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Quick review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

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So what’s the deal with the new Kindle Paperwhite?

I purchased a new Kindle Paperwhite book reader a few days ago.  Since I have two other Kindle devices – an original e-ink Kindle and Kindle Fire – I pretty much knew what I was getting.

Really, if you already have a Kindle e-book reader then the only reason to get the Paperwhite is for the built-in reading light.  If you have the earliest Kindle, the one with the keyboard sans touch screen, then the addition of the touch screen is nice but not essential.

One step forward, two steps back

The amount one reads, all other things being equal, is about both availability and convenience.  With the addition of the back-light, the Kindle Paperwhite adds another level of convenience.  With my older e-ink kindle it was something of a bother, or at least an inconvenience, to get an external light source just right in order to see the e-ink Kindle screen in a dark room.  Now, with the built-in reading light, all that inconvenience is eliminated.  As for availability, there are more books then every available for Kindle through purchase, public library lending, Amazon lending library, and books being place in the public domain.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite takes two big steps back through, what I would call, “the great silencing of the Kindle”.  Unlike earlier versions of the e-ink Kindle e-book reader the Paperwhite is mute – it has no speakers… and it has no speakers because it is incapable of making any sound whatsoever.  No text to speech, no audio books, no music, no nothing.

Every product has a set of features.  Some people just count features – the more features the better.  Right?  Well, no.  Different consumer segments (and individuals) place a different value on each feature.

I’ll take a long-shot here and propose that there are very few avid book readers that would judge the value of text-to-speech as “low”, or “frivolous” to the point that this feature should be eliminated from a product.  Or, to put it another way, that the ability of an e-book reader to play audio books, and more importantly, the capability to convert any e-book to human speech would always enter into a buying decision.

The generic text-to-speech capability of the older Amazon e-ink Kindles along with voice navigation of the screen gave those with a visual disability the world of books that they may not have any other way with such convenience.  Now Amazon has taken that capability away.  Why?

Companies don’t do things without a business justification.  But, does the business justification outweigh the benefits the speech-enabled Kindle gave to certain under-represented segments of society.  Google as a company started out some simple values.  One of them was, “Don’t be evil”. (” …said he “wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out”, ”  read more )

The Take

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is fine addition to the Kindle e-book reader line of products.  It’s outstanding feature is the addition of the built-in back light.  I find that I read more books more often on the Kindle Paperwhite for the simple reason that I don’t have to fuss with finding the lighting to read the Kindle in a dark room.  In a well-lit room there is little difference between the Kindle Paperwhite  and any of the older Kindle e-book readers.

Amazon took two steps back with the Kindle Paperwhite by silencing it.  No audio books and no capability to turn “any book into an audio book” though its excellent text to speech capability.  This was a wondrous feature.  My older Kindle e-book reader with aural capability will not find its way into the trash any time soon due to this lack of capability of the newest Kindle e-book reader.  The visually impaired have lost a friend at Amazon.

Amazon should take a look at Google’s informal corporate motto in their pre-IPO S-1 filing and re/think the Kindle product roadmap in this context.

We believe strongly that in the long-term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.  (reference)

Read More

Read other postings on this site related to the Amazon Kindle  ( )

Folks that have any e-book reader would benefit from Calibre

Folks that want the audio for a large collection of books in the public domain should check out LibriVox

Written by frrl

December 23, 2012 at 12:25 am

The new Yaesu FTDX5000 up close and personal

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Check it out

Written by frrl

June 27, 2010 at 12:29 am

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Review: Mach Speed CarTunes Max Range MP3 Payer FM Transmitter

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Me and Gaga


How do you bring your GaGa with you? – as well as your ZZTop, Jeff Beck, and the rest of the gang?

The solution has to be cheap, nearly a throw-away. It has to be simple to operate. Nothing fancy – I just need it to play MP3’s.  And it has to play it through an FM Radio.  Oh, OK, I really want it to use on a motorcycle; and maybe in the car.

I have an iPod Touch and that is great for listening to music, podcasts, audio books, and all the rest. 

But I would rather not take that with me in the car, and on the motorcycle.  What’s the solution.

