Thursday, September 12, 2019

A Black Hole for Web Ad's (Pi-Hole)


Pi-hole is a Linux network advertisement and Internet blocking application which acts as a DNS sinkhole (and optionally a DHCP server), intended for use on a private network.

It is designed for use on embedded devices with network capability, such as the Raspberry Pi, but it can be used on other machines running Linux and cloud implementations.

Pi-hole has the ability to block traditional website ads on your entire network as well as adverts in unconventional places, such as smart TVs and mobile ads found in apps and games.

Instead of running ad blockers in web browsers on multiple devices, Pi-Hole will block ads on ALL devices connected to your home network with no extra other software required on the individual machines/devices.

Pi-Hole provides

Network-wide protection
Instead of browser plugins or other software on each computer, install Pi-hole in one place and your entire network is protected.

Block in-app advertisements
Network-level blocking allows you to block ads in non-traditional places such as mobile apps and smart TVs, regardless of hardware or OS.

Improve network performance
Since advertisements are blocked before they are downloaded, network performance is improved and will feel faster.

Monitor statistics
The Web interface offers control of your Pi-hole and a central place to view statistics.  We also include an API for extending these stats.

Part of the web dashboard for Pi-Hole showing total DSN lookups, total lookups blocked (ads), and other great info.
I tested Pi-Hole first on a Beagle Bone Black mini computer board running the Debian OS for Beaglebone. The installation was a little more complicated due to preinstalled services on the Debian install that conflicted with the Pi-Hole installation. In the end I had a working device, but after a power cycle or restart I had to manually run a couple commands to get Pi-Hole running again (not optimum for a device you want to setup and trust it's always going to be working).

I was impressed enough from this trial that I just ordered a Raspberry Pi which Pi-Hole was designed to run on. Pi-Hole will run on the smallest Raspberry Pi Zero, but I opted for the business card sized Pi 3 B+ which has more power, ports and connections built right in so no need for added dongles or accessories.

I 3D printed a low profile case for the new Raspberry Pi on my Ender 3 printer from Creality. The Pi and Case together are smaller than a pack of cigarettes.

I can SSH into the Pi over the network for any remote tweaks, but I can also plug in a USB keyboard and mouse and connect to a monitor with an HDMI cable for a direct connect experience if needed.

To run Pi-Hole day to day the little Pi box just needs a power cord and network cable

Raspberry Pi 3 B+ in 3D printed slip case using black gloss PLA filament
Here's the installation notes I recorded for myself.
  • Download latest Raspian OS image (no desktop version, command line was all I needed)
  • Flash to SD card with Etcher for Windows
  • Mount SD card to Pi and boot
  • The default username on Raspbian is pi and the default password is raspberry.
  • I immediately changed the default password to my own secure one for home server devices.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Options
  • open the PI’s configuration screen (in the terminal window) by typing:

sudo raspi-config

  • Various options in here were set or changed.
  • Hostname was changed to pi-hole
  • Location set to US
  • Keyboard set to 104 key US
  • Under advanced I expanded the file system on the 16GB SD card to use all space available
  • timezone, etc.
  • NOTE do not change the network option for 'predictable network interface names'. This must be OFF and not 'on'
  • click: Finish
  • select ‘YES‘ when it asks for a reboot

---------------------------------------------------------------------
Home Network Settings
  • Home router = 192.168.0.1
  • Router's DNS was normally set for DHCP from my ISP
  • Network clients used the IP of the router for DNS

New Home Network Settings required for Pi-Hole

  • Home router = 192.168.0.1 (same)
  • Pi-Hole device = 192.168.0.2 (new and available)
  • Router's DNS was changed to point to the Pi-Hole (192.168.0.2)
  • During the Pi-Hole installation I chose Cloudflare as the new external DNS service used by Pi-Hole for it's lookups. There are 9 choices total, all the top DNS services in the world.

