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.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

SOTA Spain

Sunday 1st August 2010 welcomes Spain in to the SOTA (Summits on the Air) organisation. The recently approved EA1 association plans on activating several summits, including Pendella (EA1/CR-002), Cova da Serpe (EA1/LU-046), and the only 10-point summit approved so far, Trevinca (EA1/OU-001) from 00:01z hrs and through out Saturday. The edition of Spain will no doubt prove very popular amongst British SOTA enthusiasts that like to take their annual holidays in the country. It should be an excuse for them to take their radios with them and to explore beautiful parts of Spain away from the normal tourist centres. I am on nights on Sunday so I think I might have to stay up late on Saturday night and see if I can work my first EA SOTA as soon as they come on air.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

New and Special Calls

After a small hiccup with using the Ofcom website and the guys there missing the silly mistake made trying to get my daughter Caroline's Intermediate license she is now 2W0YLO (Young Lady Operator). My son Adam sorted his new call on Tuesday night and is now 2W0DPI (Dots Per Inch) which is appropriate seeing how he is a graphic designer. Of the other successful exam candidates Peter formally MW6PPZ becomes 2W0LUD, Mark M3MTB becomes 2W0CCK and Graham MW6YZF is now 2W0RSV. Down at the Mold Rugby Club where Mold and District ARC meet they had a barrel of real ale to get rid of and they were charging one pound per pint it was therefore time for a proper celebration.

I was ready for some refreshment by the time I arrived at the club having been out most of the day with my friend Graham GW0HUS delivering a 100 foot Strumech lattice tower to a Scout camp out in Chester and helping the guys get set up for the weekend. It certainly looked like the Scouts were going to have a great time this weekend. What a fantastic set up! The camp was like a mini city under canvass. A big leap from the camps I remember as a kid (not that I was ever a Scout).

Please keep a listen for Cheshire Scouts under the call GB2CS from Knutsford, Cheshire over the weekend and if you hear them please give then a call. They should be active on all bands as when I left they had vertical antennas for 70cms, 2 metres and 6 metres, a tri-band beam for 10, 15 & 20 metres and a G5RV for HF up to 80 metres. They also have Echolink for those who can't hear them on the air and would like to contact as many countries as possible. Calls from other scouts are especially prized.


Whenever someone asks about my hobby these days and I explain what amateur radio is all about they invariably say "but I can do that on my mobile phone". It does get a bit wearing to hear the same argument over and over again, even if in some ways it is true, but there is so much more to ham radio than talking to some stranger halfway around the world or a mate in the next street. We in fact have so many facets to our hobby that often in a room of thirty radio amateurs who live within the same town only a couple will have ever spoken to each other. The Mold and District Amateur Radio Club of which I am a member is a prime example of what I mean. We have members who only do CW, who only do micro-waves, who only do satellites, who only do FM repeaters, who only do VHF SSB, who only do contests, who only work 80 metres and who only work six and ten metres. The great thing is we all get along and although the people with similar interests tend to coagulate in groups there is always a welcome ear when someone wants to try something new to them and that is one reason why the social side off the air is as important as the radio its self.

There are an awful lot of hams out there who shun radio clubs and societies for a number of reasons, but mainly because they are unable to either live and let live or are unprepared to compromise, I think this is a great loss to not just the person, but to the hobby. I am a great believer that to get the most out of life we need to share our knowledge and experiences. It is particularly important in the field of amateur radio where often we need to decide what is scientific fact and what is misconception and myth. By talking to numerous people with diverse interests we do not get so influenced by the myths that can exist within one's normal circle.

What are these myths I am concerned with? you may well ask. There are myths about all sorts of things such as the one that says a little bit of SWR is a good thing or that a particular antenna works on any band, that all you need is a random length of wire and a tuner, that you should not be worried about loss, that a preamp is an alternative to a good antenna or no one will ever know if you run way over the legal limit of power. Take the loss thing, which I covered to some extent in my last posting, when you see that your fifty watts from the transmitter is only giving you two watts at the antenna it usually comes home to you. Well it does if you don't simply think that you have a duff piece of cable.

There is a lot of duff information on the Internet to and it takes some sorting, but there is an issue that makes it more difficult for some people than others to assess what is good advice and what is bad advice. This is because of what is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The Dunning-Kruger report states that our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence. Which is not an accusation, it simply means that we each have a level of understanding that masks our ability to realise, beyond a certain point, why we are wrong about something. One of the ways we increase our abilities to recognise poor advice is to observe others. David Dunning said "I often urge my student advisees to find out who the smart professors are, and to get themselves in front of those professors so they can see what smart looks like." Personally I think you can get just as much out of observing the incompetent or the less competent as well.

That is a darn good reason why we need to socialise with those in our areas of interest, be it a hobby like amateur radio or as a professional in our field. Take for example a mediocre lawyer whom fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there or a doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments available and so never considered them. They could have found the information themselves by reading it, but every person has a limit of both what they can absorb and their level of understanding. Being part of a group of people with wide ranging knowledge and experience makes you realise where the gaps in your knowledge lie, just how far up or down the competence ladder you are and who you can trust for good advice. The lawyer who takes the time to mix with his peers might have saved his client from jail and the doctor his patients life. Amateur radio is just a hobby but the benefits of membership of clubs and societies far outweighs small personal disagreements, the bores, the ignorant and know it alls. Of course there will be those out there that disagree with me but their incompetence masks their ability to recognize the truth in what I am saying or maybe my incompetence masks my ability to recognize I am wrong, I will let you decide.

I urge you to get out and if you are not already a member to join a radio society or two and attend and if you are a professional to attend your association to do likewise. Just make sure they are not on the same night. Participate in your own growth through self learning in ways that does not require sticking your head in a book or trawling through hundreds of pages on the web and maybe have a good time as well.

