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The Magic Bullet (uh Packet) for Remote Computers- Wake Up on LAN

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You have remote computers in you house, you don’t need to have them running all the time, but when you do need them you don’t want to have to go over to the remote location to turn them on.

How do you remotely turn-on a computer from power off state?

You can read a previous article on this site on how to turn a PC “Clunker” into a usable part of your home computer assets.

For example, using FreeNas and a clunker PC (a PC headed for the trash) with only a Hard drive and a CD-ROM drive (no keyset or monitor needed) you can turn this Clunker into a useful member of society.

For example, a home network can benefit, at least, from centralized NAS (Network Attached Storage).  Beyond this FreeNas can server up a Torrent service as well as FTP, iSCSCI, and a bunch of other useful network services that you can use on you home network.

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Written by frrl

January 24, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Wrapping your mind around SWR – the perfect match

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swr-reflected-forwardLast night I was listening to a couple of guys try to wrap their minds around SWR.  Very interesting.

New hams are seemingly after “the perfect match”.  An antenna tuner will make your radio happy but it provides no improvement to the natural resonance of the antenna nor the line losses of the transmission line.

And really, is a 2:1 or 3:1 match really that bad?  At a 3:1 match (depending on line loss) with a 100W transmitter you may only lose 20 watts in reflected power.  What is the difference between 100 Watts and 80 Watts at the receiving station?

On a modern radio, 1 S-Unit is 6DB.  A doubling of power is 3 DB.  So, to move an S-Meter at a receiving station 1 S-Unit one would need to quadruple the power.  So, given this, your 3:1 SWR taking your 100 W down to 80 W is not going to make any detectable difference – as long as your tuner keeps your solid-state rig happy by fooling it into thinking SWR is 1:1

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Written by frrl

October 27, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Emergency Preparedness: 30 ft fiberglass mast and base for $40

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Emergency Preparedness: 30 ft fiberglass mast and base for $40

Need an emergency 30ft fiberglass mast, base, and stakes for $40?  Read on.

mastguy_kitThe Antenna Mast Guy

If you travel to hamfests in the Midwest maybe you have seen the “mast guy” or the “pole guy”.  This guy has been traveling around to hamfests (according to him) for the past five years selling this stuff.

He always has good sales.  He has the right product at the right price in the right market with customers lined up to buy.

I am not sure what the original use of these were, or where he got these from – but he always seems to have a trailer load full of them.  He will mix and match whatever you want.

What you can get for $20

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Written by frrl

September 20, 2009 at 7:18 am

Fun with FreeNAS – iSCSI – When a local disk is not local

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Read our related posting first –

NAS for Clunkers: How to turn that old PC into a high tech Network Storage, Web Server, and Torrent Server

“iSCSI uses TCP/IP (typically TCP ports 860 and 3260). In essence, iSCSI simply allows two hosts to negotiate and then exchange SCSI commands using IP networks.

By doing this iSCSI takes a popular high-performance local storage bus and emulates it over wide-area networks, creating a storage area network (SAN). Unlike some SAN protocols, iSCSI requires no dedicated cabling; it can be run over existing switching and IP infrastructure.

As a result, iSCSI is often seen as a low-cost alternative to Fibre Channel, which requires dedicated infrastructure.”


The Further Adventures….

Further adventures with FreeNAS running on a PC Clunker tucked away in the basement…

I decided to try to get iSCSI to work in FreeNAS.  Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 has built-in support for iSCSI.

What is iSCSI?

What is iSCSI?  In a few words, iSCSI is the SCSI protocol over an IP network.

And what is SCSI?  SCSI is a protocol that a computer can use to talk to peripherals of all kinds.

The Apple Mac used SCSI a long time ago while PC people were fumbling with IRQ’s and DMA settings to get their peripherials to work.

SCSI is easy and Apple CEO Steve Jobs made a good choice to use SCSI attached peripherals for the Mac back in 1984.

What can iSCSI do for you?

So, enough of that.  What can iSCSI and FreeNAS do for you?  What it can do is make a chunk of storage on a network look like a local disk on your PC.  Why would you want to do this?  Keep reading.

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Written by frrl

August 25, 2009 at 6:59 am

NAS for Clunkers: How to turn that old PC into a high tech Network Storage, Web Server, and Torrent Server

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Life for your old PC

What to do with that old PC.  What to do – what to do – what to do?  How about using it for a NAS device?

NAS is “Network Attached Storage”.  Better to use that PC for NAS than throwing it in the trash.  NAS requires only the most minimal PC resources to serve up Terabytes of storage and provide a huge number of other services across a network.

And what could be better than “free”?


The goal of this posting is simply to get you to look at some free software.  The software is called FreeNAS and it can do some amazing things – for Free, and on a PC headed for the trash.

Bottom line on NAS is that it’s storage on the network.  It’s storage on the network that can be made available in a multiplicity of ways to just about any operating system (Mac, Windows, UNIX)

What do you need to set this up?

Here is the great part, there is an option of FreeNAS that does not require you to install any software at all.  FreeNAS can boot off of a Live-CD.  Configuration can be stored on a USB stick.  No software to install at all.

Doesn’t need keyboard, mouse, or monitor

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Written by frrl

August 23, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Second Date: Review of the Degen DE1123 DSP AM/FM/SW Pocket Radio with 1GB MP3 Player & Recorder

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Second Date:
Review of the Degen DE1123 DSP AM/FM/SW Pocket Radio with 1GB MP3 Player & Recorder

Read our related posting – Review of the DEGEN DE1123


Cheap Date

This a follow-up to my experience with the Degen DE1123 “do it all” AM/FM/SW radio, recorder, and MP3 player.

Now that I have had this “device” for a few weeks, here are some further thoughts and observations.

Overall, this is a very cheaply made device.  The slide switch on the left hand side is probably the weakest of the controls.  It is hard to move and position at the right setting.  The plastic case is thin and does not have a good feel.

The device packs a great deal of capability.  It can “do it all” for $79.  Here is what I use it for.


  1. I found that it is an excellent voice recorder.  It has a build in Microphone and records at the proper bit rate for voice recording quality balanced against recorded file size.  I use it extensively for recording conference calls which I attend daily for 3 to 5 hrs a day.  I did not expect to use it for this purpose – and that it works as well as does is a surprise.
  2. I use it to listen to recorded audio books.  I read or listen to a couple of books a week.  The DEG1123 is better than my undocked Apple iPod Touch since the DEGEN has a much better speaker than the internal speaker in the iPod Touch. 
  3. Of course, the prime use for which I purchased the DEGEN was to time shift radio programs which were not available as podcasts and for which I am not able to arrange “appointment listening”.
  4. The ability to record 70 hrs of audio either directly from the radio (AM/FM/SW) or from the built-in microphone is the real real value of this $79 device.
  5. Transferring files to/from a PC with the supplied USB cable is fast and easy
  6. The AM/FM/SW radio section is acceptable.  I live near Chicago with power-house radio stations.  So reception on this radio is not a problem.
  7. With the supplied 3 x 650 ma batteries the run time is about 18 hrs.
  8. My biggest gripe is the audio record volume.  When recording directly from the radio the actual recorded audio when played back is only 1/2 the volume level when recording.  The only way to get around this is to plug the headphones in when recording and crank it up.  Alternatively, post process the audio with a free open source program like Audacity and increase the volume.

When “Cheap” is better than “Insanely Great”

As odd as it might seem the real value of this radio is that it is cheap and almost “disposable”.  That is, I would never think of taking my $200+ Apple iPod Touch for a bike ride – but I will take the DEGEN.  The batteries in the DEGEN are 3xAAA – you can change them on the fly – not so with the Apple iPod Touch with its internal proprietary battery pack.  The playback on an undocked iPod Touch through its internal speaker – can’t compare with the DEGEN front mounted large speaker.

The face-down smash test.  I accidentally dropped the DEGEN 1123 from a height of 4 feet on to a hardwood floor.  The DEGEN landed perfectly face-down causing the battery compartment cover to fly off.  The 3 x AAA batteries were ejected and rolled across the floor.  I retrieved the batteries and put them back in the compartment.  It radio worked.

Bottom line, sometimes cheap and disposable with good capability is better than “Insanely Great”.

Go buy a DEGEN 1123 and enjoy a cheap date.

Here is the Manual for the DEGEN 1123 –


Written by frrl

July 31, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Small Transmitting Loop Tuners from MFJ

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Small Transmitting Loop Tuners from MFJ

MFJ-936B_image_frontThis is from the “I’m not paying attention department”.  When I wrote the article on the AES IsoLoop I didn’t know that MFJ Enterprises has a wide selection of small transmitting loop antenna tuners.

The biggest challenge in building the small transmitting loop is not the wire loop – it’s getting the tuning capacitor.  The images I posted in the AEA Isoloop article showing homebrew loops showed that most of the capacitors used in those homebrew loops were “ham fest specials” or from the junk box.

MFJ Enterprises solves the problem of getting the capacitor for your loop antenna.  They have an number of loop tuners from $160 to $260.

The $160 model covers 160m to 10m and handles 50 watts.  The $260 model which also covers 160m to 10m can handle 300 Watts and has a built-in SWR Meter as well as loop current meter. I don’t know what significant parts are inside the $160 model other than the tuning capacitor but $160 seems like a lot of money for a box with a capacitor and a few other parts and no tuning indicator (loop current meter).

I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for the AES Isoloop.  It was about $329.  So. for another $70 or so what I got in addition to the (expensive) tuning capacitor is the stepper motor which allows remote tuning.  Why remote tuning?  Watch out for the RF!

RF Exposure in Loop Tuning

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Written by frrl

June 7, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Global Internet Distribution of Cultural Media: how Internet Radio was oh so 5 minutes ago

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Global Internet Distribution of Cultural Media:
How Internet Radio was oh so 5 minutes ago

vTuner_AIRJ01F_image1Aluratek USB Internet Radio Jukebox

While at the local Frys’s Electronics I saw a bunch of Internet radios from Aluratek. Most of the models were in the $100 price range which is typical of appliance design internet radios.

