|20 Aug 2011||Borough
|19 Aug 2011||The
Joy of Car Maintenance
|18 Aug 2011||A
Level Results Day
|4 Oct 2010||National
Hamfest and a new toy for Linda
|13 Sept 2010||RSGB
Convention- not long now!
|12 Sept 2010||Why
we Lost the Empire
|1 Sept 2010||First
Day Back at School.
Today was the first day of the 2010-2011 school year, albeit a staff only day- the pupils arrive tomorrow. Even though the first day back marks the end of the long summer holiday, I still find it exhilarating in many ways- not least because we get to see in greater detail the GSCE, AS, and A level results. The results this year were excellent across the school and I am especially pleased with my classes' results. Having said that, I came home absolutely exhausted only to find I couldn't "put my feet up" due a problem with the drive (which we are having re-laid). I could really have done without that today.
My timetable looks good and there are even more A level classes this year, which is even better. I know most of my classes from previous years, although there will be some new faces in year 7 and year 12. Quite a few new members of staff but the new "ID" badges will help when learning their names and subjects.
|29 Aug 10||Reflections
on a Trip to Greenwich.
When we were students we frequently visited Greenwich, walking along the south side of the Thames from our (student) home in Woolwich. Sometimes we would venture to the north side of the Thames, using the pedestrian tunnels at each end and, when we felt adventurous, the Woolwich ferry. But that was 30+ years ago and today we wooshed up the M2/A2 in the MX5.
Greenwich has changed a lot in some ways and not at all in others. On the plus side, the "old" Royal Naval College is now open to the public (well worth a visit and free). On the downside, rest of Greenwich seems to be a building site. This would be fine if the new buildings (or renovations) added to the charm of Greenwich but we Brits display a remarkable talent for getting such things wrong- at least in modern times. It is sobering to think that the same Nation which produced the Royal Naval College (formally a hospital / retirement home for sailors), now cannot seem to design a building that doesn't resemble an anaemic brick or a twisted pile of metal and glass. It isn't often I find myself agreeing with Prince Charles but, on this, I'm with him.
The Royal Naval is a real treat, especially the "Painted Hall" and the Chapel. Both are tear jerkingly beautiful. Odd to think the same site had previously included "Jason", a small nuclear reactor used for training (nuclear) sub-mariners.
The covered market in Greenwich is well worth a look. Again, some items of great beauty (I especially liked some hand painted ceramics from Israel). However, there were also some paintings which, to my eye, resembled the floor of a room after painting the walls and ceiling. Perhaps they were examples of "painting by numbers" executed (and I chose that word carefully) by someone devoid of any understanding of numbers. I was sorry to see that Pratts had gone. Pratts was an old fashioned motorcycle shop, from which I purchased a motorcycle some 30+ years ago.
There was, of course, a Starbucks (a plus in my view) but it was the smallest Starbucks I've ever been in. The coffee was as good as ever (I like their skinny latte) but I didn't risk the "facilities" after my Covent Garden experience (see 18 Aug). The "facilities" in the Royal Naval College were fine and had a Dyson hand drier, the one bit of Dyson kit that seems to be any good in my view.
The Cutty Sark is covered in scaffolding and plastic (like so much of Greenwich). I do hope that, when it is "unwrapped", it looks like the old Cutty Sark and not some "PC interpretation".
I could not see "Gypsy Moth IV" and, having done some "Googling", I see she is for sale (£250k). When Sir Francis Chichester completed his single handed circumnavigation of the world in 1967, he captivated the nation. It seems these days we don't wish to celebrate such achievements and selling of the evidence brushes it all under some carpet.
All in all, a very pleasant day out, worthy of repetition.
Finally, it cost £4 to park. I assume I now own that bit of Greenwich and the deeds will be posted on to me in due course.
Things Amateur Radio (if you are not a radio geek the following may seem odd).
Over the last week or so I've been playing with some digital modes, in particular Easypal, PSK31, and WSPR.
Easypal is a means of sending pictures over the radio and is being tested/evaluated by the local RAYNET group. While I'm not a RAYNET member, I know several of the local group and often get roped into some of their experiments.