Last night at Mold and District ARC we had real ale at £1 per pint. If that isn't another good reason to join then I don't know what is. The benefits of membership outweighs the cost yet again.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Don't Skimp On The Coax

Coaxial cable is one of the things radio amateurs often take for granted and is also one of the things least understood by those installing professional systems as well. The higher we go in frequency the more important it is to use the lowest loss cable you can afford. I often see radio amateurs who have installed expensive collinears or beams for 144 MHz and above who are quite happy to use some cheap RG-58 that they picked up at a rally or on eBay. One problem is that they do not understand was the loss factors mean or just how far out for the claimed figures can be. Even good RG-58 should not really be used on two metres or above. Some of the cheap (so called RG-58) can be up to five times as lossy than the standard, which is around 6.1 dB per 100 feet at 144 MHz or 10.4 dB per 100 feet at 440 MHz. In a poor location with a less than perfect antenna that might mean you may never hear anything apart from a mobile station sat on your drive. Things are not usually that bad because usually we keep cables shorter, but it is still a dumb idea to not invest in good quality cables.

Simon M1AVV wrote on his blog recently: A few years ago I made up a cable of black RG8-Mini, about 11 metres long with PL259 plugs on and sometimes used it for portable operation. I thought it would probably be better than RG58 so wasn't too worried about the loss. But this week when I was on Muncaster Fell I had a listen around 433 MHz and didn't hear very much. I could hear more on my handheld's own antenna than on the 2m/70cm mobile whip that I had set up on a pole.When I got home I measured the loss of this 11m of RG8-Mini on 2m and 70cm. With a very short piece of RG58 I was measuring 9 watts on 70cm. Replacing that with my coax cable reduced that to 2 watts! That's about 6.5dB loss or 0.6dB per metre. RG58 is supposed to be better than that on 70cm. At 144 MHz, the loss was about 2dB which is more like RG58 should be.

Next day he wrote: Made a 5 metre pl259 cable this morning from some old rg58 which i'd had for years on 70cm, I was getting 6watts out for 9 watts in so the loss was under 2db or 0.4db per metre. That's better than the 0.6db for that rg8-mini.

So Simon who was not using a low loss cable due to the weight factor when out portable back packing was loosing one third of the power from his rig with RG-58 and seven ninths of the power with the dodgy RG-8X (RG-8 mini), which should have actually been less lossy than the RG-58. The question is do you know how much power you are loosing? and how many dB of attenuation is down to using the wrong cable? Ask yourself as well can I shorten this cable? Do you really need that thirty feet of spare tucked behind the desk just in case you decide to rearrange the shack?

RG-58U should be 6.1 dB per 100 feet at 144 MHz or 10.4 dB per 100 feet at 440 MHz attenuation.

RG-8X should be 4.5 dB per 100 feet at 144 MHz or 8.1 dB per 100 feet at 440 MHz attenuation.

RG-213 should be 2.8 dB per 100 feet at 144 MHz or 5.1 dB per 100 feet at 440 MHz attenuation.

LMR-400 should be 1.5 dB per 100 feet at 144 MHz or 2.7 dB per 100 feet at 440 MHz attenuation.

Westflex 103 should be 1.5 dB per 100 feet at 144 MHz or 2.5 dB per 100 feet at 440 MHz attenuation.

Personally I like to use Westflex 103 and have two 100 metre drums standing by for my big antenna and mast rethink. The only thing to do for back pack portable is to minimise the cable lengths and test each one you make to be sure you are not handicaping yourself before you start. Have a think, why does that chap down the road get far better contacts than you when you both have similar set ups? Is it your choice of coaxial cable?

Some of you will be saying "I'm okay I just do HF and surely RG-58 is good enough there" but on 10 metres the loss is still 2.5 dB, so a weak signal might not be heard and even down on 80 metre it might just be enough to drop a signal bellow you noise floor. Feeder runs on HF tend to be much longer than on VHF and above due to the length of the antenna the feed point will be a long way from the shack and therefore the loss will be greater. On HF open wire feeders are the way to go but that is another story.

UK Supplier of Westflex 103 - http://www.whwestlake.co.uk/

IMHO Antennas Matter

I have very little time for magical antennas that purport to do the impossible. Miracle Whips, Wonder Wand, Buddipoles and the rest are in my humble opinion at best dummy loads for dummies with loads of money and no sense. There is no alternative YET for metal in the air and there is no such thing as a small effective antenna for HF. Antennas can be small or effective but not both at the same time. In this months RadCom the Bilal Isotron for 80/40m is reviewed and the reviewer Steve Nichols G0KYA has his say but some of his comments made me laugh. Far from being objective it sounded like he was making excuses for the manufacturer. Surely we should be able to rely on the magazine produced by the UK's national radio society to tell the truth as it is and not try to avoid saying things that might upset the supplier of the reviewed antenna who also happens to supply pages and pages of advertising.

One thing the article mentioned is that it is a space saver, suitable for people unable to get up an antenna for 80/40m. What is missing is the fact that this antenna looks like something that fell off H.G. Wells' Time Machine and that if you put it up outside firstly the neighbours would object to the eyesore and then they would probably send in the men in little white coats and have you committed.

Later on Steve mentions that the noise level on 80 metres was down three S-points on his off-centre dipole. What that means to anyone with half a brain that it is a deaf antenna. He goes on to say that received signal strengths were down 1-2 S-points. Which seems to indicate a one S point improvement in the signal to noise ratio, but which I believe is due to the attenuation, as I often use an attenuator to work marginal stations when noise is high. Transmitted reports were down 10-20 dB. So in other words only those hearing signals that would be S9 + from a dipole would be heard. As someone who gets a lot of enjoyment out of weak signal working I just cannot see the point. Where is all that lost RF going? It is heating the antenna of course and in my opinion that is all the thing is good for, it is a patio heater.

