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, 27 November 2010

Ham Jam Man Looses Van and more

Ofcom has successfully prosecuted one Clive McMurray, aged 63, from Lambert Street, off Beverley Road in Hull City Centre for jamming Amateur Radio frequencies. A big hurray for Ofcom, we never doubted you. Well actually we did, but this is fantastic news. Just another couple of hundred other morons nationwide to nail then. Please Ofcom knock yourself out and nail the bastards heads to the floor.

Interesting is the age 0f this idiot. You would think at his age he would have something better to do with his time. Everyone calls them 'Lids' and the implication is that it is not just kids that cause a nuisance of them selves on the air but as in this case and my own experiences show it is not just young bored teens that do this sort of thing. Often it is someone who has an axe to grind against another radio amateur or organisation such as a repeater group but also it can be some guy who has just lost the plot due to some kind of mental problem. Some of these guys started keying up, being abusive and playing music on CB thirty years ago and are still at it. They moved to amateur radio because keying a mike on an unused band does not get a response.

The RSGB report he was sentenced to:

Four months imprisonment suspended for 18 months (from a rope I hope)

A curfew between 7pm and 7 am for 3 months via a means of electronic tagging (Should have been 24 hours for the full 18 months)

Forfeiture of his van and radio transmitters, to Ofcom. (Awesome! The van as well)

See the links on Southgate ARC Newsline for more details.

Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy

Learning Morse has been over the years a chore for most radio amateurs. For some it was a means to an end and yet for others it has instilled in them a great passion and there is nothing more infuriating to someone like me who has got close but fallen by the wayside to be preached at by those that love CW.

It is true that since the dropping of the code requirement more people than ever are keen to have a go. The access to the HF bands for many former B class licensees has made them realise just what they were missing. CW gets further and when conditions are bad it still gets through when SSB fails. A good CW operator can even beat digimodes with error correction in poor conditions because the imagination lets a human being fill in the gaps, although if predictive texting type techniques are employed the gap is narrowed.

There is lots of advice on the Internet and in books about learning the code and now thanks to the generosity of Carlo Consoli, IK0YGJ his book 'Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy' is available free to down load as a PDF file here http://www.qsl.net/ik0ygj/enu/index.html in both English and Italian.

My thanks to Thomas AB9NZ for bringing it to my attention via his blog 'The Radiotelegrapher' , which is essential reading for all hams not just the bass pounders of you out there despite only having been online 15 days. Thomas says of the book... It's a beautiful piece of work. I especially enjoyed his study of "amateur telegraphy from a linguistic perspective" where he poses the question "CW the Esperanto of the third Millennium?". The book is packed with methods and exercises to help the beginner learn the code. Mr. Consoli then raises the bar and teaches the reader how to shed his limits and become the code.

ANYTONE 5189 4M FM First Impressions

Due to my failure to obtain one of these 70MHz amateur radio rigs to review on CQHQ I have with kind permission reproduced a blog post from G8UBJ's Hamdy Spot go there to see the rest of the photographs. This is followed by an email from Paul M0LRE with his first impressions. The Anytone and MyDel are the same rig by the way.

The ANYTONE 5189 4M FM Mobile

Martin Lynch and Son have taken delivery of their first batch of the new ANYTONE 5189 Transceivers. These cover 4M and output is about 40 Watts on high power. I think the specification is 60 watts so some internal tinkering may be considered in the future? That said the 20 watts difference is not great and probably won´t make a difference on the air.The radio come nicely packaged with a double fused power lead, fist microphone, mobile mount and of course a fairly easy to read manual. The manufacturer is Qixiang Electronics (Never heard of them!)

I have only just bought this today (24th November), one of the initial batch of ten. Initial on the air testing has been positive.It has a very large integrated heat sink. I imagine that this can actually dissipate the power on 60 watts.

The rig is a little sensitive to SWR, changing the coax length by 1/4 wavelength resulted in just shy of 40 watts out.

I took a few photos of the display, with and without the flash. As you can see its not huge, but acceptable for mobile use. Still no S meter...sigh!

Tuning of the VFO is on the front panel dial (Finally no more up down buttons!). The dial doubles for volume if you press it once. The squelch is on a menu (Can´t have em all....) but can be defeated by a button press for those DX contacts?

On the air reports were good although the default deviation of 25Khz was too wide and had to be turned down to 12.5K

Sensitivity was slightly better than my ASCOM SE550 and the integral speaker was very clear and produced good audio. the microphone is a good size and comes with up/down buttons for mobile use. It connects to the rig using the RJ45 type connector, similar to most modern rigs.

There is a speaker jack at the rear.

This is one of the first batch and the next batch should be in before Christmas. At £149.95 they aren´t giving them away but if you compare it to the Yaesu FT-2900 single band 2M transceiver its not too expensive and hand helds aside the only new 4M transceiver available on the market (So put it on your Christmas list now?)

Email from Paul M0LRE with his first impressions.

Hi ,

Just thought I'd drop you a quick line to say that LAM also have the said radio on there website http://www.lamcommunications.net/shop/product_info.php?products_id=621

I actually have one, on 4m and although I've only had it a couple of days and not really had much chance to put it through it's paces yet, first impressions are it knocks spots off a Garex or AKD 4001.

The radio looks good for the price and is slightly smaller than my current radio for 4m (Motorola GM350) and is putting out a Swr/power meter measured 40watts ( I thought that the 60watts was a little optimistic, but still more than my GM350 which is set for 25 watts)

On receive it seems to perform quite well and as well as my Motorola (I can hear everyone even at a distance I can hear on the Motorola to the same levels) sorry, it's not any more technical than that but I don't have the test kit and I've not really had a chance to use it much yet.

As the spec states 3 bandwidth settings, Mines set to narrow as you'd expect for 12.5khz channels and again sounds good against and GM350, It has a quite large microphone, but still fits in the hand well and also has channel/frequency up and down buttons which is handy when mobile.