Setting the Static IP on the Raspberry Pi

Start by editing the dhcpcd.conf file

sudo nano /etc/dhcpcd.conf

Changes made at the end of the file

interface eth0
static ip_address=192.168.0.2/24
static routers=192.168.0.1
static domain_name_servers=192.168.0.1

Saved changes and reboot. 
Confirmed that the IP has changed after the reboot.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
One-Command Automated Install of Pi-Hole

curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash

The Pi-Hole installation is very easy and guided and there are tons of other tutorial sources online about what to chose for options. In many cases you can select the default option on almost every screen and it will work just fine.


---------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Lumby BC D-Star Gateway VE7HSP


Registered D-Star users in the Lumby BC Canada area can now access my ircDDB registered D-Star compatible gateway operating on UHF simplex with 5 watts power.

Hardware
- DVRPTR V1 board
- BeagleBone Black
- Kenwood TM-V7 mobile
- FREE STAR* software on Debian Linux - http://www.va3uv.com/freestar.htm.

Simplex Frequency = 434.800
Web Dashboard = ve7hsp.gw.ircddb.net
Normally linked to Reflector = XRF021B

ircDDB registered callsign = VE7HSP
Local Owner Primary Callsign = VA7AEJ





Sunday, February 17, 2019

SSTV from the ISS


Over two weekends in February 2019 the crew on the International Space Station (ISS) broadcast SSTV images for a special event.

Amateurs around the world could try and receive / decode the messages. Chances to do so were limited to a few minutes each time the ISS passed overheard. From my personal experience this past weekend here were my results summarised.

I started with a cheap USB RTL-SDR receiver hoping to do all the work digitally in my PC. After a few pass overs of the ISS Friday this receiver and antenna combination was not doing the trick.

Saturday morning I switched to the following setup.
  • Yaesu FT-847 (transceiver)
  • RigBlaster Advantage (soundcard)
  • Comet GP-3 dualband VHF/UHF vertical (vertical antenna up 40 feet)
  • Ham Radio Deluxe (software)
  • MMSSTV (software)
For the next 5-6 pass overs between 10:20am Saturday and 9:45am Sunday here were the results.








Saturday, November 17, 2018

2M-CD -- Amateur VHF Circular Dipole Antenna

Saw this item advertised on the Amateur Radio Swap Canada Facebook group. The creator is Canadian based out of Lakeshore Ontario. 

VHF Loop - Very Small Transmitting Loops - https://www.vhfloop.com/

His first product was a magnetic loop for 6m which has recently been updated to add a standard tripod mount at the base and different configuration of the teflon tuning screws. Good deal for 6m enthusiasts at $120 US.

His second product that he just launched is what caught my eye, an indoor bookshelf 2m circular dipole that doesn't require a ground plain.

Sellers description

Here is a 2 meter 144-148 MHz circular folded dipole, capable of 100 watts, which is a very compact antenna, requiring no ground plane, small foot print and ideal as a “bookshelf” indoor antenna for those who are restricted in their ability to put an antenna outdoors, or who want to remain stealth. 

I'm really looking forward to trying it out.

More pictures from his website of the antenna.







Saturday, November 03, 2018

Where The Bonus Went - Heil Pro 7 Headset

If you've visited my shack you may have noticed a few Heil Sound brand amateur radio accessories including a couple microphones, rig adapter cables, microphone boom, shock mount, etc.

In September of 2018 I was asked by my employer to work an extra job to help during a changeover between an old contractor and the new contractor who typically do that work. Without going into detail I still had to do my regular job as well so it made for a busy month and a fair bit overtime.

At the end of the project those of use who did the extra work were told we might get a bonus for the work. We joked that a trip to Vegas would be nice but were surprised when the bonus was cash (thanks you to my manager and the upper management for approving that).

Fast forward to yesterday when the bonus showed up on my latest paycheck. I was ready and prepared after having weeks to research & find the item that I wanted to spend it on.

