More than just a Ham radio blog.
is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Normal service will resume shortly

Unsure of status of Internet access over next couple of weeks, but keep watching this space.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Insanity on eBay

It never ceases to amaze me how daft the prices of amateur radio kit can get on eBay and this week I have seen some strange ones indeed. A couple of classics with several second hand rigs going for more than they can be bought new. Bidders really need to do their homework better and perhaps not let the red mist descend when they are bidding. You often see people selling stuff in other places where the seller is looking for a good percentage of what he paid for it back and has not taken in to account that the new price for his radio has dropped £300 since he bought it, but most of the time potential buyers will point this out. On eBay it is usually down to ill informed bidders fighting over over an item while the seller laughs all the way to the bank.

Other strangeness exists on eBay that must have bidders kicking themselves. I recently was given, free of charge, an Yaesu FT-290R for which I hope to find a 23cms and/or a 4m transverter. I was therefore watching one for 23cms, but had been warned off it by someone who had examined the design and suggested it might be somewhat unstable and prone to putting out sprogs and so did not bid. It went for about what I expected it to (£122) but the seller also had a Yaesu FT790R which went for £68, however a couple of items away was another Yaesu FT790R and that one went for £110. What was strange was the one that went for the most was damaged. Do people not read the write ups on what they are bidding for.

The latest one that caught my eye and baffled me is a JRC JST-245. Now I have read the reviews and I know what a cracking rig this was. It is HF + 6 metres and 150w o/p with a very sensitive receiver. This rig was quite expensive when it was new but they stopped production in 1995 so it is at least fourteen years old and maybe over twenty. There are many parts with a rig that old which may be on there way out and a lot of them are obsolete, but that has not stopped the bidders. I have done a little research and the same model rigs in mint condition have been making £500-600 in the past two years. This one has 15 bidders on it and at £800 has not reached its reserve. I do not know who is dafter the seller or the bidders.

One thing worth looking at on eBay is what the seller bought. My workmate was about to bid £2900 on a Mercedes the other night until he checked the sellers feedback. The seller had bought it one month earlier for £1700. The person he bought it from listed a mass of faults which magically had disappeared since. Mmmm!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

CW fans clean up on eBay

How about something to hang on the previous item I posted?

Available on eBay with a 'Buy It Now' price of £7.99. Item number: 140279822248.

or maybe if you do not mind being a Hambarasment you prefer the tie?

This one is available from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia . Item number: 220457471016.

Birdcatcher Antenna

What is it? Does it work? Who cares? I want one.

I found this on the South African Radio League's Forum which has some interesting and informative discussions going on and worth a visit. It is a 16 element wire log periodic antenna by Rohde and Schwarz for 5MHz to 30MHz. The R&S®HL451 is described as a compact, rotatable HF Antenna suitable for transmission and reception of horizontally polarized waves over medium to long distances. Thanks to Mike Perks ZS6BIM who posted it.

Could be it would a hazard to those bats I mentioned in a previous post and birds not paying attention or attract Herons wishing to build a nest. Just tell the neighbours it is a high tech washing line, but remember to hand out some socks from time to time on it so they believe you.

I also recomend Mike's excellent piece of speech compression.

Saturday, 25 July 2009


From Amateur Radio Newsline" Report 1667 - July 24 2009


R F Identification tags that some hams believe could become another serious source of interference are now being used to assist in maintaining the London subway system. John Williams, VK5BUI, has the details:

Confidex, a company with expertise in RFID design, manufacturing and engineering, has supplied more than 10,000 of its Ironside UHF Gen2 hard tags to the London Underground.

The tags are being used to improve escalator maintenance. The underground escalators carry more than three million passengers every day. Most commuters and tourists don't give the travelling metal staircases a second thought; a fact that is a testament to the reliability of the system and the care taken over the maintenance. The steps that make up these escalators are subject to constant wear from the feet of passengers and from the mechanical movement on the escalator track.

To address the need for faster, more accurate and more cost-efficient maintenance, RFID technology was chosen. A decision was made to use RFID tags. The 'step tracking system' uses a PDA with RFID reader mounted on a cradle beside the escalator and application software to read and write information on the tag.

So far there have been no reports from the London VHF and UHF ham community of any interference problems being caused by the adoption of the RFID tag system. (WIA News)

No interference! Could that be because the RFID tags are underground?

When I saw this little piece about potential VHF/UHF interference I had a little chuckle, you will see why, but my research makes me think there could be reason to worry.

In October 2006 IBM was forced to pull the plug on an RFID demonstration at this year's Australian Tennis Open after the radio technology blocked signals from a nearby Vodafone mobile phone tower.

In July 2007 Beijing University did a bit error rate analysis of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth under the interference of 2.45 GHz RFID and found a significant increase in errors.

In 2008 Researchers in The Netherlands found that Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) or "radio tags", that are increasingly being used in hospitals to identify patients and track medical supplies, are interfering with medical equipment, such as pacemakers and ventilators, and may be putting patient safety, and sometimes lives, at risk. They carried out extensive testing and the results showed that out 123 tests (3 per medical device), RFID induced 34 incidents, of these, 22 were classified as hazardous, 2 as significant, and 10 as light.

