Sunday, 28 June 2015

Doing the VHF treble

My late Uncle Ernie was a great gambler. He did "trebles". When he gambled, he bet not on one thing happening, but three things happening. Although he would not get regular small winnings, he reckoned his fewer big winning would be more.

He never did win a treble.

Footballers also want to win the "treble", league cup, plus domestic and European championship, or whatever, and score a hat-trick. Trebles are big things.

I though of this when reading "Fouritalia" a news sheet produced by IW0FFK for Four Metre Band (70MHz) enthusiasts in Italy. He included a letter from IZ5ILX describing his VHF activities as "doing the treble".

You can find Fouritalia (in Italian of course) here.

Thanks for that idea for a name. "Doing the Treble" is exactly what I do.

I know that some of you have been sceptical about me running several rigs. Well, that is how I do the treble, and I often do quadruples too.

This is not odd. HF DXers do something similar, moving up and down bands with MUF. But it is different with Sporadic E. With F layer propagation you can get gradual shifts, and just use one rig up and down the HF bands. With the VHF treble you have to jump around, taking your chance as it comes.

Here are some diagrams. You have to take some things for granted. As the radius of the Earth is about 6371km, and the Sporadic E layer is about 100km above that, any scale diagram would either have too little detail or be too wide. So I have tried to get a lot closer to true scale here, but my diagrams are still not flat enough. This makes the angle of radiation looking too high - for real good DX I suggest you use the lowest angle of radiation you can.

You also have to take into account that radio signals do not go a straight lines with parallel sides, but spread out in cone shapes into open space. Hence the inverse square law. I will show them as straight lines for now and say something else  about this later.

Finally, the E layer is shown roughly parallel to the Earth's surface (it almost is, but not always) and the angles by which the signals are sent back to the Earth are symmetrical. This is true as far as it goes, but if you go into more detail you find other variations. For here we stick to "the angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence". Relative to the line X-Y on the following diagrams, the signal appears to be bent at the same angle on each side (that is only an illustration too, as the signal appears to be reflected at an imaginary point above the E-layer, but that is not for discussion now).

The actual mechanism is not quite like a mirror would reflect light, as I show it. There are in fact many refractions plus many minor and one major shallow reflection, and there can be a lot of variation. Let us just take the simple analysis for now. Making it more complicated does not help us in a general discussion. There is quite a good explanation in the ARRL handbook and I hope to say more about this later.

This diagram should be pretty familiar (click to enlarge if needs be) ;-
As the level of ionisation increases, radio signals which otherwise pass out into space are able to be bent back down and reach a DX station.

With lower ionisation they pass straight through into space. When increasing ionisation allows propagation to reach the "maximum useable frequency" (MUF) the radio signal will be bent down to the point where it just grazes the earth. This is the maximum distance able to be reached.

The effect of even higher ionisation is best shown in a later diagram. In this diagram it looks as if the ionisation rises until the signal bends down and disappears somewhere in space (actually it stops being refracted). However, you do not usually stop hearing stations. As the ionisation continues to increase you start getting your signal bounced from a point "P" and you get shorter path lengths (but the angle in incidence at P still equals the angle of reflection at P, just the possible angles are different at different levels of ionisation). If you do not understand this for now, just move on and it should become clearer.

So there is a level of ionisation which gives you the best DX you can get, if you fire your signal off at a low angle of radiation. You can exploit this, but as ionisation increases, you get short skip. Any good DX-er then goes up to higher frequencies to get more DX. Not so many stay with short skip (unless they are hunting for squares or nearby countries).
 At this point things begin to get difficult for the diagram as the signals are shown as straight lines. They are not straight lines in real life. They are cones with a point at the tx antenna which expand out and hit the E-layer at slightly different angles. So as the ionisation increases further, you still get signals bounced back over a fairly wide area. But in general, as the ionisation increases the "skip shortens".

Also at this point I start trying to "do the treble". As the ionisation rises, the skip on 6m shortens. But when it reaches a certain level, that means that the ever-increasing MUF reaches 4m. The MUF has risen from 50MHz to 70MHz. Eventually, when the MUF rises very high, the distance I can work on 6m gets even shorter, it gets shorter on 4m and suddenly I can work DX on 2m. The MUF has reached 144MHz.

