Radiofax: The Quest for ZSJ Cape Naval, South Africa (+ Updates)

Through my long journey to catalogue the remaining active radiofax stations, there has been a few rather elusive stations. Part of this category is ZSJ in Cape Naval, South Africa which I’ve never been able to hear and was doubtful was even in operation.

However, given the abilities given by KiwiSDRs, I decided to go hunting for ZSJ. However, this is not without its challenges – for one, the remote location is rather difficult to receive, with very few receiver options and the receivers that did exist frequently went offline due to connectivity issues. Originally, I thought it would be simple just to park kiwifax.py on the frequency hoping to collect some results, but nothing was ever heard.

After a few days of not getting any result, I thought ZSJ was dead. But then, I came across the need to modify kiwifax.py for better DX operation and decided to give it another go. This time, I was rewarded with success … of sorts. What follows illustrates my quest to receive ZSJ.

Note that the charts presented are a snapshot in time and are not updated. Charts are not to be used for navigation. Copyright belongs to the issuing entity, the South African Weather Service, with charts reproduced for documentary purposes to illustrate the technical characteristics of the transmission, formatting of the data within the charts and as proof of station activity, propagation and reception at the stated dates and times.

Faxes

Attempting to receive ZSJ first began with finding a good candidate receiver, which at this time, meant one within Africa. Unfortunately, there is not much choice – TWR Africa and ZR6AIC but both have a habit of going offline from time to time. Better than nothing, I suppose, so I started to survey the four frequencies listed (4014, 7508, 13538 and 18238kHz). Of the four, I rarely ever saw any activity across any of them, which left me thinking that the station was offline.

By pure coincidence, I decided to use my new modified kiwifax.py on 7508kHz and 13538kHz and … something emerged! I finally saw imagery but only on 7508kHz.

Reception was first achieved on 9th February 2019 at 0430UTC with the schedule as promised. Already evident is the existence of a gradient bar, short phasing/start/stop tones which makes this transmission similar to those of HSW64 Thailand and SVJ4 Greece. Unfortunately, the image quality was extremely poor with occasional horizontal noise bars due to overload of the KiwiSDR receiver and what appears to be horizontal smearing which suggests there are signal “echoes”. Normally multipath echoes result in short spreading of the signal, but this was long enough to be about the same height as the title text which is rather unusual. Charts transmitted also had a severe slant – no slant correction was yet applied on my “first day” reception.

The above was followed at 0500UTC by a surface analysis chart, with the echoes resulting in lines being followed by a clear region and then a “spread” version of the line. This suggests to me some “acoustic” echo … bad coupling of the fax machine to the transciever?

Leaving the script to continue collecting, another surface analysis was collected beginning at 1027UTC, slightly earlier than expected, suggesting that a human may indeed be in charge of the transmission of charts. It does, however, imply that the schedule provided by the NWS/NOAA is still current. Unfortunately, the connection broke a number of times resulting in loss of chart image, although the signal was extremely weak.

Another surface chart was received at 1528UTC on the same day – so that’s three surface charts of the four promised being received. Unfortunately, the Air Prognoses and Surface Prognoses from previous day don’t seem to be transmitted, and neither are the Antarctic Ice Limits as that appears to be seasonal. Again, very much there are strong echoes which cause the chart to take on a shaded appearance.

The next day, I came prepared with a slant correction of +100.0 just by pure guesswork. That improved things immensely, although could probably be further refined.

The same schedule is now received almost straight, on 10th February 2019 at 0430UTC.

Instead of receiving a surface analysis chart as with the previous day, at 0503UTC (three minutes late), an apology chart that is even longer than the actual chart is sent. Because of the clear bold text, the echo spreading can be seen to cause ghost images around the text – but it is clearly readable. As a result, ZSJ is a station I would consider unreliable.

A surface analysis was received but at 1529UTC instead – 10.5 hours after when it was expected to be received with no charts received in the interim.