There are lots of memories although I've not set any up as I feel that you can get away with having the radio in VFO mode for 4m. There are the usual features, that you'd find modern PMR kit (CTCSS, Rpt shift, etc) again a bit redundant for our 4m band plan.

These are just a few of my first impressions, to round up I like it, it seems to work well and would definitely have one over a AKD/Garex if I were starting out on the band. As you've said on your blog, I'm sure they'll sell well.

73 Paul W M0LRE

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Ham Radio in Computer Game

I have over the years taken pleasure in seeing ham radio in mainstream media. Spotting amateur radio equipment in movies and television has been a fun sideline from time to time. The introduction of the hard drive recorder (in my case a Sky plus box) has made it easier to freeze frame the scenes with the radio gear in to try and identify it. The last fun thing was when Stig on Top Gear was learning Morse code and we all found out that he liked cheese and Strictly Come Dancing was no quite his thing. What I have searched the net for is a definitive list of films and TV programs that feature such snippets. It is a bit of fun to see just how wrong they producers can get it.

A little while ago I was tipped off by my son Adam 2W0DPI to a very addictive game called Portal. I loved the game but did not dare get started as I knew just how much time it would cost me. This will be old news to any hardcore gamer (I doubt many of my readers are), but there are some radios (about 29) in the game portal. Turning the radios on, by completing a puzzle task, all you get is noise, at least that is what most people thought, but the noise is easily identifiable to the amateur radio community as Slow Scan Television or SSTV. Decoding the images left most people almost as baffled, but it turns out the images are a taster for the sequel, inventively called Portal 2. Below is a video showing a couple of the images being decoded.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Fractal Antennas

I have been convinced for some time now that the future of antennas was with the use of designs based on fractals. My searches on the Internet have always left me feeling there was something someone was not telling me. This video that appeared on Southgate ARC Newsline seems to confirm that despite my limited knowledge of the subject my suspicions were correct. I wonder how far we are away from that magical one antenna for all bands or even sleeves like that in the video to increase the bandwidth and gain of our co-linears. Watch the video and see what you think. I suspect also that the word fuzzy may appear with regard to wideband antennas in the near future too.

Fractal Antenna Systems, Inc. www.fractenna.com

Improving APRS Coverage in North Wales

I received an email about a an amateur radio project that is trying to improve APRS coverage around North Wales. We are looking for donations of any unwanted TNCs or other packet equipment. Please contact either myself or any of the calls in the email if you like me have anything that has been gathering dust for ten years or can help by setting up a station at your home or works QTH. My details are correct on QRZ.com. The email is below...

Hi Steve,

I am working on a project with John GW4BVE and many others (including John MW1FGQ) to try and improve APRS coverage around North Wales, especially around the Snowdonia area.

At the moment we are short of hardware and I was hoping you might be willing to circulate an email around the club members asking for donations of old packet radio equipment. Right now we are in need of one or more packet TNCs. Age or condition are unimportant and I'm sure that there are one or two lying unused and unwanted as mainstream packet radio is rarely used these days.

As you may know, in it's simplest form, APRS enables real-time display of a station's position on a map - for example John BVE's activation of Cadair Berwyn today:


(In the drop-down box near the top right, change from map to terrain)

There can be much more to it than that, from simply adding the frequency being used at the time, to full-blown inter-station real-time text messaging (great for Raynet).

The SOTA community is currently taking a lot of interest in APRS, but a lot depends on having a decent network with good coverage and it is this we are aiming to help achieve.

Of course, the APRS network is available to all amateurs, so everyone could potentially benefit.

Many Thanks,

Ian GW8OGI et. al.

New CQHQ project

I was on YouTube looking at amateur radio videos when I came across this message; "YouTube Groups will no longer be available starting December 1, 2010."

YouTube already screwed up the groups feature a while ago and it crossed my mind that maybe there was another way. The SOTA Group on YouTube had over 300 videos at one time. It was great because unlike a general search for SOTA you did not get unrelated garbage and the group admin (Richard G3CWI) could filter out anything irrelevant and ban undesirables from posting to the group.

I have started SOTA TV which is basically a video blog linking the hundreds of Summits on the Air videos that people have posted to YouTube. This is not an official SOTA site and there is no content stored on this site. If you object to your content being included on this site it will of course be removed, but you should consider in the first instance disabling the ‘embed’ feature on YouTube. The purpose of this site is to bring together videos from YouTube and elsewhere posted about or by SOTA Activators, Chasers and others, covering Summits on the Air activations and related subjects. Videos relating to amateur radio, antenna design and hill walking may be included. The site is hosted on Wordpress rather than here on Blogger due to it being easier to embed the videos using their system, just one line of code. Here hoping it is well received, I hope everyone likes it. There are already over 100 videos on the site for you to watch.

Review of MyDEL AT-5189 4m Mobile Delayed

It seems I may have shot my self in the foot when it comes to MyDEL AT-5189 4m Amateur radio. No sooner as I had seen these rigs on sale via the Martin Lynch website than I posted about them on here. Maybe I should of kept my mouth shut. I just received an email from Lynch’s which says; “Unfortunately this item has sold out and we do not have a lead time for the next delivery.”, Oh dear! I guess I should learn my lesson. I often hear a SOTA station and put a spot for them on SOTAWatch before I get to work them. Occasionally this backfires and fail to get through the resultant pile up before they go QRT or their batteries die. Maybe I should be more selfish but I don’t think that is going to happen. I will just have to wait , but I can take comfort in the thought that maybe my post had something to do with them selling out, this blog has quite a few readers now.

If anyone out there has bought one of these rigs I would be interested in your findings. Please email your review to mycall at gmail dot com (do the usual) and I can get something on the blog.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Police Radio System too Expensive to Use

Police officers are being ordered to send texts rather than speak on their radios because of the sums charged by the firm that owns the police communications network. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1329538/Police-told-send-text-messages-expensive-speak-radios.html#ixzz15sLC4ix0

More proof if ever it was needed that Airwave may not hold up in a real emergency. As someone in the know said to me the other day "It is just a fancy mobile phone except more expensive and not as reliable". Thanks officer and your Range Rover was kind of cool too.

