kurtismccartney's blog

ATSC DB8 Antenna Reception Boost

In 2009 I made a rookie mistake - after owning a couple of yagi style integrated antennas I tried a DB8 and it failed to impress, I discovered why and how to fix it. The problem was that the old antennas had an amplifier built into the rotor and the new one did not. By adding the pre-amplifier signal quality jumped, I used an inexpensive one from Antra Antennas but I've now seen people using ones from The Source and other online vendors.

American Channels are usually foolproof due to signal strength, so when I failed to get a lock on any station it was clear there was a problem. The Pre-amplifier solution provided valuable information about the true quality of the DB8. I still find that my Yagi is better at getting SunTV (66) and Global (41) from Toronto for now. I will probably swap back to the DB8 in August 2011 and add a single VHF wire specially tuned for Channel 3 from Barrie.

Don't make the rookie mistake of forgetting your pre-amplifier when you install your outdoor antenna.

This problem supposedly exists on both sides of the border when people receive affordable antennas from overseas lacking information about signal dissipation. If you plan on running without a pre-amp you may have to swap from unbalanced 75ohm coaxial lines to balanced 300 ohm twin-lead. This was the type of wire you used to see on the back of television receivers connected with two screws.

Feel free to use my search box for more information about yagi, db8, and other antenna gear or take a peek at the antenna array that I use now. Here: http://www.kurtismccartney.com/antenna

The Ultimate Media Computer (That Doesn't Exist Yet)

I like the computers and media devices that I get to enjoy in Canadian society, there are some immediate shortcomings with regard to integration. If I was to seek out each of these modules (hardware) and try to configure software for ease of use I may run out of both time and money in the pursuit. So here goes the idea:

A Portable Computer with:

  1. Mini Projector Display that flips into a Head-Mounted Display
  2. Open-Standard Docking Station for Antennas/Sound/Home Theatre
  3. AM/FM Recorder (DVR Style) with Weeklong Program Listings
  4. ATSC Television DVR with Weeklong Program Listings
  5. Solar Charge with Second Hot-Swappable Battery (24hr Battery, 6hr Solar Charge)

Of course some of this ultimate computer would also require the ultimate workshop.

NPARC Charity Radiothon 2010

Each year around Canada Day the Niagara Peninsula Amateur Radio Club (NPARC) and some of its members contribute their time and some money to the Radiothon Charity - with dollars going to one of two charities of your choice - the CNIB or the St.Catharines Hospitals.

I'll be collecting pledges for the CNIB to help support quality of life programs for the visually impaired. These programs can provide opportunities for visually impaired persons to communicate, built job skills, and reach out to a greater community that includes both visually impaired and non-impaired persons.

This year the event will be held ON Canada Day, a Thursday. I will have a link to pledge online added to this post ASAP, until then feel free to contribute to my donation pool in person.

Drupal file.inc 911 fix w/ Apache Fix

Alright, time for another quick tip, If you've already gone through the Drupal quick fix for the ereg to mb_ereg change on line 911 of your file.inc problem you may be like me - unable to open anything after a restart.

Here is the fix: Try to restart apache directly like this

sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart

If the error arises it will highlight which file is missing in this folder:


In my case it was a remnant from Ampache the music daemon. I deleted it and restarted apache again.

sudo rm /etc/apache2/conf.d/THISFILE

No Ads, No Problem

There are no paid advertisements on KurtisMcCartney.com or any of the other Zen Alliance sites that I actively contribute to. This is because all of this information is sponsored by the authors, and in the case of this site it is yours truly.

I will make recommendations and those are out of a genuine satisfaction with quality, price, or some other factor that is typically mentioned. Off the top of my head I remember mentioning the following companies:

Antra Antennas (Ontario) or Motrak Antennas (Quebec)
These companies made it easy to save money and support local television. That is not their mission, it is mine, and their equipment was just right. Affordable, quality, cold-safe. I swapped over to Antra because they are speedy shippers and do business closer to Niagara.