I repeated the same reception on the 11th February 2019, with no real improvement in image quality for the 0430UTC schedule.

The same apology was transmitted at 0500UTC …

… and the surface analysis only appeared at 1540UTC, ten minutes late.

I tried to receive the station again over the next few days but was unable to decode any imagery at all. For five days, the station seemingly made no transmissions – or if it did, it wasn’t heard by the KiwiSDRs I used. I mostly used TWR Africa, but for assurance, I did add ZR6AIC to the mix with no change.

That is, until today on the 16th February 2019 when the schedule was once again received with echoes at 0430UTC.

The surface analysis received at 0500UTC, clearer than in prior days but still suffering echoes.

Troubleshooting the poor quality faxes proved to be rather interesting, as I had a known reference for when the signal would be on the air and went looking at many receivers to see if I could spot the signal. Ultimately, I could only find another receiver in Brazil which could hear the signal at any strength – India, Sri Lanka and Western Australia received nothing. Below is a look at the transmission from the TWR Africa receiver and a receiver in Paradinho, Brazil show the same characteristics –

It seems like the transmission has a wider than expected bandwidth with a lot of noise in the background. The tone frequency is slightly unstable, with some movements during the tuning tone period. A short start tone is followed by short phasing and colour gradient. However, what isn’t easily seen in the spectrogram is that the audio sounded as if it had significant echo.

This makes me suspect that someone’s basically “hung” an SSB transciever’s microphone in front of a fax machine’s speaker, resulting in the room acoustics and AGC of the transmitter wreaking havoc with the image quality. Add to this the variable HF transmission characteristics, and you get the kind of charts that are seen above.

Conclusion

The ZSJ station at Cape Naval, South Africa is alive, although somewhat unreliable. Charts are not always transmitted on time, with frequent apologies being transmitted. Image quality is extremely poor with “echoes” in the image and noisy signals regardless of receiver choice. The transmission does, however, have some ID and a gradient bar at the top, with short phasing/start/stop which implies equipment used to be similar to that used by HSW64 Thailand and SVJ4 Greece amongst others. However, it seems that they are transmitting the faxes probably by having a machine emit audio into a room and having a mic pick up that audio … resulting in the poor SNR and echoes observed.

Radiofax Station Status [Updated: 16th February 2019]

The latest update to the slant factors are as follows:

Callsign	Correction
--------------- ----------
CBM/CBV		-90.0
DDH/DDK		-12.0
GYA		+34.0
HLL2		-18.0
HSW64		-11.0
NOJ/NMC/NMF/NMG	-4.0
KVM70 		-4.0
JFX		 0.0
JJC/9VF		+3.2
JMH		 0.0
RBW41		-17.0
VCO		-24.0
ZKLF		+11.0
ZSJ             +100.0

The latest update to the station status are as follows:

