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.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

France Declare D-Star Illegal

D-Star has been declared illegal in France. In a totally backward step the French authorities have stated that because D-Star could be used to connect to the Internet, which is not permitted under the French licensing conditions it is illegal. French digital radio website DR@F has called for all European radio societies and individuals to support them in this. There is an European Parliament Petition that can be signed here.

The arguments from the ARCEP, the French Regulator against D-Star are listed bellow...

  1. Internet : ARCEP says protocol specifications could allow ham-radio operator to connect their station to Internet and are against the law (art.5 of decision 2008-0841) ==> DR@F says that all stations in any modes or protocol could be connected with a simple PC with sound card. ARCEP should therefore prohibit all ham-radio activity in France. We have shown to ARCEP in January 2010, that internet access request could be rejected, with simple filtering in system. We didn't do any connection to Internet at all, as many countries could explain today.
  2. Cryptografic & National Security: ARCEP makes reference to "essential requirements" (art.4 of decision 2008-0841) and says D-STAR is a potential national security issue (could cause riot, criminal act, and terrorism), because of internet connexions and specific software for communications to be unencrypted ==> DR@F says that European Directive 99/5/CE in reference of "essential requirements" in ARCEP decision, wasn't raised to avoid national security issue but for "radio equipment and telecommunications terminal equipment and the mutual recognition of their conformity". In the same European Directive - Annex I, ham-radio operator that are building their own radio aren't regarded by this law. In the same way, D-STAR is using codes as GMSK modulation, Ethernet CCITT 802.3, CRC-CCITT, FEC G.975, and ETSI GMR1 & GMR2 for AMBE vocoder, that are fully recognized as ITU standards. In fact, there are no encryption and all standards used are in conformity with French laws.
  3. Patent: ARCEP says AMBE vocoder is using patents, licences and proprietary undisclosed specifications that are against art. 1.56 of ITU Radiocommunications Rules. DR@F says patents are everywhere (PC, Windows, DSP software in commercial radios, firmware, etc ...) and all radio using "super-heterodyne" feature should be immediately stopped with all ham-radio activities in France.
What is patently obvious to everyone apart from the French regulators is that almost any piece of radio gear (digital or analogue) can and is somewhere connected to the Internet and that such statements mean all radio gear in France could be considered illegal. That means that this could be the thin edge of the wedge to restrict our rights as both radio amateurs and citizens. When seen combined with the restrictions that other countries like Australia and the US are trying to impose on the Internet and things like taxes on fuel designed to restrict our movements it is enough to make even the most sane man suspect conspiracies, global government and the Illuminati spring to mind.

Now, I am no lover of D-Star and most Englishmen have been wary of France since at least the Hundred Years' War but like we have in a couple of wars since we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with French brothers and sisters and fight this one. So please add your name to the petition.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Changes to UK Foundation Exam syllabus

The new Foundation Exam syllabus has had two sections added to it. They are...

8a.5 Understand that the transmission of music and the use of offensive or
threatening language whilst on the air are unacceptable in amateur

8a.6 Understand how to respond to music or inappropriate language
overheard or received from other stations.

Exams from 1st July 2010 will have an extra question added to cover this topic and the pass mark increased from 18 out of 25 to 19 out 26. The time allowed remains 45 minutes.

The July 2011 syllabus can be seen here.

Now I have to admit that I have not read the licence conditions for a long time but I don't recall anything about that in the past. I would have thought that singing Happy Birthday to a mate or something similar was okay as long as it was not copyright material. I seem to recall a couple of musicians on amateur radio who would exchange musical riffs they were playing with on the guitar during their late night chin wags. No one ever seemed to challenge them or suggest they were doing anything wrong. It was fascinating to listen to. I realise that is not quite the same as playing music as a way of annoyance, but it makes me wonder. What if you accidentally transmit music as often happens at special events when a band starts up or music for the dancing? We try to avoid it but I am sure it is something that happens every day and no one says anything. The intention is clear but I am not certain that this is not another veiled attempt to make amateur radio what someone else thinks it should be and not what it could be. Broadcast radio after all started with amateurs playing music to one another. At one time you could find people playing chess over the air and teaching each other their languages, but now in some ways it is all plain vanilla. Now I like vanilla but you get the ratchet jaws and the five and niners and not much else any more. Whatever happened to the inventive ways of using amateur radio?

