Not Yet Dead

Looking at the sad lack of posts on this here site, one could be forgiven for thinking that I have shuffled off this mortal coil.

But that’s not the case.

Things have been happening, I’ve just not bothered mentioning them here.

So what have I been up to?

Well, my garage had an attempted break-in – as I mentioned a couple of posts ago  and I have finally got round to ordering the new door, which should hopefully be fitted in a couple of weeks. I’m really hoping to be able to get my bike out before this mild weather disappears.  Talking of bikes, a couple of us are thinking of doing this years’ Ring Of Red … weather permitting, of course. Feel free to join us if you can. And if you want to.

The mutt continues to dominate the homestead, in as much as we dote on her like a new baby. She’s getting better all the time and is fairly obedient, but develops selective hearing sometimes when she sees another dog and wants to play. Anyone who remembers the video of Fenton will easily be able to visualise me chasing her across the fields, yelling at the top of my voice. Jesus Christ!

I went to the Hamfest up in Newark at the end of September. That was most enjoyable. And I showed great restraint in spending only a ton. Most of that went on a piece of kit called a Weak Signal Propagation Reporter, which transmits a very low power signal that can be picked up by other stations around the world and reported back, thereby giving an idea of how well your aerial is working.  It’s early days and I’ve only tested one of my antennas, but I must say that I’m quite chuffed with the results from my 20 metre antenna¦ which is just a piece of wire strung up in the loft. Especially considering the lack of sunspot activity at the moment.

And, despite it initially looking like it had all gone quite smoothly, since moving my site to a new host, I found that I’ve not been receiving email notifications for any comments that get left.  I cannot for the life of me figure out why, and neither can the Support Desk of my new provider. They have effectively admitted as much and have left it with me. I have spent hours Googling and trying different things, all to no avail. I’m sure that when I do figure it out, it’ll probably be a D’oh! moment, as it is bound to be something simple. Really simple. Bound to be.

And on top of that, the current Mrs Masher decided we should start watching Designated Survivor on Netflix  so there’s three hours gone each evening. Got to admit, it’s bloody good though.

So, there you go: all caught up.

Wasn’t worth the wait really, was it?

I’ve moved

Following my last hosting provider putting their prices up nearly threefold, this site now comes to you courtesy of a different hard drive in a different data centre.

I still have some tweaking to do – some of the links got broke in the transfer – but overall, I’m pleased with it.

If you can’t see this post, let me know.

From father to son

Today, I have taught Harry how to solder.

They are studying electronics at school and each pupil has been given a small circuit board and some components to solder on to it.

Unfortunately though, they have a limited number of soldering irons and by the time Harry’s turn came round, they had run out of time. Harry told his teacher that I do that sort of stuff and asked if he could take the board home to do it, and his teacher agreed.

And so, this afternoon, after school, he sat down at my bench and I showed him how to solder. Some people never get the hang of it and I have seen some atrocious soldering jobs over the years. But, I have to admit, Harry made a pretty good job, for his first attempt. Probably, I’d wager, better than my own first go at it when I was roughly his age.

My dad showed me how to solder. However, the kind of soldering dad did, was with big heavy wires onto big heavy switches and the like. As such, he had a big heavy iron. We could have used it as a cricket bat, I reckon.

But, working with electronics requires more intricate tools and a steady hand… and timing – leave that iron on too long and delicate components can get damaged.

Soldering is a skill and – after doing it for forty years – I like to think I’m quite good at it.

The little circuit we built today was very basic, but I really enjoyed building it with him.

As homework goes, it was probably one of the better ones for me to help him with.

Sorry, I have a code

Harry came home from school last week and told me how he had been playing with the BBC micro:bit.

Those of you of a certain age and – it has to be said – of the male persuasion, will possibly remember that back in the eighties, the Beeb introduced the BBC Micro computer to schools. It’s fair to say that the BBC Micro introduced computing to  a whole new generation and probably kick-started an interest in computers and coding in this country.

And now the BBC – along with sponsorship from several other companies – has brought out the micro:bit.  This credit card-sized device has a limited capability, but its main goal is to encourage youngsters to get coding. And to help with this, Microsoft have developed a simple coding interpreter that allows the user to drag and drop colour-coded blocks of code, that click together on the screen and can then be converted to hex code before being uploaded to the micro:bit board.

I was excited that Harry had shown an interest in this and promptly ordered one from ebay so he could play with it at home.

And I’m pleased to say, that he is showing a genuine interest in it.

So far.

I help him when he asks, but I prefer to leave him to try and fathom it out for himself.

Not least because I struggle slightly to get my head round how the interpreter works.

I’ve never been a strong programmer (far from it – although I was pretty good with BASIC, back in the day), but I was/am used to lines of code… the old fashioned method.

Dragging colour-coded lumps of code together is a bit alien to me.

I was a bit embarrassed (although also pleased) when I incorrectly showed Harry how to nest loops… and he corrected me.

