kurtismccartney's blog

Google Chrome - My Primary Browser

After a bit of a learning curve I am glad to say that after using the Chromium Browser by Google (Part of its Chrome OS) I will be making the switch. Aside from ongoing performance issues on my EEE

Originally I was concerned about giving up AdBlock Plus and NoScript but there is a greater solution for systemwide and network level security. I will be using the AdBlock for DD-WRT script, blocking out ads before they even reach a system on my network. A similar hosts configuration file will be kept on my systems for when I access a network operated by anyone else. It is a simple process in Ubuntu/ChromeOS of adding a terminating redirect in the "/etc/hosts" file.

My post about Network level adblocking has been moved here: http://www.kurtismccartney.com/adblockhost

As I was saying, Chrome/Chromium makes better use of my limited visual space on my original EEE and has consistently greeted me with a positive user experience. Any of the hesitations that I had have been moved around to other pieces of technology.

Niagara HAM Radio Big Event and Swap Meet

On February 6th, 2010 I hope that you can join me and the Niagara Peninsula Amateur Radio Club at the "Big Event". This year the group has planned to host vendors from across the country and beyond. Even some big corporate vendors, like Durham Radio, RadioWorld, and MapleLeafCom Radio will be there. Lots of HAM operators and plenty of great deals.

From what I have heard the swap meet will be even bigger this year with a great deal of equipment being made available at unbelievable prices.

Sure, this may not sound like the kind of event for you - the average viewer of my website that is probably not an amateur radio operator or even a commercial radio vendor - but your support is needed. NPARC as an institution and affiliate to RAC and ARES has been the best at promoting emergency services, radio-sport and the greater hobby in Niagara. Even if you don't find something you or the budding amateur in your family is interested in at least you got some food and probably learnt something you didn't know before.

You can join NPARC and the Big Event 32 at:

Merritton Community Centre
7 Park Avenue.
St. Catharines ON

Doors open at 9am

Weak ATSC Channels in Canada

In Canada as of Winter 2009-2010 the digital television signals are weak. This isn't because of your equipment or the standard itself, it is a part of how the system operates. Currently some digital channels can be as much as ten times weaker than their analog counterparts.

This wouldn't be a problem ten years ago, but for Canadians living near the border it is impractical to swap back and forth between NTSC and ATSC. This should be even worse for Canadian stations that lose the reach they once had to American channels.

I understand that the options for Cable and Satellite services are plentiful north of the border - but we have a regulatory body tasked with optimizing the radio frequencies used by commercial television and radio vendors in order to benefit the public. The CRTC, which sets the limits and permits use of the VHF and UHF television bands that continue to be used by the digital channels, can and should work to reach transmission equity between NTSC and ATSC transmissions. Equal distance covered for each station.

It is easy to see why the CRTC would have to step in on this issue, as many of the current stations and networks are so closely mixed with Cable and Satellite vendors that new television stations and existing independent stations are having more difficulty providing their useful and valuable services to the public.

Part of this is the core issue behind what call and satellite vendors are calling the "TV Tax". The TV tax is actually useful to companies that both distribute cable/satellite services and own television stations (ie. Bell or Rogers) by harming competitors that have focused entirely on building better distribution networks, like Cogeco.

ATSC Television over the air is the best way to deregulate while holding stations and networks to tougher regulations. Big players can put all their best channels on the same band as their primary networks - meaning we could receive Space, Showcase, and Much Music on the same Channel as OMNI or CityTV. The stakes are higher for these networks when all of their channels could be off the air for committing a violation. It also means that smaller vendors can more easily enter the market by clearing large sections of the VHF and UHF band. All of it benefits the consumers and the advertisers - the driving forces behind the industry, rather than sending the bulk of the profits to communications vendors that could use their existing networks and bandwidth to boost and reduce the cost of Internet services.

I'm not a revolutionary, these are straightforward ideas with a lot of money that could be made by deserving companies. Unfortunately the status quo has become something sacred when other lobbyists are pushing Canadian telecommunications companies to build beyond their means - which really passes the cost on to the consumer through lackluster services or higher tax dividends being spent on private companies.

If you're still confused, just do this:

1) Email the CRTC and ask for ATSC channels to have higher transmission power caps.
2) Don't spend or send money to any company that works against your interest and if necessary cancel existing services.
3) Rediscover the freedom of public media and broadcasting with your ATSC Tuner/Television

Commercial Radio Failures in Canada

Have you ever heard of the Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) standard? How about the In-Band On Channel (IBOC) standard? Do you live in Canada?

If you answered yes to all three then you are among radio listeners like myself experiencing a level of frustration with the CRTC and the American FCC unable to reach united agreements. If you have not heard about these standards allow me to explain.

