Ugh, Covid

So, after some two and a half years since the current unmentionable plague was first noted, we (finally) fell foul of the virus last week

We were wondering why we felt crappy and ill from ~Wednesday/Thursday, and we did lateral flow home tests on Sunday last. Both of us came up with a red “T” line before the wicking even reached the “C” line. Off to the doc Monday for PCR tests, both came back as Positive, unsurprisingly.

I have the week signed off from work, and I’ve needed it to recover. Moderate symptoms, including some of the more esoteric uncommon ones. Currently the major symptoms are abating, but the tiredness and low concentration levels are still present, I’m sleeping lots.

Rest, fluids, paracetamol, ibuprofen, more rest. Not a lot more that can be done really.

The hardest part is being sensible and not leaving the apartment for the duration of symptoms; there are older people in the building and neighbourhood that would not appreciate being exposed, even at this stage in the proceedings. At least we did have enough food in stock to do a quarantine with out too much difficulty. The Carrefour full-fat UHT milk is actually pretty good once refrigerated, and we had a handful of that to hand, breadrolls were in the freezer. Actually nothing that we needed to leave the apartment for, for the ~10 days expected.

It’s also worth noting that having contracted this damned virus, does not guarantee immunity from it or similar variants in the future. I’ve seen enough people catch this thing twice, and that is not a nice situation. So, when recovered, still maintaining the normal masking and all that.

I’m really looking forwards to getting some shopping done, and to demolish a burger or two when the appetite properly returns.

Trip to Ireland for a wedding

About 3000km, three named storms, a large diversion, a wedding, and a lot of fun. A lot of driving.

Oisin was due to marry Romy, in Kerry, and we were invited. Given I wanted to collect the kayaks from Ireland, and we had a few items to collect from Limerick that the moving company couldn’t carry, I decided that we would take the Swiss car over for the trip.

The outbound journey was originally Zuerich to Avallon on the Tuesday evening, then head for the Cherbourg ferry (via Le Mans to avoid the Paris metropolitan area) on the Wednesday, getting off the ferry on Thursday and staying in Liemrick Thursday night. Then the plan was to do some things around Limerick on the Friday, heading to Kerry Friday night to have all of the Saturday free for the wedding ceremony and celebration, overnighting again in the hotel, making our way to Limerick for Sunday night, collecting the kayaks late Monday night and heading for a return ferry to France Tuesday evening, making our way back home eventually on the Thursday evening.

However, Dudley did have something to say about that plan.. Waking up in the hotel in Avallon, my phone had a text from the ferry company saying that the ferry was due to leave an hour ahead of schedule to beat the incoming bad weather. We continued the drive onwards towards Cherbourg, and when I pulled in just past Tours for a fill of 98-octane, the phone dinged again with another text from the ferry company saying that the ferry was cancelled and the next sailing would arrive in Rosslare Saturday evening, meaning we would miss the wedding. Not really an option. I double-checked the validity of the Landbridge option, and seeing that there were Eurotunnel availabilities that night I transferred the ferry booking from the Cherbourg-Rosslare route to the Fishguard-Rosslare route, and then I continued on the most epic day of driving I’ve yet done.. Tours to Calais, another fill of 98, a Buffalo-Grill dinner, a Eurotunnel trip to Folkestone, a quick drive across England and Wales (amusing to overtake a Welsh police van without being stopped), another fill of 98 in Carmarthen, and a parking by the beach in Fishguard at ~3.10am to get a few hours of kip in the seat. 1400km driven in 16 hours..

The ferry crossing of the Irish sea was nap time for me, and the drive to Mullinahone to pick up the Booster to hand onwards to Oisin was not easy. Plus, as we left Mullinahone to head for Limerick via the parents and aunt, the migraine kicked in. Never was I as glad to have the body hit the bed as I was when falling over after taking the appropriate medication upon arrival in Castletroy. I slept the sleep of the dead till ~09.30 the next day, still with aftershadows.

