I have an old netbook, a Samsung NF110 that is hopelessly underpowered now with only 1Gb RAM and a 1.66GHz Atom CPU. It used to run Windows 7 (can you imagine?!) and was ok for basic word processing when I got the thing and had a really good battery life. I installed Ubuntu on this a while ago and found it very slow. I recently put Ubuntu 18.04 on, simply because I use this on the desktop. Yesterday I wanted to see if it could provide another screen and run pskreporter and it sat there for 10 minutes allegedly loading Firefox. Hmmm. I remembered at that point that I had planned to put it on eBay anyway but wondered why on earth it was just so slow with Linux.

Enter Lubuntu. Lubuntu 12.10 has given the poor little thing a new lease on life. It is actually usable and no Gnome awkwardness. I’d still rather it had a little more RAM (like, I dunno, 8 times as much!) but it always was a handy little PC so it can remain in the shack now.

And on Lubuntu – well sort of – I installed LXDE on the shack PC as Gnome continues to annoy. So far, so good, and of course it’s easy to switch between desktop environments.

Valve space reduction

No, not getting rid of valves… but reducing the storage needs. For ages now I’ve kept the various boxes that valves came in but some of these are just daft. So I have begun ditching the original boxes and putting valves in plain white boxes sourced from Jan Wüsten (https://www.die-wuestens.de)

Some are simply sturdy boxes with less space taken by moving the valve to a slightly smaller white box. But some are just plain silly – well, for good reasons. I came across one today in a box nearly 10 inches long that had mounds of wrapping and corrugated cardboard inside to reveal an octal valve that would fit in that original box six times over. So far I have gone through the closest containers and made 8 into 6. Next I will tackle the seriously overboxed section that live on metal shelving. I suspect I can reduce the total storage by 25%.

Of course there are some valves that cannot be boxed or which need to stay as they are – CRTs for example and the CV6124. But it does mean that most of the valves on the shelving can go into containers for added protection.

Parcel tracking

There were 9 parcels in total, all of which weighed under 1kg. 6 went via Hermes and were collected from us, and 3 went via Royal Mail after being dropped off at the post office. All had tracking and insurance.

The three Royal Mail parcels were for overseas buyers. Of these, one was sent to a parcel handling company in London which presumably forwards it on, one went to eBay’s Global Shipping Programme (GSP) distribution centre, and one is on the way to France direct.

Now, bear in mind here that Hermes started this year rather poorly for me, failing to collect one parcel resulting in me having to cancel an eBay sale and send a refund, and loosing a model railway engine on the way to me. Then there was the news item regarding Hermes selling ‘lost’ parcels at auction even though many had perfectly readable sender and recipient details and barcodes. But I have had parcels delivered via Hermes with no issue and they did collect all 6 on the allotted day. One must remember that things do go wrong sometimes.

So why Hermes? Well, basically convenience and price. Selling on low margins simply requires it. When I sell on eBay I include the postage (so basically postage is ‘free’) because (a) eBay charge you a percentage of the postage cost (why?!) and (b) I only sell when eBay has their £1 maximum charge offer.

And so why not Hermes for the others? Two reasons here. First, the insurance Hermes charge for high value items is a lot more than Royal Mail. Second, the France buyer did not want their parcel to go via the GSP. I have a lot of sympathy there because they (the GSP) claimed that two valves were dangerous goods and had been destroyed and then took ages to refund the buyer. I’ve heard from others of these same issues. At the time I had not dealt with Royal Mail’s pre-paid online services so I sent one parcel via the GSP because that way I did not need to work out the international shipping. Having now seen how easy it is I may use Royal Mail next time but the GSP is really easy as a seller.

So, high value items via Royal Mail and dropped off at the post office, others via Hermes and collected. I would rather they were all collected because of the convenience and there are other couriers I could have used but the prices were a lot more. Of course, I can always build the higher prices into sales in advance.

Now, the big question is how did the parcels do.

All the Hermes ones were to UK addresses, one of which was in Northern Ireland. All 6 parcels were collected at the same time and all arrived at their destinations ok. All 6 took two days from collection to being recorded in the Hermes network. Four parcels were delivered in 5 days overall.

The parcel for Northern Ireland first went to the national sorting centre and then back to our local hub, then onwards to delivery, taking 7 days in total. One other parcel apparently had it’s label re-printed with no explanation which delayed it a day, taking 6 days overall.

Given the current state of the world this is not at all bad.

And on Royal Mail, these were sent 3 days after the Hermes ones due to the need to take them to the post office. Two were delivered the next day, both to UK addresses. They were on a next-day service because it had sufficient insurance included. Royal Mail state that due to current issues they cannot guarantee next-day but in the event it was. The third was on the way to France. It looks like it spent a day between here and France and was delivered on the 25th so 6 days overall, not at all bad. The GSP tracking for that one indicates that it has successfully been delivered in Italy and I have no way to see what happened to the other unless the eBay buyer leaves feedback – GSP is more useful in this case as it does provide end to end tracking but of course that was not a part of the Royal Mail service which sought only to deliver it to the GSP centre in the UK.

For background reading as to why sending these parcels made me nervous see https://www.moneywise.co.uk/work/shopping/fight-your-rights-myhermes-lost-parcel-payouts and in particular the 7 pages of comments. The author of the above article is of the opinion that these courier companies should be held responsible for loss and we should not need to insure items against their incompetence. Also, see this:

I do insure parcels though.