Mach Speed CarTunes Max Range MP3 Payer FM Transmitter

After I did a bit of research, I picked up a Mach Speed CarTunes Max Range MP3 Player/ FM Transmitter with 2GB of memory.  The price was right $19.99 (not $20; just $19.99 – under $20)

Here is the description

The Mach Speed CarTunes Max Range is new from Mach Speed – A wireless MP3 player and FM transmitter that lets you take your tunes to your vehicle. The Mach Speed CarTunes Max Range MP3 Player/ FM Transmitter is a 12V USB device offers 100 FM frequencies, built-in 2GB of memory, and an additional line-in connection. All you have to do is insert the 12V adaptor end of the Mach Speed CarTunes Max Range MP3 Player into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter receptacle or power port. Tune your FM radio onto one of the preset frequencies, then use the channel button to set the player’s broadcast frequency to match the one you’ve set on your radio. The Mach Speed CarTunes Max Range MP3 Player/ FM Transmitters features include previous track and volume decrease, play/pause, next track and volume increase, and channel button. This device also works with virtually any media device, or use the internal memory. The CarTunes Max Range is the perfect companion, wherever you may roam.

This is an all-in-one solution of bringing your tunes, podcasts, audio books, and other media with you on the road or any place where you have 12v available.  It has 2 GB of memory on-board as well as a slot for an additional memory card.  It also has a 3.5mm jack for an alternative input if you don’t want to use the built-in MP3 player capability.  In this case, what you feed into the 3.5 mm jack gets transmitted to the FM radio.

The FM transmitter section covers the entire FM broadcast band.  So you can pick any “unused” frequency in your area.  The FM transmitter seems to have good range.  As tested, the range is at least 50 feet.  Used in a vehicle, you will never need this range.  The FM transmitter was powerful enough to overcome some local FM radio stations in the area.

Its simple to load music on the device.  Just plug in the supplied USB cable to the device and a computer.  You know the drill; just drag and drop the MP3’s that you want to play onto the device.  It’s as simple as that.

The Take


  1. The price is right.  For $20 you can get a combo MP3 player with 2GB of on-board memory, FM transmitter section, alternative inputs (3.5mm jack), and external memory expansion.
  2. The FM transmitter section is more than powerful enough for vehicle use and to overcome weak local FM broadcast stations.
  3. The FM transmitter covers the entire FM broadcast band (88-108Mhz) so it should be easy to find an “unused” frequency in just about any area.
  4. It’s one-piece, no wires, and easy to take with you.
  5. Simple operation.  Previous song; next song; pause
  6. The device remembers what song was playing and the FM transmit frequency  the last time you powered it down.  When you power it back up, it picks up where it left off.


  1. The display is way too small to be useful.  You will need a magnifying glass to see all the information that is in the display.  In a display as big as your fingernail is the name of the song playing, a spectrum display, bit rate, length of the song playing, a few more things.  Add to this the fact that it is generally in your 12v accessory plug located away from easy view while you are driving.  There is no way you are going to be able to read the display.
  2. No playlists, no easy navigation of the songs on the device.
  3. No shuffle play
  4. No on/off switch.  Plug it in, it boots, and starts playing.  Pause is the only option; no “off”.


I have an iPod Touch but I don’t want to drag it around with me in vehicles, especially a motorcycle.  The Mach Speed Car Tunes Max Range MP3 Player with FM Transmitter is an inexpensive solution to bringing your tunes with you which plays through a standard FM broadcast radio receiver within a range of about 50 feet.

The controls are minimal.  It is difficult to navigate the songs other than previous and next song.  The digital display is too small to be useful.  There is no shuffle play – for those who do not like predictability.

All in all – this is a useful “throw-away” device that serves a useful purpose.  It’s simple and direct.  Load it with up to 2GB of music and go.  If it gets trashed, lost, or vibrated to death on a motorcycle – it only $20 lost.  Between the time you buy it and the time  it ends up in the trash, this device should provide sufficient utility to justify the $20 cost of this all-in-one solution to bringing your tunes mobile without placing a more expensive MP3 player at risk in adverse environments.

Written by frrl

June 8, 2010 at 4:20 am

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Confessions of a new ( Streaming ) Netflix subscriber

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I have known about Netflix for some time now – I ignored it.  But since I had $8.99 burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to give it a try.  ( You can get a 2-week trial for free ( ) )

Using a DSL Internet connection and an older 2.5Ghz dual-core CPU w/4GB of RAM with dual monitors (24in and 26in) I found the experience nothing short of amazing.  Even with a slow internet connection there were no interruptions in the 2 movies that I watched.  The sound was good through my Logitec Z-Cinema speakers.  I am even able to update this blog on one monitor while I watch the Netflix movie on the secondary monitor.  Doing both cranks the CPU to only about 40%.

So it begs the question.  What about your local brick and mortar video store – Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, Family Video, and the like?  What is the future for these stores in an age of high-speed broadband, inexpensive storage, and a legal environment that can allow for the streaming of intellectual property and still keep all the stakeholders that create, produce, and deliver the movie happy?

