Buster 1.1 for D-STAR on macOS Sierra

BusterBuster is a macOS application for ham radio written by Jeremy McDermond, NH6Z, that allows Mac users to connect to the D-STAR network without a radio. It works with the ThumbDV™ USB dongle on the local machine or a network connected PiDV™ device (formerly DV3000).

Last fall, I noticed that Buster started to work erratically and wouldn’t connect to many reflectors. The good folks on the D-STAR Roundtable net indicated they were experiencing the same thing, and for many months the application was basically unusable. Finally at the end of May, the Buster 1.1 update was released through the app store.

The good news is that, functionally, Buster 1.1 appears to be working well on Sierra. I don’t remember all the specific problems with it, but I successfully tested connecting, transmitting, and receiving on REF, XRF/XLX, and DCS reflectors. I’m unable to test using a networked PiDV, so this just applies to a ThumbDV connected locally.

The bad news is that the host file still has problems. It’s more up to date than it was, but at least some of the addresses are (very) stale, and there are a lot of IP addresses being used instead of hostnames, which begs for bad links. This is the old “which hosts file is authoritative?” issue, but with a twist…

A look at the issue tracker for Buster on github reveals that the host file data is coming from ar-dns.net, a service intended to be a centralized host file and DNS lookup provider for all things D-STAR that, in turn, gets its data from various unmentioned sources. It’s a project by K7VE, the designer of STARnet. It looks like a nice system and cool project, but the source of the XRF and XLX addresses is problematic.

This means there will be some problems connecting from Buster. There already are.

Case in point: I host XRF010 and XRF011, both of which are XLX reflectors. Both have been up and listed in the Kings of Digital host file, on xrefl.net, and the automatic XLX Reflectorlist since late last year. They were submitted with hostnames and never bare IP addresses.

Buster’s hosts file, now derived from ar-dns.net, has both of these x reflectors listed twice – once as XLX and once as XRF – which is great. However, all four entries use IP addresses instead of hostnames. The IP address for XLX010 has never needed to change, so the XRF010 and XLX010 entries both work in Buster for now. But, XLX011 moved to a different server over a month ago and had to change its IP address, so it’s already broken in Buster. Additionally, the entry for XRF011 is a long-outdated IP that resolves to a host in Germany. So XLX011 won’t connect using either XRF011 or XLX011, and for two entirely different host file related reasons.

Old Problems

What’s not new is that Buster uses an XML-formatted host file. This is probably the right thing to do in Objective C, but it means there’s no easy way to do a quick copy/paste of the entire reflector list from a more current data source. So reflectors that won’t connect require investigation by the user on a case-by-case basis, and the individual addresses then need to be updated directly in the xml file. Somebody could easily script a little utility that pulls down the KD host file and converts it to xml for Buster, but the fix really should be with ar-dns.net’s data — ar-dns.net could be the solution to this and many other related D-STAR problems (provided it is a robust system with redundancy), but the data needs to be sourced better, as mentioned above.

Even if the ar-dns.net data gets straightened out, Buster doesn’t have the ability to download host file updates on demand, a la DStar Commander, so host file updates will continue to be dependent on Buster’s author pushing app updates through the app store.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound like I’m complaining. I’m very happy that somebody took their own time to create a solid macOS D-STAR client, and I don’t personally have a problem changing host addresses when needed – it works well for me. I’m just pointing out some issues that could easily trip some users up, and they have more to do with the ongoing host file issue than with Buster itself.

Lamy 2000 Rollerball Pen – Review

Lamy 2000 Rollerball Pen

The Lamy 2000 Rollerball Pen

I’ve never been a big fan of Lamy fountain pens. They’re always nice smooth writers, but most of the body designs are too lightweight and too oddly shaped for my taste. The one exception is the Lamy 2000. It has a nice understated design and always gets rave reviews. Since I’m going through a rollerball phase at the moment, and since the rollerball version is about half the price of the fountain pen version, this seemed like a good time to give it a try.