The worst thing about these joke antennas is the amount of money they cost and always the hook is because you have not got the room for a real dipole. Sorry but tell it to the birds, I have loads of friends with gardens the size of postage stamps and where there is a will there is a way. Wire in the loft, inverted vees and wire hidden around the eaves of the house, to name a few. The usual reason people don't put up proper antennas is the Mrs factor. Blokes are to scared to stand up to the wrath of their wives. "You can take that down" she says and like the pussies they are down it comes. One guy I know put up a new washing line for his wife and she still does not realise it is an antenna five years done the line (so to speak). So even pussies can get an decent wire antenna up for HF if they try.

Further on in this months RadComic there is an item by Peter Dodd G3LDO on the Windom Off-Centre Dipole, which although there have been some ridiculous claims for it over the years is a pretty effective antenna (not magic at all). It is just a pity that it is a review of a commercial antenna, which I find a bit sad when it is so simple to build your own for next to nothing. One thing I picked up on was that Peter said "It was not possible to determine if the balun was a current (as claimed) or voltage transformer because the unit was sealed." Another good reason why you should build your own rather than rely on some plastic enclosed blob with who knows what rubbish inside. One thing that concerns me in the article is the inclusion of a drawing entitled Figure 5: The feed system of a multiband OCFD, showing a method for eliminating antenna (I3) currents. It shows the suspended 4:1 balun connected to a 1:1 balun fed with some 50 ohm coax which drops down to a second 1:1 balun just above ground level. The coax to the shack has an earth wire connected to the braid which then runs to an earth spike in the ground. As drawn there are eight PL-259 connections and assuming a tuner and SWR bridge in the shack that is twelve PL plugs and sockets in the feeder. I can only think that the losses due to these connectors must go somewhere to producing the stated elimination of unwanted currents. It seems to me over complex and likely to be prone to many failures as damp could get in any of these connections and as shown in the drawing without some form of strain relief the connections are most likely to fail as the suspended feeder and multiple baluns swing about in the wind. Not a good design and from my experience keep it simple works best. I would suggest that a better solution is to replace the two 1:1 baluns with simple coaxial choke baluns made from winding the feeder around a plastic formers such as lengths of drain pipe. That would eliminate the need for four PL connectors to start with, but the buy it rather than make it brigade would probably find that too much like hard work. Like any antenna used for multiband it is a compromise but a better compromise than most, however it seems a bit dumb to go overboard trying to make it better only to find you are constantly servicing it or that because of the losses in the multiple connections you are loosing both signal strength and output power.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The message must get through

On Tuesday night at the Mold radio club I heard one of our members ask another who is also a member of Flinshire Raynet group why he did it and what did he get out of it. My answer would have been because it is fun and it makes you feel good when you help somebody and put something back in to your community. I always enjoy seeing other people enjoying themselves, even if a lot of the time I think that maybe those involved with marathons and long distance cycle rides are somewhat masochistic. This person's reply was a little different. He said because it is a different radio challenge. He went on to say that when you normally set up a radio station you are not usually worried about who you speak to, just as long as there is someone to speak to, then in general we are quite happy. We call CQ and we get who we get and then we will if we can try to tweak things to see if we can improve our range. With emergency communications the how does not matter as much as the reliability of the links we establish. The message must always get through. This is the challenge and is what my friend was talking about. Later he said that in the past he has been involved with reconnoitering prior to events and has enjoyed working out where to establish stations to make sure check points could get back to base, either directly or via either a manual QSP or the use of a cross-band repeater. The events Flintshire Raynet has been involved with have in the main been repeats from previous years and we know the terrain well enough to deal with minor route changes, but I remember in the dim and distant past pawing over OS maps looking at topography and trying to work out were to place stations and later driving out to test our theories. It was usually fun. These days with GPS, mobile telephones and no B licensees stuck on VHF only it can be much easier to sort things out. As an aside during the last few events we have found the much maligned Google Street View an invaluable tool in making sure our operators were in the right place. We have been able to show them their station at our pre-event monthly meetings on a laptop with mobile broadband. We still expect everyone to have an OS map and know how to use it, but ain't technology great?

Intermediate Exam 100% Pass

Last night was another chance for celebration at Mold & District Amateur Radio Club as our Intermediate candidates maintained the clubs 100% pass rate for amateur radio examinations. Gone was the quiet confidence that we saw from some of the brighter students leading up to the Foundation exam but when the time came for them to prove their knowledge they had nothing to be nervous of and all passed easily. Not that there was much confidence from them after the exam as they sat waiting for the test papers to be marked, they were all berating themselves as they realised they has got various questions wrong and the answer had come as soon as they walked out of the door. Pretty much like anyone after an exam. The nerves and the furrowed brows soon made way for big smiles and fists punching the air as the results were handed out.

Well done to Adam MW6AFK, Caroline MW6CLF, Pete MW3PPZ, Graham MW6YZF, Mark MW3MTB and Simon M6SCF who will soon have their 2W0/2E0 calls. Adam is my son and Caroline my daughter, which makes it special for me. A big thank you goes out to Keith GW4OKT for all his work and lectures and to the all the other members who have helped out with on air training, kit building and adjudication of the exam.

For anyone interested we are now taking names for the Full Licence Exam course to probably start in January 2011. This will give our new Intermediate passers time to get some experience on the air and for Keith chance for some holidays and to prepare for the Advanced course. At Mold we do not charge for the courses apart from the costs of construction projects and the exam and you will need to buy the course manual from RSGB.

