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.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Splice the mainbrace - RNARS 50 years

The Royal Naval Amateur Radio Society is fifty years old this year and to celebrate it has aquired the call sign GB50RNARS, which will be used by its members through out the year. The call sign may be a bit of a mouthful and not fit into some electronic logs, but it is a nice easy one to remember. So go ahead and say 'Hello sailor!" on air, but don't blame me if you receive a broadside in response. I am sure that there will be some nice QSL cards coming the way of those that work the call during the year. I suspect from the ex-RN guys I know that the best chance of a contact will be to dust off the morse key, but with a whole year to catch them hopefully other modes will get an airing too.

Another Radio Rally bites the dust

I see that the Chesterfield Rally has been cancelled due to the spiralling costs of their venue. While I was never likely to visiting this particular event (too far from my stomping grounds) I find it particularly sad to see yet another amateur radio event bite the dust. Maybe I am just an old dinosaur but the slow demise of the radio rally scene removes one of the most enjoyable part of the hobby. First you made friends on air and then every now and then the rallies gave a chance to put faces to names or at least faces to call-signs. Rallies always gave everyone something to talk about for weeks either side of the actual event. First there was 'Whose going?' and 'How are we getting there?' type discussions and then there was always those bargains you bought or just missed and moaning about warm beer, poor catering and the fact that there were too many computer stalls.

Everyone blames computers, the Internet and eBay in particular for the demise of the rally scene, but the problem runs deeper. Society these days is becoming more insular and the hobby itself is suffering. The downward spiral of the scene started with the high cost of venues meaning that entry fees were introduced, which led to less visitors, overcrowded venues, which led to less visitors, the infiltration of computer software and hardware sellers, which led to less visitors and so on. Less visitors meant the dealers making less profit so they stayed away and less dealers meant less visitors. Less rallies means less rekindled friendships, and less rekindled friendships mean less time spent on the air and less on air activity leads to people going off and doing something else. So we face this downward spiral, but what can be done? RSGB seems to think that having one big national rally is the answer, but the rally equivalent of a Superstore is really not the answer, it just drives the smaller cheaper venues out of business. Maybe the answer is to return to basics and try to arrange small local events at venues that cost little or nothing. Radio hams are usually frugal beings and if an event is free to get in and there are bargains to be had you stand a better chance of getting them there than charging £5 and having all the big gun retailers there.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Intermediate Exam Course

Mold and District ARC of which I am chairman has a couple of amateurs looking to do the novice licence in the next few weeks. When their training is through we are looking to start an Intermediate course, but we only have one prospective candidate at present. We are looking for others to make it more worthwhile running the course. Whatever level exam you are wishing to do please contact me Steve GW7AAV or Keith GW4OKT. Our emails are available on QRZ.com. We will try to arrange the course to suit you.

Wearable batteries

A little while ago I reported that Stanford University scientists had invented a paper battery using a carbon nano-tube ink. Now, according to the BBC, Yi Cui and his team at Stanford University have incorporated the technology into fabric. This means a cheap t-shirt can become an e-shirt with the integration of both a power source and electronics. There has been on going work in developing roll up displays which could see t-shirts with moving images common in the next few years. Alternatively t-shirts could power mobile telephones or MP3 players. The team believes wearable solar cells will probably be integrated in to the design, which when combined with more efficient versions of the battery technology could have wide ranging applications.

Liberty, Equality and the ARRL

Congratulations to Dr Kay Craigie N3KN who has just been elected as President of the ARRL and is the first woman to hold the position. I do hope that this will encourage more of the female members of the species to pick up the microphone.

There has been some talk in the amateur radio blogsphere about racism in amateur radio recently, but maybe I have been lucky because I have rarely heard it. Most radio amateurs get into the hobby because they want to talk to people in other countries and are in no way racist. Some of us are slightly xenophobic to some extent in that we are concerned about mass immigration and maybe discussions about how a whole town is now speaking Polish instead of English could be considered racist. It is not racism it is fear, fear of a loss of culture and identity and fear of being a stranger in the town you grew up in, unfortunately fear is a breeding ground for racists.

