirty seconds flat.

Hmph. Not the thumb drive, then.

Obviously, the netbook either needs a MUCH lower overhead version of Linux, or there's an issue with it booting from a thumb drive. Or both.

So, however you cook it, I'm only 50% accomplished on converting the netbook to Linux, which is a tad irritating, given how easy it was to switch over to Linux on the Toshiba (a Satellite C855-29M). In fact, "irritating" is not the word, but as this is a family show, I think it best not to use the words I realy think sum up this problem!

So, time to look for a version of Linux with an even smaller set of specifications than Xubuntu.

This may take some time...

Monday, 11 May 2015

Ah, that's better :)

Well, the replacement hard drive for my notebook arrived this morning from (nice and fast, that was good!), and inside the larger-than-expected box (L 23cm, W 16cm, H 11cm) was a surprisingly small hard drive (roughly 10cm x 7.5cm x 1cm - Good God, these things have got a LOT smaller in thirty years!), sealed in a factory-issue Toshiba-stamped Anti-Static bag.

The new drive was successfully fitted (it was pitifully easy, one screw, prize off a plastic panel, carefully ground myself against the metalwork (static electricity kills modern electronics), and swap them out. Many orders of magnitude easier than when I worked in the IT game - at least someone's learned how to make things simple!)

Then came formatting and installing Ubuntu Linux 14.04 LTS (Long Term Service). For that, I had to go into the BIOS (hitting the F12 key as you turn the machine on to access the settings menu), and tell it to boot off the USB port. Again, dead easy.

The installer, running off a LiveUSB thumb drive, did the job with no problems; the new installation then took itself off to update everything in sight to current release levels, as expected.

All in all, a relatively easy and simple fix to conduct. Nice to know some things come along with no dramas attached!

One or two comments need to be added, however. The installer makes one massive partition; you really need three: One for the operating system, one for your data, and one for the swap file. For this, you really need a decent disk management tool, and there exists in Linux, one such excellent tool, called gparted. However, it's been over two decades since I played with partitions, and a LOT of standards and practices have changed in that time, so I left it to the Ubuntu installer to do its thing.

And got one partition, not three. Live and learn.

I'll know better next time (and there WILL be a next time, as I plan to replace this new hard drive in about a year, with a Solid State Drive, which are much better than conventional hard drives (or HDDs), as there are no moving parts in an SSD, they're on average three times quicker than an HDD, consume less power, don't get as hot, and are quieter as a result of all of this as well.

The downside at the moment is that SSDs are expensive in comparison to HDDs, and tend to have much lower capacity than HDDs. Hopefully, that will have changed a fair bit for the better by this time next year.

And that will give me sufficient time to bone up on current partitioning practices, so I can do a much better job of sorting out a new drive for the machine.

Still, at least it's done for now

Sunday, 10 May 2015

OH, Pooh, part lord knows what...

The PC fell over yesterday, yet again. This time, it was locked into a login loop.

I got out of that by using the Ubuntu thumb drive to get the machine up and running, reformatted the hard drive (AGAIN, already), and got DISKS (a linux GUI-based drive checking package) up to test the hard drive using the S.M.A.R.T. system ("Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology") that modern hard drives tend to come with.

Well, now I know why the PC has been falling over so much. It seems that the hard disk is shagged. The S.M.A.R.T. test (performed overnight), revealed that there are 1142  bad sectors, none of which can be moved or remapped. "Old age" is the listed cause.

There are several words that I used when I read the result, none of them printable - or polite for that matter.

So. I've ordered a replacement drive via, for a shade under 50 quid. A word of advice here: Make sure you know what type of drive your machine uses, if you have t replace it; there are two main types, IDE, and SATA. The two are not interchangeable. Best option? Replace like for like. My machine's a Toshiba C855-29M laptop. Hardware-wise, it's quite a reliable machine (aside from the damned hard drive, of course!) The SMART report noted the type of drive as being a Toshiba MQ01ABD100, so that's what I've ordered.

As to fitting it, well, they're easy enough to swap out, as modern PCs ( both desktop and laptop) tend to be pretty modular inside (for ease of servicing, the so-called disposable society, and all that), so (and not forgetting to ground yourself against the earth bonding so as not to fry the computer with static charge when you touch the insides) a screwdriver here, a bit of careful leverage there, and this machine should be sporting a new hard drive sometime tomorrow (the good thing about Amazon Prime membership is that they can do next-day delivery at no extra cost in most cases).