Maintenance, Moving, Mowing, and the 80m CC

It has been one of those hectic periods of time I get now and then. I have not posted on my blog for a few days because we have a shut down on at work and I had to do six twelve hour day shifts on the bounce and then my eldest son has just bought himself a house. Moving house and plumbing washing machines are not my favourite things. Added to that my eldest daughter had her school prom and we had to run my granddaughter to and from a friends birthday party. In between times there has been stuff like shopping, mowing the lawn and getting ripped to shreds trying to clear brambles that had almost surrounds my shed. Some of you may think that six twelve hour shifts is not that bad but it is the lack of sleep the does for me. Five hours kip a night and up at 5:30 is not my idea of fun.

Consequential to the busy time the radio has almost taken a back seat, particularly when I get in from work, I just do not have the motivation. One day I did have the motivation was on Thursday 24th June 2010 for the penultimate SSB section of the RSGB's 80 Metre Club Championship. I started to prepare early by raising my antenna another ten feet. Unfortunately that went pear shaped and I brought down not only the 80/40 trap dipole but the 60 metre dipole in the process. It was then a mad panic to get the dipole back up in time. I left the 60m antenna on the ground until the next day. It turned out to be that the rope holding one end up had suffered the effects of UV from the sunlight and it disintegrated in to dust when squeezed so it would only have been a matter of time before it gave way. What I need is more of the Kevlar reinforced stuff the army use.

Thing went okay in the contest once I started to get calls, but there was a period of three minutes calling CQ before anyone at all came back to me. Finding a free frequency was not easy and I ended up on 3.770 close to the edge of the contest zone (3.600-3.650 & 3.700-3.775). Even here I was wedged in between seemingly well set up stations with the expected QRM. I managed to work 76 stations which seemed reasonable although there where a couple of duplicates and an incomplete who disappeared before I got his call. My plan was to work the first hour calling CQ and then switch to search and pounce mode. I called and by the half hour I was stuggling to speak. Helen was out and the kids were no where to be seen. I soldiered on desperately needing a drink but afraid to get up and loose my spot. After an hour I was totally unable to speak and got myself a cold drink. I was dying for a beer but I had a blood test in the morning and it was meant to be a starve for eight hours before one so it was water or nothing. Two pints of water and I was back. It was a good job I had planned to work the last half hour the way I did because as soon as I had got up my place was swooped on by another contester. My calls had like my voice dried up so I started working my way down the band working each station I heard. It was a little disheartening to hear numbers double what I was giving out but I was also working stations with similar and worse scores and it is everyone in the group that makes up the final score. With a few minutes of the contest to go I worked John GW4BVE who is another member of the Travelling Wave Contest Group who gave me a serial of 132, which I hoped was in the right ball park. Later I found out that only one more of our operators was able to take part. Caroline was on from Guernsey as GU6WRW/P and I believe she had also accumulated a reasonable score. Hopefully our minimal presence will have done enough to maintain our position.

Central to my better position was that I was able to dig in and find a spot, there was no one here generating QRM, the TV and Sky box which cause noise on 80m-40m were turned off at the wall. Improvements here would be to have plenty of drinks lined up and maybe get Helen to log for me. I am thinking that maybe I could borrow some better radio gear with narrow filtering capabilities, get the antenna higher and swap out the trap dipole for a monoband just for the contests. Maybe I should head down to the Mold radio club shack and work from there or find a site with low noise and go portable.

The club championship is restricted to 100watts and there is a QRP section, which makes me wonder why so many stations were testing their linears before the contest started. Who runs 100w from a linear when they can run 100 watts bare foot? Maybe next time I will start a list of those I hear doing that or maybe I should ask the question to a wider audience than reads my blog.

I did not work much yesterday on any band but I have already a nice tally of SOTA points in the log today. It is a bit quiet around here I think someone said there is a soccer match on or something. The road noise is almost zero in the garden and no one has called on 2m FM for about an hour.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Ham Spam Cripples Twitter

Fake blog posts along with lazy posters and automatic re-posting scripts are crippling the usefulness of services such as Twitter as a means for finding the latest news and trends in amateur radio. Recently numerous Amateur Radio blogs have appeared that seem at first to post a new article every few hours, however on closer examination each of these articles have the same standard content and are surrounded by advertisements. I have noted about twenty or so of these site all with the same garbage article repeated over and over.

