Sunday, 31 December 2017

A bit about me

Born at a very early age in 1959 in Cardiff, moved to Gorseinon, then to Pontardulais or Pontarddulais as it s now spelt for my formative years.

Lost contact with some good friends including Dai Bone or Eric or The Arab, Torque Wrench, Downing or Eric,  Phil, Dai Miles, Greg Davies and  his brother Steven Davies, Keith Ivy, Steve Williams or Station 22, John Llewellyn amongst many others.

Moved about a bit and settled down in Lancashire for a while and then after some promotion, change of job ended up back in the Swansea area via Runcorn and Rotherham

Things I miss most about the Bont are the taste of the tap water, Double Dragon, The Dulais Glen, Hillman Avengers, Franks chip shop, my mothers Welsh Cakes, the word cwtch, Tiswas, Not the Nine O'Clock news, being able to laugh at jokes without worrying if they are racist, sexist etc, being able to say Golliwog and mean the label on a jam jar and nothing else, the Bont Carnival, singing Baa baa black sheep and not thinking it would in any way be connected with dark skinned people and of course Noake's pasties.

What can I say, I'm a self confessed Geek and computer Nerd, I also enjoy electronics and technology in general.

What you have here is a brief history of why i became this way inclined .

I suppose it all started with my father who used to work on communications gear and repaired our first TV and modified it so we could get ITV. I read his Admiralty Wireless Telegraphy handbooks with mentions of things called Leyden Jars or capacitors as we now call them and Spark Gap transmitters and became hooked.

I eventually ended up with a chemistry set and an electronics kit, but it was the electronics and electrical side of things that got me hooked.

With the kit I made some marvellous pieces of equipment such as a light that came on when it went dark an amplifier and a crystal radio.

I eventually lost interest until that fateful day when I left school and got an interview at my cousin's TV shop. I then became employed by Holt Hi Fidelity with a starting salary of £12.00 a week and enrolled in Llanelli technical college.

I wasn't sure how I would get on but the wonderful lecturer Peter Williams with his talk of transistors getting turned "hard on" inspired me and I came away with distinctions.

Money and problems at home meant I didn't finish my training and I went to work for British Steel earning more there in a day than I did in a week as a TV engineer.

I became involved in CB radio in the early days in the UK and became a rig doctor as they were called, then passed my Radio Amateur exam and got a class B licence and eventually finished my training off in Hull Skillcentre with the help of the excellent Mike Overend.

Then various jobs came and went including work on Sound and Light systems, large screen TV installation, and computers.

Normally in computer repairs, you start with stand alone machines and work you way up to networks. My introduction involved over 1700 desktop PCs on a wide area network, about 50 Novell file servers, several Unix boxes including the largest in Europe at the time, ICL Drs 300s and an ICL mainframe and all the associated peripherals and wide area network stuff so I had to learn quickly.

Since then I have worked on all sorts of equipment including satellite broadband and have recently moved away from Windows into the world of Linux. Using Linux takes me back to the old Amiga days as it puts the fun back into computers.

The list of computers I've owned is something like this.

ZX81, Vic 20, Spectrum, Commodore +4, BBC Model B, Toshiba MSX, Commodore Pet, Amiga 500, Amiga 500+, IBM XT (actual IBM), Amiga 600 since then it's been a PC of one sort or another. I've used Dos from version 2, Windows 1 and upwards, OS2 version 1 upwards, DR Dos and now settled on Linux.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Going Posh at the Wetlands

I like going down the local wetlands to do some bird watching, there I've said it. My wife and I are amateur twitchers and joined up the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Martin Mere. We moved back to South Wales and of course the nearest place is the Llanelli Wetlands, it's a wonderful area with places you can take the kids to so they can see wildlife close up and some areas and hides for the dedicated bird watcher. 

And then there's the cafe area, it was really quite good, not that expensive but the food was good and the staff are very friendly, they even had a rack you could take your dirty dishes back to. And now they have modernised to bring it in line with Slimbridge.

We went there on the weekend after the modernisation, I ordered the pizza as the description of it was good and my wife wanted a toasted sandwich. In the past, they made the sandwiches, now they are wrapped in a box which means there's more waste with the packaging. They didn't have what we wanted on display which wasn't too exotic so we ordered a baked potato instead and then sat down.