It's rather interesting, however, that I only found this out under Linux, than under Windoze. And not a little worrying, too, come to think of it. I'd used some excellnt tools under Windoze, including but by no means limited to Performance Monitor, CCleaner, and others, and none of them had reported any problems. It was only when I moved to Linux that I found that (a) the problems were manageable, and (b) discoverable.

So, I think I’ll be sticking with Linux from now on; seems more able to keep on top of things - what I've been able to do over the last 24 hours with relative ease, I would NOT have been able to do under Windows.

I'm still peeved that I have to shell out for a new drive, and that I've lost a weeks-worth of data, but on the positive side, there's now light at the end of the tunnel, and my habit of taking regular back-ups (a habit that EVERYONE who owns a computer should practice) has paid off.

There are a couple of tips I'll hand over to you at this time, one I've touched on already above:

  • Take regular, at LEAST weekly backups of your data;
  • If you like, take a clone image, or ISO, of your hard drive once you've loaded up all your software onto it, and set it up how you like it. It'll make reloading the machine a whole lot easier;
  • Use GMail, or a similar cloud-based email service - you won't loose your emails, calender, contacts, or a whole load of other things, if the machine falls over catastrophically;
  • Back up your browser settings - I use Firefox, and have a cloud-based account with them, and sync with it on a daily basis, so that I don't lose passwords, bookmarks, and so on. It's one hell of a handy safety net, let me tell you;
  • If you use a LOT of passwords online (and this is recommended practice by pretty-much all the respected advisors across the globe), then invest in a password manager; there are many of them out there - some of them are even free, but the brand-name ones are probably a good choice, at least to start with. It's a belt-and-braces approach to data preservation, but with modern life the way it is, better safe than sorry.

So. I'm in a better mood, now that I know what the root (Linux pun, sorry, couldn't help it) cause of the problems I've been experiencing are, and what the solution is.

More once I've swapped out the drive.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Oh, pooh. On two counts :-(

Right, micro-update.

The FTDI cable arrived in today’s post. And still the radio will not play, which means that it's the ruddy radio, not the cables, or the computer. Time to talk to the radio's retailer... more once I have more...

Also, on the computer...  the darn thing threw a wobbly and refused to boot, thanks to an unrecoverable corrupted sector in the boot track. Even Checkdisk couldn't recover it. I had to wipe the entire drive, repartition it, and reinstall Ubuntu Linux. Thank wossit I take automatic backups of the data!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A small update...

Well,  there's a nice surprise - the Baofeng UV-5R, and all its accessories,  turned up in one delivery, rather that three or four, over two days, from Amazon this morning. Only one problem,  the programming cable,  or the radio itself, may have a fault...

I tried to download the radio's firmware and pre-installed memory settings, to find the the radio was not responding. The programming cable,  which came in a Baofeng printed box,  is based on the Prolific chip,  was accepted by the computer,  and mounted apparently successfully via a USB port first time,  no drivers required.

To prove this, I checked on the Console, with the dmesg command. This displays all system messages to the screen from the moment you booted up your Linux machine that session. It's rather handy for error tracking. This is what I got:

[ 5611.658886] usb 3-1.1.2: new full-speed USB device number 6 using xhci_hcd
[ 5611.760088] usb 3-1.1.2: New USB device found, idVendor=067b, idProduct=2303
[ 5611.760098] usb 3-1.1.2: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=0
[ 5611.760104] usb 3-1.1.2: Product: USB-Serial Controller
[ 5611.760108] usb 3-1.1.2: Manufacturer: Prolific Technology Inc.
[ 5611.761287] pl2303 3-1.1.2:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
[ 5611.762771] usb 3-1.1.2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

So, not the chip in the cable, then, or it wouldn't have responded.

The radio,  once fully charged via the drop-in mains charger, turned on as expected. And that's all that seemed to go right thus far.

So, as the chip in the USB end of the cable is being recognised, then it's either a fault in the cable or the plugs at the radio end, or the radio itself.