So I band hop. I watch all three bands. I try to "do the treble".
I watch 6m on DX Maps and see, perhaps, station working between Southern England and Northern Spain. That is quite short skip for 6m, maybe 1000km.  Perhaps I can see MUF prediction on DX Maps showing an Es cloud over the Bay of Biscay. I cannot get into this contact along the line A-B on the diagram above. The 6m skip is too short. I am too far away to reach the end of the path. But I can try changing up to 4m. If the ionisation over the Bay of Biscay will support an MUF of 70MHz I can work into Portugal along the line C-D. And very often, it works. It is actually further than A-B, which I cannot reach anyway.

That is just "doing the double". I still enjoy it. If 2m opens too, I can get along path E-F.

The point is that sitting and waiting on any one band rules out the possibility of watching the MUF rise and the skip length changing on the others. If you listen to silence on 4m, you do not realise that there is an opening which you cannot work on 6m, and you can get into that on the higher band if you swing your beam and just try calling CQ. Yet, despite this being pretty simple well-known stuff, I know VHF operators who sit in hope on 2m watching the world chatting on KST chat line, not realising that they might as well turn their rig off. If they were listening on 6m or 4m (even if their country does not have 4m to transmit on) they might know how the bands are behaving.

So, I am not aimlessly moving about the bands. I can be looking at the MUFs and thinking about the levels of ionisation. Often I can see that the 6m paths are too short for me, and too far away. So I think in terms of higher frequencies, trying to cross the same ionisation spot which I see on the map. Or sometimes I can hear 4m open to strange commercial data stations, but no amateurs. Then I starting wondering if 2m is about to open too.

On 22 June I did the treble. I had worked Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Serbia on 6m at about 10:00. However, the skip shortened, and the 6m Es paths were all in Europe and too short for me. Later on 4m I knew that I was being heard in Italy (best not to say how) before 16:00. But the skip on 4m shortened again, and I lost that path. Then I thought and moved to 144MHz and worked IW1CHX, IZ1ESM and I2FAK. When that faded I thought that the 4m skip length had probably lengthened again and dropped back to 4m and worked Slovenia, Southern Germany, Greece and Croatia.

The DX distance of those contacts were all much the same. They involved jumping up and down the three bands. Doing the treble.

The point about this is that while I was working good DX on 6m, I was not going to get anywhere on 4m. Once I knew that I could get DX on 4m then the good DX disappeared on 6m. Eventually when the 4m DX went I could move up to 2m for a short while, and after than 4m was good again. These are the steps and stairs I go up and down regularly.

I am not going to say that this is easy. Unlike F layer DX, you cannot do it easily on one rig. Es can appear very quickly. You might think that Es can just appear on 2m and vanish immediately. I have shown that 2m Es is more easy to find if you follow it up from 6m via 4m and then wait for it. Most of the time it does not come. Sometimes the process is very quick. There is a lot of guessing, but it is informed guesswork.

It is great fun though.

So there are three things I would say about this as some sort of advice.

Firstly, watching paths you cannot reach is a good pointer for finding ones you can. I try to learn the way the bands work that day and follow that.

Secondly, after a band closes, try the one below in frequency and that might now have paths you could not reach before. Never switch off after an event without trying the lower bands or you might miss something.

Finally, try doing "the quadruple". I leave 10m on WSPR all day. I learn from that where the very early and late openings are.

What I am talking about here is "smart working". It will not make a band open if the MUF is not high enough. But I think it gives me the best chance of following the best paths.



Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Aurora and Es email warnings and more solar activity

First of all, I am pleased with this ...
Stavros is a real gent. He had the patience to deal with awkward conditions and everybody else stood aside and waited. The amateur spirit remains alive and well in some places anyway. To begin with it was scratchy, but once we got going the frequency cleared and it was quite easy in the end.

There was an aurora last night, but at 03:00 local times, which is not ideal for me or the rest of Europe.

The Nordic magnetometer stackplot looked interesting yesterday  ...
 ... and the satellite based GOES magnetometer detected another solar event which looks likely to make today and tomorrow interesting too ...
Time will tell whether anything else happens and if it is not at 03:00 - a time when good citizens of this part of the world are firmly asleep in their scratcher.