  1. Why would I physically transport myself to a video rental store if I can get the movie online on-demand?
  2. Why would I go to video store to browse a shelf-space limited selection of titles when the internet could potentially provide an “infinite” selection of choices  (every movie ever made any time)  (see The Long Tail )
  3. Why would I go to a music store when I can download (purchase) any of 3 million tracks from iTunes?
  4. Why, even, would I want to purchase (own) a music track when I can “lease” a track from Rhaposody through a monthly subscription fee.  (Why do people insist on owning this property? )
  5. Why would I even want to purchase a DVD disk (physical media) or even store the bits of a digital version if I can get it online anytime I want?
  6. How about books? Why purchase any physical book when I can search (full text) and read any of the hundreds of thousands of books online for a montly subscription fee at  books24x7 ?

All of this is about disruptive technologies and its affect on traditional business models.  I hear people all the time complaining about executive salaries – they are too high – they are 100x or 200x what an “average” person makes in the United States.

So, the question is this – What are you willing to pay a an executive team that navigate through an onslaught of disruptive technologies, including movements by a sea of competitors and new entrants, and produces a winning competitive strategy and drive the execution of that plan?

How much are these people worth?  Are they any different than sports athletes that make $25M/yr ?  Both are directly responsible for revenue generation.  Why do we seldom hear complaints about the compensation in the sports industry?  But  a CEO and executive team that can generate $12B in profits shouldn’t earn $30M in compensation? ( )

Jim Keyes is CEO of Blockbuster ( compensation package )

Blockbuster CEO Has Answers [ Dec 2008  ]

Blu-ray has extended — and enhanced — the life of the optical disc as a movie-serving platform. As an early adopter, I begrudgingly settle for a digital download in a pinch, but I prefer the quality, flexibility, and special features that come with a DVD or Blu-ray rental.

Keyes doesn’t know if countrywide bandwidth will be there to digitally deliver quality movie experiences by the time Blu-ray discs run their course. He sees an opportunity to fill the gap, providing in-store servers loaded with high-quality releases that can be transferred to flash memory cards in 30 seconds. In the end, it’s all about getting folks into his stores or even to potential Blockbuster kiosks at train stations and airports to serve up speedy celluloid.

He’s the only one who sees it that way, and he relishes being a contrarian.

“Let everybody fight it out, kill each other, and spend lots of money on set-top boxes tethered to big screen TVs,” he says. He prefers a portable solution as the heir apparent to the DVD, and one that hopefully entails a trip out to your local Blockbuster store…

… Keyes’ main goal is for Blockbuster to succeed as a media retailer. When I asked him if he perceives his biggest competitive threat to be Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) or RedBox — the DVD rental kiosks bankrolled by McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) and Coinstar (Nasdaq: CSTR) that are popping up all over the country — he dismissed them both.

“Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition,” he said. “It’s more Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL).”

Read more –

Watch the environment – Mr Keyes… about one year later…

Speaking Jan. 5 [2010] at an investor event in San Francisco, Keyes said the proliferation of “new kid on the block” Redbox’s kiosks and Netflix’s domination in the by-mail subscription business pose formidable challenges in 2010 as Blockbuster spent much of last year establishing new financing ($675 million credit facility) instead of growing its business.

Read more –

What is Clayton M. Christensen thinking in regard to disruptive innovation?  ( website, books )

Written by frrl

March 14, 2010 at 5:08 am

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EVERNOTE – Save your ideas, things you see, and things you like: Comprehending the Business Model of FREE

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evernote_logo2The Challenge: Remember anything – make is searchable and available from just about any network connected device.

There are applications that come and go.  You download an interesting application, try it out a few times, and then, there it sits, idle on your computer, unused, just taking up space.

These unused applications will stay on your computer until you refresh the operating system.  They won’t be back.  You didn’t use it and you won’t install it again with the new operating system.

Many apps have not make it past these refresh points on my computers or Apple iPod Touch – except a few.

And one in particular that you should know about


Welcome to your notable world. Use Evernote to save your ideas, things you see, and things you like. Then find them all on any computer or device you use. For free.

The compelling feature of Evernote is that there is an Evernote application for just about any operating system and any networked device AND every thing you saved is on the network.  What this means is that Evernote can synchronize all your notes (ideas, things you see, things you like) in a central repository – over there on the Evernote servers – for free.

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Written by frrl

September 25, 2009 at 2:01 am

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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

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

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

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

DEGEN1123Providing a valuable service

From the “We wasted our money on this so you don’t have to” department… ”

So who needs another portable AM/FM/SW radio – certainly not me.  Or do I?


There is really only one reason I bought this radio – it has one innovative feature that is really valuable to me – the ability to directly record to its built-in 1 GB memory.  When listening to any station on AM/FM/SW hit the record button and you can both listen and record up to 69 hrs of audio.