The DAB standard is the audio based radio equivalent of the UHF band on your TV for the most part. It was chosen by the CRTC to be HD Radio in Canada, our best answer to high definition digital radio for North America. It has evolved once swapping from MPEG-2 audio encoding to AAC+ Audio Encoding, but for the most part has lingered in obscurity. It's actually not new, however a lack of affordable and readily available listening devices has eliminated the DAB market in Canada.

There is HD Radio in Canada but it is not as popular as HD Radio in America south of the border. The USA and their FCC opted for a simpler digital radio standard the IBOC (In-Band On Channel). Digital signals are sent on the same radio frequencies as FM and AM stations. Immediate brand recognition from those radio stations is applied to the new standard. The HD radio devices all pay a fee to one American company that has developed the most popular compression/encryption system. This system is arguably better, but we need a fast and vast frequency shakeup that reflects station ownership. If we cannot clear up the FM band on both sides of the border new entries to the market may fail.

IBOC is in use in Canada by some listeners, however until it is mandatory in new cars it may not see the kind of growth Canadian radio listeners can appreciate - ubiquitous growth. If anyone knows of a classic dek style radio receiver that does DAB and IBOC - let me know on my contact page.

HAM Radio Ubuntu: fldigi is awesome

There was a bit of a learning curve before I could really appreciate most of the HAM radio applications in Ubuntu Linux. Then I discovered fldigi, a digiatl communications program for anyone. Let me explain the basics.

Fldigi can be for HAM operators or people looking to learn more about digital communications. Before I had my HAM Licence this program was still usable in the same room or over my old walkie-talkies. It sends out audible signals from your sound device, I started just playing the sounds from my speakers and eventually invested in interconnecting cables to other computers and radio transmitters. Simple headphone jacks worked amazingly, and the software/hardware combination is able to work with modular equipment. This includes a USB Tube Sound card for those looking to send and listen for the perfect signal.

Unfortunately this program does not act as a radio, use your existing hardware as a radio device, or come with instructions for non-radio users. In fact the first time I used this program I was frustrated by the constant inquiry into what my callsign was. But the open-source nature of the program can allow for a spinoff without all of the questions.

It is built to integrate with radios that can connect to your computer. This can help you to more effectively use the visual waterfall without swapping back and forth between your computer and your radio. Although I've typically used the program with much less sophisticated radios the effort by the developers is commendable.

On the plus side it does not force the regulatory requirements of one country that many proprietary programs do, usually rulse from the United States of America that tend to be overkill and are not required in Canada. The idea is to make the use of digital modes a fun experience, even for new operators.

CW (Continuous Wave Morse) Code is simulated by the soundcard, and the reader portion of the application can easily capture and convert the information for new CW users. The WPM (words per minute) can be adjusted far beyond human capabilities, which is fine for short range communication with less interference. The default is between 16 to 18 WPM though, and unless you have a keen ear for the speed of another operator its better to stay there. Some experienced CW operators have complained that my send speed is a little slow, but it almost always gets a clear read.

PSK Modes, including PSK31, 63, 125, and QPSK250 are supported. The usefulness of these modulations is in error correction and long file transfer. It also uses less bandwidth, but still a bit more than CW.

If you're looking for a better experience with digital modes, truly free software (no money, fully liberated), and a utility that even works with older radios from the mid to late twentieth century check out this application. I'd love to run a quick overview and video demonstration about it sometime, but it's probably better that I stick to writing.

Get fldigi in the Ubuntu repositories.

AttachmentSize
Image icon 2465_small.png0 bytes

Halloween 2009

Unfortunately I didn't get many pictures during the Halloween celebrations in 2009, but I did get plenty of candy. Yes, it has become a tradition between my girlfriend and I to challenge ageist behaviour and go out on the hunt for candy each year. On occasion we stop to "give some back" to kids in some of the nicer costumes (and their siblings/friends). It's a great way to meet more of the neighbours.

Meeting the neighbours is one of the more interesting bits. Most of these people are so close to where we live, but miles away because of what television and the Internet has done to people and their ability to socialize. We used to see more of the neighbours before the local bar closed, but those were the neighbours I didn't really want to see that often at the times of night that I really didn't want to see anyone.

This year we brought along friends, Carleen and Grace. Carleen ended up in the same costume as me, but with more problems. It is windy on Halloween in Welland, and anything that isn't firmly attached will blow away. Her hat blew away about every two minutes, this was even after we safety-pinned her hat to her mask. It was a V costume from the V for Vendetta Film.

It was great.

