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.

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.


Friday, 21 April 2017

Camera Magazines

When I started out with a camera many years ago I loved camera magazines, ideas for different types of shots, tips on processing the negatives and so on. I used to buy several different magazines, Amateur photographer was my favourite.

These days, I'm finding hard to justify buying the magazine let alone taking out a subscription to any. Most of the magazines are dominated by Nikon/Canon, I use a Sony A55 and have no intention of jumping to another brand, thankfully Amateur Photographer does have articles about other brands. But the main bugbear is that the majority of articles then go on to tell you how to process the pictures in Lightroom and Photoshop. This to me is a complete waste of time and puts me off buying the magazine. I understand that magazines have to play to the masses but there are a growing number of people like me that don't use a Mac or a Windows based machine.

I've been running Linux since the late 90s, I generally move the RAW pictures onto my desktop, check them all with an application called Geeqie and then process the RAW images using Darktable. The final JPEG images are then catalogued with Shotwell and uploaded to Google+ should I want to. The total cost of this software is nothing, you can donate money to the developers if you want and you should.

Darktable is a really good piece of software, it's available for Linux and Mac but not Windows, has all the tools you need and you can even import GPS files from your mobile phone it will match the timestamp with your images so you can tag the location.

I'm no expert in Darktable but it would be nice to have a small section of a magazine dedicated to applications such as this.


Thursday, 2 February 2017

Getting Old

OK, I'm getting on a bit but I still leap out of bed in the morning and then spend half an hour waiting for the muscle spasms to go away, I see people in shops and see older people and think I must have been in school with your son/daughter and then realise I was actually in school with them and so the other night, I was watching Grand Tour  in which Jeremy Clarkson was talking about the signs of getting old. 

His main suggestion was that if you stopped trying to race a train that was driving by the side of the road it was time to give up. While this is a sign of impending temporal termination there are many more other serious indications, I 'll go through these below.

Not trying to race a helicopter.

When in a car by yourself, not asking permission from the space station controller to dock while parking at the local supermarket.

Walking round the supermarket and not pretending that the trolley handle is a twist grip and you are in fact in control of a motorbike, boat, tank and so on.

When you enter a shop that has an inside and outside door, you don't pretend it's an airlock anymore.

Not speaking the phrase "activate station keeping thrusters Mr Sulu" when applying the handbrake at traffic lights.

You pick up a fountain and you don't take the top off and say "Open Channel D".

Not putting full beam on when it snows and pretending to go into warp drive.

Looking in a clothes shop window and thinking, that's a nice cardigan.

Buying the cardigan.

Buying corduroy trousers to go with the cardigan.

We now go onto the more serious signs.....

While walking round a store, you whistle some random tune at random intervals.

Sitting down with your car keys in your hand, rattling the keys continuously in time with some unheard and random beat.

Doing the same with change in your pocket.

And now the final sign of that your life as a man has come to an end, once you reach this stage give up. 

Send yourself off Dignitas as you're not going to last much longer.

You open the Littlewoods / Grattan catalogue and the first thing you do is turn to look at the watches instead of the ladies lingerie pages. Once your here, look out around for the man with the scythe, it's time to go.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Raspberry Pi Downloader

So I now have a Pi powered newsgroup indexer and a Pi powered newsgroup server, time for a Pi powered downloader, I'm going to set this up for Torrents and Usenet use, I've added a USB drive to it and mounted it at:

/home/majortom/Downloads

By editing the fstab file with:

sudo nano /etc/fstab

And adding this line to the bottom:

UUID=01669871-a2a3-406e-84a9-f63a9c5fffd0       /home/usernameDownloads        ext4    errors=remount-ro       0       1

You'll have to change the UUID to your drives and username to the user you have on the Pi.

I'm also going to make the downloads folder visible on the network by installing a Samba server.

sudo apt-get install samba samba-common-bin

Make some changes with 

sudo nano /etc/samba/smb.conf

Change the network name and workgroup settings at the top to suit your own use.



And add this to the bottom:
[Downloads]
        path = /home/username/Downloads
        browseable = yes
        public = yes
        writeable = yes
        create mask = 0777
        directory mask = 0777

Let's install SabNZB now and get it working:

sudo apt-get install sabnzbdplus

Edit a config file with:

sudo nano /etc/default/sabnzbdplus

It should look something like this when it's finished.

# This file is sourced by /etc/init.d/sabnzbdplus
#
# When SABnzbd+ is started using the init script, the
# --daemon option is always used, and the program is
# started under the account of $USER, as set below.
#
# Each setting is marked either "required" or "optional";
# leaving any required setting unconfigured will cause
# the service to not start.