Now, I have signed up to get Es warning emails with titles like this...

Thu 1459 UTC: 70 MHz E-skip Alert - 4 m Band open from CS5BALG to F4CXO on 70159.0 kHz

Inside the email is a link to a cluster site with Es reports. This handy service is offered by Allard, PE1NWL. You can sign up at his site "GoodDX - the home of the DX Robot". I think it is a great idea and I would not be without it - but I need to turn it off if I am away from the shack otherwise I get annoyed by what I might be missing.

OK, sometimes they are not so effective - they are triggered by the early contacts of an opening and maybe not representative of what comes later, but that is not the point. They just alert you to what is happening.

It takes a couple of contacts before they are activated, as you do get 40 metre band contacts posted on the 4 metre band cluster by mistake. And that one above is a French listener hearing a Portuguese beacon, which is interesting but maybe not what points the way to conditions here. Still, I like them.

I also sometimes get things like this ...

Sun 1223 UTC: 70 MHz E-skip Alert - 4 m Band open from CS5BALG/B to GM4FVM on 70159.0 kHz

I knew about that one. More often they are QSOs rather than beacon reports.

The DX Robot also does aurora warnings and you can choose whether you only want high latitude ones (if you are fairly far North) or lower latitude ones (say, in England or further South). At 56N my QTH is a bit borderline [in many ways]. I did choose to get the high latitude warnings even though that means I get warnings for openings which really only affect Nordic stations. It is good to be alerted. Their titles look like this ...


Once again in the text of the email you have a link to the GoodDX site and their aurora listings.

Well, I find them useful anyway.



Monday, 22 June 2015

Excellent VHF Sporadic E and attic antenna.

I was just reading an article which states that the peak Es days are usually one month on either side of the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year, usually 21 June, but sometimes 22 June). Not the Solstice itself, which they say is not good for Es.

We just had probably the biggest Es event since  I moved to this QTH 8 years ago and it occurred on  ... the Summer Solstice. Yesterday (21 June) and into today (22 June), there was a prolonged opening on VHF. Up here it did not reach 2 metres, even though I hoped it might. Nevertheless, it did good work on 10m, 6m and 4m.

I say "biggest" because by one standard it exceeded what I have heard here before. It was a bit surprising as it was not the dramatic "point-to-point" opening so loved on VHF enthusiasts (meaning me). You know, the band is sound asleep and you decide to call CQ and some exotic DX station pops up, works you , and then the band closes again. Crazy, I know, but that is one of the things I like about VHF Es.I recall several on FM where the Dx operator was really someone wanting a chat across town, only to find this crazy Scotsman trying to call them. You can hear the shock in their voice.

No, it was a slow burn. I was a sitting here in the shack working hard on something. I have been here for about a week grafting away on a schedule for something and it really has needed concentration - with the rigs on the background of course.

In the run up to this event, 17 June produces exactly nothing. After working 9H1 as anew country the day before I expected nothing. USUALLY, you do not get two good days on Es after each other ...

18 June started as just a normal day. EA3GNA and EA6ZS on 6m PSK, and LN1V on 4m meteor scatter during the Nordic Activity Contest that evening.

However, at 21:50 I worked EA4BPN and EA5XA on 6m JT65, followed by EA4SG and EA3/ON5VW on 4m SSB. This latter contact, working Marc at 23:12 clock time, was a nice new square - JN12 - but strange so late in the evening.

Next morning, 19th, it was back to the project. It was good to work EA5/G3XGS on 6m JT65. I have seen XGS appear frequently on the cluster on 4m meteor scatter though this was the first time I have worked him (so far).

Nothing else. And on 20 June, nothing at all.

Somehow it seems to build up. I know that with random numbers you think you see a pattern, but I just have this feeling that Es seems to charge and discharge, but surely that cannot be right.

The Solstice started as usual, well as usual as a day with 17 hours and 25 minutes of daylight can do. It just does not get dark on the night of the Solstice, or for a week on either side.