In the past, the potato would have arrived on a plate, with some salad on the side, knives and forks would have come out of a tray and mayonnaise out of a sachet. 

You now get a potato in a bowl, on a triangular plate, coleslaw is in another container and the salad is in jar with a resealable lid, the knife and fork are now presented in a expensive looking bit of cardboard. 

The pizza arrived not on a plate, but on a plank of wood, not an easily washed plate but a bit of wood that soaks up any grease and as there was a pizza on it with cheese, it happily obliged with the soaking. This has all greatly increased the amount of washing that needs to be done and in my opinion the amount of waste produced.

There is now more room and more seating space and this was sadly lacking before but the prices have gone up and the cafe was considerably quieter than we normally expect on a Sunday afternoon. The staff are still very happy and helpful and they now come round to empty the tables.

It seems crazy that a place that is trying to encourage responsible behaviour towards wildlife has, in my opinion increased it's wastage, use of water and cleaning materials for no real reason.

Come on WWT, stop being pretentious, your loyal visitors come there to see the wildlife, take pictures, have some good quality food in a nice environment and argue about who has the best and most expensive camera or lens, they don't want food on a plank of wood, they want it on a plate, like normal people do.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Superheroes and Supermarkets

It's time to have a rant, here we go................

I've been watching some of the DC TV series, started with The Arrow, then Flash, then Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. Apart from the costumes it's hard to distinguish any of them from the other, the Arrow has an ex office IT person who can do anything with any computer, Supergirl has one of these too and he can make superhero suits, scanners to detect temporal particles and all sorts. And we have one in Flash too that can do similar things. But they are all very two dimensional and that's being kind, the reject characters ended up in Legends of Tomorrow and we all know what's at the top end of a leg. The quality of acting here goes from bad to utter crap and then there's the Time Master Rip Hunter, who has come from playing a time traveller accompanying a Time Lord in Doctor Who. Doctor Who is about a Time Lord that stole a time machine, guess what the Time Master stole in Legends of Tomorrow.

I've kind of given up on Arrow, people die, then they get brought back to life by mysterious pools, people find their parents are really the bad guy, John Barrowman makes it bearable.

Flash has alternate realities coming up where good guys are bad guys and vice versa and in Supergirl, everyone is either rich, an alien, a superhero, gay or evil. Even Jimmy Olsen the spotty youth from Superman is a tall well built bloke that is now called the Guardian and fights bad guys with a shield wearing a lead outfit, made by the guy that looked after the firewalls for a gossip magazine. I'm sure there's a similar Marvel character.

And there's Martians in it too, the longest standing one is called John Jones and the newest one is called Megan Morse, these are not Martians, they are obviously Welsh, there's a new one coming up next week call Dai 3 Eyes.

I going to finish watching the 4 episodes of the crossover and then probably give up, which moves us onto Supermarkets.

The idea with a supermarket, is you put up aisles with shelves, as a customer, you walk up and down these aisles, put stuff into your trolley, pay and leave. The new Llansamlet Tesco store was obviously designed by the bastard son of an Ikea store planner on a bad day when he was suffering from inflamed piles. You go in, there are sideways aisles at the start, then front to back aisles at the back and then they put counters randomly in the middle of these aisles selling random things to block off the middle aisles that are at 90 degrees to the ones you are trying to find. 

I went round one of these counters about 14 times and went past the fresh bread so many times that it was out of date by the time I'd finished. I could see one product I wanted to buy, but no matter which direction I went in it always moved further away.

Once you've managed to navigate the first section after about a week, the rest seems normal-ish. Then you get to the end, there's a big huge sign on the wall in twelvty foot high letters that says Quench Your Thirst, under it they have crisps.

One part of the store appears to have created a Mobius band, I swear I saw people walking on the floor under me and then went round a corner and found the same people coming towards me.

Shopping is not the best experience in the world, come on Tesco, have a think about store layouts and make it easier, every little helps.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Shell Script stuff in Linux

I've wanted to make up a simple script that runs an update on my desktop and then either shuts down, reboots or continues depending on what parameters I add to the end.

Something like;

update reboot

update shutdown

or just update to install the updates and do nothing else.