Airwave’s pre-tax profit was £170 million, a 26 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

A senior officer has said it costs Dorset £2 a second whenever we go over the limit.

It just keeps getting better...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

FT-817 Power Connector Solution

The Yaesu FT-817 is probably the most important ham radio to be released in resent years. A whole amateur radio shack shrunk in to something that I could loose in my wife's handbag. It got millions of us out of the dark dingy Hobbit holes we affectionately called home and in to the countryside, out of the office chair and in to our hiking boots and out of our cars, trucks, and pickups into the thin mountain air. Plenty of us soon abandoned the 817 for more powerful rigs or something home built, but it was the 817 that started us on the portable radio adventure.

The 817 is a brilliant piece of electronic engineering but like anything it has its faults. Number one on the list would have to be it is not waterproof. Why Yaesu made a rig ultimately suited for portable work and then neglected to make it waterproof I will never know. There are other faults too but the main one is the flimsy power connector, which has given many of its users grief over the years. Finding a replacement power lead has been difficult to start with due to it not being a very common size. The connector you need is 4.0mm outer and 1.7mm inner diameter.

I had wanted two such connectors myself a while ago. One for connecting to a shack power supply and another with Anderson Power Poles to connect to the sealed lead acid batteries I use portable. I had no desire to butcher the one that came with it, that was fitted with a in car type plug that fits into the cigar lighter socket. My good friend Andy MM0FMF came to my rescue as he had bought a load of leads at one time and had a few left.

The latest victim of the of odd sized power connector was blogger Julian G4ILO and it was one of his commentators Graham VE3GTC lead me to The Shoppe at Wulfden and an intriguing solution to wear and tear on the Yaesu FT-817's power connector.

Way back in the June 2005 issue of QST magazine there was an article by Phil Salas AD5X, entitled "Input Voltage Conditioner - and More - for the FT-817". It details a project to add reverse voltage, over voltage, and over current protection, a more convenient power connector (Anderson PowerPoles) and an external voltage regulator to take the much of the heat dissipation from the inside of the rig to the outside. For over five years N1BQ has offering this project as a kit. So far the FT817 community has purchased just under 4000 of these kits at a price that should not break the bank. With this kit failure of the connector is highly unlikely and with the other advantages I wonder how it took so long to come to my attention.

All the details are included in these documents PDF (700KB) or Word DOC (200K) so if you have the bits there is no need to buy the kit, but The Shoppe at Wulfden offers a Basic Kit for $15 plus postage or an Enhanced Kit for $21 plus postage. Postage for the basic kit to the UK is about $5.00.

M6AKV's Rybakov 806 Antenna Variation

The experimental spirit of amateur radio lives on! I argued with someone recently about whether or not your average ham was an innovator, I am convinced that most of us are. We may never make that Earth shattering breakthrough that changes the world but each little thing we do has the potential to inspire someone else's Earth shattering moment. A couple of ideas lately have fired me off thinking "That is a great idea but how can I do that better?"

I was reading the forums on Junksale when I came across Andy M6AKV's unusual portable HF antenna solution. Read about it here. Andy has taken a telescopic fishing pole and wound it with sticky back copper tape and used a 9 to 1 balun to produce an interesting variation on the Rybakov 806 Multiband Antenna that is still one of the most popular articles on this blog even though I wrote it in May 2009. Even if this antenna is not as good as Andy would have us believe, it works and proves that the experimental spirit of amateur radio is alive and kicking.

The sticky back copper tape Andy uses is sold as Slug Tape. I wish I had found this years ago. I paid stupid prices for tiny rolls of sticky back copper to repair circuit boards. I could have done hundreds with one roll of this slug tape. I have in the past made a 2m on glass J-pole and quad from aluminium flashing tape, but had trouble connecting the feeder. This stuff solders brilliantly and would be great for stealth antennas on glass, stuck to drain pipes or the boards on the eaves of a house. A coat of paint would make them invisible. Also great in glass fibre boats or cars for making a ground plane or radials or for making protatype circuit boards. The brain is ticking over and I am sure I can no longer live without a few rolls of this stuff in the shack. I just have to try Andy's design for myself too. I am thinking 10m pole for a loaded 80m vertical. Thanks Andy!

New Four Metre Alternative AT-5189

Interest in the 70MHz (4m) amateur radio band has been on the increase recently. It started with various ex-PMR rigs like the Ascom SE550 flooding the market. It was amazing to see the prices of those used rigs shoot up from were you could buy 10 for a fiver to where they are today, lucky to get a battered one for under £60 on eBay. Then along came the Wouxun KG-699 4m handie and suddenly a whole new market opened up. It started by word of mouth and SOTA activators keen to do something different latched on to them. Previous ex-PMR bricks meant 4m portable was a rarity, not anymore it wasn't. Admittedly the Icom IC-E90 had been around a while but take up was slow due to the high price and the fact that most would be buyers probably had a dual band handie they were perfectly happy with. The Wouxum was cheap and cheerful and did a great job for a small outlay. When I finally saw one had been thoroughly tested and was as RF clean as anything the majors made I got one too. I was blown away and told anyone who would listen and probably quite a few who wouldn't to get one.

Perusing the Martin Lynch website a few days ago I spotted the MyDEL ML-5189 or AT-5189 4m Mobile in their list of new products. This rig is another made in China and badged under various names but this is the first time I have seen them on sale in the UK. The rig is actually available in 66 to 88MHz, 135 to 175MHz and 400-490MHz versions. The 4m and 2m versions are 60w/25W/10W output and the 70cms version 40w/25W/10W. Martin Lynch and Son only seem to have the 4m version at present. They say in the advertisment; "With the massive increase in 4m activity thanks to the new Wouxun KG-699 4m handie, along comes this new 60W 4m mobile". I wonder if this rig will sell as well as well as the Wouxun?, at £149.95 it may.