Photograph shows Graham MW6YZF, Mark MW3MTB, Simon M6SCF, Instructor Keith GW4OKT, Pete MW3PPZ, Adam MW6AFK and Caroline MW6CLF with their pass slips after the Intermediate exam Wednesday 21st July 2010.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Plasma TV Interference

Plasma TV's are the Devil's spawn. I really cannot understand anyone buying one unless they have not done their homework. I warned my eldest son but did he listen? No and now he is saying what I told him all along, that it just cannot cope with fast action. Anything moving quickly across the screen leaves a snail trial of colour behind. It is annoying to say the least, but not as annoying as the problem with timebase interference that can be heard on HF up to a half a mile away. I have not been up to my son's house since he got his TV with any radio gear so I do not know if his is one of the dodgy ones, because not all plasma TVs have the problem, just most of them.

Ted Moore G7AIR wrote to me recently because he is having severe QRM on 80/40 and 20 metres. We were pretty sure from his description that it was line timebase radiation from plasma set. It appears every 20 KHz from about 2 MHz through to 30 MHz.

Ted had often dealt with Rod Wilkinson at Ofcom when sorting out special event licences and so he gave him a call. Rod referred Ted to Ofcom's interference department and after filling in a form followed by numerous telephone calls he managed to get their nearest engineers to come out and give a listen. When they arrived Ted turned off his mains supply and ran his Alinco DX 77 on batteries so they could see that the interference was still there. After a few tests and some wandering about the results were inconclusive and they left asking Ted to do some tests and then contact them again. Ted was not overly impressed with the Ofcom engineers even though one appeared to be an amateur himself.

Ted started his own investigations. He travelled 5 miles due north, on the river bank miles away from any power lines or houses, there was no QRM. He then went about the same south of his QTH and tried again, no QRM here either. Then he had a breakthrough, half of the village is on one substation fed overhead lines, while Ted's half is on another substation and fed from underground cables. His substation went off for an hour and the QRM was still there during the power outage. A few days later the electricity company advised everyone that power was to be off for a few hours for tree cutting at other end of the village only. He was listening at 0730 when it went off and so did the QRM. It came back on again at 1430 when they turned the power back on. Ted used a home-made 80m. loop, fashioned from a hula hoop and trimmed with a variable capacitor and was able to locate it as coming apparently from a house some 50 yards away. Ofcom seemed to be unable to do this as their DF equipment appeared to only be for use on VHF. Ted is now struggling to get them to come back but it is proving difficult. One of the problems may be that Ofcom are now no longer in charge of TV and broadcast radio interference as that has been handed over to the BBC.

If only Ofcom would actually police their own rules regarding the emissions from electronic devices problems like Ted is having would not be taking up so much time and effort from everyone involved. If there was any justice in this world the manufacturers of these things would not be allowed to put them on sale anywhere in the EC or at least the UK.

One problem having seen my sons Plasma TV is that they come with a set of ferrite chokes and instructions on where to fit them on the power and other cables. I wonder how many of the problem TVs have had the filters fitted and how many are sat in a draw or were thrown away because the buyer failed to read the instructions or understand why they were there?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

FCC -Emergency Operation Rule Change

It looks like a victory for common sense, under new guidelines, US amateurs employed by non-governmental agencies, such as hospitals, may now participate and operate in drills sponsored by their employer.

In changes released by the FCC on Wednesday 14th July 2010 they say that they intend to "permit Amateur Radio operators to transmit messages, under certain limited circumstances, during either government-sponsored or non-government sponsored emergency and disaster preparedness drills, regardless of whether the operators are employees of entities participating in the drill"

Previously during drills and real emergencies employees were not permitted to operate emergency amateur radio stations although volunteers from outside an organisation could be called in to help. Some US hospitals already have stations set up to cope when normal communications break down but any employee operating such a station, even when they were off duty was previously operating illegally.

For information see the ARRL website.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Open Couch Potato

If I don't post on this blog for a few days I start getting emails and comments when I am on the air, which I guess shows that people are reading what I have to say. I enjoy writing and as I grow older I find more and more things to bitch about. The blog allows me to 'get it out of my system', but that does not stop me being a grumpy old man on the air with my fellow grumpy old men. If we did not have something to moan about what would we do.

Recently my work pattern has been thrown in to a spin due to some serious shut down maintenance and life has been incredibly complicated. Add to that digging a big hole for the ground post of a Tennamast I bought and I have not been on the air much. It is quite often the conversations I have on air that are the inspiration for what goes in to the blog and I so the few times I have had chance to post I have had little to say. When there is something interesting happening I like to either get in there first or put my own spin on a story so recently I have been letting interesting stories slip by because some other blogger already said what I was going to say or I have been too brain dead from work to come up with a different angle.

Hopefully I am coming out of the mad time in to a period of calm and the posting will be more regular. Having said that the holidays are coming and right now I am off to watch the Open golf from St. Andrew's. Although I do hope to work some SOTA stations this weekend my main plan of action (if you can call it that) is to slump on the sofa and watch the best golfers in the world play the worst the Scottish weather can throw at them on the hallowed ground that is the Old Course. I have played the Old Course and I can still recall the shivers I felt running up and down my spine all the way round and the almost magical draw the Swilcan Bridge. If I could have bottled the way I felt it would have been an illegal narcotic. It was a sort of pilgrimage and an almost religious experience. I haven't played golf for a few years but I still like to watch the majors on TV. So apologies if I have not been posting a regularly as I would wish and sorry but for the next couple of days both the radio and the blog are going to take a back seat.