I managed this with good old DOS many years ago and started to look up how to do this with Linux, I have to say that the vast majority of instructions are based up using foo and bar and are not the easiest things in the world to understand, here's one of the easier examples:

 $ mytest foo bar quux
   There are 3 arguments to mytest: foo bar quux
   first argument: foo
   second argument: bar
   third argument: quux
   here they are again: foo bar quux

I really can't work out how that helps me but it gave me a starting point.

So in plain language here's what I want to do, I've created a script with:

sudo nano /bin/mtupdate

The main part of the script checks for updates and installs the updates:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade -y
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade -y
sudo apt-get autoremove -y

It then goes onto check what additional parameters have been passed and this is the bit that caused me heartache.

So if I run mtupdate shutdown it does the above and then this bit

# checking for shutdown parameter
if [ "$1" = "shutdown" ]; then
echo "Shutting Down in 10 seconds"
# gives you a chance to change your mind
echo "Press CTRl+C to abort"
sleep 10
echo "Shutting Down"
# shuts down
shutdown -h now

Then it became harder as I wanted to check for a reboot parameter, to get it all in I had to do the following;

# checks for reboot parameter
if [ "$1" = "reboot" ]; then
echo "Rebooting in 10 seconds"
echo "Press CTRl+C to abort"
sleep 10
echo "Rebooting"
shutdown -r now

# checks for shut down parameter
if [ "$1" = "shutdown" ]; then
echo "Shutting Down in 10 seconds"
echo "Press CTRl+C to abort"
sleep 10
echo "Shutting Down"
shutdown -h now

# no parameters
echo .

echo "Updates Completed, please reboot as soon as you can"

fi fi

You have to have a fi at the end for every if in the list

The end product looks like this:

# mtupdate reboot or shutdown
echo "Running Update"
apt-get update
echo "Running Upgrade"
apt-get upgrade -y
echo "Running Dist Upgrade"
apt-get dist-upgrade -y
echo "Running Cleanup"
apt-get autoremove -y
apt-get install -fy

# checking for reboot parameter
if [ "$1" = "reboot" ]; then
echo "Rebooting in 10 seconds"
echo "Press CTRl+C to abort"
sleep 10
echo "Rebooting"
shutdown -r now

# checking for shutdown parameter
if [ "$1" = "shutdown" ]; then
echo "Shutting Down in 10 seconds"
echo "Press CTRl+C to abort"
sleep 10
echo "Shutting Down"
shutdown -h now

# no parameters entered
echo .
echo .
echo "Updates Completed, please reboot as soon as you can"
fi fi

To finish it off I ran 

sudo chmod +x /bin/mtupdate 

To make it executable

My suggestion to the people that write help stuff is to use a proper example, don't use foo bar quux as this means bugger all to people like me.

My next bit of scripting is going to revolve around taking two parameters and running something based on them, such as

mtbackup source destination

Where mtbackup runs something like rsync or cp or mv

I'll come to that next time round

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Open Sump Surggery

The might Chevy went in for a major service today to those lovely people at Trostre Tyres. Apart from the service there were a few other concerns regarding a rattling noise and a noise the car makes on full lock. I dropped the car off at 09.00 and walked down to the local wetlands to waste a few hours. I was told I would get a call shortly advising me of any issues. I walked around and managed to get quite a few pictures in the bag but no call from the garage. It was now about 13.00 and I though I'd better give them a call to see how they were doing, the line was engaged, 5 minutes later it was still engaged. Let's try calling another number I thought, I dialled home, that was engaged, I dialled Virgin Mobile help that was engaged.  Bugger, I  thought, something's up with the network, I sent a txt off to my wife which she answered and she contacted Trostre Tyres. Apparently, they had been trying to get in touch with me to discuss an issue they had found on the car. By this time I had walked just over 4 miles and had about a 50 minute walk back to the garage. 

On the way there, the inner geek in me took over, I installed Skype as data was working fine, had to credit them with £10.00 and managed to call the garage up.

Turns out that the service was completed, but a rear cylinder was starting to leak and needed changing. I asked how much this was going to cost, they gave me a figure, I swore. I asked how much including the servicing costs and they said that was the price they had just given me. I unswore if that's a thing you can do.