The radio goes for $79 at  I purchased the radio from, no tax, and free shipping.  The radio arrived in about 5 days.

Here’s what you get

  1. The radio
  2. Three AAA rechargable ni-mh 650 mAh batteries
  3. USB cable
  4. earbuds
  5. carrying case
  6. Wall charger (accepts USB cable)
  7. An interesting manual written in “Chinenglish”

First Impressions

Fist impressions is that this is a very cheaply made radio.  The plastic case is very thin; the buttons are hard to push; and the slide switch which switches modes from FM/AM-SW/MP3/Record is going to be the first thing to break.

My second impression… is that my first impression is correct.

So, getting past that, lets turn the radio on.  After putting the batteries in and firing the radio up the first thing you will find in AM mode is that the factory default step between stations in not appropriate for the US.  Get the magnifying glass and the “Chinenglish” manual and set the AM station set size to 10 KHz.

Ready to go.  The user interface to this radio is not at all intuitive – you need to read the manual.  A little bit of intellectual elbow grease and you will have it down in 30 minutes or so.

Where’s the Beef?

So, lets get to the beef – the ability to record any station you are listening to into its 1 GB internal memory.

The good

  1. It does in fact work.  Record any station you can tune.
  2. Stores up to 70 hrs of audio neatly arranged in files.  Each time you hit the record button a new file is created
  3. You can play recorded audio back through the radio
  4. Plug in the USB cable and copy the WAV files to your personal computer
  5. Charge the supplied AAA batteries in the radio.

Some more good features

  1. This radio will play MP3 files.  Once connected to your personal computer via the USB cable drag any MP3 file to the device.
  2. The radio has a built-in microphone for voice recording,  Record any audio.  The mic is very sensitive.
  3. Use it for fie storage – 1GB – put anything on there that you want.

The not so good

Audio record levels

There is one very disappointing attribute of the the voice recording – the audio level.  The recorded audio is only about 1/2 the level that you will hear when listening in real time.  The radio has a digital volume control and indicator.  The max setting is 31.  A normal listening level is 15.  If you record at 15 you will have to playback at near max volume setting – 31.

The manual warns you about this.  They recommend that you set the volume to max when recording and connect the earbuds.  I assume that they don’t expect you to listen to it in this mode.  In any case, the volume you hear when recording is not the volume you will get on playback – the audio volume is reduced to about 1/2.

Mitigation Strategy for Audio recording levels

Not too much of a problem since I would simply copy these recordings off of the device and place them on my PC for later listening.  One can fix the audio level problem with fee software such as Audacity and then re/save the file back to disk on the PC or transfer it back to the device.


Painful!  There is no VFO, wheel, or direct entry of frequency.  You can press and hold the freq up/down button but it will stop on anything strong including interference.  Manually trying to get to a specific frequency on SW is painful.  Store those frequencies in the 100 presets.

“I forgot”

Take the batteries out and lose the time, date, and AM tuning step.

Some interesting other features

  1. Digital signal strength meter – very nice
  2. Sleep timer ( 5 to 90 minutes)
  3. Time and date
  4. SW (2.30 MHz to 23 MHz )
  5. Also available in 2GB and 4GB models (have not seen these advertised as of yet)
  6. Presets 225 – FM(100) MW (25) SW (100)
  7. ATS (Auto Scan and store of active frequencies in a band)
  8. Battery power levels
  9. Charge from your PC when connected to the USB port

Wish that it had…

  1. Timer to start recording.  That is, let me set a recording start/end time and  mute the audio.
  2. Better construction
  3. Expandability of the built-in memory – but 69 hrs of recording seems to be more than adequate with 1GB internal
  4. Let me set the recording quality.  I’d take better quality at half the recording duration.
  5. Always-on back light
  6. Built-in Cappuccino maker

Other Alternatives

The only other alternative that I know of at this time is the C.Crane Witness.  The Witness is more than double the price.  The Witness has double the memory (and expandable) and looks to be of far better construction from the picture on the CCradio web site – but no Shortwave !!


This radio does exactly what I want – record any AM/FM/SW station that I am listening to with up to 70 hrs or recording time.  However, there are some bumps in the road.  The biggest bump in the road is the record audio level which is only about 1/2 the level of the orginal.

The DEGEN1123 barely gets gets a pass.  I give it a D+ due to its cheap construction and the record audio level problem.  At $79 it will be a good value for a AM/FM/SW portable radio IFF (If and only if for you logic fans)  you have the burning desire or need to record broadcast terrestrial radio stations.  If you do not highly value this feature – then there are far better radios out there at about 1/2 the price.

“Please copy the files frequently.  Our company will not answer for the data destroying and losing”

“The functions and LCD displays will be changed because of the updated software, please take the unit as the standard.”

