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.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

iPhone Space Station Tracking App

Another iPhone app making waves is one released on Friday by NASA that delivers up-to-the-minute agency news, videos, and other fantastic scientific content. The app currently hosts details and updates (in the form of Twitter feeds) on NASA missions such as LCROSS/LRO, Mars Exploration Rovers, the International Space Station, the Constellation program, Mars Odyssey, and the Space Shuttle. Each category also contains pictures and YouTube videos available of the mission — plus live tracking of the ISS using Google Maps.

The NASA iPhone app was created by the New Media Team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The app is available free on Apple's App Store — and can be downloaded here

iPhone app used to drive car

Spotted like the previous item in the Daily Telegraph and in a move likely to put Canadian legislators in a complete tizzy, German researchers have come up with an iPhone application capable of controlling a car. The 'app' turns the iPhone into the equivalent of a video games controller and has been used to control a two ton van. There are separate controls for accelerator and break and the motion sensors in the phone turn it into a steering wheel.

The app was created by Appirion a firm that specialises in software for mobile phones.

While iDriver is believed to be the first car controller devised for the iPhone, it follows a spate of technological advances aimed at creating "autonomous vehicles" capable of driving themselves and reacting to their surroundings.

I can see it now, you are sat at your desk in work and the telephone rings. Your wife wants the car so you get out your iPhone and drive it back home while still sat at your desk. Or maybe you stop for a drink on the way home and then have you wife drive even though she is back at home sat in front of the TV. Somehow I don't think anyone trusts technology that much to allow it on the streets but we can dream.

OFCOM raid 12 year olds bedroom

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph OFCOM raided to bedroom of 12 year old Nickie Chamberlain after planes at Luton Airport complained they lost contact with the control tower as they were landing. The communication problem was first noticed on October 6th by air traffic controllers with aircraft on a fight path over Nickie's house. OFCOM tracked the signal down to a set top aerial with a preamplifier. The signal booster had gone in to self oscillation and was transmitting a signal that was at times on the same frequency as that used to communicate with landing aircraft. The interference was described as similar to the feedback you get when a microphone is placed in the path of a PA speaker. Ouch!

Nickie's Father was somewhat surprised when he came home to find an OFCOM engineer waiting for him and had to check is credentials thoroughly as he found the idea that something in his house was interfering with landing aircraft bizarre. He said ''Then we went inside and he followed the signal using a special reader to my son's bedroom and his booster aerial - I was absolutely gobsmacked.'' Mr Chamberlain was told to dispose of the £15 aerial, which Nickie had been using for two years in the bin.

Nickie said: ''When I found out what happened I was upset because I couldn't watch cartoons or the television for a while - but it's better than causing a plane crash.''

National Air Traffic Control said: ''The planes have multiple back-up communication systems and this is not something where any passengers were in any danger. Obviously safety is our major concern.''

Looking at the picture in the Telegraph the antenna is a Telecam TCE 2000, which is sold by Argos and various supermarkets in the UK as both a set top antenna for around £2.99 and together with signal booster for around £17.99. OFCOM say the problem is not common but bearing in mind the hundreds of thousands of these sold I would ask how many similar devices are causing interference on frequencies such as the amateur bands where complaints are less likely to receive a visit from an OFCOM engineer?

Monday, 26 October 2009

100 miles by voice powered radio

Michael.J.Rainey AA1TJ is a QRP enthusiast that has built what could be described as the greenest radio transmitter on the planet. His ‘El Silbo’ project is a double-sideband (DSB) transmitter is powered entirely by the energy produced by the operator's voice. He has completed three QSO’s with a best DX of 100 miles using the device, which puts out between 5 to 15mW. The circuit is essentially a high-level DSB modulator/crystal-controlled RF oscillator.

El Silbo apparently takes its name from Silbo, which is a sort of a whistled language that's used on the isle of La Gomera (Canary Islands) to communicate across wide mountain valleys. The best DX is apparently 2 miles, or just over 3km.

Roger G3XBM points out that this sort of thing has been done before with a 1955 article from Time magazine. The item tells how the Army Signal Corps has developed a radio transmitter that needs no energy except electricity generated by the speaker's voice. The inventor, George Bryan managed to transmit 600 feet with a device small enough to fit in a telephone mouthpiece but suggested a range of a mile was possible.

Roger says over at his blog that Michael is also working on a receiver that uses RF harvesting techniques, which if I am correct means taking the received RF from a high-powered broadcast station and using it to drive the amplification stages in an amateur radio receiver.
Maybe it is just me but I feel these ideas may lend themselves to the development of future innovations such as an RF powered watch or as a way to power nano-technology. Just imagine tiny robots powered by RF from a BBC radio one or how about a receiver in your car powered by the noise from the engine. The only limitation is our imagination.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

CQWW - The good, the bad and the stupid

There are times when I am proud to be a radio amateur, such as when I see the selfless effort of disaster relief efforts or the bright shinning faces of scouts and guides around the microphone at JOTA. I see the the generosity of amateurs spending their own time and money to help novices get their licences and offering them equipment free of charge to get them started. It feels good to be part of such a community.

