Beltane

Beltane is about halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, traditionally held on 1 May. It's the festival that marks the beginning of summer and welcomes its return. As with Samhain, its opposite point, we had a feast at Dan's. With Beltane's associations with fire, we were hoping to have a barbecue, but the weather had other ideas. So, we sat inside, eating a mountain of delicious food followed by coffee and cake, sitting around the table, sharing stories, putting the world to rights, chatting and laughing.

Nature and trail cameras

Ordinarily, we check the trail cameras every Tuesday and Saturday. On Tuesday's camera check, it was raining lightly but getting heavier. Instead of staying in and drinking tea and eating hot cross buns as usual, we strode out to the woods and put up the tarp. Under its shelter, Dan copied and reviewed the images and video. In between getting the cards, I sat under it and listened to the rain fall. A little slice of the peace of the natural world inside a day otherwise filled with JavaScript.

The videos and photos were only just collected, so we don't have the usual edited highlights here. However, if you check back to https://heathens.club/~palm93/video/ you'll likely see them in the next few days.

I'd like to do a review of these cameras one day. I'm not sure how useful that would be because there are lots of cameras which are clones of each other, that have the same chipset. So far we've bought five cameras, and we've deliberately avoided any camera with radio in it (e.g. wifi, Bluetooth, cellular, whatever). The Campark T20 were the first two. Very cheap, mini cameras. They did the job, but they've suffered from poor buffering to the SD card and loose connections inside leading to battery drain. They also seem to forget their settings from time to time. I think it's fair to say that we wouldn't use this model any more. It's just disappointing when you get a stunning photo and then the video stutters or triggers too late. The second pair of cameras we got was the Victure HC300 (the Cylons). This is a bit better. Firstly it takes 8 AA batteries, rather than the 4 AA batteries of the mini Campark. This is better because we often replace batteries when they are down to 25% or so, so a 8 AA battery setup lasts longer per battery. The 8 AA batteries seem to last ages even with all the infrared LEDs which, when you watch them back, look more like a floodlight. Also, when you open the cover, the screen and controls don't swing out with it. That is always kind of annoying. Instead, it's like a little panel on the tree. Dan also got a Toguard H40 very recently, but we haven't yet formed enough of an opinion on it. My dad has one and is pretty happy with the triggering distance, but we haven't yet tried it in a woodland environment like the one we're getting the videos from. I guess GoPro would be the market leader if they made trail cameras, but nobody would want to leave something that expensive in the middle of some woods.

Radio

The antenna continued to get higher and higher while I waited for a fibreglass pole. I checked the band conditions earlier in the week and they looked good, so I hopped onto JS8 on 40m and chatted to Giordano IU2OZH and Pierluigi IK2PYX, both in or near Milan, and Mikel EA5IYL in Alicante. Mikel does SOTA (Summits on the Air), which is essentially about combining radio and hiking to collect (or 'activate') hills and mountains by operating from them. I set up a Sotlas account with the vague intention of having a go myself this summer. Mikel later sent me a QSL card, which is essentially a postcard confirming we contacted each other. I've never received or sent a QSL card before so I wasn't sure what to send back. I've been looking in the local shops for postcards of Bradford-on-Avon and when I find one, I'll send one of those. I hope that's sort of right?

It's weird how I used to chat to Irish stations and now I'm getting to stations around the Mediterranean, though I'm still chatting to OH8STN in Oulu. Closer stations, like my friend Sam M0SKF in London, can usually only be contacted by relay via Greece or Italy. As night falls with the higher antenna, transatlantic contacts become much easier than with the lower antenna. Australian stations like VK2XOR sometimes pop up through the noise floor. I'm now using Iosevka, a narrow font that people use for programming, in my radio apps. It's good at presenting all the information clearly on my laptop's small screen and it's highly customisable.

This week my antenna mast came. It's a DX Commander antenna support by Callum M0MCX. I bought one in 2018 but it's at my dad's house so I just bought another for doing experiments over here. It came within 24 hours of ordering and it's just as useful as I remember. You'd think that one fibreglass pole would be much like any another, but this one is light, and pretty sturdy with just the friction locks. I have fairly heavy wire, feeder, and a balun dangling from the top of all but the first couple of sections, and it gives a bit of a bend but it's pretty stable. Not bad for £49 and 1.4kg in weight.

I immediately put it to use getting the paracord down from the roof, stuck on the tiles, left over from my attempts to get a paracord line from the mast I have for the television antenna by throwing cord over the house. It took about three minutes to get the line up there with the pole.

