Wednesday, 27 May 2020

PSK Reporter - a very useful tool

If you are a user of many data modes, PSK Reporter has the ability to be a big help. Like most things, it is not perfect but it does offer a lot of information.

As the name suggests, PSK reporter originates from the days when PSK was the main data mode in use. Nowadays it also works directly with most "sound card" modes such as PSK itself, FT8, JT65, JT9, MSK144, etc. Obviously it does not work for modes such as JT6M or FSK144 which do not have sufficiently strong error correction to produce reliable decodes (which is also why I do not use those modes).

PSK Reporter also aggregates data from other sources, in addition to what it gathers itself. So although most of the info comes direct over the internet from stations using WSJT or MSHV software, and to a lesser extent fldigi and DM780, it also receives data from sources such as CB-reporter, various CW skimmers, and many other places. So it does sometimes record CW and SSB contacts too, but rarely in my experience.
PSK reporter for 144MHz centred on Europe on 27 May 2020
I have shown the map above, but there is a very handy page of statistics too. For example, it lists who posts most reports ... surprisingly, not me by a long way ... and which modes are in use as reported via their sources ...
Random shot from PSK reporter statistics showing the modes received
It seems that PSK reporter developed out of the page of statistics, but I find the map very useful and this is where I will be concentrating my efforts today. A while back somebody asked me to explain on this blog how it works. I cannot claim to be an expert but here goes.

PSK reporter is a voluntary effort and its users are hugely grateful to Philip Gladstone for keeping it running. Of course, it has its glitches and failures, but in general it is wonderfully reliable.

There is a similar though separate effort for the WSPR mode,

So every time you use WSJT software, or MSHV or many others, they communicate via the internet with PSK reporter. You can turn it off, so you will not send any reports, but pretty well everybody else will have it turned on, so basically turning it off at one point is a waste of time. There are millions of reports in a day, tens of thousands an hour - recording and processing all this is a remarkable achievement for a volunteer effort.

In case you think that displaying all this information is some infringement of your liberty, well, if you press a transmit button then you have already made yourself pretty visible. The data from others is already out there because it is coming from people who can hear you on the radio. If you want to stay in hiding I suggest you take up some other hobby. Plus, you are probably already sending the data reports yourself.

From my point of view I set PSK reporter four tasks.

If you transmit, dozens of stations will report you. That is, unless you signal is bad, or you have done something silly, and that is the first task of PSK Reporter. So, first task, it shows IF you are getting your signal out. The second task is showing WHERE you are getting your signal out to. This is easy to appreciate thanks to the map. Even if nobody replies you can use PSK Reporter to see whereabouts you are being heard.

Third task is to show WHO heard you, at the level of a specific station. I use the map for situations where I am calling CQ and I see someone in, say Greece indicating that they heard me. Perhaps I see no reply, which may be because I am not beaming directly at them and signals just hit a peak when he heard me. So I can turn my beam directly towards Greece. This often works. It is quite common for a DX station to get just one decode from me when I am beaming somewhere else, but I need to beam directly to make a QSO.

Then the fourth task is recording and publishing WHO I HEARD. This does not seem quite so important but of course it is crucial if other people are to turn their beams towards me. Perhaps they do not have a beam but were about to go QRT because they were not getting anywhere. Now they can see that I am hearing them, so there is scope to get through.  They need to know there is a path open just as much as I do.

Short wave listeners play an important part in our hobby and PSK Reporter offers them a chance to show everyone who they are hearing. This is often very valuable information. There is no restriction on who can report to PSK Reporter so many SWLs take part. Rather than taking ages to send a QSL card, they can use PSK Reporter to give their helpful information straight away.

So what information is available on PSK Reporter? You can see directly by putting your mouse over the pin in the map (pins are explained later) what the details are. "Here is one I made earlier" ...
Screenshot from PSK Reporter of a reception report.
This is the type of info everybody gets to see on PSK Reporter when you are reported as having been heard. It gives my distance, locator and bearing from the point of view of the receiving station, in this case G8ECI. It also gives the information from WSJT or MSHV or whatever he is using. That includes my locator, frequency down to a hertz (if his frequency is correct), mode, band, and signal strength received.
This information is freely available to anybody with an internet browser. The other day somebody on KST chat room decided to abuse me about something he thought I said about shielding information on KST. It is a fact that the information he seeks to shield on KST is available for anybody too see via PSK Reporter (see image above). Repeating it on KST does not make much difference. I did not say anyone should or should not shield information on KST but despite this he decided I had some view on this and lambasted me anyway. Insulting me is not the best way to get on my side.
I have no need to give reception data on KST because it is all on PSK Reporter all the time. Sure, showing on KST that I am receiving a particular station is a good thing, but I do not feel any need to put any more data on there than a callsign. It is all published on PSK Reporter for anyone in the world to see. I never have and I never will put details on KST simply because there is no point repeating something that is published somewhere else. It seems strange to me that somebody thinks I might. And he got very steamed up about the idea that I might do something which is pointless. Anyway, a bit more aversion therapy from KST for me.

Returning more directly to PSK Reporter. There is also sending information associated with the pin (some call it a "flag" though it is clearly a pin) on the PSK Reporter map. This information will not appear if you turn PSK Reporter off at your end, but the more detailed data will appear from the other end anyway if they are on. I managed to accidentally report myself last night ...

As you can see it is possible to post yourself, but you have to try pretty hard to do it. Unless you have multiple radios with multiple sets of software running at the same radio you are unlikely to find that an issue. My secret is out. I was running five sets of software and four radios, but they are not usually on the same band. Honestly. But in reality this was not a false report, I did indeed receive my own signal, albeit over a very short distance.

As I have chosen to enter this information, it shows my antenna details. In my case I have also entered into WSJT, for example, my 28 element yagi for 23 cms. This will show up on the appropriate band. Some people either enter nothing, or we get a default "dipole" or we see that they have entered the wrong information for the band in question. Some people put their power and equipment details in the antenna field too.

When people enter the wrong information it can produce interesting results. For example, get your locator wrong and you may appear to be in the North Sea, maybe in the German Bight just off Heligoland. Or anywhere else for that matter. Change frequency in WSJT at the wrong moment and you may send reports for the wrong band. Those errors can be quite spectacular when someone comes up from 80m to 70cms and plasters their 80m contacts all over the 70cm map. The issue here is not PSK Reporter's fault but those of the operators. In WSJT you can stop this happening by having a different configuration for each band, or just press "Stop" between bands. Yes, I have done these things myself. I was that soldier.