Back soon.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Funeral for a Friend

Today I attended a funeral for a friend. John McHardy was a TV engineer and he was introduced to me as “John The Telly”. John was what one would call a character and everyone in Connah’s Quay seemed to know John and his TV repair shop with windows so stained with tobacco smoke that you could not see through them. John was also one of those people who had ‘the knack’ he could fix or build anything electronic. It also happens that he was a radio amateur with the call GW6AEO.

When I bought my first house I had bought a small black and white TV but the owner of the house I was buying asked me if I had a TV and would I like his old 22 inch colour set as he had a new one. It worked well for a while then it started to play up. I could not afford a new one so I would fix it myself. Sometimes it would be a matter of fiddling with a loose valve or cleaning a contact and it would work for a bit. One day it went bang and I looked at the fried components on one of the boards and knew I had no chance of fixing it. I took it to John’s shop and met this strange chain smoking guy who seemed to have a soldering iron permanently fixed in one hand. He seemed friendly enough but I wondered if I would ever see my TV again. The floor of his workshop was about three inches deep in fag ends.

I waited a week and then went back to the shop. “It’s over there” he said pointing to a huge pile of TVs. “How much do I owe you I asked?” expecting the worst, but John charged me less than the call out fee for any of the usual bunch of TV engineers. Over the next few years I was backwards and forwards to John’s shop with my TV, which really should have been confined to the dump years before.

Then one day I was lent a CB by a workmate and after a day or two I cross polarised the wires to the power supply and smoke bellowed from the rig. The only person I knew might be able to help was John. I took him the rig and asked if he could fix it. It probably took longer for him to undo the screws on the case than to replace the ‘idiot diode’ as he called it. “Don’t do it again!” he said as he handed it back to me. He then only charged me for the price of the diode and I was on my way. John was an inspiration in his understanding of how to gain customer loyalty. He did not try like most people in his business to rip you off.

I took the CB home and the rest as they say is history. My wife and I got hooked on CB joined a club made loads of friends and like a lot of them found out about amateur radio and got licensed. Over the next few years I followed John’s example and replaced more ‘idiot diodes’ than I care to recall and never charged anyone for anything other than the price of the components. Whenever I bought a new TV I would take the old one down to John to use for bits. At one point I had a TV self destruct so badly that I went straight to town and bought a new one. I gave John the old one. A month later my video recorder broke down and I found one of the belts had snapped. I stopped to ask John if he could order me a new set of belts, which he did. As I was leaving I saw my old TV on sale. “You fixed it?” I asked. John smiled and said “Yes, it took a while and was a challenge, but it would have cost you too much for me to fix.” He never liked to let anything beat him.

The way John smoked it would not have surprised me if cancer had got him, but several years ago he had a hacking cough and went to the doctors. The doc suggested he gave up the fags and he never touched another one from that day on. His will power was such that he went from chain smoker to none smoker in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately the damage was done and he had a heart attack for which he had made a reasonably full recovery. The quacks persuaded him that he needed a quadruple heart by-pass and he went in to hospital. He survived the operation and seemed on the road to recovery when he died of complications on the 27th of June. John was 67.

One of the things I have found over the years is that amateur radio (and CB for that matter) bridges the generation gap and as a result for the past 30 years I have had friends who were much older than I was. Consequently I have been reduced to a quivering wreck by the last post played over the graves of a number of nice old chaps who you would not have thought could possibly hurt a fly, only to find out during their eulogy had been war heroes of the type they make films about. I have lost count of the number of funerals I have attended to either represent the club or because they were a true friend, but I feel it was something I had to do. These were the people, who made me what I am today, who showed me that the world is not just full of the selfish self serving bastards I despise so much, but that there are people who care about others and are passionate about what they do. Strange how I met them all through radio? I don’t understand what makes radio people so special or why radio attracts some of the best, but it does. Okay so there is always the exception to the rule, but in general we all like to talk so we are maybe less insular and more understanding than the general population.

Once I looked at my elders and thought they are all real characters and there were no real characters left any more. Now I look around and realise we are the characters now. It was bad enough 30 years ago when I was losing friends much older than I was but now it is creeping closer to being people of my own generation. These days I find I have a lot of friends younger than my own kids. Hopefully they will be there to see me off when I go. Although I have left my family a challenge; I want a Viking funeral, a longboat, dog at my feet and the sound of ride of the Valkyries blowing in the wind as the flames engulf the decks.

John leaves his widow Pat who appears to be a fragile soul. I just hope she can go on without her soul mate. She seemed quite solid today but I fear for her future. I saw another side to one of my other friends today he was a true rock and a much closer friend of John than I was. I think he will be her guardian angel for a while. I hope he is around when he is needed. If you have a faith please pray for her. If not then spare a seconds silence for all friends lost.

May this be the last funeral for a while!

John the Telly may you rest in peace.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Civic Employees Get Ham Radio Training

According to the Hindustan Times the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is planning to promote ham radio technology and are looking for two to three civic employees per ward to train as amateur radio operators. This is after recent floods brought problems in communications when landlines and mobiles did not work.

Indrani Malkani, Malabar Hills Residents’ Association secretary, said: "During the deluge, I realised that alternate communication system is required and I knew about ham technology." Amateur radio clubs are tying up with the BMC to get volunteers trained to operate the ham radio.

Realising that amateur radio operators use private wireless sets to communicate with other hams and can be used to communicate in disasters Municipal Commissioner Swadheen Kshatriya said "Disasters happens due to lack of communication. I am glad to hear that hams would be working in those conditions.” He was issuing certificates, on Saturday, to those who recently underwent training in Malabar Hill.