After only half an hour of playing with it.

I’m sure I would have figured it out.

Eventually.

So, this colour coding lark definitely works for the youngsters.

Maybe I can apply it to other aspects of life that he seems to struggle to remember; like flushing the toilet and cleaning his teeth.

“It’s dead, Jim”

Well, it was.

For a few weeks now, my PC has been randomly locking up, with just a blank screen showing.

It wouldn’t even switch off and the only way to get it to do so, was to get on my hands and knees and crawl under the desk and feel around the back for the power supply on/off switch. Once it had been power cycled, everything would be OK… until the next time, when I would then have to become a desk rabbit once more.

It was quite annoying and – on more than several occasions – I told myself that “I really must get round to looking at that before it fails completely”.

Last night, it failed completely.

No amount of turning it off and turning it back on again, would bring it back to life.

It would power up and then just sit there. No beeping. Nothing on the screen. Nuffin.

Procrastination had got the better of me. Again.

“Probably time to get round to looking at that”, I thought.

I suspected the memory at first, and swapped that out from the old PC up in the loft. But that didn’t work. After a bit more faffing about, it turned out to be the graphics card that was at fault.

The old one that I have put in, was actually quite a good card… in it’s day.

It’s day though, was sometime in 2007. I know this, because the receipt was still in the box.

And can you get Windows 10 drivers for a card that is ten years old?  Can you ‘eck, as like.

So, until I get round to getting a new card, I’m going to have to put up with the default settings.

Do you know just how horrible the internet looks at 800 x 600 resolution, 4:3 ratio?

It’s all big and horrible.

And everything else is horrible too.

Just typing this post has taken ages, as there is so much scrolling needing to be done and none of the buttons are in their usual places.

So, I’ll be searching Amazon’s website for a new graphics card at some point.

When I get around to it.

It’s been so long…

numbers… since I wrote here last, that I actually struggled to remember my log in password!

 

So, what has been happening?

Not much really, hence the dearth of posts.

I’ve been to a couple of family functions in ye olde Ruislip: a funeral and a 50th wedding anniversary (I was a page boy at that particular wedding 50 years ago – I looked bloody gorgeous).

I visited Newark Showground at the beginning of the month, where I spent a happy few hours in the company of a couple of thousand nerds, at the UK Hamfest – the country’s largest Amateur Radio rally.  I showed great restraint in only spending a couple of hundred pounds. Mrs M would be so proud of me… if she knew.

And I’ve spent a fair amount of time pondering Graham’s Number: a number that is so indescribably huge, that if you wrote a digit on a grain of rice and then filled up all the empty space in the universe with digitized grains of rice, there still wouldn’t be enough room for Graham’s Number.

And yet… we know it ends in a 7.

Wow!!

Anyway, other than that, I have just been working and sitting in traffic – which I’m fed up with moaning about. So I won’t.

But hasn’t the M4 been a bag of bollocks lately?

At least the inevitable drawing in of the dark winter nights has been brightened up with the welcome return of Strictly to our telly screens. Although, this weekend, the great British public showed that once again that they can’t be trusted with a democratic vote.

First we had the debacle that is Brexit, then on Sunday night, Naga was voted out of the ballroom, when EVERYBODY knows that it should have been Ed Balls and his God-awful rendition of a Paso Doble.

“With great power, comes great responsibility”, a wise man once said (I think it was Spiderman’s Uncle Ben).

Perhaps those words should be flashed up on the screen as a reminder, before every voting opportunity.

Fishing for info

 

phishThis piece of phishing spam managed to sneak past my filters today.

So well written is it, that it very nearly fooled me.

Purporting to come from Amazon, it was after my bank details.

Obligingly, I clicked on the link (removed here for your safety :)) and populated all the fields with false information, just so that they might get a little excited, thinking they’d hooked someone.

We had blocked the unusual tries of connection on your account .

As part of our security your account was provisionally lock for reasons of security. 
Please click on link below to prove your account .
 
Verify Your account
  
Warning : if you did not have prove your account, we would otherwise be obliged to go about things has the fence of your account to avoid it please follow given instructions.
 
Sincereraly,
The team of security
As you can see, really well written.
These spammers are getting more sophisticated, so let’s be careful, people.

Those that can’t…

boy_scouts_-_troop_leaderToday is my wedding anniversary.

By curious, lucky coincidence, it is also that of the current Mrs Masher.

As such, we would normally celebrate it jointly, such as we did last year.

But tonight, I’m home alone, whilst the kids are at Scouts and Mrs M is out, knocking back lattes with her bestie.

Last week, I too was at Scouts.

I was teaching them Semaphore.

And Morse Code.

And the Phonetic Alphabet.

And they seemed to really enjoy it.

It was the first time I’d ever done anything like that – standing in front of a class – but I really quite enjoyed it too.

I can see now why people go into teaching.

Imparting knowledge on to others is really quite rewarding.

