The Kiwi DX un-group

Kiwi DX groupThe Kiwi DX group was, and now even more so is, an un-group.

In the same way that some IT cliques have un-cons instead of conferences.

The premise is that you have more of the social and less of the conference with a strong focus on community and learning.

The Kiwi DX group was for the most part just a mailing list run by a few different folks over the years. When I first became a ham it was run by Bill, ZL3NB who is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

The Kiwi DX mailing list bounced it’s last email some time in 2016 and although another mailing list is giving ZL DXers somewhere to blow off steam, it’s just not the same.

I miss the un-group-ness of the old list and the eclectic mix of folks who posted regularly even though the occasional flame war threatened to undo the very fabric of time itself.

While the group was essentially a random mob of hams rather than an organised club the mailing list did spawn some great collaborative efforts. The special even station ZM90DX that ran for a full year and crowd funding donations for some DXpeditions in the few short years I was an un-member come to mind.

This is obviously a bit of reminiscing on my part. I found some old emails that jogged my memory but that’s not my only intention, it’s also a bit of a sneaky shot at preserving a tiny little bit of amateur radio history.

The Kiwi DX group, being the un-group it is, has never had a website of it’s own. That hasn’t stopped a fair number of ZL Dxers using links to Lee, ZL2AL’s website that hosts the one ‘official’ mention of the group which is here: http://www.zl2al.com/kiw-dx-group/

Lee was another most excellent gentleman who sadly became Silent Key mid 2015. Lee created the KiwiDX logo at the top of this post and adorns quite a few ZL QSL cards.

Lee’s son is keeping the lights on over at http://www.zl2al.com but just in case it does fall into the cracks I’ve taken a copy of the little sliver of DX history and included the page contents below which is the sum total of the Kiwi DX Group web presence.

“The Kiwi DX Group is a group of avid DXers that formed in the late 1990s. The logo originated from the magazine NZDXR edited by ZL2AL. Although the magazine ceased publication after nearly 5 years, the bond was formed and Kiwi DXers became a formidable group in the pileups. ZLs are quick to support DXpeditions and a recent “pass the hat” exercise saw the ZLs raise a considerable amount of money to become a sponsor and support the upcoming FT5ZM Amsterdam Island DXpedition 2014”

In the spirit of the Kiwi DX un-group I’d encourage any ZL ham who’s fond of a bit of late night DX to use the Kiwi DX logo created by Lee on their QSL card or drop it on their qrz.com page.

We’ll see if we can have have the Kiwi DX group survive another 20 years even without the mailing list.

73, Chris
ZL3LF

17,000km on a rubber ducky

I was out walking the dog, as you do, with my trusty Yaesu VX6 in hand this evening.

I tried to raise some locals for a chin-wag on a couple of repeaters and got the silent treatment so went for plan ‘B’ and started scanning some local services channels.

17,748 km or so Google says

After listening for a wee while to some linesmen dealing with a power pole fire (not related to the big CHCH fires recently) I got bored and thought I’d go a bit lower down the spectrum.

Basically I started listening a bit below 500 khz and scanned upwards from there.

The squelch broke for the the local broadcast AM stuff you’d expect, along with some big noise sources in the 80m band and a local ham rag chewing on 40m who sounded like a duck as the HT only does AM/FM not side band.

Then well into the short-wave broadcast chunk proper I listened to a bit of the 8pm news on Radio New Zealand shortwave service that was thumping in as I plodded along behind the K9/p.

VX6 SWL

Short wave listening with a Rubber Ducky?

After the news I kept on scanning upwards and wound up listening to a movie review of the new Lego Batman movie where the scan stopped on 11.780Mhz.

I assumed it was ABC, the Australian Shortwave service or something else relatively close to home.

Listened for a bit longer to the entertainment news about Angelina Jolie making a movie with her kids you could have knocked me down with a feather when the announcer said it was China Radio International English service!