I found this company a few years back through an advert for tyres, I would not go anywhere else to get work done. They are really good, not over the top in price and more importantly I trust them.

The service is all done on the mighty Chevy, it's good for another 10,000 miles and is going back to get the cylinder changed tomorrow. The worrying rattling was a lose heat shield on the exhaust and the power steering noise was air in the system.

Many thanks to the people at Troste Tyres for taking care of the Chevy again, I managed to do just under 6.5 miles walking and my feet and legs aren't that bad.

Here's a map of the walk and a link to download for Google Earth.

And finally, a link to some of the pictures taken.

Oh yes, my mobile finally started working at 16.15

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A Brief History Of My Cameras

I had always thought that an SLR was going to be expensive until a work colleague by the name of Tony Green pointed me in the direction of the Prakitca MTL5 camera. This was a budget camera, a bit more expensive than a Zenit but had some excellent features and a good lens all for less than £100.

I purchased a few extra lenses and then a flash and eventually it gave up the ghost. By that time Praktica had come out with a more advanced camera.

This was a different camera from the MTL5, apart from manual control of exposure you also had a program mode, aperture and shutter priority and a new bayonet connector of Praktica design. The previous model had a 42mm screw thread which was common on a lot of cameras but this new fitting was peculiar to this model and the original choice of lenses was quite low. I added a 500mm mirror lens to this and several other items and then got hold of a Jenaflex as a second body.

I was playing round with B&W photography at the time and wanted a second body so that I could switch between colour and mono whenever I wanted. This was a pretty much auto model but was still a good camera with really good build quality.

Autofocus cameras were becoming more popular by now and I had set my sights on replacing this even though a company had come out with an autofocus lens for the Praktica that had all the electronics built into the lens.

I sold all my Praktica equipment and bought a Yashica 230. This camera was really quite advanced and even had a feature that would allow you too manually focus on a point and would take a picture when something appeared in that point, Ideal for capturing a rally car at the top of a hill. The camera was really good and I hated it, all the fun had gone as the camera took over completely.

 At the same time that I had the Yashica I had also decided to have a go with a medium format camera and had picked up one of these little beauties. I just wish I still had it to be honest. The quality from the large negatives was amazing and it was a camera that you had to take time to use. You looked down at a large viewfinder in which the image was inverted so composing a picture took a bit of thinking.
And there was also this little beauty, the camera with a 50mm lens, a 300mm lens as seen in the picture, he shoulder stock and a gun metal case cost about £80. The camera had a light meter on the front that measured the light arriving at the camera and the lens had an aperture of F4.5 and was really good quality. The trigger operated the camera release and you did look a bit suspect when using it. I dare say in this day and age it may arouse a lot of suspicion if you were standing somewhere with one of these held up to your eye.

I eventually got rid of all of these and bought a cam corder as these seemed to be getting more an more popular. It never had the same appeal to me as did the still camera. Watching events you had recorded became boring and it was only when you got home that you realised how much you had used the zoom lens. Eventually I got rid of this and once more got hold a of another 35mm camera,

This time it was a Minolta, I don't actually remember a lot about this camera other that it was quite good at what it did. It just worked but had nothing that really inspired me or made me want to use it. It was shortly after this that I was introduced to the world of digital. I ended up with two cameras. One was a point and shoot HP camera with a resolution of about 1Mp and the other was a Fuji camera with a 2Mp resolution. Both good cameras that produced good results and got me back to enjoying taking pictures.

They both went their own way to be replaced by another digital camera, another Minolta, the Dimage Z1. 3.2Mp with a 10x optical zoom, this camera worked very well and was nice and light to use and gave me some really good pictures. The 10x zoom was particularly useful. But the search for higher resolutions was on for me and this got sold on and was replaces by another Fujifilm camera.

This had 4Mp and a 10x optical zoom and would if you wanted take pictures in RAW. It took some good pictures despite some poor reviews, it did take some time to turn on and wasn't the quickest at focusing but it worked.

We had been planning a safari holiday and I realised that the Fuji was not good enough, I came across the Panasoniz FZ50, 10Mp with a 12x optical zoom and it was a joy to use. I loved this camera and it took a battering. The zoom was manual, something Panasonic have stopped doing on their later cameras. The quality of the pictures was really quite good and the lens let plenty of light in. It was killed at a party when I took a picture at the same time a laser shone down the lens leaving burn marks on the sensor. I didn't know if I should get another one which would have been a second hand one or if I should get something with a better zoom as I was getting into bird watching by this time.

