More than just a Ham radio blog.
is an informative, cynical and sometimes humorous look at what is happening in the world of amateur radio.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Raspberry Pi - A PC for the price of a round of drinks

Go to http://www.raspberrypi.org/ and find out about this little marvel which is a week or two from going into production. This tiny little PC with a 700MHz processor looks just the thing for those shack projects such as a dedicated APRS server, software defined radio or dozens of other ham radio uses. At £16 for the basic model and £22 for the enhanced version maybe a string of these wonders could be used working in tandem to do heavy duty processing tasks faster than the latest machines at a fraction of the cost. The potential is enormous and I wish these guys every success.

Hidden Morse Message

Morse messages hidden in brickwork are nothing new, but here is the new National Guard Building in Milan Illinois. Go here to find out more.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Empathy and action

One of the great things about amateur radio over the years has been how having friends all around the world can make you feel less insular. It is a pity I have to use the word 'can' because even in such a global hobby bigotry is still all around us. For me it has brought me a feeling of being closer to world events but these days with the Internet and the ability to travel a lot more folk are starting to realise that this is a shrinking world and we are all on it together.

Not that many years ago when there was a disaster in some far off country it never even crossed my mind that it could be anything to do with me. Amateur radio however has put me in the position of knowing people on both sides of military conflict, who have lost there homes due to forest fires, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes and suddenly far off events become so much more personal.

This week the issues surrounding the floods in Thailand were brought home to me as I realised I know not only several Thai amateurs that have been effected, but that two UK hams I know had to cut short their trips to the country and my own brother's holiday there had been cancelled.

Amateur radio has saved around 1,000 lives in this disaster by coordinating rescue communications in cases of medical emergencies. Radio amateurs have been helping by providing communications support and this have been especially helpful in flooded areas where several mobile phone cell sites have failed.  Amateur radio repeaters were kept busy and government agencies have taken advantage of the amateur radio communications infrastructure when their own networks failed or where there has been interference, such as when many different agencies are trying to communicate simultaneously on nearby frequencies from a central location. Thailand's radio amateurs have been an essential part of the relief and rescue efforts in the country's worst flooding for sixty years.

Through communications comes understanding and through our actions we can set an example to the world. Well done to those hard working Thai radio amateurs for setting an example and showing the world a small glimpse of what being a ham is all about.       

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Amateur Radio at Shorpy

There is always something interesting at Shorpy.

For those that have never found this fascinating way to waste time, Shorpy is a blog with literally thousands of high resolution vintage photographs, it is a great way of educating or reminding ourselves of the recent past. Occasionally something pops up there that appeals more than the rest. I am referring of course to photographs that include radio gear, although personally some of the images of old cars, aircraft and motorcycles have a similar appeal. The pictures of beauties of a bygone era however evoke in me a strange guilt though, should I really be admiring the looks of a woman who would have been older than my great grandmother had either of them still been alive. The changes in architecture over the last hundred or so years are also interesting to see and I have to ask myself if in another 100 years people will be looking at similar images taken today or to put it another way; Who is documenting everyday life today? When did you last take a photograph of your high street or your amateur radio station?

Here are just a few links to ham radio related images, if you find more please post them in the comments.


Thursday, 27 October 2011

SummitsBase - New web site

For those who take an interest in SOTA, WOTA or HUMPS or simply like to combine hill walking with radio Summitsbase has moved to a new a new home. The site has a new url in www.summits.org.uk and with the move to a new host, the opportunity has also been taken to upgrade the software from version 1.zz to version 7.zz. This was no mean task as it involved upgrading in several stages.

They have also tried to improve the look of the website with, amongst other things, a new colour scheme. The work is not yet complete and there are a few teething problems as you would expect. While most things have been transferred over successfully, anything that was added to the old site during the last 10-14 days or so may have missed the 'transfer window' but they will endeavour to 'copy and paste' any such material (where possible) in due course. Several functions that were available in the old Wiki have not yet been enabled; the new software has many extra commands and these are being looked at initially (a steep learning curve) before they implement some of them.

Summitsbase registered users do not need to re-register to use the new website, your user IDs and passwords have been transferred to the new site and should work without any problem. If you have forgotten your password, perhaps because it was saved with the old URL in your web browser, then simply send an Email to admin@summits.org.uk asking for your user ID to be deleted. Once it has been deleted, we will send you an Email to that effect and you can then re-register with your normal callsign.

Don't forget to update your bookmarks or any links you have on blogs and web pages.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

RSGB EGM - Make up your mind time

Most of you will have seen or heard that the Radio Society of Great Britain is to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting on 19th November 2011 at the NEC in Birmingham. Without going in to too much detail it is a matter that effects all UK radio amateurs, not only the members of the RSGB but also those of us who for one reason or another choose not to be members. Some amateurs I know have even rejoined the society after many years so that their voice can be heard at this meeting.

Can I appeal to you to read the the open letters sent out by Dave Wilson (bellow), the items in RadCom and to read what is being said on the RSGB Governance Changes Discussion Group and elsewhere and either get to the meeting yourself or use your proxy vote. If you've not seen RadCom, then the proposals are at: http://www.rsgb.org/EGM/

Well worth a listen is the ICQ Podcast. The most recent one, contains an interview with Leslie Butterfield, the board member who resigned, in which he lays out the good and the bad (mainly bad) points of what the Interim Board will mean to the RSGB and its members.

The next episode, which should be released over the weekend, will contain a rebuttal/answers from RSGB President Dave Wilson.

Note: In the interests of the wider picture I leave out my own opinions of Mr Wilson, the RSGB and the proposals at this time and ask you to make up your own mind. Please just do not sit, back do nothing and then moan that your national radio society is being run by a bunch of tossers who could not organise a riotous drinking session in a brewing establishment.

To all radio clubs in the UK
From: Dave Wilson, RSGB President
25th October 2011

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to all clubs (and copying others) after discussions with the Regional Teams.

The proposals being presented to the EGM are important for the Society. They will fundamentally impact the way we handle current difficulties. And yet some have sought to ridicule the proposals, based on an incomplete understanding of exactly what is being proposed and why. Hence this letter.

Contrary to the chatter on the wires, this is not about democracy – it’s about giving the Society the best chance to fix its problems. We have a crisis, and a crisis demands exceptional actions.

The current chatter is the result of selective disclosure (against the Board’s wishes) of some elements of the Board discussion on 10th September. The board recognised that careful communication was needed and agreed to prepare a full communication pack. In the interim, the matter was confidential. One Board member has inflicted serious damage on the Society by disregarding that decision. That is unacceptable, does not reflect well on the individual concerned and is inconsistent with his position as a Director.

In a recent podcast, a former Director said that he did not recognise that there was a crisis. That in itself speaks volumes. The impending problems had been flagged to the Board over the last year or so, and now are with us. To be specific:

‐ There have been some significant errors in governance over the last five years. This has led the Society into dangerous waters financially.
‐ Cash is running low, and next year places a huge additional cash demand on the Society from needed capital investment and the running costs of BP. Whilst not insolvent, we cannot sustain further drains on our cash
‐ Yet right now we do not have an acceptable budget for 2012. The current one shows, against our aspirations to run BP and GB4FUN and other factors in the 2012 budget, a loss of some £ 60k. We simply cannot afford this and have no option but to take very significant action to keep our budget balanced. This in itself will demand some hard choices.
‐ Nor do we have a General Manager.
‐ Furthermore we are regularly told that we do not have the right attitudes and behaviours towards our members and our volunteers.
‐ Action is needed quickly by a sure‐footed Board to pull things round, both financially and in terms of the way the Society works.

It is understandable that those who do not recognise the crisis might say “we don’t see the need for change”. As soon as you recognise the seriousness of the position, it suddenly becomes clearer.

That is why the Board is proposing an Interim Board (IB) for some 15 months made up of highly professional and experienced amateur radio people, professionally engaged in running companies. Their focus will be to restore health to the finances whilst at the same time maintaining or enhancing membership services, instilling the ethos into RSGB described in RadCom for November, and developing all aspects of the Advisory Group proposals to present to members for consultation and member input. Some of these proposals have not yet been considered in detail by the Board, some have been rejected and some – most notably the “Web” and “Ethos” recommendations, have been generally accepted as suitable for member consultation. In everything it does, the IB will be accountable to the membership. And, just like any other Board, it cannot make changes to the Society’s Constitution without the approval of the membership. So the claims that the Interim Board is “not accountable” are simply scare‐mongering and disinformation.

The IB members will be expected to devote a significant amount of time to turning the Society around. It will be a working Board and will be in a position to support the Acting GM (who cannot continue to carry his current load) in the absence of a full time GM replacement. During this time the National and Regional Councils will continue, with enhanced frequency for the NC, ensuring close consultation with representatives of the membership at large.

If, however, the EGM proposals are rejected the Society will continue as at present, with an uncertain outcome.

The Board believes that the proposals being put to the EGM represent the best chance of addressing the Society’s difficulties with confidence and certainty.

Rather than focus on the democracy issue (the EGM proposals are democratic – just different) members might want to consider whether the RSGB described in the AG report summary and the “future” article on page 15 is the sort of RSGB they want to see. That’s where we need feedback – quickly.