CT4RC called me on 6m JT65 but I lost him. Then I worked HA6ZB on 4m SSB at 11:00, then CT1HZE in a contest  on 4m SSB at 13:38. Those are what you would expect on point-to-point days. Then a strange contact with GW4RBR, during which he rose from about 57 to 59. I was beaming South, so was he. If I beamed towards him (South West) he disappeared. The signal had fast fluttery QSB. Some sort of back scatter, I thought, but back scatter from what?

Then, at 15:55, the bands opened. I started on 6m, moved to 4m, and then back to 6m. At times, 4m was like 20m on a bad day. There were stations EVERYWHERE, with several on top of each other or 500Hz apart.

I worked Austria (1), Slovenia (3), Hungary (2), Germany (7), Poland (4), Croatia (1), Czech Republic (1). At one stage I had to go to eat, and I said to Mrs FVM, "this will be over now", but it was still going. And then there was another late opening after 21:49 when I went onto 6m JT65 and worked Poland, France (2), Spain and (on JT9) Italy. Last contact was at 22:42, and at 15 minutes to midnight clock I went to bed.

I have never heard 4m so busy. Gradually more and more countries have got access to the band. At the moment Italy is not on, which is a pity, but to have added more stations would have proved that we really do not have enough space on 70 MHz! I never thought I would say that.

The one respect it was better than before was the appearance of SV3BSF in KM08. I have never worked Greece on 4m, and I had almost thought that it could not be done. However, he was 59 for a long period, and then returned at 59 about an hour later. I could not get through the pileup to reach him. He heard me, but then another station with a similar callsign called him and I lost my chance. Never mind, some other time. But it proves it can be done. Macedonia is another target, but I did not hear that on 4m even though there was a station on the band on both days.

While I was on 4m, I put 6m WSPR on and it was quite a day on that too ...

Now, that is a proper 6m WSPR map.

And to cap all that, 10m was open almost all night. I recorded over 150 spots overnight, from all over Europe.

"They" say that the Solstice is not a good day to look for Es, and they are wrong. Random numbers are a great subject for conspiracy theories. People talk about "lucky" shops to buy lottery tickets, or lucky numbers. Well, in my view 21 June is as good a day as any other for Es.

And then it went on into 22 June. From 09:30 to 10:30 I worked Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, and Romania on the usual mix of 4m/6m SSB/JT65/PSK. So much for my own idea that Es does not work two days in a row .. and on 6m WSPR Gianfranco IU1DZZ plus IK1WVQ, OH3LMN and HB9TJM have been coming in all day on 22 June. HUGE signals at times.

The K number is now 5 and it looks like an aurora could follow. Isn't this great? More on that later. It might never happen, but that would just crown a great couple of days.

In this business you have days with nothing, and then days when you are snowed under. But not usually two days in a row, or could this be a 48 hour continuous opening?

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
EDIT - before I posted this, and still on 22 June, I worked IW1CHX, IZ1ESM and I2FAK on 2m. It has been such a long time since there was a good Es opening from here. Years.
EDIT EDIT - since then I worked SV1BGR (KM18VA 2760km). And I thought it wasn't possible on 4m from here, and then as I missed it yesterday I might have a long wait. It was on 70.170, the unofficial German calling frequency, but everybody behaved perfectly and waited until we had finished. And Stavros was very patient - though the QSO went perfectly.
EDIT EDIT EDIT - and I worked DL1PN for a new 4m square and S51RM and 9A6Z and 6m WSPR is still blasting away and the aurora has started, and it is STILL 19:30 on 22 June.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Oh yes, during 21 June I had the attic antenna running with the Flex on 15m WSPR. I was heard in the US, but it radiates North-South so not much happened. However good the Solstice is for VHF, it does nothing at all for HF. I need to try 15m in the Autumn and 40m in the Winter.

It was amazing to watch - WSPR on 15m, 10m and 6m, on three rigs, and the fourth rig on 4m with pile ups in all directions. Do I need all this? Probably not. Am I enjoying it? Certainly.

Cheap rigs. Buy a couple and forget the expensive machinery. Yes, I know some will disagree, but I love it.



More on the Yaesu FT-450D

I was going to say something here now about recent VHF Sporadic E and my attic antenna, but I will hold those over for a while.