If you've followed my blog you know that I don't typically spent my disposable income on the hobby, with most of my spare income going to family needs like vehicle & household repairs. Instead I use cash from Birthdays and Christmas, or Bonuses like this one. So when I do get some cash to invest in the hobby I try and look for excellent quality items that will hopefully last me for years.

Thus the new purchase is the Heil Pro 7 headset (boomset). I'm currently waiting for delivery in the coming week (as long as the Canada Post rolling job actions doesn't interrupt regular delivery).

I did a ton of research on this item and have high hopes it's a great headset. I have a couple other sets of Hi-Fi stereo headphones from premium brands like Focal, so when it comes to headphones I have some experience and big expectations. It will be very interesting using a headset optimized for amateur radio for the first time.

The Heil Pro 7 has the following features.

  • Generating Element: Dynamic iC
  • Frequency Response: 100 Hz – 12 kHz
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Impedance: 600 Ohms
  • Output Level: -57 dB at 1 kHz
  • Weight: 17 oz
  • 2″ thick gel foam ear pads provide extreme comfort for extended periods of time while exhibiting passive noise reduction rated at -26dB, ideal for use in high ambient noise environments.
  • Using technology Bob Heil learned from Paul Klipsch back in the early 70’s, the ear cup enclosures were tuned to the free air cone resonance of the speaker cone thus providing very low distortion with maximum voice articulation providing the ultimate sound reproduction for communications. 
  • The exclusive Heil Phase Reversal system (HPR) allows you to acoustically move the signals forward and creates a spatial widening of the sound field. This feature makes it easier to pull a weak signal from a pileup – useful for DxPeditions and contests as well as a stress reliever as your change the phase angle of the program source.
  • A speaker balance control allows preferred level between the speakers. The balance control located on the LEFT speaker, controls only the left speaker. Begin by setting a comfortable right side speaker level with the AF gain of the receiver. You then adjust the left side speaker where necessary to balance the audio between the speakers. In most cases the balance control will be close to or maximum.
  • The latest version of the Pro 7 features a monitor jack. The monitor feature allows a second operator to plug in headphones to the Pro 7 to monitor audio.

The Pro 7's are available in black, red, blue or pink finishes and includes the following accessories:

  • PTT Switch.
  • Military grade straight cable.
  • Military grade coiled cable.
  • Extra set of ear pads.
  • Washable cotton ear pad covers.

The PRO 7 has an interchangeable microphone system, which allows the microphone element to be easily changed in the field for different types of applications.


  • The low distortion included Dynamic HC-7 (black) element exhibits a frequency response of 100 Hz – 12 kHz with the -3dB points at 100 Hz and 12 kHz. The traditional Heil speech articulation rise is centered at 2K -4KHz with properly balanced highs and lows. The impedance is 600 ohm. The HC-7 is one of our best microphone elements for speech articulation.
  • For the serious contest/DX operators they can upgrade to the HC-74 (orange), which is a redesign of the popular HC-4 element. This element is sold separately. It rolls off the low end at 600 Hz with a 10 dB rise at 2500-3000 Hz, which creates a very articulate signal to break through pileups. 

HC-7 Replaceable Mic Element (included with purchase)
HC-7 Frequency Graph





HC-74 Interchangeable Mic Element (optional purchase)

HC-74 Frequency Graph







Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bartop Arcade Cabinet


Another summer side project has been to build a bar-top (tabletop) arcade cabinet.

Multiple times over the years I've prepped the pc/monitor/controller parts of an arcade project and put them together, but then after a month or two I never started the cabinet build and the project got pulled apart, usually for parts.

Recently I had a suitable micro desktop PC, LCD TV, and USB arcade controller that weren't being used.

I did some new research and used the RecalBox software platform.

RecalboxOS is the Linux operating system of the recalbox project, an out-of-the-box emulation console.

RecalboxOS uses many awesome existing components, like EmulationStation2 as frontend, piFBAand Retroarch as emulators, RaspberryPI NOOBS as installation/recovery system.