The Board deserves your support in being frank and open about the issues and no matter how different the proposals are for resolving the current issues, please support them. The alternative is far less certain of securing the right outcome.

Dave Wilson
RSGB President

Follow on letter:

To all radio clubs in the UK
From: Dave Wilson, RSGB President
26th October 2011

Dear Colleagues,

Since writing to you yesterday about the issues relating to the forthcoming EGM, I have been made aware of an apparent concern being expressed by some about the proposed Interim Board.

It seems that there is a concern amongst some members that the Interim Board, once in place, will seek to consolidate its position. Let me state quite categorically that this is not possible. The terms of Resolution 1 (specifically the clause immediately after (b)(iv)) clearly state that the M&As will revert to the current ones no later than the 2013 AGM. This means that the IB cannot continue to exist beyond that date. The only way that this can change is if the IB calls another General Meeting of members to propose further changes to the Memorandum and Articles of the Society.

Members can therefore be assured that the IB has a limited lifespan, in which to discharge its role, and that after that the current Board arrangements will return, unless the members agree otherwise in a further EGM.

I hope this allays any fears in this regard.

Dave Wilson
RSGB President.


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

North Wales Radio Rally Traders

I am off to the 24th North Wales Amateur Radio Show this weekend and a lot off people have been asking me if I know what traders will be there, so I snaffled this off the North Wales Radio Club site...

Saturday & Sunday, 29th & 30st October 2011, 10am – 5pm both days. The rally will be held at Llandudno’s new high school, Ysgol John Bright, Maesdu Road, Llandudno. LL30 1LF.


From the A55, take the A470 into Llandudno, after approximately 3 miles at the end of the dual carriageway, turn left at The Links Hotel Roundabout. After 300yds go across the mini-roundabout and the venue is immediately on your right.
From Llandudno Railway Station, turn right on exiting the station. Immediately as Augusta St bears left, turn right into Oxford Rd. Take the 1st right onto Builder St and then 2nd left into Cwm Rd. After 150 yds you will find John Bright School on your right. No more than 10 minutes walk at a leisurely pace.
If anyone has any difficulty finding us please call in on S22. See you there !!!!

View Map

This Year’s Exhibitors

  1. Radioworld
  2. Moonraker
  3. RSGB
  4. Ian Kenyon Electronics
  5. Snowdonia Radio Company
  6. Derby Communications
  7. Air Band Online
  8. Rigfix
  9. Harp
  10. Mark Wowra
  11. Francis Norris
  13. Kanga Products
  14. Pro-Whip Antennas
  15. Pooley
  16. Linear Amp UK
  17. PR Hall Embroidery
  18. G S Electronics
  19. Cross Country Wireless
  20. Rocket Radio
  21. AGS Software
  22. North Wales PMR
Club,Groups & Individuals
  1. UKFM
  2. WAB
  3. RSARS
  5. V-MARS
  6. Dragon ARC
  7. Conwy Valley ARC
  8. R.Roberts & O.Clarke
  9. BARLS
  10. St. John’s Ambulance
  11. Lifeboat ARS
  12. Bob O’Callaghan
  13. RNLI
  14. IOMARS
  15. RAIBC

Iron Fist Velvet Glove

Working shifts has its advantages sometimes. For example I get to work a lot of DX and SOTA expeditions that occur mid week. It used to be great when I played a lot of golf because I could go when ever I liked and not have to wait until the weekends and join the crowds. One disadvantage at the golf club was that all the competitions tended to be weekend affairs, which meant my handicap never truly reflected how crap I was at the game. On the radio too there are disadvantages to shift work with most of the activity being at weekends. Even when contests are like the RSGB 80m club contest are mid-week evening affairs it can be difficult and this year I managed to be available for one round.One advantage I have had has been getting a few hours quiet time when on the night shift in which to update this blog.

A long time ago our union persuaded our then employer that there were things that shift workers needed to do from time to time that folk working 9 to 5 took for granted and that the company got away with a lot of things, such as if a day worker needed to visit the hospital, dentist or doctor they either took a day off or were given a day off. Shift workers in contrast were expected to go on their days off, which is like saying to your days staff they had to do these things at the weekend. As a result of the negotiations we were given limited Internet access so that we could deal with stuff like paying bills and arranging deliveries to coincide while we were at home. This was particularly useful to the single guys who worked lots of overtime as they could get their weekly shopping delivered when they had no time to do it themselves because they were doing 6,7 or 8 12 hour shifts in a row.

I don't smoke and don't read the papers so I used my breaks to search the net for interesting stuff to put on the blog or to write a post. I never saw any difference between doing that and sitting in the mess room reading the news paper. Not any more I am afraid as our new employer whose softly softly approach so far is showing now its true colours and has cut off almost all Internet access. One of the reasons the blog has not been updated as regularly as it might have been has been that I was half expecting it and I did not want to be the one to rock the boat. 

The company have missed the boat however if they think removing this handy privilege is going to somehow improve productivity as most of the things we do can now be done on smart phones, Ipads, and even Kindles. All it has done is alienate the staff who are already demoralised after the take over. The velvet gloves are coming off and the iron fist is about to be shown so if my posts get more negative you know why, its just me getting depressed about the way things are going.

On a happier note, I have deflected a call on my time which would have meant doing a three 12 hour night shifts, then going straight to a hospital appointment followed by a fourth 12 hour night shift and then travelling down to Llandudno for the North Wales Rally Rally. I would have been like a complete zombie, but now I am going to Llandudno on Friday and stopping all weekend. I have raided the piggy bank and hope to pick up some bargains, hopefully including an antenna analyser.    

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Accusation that did not add up.

Once again amateur radio is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Porn_slur_leads_to_dock

Apparently, Gareth Evans (G4SDW?) emailed a school to say one of its teachers was a pornographer and a danger to children. The teacher of mathamatics, Brian Reay (G8OSN?) is also a ham and the two men fell out on internet forum. Mr Evans accused Mr Reay of being racist towards the Welsh after comments on an amateur radio forum. The mutual dislike persisted for some years before Mr Evans sort his revenge by making his unsubstantiated accusations to the school, which caused massive disruption and much distress to Mr Reay. Gareth Evans has been given a three-year conditional discharge by the court.

(Please note that the callsigns listed above are assumed correct but as yet are unconfirmed.)

This should be a lesson to all of us. Trolling on Internet forums may be taken as harmless banter by some but others may not see it the same way. Amateur radio is just a hobby and silly little remarks either on air or on line are simply not worth getting your blood pressure up. They certainly are not worth going to jail over or causing someone to loose their job, both of these scenarios being a possible outcome of the above tiff.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Talks on possible 5MHz extension

Talks on possible 5MHz extension

Following their meeting with the Ministry of Defence earlier in the month, Ofcom has been in touch with the RSGB to discuss harmonisation improvements to the 5MHz Experiment. Whilst MoD is not in a position to release a continuous tuning band like that available to some other countries, they have agreed to consider some additional bandwidth for access by UK NoV holders. We will bring you any further news as it develops.

Monday, 17 October 2011

OFCOM Jobs Worths

I do not suffer fools gladly and I am constantly astounded at the incompetence of officialdom.

Last week my wife posted off a form to OFCOM to get a special events call that we had last year reissued. The event is five months and three weeks away but OFCOM spent more time telling Helen via email that she needed to apply six months in advance, but that she could apply for the call for use the same event in 2013, if she sent yet another copy off the form in, than it would have taken them to reissue the call.

Note: Last year they issued the call but the paperwork arrived two days after the event. The rule at that time was the call had to be applied for at least one month before and this is still what it says on the top of the form.

Caveat emptor

Caveat emptor is Latin for "Let the buyer beware" and nowhere is that more true than when buying off the Internet.

I have a couple of 3-15V DC 25/30A power supplies which I purchased cheap and second hand off eBay. They are identical apart from one is badged Palstar PS-30M and the other Manson EP-925. They usually retail new at between £90 and £120, although you can find some unscrupulous sellers vending them to the Tattoo market at well over £250. I only paid around £30 each and so I was not bothered that one had a noisy fan, it would be a cheap and easy repair.

This morning in my email I received an advertisement from a computer retailer from whom I have dealt since well before the Internet and eBay. Yes, that was way back in the days of printed adverts in magazines and telephoning orders in. What caught my eye was a fan of the type I needed for my power supply for 49 pence. So I went to the retailers site and thought while I was there I would purchase a hard drive as well. The hard drive had free post and packing.

I was about to buy a 2TB Western Digital HDD which came with free postage, but when I added the 49 pence fan to my basket it said my postage would be £6.95 plus VAT, therefore making the true cost of the 49 pence fan £9.42. Annoyed I wrote a letter asking them to explain and received this explanation...

The free delivery offer is only intended to be on the hard drive but the same parcel that the hard drive ships in can accommodate up to 5 kgs and we’re happy to ship other items in that parcel for no additional delivery charge if you order over the phone.

The web site needs re-programming in order to accommodate this scenario and the costs will run into thousands in programmers time so we’re stuck with the anomaly until we order a new web site.