A good solid S4 – S5 signal into the standard rubber ducky antenna designed for 432/144Mhz.

I didn’t even hold the radio above waist height most of the time, I was just wandering along with it in my hand.

Checking when I got home I found that the transmitter was centred on 11.785 Mhz based in Cerrik, Albania!! That’s almost anti-podal at around 17,000km.

Once again, there might be quite a bit of science in this radio thing but every now and then there’s a wee dusting of magic as well.

fitbit

156bpm max? Hmm.

For the record the dog and I did 6.55 km in a bit over an hour and a quarter. 8,606 steps apparently. I do wonder how many steps the dog took? Quite a few more I’m guessing!

Etomite on php 5.6

This post is on the geeky end of the scale a bit, but might be handy for someone out there in the interwebs.

Back in the mid 00’s I was a big fan of a CMS called Etomite that begat MODX which I still use for some projects. You can read about the death of Etomite and the rise of MODX on wikipedia.

Anyway, I used etomite for an earlier blog site at www.ohmark.co.nz which is the name of an electronics development company I ran from about 1996 till 2004, ish.

When I sold the rights to the then-current products and designs the new owner wasn’t crazy enough to take on the meaningless company name and oddly spent domain so I kept it for my blog.

That blog was used to record progress on a couple of microcontroller projects I was working on at the time and got enough traffic that it was worthwhile putting google ads on the site.

As I was earning one or two cents a week in advertising revenue from the site I kept it online until May last year when I rolled my web servers over to Debian 8 which included PHP 5.6.x.

Unfortunately PHP 5.6 was a bridge to far for Etomite and my efforts were rewarded with a dreaded deprecation error which are quite often journey to no-where to unravel.

Depreated

Deprecated mysql library error in Etomite

I was already running the last version of Etomite released, Version 1.1, and as it was the only site out of a few dozen on that box that did not survive the operating system upgrade I went for the cop-out option and put up a cop-out home page and forgot about it.

cop-out

Cop-out offline message that lasted over a year.

Skip forward to this weekend and I decided to re-visit it as I’m back on the blogging kick again and I still get the odd email about broken links to one of the projects on the site for a CNC stepper motor controller design I posted to some forums.

Long story short, here’s how I fixed up my Etomite install so you can get your crusty old Etomite site working again as well and revel in the y2k feeling of the admin interface.

To silence the error handling, add a new line at the top of index.php:

<?php
error_reporting(E_ALL ^ E_DEPRECATED);
etc...

Then pop down to the executeParser() function and line 605 or there about’s and comment out the handler and reporting calls.

  function executeParser() {
    //error_reporting(0);
    //set_error_handler(array($this,"phpError"));

You should also comment out any other calls to error_reporting in index.php.  I had four of them but I think they were from my original half-hearted attempt to fix the deprecation error in 2015 but they may have been original.

Lastly put an ‘@’ in front of the deprecated mysql_connect statement on line 1323 or just after given you’ve added a new line at the top.

Change:

    if(@!$this->rs = mysql_connect($this->dbConfig['host'], $this->dbConfig['user'], $this->dbConfig['pass'])) {

to be:

    if(@!$this->rs = @mysql_connect($this->dbConfig['host'], $this->dbConfig['user'], $this->dbConfig['pass'])) {

And your Etomite will rise from the ashes, sorta, ish.

Now that you’ve got Etomite running again, shift the website to something else before you go much further.  There are some common open-source components in Etomite that have had long published exploits which could bite you in the proverbial bum if you leave it online.

At the very least make the entire site read-only to protect against the TinyMCE injection issues which surfaced after Etomite last received an update.  I’ve made mine read-only and have an IDS monitoring for file system changes but it is not what I’d call a ‘trusted’ site on the server and I’ll probably chroot it as well.

There was an attempt for a couple of years to get Etomite moving forwards called etofork on github but it seems to have died and if you want a similar CMS toolset MODX is the way to go now, or if your site was a blog you could go where everyone else seems to have and use WordPress.

