Random Post: Ankle, Aldi Mobile “Unlimited”, Xmas Post, Device Updates, Pennytel, etc.

Hello guys! I’m back, but unfortunately, my body isn’t. I’ve spent a bit of time, in bits, collecting some thoughts which I should have posted about but haven’t had the motivation or time. Hopefully that keeps my readers a little bit informed, although “regular” blog service is unlikely to resume until such time I can actually catch up with my PhD, and my life in general.

My Ankle

My ankle still remains busted. It started recovering a bit, to the point where I could almost walk, and again, it relapsed into a completely unwalkable mess. Now I’m back to painful swelling, even with non-steroidic anti-inflammatories, and no ability to bear pressure. It could be septic arthritis, tenosynovitis, or something else entirely.

The next step is to get an MRI, which I’ve got an appointment for this Sunday (booked last Monday) at the earliest. Hopefully, I’ll get a better idea what the damage is, and how to best get it treated. I’m not too enthused about the prospect of getting it aspirated to diagnose the joint, or surgery, but I’m still stumped at the fact it gets better and worse cyclically, and the fact that after five and a bit weeks, we’re still not out of the house.

Unfortunately, it’s taken its toll on my ability to be motivated to do anything. Most days, I just wake up, turn around, grab my tablet, check and reply to only the critical e-mails and messages and then go back for a nap. I sleep most of each day, upon orders to avoid movement and pressure on the ankle, keeping it elevated and mostly bandage-supported where my skin isn’t too irritated. It’s really quite depressing to think that I haven’t really left the house in five weeks. I’m perfectly capable of keeping myself amused at home, but not having any outside human contact really makes me feel isolated. Aside from that, I have the guilt from not being able to progress with my PhD, and it even pains me when I can’t accomplish even basic daily tasks (like showering) without significant difficulty and need for support.

Add to this, the deteriorating health of my parents who themselves exude depressive thoughts, it’s hard to be bothered to do anything.

In my worst days, when I feel like I absolutely can’t take any more bed time, I get up, and sit in my chair on the computer for a little time. I attend to some less time critical stuff, and then I get around to cleaning my room a little. I can definitely say that the pain of my ankle in certain positions makes it hard to be comfortable for any extended period.

Aldi Mobile

It was recently noted that Aldi Mobile has “lost” the unlimited moniker from its $35 plan, as the limits to the plan were actually pretty well defined by the acceptable usage policy. Now, it’s being upfront about just how many minutes and SMSes are included. It’s indicative of a market where Telstra seems to regret its decision to move into the MVNO space, and instead wants to keep it all to itself. The only other carrier is Boost, itself a subsidiary of Telstra.

It seems that Aldi Mobile will only appeal to light users from now on, with heavier users moving towards Boost as the “last resort”. It’s a risky business – once they have “strongarmed” the heavy users to Boost, it is not inconceivable that they will raise the prices or reduce the inclusions in their Boost offering and increase their profit taking. Even at the same price though, Boost keeps all the profit “in house” whereas for MVNOs, the brand takes a bit of the cut.

At this stage, I still don’t see any other alternative – Telstra is superior in my experience for coverage, and maintains usable service in many situations where others start to choke. I would still recommend data users stick with Telstra so that at 5pm at Central Station, you can still check your e-mail. For the record, I haven’t been able to do that on Optus.

BluRay Recovery Progress

I’ve been spending some time copying the data off all of my BluRay discs to keep for safety. Optical discs are slow compared to hard drives, and it’s taken me quite a while to do the copy. At the moment, I’ve still got about 30 discs to go, but 5Tb (yes, five terabytes) of data have been read back with not a single disc failing (except the Riteks as noted in the past). This is good news for everyone I suppose, provided they’ve stored their discs at room temperature in a light-tight container like I have.

Kit-Kat Released for Nexus 7 Devices

After promises from Google that Nexus 7s would get the upgrade to Kit Kat, it drove me mad to hit the check-now update button for weeks with no result. Then, one day, the binary images came out on the AOSP download area which bought great hope. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to wipe my device and start fresh again, so I had to continue to wait for an over the air update.

Screenshot_2013-11-23-17-11-31

For me, it updated with no trouble, although since I don’t use Google Now, I haven’t noticed much differences. Performance seems fairly similar, although the change of the text in the top toolbar and windowshades to grey/black as opposed to the former blue/black just doesn’t seem to be as nice. It’s really only a small change, but I don’t like the battery icon being slightly mis-aligned. Call me OCD!