The passive (868-MHz) RFID signal induced more incidents (26 incidents in 41 tests; 63 per cent) compared with the active (125-kHz) RFID signal (8 incidents in 41 tests; 20 per cent). The passive RFID signal interfered with 26 medical devices, including 8 that were also affected by the active RFID signal.

In January 2009 it was reported that interference from RFID induced a 24% increase in data errors in a commercial Packet Radio.

Maybe some London amateurs might like to take some gear down the subway to check. Chances are if there is interference no-one has found where it is coming from due to there being so much radio frequency interference in all big towns and cities.

RFID devices are becoming more and more common in everything from stock control and security tags to smart ID cards it could be they are already causing more interference than we know.

Next time you see a pensioner keeled over in the entrance to a supermarket you know what probably stopped their pacemaker.

Oh! And I love the irony of RFI from something called RFID.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Wireless charges coming soon?

The BBC has news of a wireless power system which sounds a bit too like like snake oil hocus pocus for me to believe it has any real world use. Its proponent Eric Giler, chief executive of US firm Witricity, showed mobile phones and televisions charging wirelessly at the TED Global conference in Oxford. The system is based on work by physicist Marin Soljacic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and uses a magnetically resonant antenna to ‘transmit’ power to a similarly equipped device.

It is able to do this by exploiting an effect that occurs in a region known as the “far field”, the region seen at a distance of more than one wavelength from the device. In this field, a transmitter would emit mixture of magnetic and potentially dangerous electric fields, but, crucially, at a distance of less than one wavelength – the “near field” – it is almost entirely magnetic. The technology uses low frequency electromagnetic waves, whose waves are about 30m (100ft) long. Shorter wavelengths would not work.

30 metres! That would be the 30 metre band gone then and imagine the massive interference that would be generated if everyone in the country had a couple of these things in their homes.

So they are saying that you would be safely away from the potentially dangerous electric fields which would occur where? Surely the accumulative effects of living 24/7 bathed in RF from multiple sources can not be ‘harmless’.

Magnetism itself has been shown to have an effect on living cells. Plants grow bigger in a magnetic field for example. How about tumours? Maybe all our children will grow to seven feet tall. How can they be so certain it will be harmless?

If I remember rightly Nikola Tesla was doing this ages ago. He even went so far as to build a 29m-high aerial known as Wardenclyffe Tower in New York to prove power could be transmitted , but he ran out of money. If this turns out to be more than just a snake oil salesman’s pitch for a cure all then the technology has been a long time coming and it makes me wonder what else that was derided by science at the time should we be looking at again?

Now where was that stuff I read on zero point energy?

Radar Wars - Going for gold

Picked up from the blog of Waters and Stanton...

Advertisements for SBS virtual radar have been claiming that it has been awarded a “Gold Medal.” What gold medal and who awarded it? we ask. It seems the distributors made up the award and then awarded themselves the gold medal. This has done nothing to enhance their reputation and everything to boost sales of the rival RadarBox, which by the way is stocked by Waters and Stanton (no conflict of interest in highlighting it on their blog then!). It all reminds me of a young child who bought a set of gold stars to enhance his homework hoping his mother and father would take them at face value and not read what he had written and that the teacher would not notice what he was up to. Wrong!

For those who do not know these products allow you to see on your computer what real Air Traffic Controllers see on their screens in Real-Time. Flight number, aircraft type, altitude, heading and speed are all updated every second. Personally I cannot see the attraction but lots of people do and it would be a boring world if we all liked the same thing. I am just going off to check my collection of unusual house numbers!

Getting legless in the hills

VA3VQ has highlighted a story from the ARRL news pages. It involves a mountain walker who broke their ankle and a radio amateur (Rich Lippucci, KI6RRQ) who contacted another amateur (Kirk Gustafson, KE6MTF) via a local repeater who in turn contacted the rescue service, who used a helicopter to air lift her to safety.

For me it is a very familiar tale and one that has been repeated many times over the years. The majority of walkers these days are lead into a false sense of security with their mobile phones, but mobiles do not always work out in the hills and even when there is mobile coverage how many people do not think to have their phone fully charged before an expedition. The same is also true for amateur radio equipment with the added problem that no-one might be listening when you most need them. When anyone asks on a forum about "wide-banding" the internet police come out to play and the question is asked "why?". I have several reasons why; I have a Notice of Variation that allows me to use frequencies not normally covered by the amateur radio licence and my radios originally did not cover 7.100-7.200 mHz, but the main one is that in a real emergency I would use all means at my disposal to preserve life and to hell with the consequences.

Working with RAYNET I have seen the need to communicate with services outside the remit of our licence and seen the use sanctioned by the County Emergency Planning Officer, Chief of Police and even RAF Air Sea Rescue. I have been with emergency services where their equipment proved not to be up to the job while our little hand held rigs just kept on working. If an amateur feels the need to have their radio wide-banded he should be aware of the consequences of misuse and should at least be able to live with their conscience as to the reason why. For anyone who travels off the beaten track it is a no-brainer, I don't care if I talk to another amateur, a CBer, the local taxi firm or Mr Plod himself when it is a case of life or death you can slap my wrist or throw me in jail later.