"Provincial Benefit" and How to Cancel with Direct Energy in Ontario

Scroll down for step-by-step guide

The Provincial Benefit rate rose to 4.33 cents per kilowatt hour in the fall of 2009. The Provincial Benefit is an additional fee charged only to wholesale electricity buyers and people who sign contracts with distributors. It is money that, like a tax, goes to the government - but unlike a tax is only charged to people that have made the choice to participate in the privatized electricity system. Like my house - we were Direct Energy Subscribers.

I have a problem with Direct Energy because of how they treat me and my friends. Even though the Ontario Energy Board is the entity that issued the rule about sending written notice to cancel the same rule is relaxed when it comes to cancellation. The OEB developed a rule to against making provider issued forms mandatory, but did not clarify what a standard cancellation looks like. You have to make your own, taking a risk in missing the essential information and any other applicable notices.

I support people being able to generate their own electricity, I do so myself as much as I can - but I still enjoy the security and stability provided by Welland Hydro - our hometown hero even if they are after our money. Welland Hydro needs money, and in exchange they offer a service - a real business model. They fix the lines, build new ones, look out for energy deals that are passed on to the subscribers, and my personal favorite is that they support municipal wireless Internet in Welland. Other utilities may do the same, and I hope they do.

My issue is with the tag team effect that Direct Energy and the Province of Ontario have on our bill. Welland Hydro averages just below 5 cents per kilowatt hour. Direct Energy sold my house a flat rate 8.9 cent plan, and with that comes a 4.33 cent provincial adjustment in August 2009. We used 2850 kWh!

Lets do the math: 2850kwh(8.9c+4.33c) = 2850kwh*$0.1323 = $377.06

Flop on top the line charges, debt reduction fees and a large bill becomes a ridiculous one. So with no further pause - how to cancel with Direct Energy and save some money by avoiding the Provincial Benefit charge:

START HERE:

1) Gather your Direct Energy Contract, an envelope, a stamp, a pen, and a piece of paper.

2) Read your contract, and if necessary call Direct Energy to find out exactly how much it will cost to terminate. It is very important to agree to the terms - and understand them. I'm not your accountant and cannot guarantee you wont lose more money this way.

3) Write down your intention to end the contract, and agree to the termination repayment option as seen in the contract.It should go something like this:

"This is my intention to terminate my energy distribution contract with Direct Energy, effective immediately. I have read the section of the contract regarding termination repayment and agree to the terms. I would like a formal invoice for the termination to be send to me as soon as possible.

Signed,
(Your name here, followed by your account number on the contract)"

4) Send out the letter to the address on your contract. It will take some time, but they will process it properly. If they don't - don't ask me what to do, in fact ask an attorney or someone who can officially speak for either the Ontario Energy Board or Direct Energy.

Finished. Your money will go to your local utility and you can complain about them exclusively. No distributor, no additional fees/taxes that others don't see. While you're feeling so smug and saving some money consider looking at some solar panels and stick it to the utility too. Good luck.

Addition (04/22/2010): We have seen a major reduction in our bills since cancelling, nearly $150 over last year. We also saved money by cancelling cable and switching back to an antenna from Antra in Ontario (don't forget the pre-amplifier). And five other money savers: E-Bike (temporarily nix gasoline and insurance), Garden/Conservatory (more of a hobby than an economical choice), and LED Lighting (Good or Best)

Addition (06/22/2011): The savings keep on coming. I recently had a chance to compare bills with a couple of friends. Including HST in a four (4) person house the bill with a distributor came to nearly $450 (recalculated to the old bi-monthly), the bill at home (5 people) is around $220 for two (2) months without a distributor, and a friend living with his new wife chimed in at $90 over two (2) months. Provincial benefit + HST + Time of Day Billing is making a killing for the province and these energy companies.

Addition (08/02/2012): Since posting this article many new changes have improved bills in Niagara. For nearly a year now the bill has been 12% of what was paid in 2009. This has to do with the great electricity rates in Welland, household participation in time of use billing, LED lighting, and more efficient refrigerators, computers, and other appliances. The downside is that now my auto insurance bill is twice as large as the electricity bill (just a comparison, I like my insurance company). Good luck bringing your bill down.

Literally a Linux Nightmare (with Xorg, File Management, External Devices, and Failure)

ONLY LINUX USERS WILL UNDERSTAND THIS - AND ONLY THE ONES THAT KNOW HOW A STANDARD DESKTOP DISTRO WORKS.

Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you "wake up" and it is still the nightmare. I recently had the honour of having that with a situation that was all too real. The Linux Nightmare (Disclaimer: I'm still a Linux User, but I definitely won't be using it the way I was in the dream)

Basically: The dream consists of me repeatedly trying to solve an Xorg Error, Manage file revisions, and "boot" myself. Yes, in this dream I am a human running a Linux variant on my brain. My brain.. yea. In any case is starts off with the file revisions.

In the "File Revisions" segment I wake up to greet a family member only to discover that there are two of that one person. I question each of them about the other but they do not interact (because as I discover they are two separate versions. One is a newer version and is able to confirm the same activities prior to my inquiry and add more new information. This is where I'm glad that violence is not the answer, rather than "delete" one of them I decide to "reboot".Apparently this means go back to sleep, which clears my "temp files" but left a bad echo in my long term memory.

Upon reboot everything goes haywire. Sounds and sights are garbled, this is some top grade scary shit combined with my everyday life. Eventually it stops, kicks back to terminal which involves me face down on the ground attempting to issue manual "verbal" commands to solve the problem. But when your brain runs Linux and everyone else knows nothing about Linux there is no "Google Search" for answers. So I remain on the cold cement until I realize that the horrible wrrgarbl that happened to the world is really an Xorg problem, so I try to start it again. Same problem but now I am in my bed, which must mean I rebooted again and knew better than to do anything until I saw the error through. This happens a couple more times while trying to edit my "xorg.conf", which I cannot replace with defaults because that would eliminate my personality.

Its a tough deal because everyone thinks you are sleeping. Oh, did I mention that to issue commands I have to shout things like "SUDO REBOOT NOW" and "SUDO NANO SLASH ETSY SLASH X-ORG CONF". Nobody hears you though because even your sound controllers aren't working. Eventually I give up and shutdown. Good thing I awaken to loud ass noises, the human equivalent of wake-on-LAN. And this is when I figure it out. Its a dream! Oh, but I'm not supposed to remember dreams. This is a feature addition after too many system failures like this or something. My version disabled that due to the massive brainbender in the first dream.

So I almost deleted the dream including the repair sequence when instead I chose to offload it to en external device, unmount it then reboot.

Well I'm not sure what external device that was but I woke up, so I'm assuming it worked and on the plus side I can share this horrible experience with you people on the Internet. I'm convinced that Linux nightmares will be the new "Naked Test" dreams in this community.

TrueSportHuntClub.com Growing

The private, invite-only, hunt club in south Niagara known as True Sport Hunt Club has been in operation for more than half of a century and the website by the same name has been in operation for nearly half a year. Now, thanks to a show of support from more members the website is growing. New pictures, new posts, and new users (only from the member base) have been able to show the pride that they have in their favourite leisure activity and how it helps the local community and the province at large.

Without conservation societies, most formerly known as "hunt clubs", hunting trapping and fishing in Ontario would be a horrendously confused and significantly more dangerous system. The club receives information through its members and associated organizations like OFAH (Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters) and can act in a positive way to deal with problems while having fun. Simple facts like "What to do with invasive fish", or "Why is it that the province issues doe tags" may be explained without the true intention of the regulation/guideline.

As I have come to learn, it is not a free for all - but there are still problems. Hunting alone is dangerous, and may lead to an untimely demise. Hunting with others carries different dangers and that is why attire, tools, weapons regulations and common knowledge need to be shared and recognized. The clubs accelerate this process and along with proper insurance can get more interested people involved.

Check out TrueSportHuntClub.com and see how it grows.

Why I operate my own Web Site

People have occasionally asked me why I post/use/run my website, KurtisMcCartney.com - and their questions represent different ways of thinking.

1) Control and Freedom - Posting through a third party (ex. most modern social networking sites) means that I play by their rules, cede control over my posts, and may even be limited in my options to publish these works outside of their terms of use. At KurtisMcCartney.com I define the terms, limited only by he laws of my nation, province, and regulatory agencies. This may not be an issue for most, and some nations will protect their users rights even if they did agree to a contract.

2) Continuity - Do you remember the sites you frequented in 1998? Are they still around? Did you lose information you posted before the first dot-com burst? Well - I remember, they're gone, and I lost information and I wont fall for that again. When I manage the backups I only have myself to blame. I still stick to standards when it comes to my CMS and database, but I wont have to worry about a server in Arizona failing when I keep my work in Canada.

3) Richard Stallman - If you don't know about RMS, I recommend you read some of his works - don't take all of them to heart but definitely learn and feel what resonates with you. This is the closest thing to saying "Because I can"

There are always more reasons, but for the people that still don't understand I can only recommend that you learn more about the dissemination of knowledge rather than trying to "game" social media. Its not always about fame or family, but its always about what we know.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - kurtismccartney's blog