Although this is not a new phenomena it has only just become prevalent in 'Ham Radio' and 'Amateur Radio' searches. Some well known Twits who have in the past posted some very good links seem to be failing for the trick, meaning that they are not reading the garbage before they Tweet it.

There is often a clue in the site name, which is usually something like 'Ham Radio Sales', or 'Amateur Radio Market', but this is hidden by the use of shortened URLs. Shortened URLs are popular on Twitter due to the limited space available for a message (140 characters).

Time for Twitter to come up with a 'block this Tweeter' or 'mark as spam' button. I suspect that these spam tweets and re-tweets may be what has been causing the server problems at Twitter. If they do not put their house in order soon I can see people leaving in droves

SOS Hoaxer Jailed

According to the San Fransisco Chronicle another nut job has been jailed for 30 months after making false SOS calls. 53-year-old Kurtis Thorsted of Salinas made 51 false distress calls over six months, costing the Coast Guard $102,000 in search and related costs. It was not the first time he has been convicted of the same offence either. He was prosecuted in 2004 as well and was jailed for two year and had to pay $29,000 in restitution to the coast guard.

In one incident a rescue helicopter had to delay rescuing two fisherman aboard a sinking vessel because it was low on fuel as a result of one of Thorstead's hoaxes.

Read more: Here

Bigger, Better, Faster - eQSL

eQSL has migrated to a new faster server. The new system feature a dual processor, quad-core 64-bit processors with up to 24GB of memory with 1.5TB of mirrored and striped (RAID10) hard disk array. Screens that formerly took several minutes to display now only take a few seconds to load.

The users seem to be impressed with plenty of good comments being heard and read. One of the complaints about eQSL in the past has been its speed and it was often stated as a reason why some people prefered Log Book of World. No such worries anymore, which is just as well due to the approaching competition from QRZ's QSL system. The big question must be do we need so many on-line logging systems?

The transfer to the new server has not been totally straight forward however and you can read the trials and tribulations of the team at http://eqslcc.blogspot.com/ , which will be where you will be able to find out of any service outages or up-grades to eQSL in future.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Find a room guys

CQ CQ CQ Getting someone to answer a CQ call these days is often like pulling, teeth particularly on VHF and above, so how come when someone calls on 145.500 and gets a contact do they then so often say "Do you have a frequency in mind?" It seems to me particularly dumb when the station that replies is a mobile, but I hear it all the time. Yes you prat let the mobile station grope around while they are driving while you sit at home in your warm shack with your cup of tea and 20 cheap cancer sticks that you got off the lorry driver down the road who smuggles them in from the continent. Yes, you who has the huge collinear strapped to his chimney breast and 50 watts. You the one who can actually hear if the frequency is in use, not the mobile on his hand held with 5 watts and a quarter wave antenna. So what happens next is the mobile drops one channel down and the other station finds it is in use there then ensues a merry dance up and down the band until the mobile is out of range. Another fine QSO. For everyone's sanity find a room before you call CQ.

As a SOTA chaser I openly admit that the activator is king. If a station wants to climb to the top of a significant hill or mountain and only take a 2 metre hand portable then that is up to him, but that does not make it any less pointless, at least for me. I appeal to activators to at least take a proper antenna with them, but if they don't wish to at least steer clear of the two channels either side of the calling frequency. Tonight a couple of stations were on a fairly local summit but QSYed to 145.475. I could have worked them but even before they went to that frequency there were three conversations going on there that I could hear.

Finally slightly off topic I just tried to log in to Twitter and got that "Too Many Tweets - Twitter is over capacity" message for the third time this week. Is Twitter a victim of its own success I wonder? and there was me still half wondering if Twitter is really still a solution looking for a problem. APRS now there is a solution looking for a problem! Watch this!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Impulsive Solar Flare Unleashed Today

Today, June 12th at 0055 UT, new sunspot 1081 unleashed an impulsive M1-class solar flare. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the flash of extreme UV radiation:

Read more at: Before It's News

What Stephen Fry really thinks about DAB

Remember my last post about Stephen Fry? Now this appears...