For my part I’ll probably move the content to this site, as maintaining two blogs is kinda silly, but given my on-again, off-again blogging style that might have to wait another year or so. 🙂

Two years and another revamp

Has it really been two years?  Early in June 2014 I posted about the Nineties wanting their website back and since that re-vamp I’ve only posted one other item to the blog.  Talk about slack.

So now I find myself in August 2016 and re-building the blog again. This time a shift to WordPress along with a cleaner visually light weight template.

I considered scrapping all the old content as some of it was just link-bait for some SEO experiments.  There were even some very dodgy affiliate marketing links in a couple of posts from when I worked at Xtend-Life doing e-commerce work and I was trying to figure out in indexing / SEO impact of overt affiliate links.

After a bit of head-scratching I decided to pull across all the old content kicking and screaming although the link structure has changed and comments are lost so the value is probably marginal. I may even 301 some pages if I find a lot of traffic to some pages, but I’m doubting it. 🙂

On a personal front I’ve had a bit of a change of career in 2016 so I’ve got more time for experimenting and hobbies so I hope to be able to post a bit more regularly than once every two years on the blog but We’ll have to wait and see on that count. I said that a couple of times in older posts and it never really happens.

On the blog topic front I’m back into the R/C model aircraft club scene again again after a break of 15 odd years so there’s another random topic or the mix, just in case you were not already confused enough about my target audience!

The Nineties have been calling

For the last three or four years, possibly more there’s been this niggling little noise in my head every time I looked at my own blog.

It’s not that it’s the most important site I look after, and I really only set it up to test ideas and post the occasional rant but it turns out the 1990’s were indeed calling, asking for the website back.

So here we are, in 2014 and I’ve finally embraced HTML5 and CSS3 for my own site two years after the big ‘5’ became a candidate recommendation of the W3C, and in the year it is set to become the recommended standard for websites across the board.

Hang on, what do you mean? Isn’t HTML5 the standard? HTML 5

Amazingly although a large number of websites use HTML5 for their rendering now and it’s been a buzzword for at least five years it’s not actually a recommended standard yet. The W3C plan indicates that will happen this year. 1

This is the reason you hear website developers bemoaning the state of browser ‘X’ and device ‘Y’ rendering their latest creations. Or at least that’s why you heard those noises if you travel in circles frequented by web developers who like new toys.

So, off I went to themeforest and bought me a shiny responsive template, chopped up the source files and slapped it down on top of MODX without too much pain considering how long I put it off.

So far the result has been pleasing although I need to re-code the blog comments bits as they look horrible and there are some nasty kludges going on in the back room to get my old content to work in the new template.

Once I’ve fixed up the last couple of visual elements I suppose I’ll have to fix the validation of the old content as well but who really does that any more?

So here is it, my first post in the new template. It remains to be seen if it injects some enthusiasm so I start posting regularly again. Only time will tell.

  1. W3C 2014 plan

Should this be forgotten?

A tale of my slightly oblique involvement in transgender employment experiences.

The recent news about the ruling in Europe around the concept of the ‘right to be forgotten’ got me to thinking it was time I did a bit of ego surfing earlier on tonight.

For those not entirely familiar ego surfing is putting your own name into Google or another search engine of your choosing if you are so inclined.

For me it’s somewhat topical I suppose as I’m currently contemplating a change in career and I’m sure some prospective clients or employers will be searching me out and finding all sorts of dregs around the internet.

I know of only four other people on the planet with my name so it’s not like I can even use the ‘Bill Smith’ defence and claim it wasn’t me who did whatever it is that the search engines find attached to my name.

As a curious segue I’m facebook friends with one of the other Chris Hellyar’s who resides in the UK. He too is employed in IT, has a beard and glasses. Small world, apparently.

Book CoverAnyway, I’m ego surfing earlier tonight and there are always lots of hits as I’ve been a netizen for a while now and although I prefer to keep my private parts that way a lot of my club activities and work life is available in bits and bytes somewhere.