There has already been some discussion on various forums about this radio, but no-one has yet bought one to give it a good once over. Is it as good or better than the Ascom SE550? What does the test gear say about its output? Hopefully the truth will out soon, before the sceptic dismiss it out of hand as a bit of junk. Maybe I will put one on the Christmas list and try it for myself. It can't be any worse than my AKD 4001 can it? Sorry Garex! It got me on the band but it really is a pile of crap.

Update: I just ordered one so a review coming here soon.

More Foundation Licence Successes

It is with great pleasure that I can announce that the Foundation Licence Course run at Mold and District Amateur Radio Club from Wednesday 6th October 2010 culminated on with five successful passes last Wednesday 17th November. Unfortunately there were two candidates who only just failed. As they only attended for the examination and not the course we can consider our 100 percent pass rate intact. With a little help and encouragement I am sure these two candidates will pass a retest in a few weeks time.

We also plan to run a Full Licence course in the new year. Anyone wishing to join the course is welcome to do so, just turn up at the club on a Wednesday night and we will take your details or contact Steve GW7AAV or Keith GW4OKT (details correct on QRZ.com).

Update: Callsigns- Paul Edwards M6AKF, James Fairbrother MW6WXM and Dan Marshall MW6BUT, waiting to hear from Anne Tipping and her son, 14 yr old Tom Tipping.
Retest for the other two candidates is 22nd December, good luck ladies.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Sprint, The Storm and The Shock

If you had told me not so long ago that I would be enjoying ham radio contesting I may well have not believed you. I could never have seen myself doing the 59 next thing, I am after all a bit of a self opinionated motor mouth. My normal modus operandi is to put a kettle of water on top of the rig at the start of an over and when the whistle blows it is time for someone else to have a go.

I suppose it all started when I got in to Summits on the Air. SOTA guys are a friendly lot and usually if the sun is shining and they are not trying to do half a dozen hill in one day then they have time to pass a few pleasantries even if they do not tend to engage in long drawn out waffles. Getting on the hills I realised that I needed the batteries to last and tried to keep things brief. As SOTA became more popular I got better at handling the pile ups, so much so that one or two people actually said nice things about how I handled them compared to when I started. To be honest more said the same thing about my wife Helen GW7AAU's advancing skill, but who is keeping score?

It was one of the SOTA stalwarts John GW4BVE that got me into the contesting thing. I got an email asking if I wished to join a contest group and thought "What the heck" if I don't try I will never know if I enjoy it and I also thought that seeing how there is no room for anything else when a contest is on the "If you can't beat them, you might as well join them". It made a lot more sense being part of a team than going it alone, because I did not have the 'Top Gun' station that I needed to be competitive. In a team I could hone my skills and have a chance at being part of winning something.

We started off with the RSGB's 80m Club Championship but because of my shift pattern I only got a couple of the monthly evening contests, but to my surprise I found them fun. Hard work but fun. I was hooked. I had for years joined in the 2m SSB contests to give away points but I started to take them a little more serious and I tried to get on for all the VHF and above contests. I still haven't entered a log for those, maybe it is that when I have 60 contacts and some of the stations are giving me serials numbers around 270 I get a bit put off. It has made a difference because these days I don't just work the locals and if I don't hear the south coast and Scotland during a 2m contest I feel cheated.

When the 80m Club Championship ended for the year the Travelling Waves Contest Group turned their attention to the 80m Sprint. Last night I was finally able to participate in the 80m Sprint at last. I have not been available for the other rounds due to my shift pattern and other commitments. I feel sure that someone out there does not want me to join in. I must say that I did not have a clue what to expect, but that is the most fun I have had yet in a contest.

For those that don't know (and I didn't until last night) a sprint works a bit like a relay race. If you call CQ on a frequency and get a contact you must change frequency after that contact. It sounds like it should be chaos but it is not. In fact it is a quite gentlemanly affair. I answer a CQ call, we exchange serial numbers and our names and then the other station says something like "The frequency is all yours" and you call CQ. When you make a contact the process is repeated and you hand over to the newcomer. So when everything is going well it is a sequence of search and pounce then call CQ. Rinse and repeat and so on. Strange that after all these years on the air I did not know that. It is probably something to do with the fact that I usually turn off when I hear a contest on.

My first problem last night was that I lost about twenty minutes due to a late meal ten minutes in. The meal would have been out of the way if it was not for mother-in-law problems, she must always telephone as we are about to sit down to eat. After that it went well until during the last half hour things got a bit sparse, with no one answering CQs and the only stations calling were ones already worked or too weak to hear.

I had a few problems with the logging as there is no option in Winlog32 for this particular contest. Consequently the required names were left out when I exported my log to the format required. I first tried copy and pasting the names into the report box in the log but that only worked for names five letters or under. In the end I opened the Cabrillo file in a text editor and kept my fingers crossed that it would work, fortunately it did.

I did not have any record breaking numbers in the log but this time I only found one duplicate, that was an improvement. I had recorded the contest on the PC using Audacity this time and was able to correct a dodgy call I had entered. I had got the call right during the QSO but transposed the letters when I entered it. I later found a couple of transposition errors from my scratch pad to the computer log as well. I can see room for improvement but it seemed to go okay. There were several weak stations who I could have worked with a lower noise level, better antenna or receiver and I am starting to wonder what difference a straight 80m dipole might have over my 80/40m trap dipole. Unfortunately the present dipole is attached to the chimney stack in the centre of the roof and so swapping over antennas for the contest would not be straight forward. Anyway I am quite happy with points tally for the evening and 5 DXCCs. I hope my participation is enough to push the group past fifth this time.

