China

I find myself in China again. And it is as fascinating a place as last time. Different city, same sized hotel, huge rooms and facilities that put most affordable hotels in the UK to shame. By comparison, the hotel in Hong Kong presented us with a squished cockroach that came flying out on the air conditioner. Hmmm.

Those of you who read my 2017 Ph.D. thesis (I know there are three of you, otherwise don’t bother, it’s not particularly interesting!) will realise that I have an interest in China from an Internet perspective. However, being in China again after some 6 years a lot has changed. All of Google is now blocked, which means I need to use Bing to search (other search engines are available!) and it works well enough but does not appear to have the number of results that I know Google has for certain keywords. WhatsApp is blocked, but as I’ve not been using it for very long I don’t know if this is a recent change. Facebook… well, all I use it for is checking what my Facebook friends are writing and issuing the occasional and probably somewhat daft missive. eBay works fine but my newsreader will not connect to its server – no surprises there. The BBC is still blocked. All the railway and radio forums I use all work fine. Dilbert works, which surprises me a little, and xkcd too but for some reason it loads very slowly.

The one big change I see, however, is in payments. Hardly anyone that we’ve been associating with here uses cash.  Vending machines in the attractions we visited do not accept cash or cards. Everyone pays using WeChat or Alipay to make payments by essentially scanning a QR code and its all over in a flash. I won’t go into details here, there’s plenty of info on the web. You can still use cash in some places but we found we needed to ask first just in case as our mobiles will not work in China – or rather will but would cost the earth.

Fingerprints are now scanned on entry via customs and were also taken when we applied for our visas. I can imagine some people complaining about this but this is the norm in China. Personally I have no issue and we really cannot demand that countries accept our way of doing things just because we want to travel. The last time we were here bags were X-ray scanned at every subway station – people just got on with it and it never seemed to cause any delays. We’re being taken by car everywhere we go this time so no public transport…

And there are a lot of electric cars and electric scooters now. Cars with green number plates are electric. Traffic laws here appear to be something to be ignored, or treated as a minor inconvenience, but everyone just gets on with it. Scooters go every which way, same as Montreal then…

Actually a note on the visa process. It took us a long time to fill the form in online (you fill in the form and print it and make an appointment with the visa centre) mostly because we didn’t understand some of the questions. Fear not. The staff at the visa centre in Manchester are extremely helpful and will correct mistakes provided you follow all the procedures. These include bringing a photocopy of your passport data page and previous visa and other such things, all clearly stated. When we were there some people had ignored these. There is a photocopier there though. I had misread the bit about needing a passport photo as well as submitting the online one. But guess what, the visa centre has a photobooth so no biggie, and at £ 6 it is no more expensive than any others we saw about the place. Anyway, the visas all went to plan and there were no issues at customs which was actually surprisingly quick. I’ll go as far as saying a whole lot easier than getting into the USA! YMMV – do your homework first.

valvecollector.uk

Ok, so I’ve managed to sort the website out now so that valvecollector.uk is the new permanent name. The redirection is in place but not finalised. It should work ok, except I broke it at first because I’d ended up with a redirection loop. Google (other search engines are available!) should update itself in due course. As I mentioned before the old domains will slowly drop out of the registry. Someone else may well grab them at that time but hey, my collection is a shadow of its former self now and I doubt it is referred to that much these days. A few years ago it ran at over 20,000 lookups a day, but back then there were 3,000 valves there.

All good things come to an end. The majority of the non-CV valves are now in their new home at the National Valve Museum, my RAF Type 4A valve tester has been sold and I will probably sell the US one too. I’m keeping the small tester, at least for now. And don’t worry, I am still hunting CVs!

On the rails…

…or off my trolley, not sure which.

I volunteer at a heritage railway as an S&T (signals and telegraph) technician and currently go there at least one day every week. But I remembered recently that I had been to this railway many years ago when I was a kid. Back then, we travelled to a railway station that we were not supposed to. I think I was 10 and with a friend the same age. We were allowed to play trains, i.e. travel on them but were not supposed to go far, and certainly not that far even though it’s only 25 miles or so. I have a photo taken with a very old flash-less camera of a train and, in the same shot is the station name. My mum must have seen it…

Anyway, we saw an advert (remember this was 1970-ish so no web) for a steam railway and so off we set for a 1.5 mile walk. We found the place closed, well, except for the shop. I remember I got a few secondhand railway magazines. The line was short back then, in fact I don’t think it went very far at all. Oddly I never took any photos.

Fast forward to 2018 and I signed up as a volunteer and I’ve been going there ever since. I even got to actually travel on one of the trains recently, rather than just keep out of their way. The line is now very popular and gets a lot of good press.

Domain rationalisation

Since I retired last year I have been taking stock of things. I ended up using tubecollector.org for the valve website years ago but I also have valvecollector.org, and the .org.uk variants of both. I have several other domains as well for all sorts of historic reasons. It’s time to cut back.

The tubecollector.org domain is valid until July 2021 at which time I will let it expire. I realise it has a very long history but everything has a cost. There is a proposal by ICANN to remove the cap on .org and also .info which may mean the prices go up. My vacuumtube.info domain will go too. That one goes in October this year (2019 if you read this later!)

I am going to migrate the valve museum probably to valvecollector.uk but I will confirm this and also advertise it on the museum website. Redirection will go into place to that Google (other search engines are available) picks up the new location when it indexes the site.

