I officially give up! Yet again.

Morse code is an anachronism.

Invented and used in the 1840’s, it seems somewhat out of place in today’s high-speed world, where data rates are so high that whole sentences of text can be sent in the blink of an eye.

It’s an outmoded form of communication, that just doesn’t sit well with modern  methods.

And yet… it does.

It is still used by the military – not necessarily as the main basis of contact nowadays, but certainly as a fallback, I’m sure.

And in the world of Amateur Radio, it is still a much sought-after skill amongst many.

There are plenty of amateurs out there who can do Morse.  Many of them excel at it.  And there are even some that won’t use any other method to communicate over the air.

Sadly, I’m not one of them.

I would LOVE to be able to read morse code, properly.  I can send at slow speeds and I can read it at very slow speeds. Very slow. Very, very slow. Reading is the hard part.

Rather like learning a new language (and ostensibly, that’s what it is), there are many different methods for learning it. Over the years I have tried reading books (Duh!); listening to tapes and listening to other operators sending. I have tried several PC programs and mobile phone apps. I have built machines for practicing with (see picture above), eventually taking them apart and using the bits for another project, because I was getting nowhere.

Frustratingly, in my teens, I did learn how to read and send, and could do so at about five or six words a minute.  If only I’d kept it up.

Similarly, I used to be able to parlez francais to a reasonable degree.

But I allowed them both to lapse and nowadays I struggle to learn either.

And it really annoys me.

I’ll admit that this is partially down to commitment. I don’t seem to have the time nowadays to study for such things.

And the inclination. That’s kind of gone too: I want to learn it, but I don’t want to put in the effort.  Like the rest of the MTV generation (yes, I think I just about fall into that category) and, as Freddie Mercury sang: “I want it all and I want it now”.

And so, after several months of “giving it another go”, I have hung up my headphones.

Again.

For the last time.

That’s it! I have resigned myself to the fact that morse code will forever evade me.

No more, will I try learning and decyphering that strange sound of dits and dahs pouring from my radio speaker.

No more, will I spend hours in the car listening to an 800Hz tone beeping out letters of the alphabet to me.

No more will I drive the family mad, as I sit in my room badly tapping away at a morse key.

No more, will I… who am I kidding? Give it three months and I’ll be back at it for another half-hearted attempt.

Guilty, as charged

I do wonder about myself sometimes!

Last night, I built a wireless charger for my phone.

It took about a week for the bits to arrive from China, and then about an hour for me to fit it into a suitable container that would act as a charging pad – I used the lid off of a jar of decaffeinated coffee.

My schoolboy error?

My phone doesn’t do wireless charging!

Oh well, at least it was quick and cheap. And it hasn’t gone to waste, as Amelia’s phone does have that functionality, so she has already snaffled it away to join the junk on her bedside table.

*Must do better research next time*

Short changed

Once again, I’ve been looked over in the Birthday Honours list. Pah!

Oh well. Maybe next year.

Last weekend, I fitted a new burglar alarm for my aged aunt. My dad came along to help run some of the wiring.

Her old alarm was also fitted by me, about 20 years ago and, whilst it still worked OK, it was getting a bit long in the tooth.  But the main reason for replacing it, was because she was struggling to reach the panel nowadays.

And so, I replaced it with a nice new one and then added a remote keypad in the hallway, at a level she could reach easily.

She was very pleased and gave me some money for doing the work. Of course, I refused: she’s family.

But she insisted.

And I refused.

This went on for a while before I grudgingly accepted. She’s proud of still being able to pay her own way, I can understand that. “Take it. Treat your dad”, she said.

And so, last night, we went out to our favourite Toby – we love a carvery – taking dad and his partner with us, to have a meal… paid for by my aunt.

The total cost of the meal came to 4 pounds more than she had given me.

I’ll pop round to see her later, to see if she will stump up the rest.

 

In the crap

Yesterday, I went on a visit to Abbey Mills pumping station, in the heart of that London.

Well, maybe not the heart, but certainly a major organ, like the liver or maybe a kidney.

Anyway, it was dead good.

We started off with a finger buffet for lunch, before sitting down for a ninety minute talk on Sewage Through The Ages. It was quite fascinating… some of it.

And then we put on some protective clothing and climbed down into a sewer. It was a bit smelly, but not too bad, considering. And if nothing else, it was a cool respite from the sun. Our guides took us on a thirty minute walk inside a nearby sewer, which they had washed down for us. There was still a couple of inches of sludge and silt to walk through, but it wasn’t too bad at all.  Being down there, one got a sense of how much work the Victorians put into it. The fact that they still work perfectly 150 years after being built is testament to that.  The picture above is of me and my team, just before we went down (as I’ve not sought permission from any of them to put their picture on here, I’ve blurred them out, to be on the safe side).