I’ve been asked if I might be interested in going back and teach them some basic electronics.

You know what… I just might.

26. A Song I Would Give To My Offspring

sonosI got nuffin for this one.

Of course, our kids will possibly never hear songs in true Hi-Fi. Yes, LP records are starting to make a comeback, but I daresay they will only appeal to the cognoscenti; the afficionados; the audiophiles.  With all the speed and convenience that downloading an MP3 offers, I can’t see that many youngsters will be rushing down to their local record store, to pay sixteen quid for Ed Sheeran’s latest 12 incher.

I’ll admit that I have also swapped convenience for form. Back in the day, I thought nothing of spending stupid amounts of money on the very latest thing to wow me from the pages of the Hi-Fi magazines: the best British speakers I could afford, standing on ludicrously expensive speaker stands; a properly decent, direct drive, German turntable with a top of the range Ortofon cartridge and a 5mm platter mat and a spindle clamp to hold the record flat; British amplifiers from Cambridge and oxygen-free cables to connect them all up.

It all sounded marvellous.

But, as my musical interests have waned and my ears no longer capture those subtle harmonic frequencies that added to the soundscape produced by all this kit, I’ve since stuck it all up in the loft and replaced it all with a small midi system that better suited the furniture in our living room.

And it all sounds just fine (although Mrs M would prefer it to have a bit more oomph!).

But, I’m even looking to replace that now.

In the kitchen we have a wireless speaker that is linked into the home WiFi. Using an app on a mobile phone or tablet, we can use it to listen to a bazillion different internet radio stations, although – at Mrs M’s behest – it remains firmly locked on to Kiss FM.

But, it can also stream our entire record collection from a Synology NAS drive that sits in the study and is backed up to a WD Elements drive in the shack. With search functions and playlists, it really is very convenient, and so I’m now looking to add other rooms into the system.

With Mrs M’s musical tastes and her penchant for volume, that may well be something I’ll regret.

So, rather than a song, the latest method of playing them is what I’ll be passing on to my kids.

Nerdfest

ddrcbootYesterday, I went to the annual Dunstable Downs Radio Club bootsale.

As I do every year.

Whilst there, I was pleased to meet up with Dave, a ham friend of old, who is just too damn clever for his own good. I find Dave’s enthusiasm for radio and electronics so inspiring and I always enjoy spending time at his place, talking geeky stuff over a cup of tea and a biscuit. Unfortunately, he lives just far enough away for me to be unable to make more frequent visits.

I also met up with Alan, a mate who I met through ham radio back in the eighties. Since he moved down to the south coast, we’ve been unable to keep in contact via the radio, but we’ll keep at it. And there’s always the twisted pair to fall back on, I s’pose.

Following a pre-arranged meet, I finally managed to put faces to voices as Dave and Paul from the Saturday afternoon local net, wandered over and introduced themselves.  Having spoken to them for hours over the past months, it was good to properly meet them for the first time.

And then, whilst casually wandering down the final row of trestle tables, loaded up with what Mrs Masher refers to as “a load of old tat”, but is actually really useful stuff (honestly), I bumped into Chris. Chris used to live near me and we would often chat on a couple of walkie-talkie type radios via the local repeater before his job required him to move away oop north. We’ve not been in touch for about twenty years, so it was really good to make his acquaintance again, brief as it was.

The sun shone throughout the day, I met up with some old mates and I managed to get a couple of bargains.

Best Sunday I’ve had all year.

Mad as a tree

Geocaching-LogoFor several weeks now, I’ve been keen to get my Open Sesame geocache back out there. But things have conspired against me – the inclement weather being just one of those things.

Due to the nature of the cache, the opening mechanism doesn’t work too well in the cold weather and so I tend to bring it in for hibernation over Winter, replacing it in the Spring.

Anyway, it was playing on my mind last night and so, with just an hour of daylight left, I fitted it with some new batteries, got in the car and drove five miles up the road to where it was to be hidden. From there, it’s a further ten minutes of brisk walking to the final hiding place. Most of it uphill.

Sweating like a bastard, I pushed my way through the growing vegetation and replaced the box back in it’s hidey hole.

Emerging from the woodland and walking back down the winding path, I passed a young couple making their way up the hill. We exchanged greetings as we passed and I found myself wondering whether they might be fellow Geocachers, actually on their way to find my cache. How cool would that be?

So, once they had rounded the bend at the top, I turned round and started making my way stealthily back up the hill. If I saw them disappear into woods at the same location as where I went in, then that would be proof positive and I would go and introduce myself. If not, then I’d just turn back and carry on down to the car.

The light was fading fast and as I made my way up, I could hear them talking, as the young lady had quite a loud voice. Then suddenly it went quiet. I surmised that they had indeed left the path and had gone into the woods and so I quickened my pace so I could catch them up.

