Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Silence For The Book Please

A long while ago when I still used Windows I used to edit all my audio in a piece of software called Cool Edit Pro. I knew exactly what I was doing with it and it did exactly what I wanted.
Fast forward a few years and I'm now a fully fledged Linux user and Audacity is what I use now. The thing is that I'm not as good with Audacity as I was with Cool Edit Pro. What to do? I've been through most of the tutorials on YouTube and they mostly cover what I already know and while there are a few tips I've learned along the way there hasn't been anything substantial.
The Book Of Audacity has had many good reviews so I bought myself a copy and my head will be buried deep inside its pages until I'm up to scratch.
What will the finished audio be?
You'll have to wait for that one.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Controlling Influence

Following on from Saturday's success with ADS-B I thought that I might try and go one better.
Satellites are a challenge mainly because of the Doppler shift in frequencies as they pass overhead. Having to manually change frequency is a pain and in some cases inaccurate. Today's challenge was to get the satellite tracking software GPredict to control my RTL-SDR via GQRX. Long story short is that it worked without too much faffing around. Result!
I tracked a couple of satellites without hearing anything which isn't unexpected as I'm using the wrong type of antenna. That's a challenge for another day. I have all the bits I need I just haven't got round to it yet.
This small success has just put that plan back to the top of the list.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Talk To Me

While HF is being a tad on the difficult side and not letting me enjoy much SWLing I needed another radio distraction.
The airband frequencies are always active so it was time for another experiment. This time it worked quite well and despite having to find some dependencies myself all the instructions were quite clear. What I did was use my RTL-SDR dongle and discone antenna to pick up ADS-B signals from planes and plot their positions on a map. All live from them to me, no internets required.
I think I have a radius of about 50 miles so there's usually something up there broadcasting its position. I have my aviation scanner running in the background too so that I can hopefully catch the pilot communicating with the ground control.
All in all good fun for a Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Starting Again

I seem to be inadequate at writing down my frustrations so I'm not going to bother anymore.
Best thing to do is put a pen or pencil in my hand and get it onto a page of my new sketchbook. I'm better at visualising stuff.
The above picture / doodle is about exploring things differently, like we all should, while we can.
Anyway, the Rendr sketchbook and the Staedtler pens are very nice to work with. I have more fun with them than trying to write stuff down.
It's the way forward.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

My Own Little Planet

Not happy with the situation you find yourself in on Earth?
That fine, just lose yourself on your own planet. There's a picture of my planet above. I haven't given it a name yet.
I used a Fractal Flame generating software called JWildfire to make the picture. It's a very immersive piece of software. You can tweak everything until you get something you want to look at. There's so much tweaking to do that you'll temporarily forget where you are and that's as good as being on your own planet. The software is free and if like me you own an Android phone you can get a version for your device too.
The software and all information can be found here.
It's time to escape.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

No Bleeding Media

What could be nicer?
Watching Newquay Harbour in Cornwall on the webcam. Eating buttered Malt Loaf and drinking coffee. With the odd roll-up thrown in for good measure it couldn't get better as far as lazy afternoons go.
Then there was a knock at the door and a delivery man handed me a large white envelope. I signed his electronic do-dah and rushed back to the drawing board. I knew what it was and Saturday afternoon had just got better. Carefully opening my parcel I put my hand inside and pulled out a brand new ginger kitten!
No, not really, it was my eagerly anticipated Cresent Rendr sketchbook.
I've seen a few artists on YouTube use these and that's primarily because the paper is No-Bleed. What that means is that you can use things like Sharpie pens and there will be no trace of the ink on the back of the page you're using. It also means you get to use both sides of the sheet of paper and that in turn means no wasted pages. Genius.
It's all good stuff and if you're interested just click here and investigate for yourself.
Time to doodle.

Fly On The Wall

It's nice to have an afternoon off.
With nothing better to do I decided to be a fly on the wall and search through a few webcam sites. I found the Brighton City Airport site which is great for testing how patient a person you are.
How long can you wait to see if a plane lands or takes off? I only had to wait about ten minutes.
Happy hunting.