“While tuning the stations, you had better get very close to the window or stand on the outdoor field in order to avoid and disturb and gain the best reception”

Plus, if you feel you are ripped off, then read the “Chinglish” manual for some “free” entertainment.


You can see that the CC Witness is a different anaimal at about twice the price and perhaps 4 times the features and quality.
Manual for the C. Crane CC Witness –

DEGEN1123 on


Written by frrl

July 11, 2009 at 4:49 am

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Review of the Apple iPod Touch – Redux: Our iLife

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ipodtouch_2d_logoProgress Report

I bought the Apple iPod Touch about a week ago at a local Best Buy.  I asked the blue-shirted-one “What is the return policy?”  He said “30 days”.  “No questions asked?”, I replied.  “Don’t worry”, he said, “You won’t return it”.  He was right!

After a week of use I can say that the Apple iPod Touch has changed the way I interact with the Internet for some subset of common activities.  For example, tiny things like checking my e-mail, checking the weather forecast, checking breaking news, finding out what’s happening in the financial markets, checking who was on-line on Skype – all these things used to take me to a painful trip to my laptop.

No more trips to the laptop

Now that has fundamentally changed.  With a home wireless network and the Apple iPod Touch all of these capabilities – and more – are now in my shirt pocket or a short reach away on the table.  Even if the iPod Touch is powered off it only takes 15 seconds to boot.

Untethered at last

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Written by frrl

April 26, 2009 at 4:14 am

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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

video review of the Yaesu FT-450

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Were you thinking of buying a Yaesu FT-450?  The Yaesu FT-450 is an entry level HF radio that just about anyone can afford.  The base FT-450 is $669; with the built-in antenna tuner its $769.

How big is this radio in real life?  What does the display look like?  What sort of features does it have? No RF power control on the front panel – whats up with that?  Would this be a good radio for mobile use – nice display – but do the buttons light up for mobile use at night?

Check out a new hams (KC2UOO) video review of the Yaesu FT-450

Written by frrl

April 12, 2009 at 4:20 am

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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

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

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

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.

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Written by frrl

October 28, 2008 at 5:08 pm

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

Life on HF – The MFJ-1796 6-Band HF Antenna for Limited Space

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For those folks who have constraints that do not allow you to put up a big HF antenna then take a look at the MFJ-1796 6-band antenna.  This antenna covers 5 HF bands and the 2 meter band.  HF bands covered are 40m, 20m, 15m, 10m, and 6m.

We’ve been using this antenna for about 8 years on HF with good results.  To have one antenna cover all these bands is a convenience.

At the outset we should say that this review of the MFJ-1796 is for a very special circumstance.  We have made a slight modification to the antenna and we use it in a slightly different position than recommended.

Look at the picture to the left. That is the antenna that MFJ will deliver.  But we have changed it a bit – read on.

The word from MFJ

The quote below is directly from the MFJ-1796 assembly manual and briefly describes the antenna structurally and electrically.

The basic 40 meter quarter wave vertical antenna is 33′ tall and requires a reasonably good ground or counterpoise system to function properly. The usual way to eliminate the requirement for a complicated and space consuming ground system is to center feed a 1/2 wave (in this example a 66′ tall) antenna.

The six and two meter amateur bands are covered with the addition of four quarter wave decoupling stubs. The power rating of the antenna is 750 watts on six meters and 300 watts on two meters.

MFJ solved these problems by combining efficient end loading with a balanced center feedpoint design. The result is a physically small vertical antenna that gives good performance and does not require any type of RF ground system.

The reduction in size is accomplished by adding separate loading coils and capacitance hats at each end of the antenna for the HF bands. The efficient end loading coils are wound on fiberglass forms. The high quality materials and construction of the HF loading system allows a maximum power rating of 1500 watts on 40, 20, 15 and 10 meters. The continuous CW power ratings are 500 watts on 40 meters, 750 watts on 20 or 10 meters and 1000 watts on 15 meters.


So lets get to the bottom line on this antenna – its a balanced dipole with loading coils (not traps) and capacity hats at each end.  The length of the antenna is 12 feet as delivered from MFJ.  Its as simple as that.

The MFJ-1796 as delivered by MFJ is expected to be used as a vertical and mounted on the ground, on a tripod on a roof, or attached to a chimney.  Its a center-fed vertical dipole that is ground independent – that is, it does not require a counterpoise or grounding system.

Hatching the plan – going Horizontal

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Written by frrl

September 14, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Product Review: Yaesu FT-7800R

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Review of the Yaesu FT-7800R

The FT-7800R is a dual band 2m/440Mhz mobile radio. We won’t bore you with all the technical details. You can check the brochure yourself in the collateral files and images associated with this review.