Started off buying Nintendo DS parts, fixed some iPhone screens with parts from here, and have found numerous meaningful gifts and tools here. Easy to "lose" a lot of money here, as my gadget loving ways are overwhelmed.

Hands down one of the most rewarding experiences is growing right now in my family garden. Rather than dealing with the same six foods that every other gardener has in high supply RareSeeds.com allowed us to experiment with different colours, flavours, and more durable plants. In 2010 there is a "White" theme in the garden, with white tomatoes, white cucumber, and white flesh watermelon. Even though you had seed shipped in it is still local food, and that fresh off the vine taste is hard to duplicate.

REMEMBER: None of these vendors pay me, I pay them for products and occasionally for services. Usually with PayPal. So these are not what I would call advertisements as much as they are recommendations - which is also why they are in the "Recommended Menu" for at nearly a year after I purchase equipment. If their name isn't on there it is either because something has gone wrong or I have not needed to shop there. The goal is always to live with knowledge rather than products or money - but until that utopia arrives these are my go-to favourites.

Warning about Conhis Motor Connectors

This is very important - the Conhis Motor parts work, but the connectors are sometimes wrong. Namely the red and black power wires coming from the motor kits. A number of people, including myself, have connected everything properly only to experience the frustration of watching it catch fire.

The battery will typically survive this if you disconnect very quickly - a good sign about the durability of the LiFePO4 batteries. Unfortunately you will have to inspect the motor controller and BMS for melts, breaks, and numerous other failures. I was lucky with the Motor Controller, only a bit of blackening on the inside (around the black wire - hard to see). The BMS needs a new three-prong socket because of melting on the inside, but that can come from any old computer power source or guitar amplifier - until then I'll be using the direct leads.

"If you got it to work again, why is this a problem?" - Sir or Madam, I am glad to hear you like to solder, shave, and bust open your equipment. I don't. In fact as a Kit with connectors already built on most people would presume the plus goes to plus and line to line, but when the reversal is built in to the plug it is unseen until it is too late. A real Red plus to Black plus scenario, more commonly known as a short. No fuses, no failsafes - just fire, melting, and disappointment.

Next time I'll just buy something from Canada, at least then everything is UL tested and adheres to standards. A set of standards that I now appreciate much more. I've read about the same thing happening to both Conhismotors and Golden Motors - check your wire colours. Pics to come.

If you do like to tinker and double-check connectors I'd recommend trying a Conhis Motor from http://www.conhismotor.com - also don't forget to securely and properly tighten your wheel nuts - that was the second mistake I made on the first test run and my pain is a reminder the world isn't "No manual, No problem".

August 31st 2011 - Canadian Television Liberation Day

I've been gearing up early for the changes to Canadian broadcast television that will occur in 2011. There are two good reasons to consider changing your setup if it is anything like mine.

1) Some Channels will move back to VHF
This is important because unlike older houses in the area we refit our house with a newer antennat that was for the most part dedicated to UHF band signals. We catch some VHF signals already when using the original NTSC tuner in our television, but they are not at a viewable level.

This means that we will supplement the missing VHF reception with a dedicated VHF antenna, which is a good choice considering most of our VHF channels in Niagara and Hamilton will come from Toronto. This means that we can redirect the UHF antenna down toward Erie, Pennsylvania.

(I should note that we typically do not move the antenna on a regular basis, if the system is built right for your local stations you know which signals and from where that you are looking for.

2) Channels will power-up on UHF
More power - the biggest benefit of the permanent switch is the higher level of dedicated power. This means fewer dropouts on distant stations and in some cases 'new' stations will appear like CityTV (Toronto) and SunTV (Hamilton).

I didn't originally make the choice to switch over to ATSC/Broadcast signals for 'more channels' but it is niece to have them. These are both local channels with quality programming that my online peers believe would be missed in their communities if they had the poor reception that Niagara residents do.

I will be adding a signal strength (low and high) list to the ATSC page to emphasize the changes coming.