As I had noted earlier, the Yaesu FT-450D looked like being a "fit and forget" rig. There is not much to say, it does its work without complaint. After a week or two in heavy use on 6m SSB and data etc., I am summing up here what I think of it now.

The layout is very straight forward. All the controls you need are easily at hand. The VFO has two speeds, 10h per step or 100hz, selected by a FAST button beside the VFO knob itself. Of course I would prefer a "weighted" VFO which senses your speed of movement, but maybe that is not realistic at this price. You can also press the DSP/SEL knob and open the way to 100kHz steps, which are handy on 6m and would be useful for FM operators.

As usual, the Yaesu menu system is either something you love or hate. I guess you could use the rig without using it much. When you press the F button you have access to the function menu. I found, when changing the power level, the rig will not transmit with you have the F button pressed and are in any menu. This is not a real problem, once you find it out for the first time. I found it easy to adjust the power (say) and then forget to press F again, causing an unusual "no tx" non-fault. This is the sort of "fault" which keeps our local TV engineer busy, as he keeps calling on our neighbour to correct difficult things like turning on her set-top digi-box (at the mains switch).

The display is good but as I say it does not photograph very well. Here is the proof of that.

I does look better than that in real life. Anyway, click on it to enlarge if you need to.

At the top right of the display is a schematic of the rig, showing the set-up of attenuator, IPO, Filter, noise blanker and AGC. This is handy and better than individual LEDs. The idea comes from more advanced rigs in the series where you can have various routes through the rig, several antennas, etc. Still, here it looks pretty good. There is no adjustment for the filters as opposed to the DSP, which is maybe my only real gripe with the rig.

What you can adjust is the IF DSP which is show in the bottom right. Now you can adjust almost everything you need, contour (I would call it filtering shape), notch, digital noise reduction, width and shift. You click on the one you want to select using the DSP button, and then adjust it with the DSP/SEL knob. This is grand within what the rig can do, but the range of adjustments is a bit odd. When you switch to DATA mode (you have to select SSB and DATA by cycling through using the MODE buttons) then the bars in the "width" selector are shorter (2 LED bars at each side). This suggests to me that the DATA filter width at maximum is narrower than the SSB one, which isn't true according to the handbook. In fact, both the apparently wider SSB setting and the narrower DATA setting have the same number of adjustments (3).

OK, we could quibble here. DSP filtering could be continuously adjustable with some presets. That would be fine. With the FT-450D you get some presets, but it is a bit tricky to understand what they mean and adjust them separately. What you do not get is continuous adjustment (nor can you expect it from a budget rig).

If you are the sort of operator who turns to SSB and works all day on one setting (or CW for that matter) you can forget all this. For you, Yaesu have provided automatically selected presets (up to a point).  I worked like that for about 30 years and all I needed was a CW filter, which this has in the DSP.

The manual states that the "widths" are:-
SSB 1.8kHz/2.4kHz/3.0kHz (nominal 2.4kHz)
CW 300Hz/500Hz/2.4kHz (nominal 2.4kHz)
DATA 300Hz/2.4kHz/3.0kHz (nominal 2.4kHz)
AM 3.0kHz/6kHz/9kHz (nominal 6.0kHz)
FM 2.5kHz/5.0kHz (nominal 5.0kHz)

I am not exactly sure what this means but I would have preferred to have a wider filter for DATA. 300Hz and 2.4kHz are fine, but something like 4.0kHz would have been nice for JT65/JT9 on the same screen.

I was puzzled as the diagram of the width as shown by the LED bars is narrower for data. However a careful check shows that the bandwidth with 7 bars in DATA is exactly the same width as when it shows 11 bars on SSB. There is not much difference between 2.4 and 3.0kHz either, and what "nominal" means in practice I am not sure. In my expereience, with SSB and data, about 2.4kHz is as wide as it goes.

It does not really matter much as I can simply retune the rig. The data signals are not wider than 2.4kHz, they are just spread over a wider area. Those data suites with wide waterfalls such as HRD and WSJT-X could benefit from a wider filter. However, that would be a nicety rather than a necessity.