Today I had to repair the damage caused over the last two nights by winds hitting 90mph. My 10 element crossed Yagi for 2m was lying in a tangled heap and the collinear at a precarious angle. Because my 2m beam was a cross I mounted it on a glass fibre scaffolding pole. The wind had snapped the pole at the junction with the aluminium pole and it all came down. I managed to repair most of the elements, made a few new ones fitted a new pole and it is back up.

All the radios were silent here this morning due to the damage and a Belkin surge protector that exploded when I switched it off due to a short on the on/off switch. I got a slight electric shock and a blackened thumb. Thank God for circuit breakers. The bang when it blew was most impressive as was the bright blue blinding flash. I hope I am not a cat because I think I am getting close on the nine lives thing.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Free iPhone App and more

If you are a radio amateur with an iPhone there are already a wide range of apps out there, some more useful than others. Mark Turner's commercial presence on line is called KramStuff and he is pushing two of his ham apps at the moment. Ham Dashboard sounds like another of those things to clutter the taskbar of your browser, but it is in fact a neat application that shows a searchable list of nearby repeaters in the UK, along with details of input and output frequencies, a map, and a handy bearing arrow for each repeater. Reading between the lines I think future versions will have more features. It comes with a database of repeaters which can be added to or edited, and it has a handy default button for if/when you mess everything up.

Just as useful is Ham Square it is a simple and free app that shows your current Maidenhead Locator, i.e. your "square". There are already a few apps like this and I already have one in my old PDA that does this plus it gives you all the other locators that you might need, but hey this one is free.

Personally I don't have an iPhone yet but if I did I am sure I would be downloading these from the appstore.

Ham Square download Free
Ham Dashboard download £1.70 at time of press

QSO Dating idea

HamDate © is a dating service for radio amateurs. Okay it does not exist yet but it could. The idea is you announce the frequency you are listening on and mode via the Internet and then your QSO 'date' calls you on that frequency. The purists will howl, but as self spots are frowned on, on the DX cluster there is room for a service of this type. It might be a good way to fill in those blanks needed for that DXCC. This could be done as a website if someone wanted to start one or as an extension to the DX cluster, but there is a quicker and simpler way of getting this going and that is by using Twitter. Simple post a message with #HamDate in the title, the frequency or frequencies where you are listening and a short message, such as "looking SSB for contacts from US"and a start/end time when you will be listening.

I always thought Twitter was an application looking for a true purpose, this could be one use.

HamDate © and the idea behind it is copyright and its use is restricted to non-profit implementations only with permission of the author of this blog.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Heroes and PMR Conversion

The ICQ amateur radio podcast has reached Series Three Episode Twenty-Three and is available to download. Contents are listed as the latest news, your feedback and Martin M1MRB discussing PMR Conversions.

It was this last item that got me thinking. Way back when I was first licenced money was tight, I had spent a small fortune on a Trio TR-9130 multi-mode and as I had a young family splashing out on ham gear was way down the list of priorities. If I could not afford to buy it a cheaper alternative was to build it myself. This was okay for small simple things, but I never had the confidence to start that massive project that might take months to complete. "What if I did all that and it did not work?" that thought stopped me from having a go. I was always in awe of fellow hams who could pick up a old PMR (private mobile radio) set from a radio rally and after a few hours twiddling in the shack call me up to ask how they sounded. I begged to be taught how but I had no one prepared to mentor me. Then a great book came out on PMR conversions by Chris Lorek G4HLC and following his step by step instructions I converted various pieces of kit, mainly from the Pye family. I still needed the help of my fellow hams and the test gear that they had but I did not. Is there an up to date version of this book I wonder? Crystal sets and diode matrix have been replaced by computer processor control and programming so even if I could remember what to do it would no longer be very relevant to today's surplus kit. I no longer need to source my rigs this way but just thinking about it gets the juices flowing.

Back then there were three names that had a massive influence on me through their books and magazine articles. Chris Lorek G4HLC was one, the Reverend George Dobbs G3RJV and Fred Judd G2BCX were the others. Their step by step approach to construction showed that you did not have to be a certified genius or have a degree in electronics or engineering to do marvellous things with amateur radio. I have to say that some of the ordinary amateurs I met at the local clubs and on the air were every bit as able as those guys, they just did not have the ability to put their work in to print.

One other book had a similar influence it was the Screwdriver Experts Guide by Lou Franklin. It was a book about do it yourself repairs and modifications to CB radios. Although by the time I got this book I had moved on from CB, the lessons learnt helped me to convert both an FM CB and an SSB set to the ten metre amateur band. Not that it did me much good as I could only listen due to B class licensees being confined to VHF and above in those days. It also helped me to repair more than a few CBs for friends. I always wondered why no one had done a similar book for the more complicated amateur rigs out there. Fortunately a lot of that type of information is available on the Internet, but I am sure such a book would sell like hot cakes. We could do with an up-dated version of the PMR conversion manual as well. Anyone ready to rise to the challenge? It may never make you rich but you could just become a bit of a hero to the next generation of radio amateurs like Chris, George and Fred were to me.

Quantum Radio

What if you knew something amazing was about to come along? What if you knew that the amazing thing would change the world, as we know it? What if you could be the first to announce it to the world? What if this thing was so secret that if you were to tell anyone the consequences could be catastrophic for someone else? Would you be able to keep quiet or would you blab to everyone who would listen and put it on your blog?

What if I told you that scientists had come up with a method of communication that works over massive distances without the use of wires, fibre optics, or radio waves? Something that would make the subspace communicators of Star Trek look puny.

In the world of quantum physics there are known to be particles that can exist in more than one place at a time. Imagine if you will two devices each containing the same particle. If we were to oscillate the particle in device one the particle in device two vibrates in sync. If we were to modulate those vibrations in a similar way as we do with radio waves in the first device the output from the second device could be demodulated also in the same way as a radio receiver. It would not matter if the devices were in the same room or a million light years apart the message would be received instantaneously. The bandwidth of these devices would be immense. There would be nothing to stop massive amounts of data being transferred except the speed of the machine from which it was sent or received.