Several times today I was not so proud. I was listening to a large net this morning on 40m when an OK station started tuning on the band and then launched into "CQ contest" mode. He apparently could not hear at least 12 stations who told him the frequency was in use even when some of them cranked up their power to the full legal limit. I added his call to my blacklist of stations who I will not give points to in the future. Tuning through the band I heard nets on 80m having the same problems. Down on the CW sections of most bands there were SSB contest stations and I heard someone say that when the CW contest is on the CW guys don't stay out of the SSB section so why should he care? Decorum gentlemen! Then no doubt because the bands were chaoticly full two stations came on to 60m and proceeded to send some data, which I later found was some slowscan pictures. A conversation followed that included the phrase "We will have to find out how we get an NoV (notice of variation) for this band." So who were these pirates? I will not name and shame them here but the call signs were a G6 (1981 - 1983) and a G2 (1920 - 1939 reissued 1946 and probably an inherited call sign) who have been licenced long enough to know better. A little later I heard what was obviously a revenge attack, using that favorite of todays contesters, a voice keyer sending CQ CQ CQ without a break on top of a well know contest station.

It was not all bad though I did have a great laugh at the expense of a certain 2E0 station and his calling CQ contest in a fake American accent. What a hambarassment! What an idiot!

In defence of untidy minds

I was talking to my friend Joe G7KDZ via Skype today, while up-loading files to a new Yahoo group formed for the members of Mold and District Amateur Radio Club and working various Summits on the Air stations. Who says men cannot multi-tasks? Ah! That would be my wife Helen GW7AAU! Well, Joe eventually says he has to go and tidy the shack, he has been told in no uncertain terms by his YL Bernice that the mess is unacceptable. The source of the name Bernice is the Greek Berenike, a Greek meaning "Bringer of victory", so I figure poor Joe is on a hiding to nothing. I need to give him some ammo to defend a mans right to run his shack the way he wants.

This is roughly what I sent Joe...
People who keep things tidy tend to do so as a result of linear thinking, linear thinkers are logical and make great accountants but have no imagination. People who are untidy tend to have untidy minds and untidy minds have the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated things and are therefore inventive and creative. Therefore as a creative and inventive person it is in our nature to be untidy and forcing us to be tidy would impede our creativity.
Helen was having none of it, she says I am just lazy, I will wait to see how Joe gets on.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Survive a zombie attack

Need to know how to survive a zombie attack? Get over to http://www.zombiesurvivalwiki.com/
It may all be done tongue in cheek but there already some serious survival tips over there and in the discussion pages words like 'Ham Radio' are being banded about. This is a chance to get the message about amateur radio across to people who would not normally come n to contact with it. As it is a Wiki all the articles are member written so get over there and tell everyone all they need to know about becoming a radio amateur before the zombie attacks start. When it happens can I have Alice (Milla Jovovich) on my side?

Radio History in a nutshell

Get a radio history lesson here

I followed the link above from Southgate ARC newsline and although the site is somewhat dated in appearance the potted history of the science and scientists behind radio is excellent. Just a nice little taster that might get you wanting to read a bit more about how it all started. I was a little disappointed to find such a short passage on Nikola Tesla whom I find exceedingly fascinating, but it did give me a few other names who’s stories I know little about and may be worth reading up on.

Icom UK New HQ

According to Southgate ARC newsline Icom UK are moving to new premises.

After 24 years at their current location in Sea Street they are due to be in their new home by the 9th of November 2009.

Icom UK’s new address will be:

Icom UK Ltd
Blacksole House
The Boulevard
Altira Park
Herne Bay
Kent CT6 6GZ

All telephone numbers and email addresses remain the same.

Despite what Icom are saying on their website and bearing in mind the upsets in the UK with the postal strikes I would maybe let the dust settle a while before I sent or ordered anything from them. I suspect this also means we cannot expect any price cuts on Icom gear in the near future.

If anyone at Icom is reading this remember we do not charge for doing equipment reviews at CQHQ and we love Icom gear. Well you have to try don’t you!

C6APR DX Team killed in air crash

It is with great sadness that I read this morning at DX Hamspirit that four members of the C6APR DX team where killed when their light plane crashed. They were headed for Crooked Island in the Bahamas for this weekend’s CQ World Wide Contest when the six-seater twin-engine Piper Aztec PA-23 crashed soon after take-off in South Carolina. They were pilot Pete Radding W2GJ, Ed Steeble K3IXD, Randy Hargenrader K4QO and Dallas Carter W3PP. The team have used Crooked Island for CQ World Wide and IOTA contests since 2006 visiting seven times. Our thoughts are with the families and freinds of the victims.

Note: DX Hamspirit servers appear to have fallen over due to the heavy demand caused by the devastating news.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Are you strange enough?

Radio amateurs can be a strange bunch. Ranging from the weird to the brilliant and from the almost normal to the down right sad. The ends of the spectrum for me are marked by the twenty stone guy with skin like white marble who at 49 is still living at home with his mother and spends most of his time in his room with headphones clamped over his ears and the mad scientist type who’s neighbours think probably has a lab in the basement and a modified DeLorean in the garage. There are of course many other stereotypical hams out there that could be placed within that sliding scale and even some who are in a league of their own. To try and list them might be fun and maybe one of these days I will take the time to do it. It could then be immense fun to go to the local ham fest with the ‘I Spy’ book of ham radio operators and tick off the various types. Look over there, by the bookstall with his flat cap and nicotine stained fingers it is the Andy Capp type who chain smokes his way night working 40m CW and there by the RSGB stand the Colonel Mustard type with a plum in his mouth who does 80m SSB on the Royal Signals net.