PSK31 is a means of sending text like messages to other radio amateurs. Very clever but not really my thing. I will no doubt use it from time to time but I can't see it replacing SSB voice as my preferred mode.
WSPR is an amazing toy. I feel the urge to set up a system running 24/7 on receive and transmitting when I'm around. That will need another antenna............
On the subject of antennas, I came close to buying an Arrow 2m/70cm satellite antenna from the USA. However, plans went awry and I will have to continue my search for a UK source.
Over the holidays I completed one of those "some day" projects, a GPS locked frequency standard. I used the G3RUH design and I'm delighted with the results. I can now lock my frequency counter to a reference good to <1ppm, using a homemade box of tricks the size of a box of cook's matches. The point at which the local VXO locks to the satellite derived reference is very obvious and takes about 4 mins.
Further GPS related projects are planned, including an APRS system for the car.
Also over the holidays I've been investigating remote control of my station over the internet. The system is working over the internal network but the "bridge" to the wider internet (so I can access the radios from anywhere) needs work to see off some security issues.
Enquiries from those wishing to take their amateur radio licence examinations at the RSGB Convention are starting to come my way. I've been organising these sessions for 5 or so years now and this phase is a welcome reminder that the Convention is not far away. Once again, I've been asked to deliver a lecture so I need to do some work to update my material.
The RSGB Education portfolio has come my way, to add to my ARDC role, and has led to more RSGB Board related work.
FInally, I'm really missing the regular SolderSmoke podcasts from Bill Meara (www.soldersmoke.com). I do hope they return soon before I have to go "cold turkey".
|19 Aug 10||Examination
Today we collected the twins' examination (AS) results, the twins being "otherwise engaged" on work experience (Vicky in a hospital) or Army Cadet camp (Michaela doing her 3 star- from which she returned with another "stripe"). The smile from the Head teacher as we arrived said it all and the outstanding results were confirmed on opening the envelops. All on track for a clean sweep of A/A* in their final exams.
University visits are already in hand, I especially liked Brighton but I'm not the one looking to go there.
I also received some very pleasant Emails from my students who secured not only their University places but excellent results in their A levels. It is nice to be appreciated!
|18 Aug 10||Reflections
on a Trip to London.
We decided to take a trip to London yesterday to have a bit of a "wander", have a meal, and visit the Theatre.
All in all, a very good day out. We visited the Royal Institution, did some window shopping around Old Bond St. etc. Linda decided she rather liked a 1940s Rolex. I thought the price ticket was £1500 and said "Why not have it?" She declined. Over lunch today she mentioned the watch again, it turns out the price was £15,000 ! Whew.
We paused in Leicester Square gardens on our wander towards Covent Garden. For some reason the grassed areas were cordoned off. Only it England's capital would this have been done with red and white plastic tape and some rusty metal poles. What a mess. Why don't we have any sense of civic pride?
Covent Garden was very pleasant, including a very good street performer with the "gift of the gab". The new Apple shop is quite amazing and we played with an IPad. A very neat bit of kit but it didn't strike me as being very practical for anything more than some internet surfing, Email, Facebook etc. Found the Rohan shop and got some more of their clothes. Had a meal and coffee in Starbucks (which had a "gents" in a disgusting state), then on to the theatre.
The theatre was excellent. We saw "Woman in Black" at the Fortune. The play itself was captivating and very well done. The theatre is "cosy" with the smallest bar I've ever seen.
We walked back to Victoria. The area was "buzzing" in a very nice way. Had we had more time, I'd have liked to had a drink in one of the many pleasant establishments on the route.
However, Trafalgar Square was a mess. Litter everywhere. Other countries seem to keep their streets clean, why can't we?
Should the Mayor of London ever read this, why don't you get yourself out and about in London to see the state the streets and squares are in? Perhaps you could take a black sack and pick up some of the litter. You'd win more votes than you will with your various articles in the Telegraph!
|10 Aug 10||Automated
Call Centres and my new mistress Aviva
It is the time of year to renew my car insurance on the MX5. I've been with Aviva (previously Norwich Union) for many years on this car. Renewal notice came through and price was good (I'd already had a look at other options) and I decided to go with Aviva again.