Four Wheel Drive Amateurs

I just discovered 4×4ham.com and it is a bit like Facebook for radio amateurs with gas guzzling, anti-social off-roaders like me. I could rant on for hours about what a load of bull the papers and government are spouting about 4X4s and how most of us that own them need them, but at 4×4ham.com I do not need to because everyone there loves their 4×4. At the moment the site is dominated by Americans but it has great potential to become a useful international resource for those fitting radios in to their off-roaders and heading off in to the wild. One of the problems I always seem to have is working out where to mount radios and antennas in new vehicles, here maybe I can find solutions that have worked for others.

Why have I got a 4×4? With my XYL and up to five children, one grandchild and/or Mother in Law plus shopping nothing else will still pull a caravan or trailer with out the suspension giving out and never get stuck on a muddy field. I use it to provide a cross band repeater from high ground that would be inaccessible in any other vehicle with RAYNET including search and rescue involving mountain, air/sea and lifeboat rescue services. I have provided communication cover for off road events such as horse trials, mountain biking and fell runs. I can sometimes dramatically cut walking distances when out doing Summits on the Air activations. It can handle extremes of weather and I have rescued other lesser vehicles from snow drifts, muddy fields and floods. I hate driving but 4×4s are fun. The stealth tax that is the £400 a year I pay for my road fund licence is not parted with willingly but they will not force me in to a Smart car any time soon.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Contest University UK 2009

Love them or hate them HF contests are part of life on amateur radio. For some of us they are a signal to turn off, while for others they are a chance to work a few DXCCs missing from the logbook and for those with the cash they are a chance to say to the world “I have got more money than you” these are the serious contesters. Serious contesters never appear at any other time, they spend more in the month before a major contest buying the best equipment money can buy than the rest of us do in a lifetime. Winning is all that matters to them and I am told, they have very small penises, which is why they need to have a bigger tower, bigger antenna and more power than anyone else.

Over here in good old Blighty we do not have a hope in hell of competing with the big money ‘Big Guns’. We are allowed much less power and our towers tend to be 30 feet rather than 300 feet high, but that does not stop us having a go. The old ‘It’s not the winning but the taking part that counts’ spirit that comes to the bear or maybe is it just an excuse to get together with some mates, drink beer and play radio all weekend? Whatever, because as soon as the contesting starts mild mannered Bruce Banner becomes the rampaging Hulk, “I am not a gentleman. I am a contester!” he growls.

Well now there is a chance to learn the secrets of experienced contesters at the RSGB Convention being held in Wyboston near Bedford, England, on October 10th 2009. It is called Contest University (CTU) UK, sponsored by Icom UK and based on the highly successful Dayton CTU. There will be multiple sessions and workshops on all you need to know about contesting. It will I am told be of interest to everyone from the wannabes to the experienced. This is the second such UK event and 125 people took part in 2008. Attending at least five of the sessions will get you a certificate of graduation from Contest University UK!

It all sounds like it will be very interesting and I would give it a go myself if it was not the other end of the country but…

You will have to forgive me for laughing. If it is not pretentious enough to have to call it a University they have to give away a ‘certificate of graduation’. Just imagine how many degrees you could obtain if the only thing you had to do were attend five lectures? Surely CU UK would have sufficed so why add a stray letter T? It would be understandable if it made a memorable acronym but it does not. I guess it simply follows the American event and the idiot behind that event thought contest was two words. He probably thinks you spell amateur A.R.M.A.T.U.R.E., drives a pick up truck and is called Bud.

If you are going, then enjoy but do not take it too seriously. Contests are about having fun and annoying the hell out of everyone not taking part, drinking beer and having a laugh with mates, getting out of going shopping and playing radio all weekend, and proving that you do not need to spend the gross national debt of Iceland to put up an effective station.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Underground Radio

It is nearly 108 years since on 12 December 1901 Marchese Guglielmo Marconi made his pioneering trans-Atlantic transmissions and you would think that in that time everything that could be done with radio waves had been, but on course it is not so. Man's ingenuity know no bounds and advances continue for the uses of radio, in all sorts of fields, that Marconi would never have imagined.

Ground penetrating Radar has been around in some form or other for years now and is used to detect underground cables and pipes. It has always been limited to a fairly low penetration depth of a few of metres and what was needed was to use low frequencies to get deeper. The problem with using LF is you need BIG antennas which makes the equipment bulky to say the least. Researchers have now mounted their Marconi on trailers and by careful choice of frequencies which avoid interference from things like radio stations and using ultra sensitive receivers they can map, in 3D, a fairly large area with just a few relocations of the mast.

So why you ask are they doing this? Well, you might think it was to detect hidden mine shafts or to find fissures in the Earths crust to detect seismic activity but no, it is all designed to detect smugglers on the US/Mexican border. I am sure it will have other uses but this is where the funding for this research comes from keeping Mexicans and drugs out of the US. The researchers are confident that their more sensitive mobile radar system will soon be detecting tunnels that had previously been missed. Criminal underground beware.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

More about the Alinco DJ-G7

Ross G6GVI has some initial impressions of the Alinco DJ-G7 tri-band handie on his website you might like to check out.