What if I told you science had cracked it and that in the near future the whole of the RF spectrum would start to become deserted and that everything from telephone lines to broadcast towers were being sold for scrap? The only inhabitants from DC to light would be radio hams.
Okay it was only a dream, but as a friend said to me “Why let the truth stand in the way of a good story?” If it happens then I either saw the future or I knew something and if it doesn’t then maybe it just has not happened yet. If it does happen then you heard it hear first.

Sorry Bob! I bet I had you worried after the first paragraph. You thought I was going to tell them what you have been working on, didn’t you? The secret of the matter transporter is safe with me. Opps!

Okay professor! Where did we park the Delorean?

Understanding Propagation Free eBook

Every radio ham I every knew likes a bargain and the cheaper the better. So get over G0KYA's blog to pick up a free ebook in PDF format.

In 2008/2009 Alan Melia G3NYK and Steve Nichols G0KYA wrote a series of features on understanding LF and HF propagation for RadCom, the Radio Society of Great Britain's RSGB magazine. Steve has managed to persuade the RSGB to let him to put them together into a single document, which is now freely available for amateurs worldwide to download. If you don't know much about propagation it is a great place to start exploring its mysteries. Even if, like me, you have the magazines with original articles it is great to have them all together in one place like this. Makes me wonder if buying one of those electronic book devices aka eReader or Kindle is not starting to make a lot of sense. Does Kindle do PDFs? I have no idea!
Steve is also the author of a book on ‘Stealth Antennas’ available from here.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Kenwood TS-590S reviews

The reviews of the Kenwood TS-590S are starting to appear on eHam.net and so far it seems that it is living up to what I had heard. Even some K3 owners are saying things like " I love my K3, but she has got some competition now in the TS-590S". Not everyone agrees on the quality of the TX audio but most are impressed with the RX. So far I haven't seen anything to put me off lusting after one. The fact that most of the not as good statements refer to rigs costing three times as much tells me that even though the price is twice what I would care to pay it is indeed a super rig for the price. If these rigs don't sell by the shed load then there is either no justice or another new rig from another manufacture about to emerge. Well done to Kenwood but don't sit on your laurels, the cheaper better Chinese alternative is being dreamed up right now.

For some further information on the TS-590S also see http://www.k4qky.com/amateur-radio.html in particularly the links page.

Laugh or Cry?

I laughed my socks off when I read in the blog of RSGB General Manager Peter Kirby, G0TWW about the chap who was going to resign over the RSGB's insistence on retaining the Morse test even though it had been done away with in 1998. After I posted on this blog it occurred to me that maybe this was not at all what it seemed.

A fellow ham who I have know since I was first licenced recently had a stroke and another does not come on the air anymore due to the serious onset of Alzheimer's disease, either of these problems could have resulted in such a mistake. There by the grace of God go I or so to speak. It is still funny but I feel a little guilty when I laugh about it.

A little incident on 80m the other day was similar. I did not know if I should laugh or cry. I laughed and then felt guilty about it. An old timer was ripping in to some Intermediate level licensee because he had never heard of his 2E0 callsign prefix. Eventually someone came to the young lads' rescue and explained that the old timer was his Dad and that he was suffering from Alzheimer's.

One guy I did feel sorry for was a white stick operator who broke in to a net because he had lost his place on the dial and did not know what frequency he was on. Strangely I found that incredibly funny later and then I felt guilty again.

My point being, that we all get very annoyed at idiots on the airwaves from time to time but we should probably be a bit more tolerant with at least some of them. Misfortune could strike anyone of us at any time and I don't know about you, but if they took away my ham radio it would be like loosing a family member.

My wife Helen was suitably blunt when, after meeting someone we have known for years with Alzheimer's, I said "I hope I never get like that!" "What do you mean 'get'?" she replied. Ow! That was cruel.

Who am I, where am I and how the Hell did I get here?

Firelink for Wales

Wales is the poor relation when it comes to a lot of things and when it comes to safety nothing is different. Fire brigades in England and Scotland have for some time had the digital radio system known as Firelink. It has taken four years for it to arrive in Wales, but now 1,000 new terminals have been fitted in vehicles and control rooms. The new radios come with a promise of clearer calls where background noises and crackles are removed. The system allows Firefighters to talk directly to each other without going via their control centre and to link with other agencies allowing for a co-ordinated multi-agency response.

South Wales chief fire officer Andy Marles said "This new system will enhance the services' ability to respond collectively to major incidents, by allowing fire and rescue appliances supporting major incidents the ability to speak directly to the control room managing the incident - wherever it may be. The system is also more resilient and secure and offers interoperability with other blue lights services. All these important functions help us as a fire and rescue service to continually protect the communities in which we serve to the highest of standards."

The Firelink system made by Airwave is based on the Tetra system, which has already been blamed by some Police Officers for health problems and heavily criticised as been useless and unworkable by officers in certain areas. Heavily built up areas and remote locations away from repeaters apparently suffer more dead spots than they did with the old UHF radios. Some Police officers I speak to say they use their mobile telephones more than their radios.

In the USA Firecrews complained that on their digital system they could not hear what their colleagues are saying. The problem is in the "vocoders" that digitise speech and then compress the bits into a 12.5-kilohertz band of radio spectrum. Vocoders are designed for normal human speech, so their output degrades in the presence of loud background noise, or if a breathing mask muffles the firefighter's voice. Maybe with Firelink Airwave have solved this problem. I doubt it, but time will tell.

One big advantage to using Tetra is the security of the system compared to analogue or at least that is what the authorities think. Well okay it is harder to listen in to but not too hard, so the only ones listening in will be the criminals and terrorist who have stolen an emergency service radio or have hacked the codes. The scanner enthusiast can no longer listen in and that to me is an area of concern, it smacks of one more step towards the Big Brother State. I believe that if they have nothing to hide the emergency services should be more open. There is probably no need to worry I am sure the makers of scanners are working on that one right now, if they haven’t already.