A New Cold War

Just over a week on from the Brexit vote.
So what has the UK gained from its new position in the world?
Not a thing. In fact with Boris Johnson exiting stage left it's now plainly obvious that the only thing in an exit vote for him was the job of PM and with Gove stealing BJ's thunder there was no reason for him to hang around. The whole referendum was nothing to do with this country's trade with other EU countries. Nothing to do with immigration but everything to do with politicians jostling for their next job.
For those of us that voted Remain it feels like we're trapped behind a wall that divides us from the rest of Europe. I have an inkling of what it must have felt like for the East Berliners as the wall went up.
EU politicians have already stated that the UK isn't going to get any special treatment. They're not going to make leaving the EU an attractive proposition for anyone are they. It's their way or nothing. We'll be out on our own and there's nothing we can say or do to change the EU's mind.
Over the next few months and years the UK can expect the gulf to widen. We're out, we've been told there's no going back, no second referendum. Who does that benefit? Certainly not me or the next generation.
The only people to get anything out of this are the politicians who will be entering parliament.
It's the same story all over again.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Remedy (Turn It Up...Rpt, Rpt, Rpt etc)

Nothing left for me to do.

Brexit? Your Prize

Here's your prize.

No Monster In The Room

I'm usually quite reserved in my blog posts.
This time not so.

To all those that voted for Brexit...I hate your decision.
My duvet cover above has a giant map of Europe on it. I had one day hoped to retire to a Dutch town called Monster. For no other reason that it is called Monster. Because I can't move at this time in my life, that won't happen.

So if you voted Leave, go away, don't read my blog. Go and pursue your own dreams of utopia. You've stopped me in my tracks. I might just move to Scotland to follow my dream because at some point that country will wake up and dis-associate themselves from a UK which is out of the EU and that has very little say on the world stage.

You've stolen my dream.
I hope you can live with that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Back To The Drawing Board

I've been doing a bit of restoration today.
Having played with HF radio and all its modes for the past year and a half I've decided that at heart I am a Shortwave Listener (SWL). I have no real interest in discussing what radio I have or collecting callsigns for competitions. I'm happy enough just listening to everyone else do that. I'm still keen on learning Morse Code up to a decent speed, I'm currently at 5wpm. It'd be nice to just listen to the dit's and dah's without resorting to using software.
I still have my radios around me so that I can listen in but the HF transceiver has been put in the loft until such time as I can find good reason to get it out.

In the meantime I restored the drawing board to its rightful place on my desk and I'll be getting the pencils, pens and paint out so that I can zone out doing my two favourite things, drawing and listening to the radio.
My brain is already calmer for the transformation of the desk.
I'll still report on SWL stuff but there should be an even sprinkling of art posts. For that matter I might just report odd stuff on this blog too.
I'm looking forward to the small but significant changes that you'll find here.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Art of Noise with Max Headroom - Paranoimia (Official Video)

Once you've woken up...

Art Of Noise - Beat Box (Diversion One)

Sunday morning has never felt so automated.

MW Revival

This is my latest radio acquisition. I've been testing it for a couple of weeks and it's extremely good.
As a Shortwave Listener (SWL) I've neglected listening to Medium Wave (MW). In my mind it was a bit of a mish-mash of UK and European stations, I also remember the band being a bit sparsely populated. While this may be true during daylight hours at night the MW band comes into its own. The above object is a Tecsun AN-200 and is a tunable medium wave loop antenna.
It works as if by magic too with no batteries required nor a connection to the radio. One simply positions it at right angles to the internal antenna and tune it to the same frequency that the radio is tuned to. The way it works is that at the same frequency as the radio it amplifies the signal being recieved and the radio uses the amplified signal to tune into. what this means is that even weak MW signals can be tuned into with enough clarity to listen to.
It won't change the signal to noise ratio and in some cases will amplify noise too but on the other hand it can bring out some stations that would be inaudible without it.
The units are reasonably cheap too, I think I paid about £17 for mine. They're certainly worth the investment if you like to listen to MW or are interested in a little MW DXing.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Midlands Weather Animation