The wedding was fantastic, esoteric, off-beat, unusual, eclectic, and exactly suiting the parties involved. The celebration that evening was similar, and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful really. Slip-sliding during overtaking a car between Abbeyfeale and Newcastlewest, due to the freshly fallen band of hail that wasn’t present where I started that overtake manuever. Thankful for good real winter tyres. A good night’s sleep in the old house in Limerick. Uneventful drive to Mullinahone. Flying the drone on Tuesday in the wind had the drone unable to keep station due to the winds at height, which was a first for me. The overnight ferry Rosslare-Cherbourg went ahead at the scheduled time, making a gap between two storms. The car was on the outside deck on the ferry and was covered in salt, most of which later washed off with rain, thankfully. Crossing France with two boats on the roof was quiet and non-exciting. Getting home was a relief.

Things of note or of interest. The Irish that saw the car had heads on swivels – especially the locals in d’Island in Limerick City when we were going through, after meeting Oisin at home. That was a new experience as the car simply blends in at home. There are definitely The unavailability of 98-octane in Ireland was a bit of a pain, but worked around with booster additive and appropriate dilutions. Once the car had kayaks on the roof, it suddenly became very anonymous.. The roofracks were great – quiet and non-moving at all. Very glad to have had them.

Will we do it again? Probably not. With ~€1000 in fuel for the round trip (though there’s ~€200 extra fuel and €224 Eurotunnel costs extra because of having to travel via the Landbridge) it’s a hard one to justify that drive. It’s more carbon- and cash-efficient to fly/rent than drive all of the way, plus less worry about having to get the right fuel or having a jealous citizen damage the car when parked. A different car wouldn’t have been *that* much cheaper on fuel but it is something to consider.

Some updates to the main PC.

WD lost something like 6.5 percent of the world’s yearly supply of NAND flash memory, so it seemed like a good idea to do the planned SSD update before prices started to rise again in a few weeks..

I decided to continue to stay within the Asus/Corsir theme for the main PC, and I’m updating the main SSD from the current 960Gb Corsair MP510 to the uber-fast Corsair MP600 Pro XT, this time in the 2000Gb sizing. Expected read and write speeds are in the 7Tb/sec range, which is a little boost from the ~3Tb/sec I am currently getting.

The MP510 will be transferred to the second SSD slot and I’ll likely use that as the base for a new Linux installation. Though, I might propagate it downwards to update the Dell laptop that I am also using a lot. I’ll do the update after we return from the trip.

It’s still a behemoth of a machine (R9-3900X, 48Gb DDR4-3600 etc), but I suspect it’ll be a fair while until I get a chance to upgrade the graphics card to one I want. At least the 2080 performs fairly well for the moment!

This Website is now back up and running

After a hardware failure earlier this year of a portion of the Skynet cluster (the University of Limerick Computer Society system that hosts my site) my website was not able to be served to the world at large.

This situation has been fixed, and I now have my space on the web available again. I’ll be resurrecting some of the posts made since March this year as I recover from backups.

It is good to be back online here!

Mak 102 and AZ-GTi

In about March of 2021 I placed an order for a Skywatcher AZ-GTi mount with the package including the Maksutov 102 telescope on it. I had been on the lookout for a fairly cheap electronic driven mount that would be usable when e.g. on holiday, that wouldn’t take up too much space, but would work well enough not to be a hindrance. The scope was only some €150 extra on top and seemed like a fairly good fit for my stable of scopes.

Unfortunately, with the Covid situation and the all-pervasive issues with semiconductor supply shortages, my order was significantly delayed, and it was only in mid-November that the package finally arrived.

My impressions of the mount? It’s pretty effective so far, working well with my H-alpha scope, either of my grab’n’go refractors (70mm f/6 or the 80mm f/6.2), and also very well with the longer focal length Mak-102. The onboard wifi is connectible from the phone application, and the accuracy is “good enough” for sure for my usage needs. I’m working 100% so far with the mount in alt-az, and powering with onboard AA batteries. I do have a Synscan handset but I’m finding that this is less accurate than I’d really like and that is a tad unfortunate. I had hoped to be able to work with the handset alone and not have an Android device needed; the tactile feedback from the SynScan handset is great in the dark, where the phone just doesn’t work in the same way at all.

