Saturday, November 29, 2014

Connected To Space

I suppose like most people I've dreamed of somehow being connected to space.
Tonight I realised that dream by listening to the distorted tones of ham radio operators talking to each other using a satellite in earth's orbit. I couldn't understand what they were saying because I didn't have the right mode on the scanner I was using but there were definitely voices behind the static. I was excited about ISS being the first station I'd pick up but it wasn't to be. Instead FunCube-1 provided the delight of being connected to space.
While I know that orbiting satellites aren't that far out into space they are nevertheless outside of our existence and separate from us while constantly connecting us to each other. The mere fact that ordinary people like me can choose where and when to communicate with other people via space is to me pretty darn amazing.
So there you have it. One man, one scanner and a bit of research and I'm connected to space. The next job is to get a ham radio license and start chatting back.
As ConcreteDog said when we met.
I should just do it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

So Much To Do, So Much To Learn

I thought I'd better write something here because it's been so long since I have.
There's been quite a lot going on in the last few months so I better tell you what I've been doing. I've been to Wales where my excellent host ConcreteDog showed me around his beautiful part of the world. I've been to Ramsgate with my GFs cousin Amy, another brilliant host. I have yet to edit video footage of these two trips but that'll happen before the year is out.
Mostly what has distracted me from writing here is listening to my radios and staring through my telescopes. I'm fascinated by what can be found both in and beyond our atmosphere. It's hard to drag myself away from learning about all this new stuff, I haven't even written any music. I'm not sure anyone would be interested in the fact that I have decoded some PSK31 although I might make a tutorial video or two for beginners in the SWL hobby as there seems to be a lot of old videos on YouTube that haven't kept up with the fast pace of iOS apps.
I'm also thinking about getting a CB radio before I venture into getting my Ham licence. This is due to new sets including SSB with a transmitting power of 12w which makes DXing possible without having a licence.
I'll try and blog a bit more about what I'm up to and get some videos online. I'll apologise now if they send you to sleep or seem way too nerdy. I may be just talking to myself but it's probably better than the radio silence of late.
I'll be back soon.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Gone Fishing

It's gone midnight.
I'm sitting here with a bottle of Côtes du Rhône and some tobacco for company. I'm waiting, patiently.
My girlfriend likened listening to the radio to fishing. It's a good analogy and she's right. Unless it's ones trade one rarely goes fishing for food. It's a sport requiring skill and a lot of patience. As it is with Shortwave Listening (SWL). Tonight is the big game match, the prize landing. Tonight at around 4:20am the International Space Station (ISS) is going to be within range. That's what I'm waiting for.
The chances are that I'll fall asleep and miss the whole event but I'm hoping that that won't happen.
After tuning into Australia in the week this would top it all. Lots of people have done it before and I'm hoping to join their ranks.
I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, June 02, 2014

I Heart Ramsgate

Not so long ago I went to Ramsgate for the first time.
A friend had been there and posted a picture on Instagram of a junk shop situated under the arches on the marina. I wanted to go there because I saw an interesting typewriter and I was curious.
When I did go and have a look I found a Sony ICF-2001D shortwave radio. It was very dusty in its little hiding place and had no cover for the battery compartment. At £5 it was worth a gamble. When I got some batteries later in the evening I discovered that it worked perfectly. I was really happy just to be able to pick up local French stations on FM as I could see the French coastline from where I was tuning in.
Tonight has changed everything. My small, second hand £5 wonder has delivered not one but two numbers stations. I've been fascinated by these for years and wondered if I would ever hear one live. Thanks to an iPad app that decodes CW (morse code) I've been able to establish that the broadcasts are indeed numbers stations.
As you can see from the picture above, this is the standard format for sending messages encoded using the One Time Pad cipher.
I'll never know what the message says or who it was intended for but at least I know that some things never change and that the golden age of SW coded transmissions is far from over.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In Tune

I love radio.
That's an all encompassing statement. I don't love or even like a lot of what's broadcast but I do love the medium on which it's broadcast. There are plenty of good things to listen to on the radio and the more bands one has to scan the more one finds to distract oneself.
I own a pocket DAB radio, a MW/LW/FM/SW radio, an internet radio and now a SW scanner. The latter is my newest acquisition. I intend at some stage to hook it up to either my PC or iPad and decode morse messages so that there is more content to listen to.
I've mentioned here before that daydreaming is a hobby of mine, I find that radio is good fuel for that pastime and now I have a new high octane pump to draw from.
If you'd like to listen to some SW and you don't have a radio that'll pick it up here's a link. If you're using iOS or Android there's a link on the page for your device.
Wide-band WebSDR in JO32KF

I hope you enjoy a bit of daydreaming too.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In Or Out?