Please call to order or send your number and we'll call you.

Which is fine until you call and they then say these two items are web order only.

Oh well I ordered my fan from eBay for £3.42 including P&P, but wonder how many others have thought they were getting free P&P only to be charged 18 times what the item cost for the postage.  The only reason I don't mention the retailer by name is because I have had some great deals and excellent service from them in the past but I shall be keeping a close eye on them for tricks of this type in future.

Welcome to 'Rip Off Britain'!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Radio Inactive

Do you ever feel like your get up and go has got up and gone? I know I do and quite regularly too. Stressed out and fed up everything can go to hell when I feel like this. It is usually just for a short period after I finish my night shifts and my brain feels like it is stuffed with cotton wool. The one thing that has been my constant comfort has been my radio and the company of good pals with a sense of ironic humour that makes me laugh. Even when I do not feel too much like talking there are SOTA activations and DX contacts that require a minimum of conversational skills. I can usually sit at the radio and literally loose days at a time either ragchewing or spinning the dials on a dozen rigs. Just lately however it has been different; I have found myself either turning the radios off or forgetting to turn them on in the first place.

Today I sat sorting screws that had accumulated in a tray in a draw of my computer desk. Somebody had left a microphone keyed on the 2m calling frequency and was working a station in Algeria on 10m. My initial reaction was like most folk and that was to call him all the plonkers under the sun, but unlike the idiots who tried to tell him by calling on the same 2m frequency he was transmitting on or tried to key him out I thought I would see if I could hear the DX too. My rig was tuned to 80m and as I came up through the bands everything above 40m was buzzing. When I finally got to 10m there was wall to wall activity. I tuned up and down the band trying to decide who to work and then unable to make up my mind I went down to 12m, had a listen and the carried on down the bands until I got to 20m when I turned off.

I just could not be bothered and it bothered me. A little later I had a look for MS0WRC Isle Of Tiree IOTA Expedition who someone called Peter had told me about on the local repeater earlier and soon found them. I had my microphone in hand but someone beat me to the call and although I listened for ten minutes I did not pick up the mic again.

My new Icom 7400 is still sat in the box, much to the annoyance of Helen who has more than once threatened to sell it or give it away. I can't even really put my finger on why I feel like this, it is not like I feel particularly depressed and I have been busy with other things. This weekend we have a RAYNET event so I have the perfect excuse as to why the new rig is not installed in the shack, but I really must motivate myself to get it done and maybe the shiny rig will rejuvenate my enthusiasm for the hobby again. After all with winter approaching what else do I want to do on cold wet days and long dark nights? Then there is the North Wales Radio Rally at the end of the month, no point in going if I don't have a big list of toys to buy and I would not want miss that.

Here I am now kicking myself for not getting some of the great DX there was today in to the log or am I bothered? Mmm! Oh well here's hoping you guys and gals grabbed some of the action I didn't.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Updates and Excuses

When I first started this blog I was inspired by other bloggers most of whom over the intervening period between then and now seemed to have dropped by the wayside. You know what I mean; For a while they post every day or every week and then all of a sudden weeks or months go by with nothing posted. I never really understood why, but gradually it dawns on me as I look at my own blog and a lack of posts the denies the fact that I haven't really run out of things to say. It is not even as if I have had one of those "When did it become a chore?" moments either. It is all just down to being too busy. I have had to look at each day and say to myself "What should I concentrate on?" and as a result even my log book is looking like I have lost interest in the hobby, which clearly is not the case.

I have been somewhat tied up at work with a change of employer (same job), training and covering colleagues holidays and then I have had two rather wet weeks holiday with the family in Scotland and a week away with Helen to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. In both cases poor or none existent Internet access did not help. My 3 mobile broadband dongle when it could get a signal was painfully slow (and it is faster than my landline at home) and although we had occasional access via BT Open Zone that too got very slow when my kids tried to use it too. My O2 mobile phone was even more useless with no access in three separate holiday cottages. Text messages occasionally made their way through including SOTA spots that I receive via Twitter, but often they were three or more hours old before I got them.

While I was away I did have HF set up and another indication of how things have been going is that I still have not transcribed my logs from our Scottish trip. Even the logs from my SOTA activations are still in the form of scribble on a reporters pad.

For my birthday Helen bought me an Icom IC-7400, which is still in the box waiting for me to make space in the shack. It is almost sacrilegious to have such a wonderful piece of kit sitting there unused, but I have just not had the time.

My 2m/70cm/23cm collinear is lying in the garden too, having developed a fault that I have not had time to trace. Time for a complete overhaul of the antennas and a rearranging of the shack, but when will I get the time?

At least one worry is over, the club sale went down a storm. There were a couple of mutterings from folk who expected a full blown rally, but they were fortunately in the minority. What do people expect? Even if we hope to turn the event in to something approaching a full blown ham fest it is unlikely to start out that way. Why had a fair number of traders who in the main sold 'not much' but the private sales did a roaring business. Most of the traders said that they enjoyed the event even if the did not cover their costs and as one of them said "It is much about meeting people as selling stuff." His logic was along the lines that "If folk know me then next time, when they want something I am selling, they will come to me (their old mate), rather than someone they don't know", it sort of makes sense.

The Mold club stall made enough money for the club for it to have been worthwhile. The silent key sale sold everything bar the Elecraft K3 and then at the end we had a reasonable offer for that too, that was a big relief for one of our members who had been unable to get in to his garage due to all the equipment stored there. The bar takings meant the Rugby club would be kept happy to.

When I arrived (late straight from work) everything was in full swing and after getting a pint I circulated around the stall owners to thank them for coming. I missed at least one stall owner who initially had a large crowd around him, by the time I got back he had sold everything and gone. From what I gather all the private sellers and club stalls made it at least worth their while. I felt particularly sorry for one trader who managed to pick up a puncture and not just a fixable little nail but a fist size hole in the sidewall. He told me he had taken £97 but a new tire would be £100. Ouch! At least we did not charge anyone to be there. Maybe the message to the traders is "Are you really selling what people want to buy and at the right price?" Time for you guys to think about that one before Saturday & Sunday, 29th & 30st October 2011 and the 24th North Wales Amateur Radio Show. Meanwhile I need to get my shack sorted so that when I head to Ysgol John Bright, Maesdu Road, Llandudno LL30 1LF for the rally I have my shopping list up to date.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

North Wales Ham Sale one week away

I make no apologies for reposting the information bellow. The event is one week today and the interest from traders alone has been impressive. Unfortunately due to the size of the venue we have had to restrict numbers. One guy alone would have had 12 tables if he could. If I had let him there would have been little room for anyone else (as I already had other people booked in) and as I have no idea if we will get 5 or 5,000 visitors he might well have been disappointed. Anyway the event looks like being a good one for our first attempt, but we need your support.

The star of the show is in the silent key sale, we have a mint Elecraft K3, which had only been used a couple of times on CW before the owner passed away. This and the best bits from our friend's collection will be auctioned with reserves. There is also plenty of interesting junk in the collection.

We will also have a club stand selling items donated to Mold and District Amateur Radio Club for funds.

There will be a number of traders and individuals with tables and some club members with items to sell. Everyone is welcome to bring their own gear to sell, swap or trade and it is all free. That's right no admission charge but if you buy a drink or two at the bar it will go some way to making sure we can do this again, possibly on a larger scale.

The Mold and District Amateur Radio Club http://www.madarc.org.uk/ would like to invite all radio amateurs and short wave listeners to a silent key, shack surplus, bring and buy, junk swap and sell evening to be held at 8pm in the Mold Rugby Club Mold in Flintshire North Wales on Wednesday 14th September 2011.

What we hope makes this sale a little different is the quality of some of the silent key items in the sale, which includes an Elecraft K3 and the fact that there is no charge for private sellers. If required a limited number of commercial sellers would be welcomed but please contact Steve GW7AAV (email correct on QRZ.com) in advance for a table reservation. Again no charge for commercial sellers but a small donation to be split 50/50 with the Rugby and Radio clubs would be welcomed.

There should be some very tempting high quality gear on sale as well as some real bargains.

There is a bar too, so team up with your mates and organize a designate driver. Let’s make this a great social evening too and it will be a chance to put faces to callsigns.

For directions see - http://www.madarc.org.uk/location.html

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Not quite dead yet!

Contrary to what my regular reader might be thinking CQHQ is not dead and neither am I. As I have said several times in the past sometimes life just gets in the way of living. It would almost be true to say that in some ways amateur radio has had to take a back seat in my life for a while, but as I am rarely away from it for more than 12 hours at a time it would be stretching the point somewhat.

So where have I been? you may well ask, but mostly the answer would be nowhere in particular. The facts are these; My employer of thirty odd years has sold his business, I still have the same job working for the same bosses but the name on the signs have changed. This all results in some upset both in terms of things that need sorting as well as some emotional turmoil. It also has meant me learning another function. Something that should have been done some time ago, but the funds for the training resource were not forthcoming. Knowing they would no longer have to worry about budget issues with the old employer meant I got my training, and have been up to my neck in corporate bull ever since. The last two months have been busy too due to covering my colleagues holidays and visiting hospitals, loads of folk scaring the hell out of me. Will people please stop being ill it is starting to effect my health too, worrying about you all. I have my own issues but nothing life threatening just at the moment.