I have been spoiled by the Flex 1500, which allows its DSP filters to be varied continuously within very wide limits. That sot of thing is not going to be available from a rig like this. The filter issue will only be apparent for dedicated data users, and everybody else, including casual data users, will probably not notice it.

I can see what Yaesu are up to. They were trying to make a rig with the most common filter option being selected automatically for each mode. On the other hand, sometimes I want to select my own, rather than fiddling with width and shift controls. But then I am a bit of a nutter.

Anyway, it all works very well and that's that.

The phones and key sockets are on the front and they work fine. The internal CW keyer works well with my MFJ-564 squeeze key. I had to reverse the key plug sense using the menu (because years ago I wired the key up back-to-front!)

On the back there is a pleasing absence of socketry.
The RF and DC socket of course, an earth point, a D9 socket for CAT control,. a 6 pin mini-DIN for data, a bewildering Yaesu linear socket and an ATU socket. There is also an external speaker socket.

The internal ATU seems fine for moderate SWRs, but for serious work an external one would be better (I like LDG ones).

The D9 socket is a bit of a dinosaur these days. I fixed up a USB to D9 lead, and you can buy them on eBay for not very much money. It works fine. Of course as befits the age of the rig, there is no way to update the firmware in it via a computer, you can just set the frequency by CAT etc.
EDIT - this is nonsense - for more on installing an offical Yaesu firmware updates and better USB chips and leads see here:-

The 6 pin mini-DIN using the standard pins is carried over from the days of packet, and I can run what the manual calls "miscellaneous AFSK-based data modes" (like JT65 and WSPR) using it. There is no digital audio output as you might find in a more modern rig with a USB socket.

I have not tested the linear or speaker sockets but I am expect they are fine. I expect that the audio would sound better on an external speaker but I usually work with the speaker level turned down.

The rig runs pretty well the 100W as far as my meters can measure it. The audio is good and the peak/average ratio is good (Icom please note for the IC-7100).

Frequency stability is important to me and seems to be fine. The specification includes a TCXO, which was an optional after fit on the FT-817 for instance. Having a standard TXCO is a big plus for modes like WSPR.

The fan is quite quiet, though I use the rig in shelving which might deaden the noise a bit. There is plenty of room round it for ventilation and it has never run hot, even after long spells on data.

I plugged it in, it worked. Except for one tiny point about the filter settings (and that is probably unique to me) it is 100% OK. more to the point, it is great value for money. It cost half the price of other comparable rigs.

This is  now marketed (and priced) as a starter rig. Yet I know quite a few hams who use it as a main mover for HF CW work. I know a serious CW operator who uses one as his main rig.

This is the sort of starter rig you could buy, and it would still be in your shack 25 years later.

I think this FT-450D is the FT-101 of its day. Except my FT-101 was £450 in 1977, which I reckon is now the value of at least 5 FT-450s in current money. And the FT101 did not have a TXCO, 6 metres, general coverage, digital readout, adjustable DSP, keyer, memories, two VFOs, ... need I go on? And the FT-101 weighed a ton by comparison and needed a strong desk to hold it up. However, it did have a mains power supply ...



Wednesday, 17 June 2015

I am not competitive ....

I do not really try for records or radio awards. I do not enter contests, though I do oblige a few people who ask for points. So I come on to VHF contests and give away my IO85 square, or this "rare" TD post code. I do not have any certificates, though I do have a laugh watching my eQSL prefix total mount up.

What I do challenge myself with is trying to eke the best performance out of the ionosphere.

To this end, I managed to work LY2BAW (KO25 1694km) on 14 June for a definite new 4 metre band country. This SSB contact puts to bed my doubts over LY/OH5LID on FSK441 mode back on 30 April. I do not know if Lithuanian stations are limited to CW and SSB on 4m, but it does not matter now. And it counts for another new square too. You have to be very watchful as LY only has 70.240 to 70.250 for SSB. I tried 70.242 for hours before finally netting LY2BAW.

There have been a couple of good Es openings on VHF at last. As yet none of the typical "large cloud over the Baltic and North Sea" type which gets me into Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark (well, Bornholm mostly), Estonia, Eastern Germany and Poland. There have been a few short openings into Poland and that one to Lithuania, but otherwise nothing in that direction at 70MHz. I worked LY again on 6 metres though. No OIRT broadcast stations heard on 70MHz.  Nothing West either, so I have missed USA, Canada, Azores, Madeira and Iceland (pretty wide range there, and Madeira would be a new one too). I have worked Madeira on some band - must check.