However, there was one device available for $29.  This was advertised as a USB Internet Radio Jukebox.  A recent issue of Monitoring Times had a review of this device.  The reviewer in Monitoring Times was not too impressed with the USB Internet Radio.  My guess from the review was that what you really got in the Aluratek USB Internet Radio Jukebox was a standard USB memory stick with software.  So, I passed it by.

On the way home I was wondering what Internet source was feeding the Aluratek radios.  I knew about Reciva as a major site that feeds some Internet radios.  But what about the Aluratek?  Did Reciva feed Aluratek?

Oh Grasshopper

Well, who cares anyway.  I have all the internet radio I can deal with.  I have the Apple iPod Touch with all those great application plus I know about Reciva.  Between the iPod Touch applications and Reciva I have everything I need.  Oh Grasshopper.

“Quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand.” The young Caine tries and fails. “When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave. -Master Kan

When I got home I did a bit of research.  What I discovered was that vTuner feeds Aluratek appliance Internet radios.  My conclusion was based on the fact that I discovered that the vTuner site cites Aluratek as a device maker partner.

vTuner Internet Media feed and receiver application

Go to the vTuner site and what do you find?  For $29 – as a one-time fee – you can download software to your PC to get access to Internet distribution of media.  So I suspect that the Aluratek USB internet radio is some version of this software on a traditional USB memory stick.

vTuner allows a 15 day free trial of the software.  So, I gave it a shot.  This is some really great stuff.

The differentiators – Reciva vs vTuner

At the time of this writing Reciva is pure audio.  vTuner adds video to the audio offering and tight integration with Real Player.  This is some really great stuff.

vTuner_TVCollegeRedefining the offering.  Internet Radio to Internet Media

At some point one needs to redefine the language with regard to these devices.  These are not Internet “radios” ( one infers a limitation to audio) but these are Internet media distribution services in the broadest sense of the word.  These devices collapse the traditional distinction between radio and television as differentiated by the appliance needed to receive these types of media.

Basically, anything that can be digitized, coded, and pushed down an internet pipe is fair game.  This includes radio (audio), television (video), web cams, scanners, and everything else that can be tuned into bits and recovered at the other end.

vTuner_RealLibraryA real win with Real Player

There is another real win with vTuner over Reciva.  And that real win is the tight integration with Real Player.

vTuner integrates with Real Player and offers a feature to record just about anything you are listening to or watching.  Real Player automatically tags the media that you are listening to or watching  and places it into its media library on your PC. This is really a great feature.

There are some media streams that are protected and can not be recorded.

“Enough is never enough” – Ferengi Rules of Acquisition

Here’s a partial summary of what you get with vTuner not in Reciva

Television (including distance learning)

There are many categories of television stations.  Some of the categories are College, Government, Public, Religious, Sports, variety, and a number of other categories.  Nearly one half of the 49 College television programming is Distance Learning. If you are into ad hoc or ala carte education then you might enjoy this

Web Cams

There are also a large number of web cams.  Want to see the live traffic in Hong Kong or Belfast Northern Ireland? Then take a look.  Want to look at Burbon Street in New Orleans? That is there as well.  Do you want to see research experiments in progress?  How about the Pitch Drop Experiment in Brisbane Australia?  Don’t know what it is?  Then find out.


You can listen to about 100 scanners across the United States and a few across the world.

Amateur Radio Repeaters

At the time of this writing, there is one Amateur Radio Repeater streaming audio to vTuner


The term “Internet Radio” applied to infrastructure systems such a vTuner is a misnomer.  The general public hearing the term “Internet Radio” associates and infers the traditional meaning of radio with all its limitations.  The limitation of audio associated with ‘Radio” is no such limitation of Global Internet Media Distributors like vTuner.

So for now, go and download the free 15 day trial of vTuner and have some fun.

Watch for our follow-up posting on the societal and cultural implications on importing and exporting cultural media.


Here is another USB-based device

It’s a good bet that all of these USB devices are nothing but some version of the vTuner software made to run on a traditional USB memory stick.  The advantage is that all the configuration and saved stations are on the USB stick and can taken from PC to PC.  The downside, is that you have another device to deal with.  vTuner software is $19.95 at the time of this writing.  The question would be – If you buy the vTuner software on how many PC’s can you install the software?  If the answer is only one, then it’s probably better to have the USB stick.

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Written by frrl

May 17, 2009 at 8:59 am

Terrestrial Broadcast Radio: The end of an era?

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Terrestrial Broadcast Radio: The end of an era?


If you are a regular reader of this blog it should be no secret – I have an Apple iPod Touch and I am diggin’ it.  Before you spend several hundred dollars on a Wi-Fi radio you might want to see what the Apple iPod Touch – or some of your existing technology – can offer you.

What is Wi-Fi Radio?

“Imagine listening to more than 5,000 radio stations from all over the world in a radio in your home, office or hotel.

Internet radio stations offer an endless audio entertainment. Some of it is a simultaneous broadcast from NPR, ESPN, the BBC and so on. Others are Internet-only stations that serve both mainstream and niche tastes. The variety is staggering, all of it is free, and it is largely uncluttered by ads.

You tune into radio shows just like you have for decades, but the antennas of the radios are internal Wi-Fi that connect to a wireless home network. The reception is excellent: the wi-fi radio can pull in thousands of Internet radio stations from all over the world, without a single pop of static. It can also play podcasts, a copious source of free, generally ad-free prerecorded audio programs. The radio comes with several Internet stations already listed in the menus, sorted either by genre (Comedy, Kids, Latin, Hip-hop and so on) or by geographical location. At the service platform – you can easily add new stations of your choosing.”

What’s at the Apple Application Store for Wi-Fi Radio?

ipodRadio_iHeartRadioThere are an amazing number of free applications in the App Store for the iPhone and the iPod Touch that can get you linked into Wi-Fi Radio.  Of course, for the Touch, you need to have a home wireless network.  If you are going to use the Touch as a Wi-Fi Radio appliance surrogate then get a docking station.  My 50 Watt iPod Docking station was $50 – a good buy.

These are just a few of the Application that can link you into WiFi Radio

  • Shoutcast
  • Stitcher
  • iHeartRadio
  • FlyCast
  • NPR Mobile

All of these applications are free to download and use.  These applications provide you the capability to listen to literally thousands of radio stations.  The challenge of all of these applications is how to organize and present thousands of radio stations and internet streams in a usable form for search and selection.

ipodRadio_ShoutCastSome of the applications organize the stations by genre; some by city then genre; some apps organize by categories (sports, technology, world news); one application is focused on public radio broadcasts and archives of those broadcasts.  Some applications will tell you how many people are listening to the stream.

A clever feature in iHeartRadio is the “Shake It” city and genre selector.  You “Shake it” and two lists roll – and where she stops – nobody knows.  You can choose to listen to that city and that genre of try your luck again.

The benefit of the iPod Touch – small size and portability

No matter what audio stream you choose, the real advantage of the Apple iPod Touch is the small size and portability.  Choose your favorite station and listen via the built-in speaker or use the ear buds.  In either case, you can carry the Touch in your pocket or place it on the table where ever you are.  The device is small and portable.  You can’t do that with the Wi-Fi radio pictured at the top of this posting.

No Apple iPod Touch?  Then use your PC or Mac

If you don’t have a small portable device on which you can listen to Wi-Fi radio then the next best thing is to use your PC or Mac desktop or laptop.  Again, no use to buy the $159 Wi-Fi radio appliance.

The big boys

ipodRadio_RecivaLogo The grand daddy web site of streaming radio/audio stations is Reciva.

You can get to Reciva via this link –

Registration is free.  You can listen without registering.  If you register you can build a list of favorite stations and listen with one click rather than searching for the station each time you go to the site.

How many audio streams are on Reciva?

Listen to any station, anywhere in the World  Reciva brings the world of Internet radio into your home. We provide access to an extremely diverse range of Internet radio stations from around the world, with broadcasts from nearly every country on the planet. We provide both live and on-demand (“listen again”) content and we support Real Audio, Windows and MP3 streams.”

Site Information: Our directory contains 16747 stations (and 21242 on-demand streams) in 280 locations and 67 genres.  86,145 registered users.

Reciva by Genre’s

|60s |70s |80s |90s |Adult |Adult Contemporary |Alternative |Ambient |Bluegrass |Blues |Bollywood |Christian |Christian Contemporary |Classic Rock |Classical |College |Comedy |Contemporary |Country |Dance |Discussion |Drum & Bass |Easy |Electronica |Experimental |Folk |Gospel |Greek |Hip Hop |Indian |Indie |Indie Rock |Jazz |Jungle |Kids |Latin Hits |New Age |News |News Talk |News Updates |Oldies |Pop |Public |Punk |R&B |Rap |Reggae |Religious |Rock |Soft Rock |Spanish |Sports |Talk |Top 40 |Unknown |Varied |World |World Africa |World Asia |World Caribbean |World Europe |World Mediterranean |World Middle East |World Tropical