The Mak-102 OTA must have received a knock in shipping, as the first views were horribly comatic off-axis seagull shapes, and I was disappointed. But, I loosened the screws holding the corrector plate on and gently tapped the corrector housing in the appropriate direction while looking at the diffraction patterns, and the plate holder just “clicked” into place and everything suddenly was round and sharp. The views since then have been impressive. I’ve been using the scope with my Baader Zoom Mk2 eyepiece as the 24mm-8mm focal length matches fairly well with the diffraction limits of the scope’s focal length – 13x to 41x the aperture in inches of magnification. A 32mm Ploessl eyepiece gives me the absolute maximum field of view possible with the scope. There’s no capability of adding 2″ eyepieces to the scope without significant vignetting but I knew and accepted this prior to the ordering of the scope.

Observing from the balcony is nice. A simple but accurate levelling of the tripod base, then putting the mount itself on that and tightening up (placing the arrows towards North) puts the mount into a standard start position. I usually start with the OTA south and level, but I might change that pattern, I can not remember the accepted home position. Performing the three-star alignment in the phone application then gives an aligned mount and ready to observe within five minutes of setup. Planetary detail is good, better than either of the smaller refractors, nowhere near the 130mm apo – but that is entirely to be expected. Deep sky, it’s not bad, a bit better light grasp than the Celestron Onyx 80mm, and definitely better resolution. Contrast is pretty good to be honest, though I may flock some portions of the tube.

I store the scope under a Scopestuff cover on the balcony, with the mount in hibernate mode and power off. This means that the scope is as well adjusted for temperature as it will ever be, and the pickup from hibernate is quick and still accurate enough.

The use when on holiday is yet to be trialled, but I’m expecting no problems based on the experience so far. Dark-sky observing from the usual campsites is something I am very looking forwards to, and it can be taken down to a decently small overall package size for transport. I must cut a foam insert for one of the flight cases and have it all in a nice grab and go setup for the holidays.

Change of car.

I am now driving a very Switzerland-appropriate car. It’s left-hand drive, and amusingly enough it actually blends in with the other Swiss cars fairly well..

This new car is an October 2011 built Porsche Cayenne Turbo, in Meteor Grey metallic paint. It’s got a few nice extras over and above the normal Turbo specification which is plush enough to start with.

The extras include the double-glazed cabin glass, the panoramic roof, the 14-way electric comfort seats with heat and ventilation, the keyless-go system, the removable hitch, the carbon interior accents, the cargo management system, the radar-controlled adaptive cruise control, the gloss black exterior, auxiliary cabin heater, and the debadge option.

The normal trim level includes such things as a 235W 11-speaker Bose sound system, full variable height air suspension, alcantara headlining, full leather dash and door panels in Espresso colour, four-zone climate control, all-round seat heating, full European satnav, reverse camera and sensors, headlights that swivel for direction of travel, 100litre tank, stop-start, seat and steering-wheel memory, electric tailgate, lane-change assist, and accident sense/ pre-brake

The oily bits consist of a petrol powered 4.8l V8 engine longitudionally mounted up front, mated to an eight-speed Aisin tiptronic gearbox, providing drive to all four wheels. The engine output is rated at 368kW @ 6000rpm (500 metric horsepower) and 700NM (516 lb-ft) available from 2260-4500 rpm and it really is an amazing bit of technology. The car is sitting on 20″ SportDesign II Wheels, with an identical set of 20″ for the winter tyres – this meant no faffing with registering a change of wheel with the authorities in Switzerland. It does not have the sports exhaust option, so the V8 is a little muted, and that’s not always a bad thing.

Driving the car around town is smooth and very very quiet, fantastic visiblity from the car, the controls are all very usable. Everything is on a button thankfully, no screens to divert driving attention from when e.g. changing the temperature or other similar tasks. Parking is easy enough even accounting for the physical size of the beast. The car does not have the “Sport Design” aero kit, so it really doesn’t look as though it has the capabilities that it does, and it does avoid a lot of the negative feedback that other high-end cars seem to get. There are a lot of other Cayennes on the road here so it does not stand out from the crowd, at least in this town.