So having looked at the information which thousands of computers are sending to PSK Reporter, 5218 active reporters sending 200 reports a second as I speak, we are getting near discussing the map. But even above the level of the PSK Reporter map, the PSK Reporter data is aggregated further to the DX Cluster. So when I look at DX Maps I can choose an option to have the PSK Reporter information added to that picture. We might think of DX Maps as something which carries QSO reports, but it can also show real time reception reports directly from software, if you select the PSK Reporter option. PSK Reporter is an the heart of lots of these systems.

Now much as I love the PSK Reporter map, on first acquaintance it looks bewildering. I think you need to tame it by choosing the options you need, bookmarking that page on your computer, and then using your own set up from the bookmark.

The opening page comes up with an array of colours, thousands of contacts in different colours on different bands, and a generally puzzling tub full of information. At the top of the map page here you will find a row of drop down boxes and one text field. To make some sense of it all, I would suggest that you enter On [pick a specific band band], show [signals] [sent/received by] [anyone] [leave this field blank] using [all modes] over the last [15 minutes]. Press the "Go!" button. That should calm things down, though on some bands it will wipe everything off! So you can work from there by selecting what interests you. Once you have the page that suits you can use the bookmark to come back to there as a starting point.

If you follow multiple bands you can open a new tab in your browser with another instance of PSK Reporter in that tab set to the other band. It needs you to press "Go!" every time you open it the first time, but after that each page updates automatically, Flicking between the tabs changes the band, but you will need a decent video card as these maps are quite demanding on computing power. As you learn about the different tabs your use of the thing may change.

If you enter a callsign into the text box which I suggested you should leave blank at the start, the field before automatically changes from "anyone" to the "the callsign". If you press "Go!" only contacts with that station will appear, but it can look a bit confusing as other stations pins still show up but are greyed out. You can put your own callsign in to see who is hearing you (select "rcvd by" in place of "sent/rcvd by). Or you might want to see where on the map people are located who are calling you, in which case you would enter "rcvd by" and your own callsign.

Or you can just nosey about seeing how your competitors are doing. Competitors? This is a scientific hobby Jim, we are not competitors but fellow researchers.

Returning from "the callsign" to "anyone" takes the specific callsign out of the callsign box and if you press "Go!" the screen returns to a general map of activity on your chosen band. You can look to see what you have heard on any band, in which case you use the "all bands" option. VLF bands are bundled together, and then all widely-used amateur bands are covered up to 23cms, including also 11 metres.
11m data contacts (mostly ROS or JS8Call) on 27 May 2020.
There are ways to get the feel for the enormous volume of data being updated every minute or less. If you click "display all reports" you get an enormous table of results. Clicking "show all bands" gets you to that rather bewildering opening map with hundreds of pins all over the map. Be ready with your bookmark because the browser's back button takes you right out of the PSK Reporter (or mine does anyway). This large scale information is of course valid and correct. It is just at the scale of a continent and over the entire spectrum. I feel that PSK Reporter can be a bit overpowering to start with, but it is very good once you learn how not to get overwhelmed.
12 hours all band monitors with map centred on Europe on 27 May 2020
At the other end of this scale, with 411 monitors on 2m alone, there is much to be seen by looking at the whole world view. Not so many people on at night of course, but you quickly see that most activity is in Europe, followed by the US, Japan and South America. Lots of areas with low populations such as in Africa and most of Asia have almost no activity. Frankly, the same it true on most bands. You begin to see why on some bands nobody replies from some places - there isn't anybody there.
15 minutes of 144 MHz with map centred on the world view on 27 May 2020

You can enlarge or reduce the map using the + and - buttons or the scroll wheel on your mouse (I find using the mouse for this makes me dizzy). It is a trade-off between more detail and less coverage. On some bands it is hard to get the optimum balance.

The map pins are different colours on different bands. If you are listening on more than one band at once, such as using an SDR or several radios, your pin will be multi-coloured. As you send in more reports for any period, your pin gets more or fewer segments depending on how many bands are receiving in any period. In my case this can be 4 different colours.

Someone asked me why PSK Reporter does not find beacons, especially data beacons. I have no idea. Perhaps it was decided that they would clutter everything up so they were excluded, but I do not know how or why. There are online discussions (link at the bottom of the PSK Reporter page) and I suppose I could find the answer there. I am not saying I couldn't be bothered to look it up - but then I do not have to say everything I think. The person who asked me should consider the possibility of looking the answer up without assistance from me. I was never a details person, and I am not starting on details at this point in my life.

PSK Reporter is a very useful tool. Sure, it has its issues, just like anything else. I think that if you can find out how to use it best for you it can be a useful tool. I have certainly got more contacts by using it. There is nothing in my book like seeing that somebody is hearing you from an unexpected direction. I still use DX Maps, where the sporadic E propagation map is superb. And PSK Reporter is not good for SSB and CW contacts, as during an aurora for example, or for most contests. I generally have them both DX Map and PSK Reporter open together.

Good luck with it anyway, and thanks once again to Philip Gladstone.



Tuesday, 19 May 2020

IC-9700 preamplifier power (again) and Asian Es at last.

Firstly, I hope this is the last posting on the topic of the DC power provided by the Icom Ic-9700 over the coax for preamps and other in-line items. AI4Y has produced this excellent video clip ...

This does not deal with the issue of using TX Delay to add sequencing to the timing, as M1BTR pointed out in  my last posting. AI4Y says that his SWR does not show a spike using his SSB preamps, and so he seems safe. I found the same thing, and I use a mix of SSB and SHF made preamps. However, to be safe, and when using other preamps, I would suggest adding some delay via the TX Delay control. I also have some added delay selected in the WSJT-X software which I often use.
I have mentioned that I am working from home. I have not had a "full-time" job since the last century, having been self employed with occasional part-time work since then. This suits me fine. The problem with the present project is that it is too big for my "office", which also contains the shack, so I have to set the work station up in the dining room in the East Wing of FVM Towers.

Mrs FVM is given to have a "proper" dining experience on a Sunday evening, I have to clear everything of a work nature away every Sunday afternoon. This week dinner was trout. As we live in an area associated with wonderful fishing rivers, it is only right we should enjoy some fine fish. And Sunday night's trout did indeed come from the banks of the River Tweed. From Berwick upon Tweed in fact. To be precise, from Aldi, in Berwick upon Tweed.