My immediate gut feeling on this, is to look at the common cause of a lot of problems, and that will be the cable - cables can fail for a wide variety of reasons, not all of them immediately apparent, so I've ordered another cable, this time based on the FTDI chip,  in the hope that it's the cable, not the radio.

If the replacement cable doesn't do the trick,  then it's likely as not to be the radio,  and that'll get a replacement request fired off to the marketplace retailer.

To be updated once I've got the FTDI cable.

Monday, 4 May 2015


So, hot on the heels of getting to grips with CHIRP, I encountered a problem. Not with the software, or computer, or even Linux. But with an old and faithful friend of mine, my twenty-plus-years-old tri-band amateur radio hand-held Yaesu VX-5R.

Turns out that the antenna socket is loose, and try as I might, I cannot lock it down: I spent a LOT of hours earlier trying, including disassembling the thing (don't worry, I put it together again and it still works!) to get at the SMA connector that forms the antenna socket, but to no avail. So, it's going to have to go into honourable retirement, until such time as I can figure out how the heck I'm going to lock up that socket without breaking something else on the radio.

So. Time, then, for a new hand-held. I've been debating this for a while now; a couple of years back, I got hold of an Icom ID-51A, and while it's a very nice radio, it's not something that I want to be carting around all the time - for a start, it cost me well over four hundred quid when I got it, and truth be told, it's a bit irritating to use, being a hybrid Dual-band analogue and digital (Digital Voice & D-Star) FM hand held.

Now, there's a newer version out now with a couple more bells and whistles, but however you look at it, there's a LOT packed into it, hence the complications every so often when using it. Don't get me wrong: I'm hanging onto it, but it's a rig I don't really like to take out of the house, both because of the cost of the damn thing, but also the need to have to consult the damn manual when I want to do something that I either forgot how to do, or haven't done before, with it.

What I really need is a cheap radio that I won't get too upset about if it gets dropped, that's easy to use. So, having been recommended just such a radio a while back by a friend, I've gone ahead and ordered one off - surprisingly enough - Amazon. Yep, they sell Ham gear too. Who knew?!

OJ yeah, the radio? It's a Baofeng UV-5R dual-band FM hand-held transceiver. And it cost me a shade under £23.

That's right.

Twenty-three quid.

I've seen a bucket load of good reviews on this rig, and a couple of not so good ones, so balance of probabilities? It's what I need: A reasonably reliable, cheap hand held.

The reviews also highlighted one major issue with the UV-5R: It's allegedly a complete sod to program the memory channels without the aid of a computer, so, I've also ordered a programming cable, an external fist microphone (saves hauling the radio off the belt when you want to use it), and a couple of other things for it as well (extended capacity batter and a replacement antenna, as the stock one is apparently not that brilliant) as well, which is still, at a total order value of close to fifty quid, which is close to a TENTH of the cost of the cheapest a similar big-name rig with a similar range of accessories as I've ordered for this Baofeng rig. It's quite amazing.

Granted, the after-sales service is likely to be complete pants, but for the price, you really cannot argue one bit. It truly is, in amateur radio terms, a 'disposable radio'.

Oh, remember I said a tenth of the cost above? I wasn't joking. Here's a comparison with one of my favourite makes, Yaesu, versus the Baofeng...

First, the Baofeng UV-5R...

BaoFeng UV-5R 136-174/400-480 MHz Dual-Band DTMF CTCSS DCS FM Ham Two Way Radio £22.57
USB Programming Cable for Baofeng UV-5R/666S/777S/888S Radio £3.04
NAGOYA NA-771 Dual Band 144/430Mhz U/V SMA Female Antenna for Baofeng UV-5R WOUXUN £6.39
Pofung Baofeng BL-5L Extended 3800mAh 7.4V Lithium-Ion Battery for UV-5R Radio Black £10.90
Original Handheld BAOFENG UV-5R Speaker-mic for dual band radio £5.79
BAOFENG 12V DC Travel Car Charger Cable for BaoFeng UV-5R £1.33
Total £50.02

Next, the Yaesu FT1-DE, a broadly comparable currently available radio...

Yaesu FT1-DE 144/430MHz Dual Band £429.95
Programming cable not neeeded – data held on removable PC-readable MicroSD card Nil
Replacement antenna not needed, stock antenna reasonable Nil
Yaesu SBR-14LI (FNB-102LI) high-capacity battery 72.95
Yaesu MH-34B4B speaker-mic 31.96
Yaesu SDD-13 Cigarette Lighter power cable – 12V 29.57
Total £564.43

Thus, when you look at the costs, and what the end result will be (transmitted analogue FM signals at approximately 5 Watts output), there's really no choice at all, is there?