No other changes are planned. I still collect CV valves and although there are now very few additions I do still look.

‘New’ or not so new PCs

There seems to be a lot of adverts these days on a certain website for new PCs at good prices. But when you look more closely, it turns out that the only bits that are new are the case and the PSU and everything else is refurbished.

Isn’t that like buying a car and being told yes the car is new, but the engine, transmission, brakes, steering, and everything inside is from various scrap cars – we’ve just dusted them a bit?

Maybe its just me… but to me new is new, not new-ish, or part new, or old with a new box. And I’m not sure how you refurbish a CPU or memory module – what, they take the lid off and change the oil and maybe change a couple of the gears that make the accumulator go round? Put more decimal points in the floating point unit? Hmmm…

GNURadio fun…

I have a had a real hard time trying to get GNURadio installed. The distro failed every time when running gnuradio-companion. This isn’t GNURadio’s fault, it may well be because my Ubuntu desktop has been upgraded a few times via dist-upgrade without it being a fresh install. Perhaps there is some old crud left in there even though I tried my best to remove all old versions of GNURadio and associated files and folders. After constant errors no matter what I tried it seems that my Ubuntu 18.04 installation somehow grabs GNURadio compiled against a previous boost library 1.58. So I resorted to the pybombs method which has installed a functioning GNURadio-companion despite errors with apache-thrift. Sadly, when installing gr-iio via pybombs it failed, again seemingly trying to refer to boost 1.58, rather than the 1.65 that the 18.04 distro has.

So… I purged libboost and grabbed the 1.58 code from sourceforge and set it off building. There are lots and lots of warnings but it did compile and install. Trying again to install gr-iio failed – it seemed to try to install boost itself and then whinged that the version is wrong. All deleted and purged again, still using the pybombs method and making it compile everything rather than installing the binaries. This time the uhd cod went in with no errors and GNURadio-companion runs ok except it has no rtl-sdr. Installing RTL-SDR did not help as a source file is missing… Installing the gr-iio package for the pluto also worked fine, and the FMComms block is there along with others such as PlutoSDR al categorised under Industrial IO.

After downloading an example .grc file that some kind person put on the web it works! I can see 70cm and see the result of a cq test call. Much to learn yet but at least the pluto is working in receive with GNURadio.

As an aside, while waiting for pybombs to sort everything out – and it took ages on uhd – I installed sdrangel which has a .deb package that works with Ubuntu 18.04. After figuring out that it installs itself into /opt rather than /usr I fired it up with the pluto attached and I can make the pluto receive on 70cm.

I’m sure the lesson here is sort out your Linux installation rather than continually fiddling with it like I have. When I get some time I plan a fresh installation of 18.04 and getting GNURadio from the distro to see if it works that way.

Project 444…

…the slowly ongoing saga. Typical. I wired up the 50-way D connector and connected it all up and … nothing. On checking voltages half was missing, i.e. -80 was there but no +80. The barretter was open circuit on one side. Huh.

A new barretter arrived via eBay and so I now have the PSU fully working. A quick check of the 444 showed it to be no better than before, which I’d expected but I really wanted the correct power supply to verify that. So I connected up the TDMS to send data to the 444 and with the keys set to SMSMS it reliably prints Y – pity that should be R! Fiddling with switch combinations is equally confusing.

So, progress, of sorts. However, the TDMS itself needs work yet because the circular trace is far from a circle, or indeed not even close to anything which might be imagined to be circular.

Marketing

Politics has no place in this blog and that is not about to change. But something made me laugh today.

In days of old when techies ruled the web we’d use whatever domains we thought were best. But back then there were few, basically .com, .org, .net, .edu, .gov, .mil and a couple of others. Or course, everyone wanted a .com. Later we got country codes, thus .co.uk, .org.uk, .ac.uk and so on, and every other country did similar. And here we are today with zillions of domains, some restricted, others not so. At one stage I had a .museum domain but my project didn’t get very far and the domain costs were too high. To get that I had to fill in all sorts of proof.

A lot of my work in name and brand protection saw me acquiring domains which could be used against us, and domains which we could use for marketing in other countries. I had loads including permutations of our name as well as our actual name in other countries and regions. For example, I had China, Asia, Europe, US, may generics, and others in the organisation had India and Japan. I could throw domains up literally in seconds if we detected an issue, for example a name very close to ours but being used in a scam or some fakery. All were directed at relevant information or at our main websites or region specific parts thereof. These were all tools both for me in my work but also for marketing as we had them available for extraterritorial projects.

So it did amuse me to see that some party had purchased a .org domain but no others. Immediately someone else grabbed the .com and .eu versions of the same name and put up opposing views. Many others are also taken but are parked. An individual grabbed the .org.uk version and some enterprising person even grabbed the .party (one of the new TLDs) domain and parked that.

If you have an idea, a name, a party, or whatever, speak to your marketeers about it before anyone says anything. Listen to them but also advise them. It can save you, and them a lot of embarrasment.

Sleeping teleprinter

It’s beginning to look serious now…

I just need the time to solder up a 50-way D connector to connect the interface unit on the right to the 444. The interface has the +/- 80V supplies inside as well as all the interface logic for the various teleprinter functions. if I nick some volts out of it I should then be able to feed in the test signals into and out of the TDMS and use those to align the 444.