The Hardware

Entertainment gear

Working in satellite television as I do, and being the hardware geek that I am, there's a lot of gear - not only on the computer side, but also in general entertainment kit.

All the human members of the household have their own personal hi-fi units, both CD and cassette tape, and also semi-portable (or downright fixed!) outfits in various rooms.

The TV has VHS video (2 of them) and analogue satellite reception set up. I subscribe to Sky, although the kids make more use of it than I, but I'm getting to the point of consumer resistance to the subscription hikes. I hear that the monthly rate for full-monty access will rise in September to UKP32 from UKP30 ($51+ from $48), thus crossing my personal ceiling. This means I will probably drop the 3 sports channels, which I never watch anyway. Sept 1999: This has now happened.

I actually have 2 satellite dishes, each fixed to look at a different satellite - the Astra complex at 19.2 degrees east for Sky, and Intelsat 707 at 1 degree west, for my current employer's services.

Make that three dishes - I've gone digital, with Sky. Mark you, after a gale a few months ago, the Intelsat dish has blown off-line (I think) so I get no signals. It's not worth repointing it, since I make so little use of it, and the signals I'm concerned with are slowly moving to a satellite I can't see with a reasonable dish (it's footprint is too tightly focused on Northern Europe). The Sky analogue dish (pointed to Astra 1 at 19 degrees East) is still working, but there's only CNN on it in English. The receiver basically serves as a modulator for one of my VHS recorders.


We have four main computers in regular use, Porsche (retired in April 2001, in favour of Tardis), Celery, Fujisan and Armadillo, together with two others which are not now in use, Astra and Old Blue, and a couple of unnamed laptops from Tandy and Compaq. Additionally, there is a file server, Tux, running a custom version of RedHat Linux 6.1

Porsche is an IBM clone, built by Carrera Computer in London. He's an Intel 486DX4/100 based machine, built round an anonymous motherboard using a SIS chipset, installed in a mini-tower case. There is 24 MB of memory, in 3 8MB 72-pin SIMMs, an 810MB Seagate hard disk, and a 4X CD-ROM. He runs Windows for Workgroups 3.11, and is mainly used by Sarah, my eldest daughter. He is not currently networked.

Porsche has just been given honourable retirement (in April 2001) in favour of Tardis.

Celery is another IBM clone desktop, built for me by a local computer shop, Personal Computer Solutions, to my spec. He has a Celeron 266 processor in a Gigabyte LX-chipset ATX motherboard, installed in a Macase mini-tower case. 32MB of SDRAM memory, a 3.2GB hard disk and a 32X CD-ROM were originally provided, together with an internal IDE Zip 100 drive from Iomega. I've since added a network card (Netgear FA-310 PCI 10/100 MBit Ethernet), another 32 MB of memory, and an HP 7200i EIDE CD-Writer. He runs Win95 OSR2.5, with USB support. Sept 1999: Celery now has a 366MHz Celeron processor. December 2000: I added another 64MB of memory, from Crucial

Fujisan is a Fujitsu Lifebook 520D notebook. I bought him from Morgan Computer in London, a well-known surplus house. He's built around a Pentium 120, originally with 16MB of RAM (later upgraded to 40MB), an 810 MB Toshiba hard disk (too small!, upgraded to 6GB) and a 6X CD-ROM. He runs Win95 OSR2. There's an Olicom 10MBit Ethernet card and an Auslinx Kookaburra 33.6 modem, both PCMCIA cards. Oct 1999: I've just changed to a Xircom CEM-33 combined Ethernet and Modem card, see here and here for the gory details. And another change - to a Xircom 10/100 Ethercard/56k modem (the CEM56-100) which was a painless upgrade.

Tardis is a Desktop machine, built by Time Computers. He was supposed to be an ex-demo machine, but Time over-sold the offer, and had to build a new batch of machines to spec. Tardis is one of these - he has a Pentium III-700 processor, Slot 1, running at 100MHz FSB. The ATX motherboard is Intel BX440 based, with 3 PCI slots, and one ISA (shared). The case is mini-tower form, and has a spare back-panel slot plate, so that I could add more I/O connectors if required. 64MB of  SDRAM, and a Winmodem are provided. Video is from an embedded ATI Rage 128 VR graphics chip - I can't tell whether the video RAM is shared with the processor. The monitor is a 17 inch, 15.9 inch viewable- Time branded. The Keyboard is Samsung, and the mouse Logitech, again Time branded.

The OS is Windows ME (hawk, spit) - no install CD was provided. It is available at extra charge.

I've added a network card - MRI 10/100 Ethernet.

Armadillo is a Compaq Armada 1592T notebook, bought secondhand from Morgan Computer. He was supplied without OS and drivers, so I installed a spare copy of WIN95 OSR2.5 (with limited USB support). 64MB of memory, 3.2GB hard disk, 24x CD-ROM, 12.1 inch TFT screen at 800x600, supplied with Xircom 10BaseT and V34 modem PCMCIA cards. I've set him up as Katy's machine - networked via the Sohobasic hub in the stairwell.

Tux is the Linux fileserver. He is a DEC Venturis 590, Pentium 90, originally with 24MB of memory (just (April 2001) increased to 40MB, and to 56MB in late November 2001)and a 400MB hard disk - replaced with a 2.1GB disk. If a screen is needed, he feeds an HP 14 inch mono VGA monitor. The keyboard/mouse  is an Airkey infra-red unit. The OS is E-Smith 4.0, which is a custom, cut-down version of RedHat 6.1. He also has an MRI ethercard. When the 2.1GB disk died, I installed a Seagate U5 10GB drive, and changed distribution to Progeny Debian. With the October 2001 withdrawal of Progeny from development, I'll have to switch distros again, probably to Debian Woody.