There is also a review by G1MFG in the August RADCOM but it sounds like he never made any contacts on 23cms which for me is the only reason for buying this rig.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Radar saves bats and birds

I like bats. Maybe watching Adam West prancing about in his tongue in cheek interpretation of the Dark Knight had something to do with it. I remember running around the playground with my duffel coat fastened by one toggle and fashioned in to a cloak. Possibly it was finding one stunned and distressed, after an encounter with a cat, that clung gently to my finger and let me get a good close look at it while it came around. Probably it was simply a boyhood fascination with whatever other people found repulsive, snakes, spiders, lizards, and bats.

I do not like wind farms. Obscene scars on the landscape that cause more environmental damage than any of the tree huggers will admit. Massive swathes of beautiful countryside are torn up to put in access roads so they can be built and maintained with little or no thought as to how the wildlife will cope. Delicate and rare species of plant trampled and wiped out by construction vehicles. People worry about plastic bags not decaying but the construction materials used in the blades of wind turbines could mean they will still be with us in 10,000 years. Even off shore farms destroy massive areas of seabed and with it sea life. When the wind is on shore they lead to horrific levels of noise and sleepless nights for those living near.

Bat and bird populations can be significantly effected by collisions with turbine blades. A six-week study at two wind farms in the US recorded more than 4,500 bat deaths. "This is a major problem in the States, especially during the bats' migratory period," said Paul Racey of the University of Aberdeen, which undertook the study. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently commissioned a three-year study to gather data on the effect wind farms are having on bats in the UK.

There may be a solution to this problem however; Peñascal wind farm in southern Texas is currently using radar to prevent migrating birds from flying into it. Researchers discovered that a stationary beam reduced bat activity near the turbines by almost 40%. Scientists don't know why bats avoid radar signals. One explanation is that radar energy warms the bats' wings "like a kitchen microwave" said Racey. Another theory suggests the bats' ears heat up, causing them to "hear" the radar signal as a clicking sound.

Racey has a number of ideas for improving the effectiveness of the method in an attempt to reduce collisions by 80-90%, they include a rotating beam and altering the pulse timings.

I am glad to see that an attempt is being made to save these fascinating creatures and that radio might have a hand in their salvation, but I would rather these eyesores were condemned to the bowels of hell.
One thing that makes me wonder if this idea might be bunkum however; I have a bat colony living close by and I can watch them circling my antennas hunting insects at dusk. I have never seen any signs of them avoiding my property while I have been transmitting even on the higher frequencies such as 23cms.

Visit the Bat Conservation Trust

G4ILO Wonder Loop

G4ILO's latest project looks like a bit of fun, the G4ILO Wonder Loop. When he releases a few more details I might just give one a go. It looks like he is following the principle of the Wonder Wand and Miracle Whip to make a small compact tuned loop. The Wonder Loop is an attempt to make a QRP version of the MFJ Loop Tuner. A small coupling loop plugs into an RCA socket which connects it to an N7VE QRP SWR indicator built into the box.

All my friends will know I am super critical of antennas such as the Wonder Wand and Miracle Whip, but loops have some interesting properties. I have a Miracle Whip which came with my FT-817 and I am quite amazed that it receives as well as it does. It it complete garbage for transmission and I have never managed to work anything on it despite hours of tests even down to the end of the street when the other station was picking me up on milli-watts into a rubber duck antenna. The Miracle Whip in my opinion is a dummy load with a telescopic antenna attached and is correctly named because it is a miracle if you work anything on it.

What I am hoping is even if this idea turns out to be a poor performer on TX that on RX it could provided a reasonable signal with a lower noise floor than the main station antenna allowing some borderline stations to be worked who I could not hear normally at a much lower cost than a full size loop. Someone should warn me girls that I have my eye on their hula-hoops.

Walter Cronkite KB2GSD SK

The legendary US newsreader Walter Cronkite died on Friday night at the age of 92. Known as 'the voice of reason' Cronkite was a stickler for journalistic neutrality. He was a keen sailor and held the amateur radio call sign KB2GSD. His lifetime achievements are most impressive and his biography could and probably will fill several volumes. It is probably an indication of his influence that even someone so far removed from US broadcasting as I knew who he was. Here is Walter narrating a video for the ARRL called Amateur Radio Today.

And that folks is the way it was!

Morse Mistake Missed

Apparently the Grant Building in Pittsburgh has for the last eight years had a beacon that has been supposedly flashing "PITTSBURGH" in Morse code. Tom Stepleton was watching a fireworks display and noticed the beacon was flashing P-I-T-E-T-S-B-K-R-R-H. Tom put a video on YouTube and attracted national attention. The owners of the building tried to correct the problem but ended up making it worse by sending T P or ) and then E-B-T-S-A-U-G-R-H.

Tom Stepleton learned his code during basic pilot training. What I would like to know is how come it was not spotted by any of the radio amateurs in Pittsburgh? A missed opportunity for to get ham radio in the news.

The second video is here YouTube

Contests on VHF and above

G4LOH’s blog has an update on Es and Tropo as heard from his QTH in Helston Cornwall. I would just like to say that I heard no such exotic DX on 2m this far north. It could be that the hills get in the way or maybe the fact I was in work and not here to hear it.