Suddenly, the voices were back and it was evident that they hadn’t gone into the woods, but rather had turned round and were now heading back toward me. I wasn’t going to look like a friendly, fellow Geocacher to them now: I was going to look like some lunatic stalking bloke who had turned round and followed them surreptitiously up the hill.

Which is exactly what I had actually done.

Quickly, I turned round and legged it down the hill as fast as my 39 year-old legs would carry me, hoping I could make it to the next bend, before they rounded the one behind me.

I managed to get round the next bend OK, but by now gravity had got the best of me and I was struggling to slow down.

My foot slipped on some loose earth and I went arse over tit, coming to a stop a little further down.  I lay there for a few seconds: nothing felt broken or sprained, thank heaven. Grass stains and scratches were the only testament to my fall.

The voices were getting near again and so I gathered myself up and continued down the hill, walking as quickly as I could.

I arrived back at the car, puffing and panting and looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards.

Geocaching is meant to be a gentle sport.

I’m obviously doing it wrong.

 

They must think my penis is big enough now

limp cockTaking the regular stroll through my spam folder – just to check that nothing has slipped through the filters that shouldn’t have – I noticed that my received spam has taken a different direction of late.

“Put a smile on her face all night long”; “The secret to long lasting erections”; “Half price meds for ED” is the kind of stuff that has filled my spam folder for years.

But suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly that I’d actually noticed) it’s all gone.

But it’s been replaced.

Nowadays, the kindly spammers are keen to let me in on the secrets to making thousands of dollars a day. Or they want to show me videos of secret inventions that the government doesn’t want me to see.

And many of my newly found ‘account managers’ are emailing me to let me know that various accounts of mine are being locked down or are being ‘limited’ until I supply them with lots of details about myself… just to prove that the non-existent account really is mine.

So, it seems that they think the best way to make money now, is not in the semi-legal activity of selling dodgy drugs for erectile dysfunction, but in the totally illegal scam of obtaining personal details by deception.

But I’m not stupid: I won’t be supplying them with any of my personal or bank account details.

Because that Viagra I ordered, never did turn up.

Enslaved

phoneFollowing on from yesterday’s little moan about mobile phones, I thought I’d mention another thing about them that annoys me.

I was on a course a couple of weeks back… just for a day.
An introduction to project management, if you must know.

Now, in the old days, when we used to go on courses, when the instructor stopped for a break or for lunch, everybody would get up and go for a walk to stretch their legs, or they’d go outside to grab some fresh air… or have a fag.

But, we don’t do that anymore, I noticed.  On this course, when the instructor reached a suitable stopping point and announced that we would be stopping for a half-hour lunch break, nobody got out of their seats.

The first thing we all did – and I include myself in this – was to get our phones out and check for missed calls/texts/emails. Most of us would then spend the next ten minutes responding: either talking or tapping away at our tiny keypads, before actually heading over to the tray of dry cheese sandwiches perched on the windowsill.

The mobile phone is a marvelous invention and the ability to send and receive emails and such on it, is wonderfully clever and very useful sometimes.

But, our inability to turn the damn thing off when we are away from the office; when we are on holiday or at the pictures or down the pub, means that we are not just slaves to the technology, but to the workplace also.

Text mad

textWhat is it with texting? Why don’t people actually want to talk anymore?

It used to be that texting was a cheap way of conversing with people whilst not using up your valuable talk minutes.

But most people nowadays have a million minutes on their package, for every different network, and so chatting shouldn’t be a problem.

But they still prefer to text.

The current Mrs Masher spends ages texting back and forth between her and her best friend. “Just talk to her!” I’ll say, exasperatedly, as her phone pings with a text notification for the upteenth time in half an hour.

But, she’s not alone in preferring to type rather than speak.

Spend anytime sitting in a restaurant or on the train or even sitting outside having a sandwich and you’ll see plenty of people staring at their phone, thumbs flying over the tiny keyboard as they send little messages with smiley faces to all and sundry.

I remember seeing a woman being interviewed on the news just a few weeks back, during the floods they had up north:
“Well, the water was getting higher and higher and I was getting a bit worried. Once it reached the doorstep, I texted my husband to tell him that he needed to come home. Then it started to come over the doorstep and was coming into the house. I was getting in a right panic, so I texted my son and told him to bring some sandbags.”

Now, I’m sorry, but if your home is in imminent danger of being flooded, I think something a bit more urgent than a bloody text is required!

Thank heavens the fire service doesn’t have a text service. You could watch your home burn to the ground as auto-correct informs the fire brigade that “My horse is on tyres. HELL ME!”

Of course not EVERYONE is text mad.

We are now 25 days into February and I’ve just checked how many texts I have sent so far this month.

Eight.

We’re watching you

ServerLike most large companies nowadays, the water board (where I work) has a big IT department.

And like most – I should say all – IT departments, they are rightfully very cautious about stuff that goes in and out of their systems.

As such, I have fallen foul of their Big Brother firewall on several occasions already.