A few people in the world will know that my favourite car is the Oldsmobile Aerotech.
In the early nineties I bought one of these Matchbox toys. I bought it because it so closely resembled the picture in my head of what my perfect car would look like. That's how it became my favourite car, because of a Matchbox toy.
Many moons later when the internet came along I was able to do some research about the Aerotech. I wasn't disappointed and so to this day I still like this car best. The only thing missing was that original Matchbox car. It had found its way onto the open road over the years and I lamented its disappearance.
I'll never own an Aerotech because it was only a concept car. Apparently you can still see them at car shows but that's as close as you'll ever get. I decided that the only way to own (another) one was to try and track down a model. I was in luck. The internet didn't disappoint.
So here I am with a brand new, still sealed in the box Matchbox Oldsmobile Aerotech. I'm happy but one question remains. Shall I leave it in the box or take it out?
I just don't know.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Writing In Scale

I've never been one to write in scale but I thought I'd try.
The reason is that I'd like to be able to work out a melody to a new tune I'm writing. Thing is it tougher than it looks. Knowing the scale is the easy part and I have an app that'll show me all the chords in the scale. Unfortunately that app isn't conducive to writing tunes. I used an app that was supposed to suggest chords in a scale but that let me down by producing a double b and so that approach was abruptly halted.
My new approach is to write as I always have done, without a key, producing chords that I like. What I'll do afterwards is to change the out of key chords into in key chords while trying to keep the same structure. It has to be easier than limiting myself from the start.
Write free, knock into shape later is my new mantra.
Let's hope it works.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Does What It Says On The App

A few days ago I watched a video from The SoundTestRoom about an app called Genius Songwriter.
I was suitably impressed as it seemed to me to sort the age old problem of being stuck in a rut and churning out the same chords. I thought I'd challenge myself today and see if it really would work so here's what I did.
Firstly I wrote down a simple twelve bar blues sequence in Chordbot. Then I added the root notes of those chords to Genius Sonwriter and let it do it's thing with a couple of minor adjustments from myself. Then I wrote the new chord progression back into Chordbot and made a couple of changes until it all sounded right.
I have to say that I would never have got to that chord sequence on my own and what I ended up with I really liked. What's more is that once the sequence is in Chordbot you can mess with the feel until you're close to something you'd use.
Genius Songwriter is an app I'll use a lot. Thanks to TheSoundTestRoom for bringing it to my attention.
Here's what I ended up with.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Idle Life List

My constant companion starting this year is a book.
"The Book Of Idle Pleasures" by Dan Kieran and Tom Hodgkinson is an inspirational guide for the modern Flaneur. It gives one ideas for spending time doing not very much at all. All the activities are free and easy to complete. Rather than merely reading the book and imagining myself indulging in the tasks I've decided to get out there, at a moderate pace, and see if I can tick off all the pleasures before slipping off this mortal coil.
I'm not going to try to do this in a year or two, there's no rush.
The idea is to create an audio recording with a few details of how I've worked through each task and post the podcasts here. As I've said, there's no timeline. I'm looking forward to trying to complete all of the pleasures.


Thursday, January 09, 2014


This year is going to be different.
This isn't an idle statement but it certainly is a fact. A lot has happened and this directly influences what will happen in the future. The latter part of that sentence isn't ruled by a strict timeline and the result of future events are planned but yet unknown.
At this point you may well wonder what I'm going on about and if what I'm saying is a good or bad thing.
To reassure you, it's good and this year, with a lot of effort, will work out just fine and cover over the misery of years past.
Something to aim for and smile about I think.