Station Status as at 16th February 2019 (based on my observations)
CALL  COUNTRY           STATUS
----  ----------------- --------------------------------------------
ZSJ   South Africa      * Alive but Unreliable (This Post)
JMH   Japan             - Alive and Well (Published)
???   Chukota Peninsula ? Unknown, Not Heard
BMF   Taiwan            X Confirmed OFFLINE (see above)
HLL2  South Korea       - Alive and Well (Published)
HSW64 Thailand          - Alive and Well (Published)
JJC   Japan             - Alive and Well (Published)
9VF   Singapore         - Alive and Well (See Images Following)
GYA   Persian Gulf      X Reported Inactive, Not Heard
PWZ33 Brazil            ? Unknown, Not Heard
CB?   Chile             - Alive and Well (Published)
CFH   Canada            X Reported Inactive, Not Heard
VFF   Canada            ? Seasonal, Not Heard
VFR   Canada            ? Seasonal, Not Heard
VCO   Canada            - Alive and Well (Published)
VFA   Canada            ? Seasonal, Not Heard
NOJ   USA               - Alive and Well (Published)
NMC   USA               - Alive and Well (Published)
NMG   USA               - Alive and Well (Published)
NMF   USA               - Alive and Well (Published)
VM?   Australia         * Alive but (Temporarily) Unwell
ZKLF  New Zealand       - Alive and Well (Published)
KVM70 USA               - Alive and Well (Published)
SVJ4  Greece            - Alive and Well (Published)
RBW4? Russia            - Alive and Well (Published)
DD??  Germany           - Alive and Well (Published)
GYA   United Kingdom    - Alive and Well (Published)
???   Argentina         ? Unknown, Not Heard
LSB   Argentina         ? Unknown, Not Heard
CAN6D Chile             ? Unknown, Not Heard
OXT   Denmark           ? Unknown, Not Heard
ATP?? India             X Reported Inactive, Not Heard
5YE?  Kenya             ? Unknown, Not Heard
6VU   Senegal           ? Unknown, Not Heard
RTH   Uzbekistan        ? Unknown, Not Heard
JFX   Japan             - Alive and Well (Published)

HISTORICAL STATIONS from hffax.de (Most Likely Inactive)
CALL  COUNTRY           STATUS 
----  ----------------- --------------------------------------------
YMA20 Turkey            ? Unknown
R??7? Russia            ? Unknown
BAF?? China             ? Unknown
VLM   Argentina         ? Unknown
???   Argentina         ? Unknown
3MA?? Taiwan            ? Unknown
HM??? North Korea       ? Unknown, Not Heard
R??7? Ukraine           ? Unknown
CZW   Canada            ? Unknown
3SD   China             ? Unknown
LOR   Argentina         ? Unknown
BDF   China             ? Unknown
VNA   Vietnam           ? Unknown, Not Heard

I was able to verify 9VF relay for JJC was operative by reception through VN-SWL KiwiSDR – the below two partial faxes received in 60LPM on 16th February 2019 at 0825UTC in parallel on the two frequencies 16035kHz and 17430kHz.

Unfortunately, it seems that VMC/VMW remain unwell, continuing to show phasing “jumps”. Hopefully it will be fixed soon, in which case, I will write a post to cover it.

I’ve also made an edit to CBV/CBM as I’ve had some better luck at receiving it via kiwifax.py but the unreliability of the receivers meant I could only get a few more faxes.

I will continue to hunt for signals from other stations, but I feel it highly unlikely I will be able to discover too many others.

Posted in Radio | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Can’t Copy that Floppy? KryoFlux Can! feat. Unistat V4.53

It’s not often that we see floppy disks around nowadays, but this week proved to be an exception with a donation of a paper envelope of disks, but not just any disks.

The Troublemaker: Unistat V4.53

In this case, it was an old copy of Unistat with an Educational License V4.53 belonging to one of my PhD supervisors, contained in an envelope with the regular EULA warning on the flap …

… and a fairly extensive EULA in small text on the rear. Yikes. But we are allowed to make one copy of the software and we are allowed to transfer the software, so that’s all good it seems.

The package comes on five high-density floppy disks, with copyright date extending to 1998.

The rear of the disks are not particularly special with black-ink printing on the rear labelling area which is barely visible. The write protect tabs are all in the read/write position.

The disks come with three pages of troubleshooting tips and hints which are mostly specific to the software except for the portion above which deals with installation issues. It makes it clear that the first disk acts as a keying disk which provides copy protection requiring BIOS access to read correctly, otherwise a bypass password needs to be obtained to install. Disks must not be write protected as it seems the first install will write details back to the disk. Bad sectors are normal … or so they say. Eugh, that’s not fun, but that’s not so bad news if you have a KryoFlux!

Copying the Disks Normally

A regular user may try to copy the disk, but alas, using WinImage, we are not able to succeed as there is a read error on Track 24, Head 0. It’s also visible that Windows 10 has a habit of writing to any floppy it detects as it automounts it and writes a “System Volume Information” folder to the disk.