On top of this my second eldest son moved back home, so that he can learn to drive and get a car with the goal of getting a better paid job. He is a talented graphic designer but without transport he cannot get to where the well paid jobs are and almost all of his pay was going on paying his rent etcetera. It seemed like a good idea but a lot of work later and we now have two houses of stuff in one house. Correct that, we had three or four houses of stuff already and it now really is a bit cramped.

It was recently slightly worse than that due to an issue we had at the radio club. One day some time ago we turned up for a meeting to find our radio shack and workshop had vanished along with all its contents. The shack and workshop were in a forty foot steel container that the Mold Rugby Club had kindly said we could "Do with what we want.", unfortunately it was not theirs to give away. Therein lies the problem of ever changing committees and the control of assets. It belonged in fact to a senior benefactor to the rugby club who from what I gather had a disagreement with the rugby club, over some issue to which I was not privy, threw his rattle out of his pram and took all his toys with him. We had by that time being using the container for over two years. Our initial problem was getting our gear back. Thousands of pounds of radio and test equipment, which had been swung up on a crane and transported and then swung off the wagon by crane. We feared everything was broken. The Police said it was nothing to do with them and was a civil matter. Even our wrecked antennas and chopped coax (surely criminal damage at least) were nothing to do with them. Typical British Bobbies too bone idle lazy to help someone even when the perpetrator is known. Eventually I calmed down, but I still had to ask a third party to intercede with the guy.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short the mini-bus full of Ukrainian Bratva with pick axe handles were called off and we got our gear back, mostly undamaged. This was mainly due to the power cables and coaxes that stopped the rigs and equipment from sliding off the benches. Many thanks to the guy from GB4FUN for assuring me things might not be as bad as I suspected when I told him the situation. A travelling shack with gear left on benches, he knew a thing or two about how things move about or rather don't move as much as they might.

So we collected all the gear and it too was stowed at my house until we could find alternative storage. Thank goodness that stuff is out of my shack and the lounge floor and the passage, but what a crippling loss to the club. We used the workshop as a temporary school room for the Radio Amateurs Exam courses, away from the noisy bar in the main club and were able to do practical and on air tests and lessons .

Finally I have been on my annual two week SOTA holiday/pilgrimage to Scotland. There is another story there but it mostly rained and we only did two summits, however it did have it's moments and I did return with a new rig, an Icom IC-7400 as a birthday present from my wife. What a fabulous radio and there are loads of them out there, taken as to trade-ins for the 7410 and 9100 Icoms and the Kenwood 590S. So now really is the time to buy one, if like me you cannot justify the price of the latest rigs. Mine looks absolutely new and the mic was still sealed in the packet. I paid a lot less than I would for a second hand IC-7000 and that is a mobile rig without a built in tuner. If like me you have wanted one since they came out then get one now before they all disappear. Trade in that old Yaesu FT-857D or Icom IC-706 MKIIG if you have too, you may only have a couple of hundred to pay. By the way I didn't I still have mine, it is an emotional thing, but I might part with one for an IC-910X to match the 7400. Oh well Christmas is coming and when you wish upon a star...

By the way if you have a steel container you would like to donate to Mold and District Amateur Radio Club we have just the spot and don't forget our silent key/sale and swap meet event, it is turning in to a mini rally fast. 8pm 14th September 2011.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wouxun KG-UVD1P/L 2m/4m Dual Band Review

I just could not resist the new Wouxun KG-UVD1P/L 2m/4m dual band handheld amateur radio, even though I have far too many portable rigs already. The fact that it was the only radio to ever be produced that was dual band and dual watch on these two bands might have swayed me, but I have become a bit of a fan of this companies products and I really wanted to see if my predictions on how their quality and range improves over time prove true.

Straight out of the box I saw the first improvement, a much better quality charger with a thirteen amp UK plug. Gone is the wall wart charger but so is the ability to use the charger from a cigar socket, it is no big loss to me as I have several of the old type already which I can use on long Raynet incidents or between SOTA activations. The look and feel of the new charger is a good improvement on the old ones, which seemed cheap, tacky and somewhat flimsy.

The antenna was taped to the outside of the box which seemed a bit strange but comparing the size of the rubber duck to that of the ones on the KG-UVD1P 2m/70cm rig and the Wouxun KG-699E it was somewhat longer. Surprisingly it is probably responsible for the improved receive that was the next advancement I found.

I was sat at my PC with the rig just out of the box and just called “GW7AAV testing” while listening back on my MyDEL ML-5189. Much to my surprise my pal Graham GW0HUS called me back. Graham is only 5 miles away but from the same position I could not hear him on the KG-699E. Several test calls later I am convinced that the KG-UVD1P/L is better on both receive and transmit on 4m that the KG-699E and on 2m than the KG-UVD1P. I believe this is only due to a more efficient antenna on both bands, but I have yet to test the theory by trying the supplied antenna on the other rigs. All the rigs have the now familiar reversed SMA antenna connection that had us scratching our heads when we first saw them.

Tests side by side using a Kenwood TH-G71E and a Yaesu VX-7 showed the new Wouxun to be better on receive than both the other rigs, using the supplied antennas. On TX very little difference was noticed but one station reported a little white noise on the Yaesu, and apart from that all stations reported the audio quality very similar. The Yaesu was the quietest, the Kenwood was reported as “just right” and the Wouxun a little louder, but not too loud. The Yaesu had me almost shouting, the Kenwood talking normally and I found I could double my normal distance from the mic with the Wouxun and still be easy to read.

Do not think that I am basing my tests on the S-meter readings either because like its predecessors it reads S9+ or nothing, whatever the signal. In fact the only time I ever saw the S-meter read somewhere in between was when I had some desensing from a nearby commercial transmitter on a SOTA activation.

The build quality of the Wouxun rigs is better than most of those emerging from China but as these are new rigs in the same case as the 2m/70cms version there has been no opportunity to improve the look. To be really picky the plastic of the case feels good but looks a little too shiny. It might not look as tacky if it had a matt finish.

For those familiar with the Wouxun range the controls should be no problem, but the same old issues remain with this rig as the others in the stable, it is a pig to program memories from the keypad. It is however an absolute doddle to do if you have the computer programming cable, which is very cheap to buy and works with Kenwood handies too. It was easy to import my settings in to the software from the 2m/70cm rig delete the 70cm settings and add the channels for 70MHz in their place. I saved the result with a new file name and I imported it in to a use with the new rig. It all took five minute start to finish. Using the keypad would have taken days.

Over all I am impressed, I was not expecting any improvements over the other Wouxuns, I just wanted to be able to carry one rig less up the hills. Previously Helen and I both carried a 2m/70cm KG-UVD1P rig on the hills and I also carried the KG-699E for 4m. This way I can replace my two rigs with one, Helen and I can still communicate on 2m and we can still cover the three bands. I still have the Icom 23cm rig and the Yaesu FT-857 in the rucksack though.

I wonder who will be the first to come up with a good 2 and 4m antenna for SOTA and portable or mobile or even home base?


* No one else makes a rig that does these two bands

* Price.

* Excellent RX audio quality.

* Great RX sensitivity.

* Better immunity to out of band desensing than some more expensive rigs.

* TX audio reported by several people as very good.

* Solid feel and high quality construction almost as good as Japanese rigs.

* Desktop charger supplied with 13amp plug rather than the wall wart

* Very cheap batteries and accessories.

* Clear LCD display.

* Enough memories to never have to use the VFO.

* You can name the memory channels easily with programming cable.

* Cheap programming lead and free software.

* Lighter than my other (Japanese) handhelds.

* CTCSS decode/counter function.

* Voice announcement of functions (if they don’t drive you nuts).

* Narrow TX & RX FM mode available.

* Good battery life.

* Good belt clip.

* Supplied rubber duck works surprisingly well.

* LED torch (Great for finding the fuse box when the lights go out).

* FM radio for when no one is talking to you.

* Stop watch. I almost forgot this one because I only used it once.

* Cheap and easily available accessories from dealers or direct import (eBay).


* Build quality is not quite what we get from the Japanese manufacturers.

* The out of the box wideband nature could lead to problems for those who don’t know their band plan. Tip: use memories for the ham bands and the VFO for out of band listening or use programming software to lock down to just the ham bands.

* Turning repeater shift on for the first time can be 'tricky', but once learnt, it's not difficult. Tip: Read the manual or use memories.

* The S-meter reads full scale even on weak signals.

* Hard to understand manual.

Note: One or two people complained on the net previously that they could not get the USB driver that comes with the Wouxun software working with Windows 7. That would be because you don’t need it with Windows 7 due to USB support being built in. It is no wonder folk screw up their computers; they just don’t know what they are doing. If all else fails read the manual!

For the rig specs see this post: http://www.cqhq.co.uk/2011/06/wouxun-kg-uvd1pl-2m4m-full-dual-band.html

Martyn Lynch and Sons are the offical UK importer and so far this is the only place to get this rig.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

30 years too late- 27MHz SSB CB in the UK

Thirty years ago I would have been jumping around for joy at the news that because of an  ECC Decision as of 24th June 20 the use of 27 MHz SSB CB across the British Isles and Europe is to be harmonised.