Sexism on the other hand is something I hear on a regular basis. My wife Helen is licensed, we sat the radio amateurs exam together. Sometimes the sexism works to her advantage. For example: When we do Summits on the Air activations usually she finds it very easy to get plenty contacts because first there are the regular SOTA chasers then there are those men who hone in on the female voice like flies around day old dung. Occasionally though there is the complete bigot like a certain drunk as a skunk Dave G0*** from Runcorn who came on to a net of our friends over Christmas and started by telling her she should "F*** off back to the kitchen" before getting more abusive. This idiot spent almost all Christmas and New Year on 145.500 playing music and asking stupid drunken questions. Hopefully he will have received a visit by now from Ofcom as I know a number of people complained and sent in recordings.

It is so easy to make and send in time stamped MP3 recordings to back up complaints these days that I would recommend that if you hear any sort of abuse you use this method, but contact the authority before sending them or they may never be examined.

The USA is leading the way here, they have a non-white President of the country and a non-male President of the ARRL and whatever we think of the politics or agendas of the incumbents it is a start, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I refuse to be politically correct on a lot of things but liberty and equality walk hand in hand. Freedom comes at a price and we must pay that price or suffer the consequences of our inactions. I grew up glad to be male, glad to be white and glad to be British, in the future I would hope we can achieve the situation where there is no advantage in being any particular race, colour or gender.

G4CQM Yagi Designs

I see from Southgate ARC news that Derek G4CQM is looking to publicise his antenna designs. He has done an update to his website with several new antenna designs. The designs are fairly simple to construct and all the details are available for free on the website. Lionel VE7BQH has provided performance analysis tables that show how well the antennas should work.

The only issue I have with Derek’s designs are that he insists on using Netlon clips to mount the elements. Netlon clips are designed to hold garden netting for climbing plants or shading. The problem is that the clips are held in place by a single bolt, which means that over time the elements move out of line and eventually spin like helicopter blades in the wind. Still as radio amateurs we tend to adapt other peoples designs rather than follow them to the letter so I don’t see it as too much of a problem, unless of course you buy one of Derek’s kits.

Edit: I was wrong about the Netlon clips. See Derek’s comment bellow

Thursday, 14 January 2010


CW is dead! It must be true was on the telly.

On UK TV show Most Haunted Live at the former RAF base at West Raynham in Norfolk Yvette Fielding and her team sent Morse Code messages using an iPhone application in an attempt to contact the dead. Naturally a series of knocks were heard in reply.

What sort of weak-minded idiot watches this superstitious crap? Why on Earth would any self repecting ghost want to talk to this bunch of fakers? Using an iPhone to send Morse Code would surely have any dead CW ops spinning in their graves. They would have had a better chance of contacting the dead by sending their CW on two metres or having a word on certain 80 metre nets where someone will be able to pass a message on for them sooner or later.
Personally the only ghosts that interest me are the ones in Ghostbusters Three when it finally gets made.

Derelicte – RAF West Raynhamhttp://www.derelicte.co.uk/raf-west-raynham

Culture of Exclusion

I picked up this up from Tim G4VXE’s blog

I haven’t come across David, W6DTW’s blog before, but it’s well worth a read.

His latest post on Shooting ourselves in the foot: Amateur Radio’s Culture of Exclusion is well worth a read. David describes the problem admirably, though doesn’t really suggest how we might find a solution (which I think most of us would struggle to do!)

Check out too, David’s posting on ‘An example of why Amateur Radio is failing to attract young people’. Interesting points.

Both these post are well worth a read and like Tim I have added Dave’s blog to my blog roll. I am sure that there will be more good posts coming from the same source soon.

Snow, snow, thaw, thaw, snow...

I am here in body, but only just and my mind is a confused mess so that thinking takes just too much effort. I am sure you can guess that I have succumbed to the flu. Maybe it is just the man flu but my eyes are burning, my sinus streaming and every bone in my body aches, one minute I am baking like an oven and the next I am shivering and cannot get warm. I have to get through the next couple of nights and then I am going to bed with a bottle of 12 year old malt and not getting up until I am feeling much better.