 I decided to go for the better zoom and went back to Fuji. This time an S4000 with a 30 x optical zoom and a 14Mp sensor. It should have been good but the pictures were awful, the processing made then look as if they had been painted and it only lasted a few months, I got rid of it and went for another Fuji camera.

This time it was a HS30 EXR with a 16Mp sensor and a 30x manual optical zoom. It's a good camera for the price and for what it does, it shoots in RAW and you need to ensure that any software you use to process the pictures recognises the EXR information. If not you end up with an 8Mp image with more noise. It took me some time to get the right settings for the best quality image on the camera, I had to set the sharpness and other settings to minimum to reduce the in camera processing. At full stretch the camera is a bit slow at focusing but has produced some good images. It's let down by  the aperture at full zoom, no bulb feature and if you take a 30 second exposure, you have to wait another 30 seconds before you can take another picture. No good for pictures of the sky with star trails. Using the camera alone, I have managed to get pictures of the Jupiter with it's moons. They are just points of light but it's still quite impressive. But it's not really doing the job for me. I've looked at replacing it with a HS50, this performs better and has a longer zoom range but I think it's time for me to go back into an SLR type camera. At the moment I'm looking at Canon, Nikon or Sony. Once I've decided, I'll update this page.

The decision was made, I went for Sony as they were based on the Minolta mount and there are plenty of lenses available.  The question was which one, I really fancied the A58 initially but some comments about the quality of the lens put me off. So I decided why not go second hand and after a bit of searching the one that came up was the A390. It's only downfall was a low speed when it came to continuous shooting. I picked up the camera with an 18 to 55mm lens, a 75 to 300mm lens and a 400mm lens for less than the cost of a brand new A58 and so far I'm delighted with the choice. In time I'll probably pick up a second body to go with the lenses and I need a better tripod and a 2x converter.

The A390 has worked well but it's started to show it's age. I've had to repair it once and now the
AF/MF switch has fallen off so it was time to get something else. I thought long and hard and decided to stay with Sony. This time I got an A55 which has a higher resolution, GPS but an electronic viewfinder as opposed to an optical one.

Still getting used to it but results are really quite good even at high ISO. It's lighter than the A390, battery life isn't as good due to the EVF and GPS but it's still quite good. I didn't realise how much I missed what an EVF can do, you can have a grid line on it to make things look level and there's a lot more information about the image available in the viewfinder.

Here's a sample image from the A55 taken at 1000 ISO

Another Birthday

April the 24th came and suddenly I was 58 years old, I don't feel it most of the time. I do have some aches and pains and a bit of water retention in my lower legs but hopefully that should be on the mend. Life, generally isn't bad at the moment and after quite a few crap years everything seems to be coming into place. When I say crap years, a lot of good stuff happened, but things could have been better. But looking at the whole picture, I've had 58 years when to be honest, I've done and accomplished very little. Looking ahead I hope I can remain fairly healthy and getting to 70 would be nice, but that's only 12 years away. That's 12 summers to cram all sorts of things into, it's not much time. They say life is wasted on the young, it's wrong. It's just that in general, the young waste life as they think it goes on forever.

So this year things need to start happening again and they already have, I've made it to Caldey Island, it's only just off the coast and there's been no reason why I couldn't have gone there before except that it was one of those places I was going to when I had some spare time.

In June, we'll be in Barcelona looking at a cathedral, the main reason for going is a track from an Alan Parsons project album, but it's a good enough reason. October will see us in Corfu for about 11 days, we'll be celebrating our wedding anniversary out there. July will see us planning the Camino with some other members of the family, totally different type of holiday but it will be an experience and you need loads of those.

We've got a bucket list, trouble is we need a bigger bucket.

So here's a tip for all you out there that are reading the ramblings of this old bugger, life is for living and as a certain Andrew Latimer said. "Never give a day away, always live, for today.

So get out there and stop existing, take part in life, lift your head up out of your phone and look around you, there's a load of world to experience and you don't have much time.