Screenshot_2013-11-26-21-03-58

Updates for Drivers and Windows 8.1

Since my last post about my Iconia W3 being upgraded to Windows 8.1 suffering issues with resume from suspend, it seems that many late updates to Windows 8.1 applied through Windows Update have fixed many of these early issues. It now sleeps and resumes quite happily with no problems, and it performs as it always has.

Something I discovered about the Iconia W3 is that the battery IC actually counts charge cycles – most PC laptops don’t do this (although some others do). It’s interesting to get a reading of this using HWMonitor.

Capture

When I purchased it second hand, it had a count of 1 initially, but now I’ve got it up to 30. It’s been my primary tablet of use since I’ve been bed-bound since it can do almost all I need a computer to do (except type long documents and posts), so it’s gotten a lot of use. One thing to remember is that depending on the quality of the batteries employed and the charging IC, most lithium ion systems will see about 300-500 cycles before reaching the 80% charge retention state. Using this lets you gauge just how “aged” your laptop battery is (mines about 10%).

The other way is to look at the full charge capacity versus the design capacity. The ratio is normally presented as a percentage as a wear indicator, but depends on the proper calibration of the battery (so periodically running it completely flat and letting it charge without interruption or use is advisable).

Updates to iOS

It seems more subtle updates to iOS have rolled out, with the 7.0.4 update to resolve bugs with Facetime. I didn’t have any dramas applying this to my iPad 3, although it did take fairly long to apply (sitting five or more minutes in the Apple-logo screen with progress bar). Other people seem to always complain. Every upgrade has remaining issues somehow, or breaks something for someone somewhere.

No cosmetic changes have been noted, at least, not in my regular day to day use.

Prior updates addressed issues with bypassing the passkey on the devices and complaints of motion sickness from animations which were not toned down despite the accessibility option of reduce motion being toggled on.

Updates to PS Vita Software

It’s quite late, but I hadn’t powered on my PS Vita for a while, and it was interesting to see a new major software release (3.00).

Having had my Vita for a while, I was convinced that their strategy would ultimately prove unpopular with consumers due to the use of proprietary memory cards to store downloaded games from the PSN (costly), the hybrid use of game cartridges where the games are fairly costly (but the load times are so slow it makes it seem like there’s an optical disc somewhere), animated slow menus and unusual ergonomics (shape, rear touch wise). The inbuilt sealed battery also seemed somewhat unusual for a system which you might expect to flatten, and likewise, the battery life was a bit sub par. Constant needs for updates to software, both games and system which are fairly sizable proved to be another annoyance.

But what really made the Vita seemed doomed was the high cost compared to its contemporaries. While it is a dedicated gaming machine, it’s a bit silly to dedicate a 3G contract to it and the web browser and limited apps (Facebook, Skype) were rather limited in function. Its on screen keyboard was very responsive though, and the screen was good.

This seems to have changed with their latest release of the PS4 console and a realignment of the Vita line itself (from an acknowledgement that it was lacklustre). The new strategy sees the Vitas price dropped significantly, the supplementing of their proprietary connector with a standard one and a tighter integration of the Vita with the PS4 for remote play applications. This software update provides the necessary integration.

Some people did have issues with PSN after the update, although a “fix” had been found.

Updates for Nikon D3200 Users

In more upgrade craziness, it turns out another firmware has been released for the Nikon D3200 DSLR. Now, the main firmware is version 1.02 and can be downloaded from the same link. The main change is to enable the accurate metering offered by a larger capacity battery (EN-EL14a).

Another upgrade that can be applied is the lens distortion data parameters, which (incorrectly) is shown in the summary as not applicable to the D3200. The download is here. The procedure to update is detailed here. This will allow for correction for a wider range of lenses than before, the latest version is 1.009.

The quick version of the guide is just to copy the appropriate BIN file to the root directory of a formatted approved memory card, power on the camera with a fully charged battery, navigate to Firmware Version under settings, select Update then OK and wait for the upgrade to apply. Power off only when instructed. Remove card and delete BIN file from card before applying another, and ensure you delete all BIN files after upgrade is done.

Be patient, especially when applying the main firmware. I suspect the release of this main firmware might enable some tinkering activities to happen which would be cool.

The Future of Pennytel?

It’s been a while since news first broke of Pennytel being in trouble. Since then, there hasn’t been much said, except for the fact that myNetFone is looking into what will be needed to ensure continuity of service.