The first time was in the first week, when i sent an email to my old mate Spratters, who used to comment here under the name of Arthur Pewty. I just wanted to let him know my new work email address. I started the email with our usual greeting to each other “Allo, you ol’ bugger!”. The firewall bounced it back and listed my email address as sending offensive mail.

I made a mental note not to make that mistake again.

A couple of weeks ago, I searched the office in vain for a 4-hole punch. I decided it would be easier if I just bought one in town at the weekend. So, I did an online search to find out how much a cheap one would cost me. Racking my brains for the name of the large stationary shop in the mall, I remembered it was called PARTNER. When I entered this into the address bar and stabbed at the return key – without looking up from the keyboard because my typing skills suck – I saw the the BB fiewall had blocked access to the webpage and had listed my user ID as trying to access an online dating website.

I made a mental note to be more careful with web addresses.

Then, last week, I failed to receive an Excel spreadsheet that had been emailed to me several times. Turns out, the over-zealous BB firewall had rejected it because it contained the word ‘stopcock’.

The water board banned from using the word ‘stopcock’ in it’s own internal communications?

Now, that one made me laugh.

So much easier in the old days

GoodOldDaysAs I mentioned earlier, I’m toying with the idea of getting a new camera.

And of course, when it comes to buying a new toy, the internets is a boon for doing some research on it.

Or is it?

In the old days – before the internets – if I wanted to buy something, I would generally just go and buy it, after having slobbered over it in the shop window for a couple of days.

If it was a more expensive item – like a camera or a piece of hi-fi equipment – I might go to WHSmiths and buy What Expensive Item Monthly magazine, to give me some guidance before parting with my hard-earned.

But now we have the internets.

And if I want to buy something – a camera; a piece of Hi-Fi; a radio; a TV; some furniture; a fridge; a fondue set; a cuddly toy; almost anything – I will look it up on the internets first.

I will look at different retailers and compare prices.

Then I will read the customer reviews.

And that’s where it all goes wrong. Because I only have to read one review which isn’t so good, and I’m suddenly torn. I’m no longer sure if that’s the item I should be getting.

There could be forty-five 5-star reviews and then one person gives it a 3 and I find myself questioning my prospective purchase.

I’ll look around for a similar item by a different manufacturer.

And once I’ve found one I like, I’ll start reading all the reviews for that one.

And so it goes on.

Despite making it so much easier for me to choose, the internets have made it so much harder for me to choose.

It’s just as well there’s only one internets, because if I had to choose one and then started to use the internets to research the internets that I’m going to be choosing for researching the internets, I’d rapidly find myself going round in ever decreasing circles, until I eventually disappeared up my own backside in a puff of ill-informed logic.

Strewth

oz airmailI haven’t built any electronic projects for a while and my soldering hand was starting to get itchy, so I thought I’d have a go at building an antenna analyser as I’ve wanted one for quite a while now..

There is a well-known kit sold by an Australian ham radio club. Looking on their website I found the price to be very reasonable. In fact, once I’d converted Australian dollars to British pounds, it worked out to only about sixty-five quid – about a quarter of the price of a commercially built unit.

I was just about to click the order button when I noticed that price was for internal orders only – orders within the land of Oz.

The international price was a bit dearer, due to the shipping costs. Fair enough. It still worked out to be a very good price.

As it was coming all that way, I decided to pay a little bit extra and pay for tracking.

In the end, the total price came to about eighty quid. Still a reasonable price, I thought and duly ordered it.

To their credit, the radio club down under shipped it out in less than 24 hours and in these modern times I fully expected it to receive pretty quickly, despite the distance involved.

I started tracking it.

It went from Adelaide to the Melbourne distribution depot within 48hrs. Marvelous.

And then it sat there. For two weeks, nothing seemed to be happening and then it suddenly arrived in the UK.

The following day, I checked the tracking again and was disturbed to see that it was marked as delivered, when I’d not received anything.

I got a card from Royal Mail the following day, saying that my package was being held at the main collection depot in town, and that they wouldn’t release it to me until I’d paid the Customs & Excise Import Duty on it.

That was an extra twenty quid.

On top of that, Royal Mail then charged me a further eight pounds for administration.

A total of one hundred and eight sovs it cost me in the end. Just sixty-five pounds for the actual kit and then forty-thee quid to actually get it to me.

But, I must say, the kit itself is very well put together and is of good quality. I’m really looking forward to building it… even if it did cost me a whopping 66% more than I’d originally thought it would.

Bacon Sandwich

Kevin-BaconThe NYT reported this week that TwitFace has worked out that the six-degrees of separation theory no longer applies.

According to them, we are all now only 3 or 4 degrees apart.

This, of course, is a load of old tosh.

For those that don’t know, the six-degrees theory states that everyone on the planet is connected somehow to everyone else, with only six steps between them. IE: I know Bob; Bob knows Vic; Vic knows Elizabeth; Elizabeth knows Walter; Walter knows Eric and Eric knows Ernie, therefore Ernie and I are connected via six other people.