Getting out on an open Autobahn is an absolute revelation. The acceleration ability is hard to believe. Pressing the giggle lever to the floor makes the nose rise a bit and pulls the horizon closer at a real rate of knots. It’s quiet similar to the “going Plaid” section in ‘Spaceballs the Movie’.. Every car has a speed that feels somewhat natural to cruise at. My A4 carefree cruise speed was about 120kph, the Q7 was about 135kph, but as I found on the derestricted sections the Cayenne carefree cruise appears to be in the 160-190kph range. The cabin is just so quiet even on 275/40R20 full winter wheels, that it can be very hard to discern the rate of travel from auditory or other physical cues. It’s only when the digital dash speedometer is noted at well north of 200kph that the might of this Autobahn stormer is really shown. The acceleration that is possible once the car in front returns to their driving lane is something that will never get old to me.

The baptismal drive of the car from the garage in Martigny in the very southwest of Switzerland to the home in Dietikon was very interesting. We randomly went up the Furka Pass, and ended up following a few 911’s as everyone was enjoying the tight and twisty roads up to the Rhone Glacier and environs. Accelerating to overtake the odd motor camper was an enlightening experience, leaving a healthy respect for the margins the car provides. I will certainly not be taking off the traction control or the stability controls anytime soon, but I do know that I will reach my limits before the car will. It really does feel like I am driving a smaller car with just how well the car changes direction.

Our volume of driving is quite small as anticipated prior to the purchase. Public transport is used for intra-Zurich travel unless the Covid restrictions would suggest avoiding meeting random people if possible, and having the car in that case is a real boon. The weekly shop is low-effort with the car’s ease of use and the space within. Most of the longer trips so far have been cross-border shopping with one Halowe’en hiking trip to Campertogno in Valsesia. Decent Thule roofracks have been obtained unsurprisingly, and the car will now take bikes and boats, with camping gear as appropriate, to my favourite haunts around the Alpine region, in some comfort and style.

The plan is to do some nice road trips over the next few holiday seasons, and there’s no better vehicle that I could get my hands on that I would rather do any distance in.

New callsign allocated

As I have a valid HAREC certificate from the IRTS exam I took last July 2020, I am entitled to apply for a local callsign here in Switzerland.

The application went in to the BAKOM group last week, and they send me out a lovely little very professional state-generated credit-card sized ID-type card with my photo and my new callsign on it.

So for operating here in the Zurich region, I am HB9HJF, with a full Swiss amateur radio license, and I can use the full 1000W allowed under Swiss law for the majority of the amateur band allocations. Some restrictions that make sense: 1W on 2km, 5W on 630m, 15W on 60m, and 100W on 6m; other than those the amateur bands from 160m through 23cm are 1000W of radio power. I can reach that output level with the amplifier and radio that I have, and it’ll make making contacts that little bit easier.

The next interesting part now is how to get the permission to put up an antenna externally or on top of the building where our new apartment is located. In the meantime I can use a lower-power internal antenna without problems.

Bikeforums.net – Idiots? Maybe. Illegal? Probably. GDPR violators? Definitely!

I joined the online forum “bikeforums.net” back in 2012, just to be able to read some of the postings on the road bike section.

I didn’t post anything there in my time as a forum member, the community just didn’t interest me much, and they really didn’t seem like the most friendly bunch, but I thought nothing of it really – no skin from my back.

However, over the past ~18 months or so, I started to get really stupid/medically dangerous spam to the address I used to sign up to those forums.

Upon checking the forums, I could see I was not the only one whose site-specific sign-up address was now being spammed. However, the admins on the forum fully stood behind their decision to give the PII for the accounts to their “parent” company for use as a mailing list for dodgy emails, claiming that everyone using the forums had signed up to “promotional” newsletters. Somehow, I don’t think that emails titled “How To Entirely Empty Your Bowels Every Morning – Top Surgeon Explains How” or “Attention! Remove This Toxic Protein From Your Diet” qualify as forum-related newsletters.

Now, with spam emails, it’s considered bad practice to click on the links contained within them or to allow any inline images to load – as this guarantees the leaking of information to the spam source and also guarantees to them that the email address is a valid destination for the spam mails. So, when the forum admins stated “Oh, just click the unsubscribe” link in the mails, that’s definitively not good practice.

The kicker in the situation is that any consent given to join the forum back in 2012 would not have had the correct wording to satisfy GDPR requirements. And, I had no interaction with the forum after the GDPR laws became active, so I could not have given specific consent to that company to share or otherwise allow unknown third parties to use my personally identifiable information.