This is a bit of an experiment.
I was wondering if I could get an image sequence online. I obviously can.
The sequence comes from zyGrib and is transformed into a small mpeg file in OpenShot. Blogger seems happy to upload it so here it is.
The info shown is precipitation. The darker it gets the more rain we'll get.
If it works well I might just put up a weekly forecast on a dedicated page.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Here's The Weather

If you're in or around the city of Leicester tomorrow here's your forecast.
The picture above is from a fantastic piece of software called zyGrib. It's not just Linux only this time it's for all you Windows and Mac users too. If up-to-date weather forecasts are your thing or might just be useful to you then zyGrib could be your best friend. Not only because it's free but it's really useful too.
It's basically a very complete Grib file viewer. Before yesterday I hadn't even heard of a Grib file. Now I love them. More information can be found here and there's a list of other useful software in that link that also uses Grib files.
Happy weather watching.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Meanwhile In The Lab

I wasn't in work today.
I organized, at the last minute, an impromptu holiday. There were a few things I wanted to do. Odd jobs that just stack up over time.
One task that has been on my mind is my mushroom antenna. I bought the stand a couple of months ago with the idea of turning it into an antenna. It already had holes in the top and middle discs. I added some at the bottom and threaded it with wire. I finished it about half an hour ago.
At this point I don't know where it is resonant. Don't know what it's good for and I don't know if I've wasted a day on this thing.
It could be one of my few but intricate follies.
My plan is to attach it to my SDR and see if it picks up anything at all. From there I might try a bit of satellite surfing and beyond that maybe a little HF reception test. It'll probably end up as some kind of dusty ornament, but maybe not.
I'll let you know.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

JT65 Alive!

Another successful radio experiment.
Since getting the Rigblaster working I've been itching to have a go at JT65. This afternoon I made my first QSO with Piotr in Poland, some 837 miles away. What makes this a bit special is that I decided to go QRP which means I was on the low power of 5W. I wanted to test my radio, antenna and the WSJT-X software.
JT65 is a weak signal digital mode so my approach was justified. It's good to have a challenge.
To demonstrate just how far 5W will go take a look at the map below. The large markers are stations that monitored my signals.

Not bad for the equipment I'm using and reassuring for further exploits in this mode.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

This Weeks's Sunday Track

This week's Sunday track is just about perfect for whatever activity you are pursuing. That may be be running, cooking or just browsing the duvet.
I hope you like it.


I have a new phone.
For me this is something worth mentioning not least because my old iPhone 3GS served me well for 6 years. That's a long time in technology years.
I took my time choosing a new phone. There was a good reason to buy an iPhone because of the money I've spent on apps but the phone's really are just too expensive. While I'll admit my 3GS has been good value, the walled garden that is Apple has left me with a phone that is out of date and good for very little even though electronically it's in very good working order.
What I needed was something cheaper, up to date and was capable of running the few apps that I wanted to run on the phone.
The Moto G 3rd generation is what I went for and I'm pleased with my decision. While it's described as an 'entry level Android phone' to me it's light years ahead of the 3GS. It does everything I need it to and more and the switch from Apple to Android has been painless. Everything is different and the same. The learning curve isn't steep at all and after a week of use it's a very familiar device.
It's much the same as moving from Windows to Linux. There are things that are better and things that aren't so good but I'm very happy to work with what I've got.
I still have my iPad and the thought has crossed my mind, will I ditch Apple altogether when my iPad is near useless. Maybe, maybe not.
I'll decide when the time comes.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Just In Case

You know that Sunday feeling. The one where you can't be motivated.
I'm about to bust that with a simple link.

Click here.