Reciva By Location – Shortwave listeners, please take note

|Afghanistan |Albania |Algeria |American Samoa |Andorra |Angola |Anguilla |Antigua and Barbuda |Argentina |Armenia |Aruba |Australia |Austria |Azerbaijan |Bahamas |Bahrain |Bangladesh |Barbados |Belarus |Belgium |Belize |Benin |Bermuda |Bhutan |Bolivia |Bosnia and Herzegovina |Brazil |British Virgin Islands |Brunei |Bulgaria |Burkina Faso |Burma |Burundi |Cambodia |Cameroon |Canada |Cape Verde |Cayman Islands |Chad |Chile |China |Colombia |Comoros |Cook Islands |Costa Rica |Cote d’Ivoire |Croatia |Cuba |Cyprus |Czech Republic |Democratic Republic of the Congo |Denmark |Dominica |Dominican Republic |Ecuador |Egypt |El Salvador |Eritrea |Estonia |Ethiopia |Europe |Falkland Islands |Faroe Islands |Federated States of Micronesia |Fiji |Finland |France |French Guiana |French Polynesia |Gabon |Gaza Strip |Georgia |Germany |Ghana |Gibraltar |Greece |Grenada |Guadeloupe |Guam |Guatemala |Guernsey |Guinea |Guinea-Bissau |Guyana |Haiti |Holy See (Vatican City) |Honduras |Hong Kong |Hungary |Iceland |India |Indonesia |Internet Only |Iran |Iraq |Ireland |Isle of Man |Israel |Italy |Jamaica |Japan |Jersey |Jordan |Kazakhstan |Kenya |Kiribati |Korea |Kuwait |Kyrgyzstan |Laos |Latvia |Lebanon |Liechtenstein |Lithuania |Luxembourg |Macau |Macedonia |Madagascar |Malawi |Malaysia |Maldives |Mali |Malta |Martinique |Mauritania |Mauritius |Mayotte |Mexico |Middle East |Moldova |Monaco |Mongolia |Montserrat |Morocco |Mozambique |Namibia |Nepal |Netherlands |Netherlands Antilles |New Caledonia |New Zealand |Nicaragua |Nigeria |Norfolk Island |Northern Mariana Islands |Norway |Oman |Pakistan |Palau |Panama |Paraguay |Peru |Philippines |Poland |Portugal |Puerto Rico |Qatar |Republic of Korea |Republic of the Congo |Reunion |Romania |Russia |Rwanda |Saint Helena |Saint Kitts and Nevis |Saint Lucia |Saint Pierre and Miquelon |Saint Vincent and the Grenadines |Samoa |San Marino |Saudi Arabia |Senegal |Serbia and Montenegro |Seychelles |Sierra Leone |Singapore |Slovakia |Slovenia |Solomon Islands |South Africa |South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands |Spain |Sri Lanka |Sudan |Suriname |Swaziland |Sweden |Switzerland |Syria |Taiwan |Tajikistan |Tanzania |Thailand |Togo |Trinidad and Tobago |Tromelin Island |Tunisia |Turkey |Turks and Caicos Islands |Uganda |UK |Ukraine |United Arab Emirates |Uruguay |USA |Uzbekistan |Vanuatu |Venezuela |Vietnam |Virgin Islands |Wallis and Futuna |West Bank |Yemen |Zambia |Zimbabwe

What is the future of Terrestrial Broadcast radio?

So all of this begs the question – What is the future of Terrestrial Radio?

This blog is being written near Chicago, Illinois.  The 50,000 Watt blow torch AM radio station in the area is WLS.  On a business trip to Detroit Michigan I could not hear WLS on a radio near or in Detroit.  Fifty thousand watts and all the infrastructure to produce 50,000 Watts of RF energy could not make the trip 300 miles from Chicago.

But, in the hotel room with wireless internet I was able to listen to WLS in crystal clarity on my laptop – via Reciva.

The New Paradigm

Way back in 1997 Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School wrote a book: “The Innovator’s Dilemma When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail”.

From the work of Christensen came a number of new terms.  Among these were “Disruptive Technology” and “Disruptive Innovation”.

… a disruptive innovation is a technology, process, or business model that brings to a market a much more affordable product or service that is much simpler to use. It enables more consumers in that market to afford and/or have the skill to use the product or service. The change caused by such an innovation is so big that it eventually replaces, or disrupts, the established approach to providing that product or service.

Of course the disruptive technology is the Internet.  And what it disrupts, in this case, is the traditional delivery/distribution mechanism of “Radio”.  The term Radio is now in quotes as the disruptive technology put’s the term into question.  What is radio?

TerrRad_QuoteRaisonWhat do we mean by “Radio”?

It is important to make a distinction between the medium and the message.  Traditionally, these have been conflated.  Ten or twenty years ago when one heard the term “Radio” it generally denoted a delivery mechanism and an appliance that was designed specifically to receive that delivery.  What was delivered was a variety of audio content based on the market served.

So, “radio” mostly signified a form of delivery.  Shortwave Radio was also about delivery and also denoted a special type of content or programming.  You can read the sidebar’s for the special focus on Shortwave Radio.

So what happens when you radically separate content from delivery mechanism?  What happens when you free the content from the constraint of a particular delivery mechanism?


The game changer is all about the opportunity of radical change in distribution and the radical reduction of cost of distribution.  Prior to the public Internet, radio RF was the only viable global delivery mechanism.  Distribution of content by RF can be expensive.  There are huge capital and infrastructure maintenance costs in RF distribution of any content targeted to a global audience.

When I posted the information on the radio station WLW – a 500,000 blow torch –  I found an article with an anecdotal comment that the street lights dimmed with this station went to full power.  That gives you some idea of the power required to run a one-half million watt radio station – the cost of distribution of the stations audio content.

Cost of distribution

With the Internet, what is the cost of distribution?  If WLW wanted to distribute it’s audio content via the internet what would be the ratio of costs of Internet distribution vs distribution via 500,000 Watts of RF?  The difference in cost is staggering.

What happens when the cost of distribution is reduced by many orders of magnitude and all distribution is worldwide by default?

It disrupts markets.  For example, WLS programs to the local Chicago area market within a competitive space of other local radio stations.  But what happens when it is as easy for a listener in Chicago to use an Internet Radio to listen to any radio station in any city in the United States or any city in the World?  The competitive landscape for WLS programming has now changed radically.  Geographic boundaries are erased.  WLS competitors are no longer limited to local radio stations.

The same disruption of distribution is now well known to newspapers and magazines.  Traditional newspapers and magazines are now affectionately known as the “dead tree edition”.  No longer do local newspapers compete only on a local basis only.  A person with a internet connection can view newspapers from a thousand different cities.

Who wants to wait for a magazine to be published on paper and delivered to your door step or the local news stand?  Again, its about distribution – cost and speed.  If I can get the information at the speed of light why would I prefer a delivery mechanism that only delays the information?

And the US Post Office?  The medium on which information rides is slow, cumbersome, and inefficient.  Again, I can send e-mail at the speed of light at nearly zero cost.  The US Post Office will charge me 40+ cents and take days to deliver my message.  What is the future for this business model and service?

New Vision; New Mission; New Goals; New Strategy

Let’s get back to radio.  If the playing field has been leveled on distribution so that no radio station has an advantage on distribution and geographic boundaries are erased then what remains?  Content.

Traditional shortwave radio stations will most likely be at a greater disadvantage than local stations.  The unique programming of traditional shortwave stations could be seen as irrelevant post Cold War. The advent of ubiquitous global communications over the past decade made possible by the internet has made the mystery of other cultures evaporate.  What is the reason for the existence  of shortwave radio?

“Radio” minus its unique distribution mechanism (RF) will collapse into the aggregate category of “content provider”.  These “radio stations” will enter a new competitive landscape along with “television”.  Like “radio” traditional “television” stations separated from their unique mechanism of distribution will also collapse into the aggregate category of “content provider”.  The same for traditional newspaper and magazine publishing – they are all (merely) “content provider’s” when stripped of their unique delivery and distribution mechanisms.

Digital Convergence of all content providers

Once distribution and delivery from all content providers converge in the digital internet pipe there is nothing to distinguish between “radio”, “television”, “newspaper”, “magazine” or anything else that was once distinguished by the method of delivery and specialized appliances for reception.

This creates a new competitive space for all content providers where there was none before.  This will cause all content providers to re/think and re/invent themselves.  At least it will present to them this opportunity.

What business are you in?

For these content/programming providers to redefine themselves might be the key to their survival.  How an organization or company defines itself limits them or positions them for new opportunities.  For example, at the turn of the 20’th century what business were Railroads in?  If Railroads had the idea that they were in the Transportation business as opposed to the Railroad business (=tracks and engines) then how much better would they be positioned at the dawn of aviation.

What about the Oil companies?  Are Oil companies in the oil business or are they in the “Energy business”?  If Oil companies understand themselves as fundamentally in the Energy business then they are well positioned for the future beyond the nations dependence on oil.

The same analogy can be applied to traditional radio stations.  For a radio station – what business is it in?

New Competitors

There will be some surprises.  A classic book on corporate competitive strategy is Michael Porters “Competitive Strategy”.  In that book Porter lays out five competitive forces that determine the intensity of competition of a particular market or industry.  One of those 5 forces is the threat of new entrants.  Some of the barriers to entry of new competitors are: high capital requirements and proprietary technology.

Decades ago the barriers to entry of new competitors into broadcast radio included huge capital requirements.  How much does it cost to build out the infrastructure for a new 50,000 Watt radio station?  Today in 2009, anyone with the technical knowledge of a high school student can set up a audio stream on Shout Cast and make the stream available globally.  Capital cost is negligible and technology is simple and free.  The barriers to entry in this area are nearly erased.

So the surprise might be new competitors that incumbents have never considered.  The same surprise was experienced by traditional brick and mortar bookstores when Jeff Bezos and bust onto the scene in 1995.  The business model of selling books at a discount on-line (enabled by the disruptive technology of the Internet) caught traditional booksellers off guard.  It took them many years to catch up to a competitor who entered the market from outside the traditional bookseller industry.

Ding – What do we do now?

One of my favorite quotes from Apple CEO Steve Jobs is: “I want to put a ding in the Universe”

Well, someone did, and it’s called the Internet.  Probably the most disruptive technology of the 20’th century.


So forget all this.  Let the corporate strategists figure it all out.
Let’s just have some fun listening to the “radio” – or whatever it is now.

If you have an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch – iHeartRadio, ShoutCast, FlyCast, or Stitcher in the App Store – free.
If you have a PC or Mac desktop or laptop – is the hottest game in town.


The sidebar is from this article from a decade ago in Monitoring Times (January 1999) –  To their credit International Broadcasters were thinking about disruptive technologies and re/evaluating what business they were in against a changing and uncertain environment.
A Tuning Point for International Broadcasting: what does the future hold for shortwave.