[Easy] Getting Images to Align with ImageCache and ImageField

This is much easier and does not require any CSS hacks if you follow the directions in the right order. I wrote this initially for image fields in the product content type, remove Ubercart references and switch to your content type for anything else. You will first need the following additional Modules installed and switched on:

  1. Ubercart (All applicable modules)
  2. Imagefield
  3. Imagecache
  4. Imagecache UI
  5. Skinr

Go to your install.com/admin/content/node-type/product page and scroll down to the Skinr node settings and get that stuff floating to the right or the left. Float is pretty much the new align, since align is deprecated in the world of XHTML.

Easy SPC, NSF, GYM, PSF, and USF Video Game Music in Ubuntu

I'm into keeping my old files the way they were - simple. Recently after posting about MIDI files I noticed I had another chunk of music untapped in such a long time, the video game music. Initially these were all formats usable with Winamp and I didn't think twice about them during my initial conversion to Linux.

It was difficult at first looking through dated documentation about programs that either dropped the plugins or dropped off the open source map. Luckily through the magic of open-source these formats were ported again and again until I reached my recommendations.


- Use the GStreamer Plugins
Play them in what is colloquially called "Movie Player" in Ubuntu. You will need to install the appropriate plugins which are: libopenspc and (nsf now supported by libopenspc). It can be troublesome if you have the old style multi-track NSF files but a solution is likely on the way.

PSF, MiniPSF, and USF

- Use the OpenPSF and LazyUSF plugin for Audacious, or UPSE123 for CLI
LazyUSF sometimes works, but Open PSF is a sure bet for PSF files. Must use a better computer though as both are processor and memory intensive. Developers for both formats are still working on it, so look forward to improvements. Also: Older versions of PulseAudio really gum up the works - if you can get ALSA or OSS to work try that - if the program closes you are doing it wrong.

GYM Files

- Audacious Plugins (FastPC) or Command line (SlowPC)
The GYM files get really choppy even on the computer you think is high end with Audacious, but it will play fine in the command line app. The rules about PulseAudio, ALSA, and OSS still apply and you can significantly improve performance. Sometimes GYM work in Totem, but I have not seen a plugin in some time.

I must remind everyone that I poke around with a lot of plugins and may have broken/unbroken some things accidentally. If these choices don't work for you then remember to file the proper bug reports and feature requests with your software of choice and that not all formats are needed, but these ones are wanted.

Regarding Audio Overload: This piece of software has for the most part been ineffective in Ubuntu. The lack of features and random closures is a little disturbing. It would be nice if the AO developers would join other media projects so that they could focus on formats rather than UI, it would also be nice if they could either support USF or find a new N64 format.

Niagara Regional Transit Pass Now

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about getting serious about Regional Transit, a unified transit system in Niagara. Unfortunately it has become a bloated mess and the original goals have been confounded by differing opinions about direction. I know many graduates of Brock University like myself were hoping for one thing - an affordable Region-wide pass.

An affordable region-wide transit pass. This could be a very easy goal that doesn't involve changing any of the organizations, in fact it also means that the legal conundrum about the region getting involved in transit (a service that was delegated to the cities when the region was founded). Of course it would be grand to get a Coach Canada Subsidy for Grimsby from the region, and it would be nice to service NOTL and Wainfleet - but these are currently the complications that are getting in the way of maintaining ridership.

There is a tax credit, the rates are already pretty low compared to other transit systems, but it is not competing well with the two biggest sources of competition - personal automobiles and walking/cycling. It is great when people are able to travel by their own power - but for the people with visual impairments that limit their ability to drive, and the unemployed who need to go farther to work when they cannot afford a vehicle on low wages and few hours this system is failing. With a stable pass for inter-municipal travel these people could access funds from local charities or Ontario Works which will not buy multiple passes so that the people can work in St. Catharine (More jobs) and live in Welland (lower cost of living).

I was a student, I was unemployed, and I am a cyclist in the warmer months. I have personally felt the successes and failures of an indifferent transit reform. And before any politician tries to use the successes as a scapegoat for tighter municipal budgets or cutting services I want people in Niagara to know that they could have made it possible for transit to make more money and chose not to for another year.


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