Do not get me wrong on this I have no axe to grind, you are whom you are and we are all strange in our own way. I would hate to be considered normal as that implies being somewhat average and I do not like to think of myself as average, who does?

In the world of amateur radio I have met some odd people but only a couple of them have been so odd that I would go out of my way to avoid them. In general radio amateurs have been some of the nicest and most helpful people I have met. We all tend to have differing interests within the hobby and our expertise and different life experiences leads to some rich and interesting discussions on the air and over a pint at the radio club.

There has been much discussion about how to get new blood into the hobby and I must admit to being in two minds as to whether or not the present system of the Novice, Foundation and Full licences is doing its job. We are seeing more and more youngsters coming in to the hobby which is a good thing but they lack both technical knowledge and life skills, which when combined leads to, in a lot of cases, a complete inability to say anything the remotest bit interesting.

I admit I can be as boring as anyone on the radio, you just have to listen to the conversations I have with my wife on the local 70cms repeater as she drives home from work; “What shopping we need?” or “Do the kids need new shoes?” and “What is for tea?” It is possibly unfortunate for some locals that my life is lived on the amateur bands like some badly written soap opera. I have few secrets as a result but what you do not get is a stroke-by-stroke description of painting the bathroom wall or how I had the vet around to give my cat an enema. Occasionally I do have what I call a ‘white page day’, these usually happen when I am slightly jet lagged from working the night shift. A white page is what a writer stares at when he has writers block and my ‘white page days’ are when I sit there with a microphone in my hand and just cannot think anything the least bit of interest to say.

So I ask you, do we have to put up with those for whom every day is a ‘white page day’? Is it simply that by dumbing down the amateur radio examination process we have dumbed down amateur radio? Only time will tell. The answers lie in new licensees obtaining knowledge by listening on the bands, by reading books, magazines and Internet posts, experimenting and building equipment and antennas. Only then they will become interesting enough to be considered strange and strange enough to be considered interesting.

eBay anger management

eBay and other sale sites can be good for a laugh at times. I laugh at people who try to sell 20 year old amateur radio transceivers for more than they cost new, I laugh at the idiots who pay more for a twenty year old radio than it was new, I laugh at main dealers who charge more on eBay than they do from their own sites on the net (got to recover those eBay fees), I laugh at the weird stuff and junk that people think is worth something, I laugh at the buyer collects people getting nothing like what they should for their items, but most of all I laugh at the angry seller.

Who is the angry seller? you ask. It is this guy...

There is 22 watcher and no bidders !!!---- if there is no bidding within the last few days of the sale i will remove and sell it for scrap.

Like anyone gives a monkey's if he sells it or not. Anger management classes anyone?

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen this sort of thing. Don't these idiots understand that most eBay bidders leave it until the very last second to bid on anything or that even if you a selling something nobody wants you can still get a load of people watching who simply want to know if it is worth trying to sell a similar item that they have.

In this case the guy was selling some aluminium mast poles and was a fairly local 'buyer collects' so I might have been interested if he had said how big the poles were instead of "You will need a big van." He obviously does not own a tape measure.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Free SWL call signs.

Clifford R. Williams – W2CRW is attempting to give the hobby of listening to shortwave radio a much needed shot in the arm by issuing free SWL call signs.

Visit http://www.swl-registry.com for more details.

Many radio amateurs started out as shortwave listeners before becoming licensed themselves and many do still spend time listening to the shortwave broadcast bands. The listening pleasure was always made a little more exciting because by knowing that most people do not even know what it is you felt like you were part of an exclusive few, even though in reality millions may have been listening. I used to enjoy comparing the broadcasts by Russian, Chinese and American stations with those put out by the BBC. It gave a broader more balanced view of the world when you realised every one of them was biased in some way and the truth could probably be determined by an extrapolation that took in the similarities and differences of any report based on each stations political stance.

SWL's of course listen to more than just the broadcast bands and as a radio ham I always find it rather nice to receive SWL reports(QSL cards)particularly when the report was from much further than the actual contact. I do hope Clifford's service takes off and encourages more people to become shortwave listeners and maybe through listening to become hams. In this age of the Internet and computer games the hobby definitely needs a shot in the arm.

Learn CW while you sleep? If only!

This pile of bull droppings appeared at QRZ.com in a prominent position on their 'News' page, which somewhat got up my nose. It is clearly not news but a blatant piece of advertising for what in my not so humble opinion is someone selling Snake Oil. If it had simply appeared in the forums, so be it but in the Internet equivalent to the front page of a newspaper it got my heckles up and I just had to say something. There are plenty of effective ways of learning Morse code and most are available free. My advice would be to steer well clear, these charlatans continue to perpetuate the myth that success can be bought when we all know it takes perseverance and hard work.

Success Easy has just converted all their CW training CDs to MP3 downloads. To celebrate, they are offering 25% off during the rest of October. All the CDs were produced by Peter O'Dell, WB2D, who is a professional hypnotist and trainer. It is a fast, fun way to boost your CW speed, and this way you do not have to pay any S/H charges and you get 25% off. The link is
http://www.success-is-easy.com/HamDownLoads.htm and the coupon code is OctoberFest. --K0CS

As someone who grew up with a father who was a professional illusionist I know all too well that hypnosis is no more than a stage trick and has no basis in reality. The whole thing works on the basis that a percentage of the population are completely gullible and will believe they are under the hypnotists control combined with use of plants in the audience. I find it somewhat surprising that the majority of people I speak to believe this bunkum. It is time someone in the know stood up to the charlatans the way Houdini stood up to Spiritualists. Not that it would make much difference as people are still taken for a ride by those nutters.