FEATURES

Supports: Atari 2600, Atari 7800, NES, Game Boy, Game Boy color, Game Boy Advance, Super Nintendo, Famicom Disk System, Master System, Megadrive (Genesis), Gamegear, Game and Watch, Lynx, NeoGeo, NeoGeo Pocket, FBA (subset), iMame4all (subset), PCEngine, Supergrafx, Amstrad CPC, MSX1/2, ZX Spectrum, PSX, Sega Cd, Sega 32X, Sega SG1000, Playstation, ScummVM, Vectrex, VirtualBoy, Wonderswan ! See here for more details
Features:
  • Wifi support
  • Online updates
  • Network access to ROM folder, screenshots, saves, configuration file (via SAMBA and HTTP-Webfrontend)
  • Controller configuration in the frontend: configure once, play everywhere
  • Built-in controller support for PS3, Xbox360, 8BitDo and Bluetooth (associate a controller and play)
  • Packaged GPIO drivers, for arcade controls, or original Nes, Snes, Megadrive, PSX controllers, XinMo 2 players
  • Miroof's Virtual Gamepad support (use your phone as a controller)
  • Frontend based on the great EmulationStation2 by Aloshi
  • Background frontend music (I loaded a playlist of hits from the 80's)
  • Favorites feature (mark your games as favorites and hide others)
  • English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portugues, maybe other to come if you participate
  • FBA optimized version with 4 player support


After getting the hardware working (mostly to my satisfaction) I plowed ahead with the cabinet build.




After the construction I tested the fitted hardware.





After a week of finishing touches and painting the until is now assembled and on my desk. 

I'm still researching a strange Linux audio bug, but more importantly it's working and very fun to have in my office.







Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Price Is Right - Hybrid Quad


Behold the Canadian made T.G.M. Communications - - MQ-1 Hybrid Quad Antenna.

This is a HF compact 2 element antenna supporting 3 primary bands and one extra 'tuner' band. A friends advertised it locally for free, that was a price that I couldn't pass up.
  • 20m
  • 15m
  • 10m
  • 6 meters (tuner required)
More to come as I set it up and put it through it's paces.

UPDATE (8/16/2018) I've had a 'new old stock' light duty antenna rotor kit on a shelf for about 5-6 years. I'm guessing it's a good match for this small antenna on my roof.

UPDATE (8/18/2018) At the advice of the previous owner I ordered a 1:1 balun to go with the antenna. I'll hold off installation until that arrives next week.

UPDATE (8/19/2018) Why wait for the balun (ha ha) I had everything needed to go ahead with the physical installation. Now when the balun arrives I can wire it up and tune. :)




73

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Pleasant Surprise


When shopping online you never get to see the quality of what you're buying. To my pleasant surprise a recent online purchase just arrived. It was a pair of 12v power cables that have battery clamps on one end, and Anderson Power Pole connectors on the other end. All my amateur radio 12v equipment is fitted with Anderson connectors so having some adapter cables like this is very handy to add to my collection.

  • The build quality was excellent.
  • Good gauge of wire and the battery clamps are strong.
  • The Anderson connectors even have a nice protective cover over them.
  • Shipping was fast and the entire order was under $12 CAD for both. 
  • Less than $6 each, I couldn't build two of these for myself for less money.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Big 5-0


Yesterday was my 50th birthday.

Thanks to my family I was gifted cash so that I could purchase a new 'something special'

Wanting to stretch the funds as far as possible I arranged to pickup a gently used Yaesu FTM-400DR, if you're not familiar this is the premier System Fusion C4FM model of mobile digital radio from Yaesu.

The prior owner had not gotten a lot of use from this radio as he feel in love with another radio in his collection. With my strong interest in C4FM radios over the last few years this FTM-400DR was at the top of my wish list.

It came with all the original packaging and most of the items in the box were still in their sealed bags. He had just removed the core components and set them up in his shack.