Faced with setting everything up again on Monday morning I decided to exercise my control as my own boss, and give myself the morning off. As my employer I deemed this to be expedient for me, my employee. Why rush to get everything set up on Monday morning?

So I used my time on the radio instead. This was partly down to a hunch that we might be due some Sporadic E. It turned out to be a very productive morning.

On 6 metres there was an opening into Japan and I heard several Japanese stations but as usual only once. After that there was an agreeable opening into Asia and I worked two new countries, A9 and 7Z.
50MHz FT8 stations worked at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020
 As usual click to enlarge if necessary. I worked 13 stations in 7 countries.

This was not easy as there was a considerable pile up on 7Z1SJ. I knew this would have been a new country for me, but pile ups are not to my liking so I went off and found A92GE instead. As it turned out David, A92GE, is further away anyway, so that made the best DX of the day 5326km. Not bad to the East. After quite a few attempts I did eventually work 7Z1SJ too.

All of this was on 50.323, as that is the frequency supposedly set aside for European stations to work outside their own continent. I had moved from 50.313 to find the stations from Japan, so I was already on 323 as all this emerged. There were, of course, European stations working other European stations on 323. It is easy to make a mistake. Then again this idea of reserving a set frequency for DX working is good practice not the law. Of course, all the European stations I worked were all contacted on 50.313.

I kept an eye on the 6 metre band but my main focus was on 4 metres. Last year I remarked on this blog how irritating it was that I had failed to work a station Cyprus run by Norman, 5B4AIE, on 4m. This irked me because we both heard each other, and because not only would it be a new country but a new continent (Asia) on that band. I was rather hoping for another chance of working Norman. As it happened it turned out differently ...
70MHz FT8 stations worked at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020.

My first 4m contact into Asia turned out to be with Efi, 4X1TI. I am not complaining. Norman is 3514km from here, whereas Efi is 3958km away. That is a new personal DX record for 70MHz for me. And then, better than that, I worked Norman too, to make it both countries. Norman often uses the callsign 5B4AIF for his "club" station, and this time he had 5B60AIF. Sounds like an informal type of club.

I was pretty chuffed to work 4X1TI as it has taken me years to repeat being heard in 4X on 70MHz.
70MHz at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020
So that is it, at 11:41 on 18 May 2020 I worked my third continent on 70MHz. That has only taken 43 years, 1 month 6 days and a few hours since my first continent on that band (Europe). Only 9 years and eleven months to the day since the second continent (Africa). Not that these things matter to me, you understand.

Worked All Continents on 4m? How long do I need for that?

Those other 4m contacts are pretty good too. Many of them are over 1500km and OH7RJ very nearly 2000km.In total 21 QSOs in 3 hours 32 minutes, 18 squares, and 9 DXCC. Oh, and two continents, one of which was new - did I mention that?

Now, I need to get my work gear out again and start proper activity.

The trout was great by the way. We must fish in the Aldi pool by the Tweed more often. They do not help you pack your bag at the check-out though.




Monday, 11 May 2020

More on IC-9700, tropo and lockdown

Greetings from sunny Berwickshire.

I have been out on my statutory walk
The "Post Road", Ayton.
This lock-down thing is not so bad out here. I get to walk in places like this.

Katy isn't so keen though ...
Katy on lockdown
I know that for a lot of people the insecurity is overbearing, plus the lack of work and money destabilising. It is better than spreading an illness though.

Luckily here I am working from home. I have been working from home since 1999, but rarely have I been so busy. Will I ever sell what I am working on? Who knows. But it does keep my brain cells going. So radio has had to take a bit of a back seat. It is always a tussle which work usually wins. I am lucky that I have anything I can do at the moment, and if you are stuck unemployed I sympathise. I remember what that is like too.

What I am saying here is that I consider myself fortunate and I know that many others are much worse off. Despite this, I only have my own furrow to plough, so I plough on.

I have received a very useful email from John M1BTR. He has done a sensible thing by contacting Icom UK about the DC power supply on the IC-9700.

He writes:-

Total current available for pre-amps is 750mA

Sequence delay is set for each individual band through:


The chap who phoned me says he uses a setting of 15mS for his transverters.
The preamp 12V lines are fused. A short will blow the fuse. It's a big job to replace them as a number of circuit boards have to be removed to gain access to the fuse(s). 

Ah, SET - FUNCTION _ TX Delay. Why didn't I think of that? (Answers on a postcard not required).
As you can see I have now set mine to 15mS too, though I did not find any SWR reaction at "OFF" anyway. Best to be safe here I think.

Again --- why did this not occur to me before? I had set this up on my IC-7100 6 years ago. I looked again now and I see that they are all set to 30mS on the IC-7100. I think that was for using RF Vox amplifiers made by RM Italy as I used to have those - in fact I still have two small ones kept for a future HF/VHF portable rig which nobody is making yet.

 This is how the IC-9700 manual explains it.
The reference is to avoiding SWR spikes on the IC-9700, which is fair enough in the 9700 manual; I am keen to have it to save damage to the "external equipment" as well and that aspect is not very clear.

Still, I should have known and clearly I did 5 years ago. I just seem to be finding the manual hard to comprehend.

John has provided the information on total current available and the fuses which is very important. I think that should be in the manual and if it is I cannot find it. The turn-off and warning I mentioned in my last posting may be in addition to the fuse. 750mA is certainly enough for my purposes. Even with one of the common generic preamps on each band they would only draw about 600mA. I imagine that fitting a fuse is cost effective from Icom's point of view and not everybody uses the power output facility anyway. I suppose that a re-setting fuse would just create a different set of problems.

So thanks to John for making a helpful contribution to this emerging debate.

If you are joining that stream there is lots more on the IC-9700 to be found by following the label in the sidebar.
There was nice tropo opening between 4 and 7 May ...
144MHz FT8 contacts at GM4FVM 4 to 7 May 2020
On 2m that brought in 24 QSOs to 5 countries and 13 squares. I always enjoy a contact into LA on 2 metres. This time I was heard repeatedly in the Faeroe Islands again, but still no contact on 2m there - yet. On 70cms it was 6 QSOs into 3 countries, with each being in a different square. ODX on 2m was DK2EA in JO50 at 1114km, and on 70cms DJ5MS in JO54 at 903km. Once again 70cms DX was not bad at all compared with 2m, and I bet more activity would bring it closer to being equal.
432MHz FT8 contacts at GM4FVM 4 to 7 May 2020
As usual, click to enlarge the images if you need to.