Undoubtedly some people find these so called self hypnosis things helpful. I have listened to a few myself and they usually offer advice on positive thinking that is quite logical, but then they tie it up in bunkum. There is no self-hypnosis or induced trance except in the mind of the gullible who believe they are 'under'. Some will say that if they believe they are hypnotized then they are but brain scans of people supposedly under hypnosis show otherwise.

Hypnosis is at best a placebo effect and at least it has persuaded thousands of people to give up smoking, but it is still not real. Many otherwise intelligent people such as those in the medical profession may be fooled, but it is just another pseudo-science proffered for sale by Snakeoil Salesmen. If only these guys would come clean and just sell positive thinking without the fake mysticism I would be happy, but in this world people need a crutch and the slick talking grease ball with the pocket watch will keep selling his placebo crutches.

I was quite pleased to see the number of sceptics that have already posted to the thread on QRZ, I think it shows most radio amateurs are men of science and not easily suckered. I now await the case for the defence starting with the one that starts "I bought these CDs yesterday and am already up to 40 words per minute."

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Digital TV - The Chaos and the Cons

Some time ago the vested interest groups decided it would be a really big money spinner to move all TV in the UK to a digital platform and so started the cons. First we were told we would need a new TV and then when the truth was publicised in the newspapers and people realised they could get digital with a cheap set top box the advertisements were changed to say "You may need a new aerial" and all over the country antenna installers rubbed their hands. Anyone who asked was told they needed a new expensive digital aerial when for many a simple indoor loop was good enough. There are but a few days until the full switch over on November 4th but the lies still persist with the elderly being most at risk of being conned into buying a new digital TV and spending £500 on an antenna that cost the installer £10.

One of the early UK areas to experience the turn off of the analogue signals is Devon and Cornwall and holes are starting to emerge in the digital system. During periods of only lightly enhanced propagation viewers are losing their local BBC 1, 2 and ITV channels swamped with signals from Welsh digital TV repeaters. Viewers report watching a program in English only for it to switch to Welsh and back again. Sometimes the switch is a brief flicker for a few seconds and at other times they see segments of a couple of minutes at a time. Even when both English and Welsh stations are transmitting the same program there is a slight time difference which gives an effect similar to a scratched record jumping back and forwards. I think the first good lift after the switchover will see similar problems nationwide. I am glad I invested in Sky satellite TV along time ago.

Friday, 16 October 2009

North Wales Amateur Radio Show 2009

A reminder that the 23rd North Wales Amateur Radio Show takes place on Saturday & Sunday, 31st Oct & 1st Nov 2009.

The organisers say they are pleased that the 2008 Rally which was held at a new venue and received a great response from visitors and traders alike will be continuing in 2009. The new site is the brand new high school in Llandudno, Ysgol John Bright, Maesdu Road, Llandudno. LL30 1LF. The school has two large halls for the show and ample free parking on site. It is very conveniently located, when you come into Llandudno down the dual carriageway you now turn left at the Links roundabout (instead of right for the old venue) and it is approx 1/2 mile down the road just after a mini roundabout.

Click here for a map of the venue location

Any traders interested in booking space at the 2009 show please contact the Rally Organizer, Liz Cabban, GW0ETU - [email protected] 01690 710257 or the Club Chairman, Mr Ron Roberts on 01492 592 884

I do hope that what was once one of the best radio rallies in the UK can regain some of its former glory. The new venue certainly has the room and the potential to become home to a brilliant event. Last year was a good start but I was a little disappointed at the lack of support from visitors and traders alike, but considering the lay off the organisers did an excellent job.

Electric Dreams

Welcome to the Twilight zone.

As a child I had vivid nightmares but over years I learned to control what I dream to some extent and when I dream these days it is usually an exciting but confusing roller coaster ride. I only really ever had two consistently reoccurring dreams; in one I was being chased across a barren post apocalypse landscape of smoking piles of rubble chased by a 100-foot high robot whose chest was aglow with a furnace that provided its power, in the other there was a beautiful woman at the top of a staircase who I could never quite reach. My mother always said that the young woman was my guardian angel, which I found quite a reassuring idea. Of the other dream my mother just said I had been watching too much DR Who and Star Trek.

I know that many people do not dream the way I do, and it is probably a high percentage of the population, due to the arguments I have had with people who did not believe anyone even dreams in colour let alone anything else. I really do have extremely lucid dreams at times and one such dream that I discussed in length with my family and friends was so like the plot of the Matrix that watching the film left me stunned. So much so that after seeing it I went out and bought the DVD and watched it ten times in a row. It was like someone reached in to my head and stole my memories before putting it in to a film.

I was working on the nightshift last night and when I finally got to bed this morning I had a lucid dream. In this dream I was being shown a car battery. It was about 8 inches by 4 by 2 and the person showing me said it was 160-amp/hour and used crystal technology. It was also extremely light. I asked the chap who was wearing a lab coat about how it worked. He said that the battery contained a liquid crystal and that as current was drawn the crystal reverted to a solid form and that to recharge the battery just required heat. In a car the heat in the engine compartment would be enough to recharge the battery. He continued by saying that at home placing the battery in my airing cupboard would revive it. I asked him what the crystal was but the dream faded before I got my answer.