More once I've got the thing in my grubby mitts in a couple of days.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

CHIRP, connection cables with FTDI chips, and Ubuntu Linux...!

OK. As many of you know, I'm a licenced Radio Amateur, and have been since 1985. Thirty years. Ye Gods, time flies! Anyhow, one of the core values and purposes of the hobby of Amateur Radio is defined - and this is straight of the OFCOM website - as: "Amateur radio, sometimes known as ham radio, is both a hobby and a service that uses various types of radio equipment allowing communication with other radio amateurs for the purpose of self-training, recreation and public service."

It's a hobby, so recreation and self-training is a major aspect; the service side comes in in times of emergency and similar; think of the various natural disasters that have happened around the world - most recently in Nepal - and there will undoubtedly be Radio Hams passing emergency communications from the disaster area to the unaffected world, to enable supplies, relief personnel, and so on, to be arranged and transported into the area.

Not all communications between Hams is emergency related, of course; indeed, not every radio ham will ever be involved in such traffic; most of us get into the hobby due to an interest in the radios, the operating methods, and the friendships - often life-long - that can be generated through the hobby; it's even been known for people to met their life partners (husbands, wives, etc.) through the hobby!

However, to be able to do even a fraction of the above, we have to have working and effective radios. And that's what this Blant article's about.

The following is a somewhat verbose and specialised set of notes relating to both Amateur Radio, and Ubuntu Linux usage. If you aren't a Radio Amateur, and possibly if you aren't a Linux User as well as a Radio Amateur, it'll probably be as useful and as meaningful as the static noise floor you can hear between stations on your FM car stereo! Consider yourself forewarned ;-)

So. I have, currently, three radios. A pair of Yaesu rigs - a VX-5R VHF/UHF tri-band FM-only hand held, and an FT-817 multi-band all-mode 'portable', and my latest hand held, an Icom ID-51A digital and analogue hand held, that utilises the proprietary D-STAR Digital Voice system.

A few years ago, a car of mine was stolen, and in the boot (because I hadn't unloaded it that evening, being dog-tired after an event) was a laptop, ALL my connecting cables, the software that I used to program the radios I had at the time, and the dual-band mobile rig I used at the time, an FT-7800R, which was a bloody good radio. The car was stolen, and the kit was never recovered, even though the car was (later judged to be an insurance write-off). So. Hard lesson learned.

I hadn't got around to replacing a lot of the kit until recently, and since I'd converted from Windows on my PC to Ubuntu Linux, a lot of the software was now useless.

So, I went looking, and found CHIRP. CHIRP is an open-source Ham radio programming aid. It allows Radio Amateurs to program a wide variety of different males and models of radios from one computer program, with remarkable ease.

Or at least, it should, if your machine is set up correctly.

You guessed it. Mine wasn't.

So. The first problem was connecting cables for the VX-5R. It's an 'obsolete' radio (hell, it's so obsolete that Yaesu have released 3 subsequent models of the darn thing - see for more info) but, while mine still works nicely (I look after my rigs), the memory was well cluttered, and was in a truly desperate need of a clean-out.

The easy way to do this would be to connect the radio to the computer, upload the memory files, amend and update them, and then download them back to the radio. But, to do this, one needs a connecting cable. And that's where the first problem came along.

Now, like many modern (-ish) computers these days, my notebook doesn't have any serial (RS232) ports: It has two USB2 and one USB3 ports; the USB3 port runs off to my USB3 hub (an Easy-Acc C72 Smart hub, running a number of different things from my printer, to some external hard drives, and so on), one of the USB2 ports houses the wireless dongle for my external keyboard and mouse (much easier to use than the Toshiba-supplied mess on the notebook itself), and the third is free for other uses, so that's what I'd be plugging any cable into.