Luckily, I tried this experiment after I imaged the disk fully with the Kryoflux, but it’s just another reason to avoid Windows 10. It is possible to make a partial copy omitting the track, but that won’t be sufficient.

Trying the image in DOSBox, the installer freezes with the image mounted since it probably uses a BIOS direct access to the mounted drive which isn’t supported.

Of course, copying the files only results in the complaint that a bypass password is needed since the authenticity of the disk can’t be verified. That is unfortunately going to be the case, at least with emulation.

Getting the KryoFlux Going

Since my initial use of the KryoFlux, the software has been further improved with write capabilities, so I thought it would be easy to get going again. Unfortunately, having upgraded my workstation, I ran into some unexpected hurdles.

The first concerns users of Arduino, which defaults to have the “Bossa Program Port” driver take over the Kryoflux board for itself. Manually updating the driver with the supplied driver fixed this issue.

The next issue, however, wasn’t something I ended up being able to solve. Attempting to calibrate the drive resulted in errors communicating with the KryoFlux hardware. I suspected this is a permissions issue with DTC.exe being invoked by Java, but despite playing with administrative privileges, relocating the files to other folders and even using the command prompt, I was not able to resolve it. Instead, DTC just “closed” without so much as a message.

Perhaps it was related to the AMD USB controller on my Ryzen machine, as I then attempted to run the KryoFlux through a VMWare USB pass-through to a Windows 7 VM but except suffered a large number of Stream Buffering Errors due to the timing sensitivity of the I/O … so it’s time to go back to a physical machine.

KryoFlux in Action

By grabbing an older Windows 7 laptop, I had no problems getting KryoFlux 3.00 running.

The first disk already shows a lot of places where it seems the disk may have been modified since it was originally written. The disk was dumped to STREAM and an MFM image.

Inspecting Track 24 shows exactly where the protection was – 12 sectors were decoded as normal, but then it seems that there are two sectors recorded in (perhaps) double-density bitrate, with the end of the track having perhaps an FM signal? Perhaps if the track is seen to have bad sectors, the protection would “pass” the disk as genuine, but maybe it is using BIOS direct access routines to try and decode these “mixed” encoding tracks.

Disk 2 has an unusually high level of modified tracks.

Whereas all the other disks only ever showed modification on track zero, side 1.

I didn’t realise in the past but KryoFlux is capable of drawing out the STREAM data as a consistency plot which shows the times as well as whether the multiple samples are sufficiently consistent to allow for reproduction.

The current manual has quite a few examples of the consistency plot along with different copy protection schemes. In the case of my plots, this was done simply by using the following command (along with output):

>dtc -p -m1 -funistat1\* -i0 -funistat1r.img -i4 -pg2

KryoFlux DiskTool Console, v3.00_Win32, uiv.1, Apr 15 2018, 23:45:03
(c) 2009-2018 KryoFlux Products & Services Ltd.
Developed by The Software Preservation Society, www.softpres.org
Licensed for private, non-commercial use only.