The new ruling permits the use of SSB equipment running 12 watts PEP output in the frequency band 26.960 - 27.410 MHz. The ECC Decision came into force on June 24, 2011 and the preferred date for implementation of this ECC Decision by national administrations is October 1, 2011.

Read the ECC Decision ECC/DEC/(11)03 - The harmonised use of frequencies for Citizens’ Band (CB) radio equipment http://www.erodocdb.dk/Docs/doc98/official/pdf/ECCDEC1103.PDF

I wonder how many of us would have made the move to amateur radio if this had been done in 1981. Especially as B class licences were only permitted VHF and above back then. It would have been almost a backward step for someone used to eleven metre DXing to only have 144 and 433 MHz to play on, indeed some of my old chums took a lot longer to see the big picture than I did. If you every have listened on these frequencies you will realise just how often ten metres should be open, but there is no-one on there and yet the eleven metre frequencies are bouncing. Some of those UK pirates will wonder what hit them as all those Cobras and Tristars are dragged from lofts and fired up legally for the first time. What worried me for a long time was the number of familiar voices that could be heard on 27, now they can come out of the closet.

As a ham, think of it as an extension to ten metres. Sure there are lids but we have them on the ham bands too and we always have. I am happy for all the old CBers who never gave up. Thirty years what a wait!

CB is dead, long live CB - Back at you good buddie!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Radio gear sell or swap

There are too few radio rallies these days so...

The Mold and District Amateur Radio Club http://www.madarc.org.uk/ would like to invite all radio amateurs and short wave listeners to a silent key, shack surplus, bring and buy, junk swap and sell evening to be held at 8pm in the Mold Rugby Club Mold in Flintshire North Wales on Wednesday 14th September 2011.

What we hope makes this sale a little different is the quality of some of the silent key items in the sale, which includes an Elecraft K3 and the fact that there is no charge for private sellers. If required a limited number of commercial sellers would be welcomed but please contact Steve GW7AAV (email correct on QRZ.com) in advance for a table reservation. Again no charge for commercial sellers but a small donation to be split 50/50 with the Rugby and Radio clubs would be welcomed.

There should be some very tempting high quality gear on sale as well as some real bargains.

There is a bar too, so team up with your mates and organize a designate driver. Let’s make this a great social evening too and it will be a chance to put faces to callsigns.

In the meantime the club has a lecture on 13th July by Keith GW4OKT on the building, maintenance and use of the Elecraft K series and on the 3rd August Phil VK5SRP will tell us about radio restoration and Ham Radio ‘Down Under’ (http://www.philipstorr.id.au/).

For directions see - http://www.madarc.org.uk/location.html

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Make circuit, kill vampires

My regular readers will have noticed that I have been 'otherwise engaged' of late so I am catching up on the news items I may have missed. One that caught my eye on Southgate ARC News is a ScienceDaily report on a pen that can be used to create flexible electronic circuits. Apparently University of Illinois engineers have developed a silver-inked rollerball pen capable of writing electrical circuits and interconnects on paper, wood and other surfaces. The pen is writing whole new chapters in low-cost, flexible and disposable electronics.
Read the ScienceDaily report at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110628151632.htm

Now me being something of a cynic, a thing is of more interest if I can poke holes in it, so here I go...

You University of Illinois engineers are too late, it has been done before!

In the early 1980s I had a car, 1750cc a Hillman Hunter GLS. In fact over a number of years I had between seven and ten of them, or their equivalents the Sunbeam Rapier and Humber Sceptre. I never paid more than £100 each for them and used to keep all the best bits of the one I was scrapping to embellish the next. The first one I had, had a break in the rear heated window element and I bought a silver-inked fibre pen to repair it. By sticking two strips of tape aligned with the elements and drawing over the gap I was able to carry out an invisible repair to the heating element.

Later I did repairs on a Hi-Fi unit and reinstated burnt out tracks with the silver pen. A couple of CBs had a Ten Metre mod and where part of the new electronics joined the old circuit the pen came in useful again. Lastly I started experimenting with on glass antennas (on perspex actually) by using the pen and copper strip sticky tape. Later I used aluminium flashing tape to do the same. One time I even mad a loading coil by drawing a spiral thread on a plastic pop bottle. My two metre on glass J-pole worked a treat as did a 70cm quad out of the aluminium flashing tape, both real stealth antennas.

So once again University of Illinois engineers, been there, seen that and got the tee shirt. There is nothing new under the sun. One of these pens could be handy to have in your pocket in case you get attacked by vampires, but of course the real interest will not be in the pen but in a printer with their silver based ink.

IOTA and rare WAB via the birds

There are some things in life and in amateur radio that I will never understand. It is not nessasarily the complex stuff that baffles me either. For example some people like spare ribs and to be frank I don't mind them myself, but they are somewhat messy and 75% bone, so why would anyone chose ribs from a menu when for the same price or a little extra they could have a 16 ounce steak? It is totally beyond me. I am not knocking the rib lover, I just don't understand them. So it is with this next news item...

Paul 2E1EUB operating as 2M1EUB/P will be activating some rare Grid Squares on the Amateur Radio satellites over the next two weeks. In a post on the AMSAT bulletin board he says: Leaving for [IOTA] EU-010 [Outer Hebrides] early Sunday morning about 600 mile drive, so don't expect much action the first day! Will catch the ferry I hope on Monday next ...then first stop will be the island of South Uist, moving upwards to Harris and then Lewis. I'll put as much time in on AO7 mode A and B as poss and FO29 etc. This will be a 14 day opp so I'll be around at least a week on the islands then moving North and back down the East . Hope to be QRV on 145.847 USB mode B AO7 and around .50 on mode A. Hope to be active from IO67OV, IO68TF, IO67VJ and others.

Now I am not knocking Paul but to me operating satellites from rare squares is like doing SOTA via repeaters, collecting DX CCs via Echo Link or making love with your socks on. I guess there is some call for this which is why I am puttting it on CQHQ but I don't understand it. Maybe some of the satellite operators can explain the attraction. Everyone to his/her own. Anyway I wish Paul the greatest of success with his venture and if he wants to do those squares on simplex then I would be interested . Paul's 'Sat Van' and the picture of his shack on QRZ look quite impressive so check them out.

Stolen Radio - There is an app for that

In August last year I told you about Hugh Golding G7UOD and online rig register called, Rigregister Online The idea is you keep an online list of all your equipment’s serial numbers and then if they get stolen you can flag it so a buyer will be alerted if someone tries to sell it. Hugh recently contacted me to say the the site is going strong and has a few thousand users now and their listed equipment. There also is a Smart Phone / PDA search tool for checking serials too so you can check out any gear you are buying in the field at rallies, junksales or on a sellers doorstep. Check it out.

Note: If you discover a piece of equipment that is lost or stolen you should notify the police. DO NOT confront the person offering you the equipment ! Give the police the details and tell them the equipment is registered on The Rig Register. Information regarding the owner and contact details can be obtained by them.

Monday, 27 June 2011

UK RAE Exams - No Change

Despite rumours to the contrary, Alan Betts has confirmed that the Advanced (or any of the exams for that matter) are NOT about to be made tougher. So if anyone says anything to the contrary tell them it ain't so.

Sorry for the lack of posts here of late. Another case of life's little hiccups getting in the way of life. Not that I have had much to write about, my last planned SOTA outings got cancelled due to persistent rain and I was all set up for the RSGB's 80 metre SSB club contest when I was told I was moving boxes for my son Adam 2W0DPI was has moved back home for a while. My brother recently was in a serious condition in hospital and now we are worried sick about my eldest son James' fiance who has been rushed in to hospital. It always seems to rain but just lately it is the monsoon season in our lives. Lots of upheaval at work too has kept me busy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Wouxun KG-UVD1P/L 2m/4m Full Dual Band Handie

These days I tend to be quite up to date on what is happening in the world of amateur radio mainly because I constantly am on the prowl for something to write about, so when Radcom (the Radio Society of Great Britain's magazine) drops through my door it is usually yesterday's news.  The June issue had a little surprise for me however because on page 15 I saw the words 'Wouxun handy with 70 & 144MHz' and over on the back page a full page colour advertisement from Martin Lynch and Sons announcing the KG-UVD1P/L. I had heard rumours of this rig but had put them down to an April Fools joke that arrived too late. It seemed almost too unlikely to be possible and for those sceptics amongst us the doctored photograph used in the advert tells me that (at least the time of the photograph) M&S did not have one in their sticky palms. The tell tales in the image is that the seven is not consistent with the seven on the other Wouxuns and both bands are selected at the same time as shown by the arrows.

I searched the Internet and there was nothing at all about this rig even from the Wouxun web site. So all the data shown is from the ML&S advertisement.

Wouxun KG-UVD1P/L 2m/4m Full Dual Band Handie!