So, time get a USB to 4-pole VX-5-compatible cable. Evilbay time. Or NOT. Here's where the second problem cropped up. Most of the cables out there are using Prolific chips. Or at least, that's what they say they use. The problem is that there are so many fake chips and cables out there, that do NOT work, that it's hard to figure out which ones are legit or not. Dan Smith, who designed and wrote CHIRP recognised this, and (somewhat clipped from the original) has the following to say:

  • Avoid USB programming cables that appear to be based on the Prolific PL-2303 USB chip.
  • Cables based on the FTDI USB chip are recommended.
  • RT Systems cables are not recommended for use with CHIRP.

I'll add that since version 10.04, Linux has recognised and had the drivers for FTDI chips, so no drivers should be needed to be downloaded for any FTDI-capable cable to work on my machine.

So, an FTDI cable. I decided to look over Ebay again, and found a supplier in the USA (bluemax49ers) with a good reputation. I ordered a cable from him (, which cost me a shade over £16, and waited. It arrived within a week, which given that it came via USPS regular postage was nothing short of amazing!

So, time to plug it in and see what happened.

Ah. Yeah. Problem. It told me that the port I was trying to use, "/dev/ttyUSB0" was generating an "Access denied" error. At least it wasn't throwing up a cable error, so that cable was working, just not the port: That WAS something I should be able to rectify, with a leeeeettle help from the various information sources out there on the internet...

Now, this is Linux we're talking about here, and there's a veritable WEALTH of information out there to help fix the problems one tends to encounter.

I found, eventually, a good reference, and solution, for this problem here (; Seems that the Ubuntu Linux Operating System limits what the USB ports can do - this is good, it means that the inherent security in the OS works properly, but for my purposes, I needed to drill a small hole in it, to allow my radio to talk with the computer, and vice verse. So, the instruction was to open a terminal window, and enter the following:

sudo groupadd dialout
sudo gpasswd -a username dialout
where username is the name of the user.

This did the trick, and I was in business; I fired up CHIRP, connected the cable to the radio, and cut a long story short, I'd managed to tidy up the memory channels on my old radio.

This took the better part of an evening's work, say about three hours including the time to tidy the memory files, so all told, I'm reasonably satisfied.

The other two radios shouldn't be that much of a problem; the ID-51E uses a MicroSD card for its files, and that's easy to deal with, and while I've yet to try it, for my the FT-817ND, I've laid my hands on the BlueCAT bluetooth adaptor, and a copy of FT-817 Commander which will run under WINE on my notebook, so hopefully, no worries. I'll add another chapter in this topic should I encounter problems with the 817.

I hope the above helps someone in a similar situation!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Enough Already (Part five)...

Right. Update on the previous posting from last night. According to those who know a sod sight more than I do, it's likely that this is a fairly well-documented gear lever "Ball and pin" issue, rather than a stuffed up gearbox. The two gents in question will be down at the weekend to suss this out for certain, and hopefully sort it out, thankfully.

While I'm obviously relieved that it's apparently something relatively minor, it doesn't change the fact that this is about the fourth or fifth time in the last twelve months that the wagon has had a mechanical issue of one form or another, that has pulled it off the road.

As a result, and with reluctance, as I actually DO like the damn thing, I've come to the conclusion that it's more trouble than it's worth to me, as I need a reliable vehicle to get me to and from work, not something as temperamental as this Series 3 Landie. I'm therefore going to be selling it in the near future.

I have not, note, lost the landie "bug". Hopefully within the next couple of years, it will be replaced with a more recent (diesel engined for better fuel economy) ex-Army Defender 90 Land Rover, assuming that I can get one that doesn't fall foul of the London Low Emission Zone rules at the time.

So, end of Landie chapter one.

Chapter two to follow in due course...

PS - Please DO NOT contact me wanting to buy it from me. I'll be contacting people I know in due course in this regard, as I intend it to go to a UK-based enthusiast.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Enough Already (Part Four)

Well, some good news, and then some bad news.

Good news:

The PCs up and running on Ubuntu, and seems to be behaving itself. I'm back online, I've only lost about six months of data (I did an immediate backup of the new OS and data once set up, with schedules for backups once a week automatically to an external drive dedicated for that purpose now), and am now going about replacing Windows software with Linux equivalents were available. For what's not readily available, there's WINE, which allows some windows software to run in a Linux environment.

So, no real problems thus far.

And now the bad news.

I've had a crap night at work, and now this.

It appears the Land Rover's decided to be the straw that broke the camels back, and broke on me AGAIN.