There was a change to their website – subtle – but the Sign Up button next to the login button has been removed a while back. The other thing that has happened was an e-mail about urgent maintenance today, which I can confirm, has taken their service offline.

Dear [Name],

As you may be aware, MyNetFone has acquired some of the Pennytel assets, ensuring a continued supply of services to PennyTel customers.

In order to ensure PennyTel service remain operational in the long term, some major infrastructure work will be undertaken from 7pm AEDT on 26th November until 7am AEDT on 27th November 2013.

During this time frame the following services will be unavailable:

  • VOIP
    • All Inbound and Outbound Calls
    • All DIDs including Geo, 1300, 1800, International DIDs
    • Call-back, SMPP, Voicemail services
  • Portal, Provisioning and PennyTel websites

Services should return to normal operation once work is concluded.  We do not anticipate any impact to mobile or ADSL internet services.

We apologise for any inconvenience and ask for your patience, as this work is necessary to ensure service availability in the longer term.

PennyTel Team

At the moment, one can only speculate what the urgent maintenance relates to, however, it could mean the transferal of some services to another piece of infrastructure. I hope it all goes smoothly, because so far, no significant inconveniences have been caused and the service was working relatively flawlessly throughout this time. Will the good deals evaporate soon? I can’t tell for sure.

Christmas Postage

Before you go any further, please take my poll in the right hand side navigation bar! Now that you have, I can definitely say that postage has started to slow dramatically in the lead-up to Christmas. If it’s not in the regular international network by now, it might not get there before Christmas. Even couriers are feeling the squeeze – I had something to be delivered by Toll, and it was delayed by being offloaded once, and then delayed again when it couldn’t be delivered in time due to a “truncated” courier run.

Toll-Deliv

Likewise, EMS postage via Australia Post takes one or two days longer than before the Christmas rush, which is not surprising. What will be interesting is just how long regular registered international mail will take.

Even though it’s peak season, it doesn’t stop people from doing their jobs, in this case, this is the first time I’ve had a package inspected by Hong Kong Post. This was a batch of Sanyo Eneloop Ni-MH batteries, and was probably inspected due to concerns it may be a lithium ion battery instead (which shouldn’t fly in this quantity if at all possible).

notice-on-package

sealing-tape

Luckily this didn’t put much of a delay on the package – Hong Kong post seems to be miles faster than China Post. In fact, any package via China Post takes about a month for me, whereas Hong Kong post can be had within one to one-and-a-half weeks.

It seems the convenience and low-prices of online shopping has definitely attracted many buyers away from conventional stores, which are “hurting”. There has been renewed calls and now a potential for the GST threshold to be lowered to AU$30, which would immediately make off-shore purchases less attractive. I certainly hope that doesn’t end up happening, as I can’t see that local retailers have ever had our interests at heart (we do pay more than others for the same products according to the senate enquiry).

Decoding POCSAG with the Chromebook

It’s been a while since I’ve tried to decode POCSAG (an unencrypted pager protocol) – the last time I did it, it was with a discriminator output from a scanner radio and PDW. In the past, I’ve found PDW very touchy to get working correctly, so I decided to try a different approach.

Thanks to the inexpensive RTL-SDR dongles and the ability to get FM demodulation with a limited amount of CPU, I decided to go with rtl_fm and multimon-ng. As I had the Chromebook with Chrubuntu handy, and it was a good low-powered device, I wanted to see if it could work. Building the software wasn’t very difficult – git clone the source, install dependencies (which turned out to be libpulse-dev and qt5-default), and follow the instructions.

In order to get the decoding working, you need to invoke rtl_fm to get 22,050hz sample rate audio, piping it into multimon-ng. For example:

rtl_fm -f [frequency] -p [ppm correction] -s 22050 -g [gain] | multimon-ng -t raw -a POCSAG512 -a POCSAG1200 -a POCSAG2400 -f alpha -

You can even add the scope to debug your reception (in the case you can’t get reception), but it does sap CPU time.

rtl_fm -f [frequency] -p [ppm correction] -s 22050 -g [gain] | multimon-ng -t raw -a POCSAG512 -a POCSAG1200 -a POCSAG2400 -a SCOPE -f alpha -

You can even try adding squelch to rtl_fm to reduce CPU usage, but it’s not completely necessary in my experience. Good alignment with your signal (i.e. correct PPM offset value) is necessary since pager signals are narrow-band, otherwise you could miss your signal altogether.

