Blog Shorts : NRA in the UK means National Record of Achievement

November 19th, 2015

I am not anti guns. Guns are cool and if the Americans want guns, give them the guns. That said I wish people who like guns would just call it what it is, a hobby. The constitutional crap about to stop tyranny is old. It applied when the government only had guns to fight back. Now if you want to go up against the military, you need fighter jets, aircraft carriers… And Nukes! It should have read the right to bear hardware to level a city not some flimsy semi automatic that a drone could take out. And if the excuse for having guns is to defend yourself against your fellow citizen – then its not a democratic protection. If I have more money than my neighbour, I have the biggest/most guns and so he doesn’t stand a chance if I want to attack him. And the guy down the road who wants to kill me? He’s very rich and has even bigger guns so I am screwed.

Blog Shorts : Why Right here, left there?

November 19th, 2015

Bizarre thought, but here (where I am) in the UK, I am generally a little right-wing, more often than not voting for the Conservatives. However, I watch a lot of US news and commentary and if I was a US citizen, I would say I would not consider voting Republican, but would almost always favour Democrat policies and presidential candidates. Why is that?

My Declaration – the Yaesu FT-817 / FT-817ND is the best ham transceiver ever made

October 1st, 2015

Mike M0SAZ FT-817ND endorsement reviewOK as many may have seen my videos on YouTube (search my callsign if you haven’t), you may know I have owned a lot of Transceivers. I have bought and sold some radios many times, just to satisfy my requirements and make me feel I have the radio for me.

The FT-817 / FT-817ND I think is the best ham radio rig ever produced. Think about it. It must be the most sold ham transceiver in history and there are tons of reviews on eHam and other sources that overall are excellent. Its a joy reading the eHam reviews – reading just how many people (like me) have an FT-817 as their only base rig and / or have sold a high end radio and are happier with the “lowly” FT-817 / FT-817ND.

The radio hasn’t the receiver of the FTDX-5000 or the K3 but you can’t fit those in your pocket. It hasn’t got the ergonomics of an FT-2000 or an IC-756 Pro III but you couldn’t get one new for under £500. It hasn’t got a 400w PA like the FTDX-9000MP but with 5 watts and the same antenna, you would only be down several s-points and don’t need to worry about the electricity bill or causing interference.

Using a TXCO, mechanical filter for your mode choice, headphones and / or external speaker, some bracket for raising the front of the rig up on the desk, a decent Mic, proper use of the carrier offset / IPO / ATT / RF gain, you have some cheap (and free) solutions to making this good radio, great.

The ‘817 isn’t the best on paper for pretty much anything but because I can use it as a single shack rig for HF thru 70cm ALL MODE!! Its cheap and small enough to be taken portable and mobile. It is long in the tooth so has plenty of options, mods and documentation – as such I am declaring it the best Amateur Radio Transceiver in the “overall” category.

Do I have some agreement?



M0SAZ goes QRP – 10 good reasons to go be a dedicated QRP station

September 21st, 2015

Yaesu FT-817ND QRPSince getting my ham ticket in 2008, I have bought and sold tens of thousands of pounds worth of radio equipment, mainly HF transceivers. I have owned a Yaesu FTDX-9000D, a couple of FTDX-5000MP’s, a Ten-Tec Eagle, a Elecraft KX3, a Yaesu FT-2000, an FT-991, a Kenwood TS-590S and a number of FT-857D, FT-897D, FT-817ND, FT-450D and FTDX-3000 radios. Perhaps I should have tried an Icom and then I would have stuck with the same radio – I don’t know why I haven’t had one, but hey.

In that time, I have been looking for the perfect radio/antenna/station for me. Of course, there’s no such thing as perfect, however, this rather expensive pursuit has lead me to consider what I have used and what sort of station I want to run going into the future. After all, these buying and selling cycles will eat into any savings and so it can’t be done forever, and I am not one to keep a dozen or more rigs in the shack gathering dust.

I have finally decided to stick with the FT-817ND and run a QRP setup. Well, two FT-817ND radios actually – one for the base / home QTH setup, the other for portable and as a backup. To explain this rationale, allow me to list the reasons for settling on a QRP station, specifically centred around the Yaesu FT-817ND.

1: I like the idea of doing more with less. Having a basic setup means the expectation isn’t so high and that adds to the excitement when decent QSOs take place.

2: Conversely, having an expensive radio and antenna system always leaves me feeling like it should work very well and when it doesn’t (like on sunspot minimums), then I feel almost cheated from the expense and level of gear to make a contact.

3: The expense is also another point. Pricey gear means that one can get too worked up about wear and tear or other potential damage the ultimately inhibits the joy of just switching on and going for it.