The real advantage of this system is the interoperability with the other blue lights services. The lesson was learned at Lockerbie in 1988 when none of the emergency services could talk to each other. Back then hundreds of Raynet volunteers were called in to help. Maybe we will not be needed next time but I am no so sure. The government has taken over twenty years to implement a solution and that is just another reason to not leave our personal and community safety to the professionals.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

SOTA - A victim of its own success

Being on the end of a ham radio pile up can be quite a buzz, that is one of the reason I like doing Summits on the Air activations. Recently the SOTA pile ups getting a bit out of hand due mainly to the popularity of SOTA, but also because some summits in the program also qualify for a WFF World Flora and Fauna Award. The popularity of WFF has added to the already growing pile ups that some SOTA activators are having to deal with and the frustration of long time SOTA chasers like myself.

The problem is made worse by the brainless idiots who have to call in to a pile up whatever it is for and those who do not listen. One station I was trying to work was trying to work kept telling people he was not in a WFF area and that he was working Summits on the Air, but seven separate people posted him on the DX cluster as WFF. Strange they got his callsign and name right but not the reference. The most ridiculous thing is that an hour into the activation there were still stations saying "You are 59. What is your callsign?" and "What is the event". Two hours later the station went QRT with me having been unable to break through the pile up.
Bearing in mind this was a mid-week activation running 5 watts on SSB, he was 59 with me but I could not break though before his batteries went. I was running my normal 100 watts. More than one station gave a 59 report asked how much power the SOTA activator was running before saying they were running 2kW. One moron actually said "I turned up the power to 2kW because I was having trouble hearing you". What planet are these guys on?

Unfortunately this sort of thing is becoming the norm and putting quite a few people off what is a great program. It is no better on CW either or so I am told and I leave you (if you don't already know) to imagine what the weekends can be like. In some ways the survival of the program as a viable concept is only ensured because sometimes there is poor propagation to keep the callers down to a minimum. In my area two metres FM can be nearly as bad as HF but for most places this is not the case which means maybe the evolution of SOTA may be tending towards its hand held two metre FM roots. It is a two edged sword. We want SOTA to grow so we can work summits 24/7 all around the world and we like the pile ups, but we then have to deal with them without letting our frustration ruin the pleasure. At least there are not too many on 23 and 70cms although even there I sometimes wish there was. CQ SOTA CQ!

You Can Help

Last night I was out doing the ham radio thing with Flintshire Raynet. Raynet is the radio amateurs emergency network and we work with the other emergency services under the control of the County Emergency Planning Officer. We are effectively on call 24 hours a day seven days a week should we be needed. Fortunately it does not happen much that our services are required and so we keep in practice helping out at public events such as fun runs, charity walks, parades etcetera.

The event last night was a firework display and bonfire to raise money for another emergency organisation manned by volunteers the RNLI. The RNLI is the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and 99% of rescues at sea around the UK coast are carried out by these guy and gals. They are the bravest of the brave in my opinion, because ships do not tend to get in to trouble on calm sunny days they wait until there is a hurricane blowing to break down, sink or run aground.

Flintshire Lifeboat always put on a top notch firework display and last time was no exception with thirty full minutes of wizz, bang, flash and plenty of oohs and arrs from the crowd. One of the attractions of this display compared to others in the area is the setting. The crowd gathers in a large car park adjacent to the lifeboat station which faces Flint Castle. The fireworks are fired from within the castle and every flash lights up the castle in a different way. It is very picturesque and with the explosions the imagination is transported to that of a castle under siege, or maybe that is just me being an old romantic. There was a massive crowd and crowd control was being carried out by the Police in the form of their special volunteers now called 'Community Officers' or something, volunteers from the Army cadets, Air Force cadets and the lifeboat crew and support staff. The volunteers from St John ambulance where in attendance and a firecrew some of whom are full time firemen but most of whom are part time volunteers. In fact a lot of the same faces I have seen in real emergencies.

Julian G4ILO who is someone I respect said in a recent blog post "My opinion is that emergency communications is a job for the experts and the last thing they need is a bunch of amateurs trying to help but more than likely getting in the way." I think possibly he is like a lot of radio amateurs misinformed. He also says "The Cockermouth floods were the nearest I have ever come to being directly affected by a disaster and it never even entered my head that as a radio amateur I might be able to help." I find that some what sad that he just sat there and let someone else do it.

Ask anyone who was involved with the Lockerbie bombing, when terrorists brought down a passenger aircraft over Scotland what happened to communications. They will tell you that the mobile telephone network was swamped so much that it when someone from the worlds press got a connection they kept the line open for days, making use of that form of communication by the emergency services impossible. Fire, Police, Ambulance and others were drafted in from all over the UK. The various services and services from different areas could not talk to each other because the radios were on different frequencies and the services simply did not have enough frequencies for the huge numbers of messages being passed. Fire, Police, Ambulance, Air Crash investigators, Army, RAF rescue, WRVS, and many others had to be coordinated. It was hundreds of Raynet volunteers that provided that communication and without it the whole thing would have been even made more difficult and taken longer.

When we had floods at Towyn in 1990 the then Clywd Raynet (county boundaries have changed since) played a major part in the rescue operations. Evacuees were ferried to emergency centres set up in schools and later moved to accommodation at Bodelwyddan Castle. This was a major incident and serious enough to bring Prince Charles and Lady Diana in to reassure the evacuees and thank the volunteers. Those volunteers included Raynet, St John Ambulance, Flintshire Lifeboat, Red Cross, Volunteer Firemen, Police Specials, The Territorial Army, Army Cadets, Airforce Cadets, Navy Cadets, Scouts, WRVS (Women's Royal Voluntary Service), the North Wales 4x4 club and more. Leave it to the professionals! My arse! Sure we had all the usual professional services and we had people paid to be there, such as bus and coach drivers and even the council bin men amongst others there but the volunteers out numbered the professionals by fifty to one.