I hope there some exotic propagation on Sunday for the fourth in the Backpackers 2m contest series. The contest runs for four hours (1100 -1500z) and is mostly SSB. I will miss most of it but hope there will still some stations to give some points to when I crawl out of bed after another 12-hour night shift.

The rules of the Backpackers have recently been revised and section 3B is SOTA friendly with no cars allowed. If you have an FT-817 and a small beam you can easily carve a name for yourself on the leader board by heading for the hills. Make it a SOTA summit and you will be able to drag in all the SOTA chasers as well as the contesters and boost your score. One of these days I will have a serious crack at it myself instead of just giving points away. Good luck to everyone and remember even if you know you cannot win it can be loads of fun taking part.

The RSGB 1.3GHz and 2.3GHz Activity Contest takes place this Tuesday 21 July between 1900 and 2130. I will be available for this one and I renew my plea for more contesters to call on 1297.5 FM as there are a few of us out here with only FM facilities on 23cms and we would like to give you points. Hopefully I can beat my previous best of three stations worked.

Power struggle for big guns

Reading G4ILO’s blog I picked up a link to a thread on QRZ asking how much power should radio amateurs be allowed to run. Our American cousins are allowed 1.5kW while over here in Blighty we get a mere 400w. Over here you are considered anti-social if you even own a linear amplifier, while over there bigger is always better. The thread makes interesting reading despite the presence of the usual trolls.

The stateside attitudes seems similar to their attitudes to guns, why buy a pistol when you can buy a Magnum, why buy a handgun when you can buy an assault rifle, why buy an assault rifle when you can buy a rocket launcher.

If we all ran 5kW, as some on the thread suggest, 40m could be divided into about ten unusable channels which would be not much fun, and the Italians would probably all run twice that. Okay not that much difference really! However if the truth was told I think most of us would probably like to run a bit more power, but only if all our neighbours could be prevented from doing so. Having someone running high power in the next street or even a couple of miles away can do the front end of your rig no good at all and good mates suddenly become the enemy. I see your 500 watts and raise you.

If we raised the power limits over here would it lead to a free for all rush to buy big linear amplifiers? I do not think it would, those with the cash to splash might, but most of us would carry on the way we always have running 100 watts or less on HF.

Hams miss chance to own a lighthouse

A Cornish beach and lighthouse, which is thought to be the inspiration for the Virginia Woolf novel, To The Lighthouse, has been sold. Although Woolf’s 1927 novel is set in the Hebrides, the author used her recollections from childhood as inspiration for her most famous novel. Auctioneers expected bids for the beach and the lighthouse to start at about £50,000, with money raised going to Truro’s Hall for Cornwall theatre. Five bidders slugged it out and it went to an anonymous buyer from London for £80,000.

What a great opportunity for an unusual holiday location for radio amateurs a lighthouse like this would make. A great take off over saltwater with a built in tower far enough from most of the electronic mush of an urbane shack and right on the beach to keep the kids quiet. I wonder who bought it and if they fancy renting it out?

Friday, 17 July 2009

Falklands DX talk

I had a little titter to myself when I saw this on the Southgate ARC news line…

At 7pm on Wednesday 22nd July 2009 at the Wyke Regis training centre there is a talk about a Falklands DX-Pedition by Nicky M5YLO. If you fancy going don’t just turn up but email [email protected] so they know how many to expect. There will be a question and answer session afterwards.

Full information can be found on http://www.wykeradio.org/

Or you could just turn up any Wednesday to a meeting of the Mold and District ARC and Eric GW7MGW who is one of our member will tell you all about operating from the Falklands, Hong Kong or several other countries where he has worked or lived. All proof that one man’s DXpedition is another man’s day at the office.

YL QSL or porn?

There is a little fuss on the forums at QRZ as Dana L Hendrickson KG6ZIN puts up a plug for Joyce’s QSL Designs. Posting is for some reason in the news column, which has brought out the trolls en mass. They do have a point what makes Joyce’s QSL’s any more news worthy than any other QSL designer?

The designs are meant to appeal with the ladies in mind but I could not see my XYL considering anything as overtly sexual as these designs. I was racking my brain to think who might buy these sorts of cards and then it came to me where I have seen a similar style of cards, phone boxes. Have a look at http://www.hvsm.com/Joyces_Designs.htm and see what you think but I think they might be nice on the front of a feminine freshness product or to advertise that oldest profession in the world.

I must say that despite being a red blooded male I also have issues with the odd red necked dinosaur who sends me QSL porn, but that is another issue for another day.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

G0HDX silent key

It is with deepest regret that I pass on the news that long time WAB square collector, SOTA Activator and Chaser Roy Hartley G0HDX today suffered suspected heart attack and passed away. Roy was on his way by train, from Lancashire, with fellow Summits on the Air Activator Phil Drew G1OPV to the Lake District to activate LD-056 Whitbarrow when it happened. Our thoughts are with his family and with Phil in what must have been a most traumatic experience. Roy will be sadly missed as a nice guy and a gentleman on the air.