Part of my working world is stock photography. You know the stuff; photos of smiling people doing happy things. Photos of books, logs, pins, ducks… Stock photography is the essential furniture which graces the virtual and print media world with images of almost anything you can think of.

I see my images popping up all over the place. Bank websites, book covers, advertising for shoes, travel, health conditions, pet food.

Some of the hits are often obscure and tonight I found one that really caught my attention a listing under my name in the search results for ‘transgender employment experiences’.

After a bit of hesitation I clicked on the link to find a fairly serious bit of literature by a Kyla Bender-Baird with one of my images on the cover no less. Google had found the copyright notice for the cover image a couple of pages into the book.

I’m not fussed to be honest and I’m happy that Kyla’s publishers honoured the copyright terms and credited the image. I do wonder what a prospective employer might thing of that in the search results though, given I have a beard and I like to think I’m a pretty manly sort of figure!

Is this the sort of search result that the complainants in the EU want to have forgotten? I do wonder.

(You can see the preview to the book on google books here. Here is the book publishers page on the book if you wound up here looking for the book!)

One for the Petrol Heads

(Originally Posted 28th Feb 2007 to cpix.co.nz)

Covering bike speedway for the paper a couple of weeks ago, and got this cool shot.

0702117201”Close racing action in the first turn at Moore Park on Sunday as Martin Emmerson of England, Andrew Alridge of Halswell and Craig Ramsey from Hastings all jostle for position in the fourth A grade heat of the Robin Mackinnon Memorial speedway meeting at Moore park on Sunday. Andrew Aldridge was the eventual winner of the Robin Mackinnon Memorial Plate.”

These are 500CC single bangers, on tuned pipes. Tuned for power that is, not tuned for making the neighbours happy while they prune their lilies before green tea at 10 with the Smythe-Joneses.

Off the line they reach about 100km/hr before the first turn, which is only 50m on loose dirt. Not fast, but enough to make it difficult to pan the camera without looking like a silly spinning top.

Just watching the bikes get off the line is an event. Waiting as the bikes line up I’m checking settings on the camera, looking for numbers on the front of the bikes, need local riders for the paper. Checking where the safety marshals and other photographer are standing so I don’t take a portrait of their high-viz jackets instead of a bike, and wondering if I let the cat out before I left home. It all leads to rising adrenaline, and that funny tingling feeling you get when you lick a nine volt battery.

The five bikes are all lined up behind the starting gate, and tension is building, the riders scuff their boots through the loose top layer of clay. I assume to get a kick off on the ground to help with the launch, or because they play cricket as well, I’m not sure.

0702117298The arena announcers are talking about how Jim wearing number 12 has come back well this year from an ingrown toenail, and the cousin of number 17 once had a horse that was lame. It really doesn’t matter what they say, it merges in with the barp-barp blap-blap-blap of the miss-timed 5 cylinder idling orchestra like an other-worldly chatter from long lost friends you’ve never met.

The starter drops his hand, or a handkerchief, the speedway equivalent of the yellow lights on a drag tree. The five pot band leaps from oddly timed acid jazz tempo to roaring death metal faster than I can shell fresh peas, which is pretty quick I’ll have you know.

The tingle down my spine is now more of a sizzling as adrenaline and the five cups of coffee I had for breakfast leap to attention and fire off a 21 gun salute in my synapses.

1000th of a second, F/4.0 Don’t change the settings. Centre focus point on my man, Number 1, Andrew Alridge. Half press the shutter button, focus tracking.

The wild animals are left clawing at the fence for no more than a second, the fence lifts, and they burst free. Roaring and snorting towards the waiting corner, like 2 tonnes of prime beef in a Spanish village.

Don’t take any photos till the day-glow of the first safety marshal blurs past the lens. He’s standing closer to the action than me, but at least he has a red flag, the bikes will stop for him. All I could do would be to throw six grand worth of camera gear and hope it takes one of them out.