It’s an interesting concept, but  surely it’s not provable.

Yes, I daresay that there are many cases where the theory applies, but it’s impossible to show that it applies to absolutely everyone.

TwitFace’s own calculations are fatally flawed as it is only looking at people who have TwitFace accounts and – as impressive as that number might be – that’s only a quarter of the population.

So, in theory, I am only six introductions away from, say… Vladimir Putin. So I’m sure that, given enough time, we shall meet up at some point. Probably when I take up my new hobby of bare chested horse-riding.

On a similar note, listening to one of my science podcasts yesterday, I learnt that we only have to go back less than 4000 years to find a common ancestor.

An ancestor that is common.

To us all.

That astounded me.

So yes, it seems we are all connected… but not by six degrees.

You can lead a horse to water, but…

horsewaterScience and technology are my thang. I have been interested in both ever since I was a kid.

And so, with my own two kids, I’m keen that they both be interested too.

Over the years I have often talked to them of scientific breakthroughs and events. I’ve set up small experiments with oil and water and detergents and litmus paper and lemons and and and.

I’ve tried to explain to them in simple terms about gravity and space time and the laws of thermodynamics.

I’ve shown them how my radio equipment can be used to talk to people around the world and how it can listen to the astronauts on the International Space Station

I’ve not tried to force them to like science, but rather to develop an interest in it through my own enthusiasm.

But it hasn’t really happened. Amelia is semi-interested, but she hasn’t really warmed to it.

Harry was my big hope though. Aged 11, he has shown an aptitude for maths and I’d hoped that might follow through into the sciences.

But no.

Yesterday, on his white board, I did a rough drawing of the solar system and asked him to write the names next to each planet. He did so. With ease. And then went straight back to his Minecraft videos on YouTube.

And so I continued, explaining how another planet had been possibly found: Planet Nine, as it is currently being inventively called.

“So, do you know what they call people who watch the stars and planets?”

“Nerds”, he said, with hardly a pause.

I was pleased with his comedic reply, but at the same time disappointed at his obvious lack of interest.

Deep Thought 7

OK, it may not be able to provide the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, but it’s a hell of a lot faster than Deep Thought 6: my old pooter.

6 was getting slow. No, actually, 6 WAS slow. Frustratingly slow. There were times when it seemed to just grind to a halt.

I cleaned it; I tidied it; I defragged the hard drive and I gave the registry a damn good wash, but nothing seemed to bring it back to it’s old self. I could re-format and reload Win 7, I s’pose – that would probably do it – but this seemed like an ideal opportunity for an upgrade.

And so, armed with expenses money that I’d accrued from travelling up and down the country, I scoured the web and made several orders from various suppliers.

Last weekend I found the time to do the rebuild and DT7 (because this is the seventh incarnation within the same PC case) was born.

I’m now having all the fun of transferring files from one to t’other.

But, I have to admit to being a little disappointed because, when I checked the Windows Experience Index, it wasn’t actually much higher than the old machine.  This, it seems, is all down to me skimping on the graphics card. With a possible top subscore of 7.9, each component is performing pretty well (especially the SSD HDD), with the exception of the graphics card which comes in at a miserly 4.2

WEI

I looked at graphics cards long and hard before deciding that there was no point in spending a small fortune on one: I don’t do gaming and my old card coped easily enough with the limited amount of video editing that I do.

And so I compromised by buying not the cheapest of cards, but certainly not the most expensive. And that’s what is giving me a poor WEI.

But maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about the numbers and actually just enjoy my new machine, because SHE FLIES!

At the moment.

Not very PC

blue motherboard“I’m thinking of doing a rebuild on the PC”, I said to Mrs M earlier today, “it’s slowed right down. It’s about due for an upgrade anyway”.

“Oh, OK”, she said.

And then, out of nowhere, she asked “What motherboard are you going to get, then?”.

I was taken aback slightly as, not only has she never shown any interest in the internal workings of a computer, but she certainly has no real knowledge about them, as far as I’m aware. But, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

“Well, I’m not sure yet which one to go for”, I said, “but it’ll most likely be an AM3+ socket with USB3, DDR3 RAM and a SATA3 interface.”

She rolled her eyes at me and at that point, I realised the correct answer that I should have given was: “I’m going to get a blue one.”

One man’s junk…

yamahaA short while back, I was chatting with my neighbour whilst he was having a sort out in his garage; slinging unwanted items into the back of his van to take to the tip.

He picked up an electronic keyboard that was propped up against the side wall and went to throw it in the van.

“You slinging that?” I asked, rather stupidly.

“Yeah, it’s been here for years. Doesn’t work. Why, do you want it? I’ve got a stand for it here somewhere.” I said I’d take it off his hands and he gladly handed it over.