Yaesu VX8R first view

Another new and long awaited hand portable rig is the Yaesu VX8R. This one is also waterproofed and puts out 5 watts on 6m/2m/70cms. For our friends over the pond it also does 1.5 watts on 220mHz. It has Blue-tooth connectivity, APRS and optional GPS. It has dual band receive which includes VHF/VHF and UHF/UHF which can be handy for monitoring both the calling frequency and your local repeater at the same time or because you have wide band rx you could listen to Am or FM broadcast while you waiting for a contact. It also has a built in spectrum analyser which allows you to scan around 60 channels at once for activity.

I got to play with one of these at the Mold and District Radio Club the other day and first impression is of a rugged little transceiver that might go down well with those who grew up on GI Joe (Action Man in the UK). It has that semi-military look of toys for boys like a Jeep or HumVee. It is small enough to fit in to the top pocket of a shirt and a 7.4 V 1100 mAh Lithium Ion battery is enough for a reasonable stretch, providing you don't use the GPS. Both the receive and transmitted audio are of sufficient quality for me to have no complaints in that area but, it's feel unfortunately lets it down as it seems very square and is uncomfortable to hold. Having said that I might buy one if the price was right as I could pair it with the Bluetooth on the Land Rover Discovery and have the sound coming through all 16 speakers. The price unfortunately is just as OTT as the Alinco below at £359.95 so I will not be splashing out on one of these either.

Alinco DJ-G7e heard in the wild

After months of waiting I finally heard an Alinco DJ-G7e in the wild. 0918 UTC on the 12th July 2009 I made contact with Ross G6GVI of The Four Metre Website fame on 23cms from Winter Hill. The G7e has been available in some parts of the world for a while but the first shipments to the UK only arrived a couple of days ago. It is a tri-band hand held transceiver for two metres, 70 and 23cms with wide band receive. Full details are available at http://www.nevadaradio.co.uk/acatalog/alinco-djg7e.html or on Alincos own website.

The interest for me is 23cms. At the moment during Summits on the Air activations I carry either the Yaesu FT-817 or the FT-857 plus sealed lead acid batteries, a Kenwood G71e which allows me to monitor 2m or 70cm FM while working HF, a Wouxun KG-699e for 4m FM and an Icom IC-12e for 23cms. The Icom is a relic and the size of a house brick. It weighs about the same as a brick too. Therefore the Alinco would allow me to swap two radios for one. The problem at the moment is the price - £359.95, which is more than I paid for my 817, one of my 857s or my IC-706 MkIIG. If the rig was only half that price I would buy two today (one for Helen GW7AAU) but I think I will just have to wait and hope that it drops soon. Which is all a great pity because I hope this new handy will boost the growing interest in 23cms amongst the SOTA community, and more activity might make a few more people realise just how far you can get and how much fun there is to be had on the higher bands.

I almost forgot...The audio from the G7e seemed excellent despite it being a waterproofed rig, unlike that from the Alinco DJ-V17e which a few of my RAYNET colleagues purchased when on special offer at £89.95 via the RSGB. The only way to sort out the muffled audio on the V17e seemed to be to remove or punch a hole in the waterproof membrane, which kind of defeats the object of having a waterproof rig.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

RSGB objects to license database publication

The following statement by the RSGB has appeared in the News section of the RSGB's website:

The RSGB has written to Ofcom raising concern at the release, in full, of the detailed amateur radio database on their web site. This, Ofcom says, follows a number of requests from radio amateurs for the details to be released under the Freedom of Information Act. After consultation with the Information Commissioners office, the RSGB has learned that Ofcom could be in breach of the Data Protection Act in releasing these personal details, which include the name and address of each individual radio amateur in electronic form, on their website and hence to the wider community. The RSGB's main concern is the security of the details, which can now be downloaded by any individual, radio amateur or not.

At first I thought 'what is the fuss about?' after all we have had the callbook and QRZ around for years, but I downloaded it from http://www.qsl.net/g3zhi/cb1.html and realised that before now we could not do a reverse look up. I now know who most of those antennas in the surrounding streets belong to but I still haven't heard their owners on the air in over twenty years. My worry is that it will lead to more amateurs listed as details withheld and if you do that I will probably not work you unless I already know you. As far as I can see listing yourself as 'details withheld' is simply asking to have you call sign borrowed by pirates. I know why people do it but it always makes me wonder what they have to hide.

GB7HQ - Another Mickey Mouse Award?

This weekend (11-12 July 2009) is the IARU HF World Championship contest which will have the contesters enjoying themselves, while the rest of us either search for that elusive rare DXCC or just turn off and go and do some gardening. For those not all that interested in the contest its self and looking for a challenge there are some awards out there that can be picked up during the event. One such is the GB7HQ Award run by the RSGB and is available to any licensed radio amateur who makes contacts with GB7HQ during the contest. The station will be active on CW & SSB on six HF bands and this year from two DXCC entities G (England) and GM (Scotland). There are four levels of award: Bronze award: GB7HQ on three band/modes, Silver award: GB7HQ on six band/modes, Gold award: GB7HQ on nine band/modes, Platinum award: GB7HQ on all twelve band/modes.

