Anthology of Dorkness

Tales From The Dork Web #13

A while back I decided to make odd issues more general, and even issues themed. Somehow that didn’t quite work out as planned. Here’s an issue catching up on some of the cool stuff I’ve noticed that you may have missed.

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There are a lot of links in Tales From The Dork Web. If it gets a bit too much, put it down and come back later. I wrote a guide to help you get the most from it.

This issue’s art comes from Jax, the Ninja Carrot. Jax posts mostly lesbian furry fan-art on their tumblr. If that sounds like something you might be into, check it out. If not, give it a go anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?

This issue’s music comes from the Abstract Orchestra, Yorkshire’s finest orchestral instrumental hip-hop big band. Give it a play while you read on.

Radio Gaga

I’m studying for my Ham Radio Foundation licence using Essex Ham’s free online course. My exam is in early August, after which I’ll (hopefully) be licenced to transmit. I really enjoy investigating, demodulating and decoding digital transmissions. It makes sense to make it official.

I’ve been fascinated by the Shortwave Radiogram. It’s a radio show broadcast several times a week using digital modes over Shortwave. People email in and tweet back to show how far away they received it. You can catch it live on a Shortwave Radio rig, a WebSDR or download the archives to feed into a tool like FLDigi. It’s a great and fairly easy way to try Digital mode Short wave radio. All you need to do is:

  1. Install FLDigi, download an archived episode of Shortwave Radiogram and decode the messages from the audio file.

  2. Set up a virtual cable, play the audio and decode live in FLDigi

  3. Try decoding in a live broadcost on a WebSDR

  4. Get a Short Wave-capable radio and see if you can pick it up.

It’s easy to split the above into 4 discreet 15-30 minute projects. It’s ideal for time-poor parents (and attention-poor kids too). Broadcasts feature images as well as text. You might notice digital modes sounding like old games loading from cassette tape. I for one find the sounds of HF really interesting but I’m weird like that. Of course, HF is a fraction of what’s out there.

I haven’t yet been able to pick up the show live on my Tecsun PL-380. I live about 4500 miles from the broadcast site in a place with lots of trees but no big hills. Even so, at night I’ve picked up broadcasts from as far as Bolivia and Zambia on the Tecsun. I recently got some Airspy gear and was able to pick up broadcasts from Taiwan and Botswana with it. I’ve ordered a Youloop antenna, Hopefully I’ll get even better results soon. Once I have a setup I’m comfortable with I’ll report back.

Somewhat cheekily I’ve been listening in on various modes using SDRs and my Baofengs. I captured this image from an NOAA satellite. I used a cheap $10 TV USB stick using a magnetic scanner antenna stuck to my car bonnet. Pics from spaaaaace!

It’s the wrong antenna type and the stick is definitely unhappy but the images are improving. The picture above is the best I’ve got. I’ll try again with an improved setup once I see high elevation passes again.

Frugal Radio has a new series to help people to explore Software Defined Radio on a budget. The first video above gives an overview of what’s feasible. It looks promising and is worth a subscribe if SDR sounds interesting but you don't know where to start.

None the Neowiser

My partner and I have been going out to a dark sky site we found (which, in the part of South East England where we live is rare). We played with radio while watching satellites. We'd try to identify them and catch their transmissions as they go overhead with some success. I thought we’d try imaging comet Neowise.

The comet was first spotted by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infra-red Survey Explorer, hence the name. It passed closest to the Sun on the 3rd of July, and will reach pass closest to the earth on the 23rd of July. Sky and Telescope has an excellent guide on how and where to spot the comet and it’s magnificent tail. If you want to snap a photo, this guide may help you get better results.

Seán Doran’s video made from an ISS time lapse shows Neowise coming over the horizon. I don’t expect anything that impressive, but I’ll share what I have in the next issue. We’ll try to revive the camera kit I put away when we packed up the house for renovations. Once that’s sorted we just need a clear night or morning.

Neowise should now be visible with the naked eye before sunrise and shortly after sunset. You’ll get a better view with binoculars or a basic telescope. Likewise your phone camera should be able to get a pic in the right light. If you have a fancy camera and tripod, crank the ISO up, use a timer and you should be able to get good shots. If you do get some pics of Neowise, please do tweet or toot them at me using the #neowise hashtag, I’d love to see them.

Night Sky Hunter has a great primer on hunting comets. Thankfully for NEOWISE we don’t need to be as dedicated as Martin. If you love space news but prefer the source to the sauce, try Andrew Cantino and Ben Lachman’s Orbital Index. This is a superbly curated astro-newsletter well worth inviting into your inbox.

Reach built a fantasy alternative Voyager programme, visiting the solar system's major planets. This video using Kerbal Space Program shows what could’ve been. It reminds me of many hours spent on my own moon, mars and venus missions in the excellent Orbiter simulator.

Dad Jokes, Bad Jokes

Those of you who’ve spent time with me in real-life will know of my penchant for puns, wordplay and awful jokes. I recently acquired a joke account on twitter. I’m renovating and expanding it and will do a write-up once ready. There’s a basic dad jokes site in beta and more will happen over the next few weeks.

Things You May Have Missed

Nick Punt has an interesting piece on de-escalating social media conflict. Unlike earlier platforms like Usenet, social media optimizes for conflict to drive engagement. If you feel angry on social media it’s by deliberate design, not accident.

I’ve been thumbing through Bruce Sterling’s ranty 80s literary zine Cheap Truth. Geon’s dyslexia simulation page looks really cool. Sandlab’s Fawkes anti-facial recognition software looks really interesting, in a cat and mouse kind of way. The Pinephone is out. I’m tempted.

Tom’s Hardware has a new Raspberry Pi show. It promises to feature interesting projects featuring everyone’s favourite desk-drawer accessory. If you want to get started (or reacquainted) with a Raspberry Pi, my favourite intro projects are:

  • Pi-Hole - Every home should have one. 20-30 mins to set up.

  • Retro Pie - Easy to get into, harder to get out of

  • MotionEye - Home security camera monitoring

If you’ve never used a Pi or are unfamiliar with Linux, start with Raspbian to familiarise yourself. For everyone else you’ll get more from DietPi. All of the above are great beginner projects to try. They can be up and running in 20 mins to a couple of hours and you can push them as far as you like.

Speaking of the Raspberry Pi, Michael Engel released a bare metal port of the Xerox Parc Smalltalk 80 OS. This is effectively to blame for the modern-day GUI. Smalltalk custodian Dan Ingalls demos yesterday’s computer of tomorrow in the video above.

In the last issue I featured videos of some of my favourite demos. I left out Censor Design & Oxyron’s Comaland (above). It does a whole bunch of impossible things with/to a C64 and has fantastic music to boot.

The Barilaro blog has an actual use for Docker! It uses Gitea with Hugo to manage and deploy a static blog using a Markdown text editor. The Product Manager’s Guide to Web Scraping is a great piece on pulling data from web pages.

Insecam is a massive directory of open webcams. Make sure your home isn’t on it.

This curated list of sites resembling desktop computer interfaces will keep you busy for hours while avoiding actual work.

Windows96’ Underwater is on regular play at home, as is the rest of the Glass Prism album. I’ll leave you with this quote by Ursula K. Le Guin:

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

If you’ve enjoyed reading Tales From The Dork Web, please share an issue with someone you think might enjoy reading it. If you haven’t subscribed, you can do so below. I’ll be back in a fortnight with more Tales From The Dork Web.