What a pity the authorities in the UK and elsewhere don’t have the same vision.
According to the article In Mumbai there are 24 ham radio operators. Mumbai formerly called Bombay, is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It is the most populous city in India, is the second most populous city in the world, with a population of approximately 14 million. Somehow I think there may just be a few more radio hams than the corespondant says there is.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Satellite named after CQHQ editor

The Indian student Amateur Radio satellite StudSat is scheduled to launch on Monday July 12 and reception reports of the 437.861 MHz CW beacon would be appreciated.

ROFL. Now why do I so like that name? All your base are belong to us. I so pnwed that sat. Did you see what I did.

Alternative Q-Codes

In a post at QRZ.com Ron AE5NO says that after more than a year on various two-metre repeaters in his local area, that some additional Q signals are needed to facilitate repeater use.

According to old instruction manuals Q-Codes should not normally be used in radiotelephone procedure. Instead, the operating information will be conveyed by concise phrases. But what the heck? This has always been a fun game over the years. My favourite was always QBA - My antenna is BIG! QBA? - How big is your antenna?

There is a good list here... http://www.zerobeat.net/qrp/missingq.html

These are the ones Ron suggested would be handy to have:

QWK Going to work,
QBQ Know a good BBQ place?
QCF Going for coffee
QGA Stopping for gas
QBR I need a beer
QHO Headed for home
QTF Traffic is bad
QHD Going to Home Depot
QXL Picking up the XYL
QKD Picking up kids
QLT I’m late!
QTO On the way to breakfast
QDT Done That
QBT Been there
QDW That Doesn’t Work
QWW That Won’t Work

…and best of all IMHO
QIX The XYL is in the car. Don’t mention anything I just bought

The list has been growing Mark K8MHZ suggests:

QQQ Stuttering John is on Howard Stern right now
QCP Call me on my cell phone (I'll call you on your cell phone)
QFQ Am I full quieting? (You are full quieting)
QIF Can you hear me on the input frequency? (I can hear you on the input frequency)
QWN Do I have wind noise? (You have wind noise)
QAW Do you hear alternator whine? (I hear alternator whine)
QIN Do you hear ignition noise? (I hear ignition noise)
QFB Are you on Facebook? (I am on Facebook)
QWD Operating While Drunk

John WA8LGM is a man after my own heart when he suggests “How about?”

QWB: I've got a six-pack. Do you have any beer?
QGS: I've got Guinness Stout here! You got any Guinness Stout there?
QJF: nope, just Foster's. No real beer.

Jason N8XE added:

QCK: Is your cat sleeping on the keyer? (My cat is sleeping on the keyer)

Heath KE5FRF threw in the excellent:

QVC: I'm sitting in the parking lot at the mall while my wife shops for cheap jewellery

I am sure the list will grow so visit the tread on QRZ.com here.

WFF Expedition to Kulsajsky Lakes

Maybe it is my warped sense of humour but when while perusing QRZ I saw ‘UN DX’ and my imagination went wild. Of course I knew that UN was the prefix for a station in Kazakhstan, but that did not stop me thinking of mounting an expedition to a local pub to work as many people from as short a distance as possible. I then visited the rather nice UN DX website and saw the magical words ‘UN News’. That was it, a vision of an un-news broadcast full of none news…

“Welcome to today’s un-news. Read to you by Adam Hall and Anne Dover.”
“Today in CQ town the grass continues to grow in Steve’s garden despite his best efforts to cut it.”
“An empty beer can in the High Street continues to fascinate next doors cat.”
“Playground remains mostly unused while children are in school.”
“Rumours of fish and chips for tea abound.”
“Town Council may have to have a meeting soon to discuss the lack of meetings recently”.
“Over to Anne with the details on the story about Steve’s grass.”

Okay daft bit over!

The reason I found myself on the UN DX website was they are publicising an expedition to the Kulsajsky National Park in Kazakhstan for WFF (World Flora and Fauna). The Almaty Radio Amateur League is organising to visit the Kulsajsky Lakes in the Almaty part of the National Park (UNFF-008) they will be using the call sign UP44Q. Andrey Kvochkov (UN8GU), Alexey Pomazkin (UN9GG) and Michael Chirkov (UN8GC) will be joined by others on the expedition. They plan to work 80 to 10 m CW/SSB and Digimode.

Kulsajsky Lakes are made up of three mountain lakes connected by the river Kulsaj. The first Kulsajsky lake is the largest of the three. It is at height of about 1800 metres. The second Kulsajsky lake is at height of 2400 metres. The third small Kulsajsky lake is in immediate proximity to a snow area. The height above sea level about 2700 m. The Big Almaty lake is a water basin formed by a dam on the river Big Almatinka. It is the basic source of water for the city of Alma-Ata.

Photographs of the area on the web show it is an area of stunning natural beauty. I wish them ever success and envy them somewhat.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

National Hamfest 2010 Tickets on sale

It ain't no Dayton
It ain't no Friedrichshafen either
This is the National Hamfest!
"All I wanna do is work a little DX before I die!"
Says the man next to me out of nowhere

It's apropos of nothing
He says his name's William but I'm sure
He's Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy
And he's plain ugly to me
So I bet he has worked loads of DX, but never had a day of fun in his whole life

Okay you sad ugly buggers it is time to have some fun or you could save your money up for the 2010 National Hamfest. Apparently it is even bigger than last year (the tables are going to be six inches further apart (just kidding)) and tickets are on sale now.

You receive a discount if you buy your ticket on-line in advance - Saving £1.00 on each ticket booked before the 20th September 2010. Under 16s are free when accompanied by a paying adult. Prices are £3.50 in advance or £4.50 on the gate.

There are further discounts for multiple purchases. If you buy four tickets you get one extra for free and if you buy ten you get three free. So well worth pooling your purchase or getting up a minibus from your local radio club.

Tables in the carboot area can be booked for only £7.50 but it is strictly private sales only and there are charges for extra tables and trailers. See the website for details.