This review will focus primarily on what is unique to this radio. The uniqueness of this radio and the price are the reasons we purchased it. The street price for the FT-7800R at the time of this writing is $265 from Amateur Electronic Supply.

Due to the wide receive range this radio is a good choice if you want to use this for traditional ham radio use (TX/RX) and if you like to listen to conventional analog transmission of  public safety, business, and anyone else licensed to use the frequencies within the RX range of this radio.


The FT-7800R has 1,000 alpha memory channels, 20 memory banks, 50 band/scan edges, and a search and store feature. This is more storage and scan capability than any 2m/70cm mobile ham transceiver on the market at the time of this writing. The FT-7800R also has a set of 5 hyper memories that can store 5 different real-time radio configurations. The Hyper-memories are hard to explain. We’ll will leave that until later. Unique to this radio, and not even available in scanners, or most ham radios, is that the memory bank size is configurable and any memory can exist in any number of banks without wasting another memory location. Be reminded that the RX frequency range is 108Mhz-520Mhz, and 700Mhz-1Ghz. There is a lot of listening to be done here. More detail on each of these features is discussed below.

One Thousand (1,000) Memory Channels

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Written by frrl

August 27, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Product Review – The Ultra 1000VA/600 Watt Time Machine

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Review of the Ultra 1000VA 600 Watt UPS and Time Machine

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” — Abraham Lincoln, (attributed) 16th president of US (1809 – 1865)

Caveat emptor – “Let the buyer beware”.

We call ”em like we see ”em. And we have to admit that over here at frrl dot net Southern Command we got fooled. We got slickered. It was due to an issue of trust. We placed our trust in some folks and they let us down. We were taken in, snookered, made fools of – the joke is on us. It’s our fault. We didn”t do the research. We saw something that looked good. But looks can be deceiving.

The Bait

So when we saw the Ultra 1000VA 600Watt UPS at for $79 we thought about the hundreds of dollars we lost when we got hit with a power surge during a storm. We thought about the data we lost when our servers got hit with a power outage. If we had the UPS our servers would be safe, our equipment protected from surges, and the router and wireless access point would provide our laptop internet access for the duration of a power outage.

So, the outside of the box for the Ultra 1000 UPS says 60 minutes of backup time for a average PC with monitor. We run our servers with a single monitor and KVM switch. The monitor is usually off and so all we have is a couple of servers and networking gear. 60 minutes – more than enough time for an orderly automatic shutdown of the servers and the network gear can continue to run. We have to thank the marketing people at Ultra for that valuable information encouraging our decision to make the purchase on the spot.

Making the kill

So, with $79 burring a hole in our pocket we made the purchase of the Ultra 1000VA 600 Watt UPS.

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Written by frrl

August 5, 2008 at 5:14 pm

What’s the (Black) Magic in the Jack. Voice over IP

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The Magic in the Jack

You have probably heard this hype all before. Perpetual Motion machines; the carburetor that can make a car get 80 miles per gallon; and the various gadgets and devices that are designed to separate people from thier money.

There’s a sucker born every minute

Over here at Southern Command we have a department called “We wasted our money on this so you don’t have to waste yours”. The hype on the magicJack got our attention.

Voice over IP

At the time of this writing – 2008 – there are many Voice over IP providers. A few of the more popular ones are Vonage, Comcast, and AT&T. Checking the net, there are about 50 providers of Voice over IP worldwide.

So what’s the difference with magicJack

One would think that magicJack would get lost in the list of the 50 or so providers of Voice over IP providers. At some point, all of these commercial providers are providing a commodity service. Some features may be different but all these folks provide almost an undifferentiated service of VoIP to those customers who have an existing high speed network connection.

$360/yr vs $20 per year for unlimited service

What differentiates the magicJack from all the others is the price. Typical costs for providers such as Vonage and Comcast is about $30 a month. That works out to be about $360 per year.

The price for magicJack device and one YEAR of service is $20. Now how can that be?

Taking the Bait

We decided to be the sucker and give it a try. It was a $40 risk – or, 8 cups of Starbucks coffee.

We ordered The Jack on line at This on line sale process will make every attempt to upsell you on additional features. For example, you can purchase 5 years (pre-pay – good for them) at a discount and you can get expedited shipping for an additional fee.

The minimum cost you can get away with is $39.95. This is the cost of the magicJack device and one year of unlimited domestic phone service.

We ordered the magicJack and it arrived in about 4 days – we opted out for the upsell of expedited shipping.