Clayton Christensen’s web site –

A (old)  classic book on Corporate Competitive Strategy –
Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors (Hardcover) –  Michael E. Porter

One of the best books I have read on how to deal with strategic uncertainty.
The Strategy Paradox: Why committing to success leads to failure (and what to do about it)  by Michael E. Raynor

More on WLW the 500,000 Watt blow torch of  Cincinnati

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Written by frrl

May 14, 2009 at 6:57 am

Review of the Apple iPod Touch: First Date

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Game Changer

If you are a traditional user of mp3 players you should know that Apple has fundamentally changed the game with the Apple iPod Touch. 

The game-changer in the iPod Touch is the presence of WiFi/Internet connectivity that is seamlessly integrated into the device.  This positions the Apple iPod Touch someplace between a traditional mp3 player and the iPhone.  Steve Jobs has called the iPod Touch “training wheels for the iPhone”.  Yes!

Location sensing without GPS

If the WiFi/Internet connectivity was not enough, when connected, the Apple iPod Touch has some clever technology the provides it the capability to determine it’s location – without GPS. 

Location sensing based on your IP address can be scary accurate in some cases.  Your mileage may vary – but for me, the Apple iPod Touch, on the basis of IP address alone, was able to determine my location within 3 houses. 

Location-based determination based on IP address alone is a demonstration of types of information that your Internet service provider can aggregate to find your geographic location.  Folks that believe that they are Internet surfing in anonymity with dynamically assigned IP addresses should take note.

It is also a testament to the innovation of Apple that they have leveraged this capability to make some very smart location-based applications  A couple of these applications are the supplied mapping program and the Google Earth Application.  You can download the Google Earth application for the iPod Touch for free from the App Store.

Touch Screen User Interface

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Written by frrl

April 19, 2009 at 9:13 am

Limited Space Antennas – The Small Transmitting Loop Antenna

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isoloop_aeafullviewThe AEA Isoloop

My basement has a collection of limited space antennas.  They don’t work well in the basement.  Oh yes, I forgot, they are there in the basement in storage.  All these antennas have a story to tell.  They were used, at one time or another, in one of my limited-space or stealth-operating living locations.

The AEA IsoLoop HF Antenna was an antenna I used off the balcony in a Chicago high-rise.  The IsoLoop was a little more stealthy than my Texas Bug Catcher with its 10ft length at about a 45 degree angle hanging over the edge of the balcony within sight of my neighbors.

The AEA IsoLoop is a small loop transmitting antenna that covers 14 Mhz to 30 Mhz continuously tunable.  Being continuously tunable is a good thing and its a bad thing.  It’s a good thing as one antenna can go any where between 20 meters and 10 meters – anywhere.  The bad thing is that it’s tunable and can go any where between 20 meters and 10 meters.  Got that?  It’s tunable – which means you have to make some sort of adjustment for each band on which it operates..  Unlike a multi-band antenna that is resonant on multiple bands at the same time, a small loop antenna, like the screwdriver antenna is resonant on one swath of  frequencies at a time.

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Written by frrl

March 21, 2009 at 5:56 am

The Tarheel Screwdriver Antenna: one up on the Texas Bug Catcher

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The veteran – The Trusty Texas Bug Catcher

tarheel_groundmountrailing1I am not sure how it got it’s name, but if you have a Texas Bug Catcher antenna mounted mobile you are bound to pick up a few – bugs that is.  If you have an air coil then cleaning those bugs out of there could be a chore.

tarheel_groundmountyardMuch safer is to mount the Bug Catcher in a stationary location.  Yes, it is possible and I have gotten good results.  Perhaps it’s overlooked, but a Texas Bug Catcher makes a good portable antenna, limited-space antenna, and a good stealth antenna for those  communities where antennas are considered an eyesore. 

I been using a Bug catcher for more than a decade.  I first used it on a balcony bolted to a steel railing in a Chicago high rise on the 40’th floor – 400 ft up.  When I moved to a location on the ground I used it in the backyard and on camping trips. 

tarheel_groundmountFor portable or backyard use all you need is an 18 inch galvanizedpipedriven into the ground with a sledge  hammer.  Mount the Bug Catcher to the pipe using common mounting hardware you can find at a truck stop or Radio Shack that sells CB mounting hardware (3/8-24 stud)

The Catch to the Bug Catcher

If you take a look at the Bug Catcher you can see the pain points of this antenna – it has taps.  Yes, it’s “continuously tuneable”, you can set the taps any place you want.  But after you have the tap points set – that’s it – those are the taps points you use until you change them.

Pain Points = Tap Points

First, the tap points will be the only ones you can use  until you change them.  Second, finding the tap points can be painful.  Heaven help you if you don’t have an antenna analyzer.  It is going to be a long process of set-and-test until you find the tap points of the center points of the band portions that you want to work.

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Written by frrl

March 15, 2009 at 1:53 am

Play for Free – The Baygen Freeplay Plus AM/FM/SW Radio: yes Virginia, there is a free lunch

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Sometimes you just need to buy stuff just for fun. When the Baygen Freeplay Plus radio came on sale from C-Crane Radio ( ) for $89 including shipping and no tax we could not resist.

The Baygen plus has to be the best eccentric para military, gloom and doom radio you could possibly possess. It seems that the Baygen would add to the ambiance of listing to Coast to Coast AM on broadcast AM. Brother Stair on shortwave, and also Dr. Gene Scott on shortwave. It should be noted that Dr. Gene Scott passed away a few years ago but can still be heard on radio preaching and asking for money.

The Baygen is the optimum listening device for information on flying saucers, alien implants, shadow people, rods, trans-dimensional beings, time-travelers, magnetic therapy, end-time prophecy, and the odd mix of Dr Gene Scotts lectures of biblical theology and flying saucers – all of which makes up much of the Shortwave bands. You will probably find a melted Baygen in the ruins of the David Koresh compound at Waco Texas.

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Written by frrl

March 8, 2009 at 8:19 am

A FM Radio for one-dollar – How is this possible?

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dollar_logo1We love Walmart

On the way out of the Walmart store – right where you check out – the place where smart merchandising people place items for those people who are impulse buyers and those who are unable to delay gratification – I saw a FM Radio for the price of one dollar.  For the exchange of one dollar in United States fiat currency I could have in my possession a FM radio.  Wow.

The radio runs on 2xAAA batteries, came with a earbuds, tunes the whole FM broadcast band, and has a light.  Wow.

The radio runs on 2xAAA batteries, came with a headset, tunes the whole FM broadcast band, and has a light.  Wow.

In a few moments, the prize was mine.

Can’t break old habits.

I have heard people tell stories of when they were a kid they liked to take things apart to see what was inside.  If you are a kid, maybe 5-10 years old, then its fun taking things apart but unfortunately sometimes they did not go back together.  Maybe your parents told you to stop doing this – taking things apart to see how they worked.  But for many kids, myself included, one could not resist taking things apart to see what is inside and what makes it work.

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Written by frrl

February 28, 2009 at 8:06 am

Dematerialize your Linux System: Or, why buy the Taxi when all you need is a ride?

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See our related articles:
Going Virtual-How to Virtualize your Linux/PC Environment
Let the Republic of China Backup your Linux and Windows PC

cloudcomputing_logoIt’s the great chain of related content.  First we suggested that you use Clonezilla to do disaster recovery on your Linux System.  Then we suggested  that you don’t need that – that you should go Virtual instead.  Would you ever trust us or are we just giving you the run around on what do to about your pesky Linux system?

Regarding Linux disaster recovery what problem are we trying to solve?  We are trying to solve a problem that, really, needs to be solved because we may have made an error in judgement.  Or, simply, that we don’t understand things clearly.  What have we not understood – what is the essence of the question that will inform our judgement?

Lets think about this.  We have confused value with hardware.  You need to ask yourself a critical question.  Is Linux about Linux or is Linux about creating value? 

If you answer that Linux is about value – then the hardware and the operating system is a nuisance – you need to make it go away.  Really, you need to transfer the nuisance and the problem to someone else.

Computing in the Cloud

So, now the ultimate solution to your disaster recovery backups and the pesky physical hardware that sits there running Linux – contemplating in-itself when it will surprise you with a disk or other hardware failure – is to think in a new way about why you would want to own any hardware at all. 

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Written by frrl

February 19, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Going Virtual – How to Virtualize your Linux/PC Environment

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vpc_virtualizationBare Metal

There is a term/concept you might hear related to PC’s and operating system.  The term you might hear is “bare metal”.  Bare metal as in installing an operating system on ‘bare metal”.  What does this mean?

This term, bare metal, is only possible because of another term – virtualization.  You might hear the term  “guest operating system”.  A guest operating system runs on a platform that supports virtualization.

So what is virtualization?  In simple terms it means that you have some software that is capable of emulating the hardware of a PC to the point that you can install on operating system on it and have it run as if it was on bare metal. 

So, if you put this all together, bare metal is the real hardware.  Virtualization is the capability to emulate PC hardware in software to the point that you can install an operating system and have it work as if it was bare metal.  The installed operating system in the virtualized environment becomes the guest operating system.  The guest operating system run’s in a virtual machine in the virtualized environment

The really cool thing, is that if you have a nice big server with lots of CPU, memory, disk, and other hardware resources plus reliable software that can create the virtualized environment you can run a lot of guest operating systems on a single server.

Here is a more concise definition of virtualization:

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Written by frrl

February 16, 2009 at 7:43 am

Let the Republic of China Backup your Linux and Windows PC

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cz_linuxlogoIf you find yourself, for whatever reason, using a Linux system at home you will be faced with an issue – How do I back this thing up?  Not just how do I backup my files – that’s easy – how to I backup this whole system?

This posting addresses a specific scenario.  Backup up a Linux system as disaster recovery to get to a known system in case of hard drive failure, massive changes to the operating system that renders it unusable, or simply to have a reference copy of an operating system in a known state or configuration.  Sometimes you want to move an operating system off to another media so you can use the resources (PC, hard drive, etc)  for something else.  All these applications of backup is to backup a complete system – an image backup of a hard drive – not a file-level backup. 

There is a huge difference between a file level backup and an operating system backup.  A file level backup will generally be insufficient to restore a Linux system to usable state in the case of a file system corruption or other disaster.

If you have any doubt as to how complex L/Unix backup can get, please read this excellent article: Backing up Linux and other Unix-like operating systems.