When I raised the point that their actions were GDPR non-compliant, my concerns were handwaved away, and I continued to receive these spam mails. Recently, I posted back on the forum that I was still receiving the spam emails, and that the problem was one to be fixed by the forum owners.

Their immediate action? To ban the IP I was using (not that they have ever heard of VPNs, and my account on the forum was banned. Not the smartest of people, as that type of action is specifically an offence under the GDPR..

I’ll soon be making a formal complaint to the Irish Data Commissioner about this forum’s actions and parent company’s violations. The parent company does indeed have business interactions with EU entities, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Any more spam emails that I might receive to that sign-up address will just go into the legal folder and used as further evidence of the GDPR violations.

Not the smartest of people really, the bikeforums.net people.

The adventure continues.

After choosing to not continue the short-term contract with the financial company in Dublin, I took up the offer of permanent employment in Zurich. It’s been an interesting journey from locked-down Ireland to a cautious Zurich.

When my work contract was nearing its end, the company were not making the right kind of contract extension noises soon enough for my personal comfort, so I started looking hard for a permanent position. Contract work is good and all, but the benefits of permanence far outweigh the advantages I could leverage as a contractor in Ireland.

Since about November I had been having a conversation with a group in Switzerland about the possibility of coming on-board as a full time Switzerland-based employee. Those conversations were accelerated over the Christmas period, with some discussions with their technical people and their HR people. They decided I would be acceptable to be brought onboard to a panel that could then be sent onsite at this firm’s customers.

Once my skillset and a customer’s requirements were seen to match closely enough, more conversations were had – remotely of course. The end customer people decided I would suffice, and the appropriate paperwork was drawn up, and a start date decided upon based on my current contract’s end time.

Of course, the new position does in fact mean that I am changing residency. The plan is to be fully moved over to Zurich in a few months, and transferring pretty much everything over as appropriate.

There’s an amount of administrative work involved in emigrating correctly, and immigrating correctly to the Swiss nation. All to be expected though. Lots of forms to fill in, and lots of transport requirements to be met. Even more so now that there’s a Europe-wide set of travel restrictions..

Definitely a new chapter in the adventure..

A good day on the radio.

Towards the end of 2020, I set myself an interesting challenge:

  • On each band I can transmit on with the FT-891:
  • Make at least one international contact on FT8
  • Within the 12 hour period from 9am.

I used the DX Commander for QSOs on 80m, 40m, and 30m. I used the Hexbeam for QSOs on 20m, 17m, 15m, 12m, 10m, and 6m. My in-progress longwave MagLoop was then used for 60m and 160m.

Interesting QSOs from the day? 6m was open to Iberia and I made a few contacts to Spain and Portugal. My only 10m contact was in the US (KC8THC) and I was glad to make that contact as the band appeared dead otherwise.. My 12m contacts were USA and South Africa. 15m was busy and far-reaching up to 12,000km (LU3VA Argentina) to West Malaysia with Mauritius and St Helena in between. 17m contacts from Liechtenstein and Bulgaria we made. 20m contacts were made local in the EU – wrong time of the day chosen for that band. 30m QSOs were from north-central Europe. 40m stations were contacted from the US and Canada via the UK to Germany. 60m signals were copied from the Netherlands to Estonia. 80m was Ireland and Germany, and 160m signals from the Isle of Man and Germany.

I’m a bit chuffed that I did in fact manage 160m through 6m contacts via FT8 digital mode, towards the bottom of the sunspot cycle, with portable antennas, and sticking to the legal limits for transmission.

So far, the only band that has not had the confirmed QSL on QRZ is the contact on 10m, I’m awaiting his upload to get actual confirmation of that QSO.

I do have hardware that can do 2m and 70cms, but I didn’t include that in the challenge for the day. Maybe another time!

Equipment used:

  • Yaesu FT-891 transceiver
  • DX Commander All Band Vertical, with 80m element.
  • Folding Antennas Hexbeam, 20-10 with additional 6m element.
  • Messi & Paolini Ultraflex-7 and Hyperflex-10 coax cables
  • SPE Linear Amplifiers 1.3K-FA.
  • My R9-3900X 48Gb monster of a desktop PC.