With the right pipe commands, you can even redirect the output into a file for logging, or into socat for some broadcast-across-network action.

In fact, it’s so cool, I have one RTL-SDR in each port for a total of two instances running in parallel and the long term load average is about 1.7. So this ARM laptop is enough to do it on its own, carrying a GUI, SSH, and HTTP server too. Very good for a “light” laptop like this.

Alternate ADS-B Software – Globe-S 1090 Edition

For plotting ADS-B data, the free options aren’t that many. I’ve used adsbscope in the past, and it does leave something to be desired at times. As my cousin was leaving after finishing her exchange at ANU, I had a reason to check the ADS-B data to watch her “fly out” from the comfort of my own home.

This is when I decided to give Globe-S a try. It’s free, from the same guys that offer RTL1090 which I used as the demodulation software. No installation is required, you merely have to unzip it, although it uses an HTTP data protocol meaning you must use it with RTL1090.

You will find that most sources tell you that Globe-S automatically connects to RTL1090, but that’s part of the story. The first thing you need to know is that you should run the latest beta version of RTL1090 – I haven’t had success with the stable one. The second thing is you need to open the config panel, turn Config ON and find your Table 2 “password”.

RTL-1090-Table

Once you open Globe-S, do click the cog button on the toolbar, and enter the password. It supports being a client to several RTL1090 instances, you just need their addresses and passwords.

table-pasword-enter

You’ll need to leaf through each and every setting box to get the most of it, although at the current stage, you might break something fairly quickly. It’s currently Version 0.01, the interface for Globe-S can be very easily broken. Accidentally closing some windows and hiding the toolbar can make it “hard” to recover from. Except for the fact that it can be recovered from, by fully removing all of your settings. This can be done by deleting your globes.ini, making a copy of the backup globes.ini and renaming the copy to globes.ini. Then you start from a fresh slate again.

Globe-S files

Likewise, setting the location, moving the map all took a lot of patience due to the way it worked with the mouse input. It’s nowhere near as intuitive to set up and use compared to adsbscope. Unfortunately, the detail in Sydney wasn’t that great, and the trail drawing options were still rather limited.

globe-S-anim

The animation above shows the Virgin VS201 flight and the Cathay Pacific CX100 flight both to Hong Kong from Sydney, boarded by my cousin and my cousin’s friend. Rings are at 10NM intervals, and the antenna was placed next to my window, not really in any special place. It’s just a trimmed stock antenna as per some of my previous experiments.

In the end, I think the software can hold quite a bit of promise, I do very much like the dual displays, and the customisable labels displayed with the aircraft, although long traces would be nice, as well as different aircraft icons. Better map detail, and faster updates could be nice too. I do like having the METAR displayed at the bottom.

Freak Weather

I suppose something worthy of mention has been the relatively freak weather that Sydney has gotten lately. Winds have been strong, rain has been heavy and some of the largest areas have been affected by severe weather warnings. I cannot remember a period so severe in weather, even sitting at home listening to the walls creak and the thunder clap does make me slightly nervous.

NDB Beacon Hunting

As part of my constant bed-ridden-ness, I’ve also developed a very irregular sleep pattern. As a result, I’ve tried to make the most of my time awake in unusual times, spending some if it back to my shortwave radio hobbies. I’ve managed to spend some time looking for more NDB beacons – having logged more than 150, I didn’t expect to find more. Interestingly, I’ve still managed to add a few more to my map – which is approaching “saturation”. The main problem being, with multiple NDBs on the same frequency, it’s hard to separate them when they’re in phase, or if they propagate equally well, and they have minimal frequency offset. I’ve been rotating my loop antenna somewhat, so I’ve been able to explore some other “directions”, however, it seems unlikely I would improve on my reception range it would seem.


View NDB Hunting from Sydney, AU in a larger map

Conclusion

It’s been a bit of a marathon post in the making, I suppose the main disappointment is my ankle. But in the interim, while I’ve hoped it would recover, it seems to have a mind of its own. Motivation has been poor, but occasionally I have enough to get a post made – although my ability to observe is limited having been at home all this time. It’s been a drama above and beyond my expectations – it was completely unexpected and I’m sure it will cause me more trouble aside from the obvious, especially PhD wise. Normal blog service will resume once this drama is all over, although I will put up a few things from time to time.

Oh and if you haven’t already, do take my poll. I’ll try to change the polls semi-regularly.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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