Imagine my surprise when I got up and read my emails this morning and saw an email from Keith GW4OKT who is working out in Sakhalin Island at the moment. The email said ‘Steve, One for your blog? This link will take you to a story about a new technology for batteries.’ The link was to an article in the Jerusalem Post about a new kind of portable electrochemical battery that can produce thousands of hours of power. The unique battery is based on liquid silicon as a fuel that reverts to its original sand. It is still under research by Prof. Yair Ein-Eli at Haifa's Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in collaboration with Prof. Digby Macdonald of Pennsylvania State University in the US and Prof. Rika Hagiwara of Kyoto University in Japan.

It seems they are stealing my dreams again, now where is the aluminium foil so I can make a new cap.

Real Full Fat Radio (no artificial ingredients)

Julian G4ILO comments on his blog about an article called "I've got my hobby back" and subtitled "CQ100 is an option for hams that can't get on the bands" published by none other than the ARRL. Pardon me he says, but I thought the first "R" in ARRL stood for "Radio." By encouraging the idea that unless you can put up outside antennas you'd be better off playing fake ham radio on the Internet the ARRL is doing the entire hobby a disservice. Let's hope the government agencies don't get wind of this or someone may start to wonder why we need all that valuable spectrum space at all.

Julian seems to have walked firmly up to the hornet’s nest and given it a damn good kicking and I must say I agree with him 100%. There is nothing wrong with CQ100 but the way the thing work is all a bit silly.

I have heard one or two regular nets using it (or something similar) on 80m when the band was a bit dead to keep those on the reception fringes in the loop and I have heard stations come on to 20m who arranged a hook up over either CQ100 or Echolink so these services do have their place in real radio too.

If you think that maybe you might one day hook up and get into an interesting QSO with a DX station that you might never hear again. These VOIP services give us the chance to finish a conversation that was lost to fading signals.

Personally I have only ever bothered with Echolink for the purpose of listening in to distant repeaters when things are quiet on the ten or so bands I usually monitor. At least that does not have a daft radio style interface and most users don't pretend they are on the radio when the make a direct link.

I occasionally rant on about how repeaters are not real radio and often I am using a repeater at the time, it can be fun. It usually happens when some idiot tells me I am 5/9 - Duh! No the repeater is 5/9.

The truth is real radio or not repeaters and VOIP can be fun and the whole idea of any hobby is to enjoy ourselves. What worries me more is the divide and conquer syndrome; There so many different aspects to amateur radio that we become thin on the ground as we all practice our personal areas of interest. If we lose some to Echolink, some to CQ100 and some to D-Star etcetera soon the bands will start becoming a desert like 23cms. You at one time used to struggle to find a space on two metres on either FM or SSB in my area now you struggle to find a contact.

Memorandum In Memoriam

Amateur radio is a great leveller bringing together people from different cultures, backgrounds, and generations. Knowledge is passed from one generation to the next and back again. While the grandfathers and great grandfathers amongst the fraternity pass on their years of experience to the younger enthusiasts the youngsters pass on their knowledge of the latest innovations often were they have the edge being quicker to learn than the old hands. It is or at least can be a two way street and to some extent it is that mix of young and old striving together to learn and grow that makes the hobby unique.

Over the years I have known a lot of people who helped my interest in the hobby grow from being an enthusiastic beginner to being someone whom others sometimes ask for advice. Some of the people who I counted amongst my best friends in radio were in the twilight years of their lives and I gave the best advice. A lot of them are no longer with us and I miss them all and their friendly reassuring voices as we put the world to rights deep in the night.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been stood in cold silence under a grey sky listening to the last post being played. It leaves an empty feeling inside but when, as had happened far to often in my life, a younger person happens to fall victim to illness or accident it is much harder to come to terms with.

The news that a family of three died in Palm Bay, Florida while trying to raise an amateur radio antenna leaves me shaking my head and asking “why?” What a tragic waste of life! No one should die as a result of what is after all just a hobby, let alone a family. Although I am thousands of miles away I feel as if it was someone I knew and a cold tingle run down my spine thinking what the remaining family members are going through.

The tragedy occurred when 55-year-old Melville Braham, 49-year-old Anna Braham and 15-year-old Anthony Braham were raising a fifty-foot amateur radio antenna at the home of Melville's mother Barbara's house. They had been working on the antenna for sometime and did not stop when the sun set as they raised the antenna they lost control and it fell on to overhead power lines. The impact sent 13,000 volts of electricity through the pole the three were holding. The antenna was being erected because Melville's mother Barbara KJ4KFF used amateur radio to keep in touch with the rest of the family back home in Jamaica. Barbara and granddaughter Melissa heard the explosion and called the emergency services. Neighbours also rushed to the scene after hearing the explosion.

For anyone who operates portable a lot it is a lesson that needs to be heeded. There are not usually overhead power lines where I tend to go with SOTA but they are not completely unknown especially where there are commercial transmitting stations atop the hills. Maybe it is only through good fortune that I have not been a victim of a similar incident. Only a couple of months ago I was erecting a fishing pole mast unaware of a overhead power cable hidden from my position by trees, fortunately my wife spotted it and we had to move the whole station out of the proximity of the cable. Hopefully that near miss and memory of the above tragedy will help me avoid repeating the mistake. The irony of my mistake is that on the carp/squid pole there is printed a warning of the dangers inherent in overhead power lines. In the UK the type of pole I use is often used for fishing on canals and for some reason power companies seem to love running their overhead power lines parallel to them making this sort tragedy almost common place. Thankfully it is a rare occurrence in the amateur radio community.