Stream file: unistat1\track

00.0    : frev: 77802, drift: 0.932 us, tfer: 371172 B/s, rpm: 299.635
00.0    : base: 1.001 us [99.762%], band: 1.998 us, 3.002 us, 4.017 us
00.0    : MFM: OK*, trk: 000, sec: 18, *H +17
00.1    : frev: 88498, drift: 0.449 us, tfer: 424713 B/s, rpm: 299.636
00.1    : base: 1.000 us [99.954%], band: 2.002 us, 2.999 us, 4.001 us
00.1    : MFM: OK*, trk: 000, sec: 18, *H +9
01.0    : frev: 79557, drift: 0.899 us, tfer: 379413 B/s, rpm: 299.635
01.0    : base: 1.000 us [99.948%], band: 1.997 us, 3.001 us, 4.001 us
01.0    : MFM: OK, trk: 001, sec: 18
01.1    : frev: 78118, drift: 0.308 us, tfer: 372580 B/s, rpm: 299.644
01.1    : base: 1.000 us [99.782%], band: 1.991 us, 3.000 us, 4.011 us
01.1    : MFM: OK, trk: 001, sec: 18
02.0    : frev: 78109, drift: 0.216 us, tfer: 371843 B/s, rpm: 299.645
02.0    : base: 1.001 us [99.800%], band: 1.994 us, 3.003 us, 4.009 us
02.0    : MFM: OK, trk: 002, sec: 18
[...]
24.0    : frev: 71326, drift: 0.941 us, tfer: 343594 B/s, rpm: 299.622
24.0    : base: 1.024 us [98.857%], band: 2.002 us, 3.071 us, 4.030 us
24.0    : MFM: OK*, trk: 024, sec: 12, *NH +1
24.1    : frev: 82494, drift: 0.425 us, tfer: 394285 B/s, rpm: 299.619
24.1    : base: 1.001 us [99.740%], band: 1.993 us, 3.004 us, 4.012 us
24.1    : MFM: OK, trk: 024, sec: 18
[...]
82.0    : MFM: <unformatted>
82.1    : frev: 8326, drift: 0.616 us, tfer: 60998 B/s, rpm: 299.612
82.1    : base: 1.964 us [61.171%], band: 3.928 us?, 8.587 us?
82.1    : MFM: <unformatted>
83.0    : frev: 12885, drift: 0.092 us, tfer: 86427 B/s, rpm: 299.612
83.0    : base: 1.896 us [60.022%], band: 2.989 us?, 5.687 us?, 8.020 us?
83.0    : MFM: <unformatted>
83.1    : frev: 8127, drift: 0.125 us, tfer: 59992 B/s, rpm: 299.615
83.1    : base: 0.998 us [33.091%], band: 1.995 us?, 2.109 us?
83.1    : MFM: <unformatted>

Enjoy your shiny new disk image!
Please consider helping us to preserve media and continue development:
www.softpres.org/donate

As with the manual, the rule is if you can “draw” a line through the green portion below the plot, then it is possible to recreate the disk.

In the case of the unformatted/unusued tracks shown above, the consistency plot is red, as expected as it is just “noise”. The entropy analysis would detect this and attempt to recreate it as well.

Recreating the Disks & Testing Them

To write disks with the KryoFlux requires ensuring the write-gate jumper is closed to allow for writing to occur, and the use of the command line.

Not being too sophisticated, I used the bare minimum of a write command just to make a raw copy of the original based on the STREAM files. This doesn’t validate the format at all, which is probably less likely to be successful, but I thought I’d give it a try with my trusty Sony MPF920.

Believe it or not – it seems to have worked first try. Plopping the copied disks into my Techway machine with its quirky BIOS that identifies the 3.5″ drive as 5.25″, the disk reads just fine.

The setup program starts, I choose to run the typical installation …

After sitting for a short while and querying the disk, it’s happy and starts installing. Wow.

Soon enough, it asks for the second disk … I eject the copy and show it to the camera. Indeed, it is not the original disk and it’s probably a good thing since the original Disk 1 sounds a bit “scrapey” so it might well be shedding oxide.

The version of Office 97 on the machine isn’t new enough, but that’s not the fault of the disk. Installation completed successfully …

… and indeed, the software is happy to run although this was done on a physical computer because of the way the DRM works. Short of taking some time to try and crack the protection or obtain the bypass password (I doubt it would still be available), running it on an emulator may only be possible where it is first installed using a physical computer and the imaged system is then emulated.

It seems that whoever initially installed it chosen to enter pretty a “random” name/organisation which had been written to the installation disk for posterity.

Conclusion

Copy protection and DRM are a headache inflicted on legitimate consumers by companies looking to protect their software. Unfortunately, it also makes archival and preservation a little more difficult.