The Collective

When I was in college I sat down at a public shared computing cluster and hit the enter key to begin my “user experience”.  Along with some messages that went running across the screen indicating that the machine was refreshing itself for the next user (me) I saw this message.

Please wait – You are being assimilated in to the collective.

Wow.  All I wanted to do was use the computer and here I was being presented with a deep political and ideological statement.  Was it 1984 – again?  You know, the 1984 of George Orwell in a parallel dystopic universe?  Now what was I at the public computer cluster to do – what work did I need to get done?  I forgot – being assimilated into the collective was just too fascinating.

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Written by frrl

February 15, 2009 at 4:39 am

Product Review:Lights of America LED Light Bulb

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Or, are you ready to replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy saving LED technology?

ledlightbulb_sideGreat new technology or wasted money?

Is this posting from the “We wasted our money on this – so you don’t have to” or the “New Technology you should know about department”?  You decide.

About a year ago LED light bulbs were priced at about $35 and above.  You can look at the C.Crane VIVID light bulb here –  These are priced at $19.95 at the time of this writing.  And there are other versions here –

Your mileage may vary, but for me, its all about the quality of the light – I don’t care how much it cost (within reason) I want good quality light. My house is nearly exclusively General Electric Reveal bulbs ( ) and Halogen.  No substitutes, please.

Ac/costed at Sam’s Club

While walking down the aisles of Sam’s Club I was accosted by a package of LED light bulbs priced at $14 for a set of three.  That’s $5 each.  Now that’s a price drop.  What’s the real deal?

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Written by frrl

February 2, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Long Live The All American Five. Or, Recovering a Piece of Radio History

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“Watching” the Radio

Right now, in 2009, radio and “wireless communication” is ubiquitous and part of the landscape.  As such, no one really notices it.  It is a taken for granted reality of everyday life.

aa5_jackbennyIt’s hard for modern people to put themselves in the position of people in the early 1900’s when radio was a new invention.  Imagine, hearing voices and music from across the country, or across the world – without wires.  Instant communications.  You don’t have to wait for the newspaper to find out what was going on. Entertainment?  Sure.  Turn on the radio and hear Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, The Inner Sanctum, Sam Spade, The Shadow,  GI Journal, and hundreds more.

It’s always interesting see pictures from the 1930’s and 1940’s of a family sitting in the living room “watching” the radio.  Watching the radio as if someone was talking directly to them – from hundreds or thousands of miles away.  And that is exactlywhat it was – astrounding.

Recovering the Past

I can only imagine that some folks who collect old broadcast radios have some sort of appreciation for this era.  When you get that radio from the 1920’s to 1940’s one can imagine how many families sat in front of that radio listing to music, news, or entertainment.  Perhaps, in 2009, that family has passed away.  But the radio, which you have in your hands right now, just may remember.  On that radio from the 1940’s perhaps they heard the call to buy war bonds.  Or, that was the radio on which they heard the start of the D-Day invasion, or the end of the war.

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Written by frrl

January 22, 2009 at 7:15 am

Hands-off Electronics: A little bit of Monica. A little bit of Erica

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Read our related article: Hands-on Electronics – Signal tracing a simple transmitter


Hog Heaven at the Mailbox

The good times just keep on rolling. 

Going out to the mail box I found a white envelope from CBC International.  I expected more of a box – but an envelope is what I got.  “You go to war with what you got.”  OK, I get it.

There was my copy of  The ‘Screwdrivers experts’ Guide: Do it yourself CB repair and modifications by Lou Franklin ( K6NH )

Could it get better? Yes, it was personally signed by Lou.  “Best Wishes, Lou Franklin”.  I am in hog heaven.

Economic Stimulus

You might think this posting is from our “We wasted our money on this so you don’t have to department.  Well, yes it is.  In these tough economic times you have to “spread the wealth” for the good of the country.  So I made this discretionary purchase – it was my patriotic duty.

But really, I wanted to see what was in this book – I could not find it in my local public library system.  This book is a companion to another book by Lou Franking “Understanding & Repairing CB Radios for the Professional Technician”

Why is there something rather than nothing?

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Written by frrl

January 18, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Hands-on Electronics – Signal tracing a simple transmitter

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Hands-on Electronics – Signal tracing a simple transmitter
Or, How not to be an appliance operator

Is ham radio still about electronics?  If you think so, then this posting is for you.

You may want to read our nearly related article on the Heathkit radios (Collecting Heathkit Models SB-101,102 & HW 100,101 ).  That posting contains a high level conceptual explanation of how  the transmit section of those radios work.  We think that the Heathkit folks missed an opportunity in the education market.

Heathkit had a great platform in the SB and HW series of transceivers to serve as a course in electronics – learn as you build.  But that was not to be.  Perhaps an objection is that there were high voltages in the Heathkits – 800 volts on the plates of the tubes. So, sticking fingers in the wrong place in a Heathkit is going to get you zapped.   So maybe that would undermine ones joy of learning.

A learning strategy

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Written by frrl

December 29, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Save your life: Review of Maxtor 4 Plus Safety Drill Software

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Save your life:
Review of Maxtor 1TB 4 Plus Safety Drill Software
Or – Safety Drill vs EZ Gig II

Another story from the “We wasted (invested) our money in this so you don’t have to.

pctv_1tb“Save your life” – that is the tag line on the Maxtor One Touch 4 Plus 1 Terabyte (1,000 GB) drive and associated software.  The Plus in the One Touch 4 Plus means that it comes with Safety Drill.  Safety Drill is software that can back up and restore an image of your hard drive.

An image of a hard drive is different than a file backup.  Basically, the image is a pile of bits that represents all the data on the drive.  For some software that does image backups the image is opaque meaning that you can’t look inside the pile of bits that is the image backup and see individual files.  This is the case with the safety drill image backup that is created with the backup software supplied by the Maxtor One Touch 4 Plus drives.

Old Concept – New implementation and disappointing feature set

The Maxtor Safety Drill software derives from a long line of image backup software .  It is nothing new in concept or underlying technology.  This concept goes back at least three decades starting with Norton Ghost in the 1980’s

To get to the bottom line on Safety Drill we were very disappointed at the lack of features and sophistication of this software in a mature market of such products.

Maxtor Safety Drill

Specifically, it was disappointing against the product we got for “free” with an external drive we bought about a year ago.  Here are some specific points:

  1. Safety Drill will back up your hard drive but you can’t select a particular partition.  If you have multiple partitions you have to back them all up – no choice.  Some folks have a C partition with the Operating System and use the D drive for a data drive.  You can’t pick and choose what partitions to back up.  If you have a large drive sometimes it does not make sense to image the whole disk.
  2. You can’t look inside the image and restore individual files.  Image backup software going back to Norton Ghost allowed one to do this.  That is, you could do a file or folder restore from an image file.  This makes image backups dual purpose – restore the whole image of restore a particular file.  Maxtor Safety Drill does not allow looking inside the image.
  3. Large image backup files.  Hey, you have a Terabyte.  Doesn’t matter.  The image created by Safety Drill was about 30% larger than the identical image backup make by another product.
  4. Only works with Windows and Macs.  If you have Linux – you are out of luck
  5. Image restore must restore the whole drive.  Does not allow one to restore a particular partition.  Consistent with the image backup – its all or nothing.
  6. The Linux-based (Knoppix) takes a long time to boot.  There are no tools or utilities other than to restore the whole disk image.  Maxtor could have at least thrown in a utility to validate the image before restore.
  7. You always need the restore disk.  To restore an image you boot off a disk that you get with the product.  You can not image restore from the installed Safety Drill software.
  8. You can’t delete the @#$%@ Safety Drill images using the Safety Drill software.  You can set a maximum amount of space on the drive used by Safety Drill but it does not allow you to manage the individual files.  This is a major disappointment.

Until we got the Maxtor One Touch 4 Plus we were using Apricon EZ Gig II – which was provided for free with an external drive that we purchased.  Generally “free” software is feature poor – not so with EZ Gig II.  Our use of EZ Gig set the standards for what expected from Maxtor Safety Drill.

Apricorn EZ Gig II

Why we like eZ Gig II better than Safety Drill

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Written by frrl

December 4, 2008 at 2:40 am

Software Defined Radio – Burt Fishers (K1OIK) Review of FlexRadio 5000

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Software Defined Radio:
Burt Fishers (K1OIK) Review of FlexRadio 5000

We already wrote one article about Burt Fisher K1OIK.  This posting is just to draw your attention to Burts Review of a software defined radio – The FlexRadio 5000.

Folks reading reviews QST should be aware that their business model depends heavily on revenue from advertising.  Theoretically, it would not be to their benefit to write less then positive reviews of products – even if it was the truth of the matter.  For example, QST gets advertising dollars from FlexRadio.  If QST wrote a less than favorable review of the Flex Radio products then Flex may pull advertising revenue. 

This is the perennial collision of ethics and business.  Consume Reports maintains objectivity of product reviews by simply making the potential conflict of and advertising dollars vs objective reviews go away by accepting no advertising.  When was the last time you read in any QST review that any produt was not a wise purchase compared to other products on the market in the same category?

This is all to say, product review from real hams with no revenue at stake makes them more objective.  This is not to say they do a high quality or comprehensive review – its just to say that they don’t have a devil over one shoulder wispering revenue impact when they are doing product reviews.

In any case, here is a link to burts video review of the Flex Radio 5000.  This is the first in a series for the Flex Radio.  We suggest you subscribe to Burts YouTube channel

Burts YouTube Channel

Review of the Flex 5000A SDR Radio


Check out the WordPress auto generated related links about Ethics in Jouralism

Soon after that, Eidos threw a $%$#@  and withdrew their advertising from Gamespot. The rumur mill began grinding. The blogs began buzzing. Rumor has it that Gamespot lost hundred of thousands of dollars of future advertising revenue over that one bad review. Rumor has it that Jeff was sacrificed to the almighty dollar. Nobody knows how much of it is true, but the whole thing even made the front page of Slashdot. That’s about as big as a limited interest story like this gets.