The event is on 1st & 2nd October 2010 at the Newark Showground.

National Hamfest - Website

Lincoln Short Wave Club – Website

Radio Society of Great Britain – Website

Regular readers of this blog will know what I said about National Hamfest last year and it is still on the wrong side of the country, I still have no intention of going until it reaches Dayton/Friedrichshafen proportions and I think the name is a bit pompous, but give the organisers their due, they are trying hard to make this the premier UK ham event and seem to have been listening to criticisms. Good luck to those involved.

Apologies to Sheryl Crow.

Android phone Repeater Range application

There are already tonnes of applications for the Apple iPhone, which are either designed for or useful to the radio amateur, but just as I am thinking I would really like to have one of those along comes Android and people start coming out with useful stuff for that too.

One such is M3OYQ’s Repeater Range. It is a free application designed to run on the Android mobile phone platform and works by listening to the on-board GPS and displaying the bundled repeater database as a simple list sorted by the range, it also displays the bearing from your current location. The list updates every 30 seconds making it useful whilst travelling. On selecting a particular repeater from the list, another screen is displayed allowing you to view or update the information relating to the selected repeater, such as Input/Output frequencies, CTCSS Tone, Maidenhead Locator, Latitude, Longitude, and a status setting.
Version 1.0 is really a proof of concept and has quite limited functionality, however if there is enough interest the author will develop the app further.

The problem as I see it is the lack of up to date information on the UK repeater network and that if it is to be truly a success it needs to have up to date information on all amateur radio repeaters worldwide. There have been one or two bugs such as the application crashing when the handset is rotated to landscape, but I am sure this will soon be sorted out.

Best of luck to Noel M3OYQ with his project.

You can download the app at Noel’s website here.

World Radiosport Team Championship 2010

The World Radiosport Team Championship 2010 starts today in Russia near to Moscow. The event is being run by Soyuz Radioljubiteley Rossii, The Russian National amateur radio society. 50 teams from all over the world will compete in this premier contest. Visit the WRTC 2010 website http://www.wrtc2010.ru/ to find out all the details. The competition will be held in conjunction with the 2010 IARU HF World Championship. Rules for any participant can be found at http://www.arrl.org/iaru-hf-championship. The contest starts 1200z July 10 and ends 1200z July 11.

Special calls in the range of R31A to R39Z will be assigned to the competitors. A lottery prior to the contest is run for the assigning of calls, stations, and referees. The call will be given to the teams by their referee, at the station 15 minutes before the start of the contest.Good luck to Andy Cook G4PIQ from Ipswich and Dave Lawley G4BUO from Tonbridge of the United Kingdom team.

Now there may be one or two of you who are thinking like me what the heck has radio contesting got to do with sport and I have to agree with you on that to some extent, but having tried recently to compete seriously in the RSGB 80m Club Championships for the first time I can say it takes some stamina, both physically and mentally. I was a quivering wreck after an hour and a half and struggled to speak for a short while afterwards. This stuff is much more serious and these guys are going to keep up a pace that makes my QSO rate look pathetic for 16 times as long. Hats off to them.

There is real radiosport out there in the form of radio direction finding contests that resemble orienteering with a radio and a directive antenna and is radio contesting any less of a sport than say darts or snooker. So it leads me to thinking, could we as radio amateurs use this to our advantage? After all darts and snooker receive massive sponsorships. Darts and snooker get sponsors because they are widely watched on TV and ham radio contests are unlikely to generate much interest with viewers, but some quite minority sports that are not covered on TV get massive grants from sports councils and lottery funds, so why not amateur radio?

The plan then is we all start changing the names of our amateur radio clubs and societies to ‘Sportradio Club’. We then only need to run one event a year, such as a radio direction finding contest (AKA a foxhunt) and then we can all apply for some of these grants from the government and get our club shacks kitted out like GCHQ.

Friday, 9 July 2010

London Repeaters Now Live on the Net

For people like me who hate to be detached from their radios there are already a number of live audio streams that can be found on the Internet. The latest one to come to my attention is from GB3OK & GB7OK repeaters in London.

I noticed a post about it a couple of days ago on QRZ.com by Tony G1HIG the repeater keeper for the GB3OK echolink node (280040), but never had chance to check it out until earlier today. The streamed audio quality is excellent and I had the chance to listen to Tony as he made his way home from work and he was telling someone how successful the post on QRZ had been at getting people to their new website. I must say the website is looking good and is both useful and informative. If nothing else the stream is something to listen to when conditions are poor and there is no body around locally or when you should be working.

GB3OK is the London UHF repeater on echolink node no: 280040

GB7OK is the London 2 Metre DStar repeater which can also be found on the internet gateway.

Information regarding these two London repeaters can be found at their website www.gb3ok.com or on twitter and facebook which are updated regularly.

Link to repeaters live audio feed.

Link to Twitter.

Link to Facebook.

Other favourites of mine are GB3PZ and the HF SDR (Software Defined Radio) receivers in the Netherlands at the University of Twente run by Amateur Radio Club ETGD PI4THT http://websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901/

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A history of TW Radios

There are few manufacturers of amateur radio gear left outside of the far East any more and when talk of the past starts and nostalgia kicks we usually hear talk of KW and Collins, but sometimes someone will mention a some make less well known.

I was talking to my friend Mike G4BLH who lives up near Nelson in Lancashire on two metres today and he asked if I was interested in old radio gear. At first I thought he must be trying to off-load some ancient piece of kit, probably an AM transmitter that puts out 1 watt and is the size of a small bungalow, but he wasn't. Mike has been investigating the history of TW Radios and his website, while being still being worked on, makes for interesting reading. There are gaps and if you can help with either photographs, manuals, information or magazine articles Mike would like to hear from you. His email address is on the website.