After the sewers, we were taken on a tour of the station itself. With its magnificent Victorian architecture, it’s no surprise that English Heritage have listed the building.  And inside was even more impressive. I would imagine more modern pumping stations, to be stark, utilitarian places, but Victorian engineers and architects liked to have a touch of the grandiose about their work.

 

It’s a fascinating visit and I would recommend it to anyone… especially as it is free.  I think the water board only run the tour for one week at the end of May and I know it gets heavily subscribed – because it took 18 months for me and the team to get tickets… and we work for them! But it might also be available (I’m told) during London Open House, in September. If you get the chance, it’s definitely worth a look.

Good and bad

I’ve had a torrid time of it this week, on the motorways.  I know I often joke about it, but I’m starting to wonder whether being able to bring traffic to a standstill, merely by being on the same road, really is my super power… as rubbish as that would be.

My journey home from work on Monday had an extra hour added to it, when an accident on the M40 reduced the motorway from three lanes down to one. During rush hour.

Likewise on Tuesday, an accident on the M1 at Hemel closed three of the four lanes during rush hour, adding ninety minutes onto my journey home. Ninety minutes! And when we finally got moving and got past the accident, there was hardly anything to see. If I’ve been made to wait that long in the traffic, I want to see a reason for it, carnage even, not just a BMW with it’s front bumper hanging off!

Wednesday. Don’t get me started on Wednesday! I had to go to Swindon for a couple of meetings and so left half an hour earlier than normal. We suddenly ground to a halt about 2 miles from J18 on the M25. And we just sat there. And sat there. Eventually we inched along and I could see that all the lanes had been closed, due to an accident and the police were turning vehicles round and sending them back up the motorway. We all got diverted through Rickmansworth. Can you imagine four lanes of motorway traffic driving through Rickmansworth? It wasn’t particularly quick, I can tell you! I eventually arrived in Swindon – having completely missed my morning meeting – after five and a quarter hours. A journey that normally takes about two and a half.   I left as soon as I could, following my afternoon meeting, but was thwarted once again when an accident on the M4 slowed us all down. “Long Delays Between J12 and J10” threatened the overhead signage. My heart sank and I looked to my satnav for advice. “Avoid this bit of the motorway and go through Reading”, it said. Sort of. No way! I’ve been caught like that before. Reading at rush hour? It’d be a nightmare.  And yet…   If I could just get to the A329… Inexplicably – and possibly because I still had the morning’s motorway horror still in my head, I found myself taking the slip road at J12 and heading to Reading on the A4.  I was right: it WAS a nightmare.  Four hours after leaving Swindon, I arrived home.

Thursday wasn’t so bad, save for a bit of a hold up on the 413 Denham Road in the morning.

And then yesterday, Friday – when I can normally work from home – I had to go into work for a meeting. I had a lovely journey in. Friday mornings are definitely the best time for driving on the motorways.  Friday afternoons, not so.  My journey home was again lengthened by some numpty who doesn’t know how to drive properly on the motorway, ramming into the back of another vehicle and causing a huge tailback on the M1.

If only everyone was as good a driver as what I am, there would be no accidents. They all drive too fast and too close. Unlike Miss Daisy here.

But today has been good: a leisurely drive to our local annual ham radio rally with a couple of mates.

Good weather.

Plenty to see.

A couple of bargains.

Meeting up with more friends.

And an ice-cream.

A perfect Sunday.

Hit it!

For ages – and just for the fun of it – I’ve wanted to build a Batak.

I think that’s short for Button ATtAcK.

I think.

Basically, it’s a reaction game: a button lights up and you press it, and then another lights and you press that, and then anoth… well, you get the idea.

All against the clock.

They are used widely in Formula 1, I believe, to help the drivers improve their reaction times. It takes speed, hand-to-eye co-ordination and good peripheral vision.

I’ve always thought that building one wouldn’t be too difficult, but my programming skills are THAT rubbish, that I could never quite figure out how to do it.

And then I spotted a project to build one, on the Instructables site, by a clever chap called R0RSCHACH and I have pretty much copied his design exactly, but then added a few little bits so that it can either run off of a 12V battery or can be plugged into the mains.

OK, it’s not as impressive as a proper Batak, I suppose, but it does the job and it only cost me about fifty quid to build. Proper ones go for hundreds or can be hired for several hundred a day!

It’s been a lot of fun building it and I’ve learnt quite a lot too  -though my programming skills are still rubbish.   My woodworking skills aren’t much better and the wooden framework probably took me longer to build than the electronics (big thanks to my mate Graham, who helped with the woodworking side of things).

And does it work?  Well, it’s against the clock, as I said, and the most I have managed to score is 42 (yes, I know: the meaning of life, the universe and everything). Amelia, however, has managed 62… which is really annoying!

Bloody kids!