Back home, I brushed all the dirt and cobwebs off, put it on the dining room table and powered it up. Sure enough it was dead and so I unplugged it, got a screwdriver and opened it up. There must have been about 40 screws to undo!

I soon found the fault – it was just a dodgy joint which I resoldered. I powered it up again and was pleased to see it worked perfectly.

Almost.

Half a dozen of the keys didn’t work or needed to be pressed really hard in order to get a note out them. And so, I stripped the keys section down, cleaned it all up and put it all back together.

Result! It now worked proper perfectly. A rub down with a duster and some Mr Sheen and it was looking almost as good as new. It had taken about two hours to fix, but we now had a fully working Yamaha electronic musical keyboard.

It now sits proudly on it’s matching stand in the corner of the dining room and often, at the weekends, as a family, we will all gather round it… wishing one of us could play the damn thing.

Get Smart pt 2

appsOK, I mentioned a couple of posts back that I have one of them there smartphones and that I love it.

I never mentioned why I love it.

It’s simple.

One word:

The Apps.

OK, that’s two words.

I have plenty of apps on my phone (no games, they don’t interest me) that help me through my day/life. And so, I thought I’d share some of them here with you.

One of the most important and useful is Memento. This is a database app which can be used to store almost any piece of information. I have a Contact List; My DVD Collection; keycode entries for various places at work and details of certain Geocaches that need their details keeping, amongst others. One of its most useful functions is that it syncs very nicely with Google Drive, storing all the details in .csv format. This makes it easy to fill in big databases but it also keeps the data safe and accessable in the event of losing the phone.

Next is mSecure, another database, but this one is geared around saving passwords and login details. It holds all my banking info as well as various passwords and login information for a multitude of websites. It is password protected and the data is encrypted for safety. It also backs up automatically to Dropbox, saving an encrypted file there every time any change is made. A  desktop reader for the PC is also available to make data entry quicker and easier. (It should be said that Memento also offers an encrypted database function, but I never realised that when I got it.)

Eyewitness is an app from The Guardian newspaper and it features daily pictures taken from their news photographers. I love eye-catching photographs and this app features some fantastic and inspiring ones.

c:geo is a geocaching app… for those moments when I’m feeling particularly nerdy and don’t have my GPSr with me.

TV Anywhere is VirginMedia’s app that allows me to remotely set up my TiVo to record programmes I might otherwise have missed. It has proved fruitful on more than one occasion!

Of course, I have an array of amateur radio apps: IRLP Finder; Echolink; RF Signal calculators; Morse Code tutors and  – the most used one – Repeater Book, an app that lists all the VHF and UHF repeaters in a 50 mile radius from wherever I am, detailing input and output frequencies along with CTCSS access tones. Brilliant!

And of course, there are a host of other apps that just help me get by: Unit converters, hotel bookings; Swiftkey Keyboard (marvellous); Satellite Finders; Flashlight; Google Maps, etc.

And that’s why I love my phone, because it’s not just a phone, it’s a tool. It’s a Swiss Army Knife Phone.

There’s an app for almost anything, it seems.

What ones have you got that I might find useful?

Get Smart

smartphoneI have one of them there flashy smartphones.

And I love it.

Not that I am one of those people who cannot live without it, because I’m sure I could… if I had to.

But, there are plenty of people – not just youngsters – for whom their smartphone isn’t a luxury item, but a thing of necessity; it’s something they literally cannot do without. I’ve seen them on the train and the tube this week: the second they sit down, out comes the phone.

“Update Facebook status: I’m on the train.”

They sit reading or watching or playing with them. No-one does any thinking any more. No-one loses themselves in daydreams. JK Rowling famously conceived the idea of Harry Potter on the train. She wouldn’t have done so if she’d had a smartphone, I’m sure.  I noticed on yesterday morning’s journey that of the eight people I could easily see – four on my table and four on the table next to me – seven of them were tapping away at their phones, including the colleague I was travelling with.

People walk along the street, staring at their phone, not paying attention to where they are going; walking on autopilot whilst reading the latest breaking news on someone’s Twitter account that they’ve just had their “… 3rd bowl of cornflakes. Yum”

In the class I was in this week, there was one chap who had his phone on the desk and he would check it every five minutes. He looked genuinely disappointed every time he turned it over to see he hadn’t received any messages.

The wife’s besty friend has an iPhone and I don’t think I have ever seen it not in her hands. She is on it constantly; always tapping away at it’s little screen. And because it is always there, it has become the norm; one hardly notices now… until, in conversation, she will suddenly have an answer to the question you asked just ten seconds ago, because she can Google faster than anyone I know  (to Google… just when did that become a verb?!).

But, even though I’m not THAT obsessed with my phone, I do love it; I do use it and I would probably be a bit lost without it – as was proved earlier this week when I had to resort to Google Maps to find my way from Liverpool Street Station to my training course.