Another feature of recent conditions has been that I have had 9 FT8 QSOs into PA on 4432MHz since 14 April. Many of these have been stations running quite low power and vertical antennas. I bet I could have done better if my antenna had been vertical. It also shows what happens when there is activity. I simply noticed these stations on PSK Reporter and then tried very hard to reach them when the QSB permitted. It took time and patience though.

On 23cms I have had another contact with Niels Erik, OZ2ND. My last one on 23 March was a bit scrappy, this time I worked him with no difficulty at all. That makes me feel a lot happier with my 689km distance record on 23 cms.

Outside the tropo lift I was pleased to work a new DXCC entity on 23 cms when I completed an SSB contact with GD1MIP on 11 May. Despite the dramatic reduction in passenger flights at the moment, there are still enough planes around to ensure some contacts via aircraft scatter. We had been trying for a while and I must say that my hopes were flagging. Andy's enthusiasm kept me going but I had just suggested giving up when he said "one more plane". So I explained I could only wait 2 more minutes. He was right, it worked. We could have had a longer SSB QSO from that one plane, but I had to go QRT. But still, another country worked on 23cms for me, bringing it to four (G, GM, GD, OZ) and seven squares. Thanks Andy.

Various others have helped the 23cm square count up and I appreciate their efforts too. The VHF/UHF section of the GMDX group have been very helpful in this effort. They are mostly focused on contests, which is not my primary goal, but we share a common interest in working each other so everybody gains.

I have made various improvements to the 23cms set-up, as mentioned before. Latest arrival is an ex-equipment Jenelec power supply. Sadly it has a dodgy electrolytic so that has gone into the "to do" pile. With work beckoning I doubt if it will be fixed soon either.

Not much Sporadic E yet.
Our First Minister continues to encourage us to "stay at home", and only to leave the house under certain clearly defined circumstances. I am following her guidance. Please follow best advice where you are because we do not want to have to go to severe lock-down..
Katy under severe lock-down


Monday, 27 April 2020

The Icom IC-9700 external pre-amp DC supply is a bit odd too ...

This is more on the oddities of the IC-9700 unexpectedly continued from four days ago in the last posting which is here and then even more here. The last one has a link which expalins it fairly well.

I have to confess that I made a mistake (wot, another one after Wrong-band-gate?).

Yes, when I wrote my initial review of the Icom IC-9700 (you can find that here) I was mystified by the lack of any proper explanation of how the external power supply to power a mast head external pre-amp worked. I described it as "an issue I am not so sure is really an issue".

Well, the mistake I made was to think I had the masthead preamp supply turned on when it was turned off. The reason why I made that mistake was the same as the issue I described, the manual does not explain this well enough. Actually, it does not explain it at all.

The procedure I followed at the time to get the masthead preamp supply turned on was in fact that procedure for the IC-9100. Thanks to Andrew, G0JCC, for clearing that one up for me. I was happily turning on and off the internal preamp and assuming it was the external supply.

It soon dawned on me that something was wrong. Not that it mattered much as I was using an outboard sequencer and bias-tee system so I did not need to rely on the internal 9700 supply. Nevertheless I did check and found no voltage on the 144MHz socket and I came to the conclusion that something had stopped working. Then soon after I discovered the 23cm socket was the same. The issue went into the "to do later"pile along with various clocks computers and linears that need fixing.

It did irritate me though. An issue that doesn't matter usually bugs me for ages.

Then this weekend I got an email from John G3WZT. He had found exactly the same thing, though fortunately he took it a bit more seriously that I did. After 24 hours of mind-wrangling it finally dawned on me what was wrong. The supply was indeed turned off, not faulty. In my long experience of these things I find they never work well if they are turned off.

And ... I did not know how to turn it on.

You have in fact to turn it on in two places for each band, in other words six times for all of them, and if you press the P.AMP button you get the internal one instead which will throw you right off course. And I had been thinking that the button applied to both pre-amps (because it says so in the manual - silly me). The idea that the button turned on the external preamp power came from the way the IC-9100 works, helped by the misleading manual for the IC-9700.

There is a lot of resistance put in your way If you want to turn this supply on.

The first line of resistance is page 1-1 of the manual which says the button on the front panel controls two preamps.

The second line of resistance you need to cross is the External pre-amp control in "Connectors". You should only need to do this once.
IC-9700 Selecting External P.Amp in "Connectors"

The third line of resistance you need to cross is on "Function page 2".
IC-9700 Selecting Function page 2 after External P.Amp has been enabled for that band.

Right, so here goes.

This, I think, is the way to turn on the IC-9700 DC supply for external preamps.

1) Select "SET"
2) Select "CONNECTORS"
3) On Screen 1 of Connectors select "External P.AMP
4) Turn the DC power supply on for the bands you want to use.
5) Return to main screen
6) Select FUNCTION
7) In Function select page 2
8) Turn on EXT P.AMP.

If you do not do steps 1 - 5 then the EXT P.AMP button on Function page 2 is greyed out.

Having done this the EXT P.AMP button on Function page 2 becomes your toggle switch for the external preamp and the button on the front does that job for the internal preamp. There is no indication on the display that you have the external supply turned on, you need to rely on the button on the Function screen for each band in turn.

Now there is very little in the manual to explain what is going on here. No wonder various people are confused. The manual misses the following piece of information:-
1) that the radio has DC over the rx coax at all, because how the DC gets out of the rig is never explained
2) the voltage
3) the polarity
4) the maximum current available
5) whether it is sequenced
6) if so how much it is delayed
7) whether the delay time can be varied and, crucially, -

Briefly, these are the answers I can cover based on my observations (1) DC bias is available on rx once you find out how to turn it on (2) about 13.8V falls to 11.7V at 330mA, (3) +ve to coax centre meaning commercial preamps like SSB and SHF products work natively (4) not sure but it runs two of my 200mA preamps on two bands (5) apparently so, but don't count on it because we are not told (6) no idea (7) apparently not (8) I have done my best above.

It is not really my job to re-write the Icom instruction manual. Without much information I can only surmise these things so please do not take them as definite.