Just thought I'd put the brakes on the radio stuff and share some tunage.
Happy Sunday.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Worth The Effort

This is what I've been messing around with while I'm not messing around with SDR software.
For a couple of weeks now I've been soldering and testing bits and pieces, trying to get this Rigblaster Plus and my radio talking. A while back I told you that I was playing with PSK31. I was using the very effective method of holding my microphone over a speaker and making contacts that way. It's a good method and one that works but it's not really perfect and it's only really any good for the PSK modes. Having a proper data interface is much better and allows one to try other modes including Morse, Hell and JT65 among others.
I got the Rigblaster as is. Just the box. I've had to buy a link cable between it and my radio. Buy a serial to USB lead to connect it to my laptop. Make a male to male 8 pin lead. Make a power supply and finally get my head around setting the jumper leads inside the box. Not as easy as it sounds because the connector to the radio had its own configuration.
With that all done I connected everything tonight and set the volume levels. It worked, so all the hard work has been worth the effort. I know it works because I made a contact in France and he's now in the log book.
I have another data interface to finish and an antenna to build before another mast goes up at the bottom of the garden. There's also some SDR experimentation to be done and hopefully in a couple of weeks the SDR might just end up going mobile.
Who knows what else I'll find to do!
Raspberry Pi maybe?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Slowly Slowly

This lead has taken over a week to make.
It's a connection between a data module and my radio. I needed to make it because I couldn't find one online and if they do exist online I don't the correct technical name for the connectors. To me and a lot of people they're just 8 pin mic connectors. In each of those connectors are 8 very small wires and each one needs to be soldered to its own pin. This is not an easy thing to do. In fact for me it's very difficult. Having done it wrong 3 times and then correctly twice I can now say it's a little easier. But not much.
So now the computer talks to the data box, I can connect the data box to my radio but now comes the bit which is as much brains as skill. I have to set the jumper setting inside the data box to suit my radio. If I get this wrong I could break the radio which is not the point of all this.
If it works I'll let you know exactly what I'm up to.
Not that that will make any sense either.

Friday, March 11, 2016

At Last!

I thought I'd share a screen grab of GQRX running on my laptop.
It's a special moment for me. The reason I got into Linux in the first place was that an update of SDR# borked my Windows installation. I should point out here that it wasn't SDR#'s fault just the dodgy download site.
Anyway, since I've been on Linux one of my goals has been to have some kind of SDR running and I managed it today. It took me a little while to get it running and get it configured and it did eventually crash but it definitely does work and so I'll persevere with GQRX.
I've been doing a lot of radio stuff on my week off. I made a ground plane for Documentally, got FLDigi talking to my data interface and found a whole bunch of new frequencies to explore.
So much to do and so little time.
As usual.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fair To Middling

I think I'm getting the hang of this weather stuff.
Along with listening to aircraft I've been studying the skies and trying to get my head around Meteorology. There's a lot to learn. For example, what's the weather going to be like for tomorrow according to the above Wefax?
Well as far as I can tell it's going to be windy (about 15mph) and colder than today.
To help me along I got a weather station for my birthday and with that and my good old fashioned barometer I'm in the right kind of area. There's still a lot to learn and getting to know the clouds is another challenge.
This means that I need to get my skates on building that quadrahelix antenna for satellite imagery.
It's all good fun.
There will always be weather to predict.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Winging It

After the success of the 2m J-Pole antenna I thought I'd have a go at something a little different.

I had pretty much ignored the airband frequencies since I started listening as an SWL. But recently I became interested simply because there's always something to listen to. That and the fact that local airports give out barometric readings as well as wind information, so they're useful for weather reports.
With this in mind I decided to build an experimental antenna. The one you can see above.

It all started with a scavenged probe from work. The piece of equipment didn't function so I grabbed the probe part which came with a fine copper tube coil attached. The probe is the vertical part sticking out of the loop. Apart from that oddity it's an AM loop but roughly tuned for the airband on VHF frequencies. The whole thing is hot glued together with overflow pipe which is very cheap. I added a ground plane because the signals are coming from above.
It's mounted a bit close to the back of the house but it does work.
Yes, my experimental airband antenna works really well with lots of nice clear signals coming into my Realistic Pro-2006 scanner.
I'm going to re-program the scanner this week because as well as found frequencies I've discovered a lot more on line.

It's been another good radio weekend.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Joy Of Seq24

It's been a while since I wrote any music.

Last year I didn't write a single tune. Nothing. There was just no inspiration.
But inspiration is a strange thing. It can come from anywhere.
Last night I was mooching around the Linux Internet and came across an app called Seq24. It is at its heart a very simple sequencer in the mode of a loop machine. One can simply create loops and trigger them on and off. While very simple and intuitive it has a few nice tricks under the hood that makes it very accessible for either live shows or jamming a new idea. I'm using it for the latter.