Normally, renewing is a matter of a simple telephone call and a brief chat with a real person. But this time there was a discount for renewing online so I decided to try that. Several days of not renewing hell followed and I've come to hate automated call systems with a passion! The trick is to keep saying "Advisor" until the silly computerised woman connects you to a real person.
First I could not register (I will spare you the details), so I called Aviva. It appears their system was down, so registration wasn't working and they couldn't renew over the 'phone for the same reason. It was expected to be working the next day.
Next day, no joy. Not able to register and couldn't get hold of Aviva by 'phone (well not without waiting in a queue on a premium rate number) and spent so long "chatting" with a silly computised woman that Linda thinks I've a mistress.
Ditto the next day , so I left a complaint on the website (still no response).
Rang Aviva's Head Office, they couldn't contact their customer complaints section ("line busy" - I wonder why?). They took my number to arrange a call back, which they've still not done.
(Were it not for the hassle of arranging insurance with another company, I'd have left Aviva some days back.)
Good news at last:
I rang Aviva again this morning (last chance). With minimal delay, I spoke to Les in the Norwich call centre. Les knows how to sort out problems and look after a customer.
In a few moments, policy is renewed, with my on-line discount and a £20 voucher for me to spend in Sainsburys. All done like it should be. Thank you Les.
If Aviva ever read this, I suggest you shoot whoever put your new "system" together and your complaints section then recruit a few more call centre operatives like Les.
Day in Whitstable
Linda and I spent most of yesterday in and around Whitstable (one of our favourite coastal towns). Weather was wonderful, warm enough to be pleasant but not too hot for walking.
We had lunch in Pearsons:
Being the seaside, we had to have Fish and Chips (a habit going back to our courting days some 34 years back!).
Pearsons do a very nice, but no the best in Whitstable, Fish and Chips. Their other menu items looked very nice and the ambience of the restaurant was very nice. Staff were very polite but not intrusive. A 8/10 on the Brian and Linda scale of places to eat.
A few months back, we tried the Fish and Chips here:
Again, not your typical Fish and Chip restaurant, so don't expect to get lunch for £5 (more like £40 for 2).
Fish and Chips were really very nice- no surplus grease and a good (but not over generous) portion- in fact just the right amount. Ambience very nice (Linda preferred this to Pearsons but I favour Pearsons for ambience), staff were very polite but not intrusive. Their other menu items looked very promising. A place to revisit and a 9/10 on the Brian and Linda scale of places to eat.
|25 May 10||Laptop
Woes and Joys
Eldest's laptop "died" some weeks back, thankfully while under warranty. Two return trips to Medion and it is working again. Meanwhile she borrowed mine and took it to University. You can guess the next bit. It has died. It is under warranty so Medion will have the pleasure of repairing it.
During the middle stages of the saga, "Senior Management" suggested we buy a "spare" laptop which (in such emergencies) the girls could take to University (the twins will be off to Uni. in a year or so and will need laptops). So, we buy another one, this time with Windows 7 and (yet) another Medion. Fantastic machine, does all sorts of clever things, but won't quite work with some of my special radio interfaces (driver issues).
Eldest returns home this weekend, bringing my dead laptop and to collect her repaired one.
Busy Times at School
Y12 and Y13 ("Sixth Form") are in the early stages of AS and A level exams so lots of revision classes to be run. C1, C2, M1, C3, C4, ...........not to mention Further Maths and Y11's GCSEs ("O" levels). Then there are also extra classes to support another school. As busy as it gets, after school sessions, Saturday morning sessions. Roll on Half-term.
Next year's time table looks good, more A level classes to teach which will relieve the preparation workload if I can synchronise the modules I'm teaching across the classes.
Plans for Half Term
Lots of days out with "Senior Management" in the MX5 and walking by the coast. Not quite a full week of this as I've to visit Yorkshire on RSGB business. I don't like Yorkshire beer.
|7 Feb 10||New
and Old Toys
Last week, I decided to buy a new toy a new Samsung netbook (radio amateurs are inherent techie geeks who like new toys). It is surprisingly quick, given the slow (by modern standards) processor and only having 1G of memory. By connecting it to my mobile (an E71), I can surf the internet like a real geek from anyway with mobile coverage.