Main Features:
  • Frequency Range: 66-88 MHz (4m) & 136-174 MHz (2m) RX/TX
  • Work Mode:VL-V or V-V or VL-VL can be set freely
  • SOS Function
  • 1750Hz tone
  • DTMF Encoding Function
  • CTCSS/DCS Scan(Digital/Analog)
  • Bright Flashlight Illumination
  • Band Can Be Set Freely on The Same Channel VHF TX-UHF RX or UHF TX-VHF RX
  • Output power  5W
  • English Voice Guide
  • FM Radio (76-108 MHz RX)
  • Wide/Narrow Bandwidth Selection(25khz/12.5khz)
  • Priority Scan, Add Scanning Channel
  • High/Low Power Selection
  • Channel Name Edit and Display
  • 50 Groups CTSS/105Groups DCS
  • Multi Step Frequency:(5K/6.25K/10K/25K/50K/100K)
  • Multi Scan
  • VOX Transmission
  • Transmit Overtime Voice Prompt
  • Begin/End Transmitting BEEP Prompt
  • Auto/Manual Keypad Lock
  • Wire Clone, Programmable By Computer
  • Stopwatch Function
  • Low Voltage VOICE prompt
  • Busy Channel Lockout
The supplied accessories are: 1.3Ah LI-ion battery pack, Base charger with mains transformer and 12V leads, Belt clip, Dual band antenna, Wrist strap and Handbook.
    Available from Martin Lynch & Sons from end June 2011, taking orders now. Please note your card will not be debited until stock arrives. Price (Inc VAT at 20%): £99.95


    Personally I need another handy like a hole in the head but I am biting my lip trying not to pick up the telephone and order a couple. Will I resist the temptation? Watch this space!

    PS: I faked my photograph too.

    Update: from Martin Lynch via Twitter 1400 1/6/2011: "Wouxun KG-UVD1P/L 2m/4m Full Dual Band - Over 300 Orders placed Already"

    Update 3/6/11: I have ordered mine from ML&S. Estimated time of stock arrival: 5 weeks

    Monday, 30 May 2011

    You’ve Been Warned

    You must read this... You’ve Been Warned

    RSGB and the Tower of Shame

    When a UK radio amateur decides he wants to put up a mast the first thing they do is some homework. They ask themselves “Will my neighbours object?” and “Am I likely to get planning permission?” They approach other hams and ask what problems they encountered in getting the necessary plans passed. If they are a member of the Radio Society of Great Britain there is a fine service http://www.rsgb.org/committees/pac/ offered by them that can help to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible and give them the best chance of getting the essential piece of paper.

    What a UK radio amateur does not do is rush out and order the biggest tower he can afford and then learn like the Radio Society of Great Britain did that they cannot erect the tower at Bletchley Park, home of the National Radio Centre because it is a ‘Heritage Site’. Where was the fine advice? Where was the forward planning?

    The society now has to sell off their fine tower at a discounted price (http://www.rsgb.org/lusotower/) to cut their losses and when those losses are added to those already incurred by the ‘Green Shed Fiasco’ and being ripped off by the legal vultures for advice that amounted to,”Don’t bother!” over the PLT/ Spectrum Defence action, it puts the society in a very fragile state. That fragile state involves not only bleeding funds like a stuck pig, but bleeding angry members too. Some of those members are already very upset at what has allegedly gone on with the former General Manager and the limited facts that have emerged, due to the threat or potential threat of legal action for libel/slander that hangs like the sword of Damocles over the board members.

    From the ranting in the forums it is clear that a great number of both members and ‘would not be members if you paid thems’ are wishing that there was indeed a huge sword hanging above the heads of the RSGB’s board and that they could be brought to task for their mismanagement. Unfortunately RSGB is a limited company and there is very little that can be done. If RSGB were a charity for example then each board member would be personally responsible both legally and financially for their actions. Even school governors can be fired, fined and even imprisoned for mismanagement, even if it was the Headmaster was the one who ran up debts the budget could not meet and they had no knowledge of it (and it has happened).

    The questions keep mounting up about what on earth is happening at RSGB and the answers when they do come seem to always be far from satisfying. Over the years ex-members have left the society both money and equipment. Last year it was the turn of a museum full of radio heritage that was sold by the society on eBay and now we hear that one old timer’s donation of several thousand pounds is to be used to employ a fund raiser rather than being fed in to some practical project like keeping GB4FUN on the road. Where will the funds be raised from I wonder? Oh that is right from us members.

    I would hate to see the society fold and it’s hundreds of volunteers do a fine job, but I feel that as a member it is just like the management has steered us all down some blind alley and got us all mugged, I just want to punch somebody but there is no one to hit. None of us has personally lost a large amount of money but it is the principle of the thing. Collectively we all want justice, but personally I would settle on revenge. I just can’t see there being any satisfaction either way. I just hope the society can pick itself up and be stronger as a result. The key would be tightening the rules so these things cannot occur again. Maybe this is just what happens when things are run be well meaning amateurs?

    Saturday, 28 May 2011

    In praise of zip ties.

    In this hobby of amateur radio there are so many things we take for granted, one of those is the zip cable tie. I pondered the other day what we did before these things were invented and to be perfectly honest I could not really remember what I did before they became commonly available in the high street. I suspect I used pieces of string and stiff wire or wraps of insulation tape, but whatever is was it was neither as neat or convenient as the cable ties I use today. It took a couple of radio amateurs to remind me that wiring looms used to be wrapped with a none adhesive cotton tape, painted with tar and then lacquered. Nowadays zip ties and self amalgamating tape make wiring loom manufacturer a lot simpler or at least it would be if the looms weren't twenty times more complex due to the toys on our modern vehicles. I have since recalled that on my motorcycles rubber ties were often used along with a sort of aluminium tie with a slot one end and a round head at the other, but just how did I hold up my antennas? I am at a loss.

    This morning as I returned from the kitchen with my second coffee of the morning I spotted that the centre of my 5 MHz dipole was about three feet above the ground, turning it in to a Vee. Surprisingly it still tuned with only a tiny adjustment, but I had to fix it anyway. It was a zip tie that had failed due to exposure to UV and the high winds we had been experiencing. I took the opportunity to replace one section of the telescopic fishing pole that I use to hold up the centre of the antenna. It had split length wise some time ago and was held together with gaffer tape. Afterwards I wondered how long that zip tie had been in service and I found I had put up me 5MHz dipole in December 2005, so had been waving about being pulled by the wind on the antenna for five and a half years, I think I am happy with that. In most applications a tie would not experience the forces this one was subject to and so should last much longer even outside exposed to that nasty UV from the sunlight.

    Three cheers for zip ties! Hip Hip Hooray!     

    Sunday, 22 May 2011

    Dayton - Smells like the ham spirit

    The flea market section of the world famous Ham Radio extravaganva known as the Dayton Hamvention was disrupted Saturday when a sewer line ruptured. Vendors were quickly moved to another area and a crew moved in to clean up the area shortly after.

    One vistor told me "The flea market was impressive and there was no shortage of s##t to buy." Another told me "The smell was a bit of a problem, but no worse than the delicate aroma of armpit that can make your eyes sting in the more crowded sections."

    By the way Elecraft have the KX3 on display at the show, which looks very interesting. G4ILO's blog has a link to a video which I can't access just at the moment, but should be worth a look.

    Glasgow and Clyde Raynet on Jura IOTA EU008

    The Isle of Jura Fell Race is not for wimps, 28km over seven mountain summits, including the Paps of Jura, with 2370 metres of climbing. The safety of the fell runners is paramount and solid communication is essential. The duty of providing that communication falls to the volunteers from Glasgow and Clyde Raynet.

    Anyone who has worked with Raynet on this type of event will tell you it can be no walk in the park. Often to get to checkpoints Raynet volunteers need to be nearly as fit as the fell runners themselves as although they will not be travelling as far they will be carrying radio gear, including masts and beams and enough battery power to last the event and beyond, food and enough warm clothes to remain on the mountain all day in any weather. Weather in the mountains can change rapidly and the volunteers need to be able to stay in position whatever nature throws at them.

    In my book it is volunteers such as Raynet, St. John Ambulance, Red Cross and Mountain Rescue (Scotland)  (England & Wales) who should be getting medals at the end of such an event, because although I am impressed by the fitness and dedication of these fell runners I am certain they must be stark raving bonkers to even think about entering. Still everyone to his or her own, if we were all alike then we would never have invented the wheel yet.

    I have no medals for Glasgow and Clyde Raynet but we can all show our support because they will be active from Jura, which is IOTA-EU008 on all bands HF from 26th May to 2nd June using the call GS0RAY/P. Please look out for them and show your support by giving them a call.

    Tuesday, 17 May 2011

    Lindisfarne (Holy) Island EU120 Up-date

    A little up date from Ricky G0LZX about the GB0HI amateur radio activation of Lindisfarne (Holy) Island for IOTA he says...

    Just to let you know we worked exactly 1200 contacts in 18.5 hours and the radio was manned all that time, we generated a lot of interest and the people we spoke to were genuinely appreciative of our activation. If you work the maths it works out about 67 contacts per hour. We tried 2m which was a none starter, 6m which no contacts were obtained and stayed on HF the rest of the time. It was worthwhile and we did enjoy it, had a laugh and made a lot of amateurs happy in the process 100% success.