Please be careful out there. May you all live long enough for the mourners around your graveside to say, “Well he/she had a good innings!”

Monday, 12 October 2009

Midway update

Those looking for the Midway Island DX-pedition may have been searching in vain. The team has been delayed since Thursday due to an oil leak on their plane. Several attempts had been made to repair the leak but each test flight showed it was still leaking. Latest news from the website says...

"The team has safely arrived on Midway Atoll at 07:00 UTC 12 OCTOBER"

"At daybreak we start assembling our antennas and stations and will rush to put our stations on the air."


Colour blind get their own maps

Spotted over at http://www.grough.co.uk , an independently owned site offering the most up-to-date news and features about outdoors activities, there is news that Britain’s national mapping agency Ordnance Survey is introducing a new product to help people who are colour-blind read maps more easily. Digital mapping means that custom colouring that makes maps easier to read for those eight percent of the population that suffer from colour-blindness is now easy to produce.

OS spokesman Paul Beauchamp said: “Cartography is a fine art, but the colours that have become so familiar to most of us are actually among the worst possible choices for those with colour blindness. By using our new mapping product, called OS VectorMap Local, councils and businesses will be able to create styles especially for colour-blind people that we hope will make life easier.”

This should mean more people can enjoy the great outdoors, back-packing and Summits on the Air with increased confidence.


Sunday, 11 October 2009

Yaesu VX-8 bug or feature?

Julian Moss G4ILO appears to have found a bug in the Yaesu VX-8E's software. He says...

After changing the power level, the first transmission is always at high power. The selected power level is only produced on the second and subsequent transmissions.

I don't know if this is a general fault or something that only affects my radio. I would be interested to know if anyone else can confirm my findings.

So if you have one of these little beauties please try it out and let Julian know via his blog. Obviously the same applies for the non-EU versions too.

D-Star Repeater live on the web

Over at the South Yorkshire Repeater Group they now have a D-Star repeater GB7YD broadcasting live on the web. A web cam monitors the front of the C transponder on 145.675 so you can see the signals being received as well as hear them. It is all done via Ustream. I don't know how many people have D-Star in Yorkshire but I still have to hear anyone using it and I listened five hours straight a day or two ago. I do know it is working as I have heard the occasional service announcement and seen the odd remote connect, which I assume is some form of message forwarding (don't know much about it). It could be interesting if you have D-Star as a way to monitor what you sound like on the air or just to waste a couple of hour listening when you have no access to your radio transceivers.

New antenna from G3CWI

Richard G3CWI has produced a new addition to his range of antennas over at SOTABeams. Called the MFD this 2m Multi Function Dipole can be used as a stand alone vertical, a rucksack antenna or a horizontal dipole. It collapses down for easy carrying and storage. While I will not be rushing to buy one from Richard it is probably a good bet for those without the inclination or skill to build a similar one. I can vouch for one thing, that it works and does what it says on the tin having worked Richard when he was using it in Lakeland. If you want one get in quick and you can have one for only £19.95 plus postage which has to be a bargain. This is an opening offer for the first ten only. Please mention you saw it here first.

Read G4ILO's first impressions of the MFD here

Rare DX from Midway Island

Don Keith N4KC points out in his blog an interesting DX pedition to the Island of Midway which played such a pivotal part in the battle for the Pacific in 1942. Naval history was made here as Don will testify as he has written several books on about the exploits of U.S. submarines in the Pacific during World War II. Read Don's post Radio waves from hallowed ground and learn how one commander won a submarine in a poker game.

K4M will be active from 9th - 19th October 2009 from Sand Island (Reference numbers: USI OI-011S and Grid AL18). A multi-national team of 18 operators consisting of Joe AA4NN, Franz DJ9ZB, Max I8NHJ, Kevin K6TD, Kimo KH7U, Craig K9CT, Don N1DG, Tom ND2T, Paul N4PN, Tom N4XP, Arnold N6HC, John N7CQQ, Dave WB4JTT, Charlie W6KK, Bruce W6OSP, Art WA7NB, Joe W8GEX and James 9V1YC will be active from 160 to 6 metres with 5 to 6 stations on air.

For more details, updates, online log, frequencies and bios, go to: http://www.midway2009.com

This is the first amateur radio activity in almost 10 years and Midway Island ranks number 24 world-wide and number 13 in Europe on the DX Magazine’s 'Most Wanted List'.

Ham radio operators on the aircraft carrier USS Midway Museum's flight deck plan to make radio contact this week with radio operators on Midway Island. Veterans, including those who took part in the Battle of Midway, and the general public are invited to observe the transmissions from 2 to 4:30 pm Friday and Oct. 17 at the museum in San Diago.

Learning from the past

Still in a military frame of mind... The big lessons that we must learn are those from the mistakes of the past and we must then strive to not repeat them. It is not just the big important stuff we can learn from the past either. The military have out of necessity developed techniques for teaching that work even for the strong of arm and thick of head. It works because has to or the cannon fodder would not last long enough to make a difference. Graham GW0HUS sent me a link to some lessons from the US military that every aspiring and quite a few established CW operators should watch and take note of. They have an amusingly dated feel but the information is as relevant today as it ever was.