It was snowing heavily this morning when we got up and I had to move the vehicles around so Helen could take the 4X4 to work. My son's girlfriend had parked her car outside our house and I said to him he should get her to bring it down the drive. Sometimes I hate being right! A hour later the doorbell rang and a woman had run in to the back of Lisa's car. It was a classic case of them not knowing how to drive in the snow. They had come around the corner too fast and when their car started to skid on to the wrong side of the road they had stamped on the brakes leaving a 100 yard skid mark interspersed by the anti-lock braking system coming on and off. The impact was slow so damage was light but Lisa's Vauxhall Corsa will need a new rear bumper (that's fender for our American readers). Over the last couple of weeks I have seen some of the worst driving in my life, our road has been like an ice rink but hundreds of people managed to negotiate it safely however besides the woman who ran in to Lisa's Corsa, someone has managed to demolish the steel fence around the local primary school. One driver came down the road a couple of days ago with her wheels spinning so fast the speedometer must have been registering 100 mph even though see was only moving at about 5 mph. What would have happened if she had suddenly found grip I dread to think. Most of the bad drivers can be fitted in to three categories, young drivers, dizzy women and BMW drivers but it is the professional drivers like those in trucks and vans who have been leaving me gob smacked as they spin, jack knife and slide in to Aramco barriers as if they are hypnotised by the snow. Local supplies of salt for gritting the roads are all but gone and so if we get anymore snow there could be double the chaos and destruction we have already seen.

Tonight should have been Mold and District ARC's first meeting after the Christmas break but this mornings snow meant there would be no staff to open the Rugby club where we meet. Hopefully members will have realised that it was too dodgy to go out or have received my last minute email. It means that our quiz night will now be next Wednesday 20th January 2010.

One thing the bad weather and traffic chaos has done is to bring some listeners out of the woodwork. I kept Helen company as she spent an hour and half to travel the half hour journey to work this morning and as we chatted more and more amateurs joined our little net looking for or passing on weather and traffic information, it gave me a reminder of how things used to be when we were first licenced. Maybe we could do with the bad weather lasting long enough to get these people to realise what they have been missing and then maybe having made themselves known they will recognise our voices and come back when we are calling CQ sometimes. My flu muddled head meant the my conversation was not its usual sparking and witty repartee this morning so I might have had the opposite effect, but I do hope not.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Otherwise occupied

Just a quick note to all my readers who think I have forgotten about my blog. I have had some new toys to play with a photo and film scanner, a new netbook and a new desktop. I have spent most of my free time scanning old photos, deleting unwanted programs from the netbook and setting up the desktop PC. I now have most of the programs I want installed and running using Windows 7 and have even found new drivers for my 10 year old and obsolete touch pad. Big problem is the PC has no serial ports and the data cables for my Yaesu FT-817, 857 and Icom IC-706 are all RS-232 as are the programming cables for my Kenwood, Icom, Standard and Wouxun hand portable rigs. Neither my full size laptop or the netbook has anything other than USB ports either. On the plus side I am up and running on Skype and Echolink for the first time in a while, which has proved useful already. Windows 7 has been a bit of a learning curve but it has proved to be very stable and I am liking it more and more as I use it. Being able to use the full graphics capability of my 24" wide screen at last has been a pleasure as my old graphics card would not cope with wide screens I had text as big as your fist since my 24" CRT monitor went bang.

I have been finding a new use for Skype by having a number of different accounts I can connect to the main PC in the shack and wander around the house with the netbook and monitor all my radios. I really must look in to the remote operating set-ups I have seen that appear to use Ham Radio Deluxe and some form of VOIP to control. I could probably just leave a rig on VOX with the microphone by the speaker and it would work, sort of, but with up to ten radios on at any one time I think I might have problems as I don't want to be an inadvertent repeater.

I have always had lots of computers. At one time we had six Commodore 64s, before that two Vic20s, then three or four Amigas. There are thirty two devices shown as registered on my router not including printers. I was sat there the other day with my Internet enabled mobile phone, my PDA, my netbook, my laptop and my new desktop and I realised just how much the Internet has become an essential part of every day life. Having said that I am trying to cut down and I am trying to squeeze the contents of four PCs on to one. It should be an easy task with today's massive storage capacities, but one PC has eight hard drives with from 20 to 120 gigabytes on each while the others have 320 gb each and one has two removable drive bays with six 120 gb drives and another two internal drives. Surely I don't need all that storage, but I know as soon as I delete something I will want it.