While the KryoFlux was initially impressive just for its ability to archive and understand a wide variety of floppy disk formats, it is now also capable of reproducing some of those formats including the copy protection characteristics. Given the EULA’s provision for users to make one copy – the use of DRM copy protection was definitely unkind and restrictive of that provision. Regardless, the KryoFlux has helped me save this copy of Unistat and create a copy of the original set of disks which are very much on their last legs.

Maybe when I get the time in the future, I’ll explore what Unistat can do.

Posted in Computing, Tech Flashback | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opinion: Finding a Decent EU to AU (Reverse) Travel Adapter

In the global marketplace that is the world of internet shopping, being able to buy things overseas has become a lot easier. Rather than having to take a holiday to another country and carry the items back, someone online is happy to send it to you via post and often at a price better than if you were to fly over and roam the streets yourself.

Despite the now ubiquitous switch-mode power supply being almost universal for voltage and frequency, the plug/sockets in each country remain incompatible, leaving to the need for a reverse travel adapter to use in your country – which is normally a slight inconvenience but one which we are happy to deal with in order to save some money.

Unfortunately, such adapters themselves do pose safety risks with poorly made adapters falling apart, being unable to handle the rated current or not meeting local safety standards. Finding a decent adapter can be slightly difficult depending on the type of plug you are adapting. In my experience, the UK “chunky” plugs and the US “thin” blade type pose very few problems – the blades could even be “bent” to fit the socket (at your own risk). But the EU types using round pins have been a different story, fitting so loosely in some adapters causing arcing and intermittent operation. This is not helped by wall warts which then hang some “weight” off the end of the pins.

So lets take a look at a few reverse travel adapters and how they have been “evolving” in the Australian marketplace.

Adapter #1: The Universal Cheapie

The classic “truly” universal cheapie adapter looks like one of the above. Roughly an ice-cube in size, some eBay sellers include variants of these within the packages that they ship to Australia. Often in either white or off-white plastic, the front is adorned with this “truly universal” arrangement which accepts almost every plug, often available for around a dollar or two. In this case, this is a slightly more upmarket unit with some brass contacts internally and some (likely falsified) safety compliance logos on the front. The holes themselves are fairly large as a result of needing to accommodate all the variations of contacts, so likely increases the risk of accidental contact with mains in case of inquisitive children.

The adapter is made by snapping together plastic parts, in which case, the rear clearly shows where the folded brass contacts are riveted to the “Australian-like” blade contact arrangement. This is a very cheap construction which could fall apart if not well made, but also, has live rivets when plugged in. The consistency of the pressure applied by the rivets (especially over time after some contact movement) is likely to be insufficient to ensure high-current devices can operate without melting the adapter.

While the adapter looks like it has an Australian pin arrangement and it will fit into our sockets, it’s not really compliant with our standards. For one, the blades themselves are thinner than the ones normally used here, with holes which approximate the thinner US-blade type instead. At least it doesn’t have a sheathed Earth pin, but the lack of sheathing on live and neutral would make it non-compliant already. The weakness of the pins is seen when you look at the adapter – they’re not even straight from the factory!

The big danger, however, is that this particular unit has such wide apertures that the metal inside isn’t springy enough nor shaped appropriately to grip the round pins of an EU plug, thus allowing it to “wobble” all about, creating intermittent contacts and arcing. Add to this the fact that different EU socket variations achieve earthing through either a protruding pin or wiper around the edge, using one of these adapters would defeat the earth introducing an additional safety risk.

In all, while the adapter is serviceable and isn’t as dangerous as some of the “death-dapters” that bigclivedotcom has seen which include the ability to have protruding live parts, this particular adapter is not great from a safety perspective. I wouldn’t recommend it, especially for higher consumption appliances with EU plugs – but normally they do a decent job with UK/US plugs, gripping fairly well, although still being flimsy and non-compliant.