Technology - Wonderment of War

While things military are in my thoughts and I wrestle with my conscience over the waste of so many lives in so many worthless conflicts since the beginning of time I am brought to the conclusion that without these conflicts our lives today would be so different. Different because the system would be so different but also different because so much technical innovation was driven by the need to be better than the enemy. Our technological world is zooming along at pace and we are living through an electronic revolution driven now, not by war but by wonderment, but the foundations of this progress were until fuelled by military funding. Edwin Starr and later Bruce Springsteen sang “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!” and while my conscience finds it an easy statement to agree with I know in my heart of hearts I have war to thank for both my freedom and the technology that makes life so much more interesting today. Maybe one day technology will eliminate the need for war or maybe it will eliminate the cause of war by destroying humanity, but either way the genie is out of the bottle and either we control the genie or the genie controls us. The future might be bright or it could be darker than we could ever imagine but either way it is going to be fuelled by technological innovation, let us hope that the advances we see are fuelled by wonderment and not by war, a lust for life and not a lust for revenge.

Only The Brave

November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the US and radio amateurs are being asked to open up to the public and provide a service to communities so that anyone may express thanks and appreciation ‘live’ over the air waves. I suspect many people out there who are unconnected to the military and indeed some that are connected may like me have mixed feelings about things like this, but I think we should remember it is about the men and women who put their lives on the line for their country and not about the sick corrupt politicians who start these conflicts for their own personal profit. Support the veterans and wear your mushroom with pride!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Build your own mobile phone

Could you build your own mobile phone? It seems the possibility is getting closer all the time with open source software and an open source mobile from Openmoko. The phone comes out of the box with zero functionality. You have to connect it via a USB port to a PC and then install one of a growing number of open source operating systems to get it to do anything, but in theory you could configure it to do anything you want without the constraints of the manufacturers think you might want. There is an interesting article by Chris Edwards at the Institution of Engineering and Technology on the subject.

Power Line Communication Presentation

From Stewart G3PMJ via Southgate ARC news

There is to be a presentation on Power Line Communication (PLC) by Professor Paul Brown (Consultant) on Tuesday 13th October at 6 for 6.30pm at the Manchester Conference Centre (Days Hotel) on Sackville Street, Manchester M1 3BB.

Everybody who is able to, please do turn-up for this free event and listen to what is stated. Then ask your questions (perhaps about interference?)

This event has been organised by the IET (The Institution of Engineering and Technology).

For EVENTS, please see http://tinyurl.com/ydegh9q

This seems like the perfect opportunity for those of us who can to make our selves heard on the spawn of Satan that is PLC. I would love to be there but work commitments mean I will be unable to attend. I expect to read about the riot and lynch mob in Wednesday’s newspapers (just kidding).

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Antarctica is very cool

Heard on the air an M3 foundation licence holder in conversation with an M1 full licence holder who had been on the air for a couple of years.
M3 "So wots yer best DX then?"
M1 " ZL is the furthest"
M3 "Where's that then?"
M1 "New Zealand"
M3 "Wow! Any other good ones?"
M1 "I managed to work Antarctica once, got in before the pile-up started"
M3 "Antarctica! Cool!"
M1 " Yes Antarctica is very cool or so I am lead to believe."
A long pause and then... M3 "HAHA very funny!"
Another pause and then... M3 roaring with laughter "I get it now."
The familiar voice of a G1 then broke in with "God help us!"

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

FCC doing their job

According to ARRL news a Californian company has been fined $4000 after the FCC received complaints that a concrete delivery company was using the two metre amateur radio band. Inspection of various Motorola model CP200 portable transceivers that were being used to coordinate construction operations showed that channel five had been set on 146.025 mHz which is in the US amateur radio allocation. Shimmick-Obayashi a joint venture of Shimmick Construction Inc and Obayashi Corporation held four Industrial Radio Service licenses between them but chose to encroach on the amateur band rather than acquiring a further licence. The joint venture held no licence its self.

In a unrelated and somewhat older incident I read that a Glider club which complained of interference was fined $9000 when it was found their licence expired in 2004. That reminds me of the parable of a splinter in your brother's eye, and how removing the log in yours first is a good idea.

30 Dumb Inventions.

Funny link nothing to do with Ham Radio but worth a look. 30 Dumb Inventions.

National Hamfest - Anybody go?

From what I gather plans are under way for the 2010 National Hamfest. If you have been reading CQHQ for a while you will realise I was somewhat cynical about it, but then I am somewhat cynical about most of what I discuss here. Most of all I was critical of the venue being difficult to get to from anywhere other than Lincoln and the surrounding area. I believe somewhere such as Birmingham NEC with motorway, rail and international airport links would have been a better bet for a national event but all credit to Lincoln Short Wave Club for snaring such a prestigious title for their rally and getting RSGB on board. The question I have been trying to answer is how it all went.

I personally (as in face to face) know about thirty local amateurs that went to Friedrichshafen for Ham Radio 2009 and many more who I know only on the air. Possibly it was the £10 flights being offered by Ryanair that persuaded them and the airwaves buzzed for weeks after with tales of the experience and the purchases. The three-day event at the Friedrichshafen convention centre attracted 17,400 amateur radio enthusiasts from around the world. In comparison I have so far only heard three people talking about the National Hamfest one said "A bit of a waste really, all I bought was some PL-239's" and when asked by his mate what he thought of the rally he said "It's a big venue!" and then changed the subject. The second said that he had been going to go but decided it was to far from Warington in Cheshire and the third said he had been in Lincoln over the weekend but forgot it was on. For those of us on this side of the UK it was certainly cheaper to go to Friedrichshafen than to Lincoln.