4: On HF, when operating QRP, I have seldom been able to make a contact after giving up with QRP and switching to 100 watts. If I haven’t been able to make the contact with 5 watts, 100 hasn’t seemed to always do the job either. 2 s-points is the difference between the two by all accounts. On VHF/UHF, my collinear is up quite high and I can work simplex and repeaters from an incredible distance 5 watts and less. Looking through my logbooks I seem to have a disproportionately high number of contacts at 5w – a good indicator that QRP is “all right”.

5: Regardless of QRP, I like a radio that can operate on batteries. Makes portable operations easier and in this age of energy uncertainty, gives the operator the option of running their station without mains power. QRP adds another dimension to this in so much as the batteries can be smaller and run for longer.

6: Correctly configured, with a few accessories such as CW filter and external speaker – a low priced radio like the FT-817ND can really punch above its weight.

7: Older, tried and tested radios like the FT-817 have had pretty much all their teething issues fixed, all mods and accessories are now very mature and known to users and the conversations and documentation is extensive vs a newer radio. Also, I feel more “at home” with the previous generation of radio such as the FT-857D or the TS-480, compared with the FT-991 or the IC-7300. These newer radios still have knobs and buttons but feel very computerised and quite distant from the operator to the RF circuits. If you are into modern radios or SDR, this feeling will be alien to you.

8: QRP radios are generally smaller and lighter – making it easier to run a compact base station or a easily transportable portable station.

9: TVI/QRM creation is not so much of a problem when running 5w and less. When running 200 watts, 400 watts or higher still – interference can be an issue unless special thought it given.

10: The equipment around the QRP transceiver – antennas, matchers, feeders, power supplies can be lighter duty which generally means smaller and cheaper.

So there you have it. Should someone interested in ham radio stop by or a fellow ham is talking to me over the air, the added dimension that the station is basic and low powered I hope creates added interest and excitement. And if I can’t work so many stations? I can just listen.

BBC hits the post on dropping Met Office to save money

August 23rd, 2015

Met Office LogoThere are times when the executives at the BBC have rightly canned projects and initiatives in order to make the licence fee go further and have been supported by the majority of television licencees as the best way forward for the BBC in terms of the public interest. Abandoning the Met office for their weather broadcasts is not one of those glory moments in the modern BBC. The met office is the de facto weather forecasting organisation in the UK and, despite some blunders such as the great storm of 1987, they have been pretty accurate, and with investment in supercomputers and scientific research are becoming even more so as time goes by.

Whilst as a licence fee payer I want good value, I don’t want cost savings by opting for overseas or smaller weather organisations providing the forecast data. It is reassuringly expensive for sure that the Met office aren’t the lowest bid and neither should we want them to be. We need investment in research of our climate and finding better ways of predicting severe weather in order to save lives and property. This needs money and I will be surprised if the government don’t put pressure on the BBC to change their mind on putting the weather contract out to tender to the lowest bidder. They may even propose subsidising this unique and thus far, successful partnership.

There is a petition on to try and convince the BBC to see sense and stay with the Met office for the weather.

No Milk today the cows have run away!

August 10th, 2015

Farmers Moo cowThe (justified) protests by the British dairy farmers is one of those strange ones where the answer to the problem is obvious, but because we don’t want to seem xenophobic or protectionist we won’t make the stand. The reason, beyond the cited over production, Milk is purchased so cheap is because if the farmers/processors demanded a higher price, the farmers in mainland Europe, with lower costs (mainly labour I guess) could then come in and take their business.

However, the British public seem like they are prepared to pay more for their milk, so why not classify British Milk from imported Milk – then no one else can compete with the British Milk. A bit like British Copper Tube and Imported Copper Tube or British Strawberries and Strawberries of other origin.

For the most part, we in the UK have a high standard of living, partly because of our minimum wage policy which continues to rise. So, production in this country is going to be more expensive but with our controls and standards, not to mention the environmental advantages – buying British is a good thing to do.

Think what could happen if too many farmers go bust – the land could be developed on if no one can make a living farming it and then we have lost that agricultural advantage forever – long after the food crisis following a growing population really starts to bite.

This article from the BBC explains what the farmers propose to resolve the issue. Which is fine but I think the retailers should be able to sell Milk or whatever they want as a loss leader but as long as they don’t force the price paid for the product down aggressively.

Supermarkets, manufacturers, government, processors, farmers and consumers all need to work together to get the price right to keep this industry viable and, like home grown vs. imported energy, make the British public much less dependable on the volatility of supply from overseas.

Scottish independence referendum threat is frustrating and worrying

August 9th, 2015

Map of the UKI love the UK just as it is. Wouldn’t want it any other way but the SNP are really annoying me. Every time they feel that Scotland isn’t getting more (yes more, not the same) as any other part of the UK, there are mutterings from their members that there truly could be another independence referendum in our lifetime. So much for the decision of a generation – they want to make it a yearly occasion it would seem until they have battered their countrymen into submission.

The fact of the matter is this. In Scotland there’s free personal and nursing care, no university fees and free prescriptions – none of that available to the rest of the UK and all supposedly coming out of one pot. So seems like things are weighted in Scotland’s favour already.

