The Dork Web Missing Links

Tales From The Dork Web #17

I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks but made progress on some cool projects I’ve been working on. I’m looking forward to writing about them in the future. In the meantime here’s some of the things I’ve found interesting that you might’ve missed, along with a sneak preview.

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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 NOAA satellite imagery my partner and I captured. She sets up the antenna, I do the capture and we take turns processing results.

This issue’s music comes from Vanilla’s laid-back sub-zero cool Origin album. Hit play and we’ll continue.

Going Anti-Social

In the last issue I mentioned scaling back my Twitter presence. The platform makes me feel worse for using it. It pushes me towards angrily responding to things that won’t make a difference anyway. Nobody needs that. I dropped out in-person and switched the account to repost bookmarks and dork web material. The Dork Web account was then piled on by Internet muttawa. Not for content. Not for anything said. Some people believe they can police who accounts follow via DM campaigns. It isn’t the only reason but it gave me the push I needed. I’m taking a complete sabbatical from the platform for all accounts I run but haven't seen a reason to return.

As such I’m spending more time on Mastodon. If you’re unfamiliar with Mastodon, KevQ wrote a really nice beginners guide. Mastodon is part of a much larger distributed environment called the Fediverse. The Fediverse is open service interoperability glue for services you can optionally self-host. It’s a quieter but much nicer place. In the 4 years I’ve been on Mastodon I’ve had less than 10 bad interactions. I wish I could say the same about elsewhere.

Discovery is one of the Fediverse’s biggest challenges. Much is interest-focused rather than general. Joshua made this excellent list of Radio enthusiasts to follow which you can import to your own account with with a few clicks. Don’t forget to add yourself to the list if you’re into Radio. Other excellent Fediverse servers to find people to follow include Cybre.space, Hackers.town and BSD.network.

Radio Gaga

My radio madness continues. I’ve been working on an HF rig for a while and took it out to Watership Down for a test drive. I managed to make a few contacts on FT8 and even transmitted the sunset over SSTV on 20 and 40m.

After packing everything away in the dark a feeder cable got snagged in a car door. Torn under a rear wheel, my antenna was badly damaged. I’ll repair it when I get the time but between work, selling a house and emigrating things are a bit busy right now.

I still have a 2m and 70cm setup thanks to my dear mate Tomasz. He gave me this beautiful Yaesu FT-897d which I’ve used to ragchew with local hams as well as hang out on the regular on-air meets. After listening for so long I’m now working on the hard problem of being heard.

I’ve also spent more time on receiving NOAA images. I built a V-Dipole antenna using the RTL-SDR kit and mounted it on a camera tripod to get the images you see in this post. The V-Dipole isn’t perfect but it is good and cheap with a full kit including SDR available for under $35. I use wxtoimg to capture and process images before cleaning up in Affinity Photo or GIMP.

I’ll write an NOAA APT image decoding guide once I have consistent, high-quality, automated results. For now, just know you can use WXToImg, or NOAA-APT Image Decoder with the RTL-SDR v-dipole kit and get good results.

A new chinese radio transceiver is about to hit the market featuring built in Mario and Contra games. It seems some hams are not happy. If I can spend time blowing up bad guys while waiting for FT8 contacts, why not? I guess you can’t please them all.

If you’ve ever wondered how Baofeng handhelds are made, here’s some factory pics.

Things You Might’ve Missed

I woke up this morning to pictures of orange skies across the West coast of the US. Dawn writes about Why Karachi Floods. On the plus side, a Tiny Nuclear Reactor has had safety approval. I’ve always hoped for mass deployment of safer molten salt reactors as the bridge to industrial scale fusion. Of course, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors don’t produce anything useful for weapons.

This week in Amazon are terrible, Amazon’s secret program to spy on workers’ private Facebook groups. I’m not even surprised now. Amazon’s PR recently asked Motherboard to ‘correct’ a reference to an Amazon surveillance device (sorry, Echo) as a microphone.

Paranoid Life talks about switching from Arch Linux to OpenBSD as a daily driver for about a year and a half. It’s refreshingly honest and works through the learning curve and frustrations as well as the upsides. OpenBSD isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a try. It needs a different mindset to Linux and Paranoid Life covers differences well.

In other geek news, Zach Easterbrook writes about the internals of the first IOCCC winner, mullender.c. This useless but cute malloc-based geiger counter clicks whenever memory management functions are used. If this feels too deep, Dhghomon finally learned to program at 40 after watching this Bryan Cantrill mid-life crisis rant.

Deepfakes foxtrot back and forth across the uncanny valley. MrWig’s First Generation video represents the current state of the art. Open source deepfake tooling is getting better by the day. Microsoft have created a deepfake spotting tool. I’m sure this is the early stages of a cat and mouse game that will go on for some time. Speaking of Deepfakes, this automated conversion of tennis game footage to realistic tennis game sprites was unexpected.

Eurogamer writes about Durell’s 80s gaming classic Turbo Esprit. You can watch the game in action above or play it in a browser.

A friend at RingZer0 training asked me to build him a computer. I designed one based on the ESP32 with a VGA connector for output, PS/2 for input and SD Card. It’s based on my ZX20 project which in turn pulls from different designs around the Internet. I wanted it to be useful so it runs a modified version of Fabrizio di Vittorio’s beautiful multi-session CP/M. It can even do BBSing over wifi or USB serial. So far I’ve been word processing in Wordstar, used Supercalc for spreadsheets, played games, read occult classics, logged on to BBSes over the Internet and a Raspberry Pi over wifi. Some would say that it’s not really a CP/M computer unless it’s got a Z80 and mess of 74 logic chips held together with wire wrap. I can understand that, but this isn’t just going to be for running CP/M.

This board is a small run for a few people. I based the board on the #ZX20 system I started designing this year, which will eventually make it’s way to market as a kit. I want to get the ZX20 to a point where people will be able to build one and run a variety of Operating Systems on a computer they can easily understand. This is the followup to my HIDIOT kit from a few years back, and should see a release next year. I’ll write more about it as things progress.

Georgian group Bravo Metehi play us out with a beautiful cover song. Ayrılık is a sad but beautiful lament of separation and loss. Azeri superstar Rashid Behbudov’s version sounds more like what I’ve heard on my travels, but I prefer Bravo Metehi’s version. I thought I’d end with a quote from rapier wit Oscar Wilde:

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of Tales From The Dork Web. If so, please share it with someone who might also enjoy reading it. If you haven’t subscribed, you can do so below. I’m working on several pieces so I don’t know which one you’ll get, but I’ll be back in a fortnight with more Tales From The Dork Web.