Installation of the magicJack device is a breeze. You plug it into the USB port of any PC. You will find that the PC sees the magicJack as two drives on your PC. One of the drives is non-writable and this contains the magicJack software. The other drive is writable.

The writable drive on the magicJack USBdevice holds your phone book, call log, address book, your phone number information, and other customizations. So, you can take the magicJack with you and use it on different PC’s if you like. All your personal and customizable information is on the device.

Pluging in the magicJack into your PC for the first time will start the software installation process. This also includes the configuration process which will ask you to choose a phone number from an available list of area codes. So pick a phone number of your choice that is available. You can pretend you are anyplace in the country by choosing the area code for that location and an available phone number.

Connecting a telephone. Connect a PC headset – your choice

One end of the magicJack fits into the USB port of your PC. The other end of The Jack has a RJ11 connector. So you can connect a traditional telephone to The Jack via a standard telephone cable. So just take your existing phone out of the wall jack and put it into The Jack.

Your other option is to not use a traditiional physical telephone and use a PC headset connected to your PC. If you use this option then you will use the magicJack GUI to “dial” the phone.

We were able to get the magicJack up and running with a traditional physical telephone in about 10 minutes. We made a few test calls to our home phone. All went well.

The Stress Test

We decided to give the magicJack the industrial stress test. Due to the nature of our job we spend at least 5 hrs a day on the phone. This is mostly conference calls to a global conferencing system. This is the age of the global workforce and global virtual teams. Because the telecommunication system and the internet are uniquitious and reliable, for some jobs, geographic location becomes irrelevant for many types of business communications and collaboration. Typical ways of working for global virtual teams include internet desktop sharing along with audio over traditional telecommunications lines to a toll free conferencing system. We decided to use the magicJack for the audio part of our regular collaborative work sessions.

DTMF Tones

The first problem we ran into is that the magicJack does not cleanly transmit DTMFtones when using a traditional telephone key pad. This disallows one to manage a telephony based conferening system. Such conferencing systems require security host and participant codes entered via DTMF.

In general, this inability to cleanly transmit DTMF tones would disallow anyone using the magicJack and a physical telephone to use any type of response based system that requires DTMF tones.

The solution to this is to use the mouse to press the simulated keypad on the magicJack GUI keypad. This problem with DTMFtones foiled our plan use the magicJack on a server PC with a wireless phone connected. We expected we could just use the wireless handset and forget about using any PC interface to manage The Jack. To bad for us.

The fact that the magicJack could not cleanly transmit DTMF tones using a physical phone ruined our plan. Posting to a magicJack newsgroup the magicJack folks confirmed this was a known problem. But they do not tell you this on their web site. Mitigation for his known problem is to use the magicJack GUI to send tones. Maybe The Jack folks will fix this problem in the future.


You should realize that you do not have any SLA (Service Level Agreement) with the magicJack folks and that you are operating over a public internet with no SLA. This is much different than the circuit-switched system of the traditional telephone company. In a traditional telephone call, once the circuit is set up you own that circuit until the call ends. Not so with the internet. There is no dedicated circuit and no packet routing based on quality of service and packet type. Packets that are late or missing for an internetdata transfer can be recovered (requested again and/or reassembled in order at receiving end). Packets that are VoIP that are lost, late, or missing are deadly to voice which depends on real time reception of packets in the nearly correct order.

During the first week we had The Jack the system (infrastructure) went down for about 6 hours one day. Monitoring the magicJack discussion groups our outage was confirmed across the country by other Jack users. No SLA. So don’t complain.

“Get off the Jack”

The magicJack infrastructure was working almost all the time during the week that we gave it the industrial stress test. However, we experienced many dropped packets to the point that team members encouraged me to “Get off the Jack”.

For business use, it is not about cost it’s about quality. Nearly a decade ago Cisco systems was promoting VoIP to business users to replace an office PBX. One of the first questions asked was “Is it business quality?”

Our experience is that The Jack is not business quality. One is at the mercy of the public Internet and the particular infrastructure in use by magicJack. You have no SLA or guaranteed service quality with either.

Suffice it to say, one week of use and The Jack was history for business use.

How to correctly use The Jack

What magicJack is useful for is casual conversations. That is, call your mom, dad, sister, brother, and your friends. For these purposes, where quality and reliability is not of critical need The Jack is a great low cost solution to traditional telephony providers and to more well known VoIP providers.

The magicJack can be used to make calls to others who have traditional telephony providers as well as PC-to-PC phone calls. The PC to PC calls that do not have to go through traditional telephony providers are excellent quality. However, now you are in a Skype world – and Skype is free. Why pay $39.95 for The Jack if you are going to make all PC-to-PC calls.


The magicJack has a 30 day no risk return policy. We decided to keep The Jack at the cost of $39.95 – the cost of the device and one year of service.