After getting home the first item on my to-do list was the power cable.

I have some standard prep that I perform on any stock power cord.

  1. Clean up cable with a drill powered wire winding.
  2. Solder on some nice Anderson Power Pole connectors.
  3. Add some heat shrink to avoid accidental shorting of the cable.
  4. Add a ring core ferrite bead choke coil clamp.
My OCD satisfied... now I can move onto the next steps :)




While only a couple years old, this radio still had the original firmware for the mainboard and the DSP. Yaesu released a major update to both in late 2017 when the second generation System Fusion features were released like DG-ID (Digital Group Identification) and DP-ID (Digital Personal Identification).

For the mainboard update I had to remove the top cover, flip a hardware switch inside, connect it up to the PC and flash the new firmware.



For the second update to the DSP firmware I had to flip the internal switch back to the operational position, reassemble the radio, and power up in DSP r/w mode. Then with different software I pushed that firmware into the radio.



So now with mainboard firmware ver. 3.1, and DSP firmware ver. 4.15. The upgrade segment is completed.

Mounting was easy in my shack as I was replacing another mobile rig and only needed to change the mount brackets under the shelf like the other mobiles.

You can see in the image below all of the following details on the headless radio from left to right.

  1. RJ11 connector with cable leading off to the remote touch-screen head unit.
  2. RJ-45 connector going to the hand mic.
  3. USB data port to support the camera hand mic option. (not included)
  4. MicroSD card port with a microsd card I inserted and will use for programming and backups.


And with all that... the job is done!

The head unit now sitting on my dusty desk (ugg sorry I didn't clean up BEFORE taking the pictures.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Installing Amazon Prime Video in Canada

Amazon has been offering Canadian customers access to their Prime Video service since the end of 2016. It's only $79 CAD per year to become a Prime Member and there is a 30 day trial available as well.



Configuring your devices to use this new streaming video service can be a bit challenging for Canadian customers as not all of the consoles and streaming media players make it as easy as we would hope. Over time I'm sure Amazon will start to deploy a proper Canadian version of their apps in all of the digital storefronts but until then we'll just need to be creative.

PC's and Laptops

  • Open your browser and go to the website https://www.primevideo.com
  • Bookmark this site for future easy access.
  • Login with your Amazon user account and password.

Cellphones and Tablets

  • Download the Amazon Prime Video app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
  • Login with your Amazon user account and password.

Nvidia Shield

  • In the Settings change your Country location to the USA and reboot.
  • Download the Amazon Prime Video app from the Google Play Store.
  • Login with your Amazon user account and password.
  • Change your location back to Canada and reboot one last time.

Xbox One

  • In the Settings change your Country location to the USA and reboot.
  • Download the Amazon Prime Video app from the Xbox Store.
  • Login with your Amazon user account and password.
  • Change your location back to Canada and reboot one last time.

PlayStation 3

  • This method should work for the PS3 and PS4, it was tested on a PS3.
  • Start by creating a new US Sony account, This is easily done online at https://account.sonyentertainmentnetwork.com/login.action. You will need a valid US address and zip code. This account will only be used to get the app downloaded from the US app store so it's kind of disposable and you should not link a credit card to the account.
  • After the account is created and validated via an email you're ready to move over to the console.
  • Add a new User to PlayStation, this is done at the far left of the XrossMediaBar under the Users menu. I created my 2nd account with the same name as my primary account, and just added 'US' to the end so I could tell them apart.
  • Log into the new account and then move the XrossMediaBar to the PlayStation Network menu and login with the new US Sony account that you created in step 2.
  • Now you can browse to the PlayStation Store and search for the Amazon Video app. Download install and then update the app.
  • Change your User back to your primary account.
  • Launch the Amazon Video app, login with your Amazon account and register the console app to your account.

Roku and Others

  • If you have found a tested and working method for any other media players, consoles, or smart TV's please share it with me and I'll update this page.
  • Email me at aarenj@gmail.com