What information they do give is pretty cryptic, as here on Page 4-1 of the main manual:-
Part of Icom IC-9700 main manual page 4-1
This makes sense to me now, but only after I know what is happening. Just a bit of info - like what this is and how it works - would have helped me enormously. And the key bit of info missing for me is that it does not say that you have to come back out of Connectors to go to Function page 2 and turn it on for each band in turn.

I think what threw me right off the track is the comment on  page 1-1 "PREAMP/ATTENUATOR KEY Turns ON or OFF and selects one of two receive RF preamplifiers ..." What? The button acts on two preamplifiers? One of two? Which? One at a time, and how does it select them? I took that to mean the button worked on both internal and external preamps depending on how you set Connectors. This was not an unreasonable assumption as on the IC-9100 the equivalent button controls its external preamp. If that was not so, where are the two preamplifiers? This reference to two preamplifiers seems to be wrong.

'Onest Gov, it wasn't a mistake, I was misled good an' proper.

Anyway I am not one to be bitter, as you all know. Oh no. Icom, also, this type of thing would have been a lot easier if you had got page 1-3 correct in the original digital manual, then updated the manual available at the Icom UK site to correct that mistake, and not left me to resort to a paper copy where you have stuck a corrected page 1-3 into a sheaf of loose papers.

It is working now. I have been able to take out my cobbled-together sequencer and bias arrangements, freeing my rats nest behind the bench of 0.32% of its clutter. I also have 47mm of freed-up shelf space. [One of those two statistics is made up, the other is true]. I can do this now because my 2m and 70cm linears both pass the DC supply through to the preamps on receive. My 70cm one does not have a DC path through it, but then I do not use the IC-9700 for 70cms.

EDIT - I discovered that my 2m DCI cavity bandpass filter does not pass DC. I know this now because the IC-9700 must check for a short circuit on the coax. When it found the short it automatically turned off the DC supply (the button on the Function page 2 screen turned to "off") and posted a message on the display warning me of what had happened. I can find no mention of that in the manuals either but at least it works. 

I have checked the sequencing and there appears to be no SWR spike on going to transmit. At that level anyway everything checks out with the sequencing. We shall see however. I hope nothing gets blown up due to faulty timing. I would have more confidence if I had some information in the manual to support the evidence that it works. So, for now, all I can say is that it seems to be OK.

I now expect emails from sad individuals saying that I am carping and that I should have worked this out at the start. OK, the Icom IC-9700 is a very good radio. This DC supply is now working perfectly well. What I am going on about is that several of us have been left confused. I thought there was something wrong with the radio, not because I am totally dense but because it is very hard to understand the way it has been documented.

There are 96 pages in the basic 9700 manual. The basic manual is just a quick start guide as there are 173 pages in the advanced manual. I would have thought that any radio that claims to be a VHF/UHF DX-capable device would make things like this able to be understood, even by me. Surely a page could have been found to give us the details?

Much help was received in solving this from Andrew, G0JCC, and John, G3WZT. Thanks both of you for setting me thinking.



Friday, 24 April 2020

The odd aspects of the IC-9700 and 23 cms progress.

I have been busy with more difficult stuff (more later) so here are a few odd tales to keep us going.

First some small success:-
A QSL for my first contact to Denmark on 23cms:-
QSL from OZ2ND for 23cm contact on 23 March
As Niels Erik says, the two previous contacts on 144 and 432 MHz were good too. In fact I would have been happy with either on their own. This was our 19th contact, but perhaps the sweetest one for me.

I do like to receive a QSL card though the post. It also shows the merit in asking people to move up a band after they have worked you. You then have a reasonable chance that the propagation will also be good at the higher frequency.

Progress on 23cms:-
I have had a bit of trouble getting out on 23cms. You would not think this given the QSL card above, but I do not seem to be having the success I thought I should. I can hear better that I can be heard. Or so I think.

After a good QSO with Jeremy M0XVF I was amazed to hear Sid, G8SFA. Of course, to confirm my doubts he could not hear me. After emails and a long phone call Sid could confirm that I was not reaching him. So more work needed.

Thanks to some more encouragement from Jeremy XVF, I have been ironing out a few problems. I had been using some back-to-back N-type plugs to get around linking various bits together (just one on each band). The idea is to reduce the rats nest of 10mm diameter leads round the back of the desk. I have become increasingly wary of these.

Some came from David GM4JJJ with the equipment he left to me. I then bought a couple more claiming "not the usual rubbish". So now of course I do not know which is which.

I got even more  concerned when bits of the waterproofing seal fell out of one and looked decidedly dodgy in another one.

Not easy to photograph without taking the thing out into the sun and angling it like a telescope. Anyway this was the best I could do with it just pointed upwards (the sun never gets overhead at non-tropical IO85, in case you wondered).

I doubt if this puts anything in peril, though they are supposed to be precision items.

So I went through and took them out and replaced them with short patch leads. Expensive but effective.

Then I tried to set up an arrangement whereby the switch from 2m to 23cms is easy. As you will know the IC-9700 does not allow differential linear switching. Also, since the RM LA250 linear arrived I have had to borrow my 23cm bias-tee for 2m. More later in this blog.

I now have a nice new SHF-Elektronic FSP-144 2m bias-tee for 2m, and so the general purpose one can go back to 23cms.

Anyway, with everything properly wired up on the 23cms this time so I could get going with a bit more confidence. The figures are a bit better. SWR down to 1:1.1, power output up to 53W. This is annoying with a 100W linear.  The root cause seems to be the IC-9700. As I have noted before, power output is only about 4W on 23cms. I am not sure why that is. I need to discover a reason, apart from the obvious possibility that my power meter is faulty. The little LED display on the linear suggest about 50% output, so I have that to go on ...

Buoyed up by all this I went on to the RSGB 23cm contest to give away a few points. I was pleased to work M0XVF and a couple of regulars, but also GM4BYF for a new one. I usually find the Edinburgh area a problem but not this time.

Then a strange quirk of the IC-9700
When I reviewed it I mentioned that the 9700 has two receivers but only installs one sound card in a computer. However, it does have two loudspeakers and two line outputs, leading me to the idea that I could rig up a second audio input and monitor two data frequencies at once.

Well a couple of days ago I was trying to listen on 1296.200 while leaving the other receiver on 2m FT8. The 23cms receiver was set as active and 1296.200 was highlighted as the bottom (sub) VFO. The WSJT-X software was showing the frequency as 1296.200, though of course I was not expecting any FT8 as I was listening to 23cms on the loudspeaker.

Imagine my surprise when MM0CEZ popped up calling CQ apparently on 23cms. Or at least 23cms was the active frequency on the IC-9700. I could hear nothing on the loudspeaker. Curious, I decided to work him and sort out what was happening later. It quickly became clear that the WSJT-X software was controlling the frequency and showing the data contact on 1296.174, but I was working Peter on 2m. Whatever the frequency on the software (23cms), the signal was going out on the secondary frequency (but top on the display), i.e. on 2m.

I thought I should explain to Peter that this was a mistake as he is not exactly DX and he must have wondered what I was up to. He was very good about it and offered not to tell anybody if I felt I needed to keep quiet. After all, I thought, who would admit to working someone on the "wrong band"?

But this does seem to be a "thing". I set about re-creating it on the IC-9700 today. Would you expect this readout to produce a signal on 144MHz?
WSJT-X software showing IC-9700 on 23cms, with 2m contacts being regularly displayed
It might be nice if it was real as I would like to work PA on 23cms.

During this time I was listening on 1296.200 and the IC-9700 display was showing this...
IC-9700 showing a display which does not suggest to me that it is working data on 144MHz.
The S/Po meter on the top (shaded) display shows RF output on 144mHz, whereas the meter reading on the 23cms section with the green mark shows an S-meter reading on 1296.174. The meters at the bottom below the 1296 readout do not relate to that frequency but to 2m data transmission shaded at the top.

There is nothing wrong with this. I think it does not happen if the frequencies are reversed between the top and bottom displays, in which case the data output would be on the same band as the software suggested. I just find it very difficult to comprehend.  I can select and listen to a VFO but yet while my computer is showing the same frequency it is also working stations on a different band as well. That WSJT should show a different frequency from the one it is using does my head in.

An outcome like this is inevitable as the 9700 only has one sound data connection to the radio (active on the top display), but it allows the CAT control to alter either frequency depending on which is selected. So I was able to change the lower highlighted readout from 23cms to 70cms and back again, and the WSJT readout followed, while the RF output continued to come from the USB signal from the computer on 144.174 (despite the computer and the highlighted readout on the 9700 showing 1296.174 and 432.174 respectively).

I usually use the 9700 as a single-band-at-a-time radio. I think, being a bear of small brain, I should stick to that approach.

I said when I first tried the 9700 that it should have been possible to take two separate audio feeds out via two separate sound ports (after all, it has two loudspeakers). The Elad FDM-DUO have several audio and CAT connections. This IC-9700 outcome I find bizarre.

At least Peter saw the funny side of being worked on the "wrong band".

And now for something just plain potty:-
I do not have any 27V operated relays in my relay box. I was offered some 24V ones a few years ago but turned them down as I could not think of a use for them.

It occurred to me that if I had a relay on the 27V DC supply to my 23cm linear it could switch the PTT between the 2m and 23cms linear. When the linear supply was on it would switch the PTT to that, and when unenergised it would connect to the 2m one. No need to plug and unplug the phono plug and lead as I had been doing. And it would be fail-safe as the 2m linear has RF VOX and the 23cm one passes the full 4 watts through. Just turning on the power supply to the 23cms linear would switch everything and no plugs to swap about.

Even better, with both the 2m and 23cms now having their own bias-tees I could supply both pre-amps from my single sequencer. Perfect, and they are now both off when either band is in use, which is good as it means they do not get RF shoved down them on the other band.

The thing is, no 27V relay. And no shops to go to. And even if I was not locked down there would be all that soldering. And I am busy as I have to work people on the wrong band and important stuff like that. And, I want no further expense right now.

Why not use anything lying about? The transfer relay I bought from GM4JJJ's SK clearance sale at the GM Microwave Round Table says "DC to 2.2GHz". OK, DC is a bit less than I had in mind but I can always take it out again if I need it. If I use plugs that is, with a non-solder solution.

I have a few dodgy N-type to SO-239 adapters. And some PL-259 to phono adapters. Drat, only two of each and I need three. Hey, I have an N-type to BNC (I wonder why), and a BNC to phono adapter. I have little need for these adapters as almost everything is now N-type. Why not use them for DC too.

No need to lose sleep over whether the N-type, the PL-259 or the BNC are best at .... 0hz.

And finally, the transfer relay had a 4 pin plastic plug which I have nothing to socket to it (as they said in the 1960s). I cut that off and added two banana plugs. Not that I like banana plugs but they have their uses. In this case to stick into the DC connection posts on the 23cms linear.
Transfer relay and the assortment of pluggery required.
This must be one of the maddest bits of construction I have done. Well, not construction, more assembly. Does it look terrible? Yes. Does it work? Yes.

The elegant way to do this might have been to buy a 27V relay, which at this moment seems a bit mad. The way I have done it allows the valuable transfer relay to be removed at any stage. I could STAY HOME as instructed. And what was I going to do with those adapters anyway?

The even more elegant way is to build a single board computer to read the Icom CI-V line and switch the PTT that way. Don't worry, I am working on that one.

EDIT - More on the IC-9700 in the next posting here



Thursday, 9 April 2020

Lots breaking down and a deep sense of dread.

I was going to start this posting with an appreciation of Catherine Catherwood, our Chief Medical Officer. Not now, as she has lost her job after breaking her own rules.

The point being that I usually only trust ideas and numbers and science. I generally do not trust people. People who want to convince me have to produce facts, rather than just claiming to be right. We all know who does that type of thing, and we do not trust him.

When I need advice I turn to an expert.

More of coronavirus later.
This is the time of year for Es to get going, and it has not disappointed - briefly. Things are also doing well on the meteor scatter front, though tropo has not been quite as good as one might have hoped.

There was some early action on 24 March. The earlier tropo which had brought me OZ on 23cms did very little more. Despite the high pressure there was nobody to work. For several days I could call CQ and see my pin in the 2m PSK reporter map at various OZ locations, but having worked all of those there was nobody to talk to. The path across the North Sea on 2m tropo was open for long periods for three days.

The tropo was better to the West where sadly there are very few stations. Mark, EI3KD, was running a special event station on 2 metres to mark the events of 1920 in County Cork. I could not resist that one. I then asked Mark to move to 70cms, which he did and gave me a new DXCC and new square on 70cms.

Despite this, tropo was a disappointment over a period when pressure was high but the moisture content of the air was not suitable.

24 March seems a bit early for a full scale Es opening on VHF, but that is what happened. On 6 metres I worked 30 stations in 21 squares, 5 countries and two continents.
50MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 24 March 2020
On 4m it was not quite as dramatic but it was still an earlier than usual opening...
70MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 24 March 2020
Since then there have been fairly regular stations popping up on FT8 on 6m. Although I have had QSOs, none of it looks like the Es season has started here in earnest, or not yet.

Meteor scatter has produced a steady stream of contacts on 4m and 6m. I have turned on the 100km markers on this map, with thicker lines for 500km.
VHF meteor scatter contacts at GM4FVM, 24 March to 10 April 2020
The most distant contact with Jurek, SP9HWY, at over 1500km was a lengthy affair as it so often is outside a specific shower period. I am looking forward to the Lyrids peak around 22 April when I hope I might make some progress on 10m too. Mind you, if the Es season is underway then 10m might be pretty crowded.
Yes, lots of things are breaking down, not least of all me.

On the day our local dentists went into lockdown my largest filling fell out. I was "triaged" over the phone and told I was not bad enough to warrant attention so I should rely on temporary fillings for the duration. I had never heard of temporary fillings, so this required a visit to the pharmacist in the next town.

And so began my relationship with a gunky slime somewhere between chewing gum and Isopon on the crud scale. It is not really a filling, but it certainly is temporary. It keeps falling out. I suffer, of course, but in a stoical, level headed way as befits a mature adult who knows it is nobody's fault.


Then my 2m linear, which has already been back to DX Shop four times for repair, failed again ...
The LinearAmp Gemini 2 amplifier failed with a false SWR warning .. again.
For an amplifier to have failed five times in two years is really disappointing. I believe that there is some underlying fault which has never been addressed and I will deal with that in due course.

In the meantime some temporary assistance has arrived in the shape of an RM Italy LA250 linear. How long I can keep this is not clear but it solves the problem for now. The good news is that it is not a Gemini, it came from somewhere else, and it seems to work.

After the Gemini had come back from repair for the fourth time I sold my Microset brick amplifier in the expectation that I did not need it any more. Here is the RM, another brick amplifier, but one which seems to be in a different class. Fortunately I still have the 40 amp power supply and I can borrow the sequencer and bias-tee from 23cms. More on the RM once I have had time to try it, but so far so good.

My CUG mast, which holds up my 4m and 6m dual band beam, failed too. The top pulley broke when I was attempting to raise it. This has also happened before ...
Broken weld on mast pulley at GM4FVM.
The pulley has broken off its mounting plate. It is designed in a way to avoid a catastrophic failure in the sense that if it fails the mast does not fall. However, that design is itself a weakness as it involves a weld under strain which, as can be seen in the photo, is subject to corrosion.

CUG masts have been helpful and say that they have a new design where the pulley is riveted to the back plate. I hope to get one of those soon. The mast jammed half raised, but I was able to work the cable through the hole without the pulley and gradually lower it. It is now down and under its own weight, with the lifting cable slack. Possibly the cable was damaged during that operation, we will need to see, but nothing terrible happened. It is just stuck down now.

Now I have to stress that none of this matters much in the great scheme of things. The world is in the grip of a major crisis and my tooth problems, and even my tripped linear and broken pulley, are nothing in this. Some people have lost their jobs, others are at home on reduced pay, and still more alarming, many are in hospital fighting for their lives. Many have already passed away, and even the grieving have their problems as we know here, as funerals are disrupted.

My issues are not significant. However, this is a radio blog and not a corona virus blog. My duty is to carry on and spout my nonsense. I must do my bit. I even keep trying with KST Chat, even though I find it terribly tedious. I have had good chat with great people, but having it on for long periods locks me into a strange inability to act.

I think KST is warning me about the dangers of radio torpor. An induced state of inactivity, in this case induced by the radio. Doing radio because there is little else to do sets it off. Sitting here starting at screens, imagining there is something useful to do, when there isn't. Sometimes, you just need to get up and do something else, limited though that might be just now.

My general state of dread does not come from the threat I am under from this virus. I have been in danger before, as we have touched on here. There have been times for me, as for most of us, when I have been under threat. Usually this hardly gave me time to think. Either it was over and clearing up was needed, or I had already been knocked unconscious - or delirious - by then. Anyway, danger came as a shock, and it was over pretty quickly.

What is happening now is not an acute state, it is chronic. We do not know when it will end. Looking back, wars and so forth seem terrible in the sense that they lasted for four years, or five years, or whatever. We forget that to those present at the time they did not know when it would end. Just as we now do not know when the present emergency will end.

I feel a temptation to think that sitting in front of the radio is an end in itself. But the radio is a cruel mistress as I have noted before. Just sitting here does not dispel the feelings of dread, it increases them. Sometimes I just have to turn it off and go and clear out the garage. Surprisingly, there are lots of antenna bits out there which I must sort out.

Do something constructive Jim. Do not become a total misery (a partial misery is bad enough). Tidy up. Fix things. Made a new plan, Stan (ooops, not a good comparison).

Radio is a hobby. It is not an excuse to hide away. That way lies the sense of dread.

Spring is here and there is plenty to do.

Just do it.

And keep washing your hands.

And speak 2m from the microphone, just in case.



Monday, 23 March 2020

On why I both love and hate ON4KST chat

It is not that I don't like KST chat, I just feel uncomfortable about some aspects of it.

I like to see amateur radio as a family. We go our own way in this family of ours, keep separate but basically we know we all spring from the same stock. Every so often we get together and chat at family events, then we leave each other alone for a while.  Great Aunt Summits-on-the-Air sits in the arm chair puffing on her pipe and chats to buxom young Cousin FT8 pulling on her Cuban cigar. The old timers, Grandad CW croaks at decrepit old Great Grandmama RTTY who is wheezing but strangely still going. And they are all welcome in our family (for an hour at Christmas anyway).

KST is to my radio family what old uncle Freddy was to my real family. He is the one who stays in the kitchen. We do not like to mention the time he knocked the cyclist down in Dublin while driving drunk. We would rather he did not play a major part in our get-together. Sure, he is one of the family, but not everybody likes him so much.