The network drive on our home network has developed a fault. While running on the network it powers itself down from time to time and won't power up unless you cycle the power. It seems fine on USB. Then it lost the account information, although the data is safe and can be retrieved via t he USB port (which does not use accounts).
I've backed the data up and will have a more detailed look later, probably at half-term.
I had planned to attend the Canvey Rally today but a pile of marking needs doing and, if I have time, I plan to modify my IC-2725 so I can use it as a cross-band talk through unit.
I invited an old friend and work colleague to our Lodge Installation yesterday. We had a great evening and I realised that I should really make more time to keep in touch with old friends- life gets just a bit too busy at times.
|17 Jan 10||Dover
I drove down to the Dover rally today. What a great time. Lots of quality junk, which only radio amateurs know the true value of. Lots of socialising etc. Only regret is not taking the MX5 as the weather was surprisingly mild.
I picked up some connectors which I've been trying to get for ages. They were in a rummage box under the table. I picked out several connectors and some other stuff. On presenting it to the trader he said £2. A bargain, so I added some more and represented saying "That must be a fiver." "Oh" he said "how about £4." Result, but not how I thought haggling worked.
After the rally I went to our favourite tea rooms in St. Margaret's Bay. A pot of Earl Grey, a toasted teacake the size of a dinner plate, and a fine view over the Channel, all for £4 including a tip.
I've had an old IC32E (bought at a silent key junk sale as a "non-worker") on the side of the work bench for some time. I'd convinced myself it had a relay fault in the external power/internal battery switching area. Symptoms were right and matched the diagnosis by looking at the circuit diagram. However, the relay is a "special" and I can't find a form, fit, and function replacement. Not wanting to mess the job up, I left it to the side pending finding a relay. I took the opportunity today to speak to one of the Icom engineers and he confirmed this was a known failure mode on this radio (the set is 20 years old so I can hardly complain). In the end, I decided to rework the circuit to replace the relay with diodes. The physical size is such I could deal with this (despite my dexterity issues). The radio now works a treat and will serve as a reminder of its previous owner, who was a good friend of mine.
"Senior management" has returned from a weekend in Butlins (Bognor Regis) with 4000 Brownies. Her weekend was "eventful". Lots of travel sickness, horizontal rain, etc. Add to that a delayed and extended journey home and she was ready for a glass of red wine tonight.
What do I say when she asks if I've had a good weekend ;-)
|24 Oct 09||Soldersmoke
A few weeks ago, just before the RSGB Convention, I learned one of my amateur radio heroes, Bill Meara N2CQR, would not, after all, be attending the Convention. This was a great disappointment, as I'd suggested the Convention Committee invite Bill. However, I was asked to arrange a "Video Conference" with Bill to replace his live appearance. After a few Skype calls to Bill, all was arranged (including a "fall back" pre-prepared video in case of failure of the technology on the day).
To my great relief, the technology worked and Bill delivered an excellent presentation which captivated the audience.
Bill has written Soldersmoke- a Global Adventure in Radio Electronics. It is mix of an amateur radio biography, a record of an (essentially) non-engineer's experiences of learning the technology of radio, all set against the back drop of the 1960s/70s etc. Bill is more-or-less my age and it is interesting to see how some of his early experiences mirror my own- albeit that I followed a technical route into engineering, whereas Bill......... well, I will leave you to read the book.
I hope Bill can make next year's convention and I, at last, get a chance to meet him.
Some weblinks related to the above:
|22 Mar 09||A Blog is Born.
At long last I've succumbed to the idea of a blog. I've configured the set up of my home network so that I can easily add to my Blog from either my main PC or my laptop.
Other things today.
I've been playing with "Twitter". I'm not convinced it is the sort of thing I like but time will tell. My Twitter name is G8OSN. I've not succumbed to linking my 'phone to Twitter yet!