The damn gears are stuffed. I seem to still have reverse, first and second, although it's a struggle to get them in - the gear  lever requires a LOT of effort to get them in. Third and fourth refuse to allow the lever to engage. There was NO warning. Thank wossit I'd finished work, and was only a mile and a half from home.

I managed to nurse it home in second all the way without even trying to change gear again, but I really have had e-bleeping-nuff.

It drinks fuel.

It's costly on tax.

EVERYTHING, even pedal cycles, can overtake it.

I don't know enough to fix it on my own, and jokes aside, the people who've helped me keep it on the road up to now haven't apparently trusted me with brains enough to learn from them how to maintain it, so I haven't the skills or knowledge to even attempt to fogure out what's wronmg, and I truly HATE having to rely on others to fix what I should be able to do on my own.

You can imagine how I feel about that, but I can't force people to teach me if they don't want to teach me.


Enough already.

I have suffered enough stress, grief, and jokes at my expense about this damn vehicle.

I like landies, don't get me wrong, but this one? It's getting to be a rock around my bloody neck. I NEED a reliable wagon, not something that breaks down for whatever reason.

The above also means that it's more than likely that I will NOT now be able to make it to a pair of events that I REALLY wanted to attend in the next month and a half. And that's got me more than a little pissed off.

I'm going to sleep on it, but it's 85% that I get rid of the damn thing.

I have no bloody idea what I might replace it with, so don't ask.

I am obviously tired, angry, not a little upset, and not thinking too straight right now.

Oh, and just to make things even worse, I learned the other day that a friend of mine, who I went through basic training with in the T.A., has passed away.

Hows that for icing on the cake for the crap sandwich that's this weekend.

I really have had more than enough.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Enough Already (Part Three)

Well, I couldn't break out of that Repair Loop Of Doom, nor could I access safe mode. Further, even from within the thumb-drive mounted Ubuntu Linux, I couldn't access or break the cycle. So. I bit the bullet, aiming a crapload of rude comments in the general direction of Redmond, VA, and wiped the drive in its entirety. I then reformatted it, retaining the FAT filing system (why not, at least I know how that works - or rather, how it's supposed to work!), and installed Ubuntu Linux 14.04 LTS.

Thus far, it sems to be behaving itself. It's recognised my notebooks wifi & bluetooth hardware, likewise my printer was recognised too, which was a very nice bonus; previously, a few years back when I last looked at Linux, none of the above were recognised.

All I have to do now is figure out how to use this thing, install a warehouse-sized collection of my fonts (ttf format), and find alternatives to all the old windows software that I've hitherto been using.

This is likely to take a while...

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Enough Already (Part two)

Awrighty, then...

Well, I got bored trying to sleep, so booted up the machine using the thumb drive. Whoopee, it worked (F12, got into the bios, changed it to boot from USB , and BINGO, Ubuntu Linux was on the display).

The bad news is that it looks like the hard drive may well be completely shagged. Here's the error message I got when I tried to mount it in Linux:

Error mounting /dev/sda4 at /media/ubuntu/RogersBlant: Command-line `mount -t "ntfs" -o "uhelper=udisks2,nodev,nosuid,uid=999,gid=999,dmask=0077,fmask=0177" "/dev/sda4" "/media/ubuntu/RogersBlant"' exited with non-zero exit status 14: The disk contains an unclean file system (0, 0).
Metadata kept in Windows cache, refused to mount.
Failed to mount '/dev/sda4': Operation not permitted
The NTFS partition is in an unsafe state. Please resume and shutdown
Windows fully (no hibernation or fast restarting), or mount the volume
read-only with the 'ro' mount option.

This suggests that it's got some form of fault that can only be fixed from within the system, and without being able to get in the system, you can't fix it. Catch-22.

To say that this is beyond irritating is something of an understatement.

Here are the cons: I may well have lost EVERYTHING on the damn drive since the last backup before the move - I can't find the one from afterwards; looks like it got lost in the move, along with the recovery disk.

Good news: My bookmarks are safe. A while ago, I began using Xmarks, a service I heartily recommend to one and all. It saved my bacon more than once, and allowed me to sync bookmarks between the notebook and my android phone. So, no bookmarks lost.