Today I put up the pole to about in 8m height, running a wire from the top of the house to it, and back down into a tree. The poles of the antenna made something a bit like an inverted vee antenna, but one was at a much shallower angle than the other. I know OH8STN used an antenna with two different orientations like this to get good signal from the North West of him (the USA) and the EU.

For this, see: Less is more! JS8Call 40M Mesh Network.

In my case, however, it was due to the limitations of the space I have. Nevertheless, my heartbeats on JS8Call were reported with higher SNR, particularly from DA1SNL, and with more replies. Success! And this was during the day, and during poor bad conditions. PSKReporter confirmed that my signals were going worldwide. The Irish stations even came back. I'm looking forward to using it at night sometime, but there are thunderstorms coming soon...

Finally, here's another little radio nugget, as though I didn't write about radio here enough! The topics of standing waves and impedance matching are sometimes hard to understand and internalise the first time around. For this, I was recommended Dr John Shive's impressively lucid 1959 lecture Similiarities of Wave Behavior, discussing some properties and principles of all kinds of waves. He uses mechanical wave demonstration machines to great effect. Not only for wave propagation, but also mechanical analogies of other aspects of wave systems, up to impedance discontinuities and the measures used to match impedances over them. This mechanical model of an impedance transformer gives a new perspective, and when this analogy is established, new insights come. At the end of the film he mentions that the ossicles of the mammalian inner ear — the hammer, anvil and stirrup bones — are impedance transformers between the low impedance of the air and the high impedance of the liquid. Really neat.

Games

This week I was shattered and we played some games which were more chilled out than the game of Go, though we did play a quick 9×9 game with a stranger. To warm up, we played the Royal Game of Ur, an ancient game from Mesopotamia dating from about 2500 BCE. It's a race game in which you have to get seven game pieces over a course of fourteen squares, eight of which you share with your opponent. The number of moves you can make in your turn is determined by the sum of four binary digits, obtained from four tetrahedron-shaped dice, so you get B(4, 0.5) each time. You have to roll the right number to get a piece off the course. You can capture an opponent's piece, making it go back to the start, but pieces are safe if they are on a rosette. Landing on one of these gives you an extra roll. That's pretty much it. We played the game without knowing the rules, and that was a fun way to learn, but it was more a fun game to play while chatting than anything.

This week's new board game discovery was the game of Hex. It was invented in the 1940s by mathematicians Piet Hein and John Nash independently of each other. It's another abstract strategy game. We also learned this one as we went along. It's played on a rhombic board of hexagons, with each player owning either the two vertical or horizontal edges of the board. Players take turns to place pieces to create an unbroken path of pieces between the two edges. Apart from the swap rule, which gives the second player the option of which colour to play after the first piece is placed, those are the rules. That's it.

The strategy goes a lot deeper than this. Minimal patterns which guarantee some kind of connection are called Hex templates. I found the online book Hex: A Strategy Guide that covers these ideas and many many more, some of which are analogous to the game of Go. There are Hex openings, blocking techniques, bottlenecks, bridges, ladders, groups, all sorts of stuff to study. We are playing it later tonight (2021-05-02) on Little Golem (or BoardSpace or Board Game Arena or Tabletop Simulator or whatever) with voice chat alongside on our Mumble server.

Bees

I participated in the Zoom meeting of Melksham Beekeepers this week. It was nice to get beyond just emailing them and get some advice. One of the bits of advice was to get rid of the frames in the bait hives and replace them with some drawn comb. We took the frames out today and we're working on the comb.

It's now the beginning of May and we still have no bees, just two empty hives. We have five options for this: hoping a swarm will find the bait hive; finding a swarm in the hedgerows around here or hearing about one from the local farmers; adopting a rescued swarm rescued by a generous beekeeper in MBKA; buying some bees from a club member; performing a split on the bees back home and driving them over here. Today I heard news that a split was attempted by Dave back home, but it unfortunately hadn't worked due to robbing. Rough. Anyway, of these five methods, surely one of these will yield a colony at some point. You'd think, right? The weather lately has been a couple of rainy days followed by a sunny day. If I were a bee, I'd probably swarm on those sunny days, but nothing yet.

In preparation, we ordered a couple of feeders and twelve 1kg bags of Fondabee from Gwenyn Gruffydd over there in Sir Gaerfyrddin. All for the taking. Come on, bees! Move in! You won't even have to forage, dudes!