There are plenty of decent getting started videos on YouTube so I'll let that be your starting point suffice to say it's very easy to get hooked and lose hours making music.
I for one am certainly inspired.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Everything Starts With A D

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by Documentally to create an ident for his new Backchannel newsletter.
How would I do that? Here's the story.

I was given an outline brief of Backchannel but told nothing of the actual content so I decided that the common theme in the ident should be the letter "D" to identify Documentally as the author. With that in mind what you hear in the 12 second ident is as follows:

The first sound is FM static. I like static or white noise because it covers the whole audio spectrum by itself, is a good audio filler for missing frequencies (it pads out audio well) and it gives an audible space to your imagination. Most people think of some kind of electrical device when they hear static.

The next sound is a high pitched morse code letter which is dah-di-dit (-..) and you guessed it, it's D for Documentally.

There are random notes behind these two sounds. I like the 70's idea of computers with big reels of tape producing seemingly random tones so I went for that. But in this case the tones aren't quite so random as they're all in the key of, wait for it...D!

Then the three bass notes come in. Dark and a little sinister and mimicking the dah-di-dit morse format. the notes are D C E. I got them from DoCumEntally.

Nearing the end of the ident there's a sample of an old dot matrix printer. I liked the idea of a random input at the beginning being turned into sense and a hard copy being produced ie the Backchannel newsletter.

Finally there's the power surge sound which I designed myself. It's just the thing to finish the ident. Very forceful, very final.

So there it is. quite a lot went into 12 seconds and even more into Backchannel.
Find out what it's all about here.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

In A Land Far Far Away

There's a bit of snow on the ground.
When I got up this morning there was snow on the long wires too but that's gone now.
Having finished my soldering, I'm making a data card for digital modes, there wasn't really much to do apart from turn on the radio and test my links from FLDigi and wsjtx to PSK Reporter. Everything is working just fine and as you can see from the map above I can hear quite a few stations. The furthest being in Asiatic Russia, some 2561 miles away. Not bad for a random long wire stretched across the garden.
If you're an SWL and listen to digital modes then the PSK Reporter site is of great interest once you've connected the above two pieces of software to the site. It's simplicity itself and quite exciting to find out just how far away those signals have travelled.
And all at the speed of light. Wow!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lazy SWLing

I'm fast becoming an SWL flaneur.
Data modes are quite good for grabbing a coffee and my pipe and letting the computer do the work. Today I installed a few bits of software that let me just kick back and watch the screen while daydreaming about the airspace between those transmitting and the long-wire in the garden.
The first was wsjtx which decodes JT65 and JT9. It works very well with the Tecsun PL-660 and picks up amazingly quiet signals.
The next one was gpredict which tracks satellites. It gives one a wonderful excuse to sit around for hours waiting for the next satellite event. Excellent stuff.
The last piece of software was xlog which as you might have guessed is a logging program. The nice thing about xlog is that one can add the commercial bands on HF and log stations that don't happen to be hams. This means that all sorts of stuff can be logged like pirate stations, numbers stations and that kind of stuff. I'll still keep my paper logs but adding them to a computer log means quick cross referencing. Can't be bad.
Just as long as it doesn't interfere with my daydreaming.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Digital Weather

Ta Dah!
May I present to you my first weather fax image.

While this kind of thing is old hat to some people this is all new to me. Having got into digital modes on the amateur bands I thought I'd try my luck elsewhere. The most obvious choice was to try and decode a weather fax because one is bound to find a broadcast somewhere in the bands.
I tuned into GFA Bracknell on 4608 kHz and with a bit of messing around got the fine image above. It's not the best by other peoples standards but for a beginner like me it's not bad at all. One can even make out the UK just above centre right. I wonder what else there is to decode out there?
I'm using FLDigi on my Ubuntu Linux laptop for all of my decoding these days with the exception of SSTV which I've yet to set up.
So there it is, new year's fun on digital.
Back to the radio.