Broadband blues…

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 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. 

Even that had issues though. I do not allow the cameras access to the outside world as I do not trust them and so until they are plugged into an NVR they get blocked. The settings are straightforward, block any access by specific IP addresses. For this, the router allows one to block ‘any (all)’, or ‘any (TCP)’ or ‘any (UDP)’. Logical at least. But wait… it only let me select ‘any (all)’ once, then the option never appears in the list. So I had to do one camera as ‘any (all)’ and one twice, once ‘any (TCP)’ and once ‘any (UDP)’. Oh come on! I want to use my own router…

Time to call customer services again.

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…

MiniTioune software

So… the buck converter module arrived and I soldered it in and set the voltage to 3.8V. One of the voltages was wrong. It transpired that I had a resistor of the wrong value, not far out mind, just a few ohms… ok, 560K instead of 56K! Ahem. Right, fixed that and the voltages are all correct so the serit module got soldered in and the USB module fitted. It was now that I realised that one needs to first register on the VivaDATV forum for access before you can download the software. Yup, read everything first… Anyway, the pause allowed me time to go back to the workshop and add the resistor needed for the V0.8 and newer versions of the software. Did I mention reading everything first?

I got the software today and ran the test program. This came up with two errors to do with the USRC and LAV filters and fixed by running packages that come as part of the MiniTioune ZIP. And success, all tests passed.

I have a box on order but otherwise it’s a matter of testing on-air now, or testing using the feed from a satellite dish. But now it’s raining and the project QO100 dish is still in the workshop.

MacOS disappearing Desktop oddment

Had a weird one today. When I opened the MacBook first think there were no desktop icons at all. I checked in Finder and the folder was empty. I looked through the Time Machine backup and the files had all gone some time this morning before 9am. The Mac had not been touched since last night and all was definitely there then.

 Nothing in the waste – I wondered if I’d somehow deleted them all. Nope.

Googling (or, rather duckduckgo’ing – is that a thing?) threw up nothing spectacular so I restored everything from Time Machine. A little further investigation and heavier searching led me to find that there is an option to turn off and on the synchronisation of files between the Mac and iCloud and I guess I turned it all on when the facility became available some time ago.

The way to turn iCloud synchronisation off for the Desktop is via Settings -> Internet Accounts -> iCloud -> iCloud Drive -> Options and uncheck Desktop & Documents Folders. Don’t try this, it’s scary! No way I did that by accident!

Anyway, I turned it back on, at which instant it renamed Desktop to a similar named folder but within Desktop, brought the Desktop folder back from iCloud (which was pretty instant so the files must have already been there anyway), and promptly started to back top the folder it created back to iCloud, all 12Gb of it. I deleted that folder having checked that everything was in place and anyway, I have the Time Machine backup on a large disk that as yet to fill.

But how did it get switched off? I’d blame the hamsters but I know where they were…

MiniTiouner hardware

Typical! I finally made time today to build up the Minitiouner hardware ( which had been sitting in various bags in a tray for a year now. Everything went well (the PCB is very finely made) right up to installing the step down buck regulator of which I had two from eBay.

So… step down buck regulators… they were right here in the rubber component mat. Where is the rubber component mat. Yup, the workshop has been tidied up and rearranged twice since all the components arrived and for some unknown reason I put the darn buck regulators on the bench and not in the same tray as the rest of the bits. And they are now nowhere to be seen.

More on order from eBay… serves me right.

Edit: typical. So the new ones arrived and the unit is working. Today I found the ones I ordered previously inside the envelope that the PCB came in, clearly placed there by me so I would not lose them! I now have 5…

Creed 444 progress

After ages of it sitting there taking up bench space and having been moved about the workshop 3 times I finally made time to check the output waveform from the 444 today. Seeing I have a nice new shiny ‘scope what better test? Failed miserably of course…

After 5 minutes reading the ‘scope manual (!) I can now capture the keyboard output from the 444 and apart from a lot of ringing it appears to be generating the correct codes and spacings. No surprises on the distortion given it is switching between + and – 80V in quick succession with no form of conditioning. But, given the teleprinter refuses to print the correct letter for the pressed key it does suggest this is down to adjustment in the receiving setup and not the keyboard transmitter. Here are the characters R and Y:

I also checked the output from the TDMS5BV which is creating a nice, usable stream. Here it is repeating the character R:

Now, feeding the stream of characters from the TDMS5BV into the 444 and checking what it is trying to print out is somewhat enlightening. Y comes out fine, but R comes out as G and I as P. When I checked the bits for R, adding bit 5 makes G; similarly from I to P. Y already has bit 5 set, so it looks like bit 5 is stuck on. I am going out on a limb somewhat here given the first 4 bits of the code appear ok to think this is more a mechanical issue rather than the receiver electromagnet.

Fiddling by hand (a very scientific application of slight finger pressure on the transfer levers) does turn a G into an R when the R key is pressed. Given the mechanical hypothesis it probably just needs a really good clean! Onwards…!