Stephen Fry's REAL opinion about DAB radio ?

Interference to Ham Radio from Plasma TV

This is typical of the interference from a high number of plasma TVs I have come across. The interference can often be heard from over half a mile away. It is probably the result of the manufacturers removal of key components to make the device cheaper as can be seen by examining the circuit boards. There are makes and models out there that do not cause interference but they are out numbered by those that do. I would not buy plasma as I think LED TVs are better all-round. Radio amateurs can avoid buying one in the first place but if a neighbour buys one then it can be a hell of a job getting it resolved. It is time the manufacturers owned up and OFCOM got out and enforced their own rules.

4x4 Hams have new site

Virgil K7VZ has a new version of the 4x4 Ham site up and running. The site has some new and interesting features including the chance to have your own off-road and amateur radio blog on the site. Only problem I have had so far is how I get my custom avatar back and a few minutes of time to put me info on the new site.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Croatia on 60 & 600 metres

On 10th of June, Kresimir Kovarik 9A5K received first experimental amateur radio license for 600 and 60m bands in Croatia, his license is valid until 30th May 2011. Chris as he is also known on the air also holds the call K5CRO.

First ever QSO on 60m band from 9A was made on 10/June/2010 between G4TRA and 9A5K. I hope to make a contact with Chris at the first opportunity on the 60m band and will be listening with interest over the weekend.

Update: The first GW to Croatia contact on 5MHz made on sked tonight 2125UTC 11th June 2010 by your truly and Chris 9A5K.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

US Ham in Walmart Gun Hoax

Another US amateur radio operator is in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Ham radio operator Keith Mutch (KB1RBI), 35, of Norwich CT, is due in court today to be charged with an alleged prank. Apparently a Walmart employee reported hearing the report of a man with a shotgun on a portable radio used by store employees. Nine officers armed with rifles, shotguns and ballistic shields were dispatched to search the 220 Salem Turnpike store, which was open for business at the time, but nothing was found.

On May 5, during an investigation in to an unrelated incident, police took a statement from a former girlfriend of Mutch who said Mutch had sent the transmission over a radio from a car at a nearby McDonald’s. Mutch denied any involvement, but statements from three passengers implicating Mutch.

It’s the radio waves they effect the brain you know!



Friday, 4 June 2010

LORAN Station Port Clarence Demolition

This brought tears to my eyes, I just want a tower like that but it was a danger and too expensive to repair.

Alaska's tallest structure, a 1,350-foot tall radio navigation tower, has been knocked down. The Coast Guard carried out the demolition using controlled explosives. Officials say the tower was deteriorating and at risk of collapse. It was the tallest tower of its kind in the US.

Porthmadog Radio Club's Lottery Grant

Congratulations to Porthmadog and District Amateur Radio Society who have been awarded a £4,890 grant from the Big Lottery Fund. PADARS spokesman Gary Brookes said: “It’s excellent news, and we are obviously very grateful to the National Lottery for the grant. We are a small club, but this is a massive investment, and a big opportunity to promote the society, and what we do in the area. We hope to now forge closer links with local societies to educate youngsters in the skills needed to operate radio equipment, skills which are very useful in a number of careers.”

The club meets monthly, every third Thursday at the Yacht club in Porthmadog harbour. The Yacht club premises are fully licensed, Hic!

Mobile Phones May Kill Bees

Scientists at Punjab University have found that mobile phones can cause drastic behavioural changes in bees - and may even lead to the death of hives. Read more: Mobile Phones Could Explain Death of Bees - ITProPortal.com

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Slow Scan Porn now on 10 MHz

Slow scan TV has long been the home of some really creepy guys who wear dirty macs and salivate heavily whenever they hear a YL on the air. Well now they have another band where they can find soft porn pictures of hairy Russian women shot putters with callsigns covering the naughty bits. Just what was needed.

This from Southgate ARC News... Slow Scan TV on 10 MHz

Details of a narrow band version of Slow Scan TV (SSTV) for use on the 10 MHz (30m) band are now available.