Once you have the device an additional year of service is $19.95. At the time of this writing this beats the pants off of Vonage at $29 per month. The Jack provides a huge savings opportunity. (Vonage at $360 per year and The Jack at $20 per year)

One wonders how the magicJack can provide this service at about 1/12 the cost of traditional providers such as Vonage and Comcast. It would seem that Vonage and Comcast have huge markups or The Jack people have some Black Magic behind the scenes.

The magicJack Terms of Service say that they can end service at any time for any reason without notice. Perhaps its those pages in the unseen magicJack Business Plan that hold the answer to the pricing of the magicJack service. Note that when you purchase The Jack you pre-pay for one year of service for which delivery has yet to be made. The upsell is to get you to pre-pay for five years of service – for which delivery has yet to be made. Given that, we’d like to see the exit strategy in that business plan. That is where one may find the (Black) Magic of the Jack.

Do you remember the Magicians trick … “Now you see it – now you don’t…”

Written by frrl

August 4, 2008 at 4:12 am

Posted in Technical Articles and Reviews

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Product Review – The MFJ-209 Antenna Analyzer

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Review of the MFJ-209 Antenna Analyzer


We have been on HF for a long time over here at Southern Command. We never saw the need for an Antenna Analyzer. Certainly, no need when they first came out and were very expensive. But now, Antenna Analyzers have reached a sort of maturity, there are many models to choose from, and they have significantly come down in price. So one could ask again, do you really need an Antenna Analyzer?

A (very) basic Antenna Analyzer

The MFJ Model MFJ-209 at $140 is about as basic as you can get. It generates a unmodulated RF signal from 1.7 MHz to 175 MHz continuously in 6 bands. So that means it will cover all the HF bands plus 2m.
Connected to an antenna it will read the SWR continuously from 1:1 to infinity. The SWR scale is marked off in increments of .2 (SWR is a ratio and is dimensionless) from 1:1 to 3:1. SWR of 3 to infinity is just a red band with no scale graduations.

The MFJ-209 has connections for external power (12 volts) and a RCA jack to connect directly to an external frequency counter. The MFJ can also be powered internally by AA cells – alkaline cells recommended. The MFJ-209 is about as basic as you can get – no frills – no bells and whistles.

Maybe you already have an analyzer – but don’t know it?

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Written by frrl

August 3, 2008 at 10:14 pm

Living Life on HF – The Age of Power

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Now that the FCC has dropped the code requirement a few people may find themselves with HF privileges that they otherwise would not have. So maybe they will venture on to HF. HF – “here lives dragons” – written on medieval maps of unexplored territory; what will you find on HF?

Living life on HF you might get the idea that you need more power – a common theme. When finesse and skill fails – when 100 watts is just not enough – you just need to get more power. Or, at least, that is what “they” want you to think. More power – “that’s the ticket”.

More POWER – How to get it

In this day and age if you want more power you can just go out and buy it. You can buy RF Power from a commercial retailer like AES – we suggest that route over eBay.

The basics of what you need.

It’s not that complex.  Here are the basic things that you will need

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Written by frrl

August 3, 2008 at 6:05 am

Review of the LDG PRO-200 Autotuner

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The Revolution and the Evolution

So whats new in the shack? Whats new is an LDG AT-200 Pro Automatic Antenna Tuner. This is a thing of beauty. It makes the “problem” of tuning – not a problem at all. In fact, you don’t even have to think about it. Tuning and matching an antenna to the 50-Ohm impedance of your radio is now all automatic – not even a button push is needed.

So whats the revolution (or evolution)? Well, “tuning” is now done with microprocessors, thousands of memories, plus the usual hardware associated with switching LC circuits. Here’s how these things conspire to make it all automatic.

There is no longer the need to hit the “tune” button on your radio. Radios that use screwdriver type antennas need a RF kick to get them going. The RF kick of about 10 watts is enough to get the RF and SWR sense circuits up and running in a screwdriver to start the tune cycle. The same is true with a traditional radio with a built-in tuner. Hit the tune button and motors start whirling. They whirl trying different values of L and C to try to find a match. When the SWR is low enough, there you go.

If you are living in the middle ages, then you have an outboard tuner and you have to manually adjust combinations of inductance and capacitance with about 10 Watts out to find the match.

What is common in all these cases is that the tune cycle is not transparent and a continuous low power RF signal is required for tuning.

One up on a popular chicken roaster – “Set it, and forget it”

Did you ever hear the phrase “Set it and forget it? LDG has one over on chicken roasters. You don’t even need to set it – just forget it. Here’s the evolution.

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Written by frrl

August 3, 2008 at 5:18 am

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