So, now that’s built, I need another project to keep me busy.

“NEXT!”

Scum

Even as I gushed almost lyrically about the beauty of our local woodland in my previous post, evil forces conspired to ruin it for me… and for all of us.

Gypos!

There is a public footpath that travels alongside the woods, along with a swath of grass. Last weekend, gypsies cut the padlock and chain on the large gate that the council use to get their mowers in.

Before we knew it, about a dozen caravans had set up camp alongside the woods.

Tatty old Transit vans and pick-up trucks parked on the grass and kids on motorbikes and quad bikes tore through the woods, making it very unpleasant for those of us that used the woods for recreational walking.

Many dogging friends gave up and took their animals elsewhere, whilst a rumour (possibly apocryphal) that the gypsies had held a dog to ransom until it’s owner paid up, forced many others to give the place a wide berth. Not me:  Saber and I continued our walks in the woods… but we did steer clear of where they were camped.

Mercifully, they have now moved on, after just a week, but they left their mess behind them – a small part of which is shown in the pic at the top of this post.

I felt sorry for those houses whose gardens backed on to the grass area where they camped. I heard reports of rubbish and even human faeces being thrown over the fences into their back gardens.

Even though the council have been quick to clear up after them, they’ve left their mark: broken branches and damaged bushes; scorched patches where they’ve had fires; flattened grass and flowers.

And – of a course – a frightened community.

And they wonder why no-one likes them.

Woody

We are lucky, in that just five or six minutes walk from home, we have a small area of woodland to visit.

And – having a dog – we visit it often.

Almost daily.

According to the Forestry Commission board at the entrance, the woods are classified as “Ancient Woodland” and are estimated to be about 800 years old.

Saber loves it in there: as far as she is concerned, these are HER woods and she runs around like she owns the place, chasing squirrels and the occasional Muntjac Deer which, I hasten to add, she never gets close to catching, as they quickly disappear into the undergrowth.

And we’ll often meet other walkers and dog owners in there and after a while, we all get to know each other.

But, by far, I prefer it when we don’t meet anyone else: early mornings or late evenings just before the the sun sets, is best.  It’s perfectly quiet as we walk along the multiple tracks that traverse the woods and sometimes I find myself wondering about those who have walked here before… not like yesterday or last week, but hundreds of years ago: Elizabethan; Georgian; Jacobean.

Are our footsteps treading the same paths, I wonder?

At certain times of the year, a low mist or fog will hover over the ground early in the mornings, mixing with the long shadows cast by the trees and just making the place feel even more wondrous.

And at this time of the year, the bluebells come out, adding some extra pizzazz to the greens and browns that colour this particular piece of countryside. I took the above picture yesterday, and tonight I converted it to black & white and then colour popped the bluebells. All a bit rushed, but you get the idea of what I was trying to do.

Buzby’s book

This came through the door the other day.

Look at it: pathetic!

Those of you of a certain age – that’s my entire readership, then… yes, both of you – will remember when the phone book was such an epic tome, that it wouldn’t actually fit through the letterbox. And the ‘… good ol’ Yellow Pages’ wasn’t much smaller.

I can remember seeing Geoff Capes on Nationwide (I think), showing just how strong he was by making a Herculean effort to tear a phone book in half.

This latest edition is a combination of both the residential phone book  AND local businesses. Those two books stacked on top of one another would have been about two and a half inches thick! This new one is exactly one quarter inch. I doubt that Geoff would have much of a problem with that. In fact, I reckon even I could probably tear that in half with just my bare hands.

In fact…

*Five minutes later*

 

 

 

 

I RULE!

(actually, that was bloody hard!)

Not going up in the world

I had a meeting today, up at Emley Moor mast, which – as you can see in the photo – is a bloody great big tower (tallest structure in the UK) that transmits TV and radio signals to large swathes of Yorkshire. Annoyingly, the tower is currently closed for maintenance, so I couldn’t go up it. But I will… one day. I’m determined that I will.

I stayed in a hotel in Barnsley with a small group from work and we were wined and dined, by the company we’d gone up to visit, courtesy of their expense account. It was a great evening.

And then, after our meeting this morning, we were given a tour of the place and I found myself feeling very ‘at home’ in their operations centre, where all the TV and radio signals are monitored.  Ahh, happy days.

Talking of TV signals, this advert managed to worm it’s way past my ad-blocker:

 

 

Intrigued, I clicked on it and was taken to this web page, where it claims that a small antenna that it supplies, will pick up your cable TV signals for free.

Utter bollocks!

Just about every technical fact it quotes, is rubbish and the comments at the bottom are all manufactured.  And all wrong.
Julie from London has one and now no longer needs to pay $65 a month to Comcast.
Apparently.
Bollocks!

Please, if you see this, steer well clear, it is quite obviously a scam.

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