Adapter #2: A Common Compliant Design with a Problem

Because the above adapter is relatively “dangerous”, you won’t find any compliant retailer carrying them. For a while, there was a multi-way “cube” adapter with different plugs on two sides that was a behemoth, often selling for a fairly high price, but I never obtained any of those. Instead, recently, with the trend to lower cost adapters, this design seems to have cropped up in several places.

While not shaped like a large cube, this unit is relatively guilty of being wider than we’d like, blocking adjacent outlets on most powerboards. This one was bundled with a grey import device obtained through Kogan, but similar designs have been sold at retail in the past. While the unit feels relatively solid with a screw-based construction, the biggest issue with the above type is that there is no provision for EU plugs at all despite being often sold as a “universal” travel adapter.

As expected, it has three pins and is sheathed on live and neutral. It even has an SAA approval number and feels much more sturdy than the low-cost cube above. Definitely not a bad adapter if US/UK plugs were all you needed to adapt.

Adapter #3: A Premium Design with Some Limitations

Since EU plugs were the ones causing me problems with most of the issues stemming from plugpacks featuring two-pin Europlugs, I looked for a more premium solution. The local Bunnings hardware store carried this HPM adapter for $9.32 which was designed for EU/US two-pin appliances.

Being a little expensive, I was willing to part with my money in the hopes of finding a decent adapter. True to the marketing, the unit is designed for two-pin EU/US appliances, with guide “rails” for Europlugs and extra standoffs to prevent earthed EU plugs from being mated with the adapter to prevent inadvertent defeating of earth connection. If safety is the priority, it’s clear that the design focuses on it.

As there is no earth pin to convert, there is no earth pin on the plug. The pins are sheathed as expected for compliance, but no SAA number is printed. The current rating is slightly disappointing at 7.5A but for Europlugs, this is more than sufficient.

Thinking I had stumbled on the holy grail adapter I had been after, I was sorely disappointed when I got home that the adapter still had a little “play” despite the guide rails. I put it down to the holes being sized for larger pins/US plugs resulting in less “grip” than I would have liked. While it didn’t have intermittent contact issues, jiggling the wires connected to the adapter caused some movement …

Adapter #4: A Recent Product that Does the Job

This problem with EU/Europlugs bugged me for a very long time. I wanted to post about it but I forgot entirely about it until I went shopping yesterday and came across this product in my local K-Mart:

Branded “anko”, part of their latest line-up of house-brand products, the adapter hung on the shelf, priced at a reasonable $5. The unit is purpose built for EU to AU conversion, which gave me some faith that this was the one. I bought a couple just to satisfy my curiosity.

A quick look at the adapter provides several reassurances – including the “ring” around the plug which offers earthing contacts for EU plugs, a 10A rating, guide rails for Europlugs and even shutters on each of the line/neutral pin contacts. The bottom also had the right regulatory logos and SAA approval number applied.

The adapter is slightly wider in diameter than the HPM but does offer the earth pin. The live and neutral are sheathed, but out of all the adapters, the plug felt most tightly held in this one. Sometimes, you don’t need to spend more to get a better design!

The only downside I’ve found is that the front plastic cover portion seems to be slightly loose, but despite attempts to pry it apart by hand, it remained firmly attached. Good enough and definitely better than a rattling adapter.

Conclusion

Plugs used in the EU including the Europlug have been a challenge to find a proper travel adapter for. Many universal adapters make poor intermittent contact with the pins due to their round profile and adapters often choose wider apertures for more “compatibility” without considering contact fatigue and sufficient contact pressure. Due to increase in safety concerns, approved “universal” adapters often lack EU compatibility altogether, and those that do have EU compatibility sometimes are still slightly lacking.

Through pure serendipity, I discovered that my local K-Mart stocked a new adapter that isn’t on their website and it proves to be a competent EU to AU adapter – at long last!

Posted in Electronics, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment