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.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Copper Thieves

According to the RSGB amateur radio news 'copper thefts are on the rise'. I wondered where my local beat bobbies had gone and there was me thinking it was down to de-manning due to government cuts.

Hang on maybe they mean the coppers are doing the thefts. That would not surprise me either, but no...

Apparently an amateur in Yorkshire was a victim of one of these copper thefts when all his cabling was stolen overnight. That included the coax and ladder line used for a G5RV antenna. While I personally would suspect it more likely this was the work of an aggrieved neighbour, wife, mistress or someone he upset on the local repeater, than someone collecting copper for scrap, it probably pays to be vigilant and to keep you wires and feeder out of easy reach.

For anyone thinking of doing the same here a warning, my garden is a death trap with an unfinished hole for my mast and trip hazards everywhere and when your lying in my hole with a broken leg be warned I don't take prisoners and then there are the tigers. Which reminds me I must get the lawn cut this week or I will loose the giraffes again.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

New Electric Parrot on Six Metres

I am no lover of repeaters on Amateur Radio but they do serve a useful purpose for mobiles on VHF/UHF when the terrain is not conducive to normal simplex communications. I tend to steer clear of the ones on VHF around here as they are a magnet for morons. The lack of control is one reason I do not support my local repeater group. I am happy from time to time to occasionally use VHF repeaters in areas where the locals are a bit more civilised. Locally UHF is mostly okay apart from when the VHF ones are off the air at which point the zombies migrate and the massive interference we get from overhead pendant crane remotes that seems to emanate from the local aerospace factory. However despite my misgivings about the need for repeaters I will do my best to support any amateur endeavour that benefits the hobby in any way I can. Ask me to publicize or lend a hand, just don't ask for money. My opinion is 'it is your project so you fund it' and if you put a repeater on one of the frequencies I am entitled to use then I will use it if I want to. I will not be blackmailed by being told "You use the repeater you should pay". Sorry, but you put the damn thing there.

Maybe if I lived in another part of the UK I could be persuaded that joining my local repeater group had anything going for it, but for it is just not going to happen. Personality clashes aside the only reason for keeping our local VHF repeaters on the air is to keep all the lunatics in the same asylum.

So it will come as no surprise that I am even more sceptical of repeaters on say 10 or 6 metres. Even more so as I rarely use FM on those bands and would prefer the bandwidth was given over to other modes. The danger is it allows the chaos to spread further than on 2m with the ability to offend even more people and put them off this otherwise wonderful hobby. However in the dim and distant when I was first licenced 10m repeaters in the USA were easily picked up in the UK and I used to listen to the truckers hauling ass down the American freeways. It is a while since the propagation on 10 was that good but it could be again and I think I would rather listen to distant repeaters than blinking beacons as an indication the band is open and a cue to call CQ further down the band. So maybe I should not be so quick to dismiss a UK repeater on 6m.

The Friskney and East Lincolnshire Communications Club have been investing their time in a new 6m repeater. GB3XD is now on the air from locator IO93WH. At this stage, (27-02-2011), it is operating in CW indentifiction test mode only, (becon every 5 minuntes). The output frequency is 50.730MHz and the input frequency is 51.230MHz with a CTCSS tone of 71.9Hz. It will be a bit deaf at first, as there is still some work to be done to the filters. All reports should be sent to G7AJP via GB3XD itself or via the 70cm repeater GB3LC.

If nothing else it should be a good indicator of inter UK propagation for things like the Tuesday night RSGB 6m contest every 4th Tuesday of the month and the Post Codes and Counties 50MHz contest on 09:00-1200 on 10th April 2011. RSGB VHF Calender.

Chester 610 squadron take to the air

My friends over the border in England at the Chester and District Amateur Radio Society are getting together with the Air Cadets of Chester 610 squadron to hold a radio weekend. Stations on VHF, UHF and HF will be operational on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th March 2011.  The event is to celebrate the launch of the Squadron’s own permanent radio station which will be under the supervision of Corporal Neil Hosker of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. All radio amateurs are asked to listen out for them and call in to encourage the young people taking part over the weekend. Cadets will get hands on experience of operating the radio equipment using speech, Morse code and digital modes on both amateur and air cadet frequencies.

I do hope that includes 5MHz (60m) which is primarily a military frequency and the one place where amateur to cadet contacts (using military calls) can take place for those of us with NoVs. When I first had my NoV I worked numerous cadet stations but it seems like a long time since I even heard any.

Good luck to them and may the propagation be good that weekend.

Icom 9100 Pricing

The Icom 9100 shack in a box ham radio is due in the shops any day now and at least one big American dealer is taking orders. Ham Radio Outlet has the rig listed at a disappointing $3,795.95, which at current exchange rates is £2,375. What is even more disapointing is that is is not even a fully loaded price and it does not come with the IC-UX9100 23cms unit which is another $649.95 or the UT-121 D-Star digital unit at $219.95. Add the auto tuner, speaker, base mic and roofing filters and most of us will have to go back to dreaming. I am pretty sure the UK price will once again prove this is rip off Britian and more of these will find their way in to the UK via suitcases than are actually sold by the dealers. It should be by rights £2,375 but if it is less than £3,500 here I will be most surprised.

For now I can only hope that there is a sudden glut of IC-7400s and IC-910Xs going cheap as those that can afford to up-grade or that Icom will send me a sample to review. As I say we can all dream!

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Life's Roller Coaster

Wow! Over a week has gone by and I have put nothing on my amateur radio blog. It has been a roller coaster week for me here in all sorts of ways. First of all finding out that by the end of the year I would be working for an almost unknown Indian company famed for asset stripping, poor safety and worker relations and being unable to pay their bills, rather than the Blue Chip superstar I am currently employed by was a blow. I had hoped that the financiers would see things in the same light, but it seems they have an inability to do their homework. The information is all out there on the Net for anyone to read.

I did manage some blog related stuff this week and a whole raft of new videos were added to SOTA TelevisionSOTA TV is a video blog I set up so that all the videos made by SOTA activations are available on one searchable site. There are nearly 400 videos posted so far about portable ham radio activations for Summits on the Air. It is a work in progress and I hope once I am through the backlog keeping it up to date will be only an hour or so a week.

My second eldest son had been away for the weekend and when he arrived in work on Tuesday morning he was called in for a meeting with the bosses. They informed him he was out of a job as they were closing his department. I had visions of us both signing on together, not a pleasant thought. Tuesday was also my eldest son's girlfriend's birthday and that evening over a celebratory meal he proposed. To complete the roller coaster so far on Wednesday number two son was once again called in to the office to be told he was being moved to another department and his job was safe. He then had to tell his colleagues who were loosing their jobs that he was okay, which has made a tense situation worse in a lot of ways. Many thanks to my Ukrainian friends Alex and Ivan, I am sorry guys but no knee caps to break this week.

There were lots of thing I hoped to do this week that never got done but the tick list far outweighed the cross list. I expected to have uploaded my SOTA activations from last week but the log books are still in our rucksacks. I did however do some antenna work. High winds had recently brought down my two metres cross Yagi and wrenched the coax from the N-type plug on my colinear leaving me trying to work the locals on a handheld with limited success and missing everything VHF and above on SOTA. First the N-type was refitted and the antenna re-errected and on Thursday after replacing one director and one reflector element I got that back up too. On Wednesday I had a little return favour from a friend who replaced the damaged cowl on my chimney and at the same time put up a bracket that was to hold the end of my 80/40m trap dipole and get it 10 feet above the roof. The new bracket tuned out to be as poor as the one I already had up and so it is back to the drawing board there. Part of the problem is the antenna is made of hard drawn copper wire that makes it quite heavy, add the traps and the feeder hanging from the middle, then some tension from a counter weight to reduce the sag a the chimney bracket twists out of shape. I have since had a call from another amateur friend who may have just the bracket I need.

The good times seemed to really roll on SOTA this week with the last of the Belgium summits I needed activated by Hans PA3FYG. Steve G1INK was up in Scotland again and supplied a host of Unique Summits including a couple I had activated but not worked. There were lots of others of course but these days uniques mean more to me than the points. I just hope the my last required English summit will fall soon. Crowsborough G/SE-007 still eludes me and if I don't get it soon I might have to drive down there and send Helen up with a hand held. There are a handful of Welsh summits playing hard to get but it is nice to know that there are still some unactivated Scottish hills and then there are all the other hills in SOTA. I just wish more GI and EI stations were active from the hills.

Plenty other ups and downs this week, however nothing I can talk about here, but every time the postman arrived both Helen and I were a little disappointed, because the USB board for the NUE-PSK unit has not arrived. It was due to be posted by airmail from the US on Tuesday and we hoped it might be here by now. Going on other things ordered from the states that arrived almost next day I had high expectations. I did however get some Anderson Powerpoles (About) I needed the next day and they will be put in to use for Helen's linked dipole that will cover 30m, 20m, 17m, 15m and 12m. What this means is with my dipole and Helen's we now can cover all the HF bands apart from 160m on our potable operations. We already have portable antennas for 6m, 4m, 2m, 70 and 23cms so on a nice sunny day the potential to stay all day on a hilltop working almost every band  comes ever closer. The fact that a lot of summits have only been activated on a couple of bands makes it more interesting.

I need some nice weather next week to make Helen's dipole and I also need to mend the one I broke last time out. By Wednesday night I may have another chimney bracket to try and then there is the 2/3s dug hole for the Tennamast to finish. This next few weeks could be exciting with some long awaited new rigs arriving in the shops. Oh dear! Not much time left for anything but radio next week, I guess something will have to give.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Romancing The Stones

Here I am back at work after a short break and some portable amateur radio from three Welsh Borders SOTA summits. Helen and I decided we needed a break after some particularly hectic and stressful months. We found a little cottage near Ross-on-Wye for a romantic long weekend and packed the chocolates and Champagne. I was told this was a no SOTA weekend and I of course said okay and was prepared to just chill out.

Maybe it was Helen's little test for me to see which I loved more her or ham radio, but she then said that because she was off all day Friday and we did not have the cottage until 4pm we could do a couple of hills en route. There were six within easy reach. All were one point hills, so no winter bonus.

The trip down seemed to take much longer than it should have done and we seemed forever stuck behind some slow-moving truck or other. Eventually we arrived at G/WB-013 Garway Hill and while I did 60 metres SSB Helen did 2 metres FM. The top of Garway Hill has the remains of a WW2 radio direction finding tower on top and a couple of benches. Neither bench was out of the wind unfortunately. We decided not to do any other bands or modes as by the time we had exhausted our contacts we were both very cold. We packed up and as soon as we were on the decent we were out of the wind and so almost thawed by the time we reached the car.

After a little shopping in a supermarket in Ross-on-Wye we found ourselves snuggled together on a sofa in the cottage. We had taken a few unwatched DVDs with us and settled down to watch one. Hitch one: The DVD player advertised was none existent and we had left our portable one at home. So it was Freeview or nothing and half the channels we have at home seemed to be missing. I found a music channel to listen to and Helen got out the Netbook. Hitch two: The battery was flat and the PSU we missing. Hitch three: Was the dining table that was in an unheated conservatory. Lunch on our knees then!

Despite the hitches we had a nice evening and then headed for bed. It was great to not have to get up for or be woken up by the kids and after late a lie in we got up and realised we had bought nothing for breakfast. So for the first time in a long time we ate bacon on some of our rolls we intended to use for sandwiches later. Eventually after lunch I was ready to go and burn some calories and suggested we walk along the River and take some photographs and then explore the town. The sun was shining and Helen said "It is too nice let's do some SOTA while the sun is out?", "But you said" I started and she laughed.

Forty minutes later we were sat on G/WB-019 May Hill and had a great time made all that bit longer by the curious muggles who asked us a longer stream of questions. May Hill is a nice hill with a copse of trees on each side of the trees is a seat that makes an ideal operating position. I opted for one of the benches while Helen moved away and put out a picnic blanket for her operating position. Again only 60 metres and 2 metres were attempted as time was getting on and we needed to get moving.

From May Hill we headed for G/WB-021 Ruardean Hill and were surprised that on this roadside summit the local RAYNET group had set up station in the cricket club for the monitoring of a motor rally through the Forest of Dean. The trig on this summit is out-of-bounds but there is a small park down a gravelled track called Pan-Tod Beacon. The beacon area is no more than a couple of feet lower than the true summit and well within the activation zone. I set up on 60 metres and as I ran the dipole out Helen called out to me that the fishing pole mast was being bent too far. From my position it looked straight and although I slacked of the tension something had broken. I still have not found the break but when I called the SWR was far too high. I made two contacts on half a dipole and then we swapped over to 2 meters FM were we had a great run of contacts including a summit to summit with Eleri M3NYR on G/WB-005 Long Mynd - Pole Bank. By the time we packed up it was so dark we needed head torches.

After a fantastic day we rounded it off with a nice steak in peppercorn sauce with baked potatoes and a few glasses of something ice-cold and bubbly. Hitch four had been the dipole breaking and now when I tried to charge the batteries the charger refused to work and the spare was still where I left it after charging the batteries before we left. Not that it was needed because we were woken earlier than planned by the loft door bouncing in the wind and rain hammering the windows. We pulled the covers over our heads and hoped it would go away.

The rain never stopped all day so after a bowl of porridge we had a little discussion and came to the conclusion we would just chill out and spent the day watching inane TV programs in our pyjamas. Helen was a little upset when she saw the Mr Men had changed and were now exploring space, it was just not the program she knew and loved from when the boys were little. An episode of Time Team seemed like they were trying as usual to make an archaeological mountain out of a thimble full of nothing. A couple of episodes of Scrap Heap Challenge were the usual big build up to a whimper rather than a big bang. Finally Coach Trip reminded me why I do not watch much television, a guide who I could happily strangle and a coach load of the most objectionable thick morons making idiots of them selves. I did enjoy however seeing some of the interesting Spanish locations they went to, which reminded me there is more to Spain than Benidorm, drunk Brits and scorched earth. In truth it seemed like a wasted day but it had the desired effect of leaving us totally chilled out.

Next day before we headed home we went to take those pictures I had wanted by the river. Unfortunately the river had recently been over the top and the pathways were half an inch deep in mud. I took photographs of two riverbank sculptures and then we headed for the town where I took pictures of another sculpture outside of the Man of Ross pub and of Market House. We had intended to look around the town but for some reason neither of us was too bothered and we were both a little cold so we headed for the car and were back home for lunch time.

We had a great weekend but back in work on Tuesday and within two hours it felt like I had not been away. By 9am it felt like 4pm and my stress levels were as high as ever. Was it worth it? Too right it was. If you have children and you have never been away without them I cannot stress how much you need to get away without them for the occasional weekend. I just wish we had realised this twenty years earlier.

Today I had a few chores to do including finding out why the colinear had stopped working. I guessed that as the mast had been moving in the wind at least three feet in any direction that the coax had pulled out. I was right but not only had the centre pin of the N-type retracted but the braid had disappeared into the insulation. After digging out the sealing washer and re-cutting and soldering the plug I was able to reassemble the plug with a new rubber o-ring and as soon as I reconnected it to the antenna the local 70cms repeater was coming in at 5/5 with it on the ground. After an hour and a halves work the mast was back up and I was getting good reports again. The 2 meter crossed Yagi however is still in a heap, but I needed sleep before I went to work on 12 hour nights. Hopefully this weekend the weather will be kind enough to get that sorted out.

On getting back on the air on two metres one of my chums asked how my "dirty weekend" went, I replied "Great! I am sure the mud will wash out eventually."  I should have added that the Land Rover will need a trip to the car wash too. Dirty weekend indeed! It depends on what one defines as dirty, I am pretty sure my output is clean at least until the batteries start to run down. Time to plan our next trip? There are still three more summits we can do from Ross-on-Wye. Mmmm! More days of wine and roses.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

XYL gets the portable PSK bug

My enthusiasm for things amateur radio have always been at worst tolerated by my wife Helen (GW7AAU) but most of the time she understands what and why I do what I do. Of course the fact that she holds a licence too has something to do with it. I may get a bit off stick sometimes when she feels I am pushing her to do some more SOTA activations or something but when she gets the mic in her hand I often have to wait for her to clear her pile ups long after my batteries are flat and her face always betrays her when she says she only does it for me. She quite obviously loves being on the end of a pile up as much as I do.

Recently two of our five children became licenced and have joined in our SOTA expeditions. Rather than share contacts Helen wanted to try something different. When we met up with Norwegian SOTA activators Mads LA1TPA, Aage LA1ENA, Kjell LA1KHA and Halvard LA1DNA, Helen was fascinated by the NUE-PSK Digital Modem that Halvard was using to do PSK from the summits. The NUE-PSK digital modem could easily be used in the shack but is perfect for field portable operations. I offered to get Helen one and when a unit appeared recently on eBay it was duly purchased.

On Sunday night I disconnected the 80/40m trap dipole from the main stations and set up the Yaesu FT-817 and using the NUE-PSK unit we trawled the bands looking for some PSK to decode. After two hours we had not got the unit to decode anything and I even had pocket digi running on my PDA as a cross check. I was convinced the unit was not working. I left Helen to it and went for a shower. When I came back downstairs I asked if she was coming to bed and she said no, she was having fun. Sure enough she had it working. She was only listening (or should that be reading) because the antenna was tuned higher up the band and without pulling the shack apart I could not feed the antenna through a tuner.

Monday I was on nights and I never saw Helen before I left for work, but spoke to her on the local 70cm repeater. Had I sorted out the tuner she wanted to know, but I had been somewhat busy doing other things, she sounded disappointed. When I arrived home this morning she was full of what she had been able to decode with the unit and gave me a list of callsigns from across the globe, maybe there is something to this PSK thing I thought as I slumped in to bed. She seemed most pleased to have decoded error free a Canadian station and I tried to remember when she last got this enthusiast about the radio.

Tonight I got the same question  "had I sorted out the tuner?" This is getting serious.

Just a couple of problems; The small format keyboard we bought does not seem to want to work, even though it is a PS2 plug and the firmware needs updating. The easiest way to up date is if you have the USB board add-on so it looks like I will be sending for one of those soon. The mod also allows for automatic logging to a USB memory stick which can then be uploaded to your PC when back in the shack. The latest firmware allows you to converse via RTTY as well as PSK and a CW mode is in development too.

Helen was talking of  trying out the set-up with the Miracle Whip. If it works it will be a miracle I have never managed a two way contact on that glorified dummy load yet. I guess using the 9:1 UnUn for a vertical is on the cards, as is a linked dipole for the WARC bands and maybe an LDG tuner for the 817. Digimode SOTA here we come! "What do you mean, we?" I can hear her saying.

IC-7410 released in US

The new IC-7410 amateur radio transceiver has been released in the US and is already being hailed as a winner. In many ways this new mid-priced rig out performs its more expensive predecessors. A lot of it is due to faster processors such as the one in the DSP unit which is 20 times as fast as the one in the 746PRO.

In an email I recieved yesterday from one of our major UK dealers the UK stock will not be far behind with the long awaited IC-9100 also expected. Added to the persistant rumour that the dual band mobile Wouxun KG-UV920R may be in the shops soon, the next eight weekscould be an exciting time for new radios. If all that is true what will we have to look forward to? A further rumour on the Wouxun is that pending FCC approval is all that is holding up their release.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Golf ball-sized mobile phone base station

Mobile phone base stations no bigger than a golf ball could help to bridge the digital divide and bring mobile broadband to distant areas both in the developing and developed world, the networking company Alcatel-Lucent has claimed.

Read more here...http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/feb/07/mobile-communications

What does this say for the future of other communications technologies? Here's to a mobile phone similar to the Star Trek communicator badge with the ability to operate all my ham gear back at home and in my car via the net on voice control alone as I am wandering around the supermarket. What about the ham radios? All replaced by a USB dongle or board in the PC with a coaxial connection to the auto sensing ATU and power amplifiers for the various bands.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

My Week as a Zombie

Last week we had some high winds and down came one of my ham radio antennas. My two metre ten element Yagi is a Jaybeam and probably 20 years old. It has been down before and a number of the elements replaced, but the beam was not the problem. For reasons that will be obvious to most of you it was mounted on a short fibreglass scaffolding pole attached to the aluminium mast. This is the second failure of a fibreglass scaffolding pole I have had recently and I suspect it is down to UV degradation due to age.

It has been a strange kind of week for me. I finished work last Sunday morning and got to bed by 8am, for some reason I was wide awake by twelve and so I worked some SOTA activations on various bands and a couple of SOS radio week stations. I missed quite a few stations simply because I could not hear them on the collinear, but although I was awake I did not feel like I was in a fit enough state to sort the beam out.

On Monday I got as far as deciding it was too cold to tackle the beam problem when I felt the pain shooting through my hands on the cold metal of the mast. For some reason from that point on I had an attack of ennui.
I just could not motivate myself. Everything was a real effort. I looked at the jobs I wanted to get done and then forced myself to do only the ones that had to be done. I filled the dishwasher, put some washing on and prepared an evening meal, but I could not even be bothered to make my own lunch. I read my emails but only replied to those that needed a reply. All the radios were on but apart from a few SOTA stations I could not be bothered answering CQs even from friends. I starred at my blog pages. I had stuff I could write about but did not seem to know where to start. I looked at my empty rucksack and the pile of radios that needed charging and I knew what I needed, but I left them there, looked out of the window at the dark grey sky and slumped on the sofa. The whole week was the same, anything I did was with supreme effort.

Not that the week did not have some highlights; I really enjoyed my trip to the radio club, once I got there and Helen's NUE-PSK unit finally arrived. I mentioned to her how I was feeling and said "I would have set it up for you if I wasn't so out of it!" I loved her reply "It is mine I'll will do it". That was telling me! It goes to show she is deadly serious about giving portable PSK a go. I might have to beg her to let me have a go.

It was however fortunate that I was a little out of sorts with myself, because I am fairly sure if I had got the beam back up it would be down again by now. For the last 36 hours I have been seriously worried that not only my antennas and fence panels were about to go west, but that the roof was about to come off my house. It took a long time to get to sleep last night because of the wind and I expected to find slates embedded in the roof of both the Land Rovers this morning.

One thing that made me feel a little ashamed this week was a fairly local radio amateur who has been making a nuisance of himself. His previous antics on the GB3MP repeater have been posted by a number of people on YouTube, he spent Christmas day 2009 through to New Year 2010 on the two metre calling channel playing music and having a ham radio quiz with himself. I refused, a long time ago, to speak to him after he was disgustingly abusive to my wife when he interrupted a net, which included my wife who was mobile and myself (at home). This week he was whining on for hours on 145.500 how someone would not let back on their net. It culminated in him threatening to kill himself. This guy needs professional medical help, but although I feel ashamed of myself I just wanted to to pick up the mic and shout "Go ahead do it! Give us all some peace. The Runcorn Widnes Bridge looks good." I am ashamed of myself but not as ashamed as I am of a system that lets people like this keep their licence and is not providing the obvious mental health treatments that they need. At one time he was an okay guy and he knew his stuff, but now he is just an embarrassment and a danger to himself and others.

I am stuck in work over the weekend so no SOTA this weekend, however if the weather is good I may be on a hilltop or two on Friday 9th February in the form of some little one pointers in the Welsh Borders region. This might be just what I need; Fresh air and the wind in my hair, but the winds had better calm down or these tiddlers could be difficult to qualify using rubber duck antennas on two metres only. If the weather is any good it will be as many HF/VHF/UHF bands as possible and I will be able to cross off a few WBs from my activated list. The rest of the weekend might be interesting too but may not involve radio. I have something to look forward to so why do I feel so down. Maybe it is an age thing, maybe I am turning into an even more grumpy old git. Just so long as I don't loose my marbles and become a nuisance with nothing better to do than mic key and curse at people on the radio.