The weather has been awful unless you want to take pretty pictures of the snow so I have stayed inside and played with the computers. I hoped lots of others would have been shack bound but the radio has been quite quiet on all frequencies all week. There were no SOTA stations at all in my log today, which is unusual for a Saturday. So I am hoping there are more people out braving the cold tomorrow.

I just saw the time, it is tomorrow already. Goodnight!

Monday, 4 January 2010

2010 The Year We Make Contact

Well it is 2010, what happened to the last decade? It only seems like yesterday I was celebrating the new millenium. I was on a caravan rally because we all figured that if the so-called millenium bug was going to bring about the destruction of life as we know it then we might as well be self-sufficient and away from the major urban centres that would be chaos without lighting and heating, with floods of sewage, self-destructing electrical equipment and airplanes falling from the sky. It was also a good excuse for a hell of a party and no-one would need to drive home. The party was great and we crawled to bed as dawn was breaking. The fireworks were good too and the only damp squib was the much hyped millenium bug that amounted to nothing, even my computer still worked and still does.

In the intervening years there has been one scare after another and each time it has amounted to very little. I could list everything here but I won’t however one example is swine flu, which seems to have been little more than another bad cold and in fact less people seem to have had this strain of flu than any other I can remember, but according to the doom merchants it was going to kill millions. There have been so many of these scares over the past ten years that I think the public are getting blasé about everything that government and their scientific advisors say. You can only cry wolf so many times.

The jury is still out on so-called global warming, but I am a firm believer that this is a natural phenomena and I don’t think there is a damn thing we can do about it or the next ice age, which we are well overdue for. If there is anything in it why would anybody believe the bunch of self-serving liars and thieves that run every government on this planet?

Picking up the papers over the last ten years I am left wondering if indeed I could save the planet whether I would even bother. Is mankind worth saving or just a blot the landscape of the third rock from a b-list star? The Christmas message should be that of ‘Peace on Earth, goodwill to all men’. If only everyone would actually take that message literally then mankind might be worth saving.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and start to the new year. Mine was spent at work and was no fun at all. Freezing for twelve hours at a time in sub-zero temperatures trying to do the near impossible has left both my mind and body feeling somewhat numb. While everyone around me partied and celebrated I worked or slept. What a contrast to that time ten years ago when we partied like it was our last day of Earth. If I felt what I was doing had any value or point then I could feel slightly better, but I think if we had all gone home to our families no-one would have noticed. To add to the gloom everything is broken again anyway.

I tell myself it could be worse and speaking to friends in various parts of the country I think we have got of lightly with the weather at least. Talking further afield I hear of -30 centigrade in Norway and it makes -4°c here tonight seem almost warm.

One thing I really missed this Christmas/New year was being able to get on air and pass greetings all my friends. This morning (3rd Jan 2010) was the first chance I had to do much on the radio and it was great to work lots of SOTA stations who were out for the ‘Winter Fun Day’. Top of my list today was Joerg DL1DLF who was in Belguim on ON/ON-009 Iverst, which only leaves me one Belgium summit to work. I wonder if I will get my last English summit before I get my last Belgium one?

The Scottish SOTA stations had me wondering about the sanity of the fun day idea with Jack GM4COX telling me of walking through chest high drifts and taking an hour longer to reach his summit than expected. His comments on the snow seemed to be confirmed by first Robin GM7PKT from his West Scotland summit and then in the SOTA reflector by Andy MM0FMF who could not get out of his road and Alan MM0XXP who had to dig himself a space in the car park at Middlefield Law GM/SS-184.

The SOTA activity made a nice change but I had to leave the radio shack at lunch time to get a few hour sleep before heading to work and missed about half of the activity, including some good friends on local summits operating on less usual or higher bands such as 4m and 23 cms.
Time, I think, to get out on the hills myself and blow away these winter blues that are getting me down, to stand on a summit and look down on the world and once again believe this world is worth saving, to talk on the radio and restore my faith in human nature, to feel my heart beating, the blood surging through my veins and know what it is to be alive once again.

The sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 A Space Odyssey was 2010 and subtitled The Year We Make Contact and it seems appropriate that as radio amateurs we should try to make 2010 The Year We Make Contact with each other and spread peace and goodwill to all men.