Okay I know I am being cynical here but as radio amateurs are we not slaves to the whim of nature that is propagation? What is the chance of getting the Platinum award unless you drive down to the contest site, park around the corner and work them on ground wave or you just happen to live within say ten miles? Okay I must be wrong because I have seen the previous award winners, but I am sure you know what I mean. The chances of inter-G propagation just when you need it are slim,but hopefully having two stations to pick from will increase the chances of working more bands.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Geocaching iPhone Application

Being both a hill walker and a radio amateur I found Summits on the Air the perfect way to combine two of my hobbies. Having seen other SOTA activators using a GPS I bought one and in an effort to learn how to use it effectively I found something called Geocaching. I have since found that many of my fellow hams dabble in searching for Geocaches too. Like a hi-tech treasure hunt it can be great fun.

For those with an iPhone there is now an 'app' for Geocaching so you do not even need a GPS to enjoy the hobby. I have been trying to avoid getting one but they keep getting more tempting and for me this application is the most tempting one yet. As well as English the application is available in Dutch, French and German language versions. Probably the most useful thing is that wherever you are you can check out where the nearest cashes are and the navigate to them with a simulated compass arrow.

Application Features Include:
- Direct access to Geocaching.com's database of worldwide geocaches
- Search by current location, address or lookup code
- Access geocache details, including description, hint and recent logs
- Log geocache finds and post notes in the field
- Navigate to geocaches with a simulated compass arrow

Learn more at http://www.geocaching.com/iphone

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

UK 3G Coverge maps

Ofcom have released coverage information from the UK’s major providers of 3G, 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone. It makes for depressing reading for anyone who owns a 3G device such as an Internet enabled mobile phone or a mobile broadband Dongle. Coverage is patchy at best and none existent in great swathes across the country. Scotland and Wales are particularly poorly served, but that does not stop sales staff in high street stores in areas with little or no coverage pushing 3G.

I have a mobile broadband dongle from 3, which I bought to ensure I had Internet access when I am away on holiday for access to the Summits on the Air web site so I could alert my activations and to watch the DX cluster. At home if I get the in to the right spot it is much faster than my land line broadband, but more times than not when I have been in the Lake District, North Yorkshire, Devon, Cornwall, Scotland and Wales it has not worked. The dreaded no network message appears too often for my liking. If I had seen the coverage maps in the Ofcom document before I committed to an 18-month contract I do not think I would have bothered. The whole thing should be making the network providers squirm but I cannot see anything changing in the near future and they will continue to tell lies about how wonderful their services are. The UK’s data infrastructure continues to become a laughing stock as we loose ground to third world countries.

Ham Radio Deluxe 5.0 Beta released

Ham Radio Deluxe is a suite of free Windows programs providing computer control for commonly used transceivers and receivers. HRD also includes logging, mapping, satellite tracking access to the DX cluster and digital modes working. It is a big toy box of amateur radio software all squeezed in to one program. The latest stable version is 4.1 and although they claim it may not work with Windows 98 and requires Internet Exploder I run it perfectly well under Win 98se and Firefox.

I don’t expect to be quite as lucky with the new version but the specifications on HRD 5.0 are going to make a lot of people happy. The first beta version was released on 4th July and there is an extensive bug and to do list on the site. Target date for the official full release is 1st October 2009 so unless you are a beta testing type of person who does not throw his PC out of the window when confronted with a frozen machine steer clear. There are some big changes with Rotator support, Satellite Tracking, Logbook (with DX Cluster, Audio Recorder, Sunspot Data), HRDLOG.net - web interface to the new v5 logbook all now stand alone programs, making the main program a much slimmed down exe file.

There is no need to wait until October for an up-date however as support for HRD is continuing to be supported until at least 2011 and version 4.2 should be out later this month with support for new radios such as the IC-7200. Support for the IC-7600 will follow when it is available.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Icomical Repeater Contest

Icom is to hold the very first worldwide D-STAR contest from 25th July 2009 to 31st July 2009. www.icom.co.jp/world/d-contest
10 winners will be selected from all of the participating stations (excluding any disqualified stations) in a draw, and they will receive an IC-80AD or IC-E80D

Good luck to the entrants, but excuse me while I roll around the floor laughing. Whatever next a DXCC award for Echo Link? Worked all repeaters? I love the concept of D-Star; it is cutting edge stuff and the idea that at some time in the future I might be able to maintain contact with home by using D-Star repeaters on route while I drive from one end of the country to the other is appealing, however a contest is just not a suitable thing to have on an Internet linked repeater system. Personally I think the technology behind D-Star might be better utilised as a personal communications system outside of amateur radio and open to all, but the mobile phone companies might get a bit nasty if we tried to push that idea.


Firstly may I wish the ten German radio hams who will be on the air from the Isle of Man between July 8th and 13th the best of luck. MD/DK1SG, MD/DG7SF, MD/DH1SBB, MD/DG1SBU, MD/DG3SHD, MD/DG5SBK, MD/DL1SPH, MD/DL8SAD, MD/DC5SAN and MD/DL6SBN will be active on SSB/CW/RTTY and PSK on 160m-10m. I will endeavour to work the ‘DXpedition’ on as many bands as I can. I am sure that they will have a great time.