I have two scanners, one is a sheetfed Visioneer Paperport MX, the other a Primax Colorado D600 (another cheap purchase, but good enough for my purposes). The Paperport is installed on both Fujisan and Celery, but due to resource clashes, the Primax is only on Fujisan. I've found that scanner drivers prevent my Iomega Ditto tape drive from working, if attempting to share the same parallel port. Fujisan has an extra parallel port (a PCMCIA card from Quatech) installed. There's not much to say about this card - it just works.

All the computers are networked, via twisted pair Ethernet. I use mostly Netgear hubs and switches, although the first hub I bought was a SohoBasic Hub205. The centre of the network is a Netgear FS108 8 port dual-speed switch. Off one port of that is a Netgear EN104 10BaseT hub (with 10Base2 coaxial port), which feeds Fujisan. This is to get around the fact that most PCCard 10BaseT ethernet adaptors have difficulty negotiating with a dual speed hub/switch. They can see each other, but data flow is there none. This happens on Cisco and Netgear kit, and with Xircom (and, I'm told) 3Com PCMCIA cards.

Tux the Linux box and Celery connect to the Netgear switch at 100MBit/s. The HP printer is also connected here, at 10MBit/s, via a SohoBasic PrintServer201

Internet access for all networked machines is via a D-Link DP-802 Internet server, which does on-demand dialling, NAT firewalling and internal DHCP. Nameservice is provided via Demon's nameservers. The DP-802 requires an external modem, I'm using a US Robotics Sportster Voice 33.6 Faxmodem.

Internally, most of the networking is NetBIOS, but the SohoBasic printserver requires IPX. Both of these are blocked from the Internet-At-Large by the D-Link box.


I have several cameras, the most venerable of which is a 20 plus year old Praktika SLR, with a selection of accessory lenses. I very rarely carry it now, because the gadget bag is just too big and heavy to be comfortable for any length of time. Add to this the amount of other kit I frequently end up carrying (amateur radio gear, GPS - remember, gadget freak!), and I needed something lighter.

This turned out to be a Kodak DC40 digital camera, which I bought at surplus (from Morgan Computer) about 18 months ago. Most of the pictures on the site were taken with the Kodak, but are not posted at full resolution (not unless I get a lot of requests).

I've just (March 2001) bought another digicam, a Fuji MX-1200, which does 1280x960 pixels. This also came from Morgan Computer, and was bought at the same time as Armadillo.


There are a number of these. I've already mentioned the Global Positioning System receiver, a Garmin GPS45, which is both more and less useful than I thought it would be when I bought it. It's more useful, in that I can always get back to where I've been, even if my bump of direction isn't working, and less useful, in that it shows as-the-crow-flies courses, which aren't much use in a car. Still, using moving map software, in my case Personal Navigator, version 2.2, from Softwair, Ltd, should make it more useful in the car. When travelling alone, of course, the laptop display will not be visible from the driver's seat while in motion.

For walkaround music I have an Aiwa AM-F5 MiniDisc Recorder/player, which is great, providing you can copy digitally from CD, so that the track marker data gets transferred. There's a lot more content-related information storable on a MiniDisc than there usually is on a CD - things like track title, artist, as well as track and disc timings, which are normally all you'll get off a CD. Record companies, please note:- I am copying CDs I own, not ones I've borrowed. If you would let the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society sell reasonably-priced licences to copy for portable use, I would buy one. As it is, my conscience is clear. I'm treating the content like a book. Only one copy is in use at a time.

I do my CD to MD copying on a Sharp MD-X5 micro Hi-Fi system, which has CD player, MD recorder, and RDS digital AM/FM tuner all in one box. 10W rms per channel output, and used as a music source in the shack/study.

My bedside alarm clock - a vital thing when you work the weird hours I do - is an Audioline Time Trak radio synchronised device, controlled by VLF radio transmissions at 60kHz from standard time station MSF, sited at Rugby, UK. It's never wrong, even after a power failure. In fact the accuracy of the transmissions is wasted, since the clock has no seconds display.

Amateur Radio

Like most hams (how I hate that term!), I don't often get rid of radios, even if they are obsolete or faulty. As a result, this list is limited to rigs that work, and are in use, albeit sometimes rarely.

I like Yaesu kit. My main mobile rig is an FT-8500 2 metre/70cm FM dual-bander mounted on a quick-release bracket under the dash of Peanut, and connected to an Altai single earpiece headset for hands-free use.

Portable, I use Yaesu multimode handbag-size rigs for 2 metres and 70cm (the FT-290R and FT-790R respectively), both of which give me NBFM, SSB and CW (Morse) in boxes about the size of a thick trade paperback book.

I've had an Icom IC-Q7E for a year now (as of April 2001). This cigarette-packet sized amateur band transceiver/wideband receiver is very useful at amateur radio shows (range is short - it runs off 2 AA batteries), and the receiver will pick up civil and military Airband, FM broadcast, amateur, and marine signals, plus many others.

I also have a Realistic PRO-44 scanner, a cheap-and-cheerful receiver with coverage of civil airband, VHF and UHF PMR and Amateur frequencies. There are lots of gaps, but it works well enough close to. I'm no DXer (at VHF/UHF that is).

For HF band listening (I have no interest in HF transmission) I've just bought (Sept 1999) a Realistic DX-394 synthesised receiver. I'll be using this for HF FAX and RTTY (radio-teletype) reception, and probably experimenting with DGPS beacon reception and decoding to improve the accuracy of the GPS (and eliminate Selective Availability).

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