Now, to be fair, nobody knows for sure that Jeff was fired for his review. I mean, it could be a coincidence that a respected, high profile, long-tenured writer was put out to pasture immediately after writing a bad review of a game that was responsible for tons of advertising revenue for his website. Maybe they were planning on firing him all along and were just victims of almost impossibly bad timing.

Jeff: Instant celebrity, official status as the “straight-shooting journalist who can’t be bought and sold.” Practically guaranteed another high-profile writing job, perhaps for an organization that understands that reviews are only as good as the perceived integrity of the reviewer.

Written by frrl

November 24, 2008 at 7:35 pm

Direct Conversion Receiver: making friends with the Signetics SA602

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Direct Conversion Receiver:
making friends with the Signetics SA602 IC



How simple can it be?  If you are a minimalist and like to mess with small electronics projects then you should meet the SA602 chip.  The Signetics SA602 IC is a double balanced mixer and tunable oscillator in one shot. Sounds to me like the front end of a receiver.

By adding a handful of other components to the SA602 you can build a direct conversion reciever.  Direct conversion means that you process the incoming RF signal at its frequency without down converting it to an IF (Intermediate Frequency) and then processing the IF frequency.

The Ramsey HR QRP Receiver Kits

sa602_boardThe least frustrating way to mess with the SA602 is to buy the Ramsey HR Amateur Radio Kit.  This cost is about $39.  These are advertised by Ramsey as QRP receivers and they are available for 20 meters, 30 meters, and 40 meters.  These receivers can receive CW, SSB, and AM.  The kits differ only in the external components that determine the frequency of the internal oscillator of the SA602.  The oscillator in all these kits is a Colpitts varactor tuned tank circuit.  The audio section is the very popular LM386 chip – the same in all the kits.

I’ve  already written about the the non-linear mixing process, varactor tuning, and the LM386 audio amp IC in the article on Superheterodyne (link at the end of this posting).  Read that article to get some background on receiver design that uses IF frequencies.  This posting is on direct conversion and is an alternative, and historically earlier, radio receiver design.

Building the kit

It takes about 1 hr to build this kit.  There is nothing complex about it.  It has 84 solder points and would be appropriate for a younger person to build.  Kids building this kit should have no problem – they will learn how to follow instructions, solder, identify components, and then after 1-2 hrs have something that actually does something.  So if you are in to “instant gratification” then this kit may be for you (or your kid)

Power Up

sa602_scopeDon’t expect the world from this kit.  The kit is used to demonstrate the principle of direct conversion receiver design – this is a design from the 1920’s.  In the history of radio, the obvious short comings of this design was overcome by Superheterodyne.

I built this kit, performed the alignment, and hooked it up to a 20 ft piece of wire.  It actually does work and I heard CW, SSB, and broadcast AM on 20 meters.

I dragged out the scope to take a look at the oscillator signal.  If you look at the picture to the right you will see a wire-grabber attached to the circuit board.  This grabber is attached to the external components that determine the oscillator frequency of the internal SA602 oscillator.  As you can see the internal oscillator in the SA602 is cranking.  This is what is being mixed with the incoming RF signal.  The oscillator has a tunable range of about 12MHz to 15MHz using he L2 coil (see schematic below)

If you don’t have a scope and you want to check to see if the oscillator in the SA602 is working then use a shortwave radio or ham radio.  Place the SW radio or Ham radio near the Ramsey circuit board and tune around 14MHz.  You should be able to hear the SA602 oscillator as a hissing or dead silence at some point 12MHz-15MHz on the SW radio or Ham Radio.

Direct Conversion – How to do it


There are 4 basic sections in the schematic

  1. The rough tunable input tank circuit
  2. The varactor tuning portion of the colpitts oscillator inside the SA602
  3. The SA602 double-balanced mixer – mix incoming RF with LO
  4. The LM386 audio amp

sa602_schematic_rffrontOn the front end L1, C6, and C7 provide a rough tuned tank circuit into pins 1 and 2 of the SA602 chip.  A 10K pot provides gain control by shunting some of the signal to ground.

sa602_schematic_colpittsPins 6 and 7 of the SA602 want the tuning portion of  SA602 internal local oscillator.  The oscillator is a Colpitts oscillator varactor tuned by a 10K pot which reverse biases the varactor diode to tweak the capacitance which in turn affects the resonant of the tank circuit (L2 allows rough tuning).  The effective capacitance and L2 control the oscillator frequency.  For the 20 meter kit, the frequency is tunable around 14 MHz +- about 1 MHz.

sa602_schematic_audioThe SA602 does all the work.  It mixes the incoming signal with the local oscillator, suppresses the carrier, and produces the difference frequencies.  Now here is the big deal.  For some incoming RF frequency the difference of this mixing process is in the audio range.  This is direct conversion.  The output of the SA602 is on pin 4.  Pin 4 drives the input of the audio section.

The audio section is a slam-dunk.  Its a black box LM386 audio amplifier.  The LM386 has enough gain to drive a small speaker.

So, that’s it.  At a conceptual level, how much simpler can it be?


The HR20 won’t win any prizes for receivers.  But, it is a simple kit that you can build in about 1 hr and demonstrate a basic principle of receiver design – Direct Conversion.

It is suitable for kids to build and “instant gratification” can be had in 1-2 hrs.  Perhaps this kit can trigger the interest in a young kid who may have a yet-to-be-discovered interest in electronic or radio.  Or, if you are a older ham with a lifetime of appliance operating then this kit may open the black box of a very basic reviver design that is easy to understand and actually works.


Related postings on this site –
The Age of Superheterodyne
Regenerative Receiver Design

Datasheet for the SA602

Written by frrl

November 15, 2008 at 5:16 am

The Pain of Analog Video Capture to Digital w/Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick

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The Pain of Analog Video Capture to Digital.
How to get your analog video to digital

Life is so complex.  If all you want to do is transfer video from a legacy analog camcorder to a DVD or an Mpeg file for distribution or editing – how complex could this be?  Answer: Depending on your strategy – Complex or simple.  Make the wrong choice and you will suffer.

The Computer is not the answer to everything

Check out our review of the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate stick.  Supposedly this can digitize any video and audio input that comes through S-Video or Composite and stereo audio.  The question is, how much CPU power do you need to do this?  Well, the answer in 2008 is – for the typical user – a lot.

The primary use of the PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is to receive and provide PVR (Personal Video Recorder) for analog and digital TV including High Definition TV.  For this, it works well on a laptop with a dual core 2.0 Ghz CPU and 2 GB of RAM.

But to digitize video and audio from an analog camcorder, this laptop falls short.  It is fast enough to digitize the video imput, but it can not digitize the video and audio at the same time.  The problem is dropped frames.  Video only and no dropped frames.  Add the audio and this Laptop and Pinnacle PCTV HDUltimate stick combo fails with an avalanche of dropped frames.

The only bigger gun over here is a HP desktop with an Athelon 64 X2 4600+ and 2 GB of RAM.  The two cores of 2.4 GHz each and 2 GB of RAM was still not enough power to capture video and audio from the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick and from a analog camcorder.

Use the appliance

Where there is a will there is a way.  So, pull out the appliance.  The appliance is a Panasonic DVD recorder with S-Video, Composite, and stereo inputs (also DV In and SD – but those are irrelevant for now).  Let the dedicated device do it.

So, with both the laptop and desktop left panting trying to digitize the input from the camcorder we left it up to the dedicated device.  Sure enough, works like a champ.

If that is all you want to do convert your legacy analog video tapes to DVD – you are done.  Stop here.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

October 28, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Shortwave on the Internet – Medium vs Message

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Shortwave on the Internet –
Medium vs Message

 Confounded and Conflated

When one talks about listening to “Short Wave” (radio) what does that mean?  Really, the communication is confounded in the sense that “Listening to Shortwave Radio” conflates the medium and the message.  The medium and the message are separable.

It the past – oh so 5 minutes ago – certain messages could only be communicated through a specific medium.  For example, international broadcasts via RF transmissions in the Shortwave RF spectrum.  But what happens when communications become aligned with new mediums?  Then when one says, “I am listening to Shortwave Radio” maybe post modern people don’t understand what you mean. 

What you are really telling them “I am listening to shortwave” is that you are listening to a medium – but what is the message?  When messages that have been so historically aligned with a specific and irrevocable medum become detached then talk about the medium (Shortwave) makes no sense.

What about Television?  “I am watching Television”.  Now you are talking about an appliance.  Why would you watch an appliance?  You would watch an appliance if that was the only medium by which you could recieve certain types of communications – Video communications in the case of a TV.

“I am on the Telephone”.  Get it?  The Telephone is an appliance for which only certain messages, based on  circumstance, can be communicated.

The Internet Changes Everything

In a word – Convergence.  Convergence enabled by the Internet changes everything.  Now, you don’t need a Television to watch Television – you can watch “Television” on the Internet  ( )without a Television.  You don’t need a Telephone to use the Telephone – you can use Voice Over IP on the Internet for phone calls without a Telephone applicance.

When the idea of convergence becomes part of the taken-for-granted landscape then folks talking about listening to the Radio appliance, watching the Television appliance, and talking on the Telephone appliance will seem strange.  You can do all this on a converged device – such as an apple iPhone or any Internet-connected PC desktop of Laptop.

All of this applies to the traditional sense of “Listening to Shortwave Radio”.  What one means in the legacy sense of this statement is that they are probably listening to international broadcasts.  So why not say “I am listening to International Broadcasts”?  Because the medium (RF Shortwave) has so long been indelibly linked to the message.  It was the only way (the appliance) one could get the message.

Prometheus unbound

International Broadcasts have been liberated from the appliance

Listen to any station, anywhere in the World

Reciva brings the world of Internet radio into your home. We provide access to an extremely diverse range of Internet radio stations from around the world, with broadcasts from nearly every country on the planet. We provide both live and on-demand (“listen again”) content and we support Real Audio, Windows and MP3 streams.

Our directory contains 15062 stations (and 21242 on-demand streams) in 277 locations and 65 genres.