A blur of orange and plumbers butt-crack dances through the now wildly shaking viewfinder. Press the shutter button full down, get some photos. The camera fires off the images, clack clack clack.

Concentrate. Zoom back, keep some space to the left side of the frame, number one, white vest, blue leathers, centre focus point. Clack Clack Clack.

As the bikes slide past I can feel them more than see them. The view I have though the viewfinder is odd, constrained and disturbingly close to the action. The thumping, vibrating sensation in the core of my body is more real, believable. The sound of the five bikes on the first corner while they are bunched up is thunderous, and resonates off the wooden walls around the track. Clack Clack Clack.

The caffeine and hormones are messing with my nerves and and possibly my judgement, I’m sure it’s moments like these people agree to join pyramid schemes to pawn off odd products on unsuspecting friends. I think I got a good one on that pass, I’m sure they were close together this time. Finger off the shutter button.

The left side of my face is blasted by fine clay dust from the passing cacophony. I stopped ducking three races ago, they remove all the stones from the track, don’t they?

0702117222At least one of the bikes is running castor oil, a shot of sickly sweet exhaust fumes, mixing with dust and sweat.

By the time the riders come back my way, seventeen seconds later, they are spread all over the place, I half-heatedly rattle off some more shots in their direction. Three more laps to go.

5 minutes till the next race. Get my next fix.

Good thing I’m not a petrol head, I could get hooked!

ANZAC Day, 2013 Edition

25th of April is ANZAC day in New Zealand. I wandered down to Leeston for the local parade as I normally do and as well as taking our Daughter down so she could march with the Girl Guides I dragged the camera along for the ride.

There’s nothing spectacular about that at all, I’ve taken the camera along to a number of ANZAC parades, Dawn services, wreath laying ceremony’s and to be honest probably a few letter openings as well when I used to work for the local rag.

Even the really good photo opportunities are the same year in, year out, unless someone does something exceptional. The photos on this page could be from any year in the last ten and you’d probably even have the same people in most of them.

What caught my attention was how many people came to the local parade this year. Every twelve months the gathering seems to get bigger here in rural Canterbury and the crowd is more varied every time as well.

Even some folks with peculiar political leanings who I’d have thought would avoid anything with a whiff of military involvement came this year to lend their support, and to remember.

Remembrance was the theme of the local mayor’s speech this year, and it’s that which seems to resonate so well with many in attendance, including myself, who have not lived through any of the hardship of our forbears.

It’s just an observation and I don’t aim to over analyse, glorify or make much of it. I thought I’d just share the unspoken observation with the ones I made via the lens today.

It’s been a while.

It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, it’s just that I keep on convincing myself I was too busy to say it. Or something like that.

Since I last posted lots has happened that’s noteworthy in my world, so I feel a little guilty for not saying at least something.

In the Online marketing / SEO world two cute black & white animals wreaked havoc on my working days. Penguin and Panda had a very real affect on the bottom line at work and for reasons that I’m struggling to understand our reaction to these changes has not been as swift as previous algorithm changes.

We use to roll with the punches but now we’ve managed to institutionalise slow somehow.

I think we’re finally getting some progress but the last eight or so months have been a bit weird. I’m sure describing the inner workings of my workplace here is not appropriate so suffice to say that after a great deal has been said and done there has been a great deal more said than done.

On the home and hobby front I got my amateur radio license about thirty years after first studying for it. I’ve been enjoying being a ham and probably should have done it long ago.

I’m a geek at heart and ham radio is one of the oldest forms of ‘geek’ around. That and it fits in better with my spare time and although you can easily burn large piles of cash on radio gear it doesn’t cost you anything to own once it’s on the desk.

That’s in contrast to the motorbike which was costing me $1,000 a year even if I didn’t ride the thing in insurance and registration costs.