    Ricky G0LZX

    Well done to Ricky and the team. Not a bad tally when you consider the amount of other special calls flying around for Mills on the Air weekend, and various other events.

    I would just like to say if you have never visited Lindisfarne it is well worth a visit, particularly if you are in to history and culture, there is plenty to see for such a compact place. Take plenty of money however especially if you are not a member of the National Trust. There are some nice places to eat and at least one real spit and sawdust pub which may make a change from the mass market clone establishments we tend to get these days. I can't remember the name but the food and beer was great even if the place was in a time warp.

    Don't forget GB2HI from Hilbre Island this weekend 20th - 22nd May 2011. Hopefully that will be equally successful to the Lindisfarne event.

    Tuesday, 10 May 2011

    RSGB National Amateur Radio Centre (The Big Green Shed)

    Are you a member of the Radio Society of Great Britain? Wondering where you subscriptions are going? Well you may be glad to know not all of it has been fiddled on unauthorised expenses or gone to pay off the interest on the ex-general manager's credit card bill. No some of it has been poured in to what appears to be a money pit called the RSGB National Amateur Radio Centre. From what I gather the story goes something like this... RSGB is offered one of the many 'huts' at Bletchley Park in which to establish a National Amateur Radio Centre. The centre would be a show piece for the hobby and offer a great opportunity to introduce the ham radio to the general public. I am sure we would all back the thinking behind this, however after much effort and not a little expenditure it was found that the hut our national society had been offered was 'beyond economical repair'. Not wanting to retreat from their announcements of a wonderful new facility or miss the chance of a foothold in the now legendary Bletchley Park RSGB decided to replace the hut with there own building. Probably because of planning constraints the building had to be in keeping with the style of the surrounding huts, despite the fact that most of them are in such a bad state of repair that they will probably not still be standing in another couple of years. So instead of getting a building for next to nothing or building something more substantial RSGB paid a couple of hundred thousand pounds on a shed. Having seen the building prior to painting  it seems a terrible shame that it had to be painted  that yucky green to match the other huts but we cannot blame RSGB for the vomit inducing colour, however a nice coat of yacht varnish would have gone down a treat. What really gets my goat about this new centre is not the insane price of the 'shed' but the fact that it was scheduled to open in April 2010 and from what I saw through the dusty windows it is still an empty shell twelve months down the line. The money has been spent, there is no going back on that, but for Pete's sake (that is a metaphorical expression, I don't mean Mr Kirby) let's get the place open and start attracting in the visitors to Bletchley Park and maybe some new blood in to the hobby.  Okay I am a little miffed that I planned this trip six months ago and they still had not got it open when I got there, but a lot of us have been asking questions about why it is taking so long. In a more tongue in cheek thought surely the RSGB  would have wanted to have got away from the giving the impression that all radio hams are shed dwellers.

    Begin Activating Summits on the Air

    Every now and then I am approached by a fellow radio amateur with questions about Summits on the Air. Often those questions are about the rules, but more often I get asked “What gear do I need to start activating?” Usually it will be when I am half way to work on a repeater and the answer can be a long and complicated one. So hopefully I can explain a little better here.

    The answer is complex because everyone is different; you need to find your own level. If you are an experienced climber or hill walker the answer will be different from the answer for a complete beginner. The answer also depends on the summit you are intent on activating and the bands you want to work.

    Take the beginner on a small summit, a ten minute walk from the road that overlooks a major urban conurbation with a large number of radio amateurs active on VHF. The minimum equipment that could be used might be a handheld 2m radio with a rubber duck antenna, a waterproof and windproof coat, stout shoes, a log book (preferably waterproof) and a pencil.

    A stage further on and the transceiver might be replaced by a Yaesu FT-817 or FT-290 and a small portable beam so as to operate SSB. The preferred antenna amongst SOTA operators is the so called SOTABeam, either the one made by G3CWI or a homemade version. There are plenty of designs on the Net to try, but the object is to keep the design lightweight. The SOTABeam uses a boom made of PVC conduit and stainless steel elements. The elements are stored inside the boom for transport.

    To utilise a SOTABeam a mast is required and for this purpose most SOTA activator opt for cheap telescopic fishing pole (often called Roach Poles in the UK or Squid Poles in the US). I say cheap because the good poles are carbon fibre and we want the cheaper fibreglass versions, for reasons that should be obvious. Then we need some way to hold up the mast on the hills. If there is a handy fence post then cable ties, elastic bungees or even gaffer tape could be utilised, but the usual method is guy ropes and tent pegs. I personally use three short guys attached via a ring (made from the inside reel off insulation tape) that fits just above the first section of the fishing pole. The size of pole will depend on what you are prepared to carry a 7m pole is probably a good compromise, 6m will just about do if you want to keep the weight down and 10m ones are okay for easy summits but a bit heavy.

    So you have moved on from the handheld and you have a little too much gear to lug up the hills, so you need a quality rucksack. Make sure you buy a big one and one that is waterproof.You now have a rig, mast, SOTABeam, guys, tent pegs, coax, a mallet for the pegs, your log and pencil in a shiny new rucksack. It is time to consider what you need to do to take you station on the bigger hills.

    If you are planning a longer hike you first of all need to think of navigation. These days most people think of a GPS. If you take a GPS then make sure you know how to use it and take spare batteries. Even if you use a GPS and have well planned your route you should still have a map and a compass. Most experienced hill walkers will even take a spare compass. Again know how to navigate by map and compass. One danger of trying to follow a GPS track in a white out is you can easily walk over a shear drop. Your map should be the very best scale you can buy.
    Water: Even in the mildest weather there is the danger of become dehydrated while hill walking. This may first show itself by getting cramp, which can be extremely debilitating and turn a pleasant stroll in to a painful limp or worse. The amount of water to carry will depend on the temperature and the individual, but one litre should probably be considered the minimum.

    Spare clothing: The weather in the hills can change dramatically from minute to minute so just because it is sunny and warm when you start out does not mean you will not experience all four seasons as you climb you intended peak. As a minimum I would suggest a spare fleece, water poof jacket and trousers, gloves and a woollen hat, one of those silver blankets that runners like to parade in after a race (they are tiny when packed away) and maybe a bivi bag.

    Extras: I would suggest a whistle should be attached to the outside of your rucksack. This is to attract the attention of would be rescuers should you experience a problem. A luminous waistcoat or jacket to aid your being found or to ensure all your party can keep in sight during a white out. A torch possibly a wind up type and a head torch with spare batteries are a good idea.

    If you are beyond the beginner stage and thinking of tackling more serious hills the next thing to look at is footwear. Buy the best boots you can afford and you will get years of wear out of them. Choose Gortex lined or similar that will keep your feet dry even when the boots get soaked. Socks are important too, in avoiding blisters. I wear a thin pair of cotton socks beneath thick woollen walking socks. This way the cotton socks rub against the woollen ones rather than your feet which might cause blisters.

    Not all hills have nice paths up them and crossing moorland it is easy to step into knee deep pools so waterproof gaiters can be a great saver. They can also protect your lower legs from thorns, nettles and nasty biting things.

    So we pretty much have all the gear now but what we wear is important. Denim jeans are a no go because when wet they stay wet. It is worth looking at trousers designed for the job, they may be more expensive but worth it. The type I choose are very thin combat style cargo trousers. Although they are very thin they are surprisingly windproof, cool in summer and warm in winter, but the best thing is they can be soaking wet and after only ten minutes walking they are as dry as a bone again.

    Woollen sweaters may seem warm but they offer no protection against the wind, become heavy and take a long time to dry when wet. Fleeces can be bought that are wind and shower proof yet let the body breath and keep you warm.

    Tee shirts and underwear can be of the wicking type which draws moisture from sweating away from the skin.

    Finally we are kitted out for our mountain adventures or are we? A first aid kit and sugary sweets should be added to our bag along with our lunch which may include a flask with a hot drink or soup. I also pack a small MP3 player which I use to record my sessions if the weather makes conventional logging a problem and of course a camera to take some pictures of the views and the station.
    Now with all that kit some thought as to where your adventures are taking you. Is that peak that you want to climb going to be easily to qualify on VHF or do you just want to do some HF?

    If the answer is HF the next question is, which band? The activator is King and you should activate on the bands you want to do. If you just want to do SOTA with a VHF hand held rig then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but don’t moan when in the wilds of Scotland you fail to get a single contact.

    It is important to know how much room you will have for antennas. It is no point in trying to get an 80m dipole up on a rocky summit with a small activation area. In that case VHF might be a good option, but on a remote summit you might consider 20m and a vertical antenna. You need to judge for yourself what bands suit you and your chosen location.

    Antennas for HF: In order to not carry an ATU I carry a linked dipole for HF. I have made several one covers 80/60/40/20/10 metres and another 60/40/20/10 and is tuned on each band for the frequencies we use on SOTA. My wife’s liked dipole covers 20/17/15/12 metres and is tuned for the data modes sections of those bands.
    These antennas work by inserting or removing plugged links to leave a resonant dipole on the chosen band.