Critical 'PersInfo' files have been backed up regularly to a secure server on the cloud (obviously, I'm not saying where!), and I've been using Gmail for so long, every one of my contacts and emails for the last few years is safely preserved there, which is even better.


Assuming the HDD is shagged beyond repair (and I've one more person to talk to on this), then it'll be time to order a replacement HDD from Toshiba, and install Ubuntu on it. If it's merely Windows 8 that's utterly failed, it'll be a reformat and disk wipe, then an Ubuntu installation.

Either way, I'll be playing with Ubuntu from now on.

I have truly had my fill of Windows.

Bugger off, Bill, Torvalds is playing, now.

Enough already (part one).

Windows 8. I've been told that it's like Marmite: you either love it or hate it.

In my case,  I've come to utterly despise it.

The damn laptop I have,  a Toshiba Satellite C855-25M, has become locked in a "preparing to repair" boot loop of doom,  where there is no way to break out without a bootable CD-ROM or USB drive. You cannot,  of course,  create one unless windows is running properly,  and I cannot find the ones I made when I first got the damn thing,  following my home move six months back. So. Borked.

So, I tried to find a bookable iso I could copy to a ram drive through my Android phone, or another PC. No dice. There aren't any. At least,  not for free. And since this notebook didn't come with supporting disks -  obviously a cost saving measure by someone at Toshiba - I can't use those non-existent disks either. Talk about Catch-22.

So. Time to get Linux. I've used a relative's machine,  and downloaded the latest Ubuntu distribution,  then created a bootable thumb drive.

I haven't the time to see if this will work tonight,  as I have to be up early in the morning,  but later tomorrow, I should have the time.

The intent here is to copy all my data files to a backup drive, then wipe the hard disk,  repartition it,  and install Ubuntu onto the notebook. A bit of research is required before I do that, to see if there are Linux drivers for the WiFi on it. Failing that,  it'll be off to a shop for a complete reinstall action of win8, until such time as I can replace that heap of junk with something sensible.

Oh yeah. This posting was performed using my Samsung Note 3 phone. Which runs on a modified Linux platform called Android, which has NEVER let me down.

My time with Windows is coming to an end. There are a number of choice words and phrases,  none of them complimentary, about Bill Gates,  Microsoft,  and the various Windows operating systems,  but suffice to say that I've had ENOUGH ALREADY (yeah, yeah, uppercase shouty shouty. You try keeping your temper with this load of technocrap).

More shortly.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

On Smartwatches...

A belated happy new year, all :-) Hope your holidays were good, and that you got everything you thought you deserved the week before new year ;-)



The next big thig, it seems, is 'wearables'. Now, while I, and probably many, many others, view clothes (especialy in this chilly time of year) as wearables, what the marketing mens is wrist-worn electronic devices, which are designed to impart lots more information to you than just the time. Offerings thus far include makes such as Android Gear, LG, Motorola ("Moto"), Sony, and others; the Apple thing is due soo as well, apparently, but as I'm not being a fan of that brand, you can research that thing.


While the added functionality of these things is nice, the main hiccup with them is the battery life; my current wrist watch, (an analogue-face ex-army watch, as it happens) which is reasonably accurate, tells me the time. It also has an easily changable battery, and that battery has an average life of five years.

Were I to change up to a smartwatch, I'd want that watch to have a week-long (that's seven days) battery life at the very minumum. Now, I may be asking the moon here, but it's not unreasonable to expect a smartwatch to at least equal a mechanical wristwatch in its ability to function between winds of the mechanism - and the last one I had lasted a week between complete winding cycles. I would expect a smartwatch to at least be capable of lasting that long, given that it's supposed to replicate the basic functions of a watch, and only once that is accomplished, have additional fuctionality that is being touted as well.

As to additional functionality. Yes, interface with the phone via bluetooth. Yes, notify us of incoming comms, be they calls, SMS, email, Social Media, or whatever. Tell us the weather? OK, nice. GPS? Gravy. Heartbeat monitor? Cool (if you interface it with an app to call the emergency services if the heartbeat stops while being worn, even better!).

But hey, let's solve the absolutely stupidly short battery life issue first, eh? Frankly, I wouldn't be at all surprised that this is the issue that's preventing wider smartphone takup in the marketplace.

YMMV, of course.

Thoughts and comments appreciated :-)