Check out the web site that powers most of WiFi Radio

“Gett’in it”

If you read the title of our posting “Shortwave on the Internet’ and it didn’t bother you as nosensible then now, if you “got it”, then “Shortwave on the Internet” should be incomprehensible.  How can you listen to an appliance on the Internet?


All of our postings have a summary in conclusion.  This one is simple – “Go Listen” –

Other resources

“Television” liberated from the Televsion appliance

Written by frrl

October 26, 2008 at 6:05 am

Review: Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick

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Review: Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick

Someday you might find $100 burning a hole in your pocket.  This can be painful.  How do you alleviate such pain?  One remedy is to spend that $100.  So, what to spend it on?

The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick is about $100.  This wonder of post modern technology can do quite a few things when combined with a near high-end desktop PC or Laptop.

Here is a quick summary of the major capabilities

  • Receive analog television
  • Receive digital television
  • Receive cable TV ClearQAM non encrypted digital television
  • Play internet music streams
  • Digitize analog input sources – S-Video, Composite Video, and Audio

So that is quite a lot of capability for $100 in 2008.

What you get in the package.

You get everything you see below.
(Note: Click any image in this posting to enlarge in a new window)

Hardware – You get the USB “black box” (filled with Angels) that does all the magic, an antenna, USB extension cable, and a squid-like min-USB connector input for digitizing S-Video, Composite Video, and Audio (stereo) inputs, and a TV remore contol.

Software – You get 2 pieces of software.  TV Center Pro is the primary GUI interface to the device.  Pinnacle Studio is a basic video editing program similar to Microsoft Movie Maker.  The “black box” device has two solid state drives.  One is the read-only partition that has the TV Center Pro software.  The second is a 1 GB flash drive that stores settings and can be used for recording.  So, you can take the device with you and you have all your software and settings if you chose to use the device on multiple desktops or laptops.

And you get a nice “pleather” black pouch to carry all this around with you.

Putting it to the test


The setup

The device connects to any standard USB 2.0 port found on all modern PC’s and laptops.  The device can connect directly to the port like a USB memory stick but the device is very long and we don’t recommend this method of attachment – very unfashionable.  Pinnacle includes a USB extension cable and it is better to use this to attach the device to the USB port on your computer.

We used the standard antenna supplied with the package.  This is a really basic magnetic mount telescopic antenna.  The antenna has a RF connector that mates the the end of the device.

The PC is a HP entertainment laptop with an Intel dual core 2.0 GHz CPU and 2 GB of RAM.  This is about right CPU speed and memory that you need to use nearly all the capabilities of the device.  The supplied TV Center Pro software contains a benchmarking utility that will analyze your PC and give you some feedback on what capabilities of the device can be used based on your PC’s performance – speed, memory, and disk write speed count.  Of course the message is the faster the better.  Even our dual core 2 GHz PC was not up to snuff to use all the capabilities of the device.

Off “Air” Test – The Aether

Who came up the the phrase “on the air” in broadcasting?.  RF is not on the air – its in the aether.

We gave the device a TV “over the air (aether)” challenge.  The test site was the dining room table on the first floor of a 2-story house 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. 

Local Chicago TV (analog and digital counterparts) are channels 2,5,7,9,and 11 (CBS,NBC,ABC,WGN, and WTTW) plus a few UHF channels.

Note: Check our Resources section for a link to a web site that can show you broadcast stations in your area (or any area) by zip code or street address.  Very useful

The first thing you need to do when you fist use the device is let it scan for channels. TV Center Pro gives you these options.  Note the the Internet Radio scan seems to be a set of pre-programmed internet audio streams.  For our purpose of “on air” we made the choice of analog and digital and cleared ClearQAM

This is what we found – on Air – 40 miles west of Chicago, Ill.  Notice we did not pick up the lower VHF channels – ch 2, 5, 7, and 9 analog.

Right-click on any channel to get the details

The Proof is in the Puddin’ – Dakota and Jay

This is off the air digital high def of the Tonight Show.  The second image shows the TV Center Pro contol bar with the “information” button selected.  Information about the signal is displayed as well as programming information from the digital provider. 

Note the CPU utilization history on the right.  Both cores of 2.0 Ghz were running at 50% dealing with this High Def image.  In actual practice, with an attached external monitor, this laptop can support the delivery of the high def image on an external monitor while working on other tasks on the laptops LCD screen.  So if you are wondering if you can watch (or listen) to TV in the backgroung while you are using something like Microsoft Office – yes that works just fine.

Click to enlarge the images.

With the control panel.  From here you can pause live TV or start recording.
Or, point the supplied remote control at the device and change channels

Cable Test

We won’t mention much about the cable TV test.  We have Comcast Basic Cable.  On the cable is analog TV, and digital television sent via QAM.  QAM is un-encrypted digital television.  The premium service on Comcast is encrypted and requires a set top box.  Comcast provides Basic cable subscribers the digital version of analog cable via QAM plus more channels that are only digital via QAM.  So, the ability of this device to decode QAM is a real benefit to cable Comcast Basic subscribers.

Suffice it to say that the device found all the analog and digital channels offered to Comcast basic subscribers – analog and digital via ClearQAM.  We won’t say anymore about the cable.  It all works as expected with max signal strength and quality.

Recording Video – PVR (Personal Video Recorder)

TV Center Pro has huge selections of options for recording video and audio.  You should select the method consistent resolution with your video source.  Click the image to enlarge.

Out of the box we took the default and recorded 5 minutes of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in HD on digital channel 5.1.  Checking the size of the resulting MPEG file we found it to be about 500 MB.  So that is 100 MB/min; 6,000 MB/hr; 6GB for 1 hr of HD TV using the default.  The equivalent of a 6 hr VHS tape in these terms is 36 GB – ignoring the lower quality of analog VHS.

Is 36GB a lot of disk storage?  More on this below.

TV Center Pro

TV Center Pro is the primary interface that you will use to control the device.  It has a large feature set.  We won’t try to describe it all.  In the sentiment that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Here are some images of what you get by clicking on the various control categories.



 Note the benchmark test that you can do here.  The software will tell you what features you can use based on the performance of your PC.

 Progam Guide.  This is provided by “on air” providers.  You can choose how often to update this guide.  From this menu you can schedule PVR recordings.  Click on the program you want to record – that’s it.

Choose your remote control

The issue of digital Recording and Disk Space

Is 36GB a lot of space?  It depends on what time it is.  If the time is 2008 then we’d say no, 36GB is not a lot of space given that the price point of a 1 Terabyte (1,024 Gigabytes) raw drive is now less than $150.  We bought this 1T external drive in Oct 2008 for $189.

So, don’t forget the 1 Terabyte drive for video recording, editing, and movie making.


Pinnacle Studio 10

TV Center Pro is only half the story.  This package also comes with an entry level movie editing program called Pinnacle Studio 10.  This program is very similar in functionality as Microsoft movie maker.

With Pinnacle Studio 10 you can import movies, digital stills, music and just about any other multi-media content in a variety of formats.  Like Microsoft Movie Maker making a movie is a simple 3 step process – import the media, edit the media and create special affects , and then output the result – burn a DVD or output to a digital file to upload to YouTube or send to your friends.

Pinnacle Studio 10 has a smart movie mode that just about anyone can master in about 15 minutes.  Smart movie can analyze a movie for scence transitions and then split the movie into clips.  You can then stitch (or combine) the clips and add transitions.  You can overlay titles, voice-over, and music. Studio 10 has a collection of transitions in a category of “Holllywood FX” which are some pretty facy digital transitions.

Pinnacle Studio 10 can also take in still images and create slide shows, it can also make misic videos out of clips and imported CD music.  Pinnacle Studio 10 can also capture a web cam in real time.  So this would be perfect for Video Bloggers.  One can capture, edit, and produce a Vlog  in one tool in one sitting.

Pinnacle Studio 10, as an entry level media editing program, has more then enough features to get you started producing movies and vlog content suitable in quality for sharing with the on-line community.  It will at least keep you out of trouble for many hours.


It you are a gadget person of if you like to play with emerging technology then your disposable income and excess capacity of free time could well be expended on the Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate stick package.

Keep in mind that the PCTV HD Ultimate stick does double duty.  It can also digitize analog sources.  So if you have a legacy analog video recorder, or a VHS tape deck with video and audio outputs, or really any source with S-video, or composite video and audio out then the device can digitize it.  This may be an opportunity for you to take those old VHS tapes and get them copied to modern media.

Who says man is aliened from the means of production…

The benefit of the progress and advancement of technology is that the means of production for creative content is now (2008) inexpensive and affordable by most people.  A decade ago digital video editing cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Now software that almost anyone can master in a few hours is included free (Pinnacle Studio 10) with devices such as the Pinnacle PCTV HD device. 

Digital video editing and recording takes a lot of disk space.  A decade ago who could imagine a 1 Terabyte drive for less than $150?

Digital video editing and recording also required a lot of CPU power.  Again, the cost of laptop PCs with dual core 2+ GHz CPU’s and plenty of RAM are within the range of affordability of most people – less than $1,000.

Do you want to share your creative content – there is YouTube.  Upload your videos for free and share them with the community.

Did we foget the obvious?  Is it so much part of the natural landscape?  That just about anyone can share and communicate with anyone else in the world over the internet – that changes everything.

Convergence makes new things possible which could not be even imagined in the recent past – (i.e. the bane of disruptive business models, citizen journalists via free blogging sites,  and the advent of social networking and community on a global scale which impacts global culture, society, and politics.)

“The Billion” – Be the one percent

In the book Crowd Sourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business published in 2008 author Jeff Howe cites some interesting research.

First, according to Howe, the number of people on the internet has now passed the one billion mark. Howe calls these folks collectively “The Billion” – those folks on the Internet.  Second, analysis of sites such as YouTube, IStockPhoto, and on-line communities suggest a curious 1-10-89 relation.

One percent of the community (individuals) are producers – these people create the content; ten percent of the community rate and discuss the content; and eighty-nine percent of the community consume the content.

So, there you go.  The Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick, video editing software, a little imagination, and community such as YouTube is all that is needed be convert any long time exclusive content consumer into a producer.  Be the one percent – The Billion are waiting.