If you do not already know, KST is a message board which allows amateurs (for this purpose on low band VHF, 2m and 70cms, or microwave bands) to chat on the internet while pursuing their amateur activities. There are also boards for lower bands, moonbounce, etc., and it is very popular indeed.

This one is not on my sidebar, and you can find it here

I have no doubt that KST chat is hugely successful because it works well for those who use it. Not so well for me, as I have found, but huge numbers of QSOs take place thanks to KST which would never take place otherwise.

What's not to like? All those great people, who Mrs FVM calls "all your little friends", are there. I will not list the names. I would l just forget some people and annoy them. It is great to chat to them. I learn a lot. Good people with interesting things to say.

So it is definitely not any of those people who are the problem with KST chat.

I value "all my little friends" and I should talk more often to them. 

I enjoy other aspects of it too.

Just now there is a bit of a tropo lift going on. I worked Niels Erik, OZ2ND, last night on 144MHz. then today I worked him on 70cms. Then while he was still on 432MHz he asked me to go to 1296MHz. We did and from the start I could see his trace on my waterfall. Every time he was txing I saw it (that turned out to be over 70 times). But in those 35 minutes I only decoded him twice - which was all we needed. A great QSO on 23cms, 690km QRB (by far a new dx record for me on 23cms), plus a new country and square on that band of course ... hard work ... and we used KST.
QSO with OZ2ND on 1296.174MHz FT8 on 23 March 2020.
Not that we set it up on KST. We used radio for that. The whole QSO was completed using just radio. What we did was confirm to each other that we were making progress and it was worth carrying on. No reports, callsigns or confirmation were conveyed as these were done first by radio too. It just provided reassurance to both of us not to give up too early.

This seems to be a useful function of KST, especially on 23cms. When are you ever going to find anybody on 1296.174 by calling CQ? It has happened, but not so often. I have used KST for chat during long meteor scatter QSOs too, and so long as you do not exchange the data which should go by radio first and foremost, it can be very useful.
Speaks for itself really, but you do not see the missed decodes.
So what is the problem, Jim? I find that KST narrows my horizons. I like to run multiple bands and follow the propagation. I find it cumbersome to keep yet another screen running, and certainly not three screens at once (low VHF, 2m and 70cms, and microwaves) all at once. There are useful variations on the KST format - e.g. wtKST - but this is essentially the same information provided in a (better) way.

I have found by comparing the results of others on 6m using their KST compared with my 10m and geomagnetic monitoring, I routinely find openings before they do. However, when I post something I find that other, nice good amateurs, start asking me for tests, and I get stuck somewhere even when trying to tell them I need to go QSY. Sometimes of course this works, such as working Japan on moonbounce, but that was great because it was the exception. Too often I find KST clouding my thinking unless I use it selectively and briefly.

What I really do not like about KST is those amateurs using it who become entirely reactive. One OM who I tried to set up a sked with on 23cms just replied "Meep me on KST sometime", meaning use the call function which makes a distinctive "meep" sound. Well, sorry mate, I want to try radio, not wake you up from your slumbers. Anyone who relies on the rest of us to call them via the internet to get them to listen to the radio is on a slippery slope, in my humble opinion.

That is what I do, I listen. I search. I investigate. I don't wait to see who can be bothered to call me on my computer. Maybe that suits him, as he might be working in the shack most of time. I guess I might work differently.

When I suggested this to another amateur ages ago (one in a different DXCC, South West of me) during a 144MHz SSB QSO, he took exception to my views. "What? How can anyone not like KST?". I replied that it does not work well for me. "You are an IT Luddite then" he snapped. (If you don't get the British historical reference, Ned Ludd the person did not exist, but he is supposed to have led the movement called The Luddites who tried to prevent the progress which led to the Industrial Revolution)

Erm, I do not think I am a IT Luddite. First of all I seem able to build computers and do moderate coding, and indeed I used to write the health service purchasing software almost single handedly (modestly put Jim). Nor do I think that am I behindhand in recognising the use of IT to help the hobby. I just do not like the idea of sitting back here and becoming a KST Jack-in-the Box. I am not about to spring up from my slumbers and snap into action when Meeped. This is because I am already in action.

OK, that "Luddite" interchange was a few years ago. I have mellowed a bit since. Imagine how un-mellow I used to be. Having used the WSPRnet chat before WSPR started losing ground (surely the subject of another posting soon), I do also use the NOUK chat for EME. And I use KST for some contests, for microwaves and lately just because now is the moment we all need to be talking to each other. However, it is turned off now and I am listening all over the bands as usual. I am not saying that chat rooms are a method of enslavement, but I am saying that I refuse to be enslaved just in case they might be.

There is an argument that any use of KST is bad for the hobby. I do not agree with that either. Provided KST is not used to complete a QSO which otherwise would not occur I cannot see a problem. You are entitled to disagree, and you do not have to use it if your do not want to. It is not compulsory. However, those snippy comments on contest boards "No KST here!" are principled but ultimately pointless. We cannot un-invent it.

Many years ago, my tutor at Napier University said that my writing style was argumentative. I must put him straight about that some day.

So now I hold my nose and use KST. It helps people know I am here and still transmitting. For UHF it seems almost essential. At heart it is no different from sending an email or a text, but I find that I can get hooked on a chat room and forget why I am in this hobby at all. I am not here to pursue one aspect of operation to the exclusion of all others. Sure, if you find all you need on a single KST screen, then go for it. I do other things as well.

If we do disagree on this we can always meet at the family gathering and talk away about what unites us. And old Uncle Freddy is still part of our family and we still want to welcome him into the party and give him a pint of Wee Heavy (though I think he should stick to a half of 60/- ale).
Just like my happy radio family? The Munsters Cast 1964 (Wikimedia commons)

With the passage of time my hazy memory of Old Uncle Freddy reminds me of Fred Gwynne's character Herman in the Munsters. Freddy got off the incident where he mowed down the cyclist. By this I mean that he avoided jail (the cyclist didn't come off well). The fact that his son is a very good solicitor was something to do with it. We keep all our stuff in the family you know.

Clearly ON4KST requires a large voluntary effort to keep going. It is not perfect, but nor is it terrible. Lots of people find it very helpful. I take parts of it, but I cannot get on with other parts of it. So, I accept that I am a duplicitous freeloader, but surely not an IT Luddite.

(Let the IT Luddite thing go Jim, it has been years since he said it)