Tom Withers G3HGE was the man behind TW Electronics Limited and the brand ran from 1958 up until 2000. This innovative British company pioneered the first 'All in one box' amateur radio transceivers for VHF. Where they went others soon followed and this small family business paved the way for the Japanese black boxes we have today. TW made its name by supplying well made VHF and UHF equipment to amateurs at affordable prices. The flagship rig was the TW communicator but that was only a small part of the story. The business started in a fifteen by eight foot shed and the rest of the fascinating story is as they say history.

Visit http://www.twradio.co.uk/ to find out more.

Monday, 5 July 2010

VHF Field Day 2010

National Field Day was meant to involve operating a portable amateur radio station to simulate disaster response, but it has evolved in to an excuse (if one was ever needed) for consuming large quantities of alcohol and barbecued food, while playing radio with friends. The RSGB VHF Field Day took place this weekend, 3 and 4 July and up and down the country radio societies and clubs were out if force.

According to G4ILO, "Conditions could hardly have been worse for the RSGB's VHF Field Day contest this weekend. Yesterday I worked a few southern Scottish portables on 2m and 6m, plus the Lincoln Radio Club station G5FZ/P on 2m, and that was that. There did not appear to be a shred of Sporadic-E on either 2m or 6m, according to DX Sherlock. 6m was so quiet my K3 S-meter wasn't even moving." and on Sunday when he turned on he tuned both 2m and 6m without hearing a single signal.

I was not available on Saturday, due to having work, but the weather here was fine so it should have been okay and going by some of the serial numbers I got early on Sunday it was. I should have been on nights on Friday and Saturday but I was needed on days, which meant I could play radio on Sunday. It was a pity I did not have more advanced notice of this because I would have made arrangements to do something, possibly involving the guys from the radio club and some higher ground. As it was I stayed in the shack and tried to give away as many points as I could.

I stuck to 2 metres SSB as I have a fault on my 6m antenna, I don't have a beam for 70cms up and I heard nothing on 4m or 23cms. I could have put up my Delta loop for 6m but I was having fun on 2 and would have missed out while I was erecting the portable mast for it.

We had high winds which made the beam swing about a bit and a couple of short showers but I had lots of quality contacts on 2m SSB. Most of what I worked was around 150 miles and furthest 240 miles, there seemed much fewer locals than I expected. Maybe they were all out just on the Saturday? In between I worked a few SOTA stations on 2FM and HF for an all round good day. There seemed to be more EI and GI stations on than I am used to (which is good) but most of the propagation seemed to be towards Southern England. The furthest North was Northumberland and no GMs at all which surprised me. G4ILO suggested the GMs all packed up and went home because of the heavy rain and gale force winds that covered most of Scotland and down in to the Lake District. GD was sadly missing as well but at 19:53, well after the end of VHF Field Day and the Backpackers Contest I worked Rob GD4RQJ/P on Mull Hill in the Isle of Man on 2m SSB. Mull Hill is GD/GD-005 for SOTA.

After the contest finished I heard one station tell his pal "We haven't done much radio, we have been too busy eating burgers and drinking beer!", which about sums up what it is all about, having a good time. Field days are about socialising as much as they are about radio and when the crunch comes if there is an emergency it is always easier to work with people you know. Ham radio is not an emergency service the way some would have you think, but it is a group of concerned people who can help out when push comes to shove. My concern is that these days the average ham will be stopped from doing their bit to help if they are not part of a group like RAYNET, because of insurance and public safety issues. The bureaucratic and legal nightmare we find ourselves in has become so counter productive that it will and has cost lives because those that could help were prevented from doing so. In a sense the idea behind Field Day has been lost, but the spirit remains. If you were not involved this year now is the time to start planning next year's and if you don't make too many contacts what the hell, light the barbecue, chill the beer and have fun.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

New Zealand Internet Connected Ham Radio

The world as we know is shrinking. It may be a coincidence but someone in France gets a bee in his bonnet about D-Star and the whole New Zealand amateur community gets stung. The same goes for the Spies scandal in the US, all of a sudden anyone with people named Vlad, Boris, Ivan or Sasha on their Facebook friends list are immediately suspicious. Now if you also happen to be a radio ham with lots of transmitting equipment and antennas and a room full of computers there is nothing down for you. That's me screwed then ;0)

According to the New Zealand ART news page; The Ministry has raised some concerns with NZART about IRLP, D-Star, Echolink, APRS and similar modes as they do not appear to fit within our current licence (GURL) conditions.

Concerns raised include:

*the use of unattended transmitters and unlicensed digipeaters for APRS and

*Amateurs based overseas operating (via the Internet) a NZ amateur station.

The ALO, Don Wallace ZL2TLL is currently putting together a paper on this topic and would appreciate input from interested amateurs. Anyone interested in contributing please send an email to [email protected] with "Internet Connected Amateur Radio" in the subject line.

It would be great if it was just a case of 'we need to bring the licensing conditions in line with current technology', but when did any bureaucrat ever care about anything other than wielding power by restricting and regulating. The power of the press was always just about containable but those that do evil are running scared of the power of the people and the freedom that the Internet brings. We either fight tooth and nail for every little corner of our ability to communicate without interference or unreasonable restriction or we are sent back to the dark ages. Technology can either free us or enslave us, it is our choice. The next revolution will not start with guns or bombs but with a comment on Facebook or a blog post. That is the reason they don't want you to be able to connect to the Internet via radio, because they could not trace a rebel rouser via something as traceable as an IP address or a telephone number.

Sometimes when you are paranoid they are out to get you!

When the seagulls follow the tractor the farmer should cover his head and we should all watch out the crap does not spread.