Of course, there are those who decry the use of smartphones. I know several Luddites people who have just a basic phone and don’t want – or need, apparently – all the bells and whistles that the latest phones can give.  “As long as I can make and receive calls…”, they’ll sneer.

And that’s just fine.  As long as that call doesn’t interrupt the box set of The Partridge Family that they’re watching on their Betamax video recorder.

“… and we’ll teach our kids science, not poems and rubbish…”

rixl

So said the delusional soldier (David Essex) in Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, as he sought to find a way to overcome the alien invaders.

Since I was a kid, science and technology have always been my ‘thing’.

But, in the Masher household, I appear to be a lone fan of the genre.

Sitting down to watch an episode of BBC2’s Horizon (currently being repeated on BBC4) will clear the living room faster than one of Mrs Masher’s farts. And, in one respect, I don’t mind that because I can enjoy the programme in peace.

Each year, I record the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and watch them – on my own – when no-one is about. This year I decided that it was time the family learnt a bit about science and so I forced persuaded them to watch an episode with me. It shouldn’t be too hard for them to grasp, surely? I mean, the Christmas Lecture audience is aimed at children and young people. It is designed to explain science in an easy, interesting and fun way. Indeed, its captive audience in the auditorium is comprised mainly of school children and the lectures themselves are delivered not by some stuffy professor in a tweed jacket, but by luminaries with a stage presence and a knack for talking in an entertaining manner, like Professor Brian Cox or – this year’s presenter – a heavily pregnant Professor Danielle George.

And so, the four of us sat down to watch episode two, which was all about communication. One of my faves.

Twenty minutes in and I noticed that Harry had put on his headphones and was surreptitiously playing a game on his tablet. I told him he could either watch the telly with us or he could go to bed.

He chose to go to bed.

Ten minutes later, Mrs M said that she’d had enough and she was also going to bed.

Amelia proclaimed that she was enjoying it and wanted to see the rest of the programme.  Five minutes later, I spotted her playing on her phone and then she sneaked quietly out of the room, thinking I hadn’t noticed.

I watched the remainder of the programme on my own, as I usually do, somewhat disappointed in my family’s attitude toward the sciences.

I have one episode left to watch and I shall watch it alone, this evening, after they have all gone to bed.

They’ll be sorry when the aliens land, and the only thing we can fight back with, is one of Mrs Masher’s farts.

Ring ring, ring ring…

ringtoneBren’s post, yesterday, got me thinking about mobile phone ringtones.

Everyone customises the ringtone when they get a new phone. Don’t they? And I daresay – or at least, some trick cyclists would say – the chosen ringtone probably says something about the phone’s owner.

It’s rare nowadays to hear the – very recognisable – tune of Nokia’s default ringtone (taken from the 1902 piece Grande Valse by Tárrega ) and yet it does still occasionally happen and it makes me smile when I hear it because it means that person either doesn’t know how to change it or he just can’t be arsed to … or it’s my dad.

Mrs Masher’s ringtone is something poppy from the music charts. A young chap called Olly Murs being her current favourite.

The ringtone on Amelia’s phone changes on an almost daily basis, but whatever it is, it’s an awful racket.

And a mate at work has two ringtones. Being a big Star Wars nerd, he has March Of The Stormtroopers for any work related calls and the Star Wars Theme for friends and family.

Personally, I have five different groupings on my phone and each has it’s own ringtone. They are all British TV themes from the sixties and seventies, so, depending on who is calling me, I will hear:

If people from a particular generation (I’m talking about my g-g-generation) are around me when my phone goes off, I am often asked “Oh my God, what IS that tune? I recognise it but can’t …” .  It’s even happened in the supermarket.

So, what tell me, what have you changed your ringtone to… or can’t you be arsed?

Like a phoenix…

… from the ashes.

IMG_3145A while ago (7 years and 9 months to be precise), I posted here about my old MSF Clock project that I’d built back in the eighties.  It had stopped working when the MSF radio signal moved from Rugby up to Cumbria, but with a little bit of tweaking, I managed to get it working again.

Then, last year, it died again and this time – no matter how many times I tried blowing logic into its little CMOS lungs – there was no chance of bringing it back to life. It was a goner.

And so, I’ve built another one.

All credit for the design of this goes to Chris Johnson, who came up with a clever, but wonderfully simple, hardware design which was a joy to build. But the real cleverness is in the software which he wrote for the micro-controller.  I barely understand any of it, but it’s clearly the work of a genius!

IMG_3130_1IMG_3144_1For old times sake, I put the new clock into the original case, so that outwardly, it still looks the same. Inside though, it is vastly different.

The old clock used 4 circuit boards with 22 integrated circuits – an array of decoders and counters and drivers and such. The new clock uses just 2 boards: one for the display and one to do all the clever stuff. And it has just the one IC on it: the aforementioned micro-controller. How things have changed.

Hopefully, I’ll get another thirty years out of it, then, no doubt, I’ll be rebuilding it again, but this time with just a small holographic crystal doing all the work!