# [required] user or uid of account to run the program as:
USER=username

# [optional] full path to the configuration file of your choice;
#            otherwise, the default location (in $USER's home
#            directory) is used:
CONFIG=

# [optional] hostname/ip and port number to listen on:
HOST=0.0.0.0
PORT=8082

# [optional] extra command line options, if any:
EXTRAOPTS=

Now we make it executable with:

sudo service smbd restart

And then it's time to finish off the configuration by pointing a web browser at:

http://machinename:8082


That's newsgroups sorted, let's move onto torrents:

sudo apt-get install deluged deluge-console deluge-web

Now we're going make deluge create a configuration file and then shut it down afterwards.

deluged

sudo pkill deluged

We need to change a files but let's back then up first:

cp ~/.config/deluge/auth ~/.config/deluge/auth.old

At the bottom of the file add the following:

user:password:level

User is the username you're running deluge under, password is the password for accessing the interface and level is 10, so something like:

username:password:10

Now we can run deluge by typing:

delugee

And connect to it with the console by typing:

deluge-console

We need to enter the following into the console to allow remote connections:

config -s allow_remote True

config allow_remote

exit

Time now to install the Deluge client on your desktop, you can get it from here. Once it's installed run it and you'll see something like this, depending on your operating system.




Go to preferences, interface and remove the tick from classic mode


Click Ok and then close down the client and reopen it. You should now get the connection manager popping up, click on Add.




And enter the network name of the Pi or it's IP address along with the username and password you added earlier.





You should now see the console where you can control your torrent client









There you go, you now have a nice low powered download computer.

Leafnode News Server

Following on with my setting up of a Raspberry Pi as a Newsgroup Indexer, I've realised that the next big issue is with news servers themselves. I don't really want a load of newsgroup just a few with a reasonable retention. Some of the paid for servers are suffering from missing posts so I've decided to use a Raspberry Pi with a 500GB drive in it and set up my own. If it works well, I'll eventually add on a bigger drive.

I've installed Raspbian Lite and mounted the external drive at /var/news, one problem is that the drive doesn't seem to mount at boot, this has been fixed by modifying the cmdline.txt file, run:

sudo nano /boot/cmdline.txt

And add rootdelay=5 to the end.

Once you've done all that let's bring the machine up to date with:

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

and then restart it with:

sudo shutdown -r now

Once it's rebooted, installation is fairly straightforward with:

sudo apt-get install leafnode

You get asked to enter the details of a news server, I've got Virgin Media here so it's news.virginmedia.com and a permanent connection.

Then the fun begins, you're going to need to edit your hosts file with:

sudo nano /etc/hosts

Edit the line that says

127.0.1.1 machinename

so that it shows

127.0.1.1 nachinename.domain machinename

You can't use localdomain here, so just put your Samba workgroup domain in, then we need to edit another two files so we can connect on the local network:

sudo nano /etc/hosts.allow


#-- leafnode begin
leafnode: 127.0.0.1
#-- leafnode end

Edit this so it looks like

#-- leafnode begin
leafnode: 192.168.0.1
#-- leafnode end

Changing the 192.168.0.1 to whatever your IP address range is and then:

sudo nano /etc/hosts.deny


#-- leafnode begin
leafnode: ALL
#-- leafnode end

Comment out the middle line so it looks like this:

#-- leafnode begin
# leafnode: ALL
#-- leafnode end

Now it's time to fetch a list of newsgroups:

sudo fetchnews -vvv

You can now connect to the server with news reader, I'm going to use Pan but there are loads out there, this is how you do it with Pan





Subscribe to a newsgroup and then go and request the latest headers, this will only give one leafnode entry at the moment, now we want to change some settings before we go any further, just enter:

sudo nano /etc/news/leafnode/config

I'm going to change the expire entry at the top to 400, that's just over a year

Going down the screen I'm changing the initial fetch to 1000, keep going down the screen and set maxfetch to 2000, maxcrosspost to 10 and maxage to 1000. If you're on a slow connection it may be worth you dropping some of these settings

We then run:

sudo fetchnews -vvv

This time it will populate the group(s)

You may find that your current news server doesn't hold all the groups you want so you can edit the leafnode config file again and add some other servers in, here's some you can add in;;


server = free.xsusenet.com
username = username
password = password

You can sign up for a free account with XSUsenet by following this link.


# Free Servers

server = blaine.gmane.org

server = news2.neva.ru

server = news2.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de

server = news-archive.icm.edu.pl


Now run sudo fetchnews -vvv again and it will pull down a list of groups from these servers, make sure that you ask your usenet client to refresh the groups list.

Last thing we have to do is make it update the groups by itself, there is a file in the leafnode folder that you can use but I've done it this way and it works for me:

sudo nano /bin/getnews

Paste the following into it:


texpire -v
fetchnews -vvv
echo


Let#s make it executable with:

sudo chmod +x /bin/getnews

And we'll get cron to run this every 15 minutes with:

sudo crontab -e

Paste this into it:

*/15 * * * * /bin/getnews

Then save it, give it a final reboot and you're all sorted, you're very own news server. You can't add a username and password for access as far as I'm aware so it's not a good idea to make it accessible from the Interwebs.

If you reboot at some point the lockfile may stop leafnode updating, I've created another file called clearlock with:

sudo /bin/clearlock

This goes into it:

rm /var/spool/news/leaf.node/lock.file 

Again, we make it executable with:

sudo chmod +x /bin/clearlock

And we make it run on boot with:

sudo crontab -e

Paste this in.

@reboot /bin/mtclearlock


And we're all done