    For twenty metres operation you could use a wire vertical on your fishing pole with a 9:1 balun See: Rybakov 806 Multiband Antenna

    I would recommend against antennas such as the Miracle Whip and Walkabout type antennas as I have found them incredibly inefficient. I am also not a fan of the Buddipole as I think it is too heavy for lugging up hills and is less efficient than a simple dipole in an inverted vee configuration.

    What modes to use? Most activations are done on CW, FM or SSB but do not be afraid to try something different. My XYL is experimenting with PSK via a portable NUE PSK unit at the moment.

    Personally on a summit I like to do as many bands as I can, before I either get too cold or my batteries run out. I use a Yaesu FT-857 so I can run 25/30 watts on HF and I carry two 7 AH seal lead acid batteries for power. I usually have the ability to operate 80/60/40/20/10/6/4/2 metres and 70 and 23cms from hilltops although I rarely get the chance or conditions to cover all the bands.

    Hopefully that lot will help you decide if SOTA is for you or not. If I missed anything please add a comment so as to help others. Above all do it your way and have fun but stay safe, be aware of other folk out to enjoy the countryside, take care of the environment and when someone asks what you are doing be a good ambassador for amateur radio and SOTA

    Monday, 9 May 2011

    East to West - Holy Island to Hilbre

    It has come to my notice that some likely lads from Merseyside and West Lancs are due to activate Lindisfarne (Holy) Island EU120 next weekend  Kev Haworth, M0TNX, Paul Scarratt, G0WRE and Ricky Knowles, G0LZX will use the callsign GB0HI (Holy Island). They will be active on 40,30,20,17 and 15 metres on SSB, Data and CW from 0500 UTC on the 14th of May until 0500 on the 15th May. If conditions make it worthwhile they may operate 6m as well.

    Well I wish them every success in this endevour but when I tried to activate Lindisfarne (Holy) Island EU120 I could not generate any interest at all. The GB call will probably make all the difference but an island you can drive to did not seem to be exotic enough and I worked a handful of friends.

    The same mob are at it again on the weekend of 20-22nd May this time from Hilbre Island with the call GB2HI on the same bands. In this case they say 6 and 2 metres are also possible.

    Possible! I am sure at least one operator on 2m could generate enough interest on FM and SSB to make it worthwhile operating the band all day. This is due to the high numbers of amateurs from Wirral, Wales and the Lancashire coast who will have almost a direct sea path.

    In their press release (as seen at Southgate ARC Newsline) they say the Island has not been activated for 10 years. Strange that because I have it in my log several times during the last seven years and I know at least one radio amateur who regularly walks across at low tide to bird watch and is never seen without his dual band handheld. Likewise I know another amateur who regularly canoes out to the island with his waterproof floating 2m rig for company. I also seem to recall that I have worked Hilbre during Lighthouses week in the past couple of years. Maybe Hilbre is not as rare as they would like people to think, not that it would put me off giving them a call.

    So good luck to them. If you hear GB0HI or GB2HI call in and say "Hi!" or you could just pop over and say hello. If you do then be sure to consult the tide tables as the RAF rescue helicopter pilot from Valley is busy keeping his Princess happy by eating his Waitrose own brand rice pudding and does not need any call outs.

    Bletchley Park - A lack of direction?

    In the midst of that piece Southern Englishness that is Buckinghamshire sits the town of Bletchley a strange mix of run down housing estates and the homes of wealthy commuters who are something in the city. It was probably very different in 1882 when Sir Herbert Leon started building his mansion. Bletchley Park must have been stunning in its day, from the understated gatehouse with its grand gates through the manicured lawns complete with lakes and fountains to the Victorian splendour of the manor itself; with its built in pigeon loft, home to a flock of white doves, a dairy and ice house, it’s stable and yard and of course the garage for Sir Herbert’s two Roll Royces. Sir Herbert was a wealthy financier and the second son of George Isaac Leon, a stockbroker, and Julia Ann Samuel. He was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Buckingham at a by-election 1891.

    The high life at Bletchley Park lasted until, like a number of the countries historic buildings, it was enlisted in to the war effort. In 1938 the Government Code and Cypher School took up residency. From that point on it faded from existence behind a veil of secrecy to all but those who worked there or needed to know. Eventually the tales were allowed to be told and the Park’s part in that conflict and many others became legendary.

    Many radio hams were recruited to work at Bletchley and many more that trained or worked in the Code and Cypher School eventually became interested in the hobby. No surprise then that for as long as I can remember I have heard tales of espionage, code breaking and covert radio operations, sometimes in hushed voices and sometimes in fascinating talks at various radio clubs. One such talk involved how the person had been involved in breaking the Japanese version of Morse code and although I heard this talk several times over the years it never ceased to fascinate and enthral.

    Books I read about the goings on at Bletchley Park such as the breaking of the Enigma code and the cloak and dagger of the cold war blended in my mind with the James Bond I had loved since childhood and spy fiction from John le Carré, Alistair MacLean, Frederick Forsyth and others to make a potent mix of expectation, which when blended with the personal accounts I had been privy to over the years was in retrospect bound to lead to disappointment.

    What I expected to find when I visited Bletchley Park I cannot really say, but whatever it was I did not find it. The first impression when we handed over a small fortune for my family was good, the shop was well stocked with posters and tea towels emblazoned with the words ‘Don’t Panic’ , Union flags and postcards of Sir Winston Churchill giving his trademark two fingered salute (was it really V for victory or was he just telling Gerry to Foxtrot Oscar?). As we made our way through the exhibits the chaotic disorganised nature of the place became clear, here was a number of well meaning individuals doing their own thing without any systematic logic or plan.

    Firstly all the displays had far too much reading material for anyone to truly absorb within a reasonable time and stood reading the more interesting of the panels one became aware you were holding up the queue if you stood long enough to read one thoroughly. Then the displays seemed to have been used as an excuse to get rid of someone’s lifelong passion for Airfix model aircraft, there were hundreds of them. Odd bits of memorabilia had been haphazardly strewn about to give the impression of a 1950’s jumble sale. Here and there the ignorance of the person assembling the mess shone through as we recognised items my wife and I had possessed and which were made a long time after the war. Occasionally some toys owned by my children cropped up and even my granddaughter said “I have got one of those”.

    The Enigma display was better thought out but looked like someone had been sacked before they quite finished. Moving on to the Winston Churchill collection and a warehouse worth of the British Bulldog memorabilia, here we were greeted by the owner who had been collecting since the end of the war. After seeing the dusty disorganised mess of mostly complete tat it was hard not to feel sorry for the loony and feel he should probably have a nice cosy padded cell somewhere.

    Eventually we made our way towards the main house and the cafe next door. After lunch we visited the manor but were shocked to find every room was a bare conference room and no attempt had been made to restore the place to its former Victorian splendour. The so called toy museum seemed to be another personal collection that looked and smelled like it had been recovered from a council tip. The Railways at War feature was just an excuse for the local model railway enthusiasts to show off their collection of toys and those in attendance seemed more interested in doing their own thing than entertaining the public. As a result hardly any of the displays actually had any running trains and none of them actually had anything to do with ‘Railways at War’.

    There were other displays in various dingy, rotten and flaking huts but all of them were equally disorganised. The exception was the National Museum of Computing, the highlight of which was the full working replica of Colossus. It was at least clean and almost organized, but above all it was staffed by real enthusiasts who could talk the talk with the even most knowledgeable visitor. It was here my kids were in there element and we had to drag them away from vintage computers such as the Commodore 64, BBC, Spectrum and Amiga 1200. “Hey kids I have all those in boxes if want to use them” I said “and all those games”, but eventually we just had to wander off and hope they caught up.

    Great swaths of the park is still covered in more dingy, rotten and flaking green huts, which when we looked through the dusty windows appear to have been used to store yet more obsolete computer junk and un-seen items for display. The local sea cadets have a place at Bletchley but we could not find the Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Society whose station is supposedly open to visiting amateurs. Then there is the Radio Society of Great Britain’s new headquarters, originally due to open in April 2010 and still not occupied, but more about the ‘Big Green Shed’ later.

    What disappointed me most about my visit was not the impression of a dirty disorganised mess, but the fact that nothing had been done to capture the atmosphere of the geniuses at work, of the great minds that had worked feverishly for days, weeks and years to make sure we were always at least one step ahead of our enemy. Imagine the tension, the brain wrenching puzzles, the gallons of coffee and a million cigarettes. Take your average hippy hacker shave his head, put him in uniform and send him in a room with a hundred clones then give them a slide rule and an exercise book each, now your nearly there.

    How good were these guys? How clever were these guys? One radio amateur who told me a tale or two was sat in his shack one day holding a conversation with me, at the same time he was working a Japanese maritime mobile station in Tokyo harbour on twenty metres on CW in Japanese and also at the same time playing chess with another amateur via SSB on eighty metres while filling in return QSL cards. I believe my friend was an unsung genius but if what he told me is true there were some people at Bletchley who almost redefined the word and yet a lot of them left after the war to live normal unsung, unremarkable lives. Blessed are the geeks for without them the wicked would have taken over the world!