You can check out this site to see what broadcast TV stations are available in your area.  Very useful with resolution down to street level/zip code with predicted reception ability

Here is what we got for our location Plainfield, Illinois

Features and Specifications from the Pinnacle web site

Key Features:

  • Ultra-portable USB 2.0 HDTV tuner stick with integrated FlashPVR
  • Watch SD and free HD TV1 on your PC – no service fees
  • Includes remote control and high-gain telescopic antenna
  • New: supports both digital over-the-air (ATSC1) and unencrypted digital cable (ClearQAM2) HDTV
  • Turns your PC into a PVR with TimeShifting: pause, rewind TV
  • Electronic Programming Guide3
  • Ultra-sensitive reception of both analog and digital TV signals
  • Stereo sound for both digital and analog TV
  • Capture from your cable/satellite set-top box or camcorder with the included A/V adapter cable
  • Bonus: VideoSpin video editing software
  • TV tuner fully compatible with Windows® Media Center4 (Windows Vista™ and XP MCE; remote kit sold separately)

Flash Personal Video Recorder (PVR)

  • Unique: full PVR application preinstalled on the stick’s on-board memory
  • No software to install5 – just plug it into any PC and start enjoying live TV within seconds
  • Record up to 2 hours6 of TV directly to the stick to play it back on any PC
  • On-board memory can also be used to store additional files

TV Standards

  • ATSC (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)
  • NTSC (cable, over the air)
  • ClearQAM (HDTV up to 1080i, SDTV)


  • TV/FM antenna (F-connector/Coaxial)
  • S-Video, Composite Video (RCA), Stereo Audio (1/8″)

Recording Formats

  • MPEG-1/2
  • DivX4
  • MPEG-4: compatible with PSP or iPod (Trial Version)

System Requirements

  • Windows Vista™ (32-bit) or Windows® XP with latest service pack
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 2.4 GHz, Pentium M 1.3 GHz or AMD Athlon™ 64 processor (for HDTV reception, a Pentium 4 2.8GHz or Pentium M 1.7 GHz or equivalent AMD Athlon 64 processor is recommended)
  • RAM: Windows XP – 256MB (512MB recommended); for Windows Vista – 512 MB (1GB recommended)
  • Free USB 2.0 port
  • Sound / graphics controller with support for DirectX® 9
  • Hard drive with minimum 1 GB free space (20 GB recommended for TV recording)
  • DVD player/burner
  • Internet connection for registration/activation

Package Contents

  • USB 2.0 TV tuner for ATSC/ClearQAM/NTSC reception with flash memory and preinstalled Pinnacle TVCenter Pro software
  • Mini remote control including batteries
  • Portable telescopic high-gain antenna
  • A/V Adapter cable
  • USB extender cable
  • Printed quick start guide
  • CD with Pinnacle TVCenter Pro and VideoSpin editing software

Written by frrl

October 15, 2008 at 8:55 pm

The Pixie Experiment – Going Diskless with Linux

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Suppose you want a super safe web browsing environment.  Suppose you want a Linux “on demand” – that is, you want to boot Linux without using a CD or having Linux installed on your PC’s hard drive.  Is that possible?  Maybe you have a PC lying around with no hard drive and no CD-ROM drive.  Can you really run Linux on a PC with no drive of any kind?  Sure you can.

It’s an idea as old as the hills – at least for hills that have been around since the 1970’s.  The concept is that of a Diskless Workstation.  That is, a workstation running an operating system with no drives of any kind.  This idea was very popular in University and research environments as much as 40 years ago.

The basic prerequisites for this wonder of technology and network protocols are these:

  1. A ubiquitous networked environment of at least 100 Mb/sec
  2. A set of network protocols that allowed workstations to broadcast for network services and servers to answer for those services.
  3. A server that could deliver an executable image over the network to another computer.
  4. A workstation that has network capability to retrieve an executable image over the network and execute it.

and for extra credit we could add

  1. A network based file system (NFS) – so you could store file in a persistent way,
  2. A network based authentication and authorization system.  Popular was YP (yellow Pages) and NIS (Network Information Systems).  You need this to prove that you are who you say you are.

Of course none of this would happen without a bunch of really smart people who had the vision for this concept and a bunch of technical folks who could make it happen.  In many cases those two groups of people were the same.  In many cases, those folks were at Stanford University, MIT, and other major universtiy and research institutions.  Have you heard of SUN Microsystems?  Stanford University Networking – that is the roots of that corporation.

Yes, you can do it with KNOPPIX

If you are interested in seeing for yourself how this works “hands on” – then read our previous posting first – Learning about Linux – the KNOPPIX Live-CD.  That posting will get you started with the KNOPPIX Live-CD.  If you can boot a couple of computers with that Linux CD you are on your way.

“Pixie” (PXE)

You probably never noticed it, most modern PC and laptops have the ability to boot an operating system over the network – probably didn’t know that – did you?  Well, they can.

This feature on many PC’s is PXE (“pixie”) – Pre eXecution Environment

You can check you PC system BIOS on your laptop or desktop PC to see if you have this capability.  Here is how to do it.

Enter the appropriate key when you turn on your PC to enter the BIOS setup screen.

Look in the boot menu or boot order menu.

Find an entry that says “Network Adapter”

If you find this option, then you are in luck.

The Diskless Workstation Experiment

The best way to learn is “hands on”  So we’ll show you how to your can experiment with Network boot of diskless workstations using your own PC’s.  Hopefully, you have 2 PC’s that will work.

Here is our setup.  The PC on the left will be our boot server.  The PC on the right will be our diskless workstation and we’ll network boot that baby to show you how it works.  Unlike Cold Fusion, you should be able to replicate our experiment at your home with very little trouble and get the same results.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

October 4, 2008 at 7:24 am

Learning about Linux – the KNOPPIX Live-CD

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Learning about Linux – the easy way

Linux is seen as an alternative to Windows.  So if you are one of those who does not want to be “assimilated into the collective” of Microsoft then maybe Linux is for you.  If you are using a Mac then you are already a UNIX/Linix user – but may not know it.

Or perhaps you just want to keep up with the conversation – when the conversation turns to Linux.

If so, this posting is for you.  This is a no-fuss, no-muss way to get your feet wet with Linux.  This is so easy that “no excuses” – we take no prisioners.

If you read our article 50 Megabytes of Penguin Power and gave the DSL version of Linux a try and liked it, maybe you are ready to move up and give another Linux distribution a try.

Linux at Zero Risk – to your PC

Again, as in our previous posting, the goal is to make it as simple as possible to play with Linux and not put your existing operating system in any jeopardy.  Here are the requirements:

  1. Get Linux up and running in a matter of minutes without frustration.
  2. No hard disk partitioning
  3. No changes to the way your system boots
  4. Get rid of Linux completely when you are done.

That seems a reasonable set of goals to achieve.

The Linux “Live CD” Concept

The solution is to get your hands on a Linux “Live CD”.  A live CD for Linux is bootable version of Linux that runs completely off a combination of the CD and the RAM in your personal computer.  You don’t need to install anything.  What could be easier than that?  Again, we are after the least frustrating way to play and learn about Linux.


A popular “fully loaded” (all the bells and whistles) distribution of Linux is Knoppix.  Once you get your hands on Knoppix you have an extremely powerful Linux.

Here are some of the things you can do

  1. Use Open Office – an alternative to Microsoft Office.
  2. Browse the internet in a super safe way.
  3. Play DVD’s and CD’s
  4. Software development
  5. Access Windows Shares on your attached network
  6. Run a file server (NFS, Windows, etc)
  7. Run a Web Server – Apache – out of the box
  8. Run a database – mySQL
  9. Watch all the traffic on your network – WireShark

There is a ton more stuff you can do.  There are even some exotic things you can do like use this Linux as a boot server to boot other PC’s over the network – more about that later.

How Knoppix is Distributed

Knoppix is distributed as an .ISO.  An ISO is an image of a CD that exists as a file.  An ISO is something that most CD/DVD burning software distributed with PC’s or purchased separately (or free) understand.  Once downloaded, if you double-click on the .ISO file, your PC CD/DVD burning software should launch.

Getting Knoppix up and running

Step 1.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

October 2, 2008 at 8:42 am

Inside the Black Box of Short Wave Radio

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Many people today spin the dials and twist the knobs on a radio without really knowing what is going on inside that black box.

You can be a person who likes to listen to radio and that is the real deal of why broadcast radio exists.

Growing in popularity are cable shows such as “How its made”,  “Batteries not included” and other shows that tell you how things work and how things are made.

As a kid you may have been one of those folks who liked to take things apart to see how they worked.  Parents sometimes did not like this.  One of our friends who has a son of about 10 years old asked “What’s inside Diamond?”.  Diamond was the family dog.

But now we are all adults and can take apart anything we want – but maybe not Diamond.

So what is inside the black box of shortwave radio?

We stumbled across a free ebook written by a retired Broadcast Engineer.  This is an excellent book on what is inside a glowing tube shortwave radio from a detailed technical perspective.

We like this book for a couple of reasons. 

First, there is considerable technical explanation in this book.  It goes a long way to teach you about electronics – just what you need to know – to understand how all the component stages of a radio come together to get the RF off he “air” and into your ear. 

Second, the book uses a real example – the RCA model 8Q2 Shortwave Radio.  This radio represents the common technology of the “All American Five” design used in radios from 1930-1960.  So this book is not a book on “theory” without practical application.  In fact, the book is so detailed that just about every component in the radio is explained.

The tile of the book is The Vacuum Tube Shortwave Radio: Understanding and Troubleshooting. 
The author is Richard McWhorter. 

The book is 212 pages in length provided as a PDF.

The PDF of the book is password protected.
The password is “allamericanfiveradio”

The authors download web site is:

In case that site disappears we snagged a copy here.

The author has a ton (81+) of electronics education and vintage radio videos on YouTube.
Check out the authors videos on YouTube – “AllAmericanFiveRadio”

Written by frrl

September 22, 2008 at 6:31 am

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