More QO100 progress…

After ages I finally made a rain cover for the POTY and led cables into the garage. Big delay there because the garage was a tip. It still is a tip, but the mess has been rearranged so I have access to the air brick where the cables come in!

It’s nice that when they built the house in the 1930’s they put an air brick right there knowing it would be needed for a satellite dish…

The rain cover is made from a sheet of plastic that came out of a smashed LCD monitor. I bent it round a bit of 110mm drain pipe using a hot air gun. it didn’t quite come out as intended but it’s near enough. The front is from the same piece of plastic and is epoxy glued on – yes there is a gap where the glue was less gluey, I’ll fix that later. Nylon threaded bar and nuts hold it in place. And it rained an hour after I made it so it does actually work.

After all the messing about everything still works. There is a nice box on order to take the gubbins – ok, the Pluto, bias tee, Leo Bodnar GPSDO, power supplies, oh yes and the pre-amp and amp I have yet to build. I’ve got Ethernet into the garage and I have tested SDR Console over Ethernet to the Pluto and all seems to work ok.

The trouble with web searches

These days finding information on the web is tedious at best. You almost need to go in knowing the answers in order to judge whether the information revealed by your search is even close to the mark.

For example, searching for “west yorkshire lockdown” on Duckduckgo finds a piece from the Yorkshire Post which immediately throws up a cookie screen and is, of course laden with adverts. I have no issue with a newspaper site having adverts, my issue is why isn’t there de facto information available via the government and if it is, why isn’t that ranked higher up? Search engines throw you to the wolves aka the advertising media for any information on just about any subject, certainly anything general in nature.

Another search, something I never expected to need to know, is to find out if one can drive through a locked down area where your start and end points are both outside said area. Again, lots of media sites, none of which come anywhere close to answering the question.

gov.uk does have information, but even here it’s not as clear as it might be. For example, I know there are current local lockdowns in effect including Bradford but gov.uk offers only “Find out what restrictions are in place if you live, work or travel in the north-west area and other affected areas.” I presume here that West Yorkshire is ‘other’ – why not spell it out to make it obvious? Are they charged per word like old telegrams were? The resultant page does list Bradford but does not mention Ilkley and yet I gathered from Facebook that it is included.  Back to Duckduckgo and a search for “ilkley lockdown” brings up a newspaper site which immediately throws up a cookie page with non-functional option links! Reloading that cured the issue and then deleting the 30 cookies it set even after I rejected them all gave some solace. Finally, that website tells me that anywhere that pays council tax to Bradford is included, specifically adding that Ilkley and Keighley are locked down. That nugget is missing from gov.uk. I did check Bradford council’s website but gave up when it shoved some survey popup at me.

Little wonder then that the masses only work on mis- or poor information from media websites whose sole aim is to push their version of reality and make money out of it. Perhaps they need to start writing this on the side of a big red bus rather than the lies of the past!

More QO100 work

I finally mounted the dish. It’s been cluttering up the workshop for months now. My original plan was to mount it on a pole by the workshop which would have needed a concrete base and regular trimming of the apple tree and hedge. So, it’s mounted on the garage wall with a TK bracket.

Aligning it wasn’t too bad except I managed first to find the Astra satellite at 19.2 degrees thinking it was the one at 28.2. After I found the second one it was not too difficult to find a satellite carrying Qatar TV using the GTMedia V8. With bolts tightened a bit and after rigging all the gubbins up I found the beacon via an SDRPlay SDR and SDRUno but the levels were well down. The Pluto and SDR Console did a far better job so there will be some setting I overlooked. I copied a couple of QSOs but working outside on a Sunday with the whole estate doing gardening made it rather hard, even with headphones! Anyway, the Pluto is the one that will be used so good to see the whole RX chain working. I have some decent WF100 cable for the LNB feed but will need to make something up for the GPSDO feed.

Next step is to mount the Pluto, bias tee and PSUs inside the garage and use Ethernet back to the shack. There is a convenient air brick next to the ironmongery.

The POTY is back inside for now and I’ll need to make a rain cover too, but it feels like progress finally.

Do website owners ever look for errors?

Many websites nowadays have grown into enormously complex beasts with multiple bits and quite often bits that do not work. Other websites now make the journey into the site so horrendous, what with cookie popups and the occasional ‘please turn off your ad blocker’ popups that one cannot get past. I come across these almost daily when performing seemingly routine tasks or looking for information.

Where there is an error but one still needs to interact to gain something, perhaps modification to a service or to purchase something, you are then left with a struggle to find out what to do next. In some cases it is simple, go elsewhere. But in others, say, your energy provider while you are still in contract, one must persevere.