More in the US than here there is a section of the ham community that thinks emergency communications groups are a joke. The problem is there will always be the wannabe cop type with a blue light and a hidden siren and the survivalist nutter for those that decry what we do to point at like some sort of overgrown school bully, but when it comes down to it they just want to do their bit. In a real emergency I have seen the most useless operator suddenly become an asset, but these days you can no longer just turn up and say I want to help. In modern times you need to be trained, and insured at the very least. Raynet provides both the insurance and the training along with a recognisable ID badge. These days there has to be procedures in place and we have to have proof that everyone has been trained. I am sure that the same goes for any amateur radio emergency communication organisation.

Amateur radio is not an emergency service but it is a tool that can be used in an emergency. It is no good saying that you do not want to join your local amateur radio emergency communication organisation but that in a real emergency you would give a hand, because you will not be allowed. If you are a radio ham you have skills that can help from time to time. Not to want to help in times of need is in my opinion as much of a sin as seeing a dying man and stealing his wallet rather than calling an ambulance.

There can be advantages to being a member of such organisations too. Last night I got to help some real heroes keep their lifeboat afloat and that gives me a warm feeling inside. I also got to see a fantastic firework display and meet some nice people who were helping make it a great event.

One last thing; One of my on air buddies works for a communications company and he does not like the idea of Raynet on the basis of it takes work away from the professionals. If Raynet were not manning say a fun run then the organisers would have to either bring in his company or hire his radios to use themselves. Where I have no problem is that we are not allowed to help out at commercial money making events. So if we man the fun run the funds raised go to the Heart Foundation, Cancer Relief or whatever charity the event supports. If his company does it a large chunk of donated cash goes in to the company's pocket instead of where it was intended. I know which scenario sits best with my conscience.

In the event of emergency who are you going to call and then who do they call? Volunteers that's who.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Tropo Forceasting

Amateur radio needs great tools like this - William Hepburn's Tropospheric Ducting Forecast

I had never heard of it until I read about it on Tim Kirby G4VXE's blog but it is useful and in a simple to understand format. Tim says...

About a week or so, I got an e-mail from Matty, MD0MAN drawing my attention to some propagation forecasting websites. One that I hadn't come across before, though somewhere at the back of my mind, I think I've heard it mentioned, is William Hepburn's Tropospheric Ducting Forecast site. The site allows you to select the area of the globe that you're in - so in my case, I selected the North West Europe page but if you're in North America, this is your map

So many thanks to both Tim and Matty for drawing our attention to it. There is more to explore at http://www.dxinfocentre.com/index.html so thanks also to William for putting it all on the web.

Wouxun KG-UV3D

Not sure how long this ham radio handheld has been out, but the Wouxun KG-UV3D is a 144MHz/220Mhz dual bander suitable for our fellow radio amateurs in the US who have access to that band. It covers 136-174, 216-280 MHz and includes an upgraded 1700mAH Li-ion battery pack as standard and a redesigned black textured case. It is also available as a 144Mhz/430MHz dual bander for the rest of us.

It comes as standard with...
  • Dual band radio
  • Dual band antenna
  • Extended life 1700 mAh high capacity li-ion battery pack (about 13 hours operating time)
  • Intelligent desktop 3-4 hour rapid charger
  • Desktop charger AC power cord
  • Belt clip
  • Wrist strap
  • Dual band monitor (VHF/UHF, VHF/VHF, UHF/UHF)
  • Dual alpha numeric, backlit display with channel name edit
  • Selectable high/low power settings (VHF: 5W high/1W low) (UHF: 4W high/1W low)
  • Includes extended life 1700 mAh high capacity li-ion battery as standard
  • Includes intelligent desktop 3-4 hour rapid charger
  • Loud speaker audio output (500 mW)
  • Bright flashlight illumination function
  • English female voice prompts enable non-sighted operation (can be turned off)
  • 128 memory channels (shared)
  • VOX Function
  • Digital FM radio (76-108MHz) with automatic tuning and storing, radio frequency display, 18 FM memories in 2 banks
  • Wide/narrow bandwidth selection (25 or 12.5 kHz)
  • Power on display: show battery voltage, 6-character customizable welcome message, or display test
  • Windows PC programmable, free software available for download. Optional low cost cable (SKU: WXUSB or WXSER) required.
  • Radio to radio cloning with optional cable (SKU: WXCLN)
  • Same channel: VHF TX & UHF RX or UHF TX & VHF RX available
  • 105 groups DCS/50 groups CTCSS
  • DTMF encoding (continuous with button press duration)
  • CTCSS encode/Decode (no decode delay)
  • Stopwatch function
  • SOS function
  • Low-voltage voice prompt
  • Busy channel lockout
  • Selectable transmit over timer (from 15 to 600 seconds)
  • Selectable step sizes of 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5 25, 50 or 100 kHz
  • Multiple scan modes including priority scan
  • Keypad lock (auto or manual)
  • Programmable by computer or keypad
  • High contrast white backlit keypad. All keys are backlit (except A/B & TDR)
Oddly there is no information on the Wouxun website about this model and the only details seem to be on this site www.powerwerx.com

Anthrax, Ham Radio and Liquor

"Anthrax, ham radio and liquor" sing Clutch in their song '50,000 Unstoppable Watts'. I really don't know what the guy is on about even after reading the lyrics, but I like their sound. The band is pretty heavy so not for all tastes. I assume he means the thrash metal band Anthrax which is a bit too hardcore for my tastes but I can relate to ham radio and liquor. I have some fairly wide musical tastes from classical through to metal depending on my mood.

Lyrics here - Unstoppable Watts-Clutch

I think I will go and lie in a dark room and listen to some Mozart now to calm me down again. Just for the record my favourite classical composers are Liszt and Wagner but I consider most of the works of Mozart to be as close to perfection as it is possible to get.