Then there’s the England-centric of Westminster by the Scottish Nationalists. True, there probably more discussion on this part of the UK but then there’s 84% of the UK population in England, only 8% in Scotland. Why not encourage more people and businesses to come to Scotland if a bigger piece of the pie is what they want, not demonise their UK countrymen?

It shouldn’t be that when times are tough or we have issues to work through as a nation that one group of people effectively say “not our problem, you deal with that and we will break away”. Imagine if this kind of short sighted attitude would have been in place during the second world war? We are stronger together. Is life perfect? No. But we can improve things for all citizens of the UK through democracy and legislation – not calling a referendum to go it alone.

I will say this for the SNP, they don’t support or even mention gaining ground for their cause using techniques Sinn Fein and the IRA did in Northern Ireland years ago.

I have a fear that the people of Scotland and the people in the rest of the UK will be so tired of another referendum, that the vote will be for independence should there be another ballot – not because the SNP have changed the minds of the Scots but just to shut them up. Better together? You betcha, but the energy and support for that campaign will only go so far.

Why do so many people vote SNP but don’t want independence? Because the other political parties are not such a big voice for Scotland and have trouble with getting across their message. The SNP has done wonders for Scotland but it should not keep pushing to break away from the UK or at least using that as leverage to get a better deal for it’s constituents. Oh and if we do have to go through another referendum, I hope there’s less emphasis on North Sea Oil. Its a finite resource, so you can’t make huge constitutional decisions based on a resource that may run dry in 50 years time.

This isn’t an anti-Scotland dig – I love Scotland, been a few times and found the country and the people wonderful. Also love one of their finest exports – Whisky. No, my issue is very much toward the divisive rhetoric spouted by Nicola Sturgeon and her party. If I am to close this post by shoehorning the fact the SNP only received 4.7% of the vote in the 2015 general election and have 56 Parliament seats whilst UKIP received 12.6% and have one MP, its madness how our electoral system works against proportionally represented democracy.

Windows 10 Upgrade

July 31st, 2015

Microsoft Windows 10Well I took the plunge and upgraded my Win 7 Professional install on my Fujitsu home PC. The installation went smoothly and on bringing up the new OS, I have to say I am suitably impressed. It is a little more radical but not enough to be awkward to use. The speed was impressive – not slow or unresponsive whatsoever. I opted for the Microsoft account login – which allows you to login with a pin tied to the PC instead of the traditional password.

The borderless windows were clean and I was even happy with the Edge browser. It seems quicker than IE. More standards compliant? I don’t know but I intend to stick with Chrome anyway as it has all my bookmarks and I use hangouts, not to mention there’s nothing wrong with Chrome as a result of running on Windows 10 so may as well stick with that.

I haven’t used the built in mail application yet – but Windows Live Mail works fine and there was no loss of settings so I just carried on. So far, none of my existing applications installed on the machine (Gimp, mIRC, Office 2013 and so forth) have crashed or behaved unexpectedly.

Microsoft have learnt from previous howlers (thinking Vista and 8.0) and from what I have read the tech press and public in the main are appreciating the new OS. Me too, heck, I would even consider a Win Phone / Tablet on the back of this experience. Time to upgrade the laptop I think…

A Swarm in a Teacup

July 31st, 2015
Port of Calais

Port of Calais

David Cameron was criticised by Asylum groups and the opposition over migrant ‘swarm’ language – Is it me or are these people nuts? If you have a large group of people moving quickly at say a football game, a music event or a big sale event, it’s often referred to as a swarm. By all accounts he is demonising the migrants at Calais by comparing them to insects. Insects are a vital part of life on this planet, so I don’t know why as humans we feel we have to be superior to all other creatures. If David Cameron passed a open borders law, the critics would complain about that too “we don’t mean just let everyone in” Oh no? What do you mean then? We must have compassion but not in my back yard? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

HP Thin Client T510 update woes

June 25th, 2015

HP T510 ThinPro 5.2Having recently purchased a couple of HP T510 thin client boxes, I was most bemused to find that running the full image update to version 5.2 bricked the unit. It tries to boot but Kernel Panics shortly into the boot sequence. To fix, I needed to go to the HP website, download the image and boot from a USB stick and do the install that way (could have done it via CD or PXE also). The disk creation software was a little flaky and it took 3 USB memory sticks before I found one that allowed the bootable drive to be created and to work.

The sad thing is its June 2015 but I found a thread here on the HP website that describes this problem back in December 2014. I wonder why they haven’t fixed this problem yet? Its not as if I went looking to upgrade, its the first section on the wizard that launches for first time use. The upgrade is worth it, things do look and feel nicer in version 5 of ThinPro OS, but why it takes going around the over the web upgrade – it does put me off HP somewhat. The hardware itself however seems robust enough for a commercial/industrial application.