More PC blues

I finally decided to rebuild the shack PC given that just about everything was going daft. I suspect this is a result of various software installs while testing new stuff that were not fully deinstalled. Yeah I know I should test in a VM…

Anyway, a complete fresh install of Ubuntu 18.04 with it formatting the disk has got the PC back to normality. Almost. Networking works again with the inbuild (un)helpful config rather than me setting it up by hand each boot via a script. And I remembered to sort Gnome out so I can get the classic view rather than the daft dock setup.

But there are two oddities… first off, the rather annoying way the screen layout changes (un)helpfully (!) when you touch the to left corner with the mouse. This can be disabled but when done so the Applications menu – the leftmost top bar menu – is no longer accessible. No amount of permutations of the toggles via gnome-tweaks will sort that.

But more annoying I have lost almost all decode highlights in wsjt-x. The only ones that work are CQ, tx and my call, nothing else. I’ve tried every combination. It’s not wsjt-x (I installed a previous version just to check, same result) and I am rather stuck with that now. It will be something obvious but I just can’t see it… hmmm.

Spanish pipe

Propagation on 6m is fascinating at times. These past few days there has been a pipe between here and southern Spain, hopping over France with no French stations seen on FT8. It has appeared at various times through the day, and on occasion has been wider at the other end, extending in an arc to parts of Italy. My 6m bit of wet string in the loft is fairly level and runs east-west so perhaps it will favour Spain (whereas the 20m bit is practically an inverted Vee and covers generally well)

As I type this Spanish pipe has been shut off again but it has been there three days in a row at various times of day.

Workshop ramblings

Been rearranging the workshop today because I ended up spreading stuff about rather illogically. I also wanted to add some boards to the roof joists to stop leaves blowing in – the eaves are open and the shed is not insulated. It’s surprising how difficult it is to manoeuvre and fit an 8’x4′ foot plywood sheet into an 8’2″ x 4’6″ space on your own! Anyway, the aim of todays mudding was to prepare for getting all the components and bits and bobs over to one side and to extend the ‘projects waiting to be started’ shelf which was full! All the woodwork is done now and just needs some shelves and boxing to sort out.

Oh yes and there is still the matter of running some SWA Cat6 cable out from the garage which involves lifting flags, digging a trench and other adventures.

This work is partly in preparation for Project QO100 as well as the model railway which will go where the components are now. Any heavy work is now all at one end and all electronics and servicing type stuff at the other, roughly 50/50. Pics will follow once I can actually see the benches and it doesn’t just look like everything has exploded.

Frequency counter

I have been looking for a frequency counter for some time now and split between buying a kit that goes well into microwaves or seeing what comes on eBay. Finally a decent range one was advertised and I won it; it arrived today.

This guy counts from 10Hz to 2.7Ghz and the reason I got something with this range is it will hopefully prove that I am at least outputting something from the Pluto when I finally get round to setting up my QO100 station. Otherwise it is generally useful. It has a 10MHz internal clock running from an oven-ready crystal (sorry, a crystal in an oven!) so there is scope for feeding in a GPSDO signal if needed, although for my purposes that is probably not a requirement. Thus far, for a quick check it reads test transmissions on 2m and 70cm from a handheld accurately.

I have a digital oscilloscope on order (and will then sell my two CRT based ‘scopes), I have power supplies (only to 30V DC though), so I just need a waveform generator for general messing about. Not sure I need any RF source as I can use the Pluto.

eBay traders and import duty

There are now so many traders on eBay claiming to have stock in the UK but with business addresses in China, Hong Kong or other Far East Asia countries that it is increasingly hard to find truly local suppliers. While I have no issue with these extraterritorial traders there are issues regarding where their products actually ship from. Several eBay adverts I checked have delivery dates far in the future yet apparent UK shipping addresses. Others clearly do have stock in the UK. One Hong Kong advert I checked said ‘3 day free shipping’ but with a delivery date 3 weeks in the future even though the product is allegedly in Walsall.

Now, while one may be willing to wait weeks for a cheap item – and these are cheap and, from previous experience still good products – there is the potential here for a product purchased from an apparent UK source to gain import duty and VAT. That would be a shock and I wonder if one can refuse said items and expect a full refund including the postage cost? I am taking that up with eBay and PayPal for advice although it can be hard to find someone to actually answer such non-generic questions.

I have had a number of items from China and had no problem with any, although I suspect I was lucky to avoid import duties. That said, the products in question were so cheap that perhaps they are under the limit. I did receive one item apparently from the UK which took two weeks (not the two days advertised) and had my address stuck over another label indicating it had first come from China to a southern UK address.

On import duty, I also purchase an item from the US which was definitely under the limit and yet was charged import duty, VAT and an administration charge equal to the total value of the item. I never paid and it was eventually sent back to the US after which I received a refund less the postage cost – fair enough but import charges do appear to be a bit of a lottery, especially with them including the postage costs to determine the overall value.

Brexit can only make this worse…

Update: On asking eBay (actually a very helpful online chat) they seemed to side with my suggestion that if a parcel comes allegedly from a UK source but you need to pay import duty that I would refuse it and claim a full refund. eBay would also want this reporting to them in the resolution centre so they can investigate such practices. I have some external LED lights on order which apparently come from Walsall so I will wait and see. I have had similar before and there were no such issues so it may just be my natural paranoia setting in!