I decided to have a look for comments on the net as to how it all went or how many people attended but all I found were a few photographs showing what seemed to be almost empty halls. I hope it was not as bad as the impression the photos gave. I did find a site dedicated to suggestions for improvements of next years event and I urge anyone who went to leave some comments at http://hamfest.wordpress.com/ as well as on this site.

The next National Hamfest is planned to be held on October 1st & 2nd 2010 at Newark Showground.

Computational nostalgia

This has only tenuous links to amateur radio so I include it here out of nostalgia. I once ran a packet radio node or three from Commodore 64's with two floppy drives each and I still have all the equipment. At one time I had seven of them doing various jobs around the shack such as logging, rotator control, word processing and packet radio. I still found time to play games on a couple and have enough cassettes and 5 1/4 inch floppy disks to fill a small shipping container. I can admit to a similar amount of Amiga software and hardware. Maybe I should follow this guys lead he is using his unmodified C64 built in 1982 as a web server. Not bad for a machine with these specifications - Ram: 64k. - CPU: MOS-Technology 8bit 6510 - Clock Speed: 1Mhz.

Mitsubishi of Borg

Thanks to K3NG for this one...
Remove formatting from selection
Now that's what I call distraction while driving!
A real mobile CQHQ?
-"I am Mitsubishi of Borg all of your radios will be assimilated!"-


The 52nd Jamboree On The Air (JOTA) will take place on October 17-18, 2009 but for reasons better known to themselves the German WAG contest has been arranged for the same weekend. What a way to introduce our youngsters to the joy of amateur radio with the battle of bad manners that is HF contesting. I remember the tale of one competitor operating SSB in or close to the CW section of Forty Metres who was told “If you were a gentleman you would move off the CW section” to which he replied “I’m not a gentleman, I am a contester!” which just about says it all.

I don’t know who is to blame for the clash as such but this time the contesters have taken the high ground and acted as both gentlemen and good radio amateurs by declaring contest free zones for the Scouts to use. No one can guarantee an interference free zone but at least they should be contest free.

The contest-free frequencies are:
80m: CW: 3560 - 3800 kHz, SSB: 3650 – 3700 kHz
40m: SSB: 7080 – 7140 kHz
20m: CW: 14060 - 14350 kHz, SSB: 14100 – 14125 kHz and 14280 – 14350 kHz
15m: SSB: 21350 – 21450 kHz
10m: SSB: 28225 – 28400 kHz

Best of luck to those running a JOTA station from CQHQ

See the announcement here
World Scout Frequencies http://www.scout.org/en/information_events/events/jota/world_scout_frequencies

Radio Scouting - JOTA http://www.scout.org/jota
Radio Scouting UK www.radio-scouting.org.uk

Information on the WAG Contest http://www.darc.de/referate/dx/fgdcg.htm

Big Brother WiFi

Maybe we do need that foil hat after all because, according to the Daily Telegraph the University of Utah in the United States has been using WiFi signals to see through walls. At the moment their equipment can only see approximately three feet the other side of the wall but they are confident they can extend both the range and resolution of the system to make it a useful tool for Police, military and security personnel involved in surveillance. The images produced are similar to those seen on sonar and the system works like sonar or radar by picking up variations in the signal pattens. The developers foresee a set of receiving sensors being dropped off around a building under siege allowing a 3D representation of the whereabouts of people within the building to be accessed. All okay unless the rooms have been painted with the magic RF proof paint mentioned below or someone has turned off the WiFi. Just how is this any better than the infra-red systems already on sale and in use is a question as yet unanswered.
Read the Telegraph article here

Paint on security

The BBC reports that a company has come up with paint that blocks out radio frequencies up to 100 GHz, but is working on increasing that to 200 GHz. At a cost of £10 per litre it looks like a cost effective security solution for companies with Wi-Fi networks, at first. Developed by the University of Tokyo the paint contains an aluminium-iron oxide that absorbs and blocks RF and therefore stops data being intercepted outside any room fully coated with the paint. I can foresee a few problems as it means either using it in rooms without windows or painting the windows with the same substance. Doors would also have to be almost hermetically sealed and kept shut to prevent stray microwave frequency finding there way out due to gaps between the surround and the door or through keyholes and ventilation ducts.

While I am sceptical of the claims being laid out for it and slightly worried that some may see it as the alternative to properly secured systems it looks like as part of a fully integrated security program it could well have a great future. The next question must be where can I buy some? As a solution to keeping some of the stray electromagnetic mush that plagues almost every home in this modern world out of my radio shack a couple of tins of paint sounds like a good investment. Unfortunately it does not do anything about my neighbour generated RFI entering via my antennas, so I still need to move out in to the wilds if I want to reduce my noise floor.
This product could be a great boon in theatres and cinemas as a liberal dousing could act as a block to annoying mobile telephone users interrupting the performance without using phone jammers which in the UK at least are illegal

Well until our local DIY store starts to stock the paint we could always try papering the walls with aluminium foil as I am sure that would work just as well and also has the advantage of reflecting heat back into the room. While you are there you can fashion yourself a little foil hat to stop them probing your brain with their satellites.

You can read the full BBC News story 'Anti-wi-fi paint offers security' at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8279549.stm