I like this pen a lot but think it’s a bit expensive for something so understated. Body-wise, the total weight is about where I like it (25 grams) and it has a solid and nicely balanced feel. When you look at a distance, the matte black Makrolon material (a combination of fiberglass and brushed stainless steel) and the simple clip give it a slightly cheap look, a bit like a Paper Mate Flair felt tip pen. But up close, the subtle grain texture, wide diameter (15 mm), and spring clip give it a higher quality look. When you squeeze the opening of the cap, it has some give to it.

Aesthetics aside, my only real complaint is that it has two small metal posts just above the grip that stick out ever-so-slightly – just enough to irritate my fingers a little where I grip the pen. Not a show-stopper, but worth mentioning.

Some people say that the cap falls off the back of the pen when it’s posted, but I haven’t experienced any problems. It doesn’t post with a click but has more of a mushy feel that creates a small vacuum keeping it firmly in place.

The M63 rollerball cartridge that shipped with it was not usable due to constant skipping. When it did write, it was nice and smooth on Rhodia 90gsm paper, comparable to Pilot G2 and Uni-Ball Signo equivalents. But it never improved, even after several pages of writing. Fortunately you can use the Pilot G2 and other cartridges along with a small homemade spacer. I wouldn’t have bought the pen otherwise. So I’m currently using a Montblanc medium rollerball refill cartridge and will probably use a G2 after that.

The total weight is approximately 4.2 oz (119 grams) when it’s new in the box. Here are the specs of the pen itself:

Cap weight: 9 grams
Body weight: 16 grams
Total weight: 25 grams

Body length: 120 mm
Cap length: 65 mm
Closed length: 140 mm
Posted length: 150 mm

Widest diameter w/o clip: 15 mm
Widest diameter with clip: 17 mm

Overall, I do love the feel of the Lamy 2000 and might consider buying the fountain pen version of it when I get over this rollerball distraction. I’ll probably use this as my main daily writer for a good while.

Playstation Vue a Mixed Bag

vueMy wife and I cut the cord (i.e., dropped cable service) in early 2015 and had been using SlingTV – DISH’s live TV streaming service – to replace some of our sports and cooking shows. They have an odd interface, questionable customer service, and ongoing growing pains, but it included enough programming and functionality for us to make the switch.

SlingTV only has the licensing to offer on-demand and pause/fast-foward/rewind on a limited number of channels, and no way to record anything, so after the initial year we were ready for something different. Enter Playstation Vue.

As soon as Playstation Vue went nationwide in March, we signed up. Prior to that, they had been running in a limited number of test markets and only offered Playstation hardware compatibility. I would have preferred a Roku interface, but we already had a FireTV, so that would do for now.

It turns out that Playstation Vue has an even odder interface, even more questionable customer service, and even more growing pains.

On the up side, Vue offers a cloud-based DVR service and a lot more channels for not much more money, and you can pause live on almost any channel. They include the Fox Sports regional channels in most areas, and the Vue login will work with almost all of the networks’ standalone streaming apps and channels. By comparison, SlingTV’s login only works with WatchESPN, at least as of this writing.

On the down side, you’re limited to using Vue in a single location, although you can login with five different devices. With SlingTV, you can use it anywhere, but you can only have one device logged in at a time. Given a choice between the two, Vue’s model works out better for our situation.

Vue’s cloud DVR has numerous bugs on several fronts. Sometimes it will record a second showing days later, instead of getting the first showing. You can’t set extra time for sports or other variable length programming. And sometimes a recording will just skip all over the place, rendering it useless.

The guide part of the interface uses a vertically scrolling grid, the exact opposite of the horizontally scrolling grid that everybody is used to. The small type is difficult to read, at least on the FireTV, and it takes a long time to scroll across the guide to get to what you’re looking for. It seems like they need to do more caching and look-ahead programming with it. Listing information is constantly reloading.

But all in all, the DVR works most of the time, and if all else fails you can log into many channels’ standalone streaming apps/channels. AT&T and DirecTV Announcement have announced a new live TV service for later this year, and YouTube and Hulu have both announced new services for next year, so hopefully the competition for solid service and better interfaces will ratchet up even further soon.