The Amateur Radio 10 MHz band is only 50 kHz wide and by convention Amateurs in most of the world have not used it for wideband modes such as SSB or SSTV. Fortunately a narrow band version of SSTV is available and Amateurs are increasingly using it on this band.

An article by Andy K3UK on the subject is now available at -

Free MMSSTV Software(see Andy's article on how to change it to narrow band before using it on 30m) - http://mmhamsoft.amateur-radio.ca/pages/mmsstv.php

DAB - The Big Fuzzy Flop

Peter Hitchens is one of those caustic commentators who's column in the Mail or in this case the Mail on Sunday is like Bovril. You either love it or hate it. However it is the sort of writing I don't think you can ignore. Let us hope those that matter don't ignore his little piece about DAB radio entitled 'Oily Fry and a great big fuzzy flop...' it is about halfway down this post on his blog.

He has a little dig at Stephen Fry and then goes on to say that the BBC’s favourite voice is actively promoting the nasty scheme to make us all scrap our perfectly good radio sets and embrace digital broadcasting.

Now, Mr Fry is so busy presenting every programme on BBC Radio and TV that he probably never listens to the wireless, and so doesn’t know what the rest of us know – that digital sound broadcasting is a great big fuzzy, unreliable flop. And if everybody keeps their FM sets, we may yet defeat this scheme.

Well said Mr Hitchen!

Unlike Peter Hitchens I am still a fan of Stephen Fry, his intelligent quick wit, and pseudo Oscar Wild persona, but he needs to wake up and smell the coffee with regard to the big fuzzy, unreliable flop called DAB.


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

YouTube 3.1kw NZ radio amateur fined

When will people learn? Bragging about doing daft things that also happen to be illegal is going to get you in trouble. Alan Potter (no relation to Harry), ZL3II has just been fined $1750 ($1164 USD) and $130 ($86 USD) and had his equipment confiscated for costs for running 3.1 kilowatts, which is slightly more than the 500 watts his New Zealand licence allowed. The problem was Alan posted a video on YouTube. Bad move Alan. The YouTube video has been removed so I cannot post it here and as a result I cannot really comment on what he did. What I will say is there are an awful lot of amateurs that I know that have similar homebrew valve amplifiers capable of those sorts of power (for short periods before they overheat and self destruct) who use them well within the legal limits where the amps are just ticking over and unlikely to cause problems. It may be that he was running the amp in to a dummy load in the video but I suspect not. I also suspect that maybe the New Zealand’s Radio Spectrum Management had been aware of what he was doing and just needed the video to nail him.

One thing I do object to is the RSM’s statement “Operating at such high transmitting power is likely to cause interference to, and disruption of, a range of other licensed radio services in the local area.”, which is not entirely true. If that were the case then broadcast stations, navigation beacons and military communications systems running ten times as much power would make life impossible for any other licensed radio services for hundreds of miles not just “in the local area”.

Jeff Davis, KE9V recently wrote a funny but controversial article on his Signal and Noise Blog (now also no longer on the web) saying how nuts some QRPers appear to be from their posts on various forums. It seems Jeff missed the chance to have a poke at QROers, they to appear to have their share of nutters too, but at least the QRP guys are unlikely to have a visit from the authorities saying they are wiping out the local Police repeater or setting off all the car alarms in a five mile radius.

My issue with the QRO boys is not so much the interference they cause but the hundreds of stations that call them without a hope in hell of being heard because they are only running 100w or less, while the DXhead is running 2 kilowatts, sometimes legally but more often than not. If you cannot back it up with the antennas and preamps needed to hear those replying then don’t do QRO and if you have the antennas you don’t need the QRO in the first place.

Not to let QRPers off; Run QRP but for goodness sake put up a decent antenna. Running QRP with a “modest antenna” causes as much interference to other users as the QRO guys do. Often the little guy comes on with his magic antenna and we can hear his 500 milliwatts but cannot he hear us on 100 watts and he calls CQ all over a QSO that has been going for a hour. It is as prevalent on two metres FM as it is in the CW section of 40 and 80 metres as the handheld and a rubber duck brigade complain that the band it quiet while ruining a nice chat I am having with a station 90 miles away. Even when I switch to the beam and wind the power up to 50 watts they are still deaf as well as dumb.
QROers say like to too short for QRP. I say gear is too expensive to have it confiscated.