I have in the past worked other similar excuses to drink lots of beer and play radio, such as the one a few years ago by the Wrexham ARS with good friend Steve MW1STE, once a regular on our late evening two metre Horlicks net. I supported the Furnace ARS on a similar visit and almost every year I try to work FARS member Rob G4RQJ as he actives the five SOTA summits on the Isle of Man, in fact he is there now. Another FARS member and someone I have spent many hours talking to is Martin GD3YUM who will be acting as QSL manager for the German visitors. I therefore have no problem with supporting people who wish to activate EU-116, but I do wonder what the locals think as there is no shortage of amateurs in GD. I also ask if there is really anyone out there who needs GD for DXCC? Still who cares? it is still a good excuse to drink beer, play radio, and have a good time and maybe this is training for something a bit more exotic?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Lost dreams

As the celebrations are starting to take off for the fortieth anniversary of men landing on the moon and as I approach my fiftieth birthday I wonder if I am alone in thinking my generation has been cheated of our inheritance. What I mean is that as a ten year old watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon I was convinced that we would have been to Mars, had colonies on the moon and had hotels in space by now. We should be driving around in electric hover cars that never need refueling and no-one should need to work as robots do our every bidding. I have to ask myself what went wrong? Maybe if JFK had not been assasinated things would have been different or if NASA had understood the meaning of quality control they would have got more funding and at least some of my expectations would have come true. I wonder will my grandchildren see the future I expected or will it be my grandchildren's grandchildren?

Sunspot 11024 Spotted

Better late than never! At last a sunspot. Has cycle 24 finally started? See http://spaceweather.com/ to read all about it.

Update 5th July - Solar Cycle 24 sunspot group continues to grow

Details here http://www.kn4lf.com/kn4lf5.htm

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Buyer beware

About twelve years ago I came into a little money, one of my investments paid off big time. I initially wanted to reinvest the money in a property and rent that property out for a nice little monthly income, but Helen was wary of getting involved with potentially troublesome tenants and the minefield of tax. So instead I bought a Land Rover Discovery Series 1 and Helen got a porch on the front of the house. The porch had been part of our plans when we extended a few years earlier but we had run out of funds at the time. It was only later I found out that she had wanted a Porsche sports car not a covered entrance. There was not enough money left for a sports car so I got a second hand Citroen AX instead.

Surprisingly there were a few pounds left and we decided on a new PC and two new dual band radios for fitting into the cars. At the time the most powerful dual band mobile rigs were the Alinco 610E with 50 watts on 2 metres and 35 watts on 70cms so this is what we bought along with antenna mounts and Diamond 7700 antennas. At the time the Alincos were over £600, which shows how prices have changed over the years. The equivalent today even with recent price rises due to the ‘alleged’ credit crunch and weak pound is less than half what we paid.

The new radios and having two vehicles made our occasional outing with Raynet more fun. No longer did we have to decide who was going to stand in the rain all day with a handheld until the other picked them up. It made us more useful at events too, especially having a 4x4 to get to otherwise unreachable high spots but also because when needed the Alincos could be used as cross-band repeaters and saved many QSPs as the more remote stations could now talk to control. There were other uses too of course and I loved having Helen as an outrider ahead on the road when I was towing the caravan instead of giving me earache from the passenger seat.

Twelve years of use had obviously taken their toll because a couple of days ago I found the radio dropping out of transmit while I still had the microphone keyed. Later that day Helen was travelling home from work and I was on the receiving end of the ‘now you hear me now you don’t’, a certain Norman Collier springs to mind.

Stripping down the microphone revealed the culprit a micro-switch. No problem I thought I must have a spare somewhere, a result of numerous broken joysticks and mice over the years. I was wrong because although I had plenty they were all too big. I wanted to fix it then and there so after checking stock levels on the Internet I shot off to Maplin and purchased two for £1.99 each. I could have got them cheaper via on-line sellers but I was not prepared to wait.

It was literally a ten second fix with most of that ten seconds waiting for the soldering iron to warm up. To be on the safe side I changed the switch in the second microphone even though it appeared okay. It was there that I made my curious discovery; the insides of the two microphones were different. The second microphone had almost twice the components of the first. I found this strange as the two radios were purchased together and have sequential serial numbers.

This in its self was no more than a curiosity but discussion with others has made me realise that this practice of sourcing intermediate components from different suppliers is widespread and can have more serious implications. My son bought a high-end monitor after spending hours checking reviews to make sure he got the best one for his needs. Initially he was delighted but for some reason it did not seem to be able to cope as well as expected with the either the latest games or his graphics work. A little bit of deeper checking revealed that this particular monitor is sold with a screen from any one of twelve different manufacturers. The one in his was the rated worst of the dozen. A month later the monitor detonated with a loud band and filled his bedroom with smoke. A replacement arrived and a quick check revealed this one had the top rated screen in and performed as expected.

Talking to a TV engineer he said the same applies even more to TVs. So you can check out the best picture in the store, read all the reviews and still get a turkey because the screen is from an inferior manufacturer. I have only word of mouth but I am told the only way to ensure you get a good screen is to buy a Sony because they only use there own. I am also told the same does not apply to Sony laptops and that the screens in those can be from other sources. Caveat emptor "Let the buyer beware".