As an example, one energy provider makes the point that, in order to cancel a particular part of the service you can phone or go online.  They explain that should you phone you will be waiting in a queue so why not do it online? Oh but if so, you need to cancel before the renewal date whereas if you phone you can cancel up to 14 days after renewal. Ok, but the relevant section of the website simply never works and gives an error page saying you need to phone. The online chat also has a queueing system of course so no help there.

So, do website owners or whoever does their marketing actually look at errors? There is an issue here if they rely on external analytics providers such as Google Analytics because the analytics cookie may not be set at the point of error and may only be set at the actual generic error page. That may give a trail where someone clicks on a link on the main website which then errors, but not so if one follows the published direct URL. The web server log itself would be saviour here but I suspect that marketers neither know about them nor have access anyway.

Errors aside, I also wonder how many look into their analytics to see the number of people that failed to get any further into the site than the home page. This may be people like me that, when faced with an armoury of popups simply go elsewhere after killing all the cookies the site has set, usually without consent. Or again, people like me that persevere and choose ‘deny all’ to the cookie popup only to be presented with a popup asking me to kill my ad blocker. Again, I click away as must others. You would think that such information would be useful in order to shape the future of their website and maybe do away with the privacy invasive bits so they do not need to gain consent anyway… but I suspect that such statistics are ignored, or not available anyway.

Meanwhile, this rant has left me still needing to cancel a part of my energy contract and deciding whether to phone or wait and try online tomorrow, or apply a sledgehammer solution and cancel the direct debit with the bank and let them sort it out!

Broadband blues…

(updated) We had a problem with the broadband. I know exactly when because when the storms of 26th June hit the broadband went down and came back at a very slow rate. It went from 15Mb connected (12Mb or so usable) to just 700k, then bounced about and eventually settled at around 2Mb. A line test via the NowTV website told us what we knew – the broadband was slow. Too late by then for their customer services I rang the next day which was a Saturday. They ran a test which actually got us back to 8Mb or so but that didn’t last. Anyway, they arranged for OpenReach to come and check the line. Clearly storm related I had wondered if water had got at the terminals on the pole outside or a duct had flooded somewhere and water had got into the cable, but if the latter you’d expect many customers to be affected.

OpenReach came two days later and discovered that our wire pair had been trapped by the junction box lid. That was fixed and we then got a 16Mb connection, the best it had ever been. That lasted a couple of days.

Then, oddly at around 2.45 each morning the router would reset and the line would come back 2Mb slower. It went from 16Mb to 14, 10, 12 and now 8Mb. Rebooting the router had no effect. And now the line test via NowTV’s website does not even work. After saving the router settings to file I did a full router reboot in case something had gone funny. Bad move! First, I forgot that the router comes back as 192.168.0.0 and our LAN is not 0. When I figured that out I tried to access via the Mac and wifi but the server would not stop sending the wrong IP address (or, rather the correct one which now had no chance of working). Of course I have another wifi hub and it was getting the IP that way. Shutting that down and toggling wifi got me back in so I could change the subnet address and get back in via the wired PC that had the saved router settings file. Ok… so simple, right? Reload the settings and all will be well. No. The router will NOT reload the file! Fortunately there are not many settings so I put those back in by hand. 

NowTV customer service are good at arranging things. They organised Openreach to re-visit. The speed had dropped to 4Mb when they arrived. After a lot of testing they found that the wires were ok and to giving errors and a new router was sent by NowTV. They said that if there are errors the exchange equipment falls back progressively to compensate and it was our router at the source of the issue, well that and the original line fault. So far, so good, and we’re back to a 15Mb connection which gives 12Mb+ usable bandwidth.

Minitioune progress

Well I finally got some WF100 cable (CT100 replacement) to get a feed from the now unused Astra dish to the shack. My remaining CT125 is about 10 feet long and would get me nowhere. So I can finally test the Minitiouner on air and it works. No luck with trying to receive GB3YT though, it should be close enough and I have a small 23cm Yagi but our neighbours house is in the way. I will have to go mobile one day and see if it works, which is going to be hard given the rather old Windows laptop has a battery that lasts about 5 minutes and the XYLs laptop is locked down to a work image so no installing Minitioune. Anyway, for now at least it all works. It could us a switch maybe to switch the 12V feed to the antenna socket on and off.

Yes it is indeed in a box. This must be the second project I ever built that ended up in an actual decent box looking finished.

Another new toy

Not the most startling of new toys but I’ve never had a PCB holder. All my construction until recently has been on Veroboard or just lash-ups of wires, until the QRP Labs board. That made me realise there was a gap on the bench.

So, this has joined my armoury. The board is a random “let’s fiddle with SMD” kit that comes with numerous bits and bobs. I’ve never had a go at SMD and yet I have two projects waiting to be built which are just that, so this board will hopefully get me up to speed. I figured it best to practice on something that doesn’t matter first. I have a headband magnifier, various fine tweezers and tiny soldering iron bits, so should be good to go. Let’s see how much of a mess I can make.

QRP Labs CW transceiver

I finally got round to starting to build the QRP Labs CW txvr kit which I’ve had since the 2018 Hamfest. Well, no sense in rushing things. I mentioned before the quality of the kit and the really excellent documentation PDF. I think I’m up to page 25. The documentation is all step by step and easy to follow, with a drawing on each step showing what goes where.

The one I got is for 40m – the kit comes with a low pass filter and components specific to the band you request. Of course I do still need to learn Morse! That’s still on my list of things to do which includes finish the QO100 project which now has two more kits of parts to build, and read up on the full licence for when, hopefully they release the online exam.

Here is a shot of the wound components which, although time consuming was actually quite fun.

And finally the completed board with the LCD in place. I went through the alignment process which all went according to plan using the built-in menus. The first pic is of the board powered and aligned and the second a bit of CW decode but this is on an 11m wire dipole with no ATU.

It is possible to mount this in a case and there is a wiring diagram included showing what goes where etc. once the various components are taken off the board – or, rather, not put on the board in the first place. But I will keep mine skeletal, at least for now.

Cookies – the good, the bad and the mouldy…

We are now several years into the changes in law which became known as the cookie law. Since then, the EU has enacted the GDPR which has added some urgency to ensuring that websites are compliant in the area of cookies and other stored information such as pixel trackers. The GDPR confirmed the consent requirements and national data protection organisations are taking an increasing interest in this area.

The basic requirements are that websites gain informed consent before storing cookies unless those cookies are what is termed ‘strictly necessary’. These strictly necessary cookies include those set in order to provide a service that the user specifically requested, for example to log into a website or carry out functions associated with shopping carts. It clearly does not include analytics cookies or the plethora of advertising and marketing cookies. Website designers may argue that their website will not function without cookies and where that functionality is a shopping cart I would agree. However, if the functionality in question is so the website can remember my shoe size this is not strictly necessary and I would expect to have to give my informed consent before such a cookie is stored.

Informed consent is key. It means that the user must be informed of why a cookie is being set and must then consent to it being set. And there’s the thing – I can permit the website to set cookies and consent to those cookies being set by advertisers such that they are also accessible to other websites, but I should not be forced to do so, I should understand what it means, and it should not be automatic. One may argue here that five pages of legalese indicating why a cookie is set is not a particularly valid way to inform the user.

There is also the issue of pre-checked options although this is lessened if there is a ‘reject all’ button as some websites have. Websites should not use pre-checked consent boxes but there is give and take here, in particular where the user can actively refuse cookies. However, to take the letter of the law the practice is not legal and you must not use pre-checked boxes in this way.

Cookies in the real world?

If I look at a product in a shop and an assistant comes to me and tells me there is an alternative, or better product then that presents me with no issue. However, if I then go to a different shop I do not expect someone to then show me products like the ones I just viewed in the first shop unless I specifically ask. And there is the difference, I can chose to ask or not. So why are tracking cookies any different?

And I certainly do not expect to go into a newsagents and pick up a paper only to have 33 sticky notes stuck on me from 33 other papers, each saying I do not want them to send me anything. Mind you, I don’t buy newspapers…

You must comply

This brings us to the question of cookie walls. Here, a website forces you to agree to their cookie policy before you can even see the website. In my opinion any such website should simply be ignored. Why, for example should I need to consent to it storing cookies just so I can see their email address or other contact details?

And I do object when I find a website that offers me a choice of some 400 advertising partners and lets me deselect each one, one by one. It’s far easier to just visit some other website. And let’s not get into discussion over the numerous websites which have a privacy and cookie notice hosted on some other website at a completely different URL which also sets its own cookies! One particularly famous website gave me a large privacy notice that I could not get past without either accepting or drilling down through layers of options. It was somewhat amusing to count over 400 partner sites that may get my data, and also drilling down further I got to a different, presumably parent website at a completely different URL. Needless to say this was an example of a US website.

Obfuscated messages

It is not always obvious how one even deselects cookies when consenting. The use of graphical sliders to allow or refuse cookies may be obvious when it is visually clear that green is go and red is not. So why do some websites chose shades of grey, and others just have a black slider with no indication of which way is off? This is not rocket science. Some websites use a simple tick box – surely that is sufficient? Can you imagine the problems in a fast food outlet where you end up with a spicy burger and a sugar laden drink because the options for ‘not spicy’ and ‘diet free’ were just black balls on a grey background?

Fighting back

So, to recap, cookies which are strictly necessary can be set by a website without consent when you visit it but these are a tightly defined subset of cookies which are actually necessary for a website to do what you want, not what it wants. Any other cookie must only be set once the user has given their informed consent. Cookies which store one’s choice here can be accepted as strictly necessary. Thus, a website storing a cookie to save your cookie choices for that website is ok as it is associated with you actually requesting something.

However, some websites, particularly media types take this to mean it is ok for each and every one of their partner sites to also set a cookie to save your choice. To me this is its bad programming – why are you causing my browser to visit each of your partner websites in order for each one to then store a cookie saying I do not want you to send me cookies from them? One newspaper website I visited and immediately selected ‘reject all’ on its cookie notice caused 33 individual cookies to be set.

It is sometimes amusing watching websites fail miserably when cookies are disabled in the browser. Some throw you off and demand you allow cookies, some struggle, some have no issues at all. I found one that displays nothing and constantly reloads itself trying to set a cookie. I suspect someone got their cookie sensing code a bit wrong there.

It is less amusing to struggle through a website’s cookie notice and deselect everything only then to be told I can get no further because I use an ad blocker. But wait, if the ad blocker checker is cookie based and I deselected cookies how come it even works?

Remember that tracking cookies are no use if they are not available when you visit other websites. So, for example you visit website A and you have no cookies set at all. Website A sets a tracking cookie served by website C. You then visit website B and it can read the tracking cookie set by website A and thus data about you can be transferred. But if you delete the cookie before you visit website B then that website cannot know. This is oversimplified but essentially is how you end up stalked by adverts.

Personally, I address this in a specific way. Cookies are always turned off on my phone. Yes, it means there are some things I cannot do because they require me to log in, but if I absolutely have to use the phone for those then I can quickly turn cookies back on, do the work, then delete the cookies. On the laptop I now use an app which allows me to chose what cookies I want to keep from each website I use. So, for example I can allow any login function cookies for the various web-based forums I visit. The app is set to delete any unwanted cookies after a minute or there is a button to delete immediately. Using this, I can visit a website and delete all its cookies right away. Of course, this is personal preference and suits me because I have always been security conscious. And other browsers have other mechanisms. I do recommend that you investigate something which suits you. I would also recommend that you take a look at what cookies your browser has stored, you’ll probably be amazed!

It’s not all bad news. There are some really well thought out websites out there. An example is where a website has a very simple line at the bottom, with cooke options not pre-checked and a button to accept or otherwise. Many, many websites run by organisations with insane amounts of money (and therefore buying power when it comes to website design) could learn from this.

Chocolate chip anyone?

Wet string effect

My bit of wet string in the loft, or rather, my fan dipole has been doing quite well of late, albeit only on FT8 and FT4.

By fan dipole you are no doubt thinking of a dipole made up of several, i.e. more than two, dipoles cut to various bands and all terminated on one coax. Well, yes, but I only ever got round to making it for 20m and 6m. But even there it has been doing well these past few weeks with all of Europe in easy reach and forays into USA as far as the west coast, Canada, South America, the top of Africa and the Middle East, plus occasional contacts in Turkey, Russia, Oman and Kazakhstan. Not too bad at all given the 20m wires are far from straight, being bent at the ends to fit and not straight horizontally either. I mean it’s sort of an inverted vee with a level bit in the middle and does seem fairly omnidirectional, probably by accident but hey.

It will tune on all bands from 40m to 6m thanks to the YT-1200. Since I passed the Intermediate I’ve set the FT450D to 30W, the maximum for the tuner, but even before that as an M6 I had PSK QSOs as far as Chile and the Falkland Islands at the maximum permitted 10W, and goodness knows how little of that actually got out of the loft. And tonight a -16 FT8 report to central Brazil at over 5,500 miles.

I keep meaning to put up a random wire and a suitable un-un to see how much better an external antenna will be. No chance of a beam or anything excessive here as we stick out a bit and there would be complaints. But wires should be ok. Of course, the shack is in the spare bedroom, so upstairs and the other side of the house from where the wire would attach, so quite a run of coax…