So in 2012 I said goodbye to my trusty Yamaha FJ1100. It actually felt like cutting a body part off to be honest but I was never much of a solo rider and the group of folks I used to ride with have dispersed and moved on to different things. It had got to the point where I’d only put a few hundred k’s on the clock between Warrants on the bike.

Kate and I spent a lot of time on that bike and in the 15 years I owned the beast spent over 150,000 k’s trundling around Aotearoa. Fond memories but I’m not sure if I’ll buy another bike.

My last fling was to the March Hair in 2012. I really enjoyed the ride and traveling back through the Mackenzie was immensely cathartic having spent too much time working and not enough living it was a relief just do live for the journey.

The down side was that the rally itself was strangely depressing and catching up with friends who have become distant physically and emotionally in a contrived social setting in less than perfect conditions was awkward. Smalltalk was difficult and although I had a good time while I was there I can’t recall much about it without looking at the photos. Maybe I’m turning into an old fart?

Don’t get me wrong though, some of the great people we’ve met over the years from the seat of the bike are still our best friends it’s just that the friendships have sustained far better than my love of the bike it would seem.

I suppose a 2-year catch-up can’t be complete without mention of the earthquakes here in Canterbury as well. There is nothing that I can write that has not already been written though.

We had little real damage out our way and where I work was only 6k’s from the epicentre of the fatal February 2011 aftershock which changed so much in Canterbury.

Unfortunately having little damage doesn’t get you away from the weird that is dealing with insurance companies and EQC. I hope to be clear of that this year. Maybe.

My place of work despite having a loathing of cute animals spawned from Google HQ has survived the earthquakes and managed a modicum of growth since then so I count myself lucky compared to many who lost so much in the aftermath of the wobbly ground.

Well. I’m sure there is something else that’s happened since March 2011, but at least now I can tell folks who ask why I’ve not posted to my blog for a while that I have indeed put digits to keyboard. I might even get back in the habit, but don’t hold your breath.

Do you want me as a customer or not?

I just had to assume the rant position on this one. I just had the worst web site usability experience ever. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. The worst website usability experience in over a week. A month at the outside.

I signed up for a free trial of an online software solution, as you do, and wanted to ask the customer service department if they supported PayPal as a payment method as that’s my preferred mode of operation for online stuff. Seems to fit well: online service, online payment.

Contact form

The unbelievable, stupid contact form

Off to the contact form I go. The US 1800 was unattended as it’s out-of-hours right now but there was what I thought would be a helpful link to ‘Contact Sales’. Man, was I wrong.

If you’re running a company, what comes first? Getting the customer to engage with you, or nit-picking at them to fill out stupid forms? Hands up all those who say filling out forms is the way to go. Back of the class, all of you…

The helpful contact form in this case had morphed into 12 mandatory fields, with a particularly annoying pop-up on submission when you didn’t fill in a relatively irrelevant bit of information. What’s up with these people?

At least there was some gratification to be had though. Their website has one of those nifty semi-anonymous feedback tools, which as it happens was not written by a usability challenged developer and let me pen an abbreviated version of this rant right there.

This gaff was after I was already annoyed at having to supply credit card info to get access to the free trial in the first place, which is another really odd synthetic hurdle to put in the way of prospective customers.

To slip sideways into sports jargon their website is almost an own goal, and if it weren’t for the excellent quality of the product these two niggles would definitely count as three strikes.

Mandatory fields

You must be kidding. Mandatory fields a plenty!

I got this far down the article thinking I wouldn’t name the website, but what the heck, this might serve as a review of sorts for some people: The service in question is GoToAssist Express.

I’ve been evaluating their remote support tool against a few of their competitors and it is head and shoulders better than many of the ones I tried and at nearly half the price of the elephant in the market it’s very good value.

I’ll be purchasing a subscription for work despite their website, not because of it. Maybe they were growing too fast and felt they could reduce the growing pains by annoying prospective customers?

Rant off.