Lithuania have managed to squeeze a 70MHz amateur segment in between 70MHz broadcast stations. Very clever. Mind you, power is limited to 22W EIRP. If only places like Latvia, Belarus and Moldova could do the same. I know that it depends on exactly where their broadcast stations fall in the band, but it should be possible. Even if the result fell slightly outside the main European amateur band and involved split working, it would be interesting.

I wonder how my neighbours would react if I started running 22W EIRP on 99.7MHz? Frankly, as most of them either ...
(a) don't listen to the radio anyway, or
(b) if they do use DAB digital bands, or
(c) listen to podcasts on their tablet computers, or
(d) they use radio reception on satellite or Freeview digital TV systems ...
me running in between broadcast stations might go without notice.

The only places I hear 88-108MHz FM broadcast stations now are in the barbers, garage workshops or building sites. Nobody seems to listen at home.

I was also able to work S50B on 4 metres, which was good as Borut has read this blog. It is always nice to contact you all, the readers.

I have been busy on 6m, though there has been nothing really exciting on there. I have been on JT65, reeling them in. Lots of new squares but no new countries. On 6 metres JT65 I am often joined by Duncan MM0GZZ (IO85uu) and Alisdair MM0XAB (IO85wv). They are both within a 5km radius of me. Will anybody want to work 3 stations so close? So I tend to move to PSK, which is interesting too. No problems with that at all.

There was a good Es VHF opening yesterday (16 June). I was working in the shack, keeping an eye on the area covered by Es getting closer, as shown by dxMaps. My first contact was IK6GZM (JN62 1824km) on 6m JT65 at 16:41. I had a really helpful spot that I had been received on 4m on Sardinia, which is getting close to Malta and on the same bearing from here. I could work out that as 9H1CG was on 4 metres, so it should be possible to work him at some stage. Malta would be a new country for me on 4m. However, I decided that somebody else could do that for a GM-9H 4m "first" and I would have my dinner instead. Not competitive, me?

I returned from tea 45 minutes later to see that a couple of other GM stations had worked 9H1CG, so I joined the queue and worked him (JM75 2544km). After changing to 6m PSK I worked IK5GQK (JN53 1019). Then I returned to 4m SSB to work EA3GP (JN01 1024), 9H1BT (JM75 2550). I watched some television and returned briefly to work EA7HG (IM87 1251) at 20:21. Now you see why I use separate rigs for each band, I use one and look for chances on the other.

That was a pretty busy evening.

My Flex 1500 has returned from Norbert fully restored. He returned it after less than 48 hours. Excellent service.

Various components have been replaced including the antenna socket, the audio socket and it has been re-turfed to UK+ status, which gives me the full UK tx coverage up to 52MHz.

It seems the tx fault was down to overvoltage on the D9 socket, and it may be my mistake. I do not really understand why this went wrong, but maybe we shall never know. I fear that one of the pins on the D9 socket have been grounded, bridged or had over voltage, but I cannot really understand why or how. Never mind, let us move on.

I set the Flex up on the 40m attic dipole and let it run over night. Power was 200mW running WSPR. As this would the fourth installation of WSPR on my computer, I decided to load WSPR-X instead. WSPR-X has a different look and feel, and has the bonus of having WSPR-15, a mode for VLF (!).

As I do not use the PowerSDR waterfall overnight, and it is not much help on 40m anyway, I put the WSPR waterfall in the middle of the Power SDR screen instead (you can just see WSPR2.21 running below WSPR-X on 10 metres).

As usual, click on the image to enlarge if you wish.

Overnight I was looking for tx spots at a reasonable distance for 200mW. I had 16 spots from RZ6AOJ near Krasnodar on the Black Sea between 22:14 and 02:36 - 2941km. Then I had 11 spots from WA4AMG in Florida between 00:52 and 05:16. That is 6810km, and the best report was -11dB. That report means that he should have heard me if I was running only 10mW. There were also 4 spots from K3EA, 2 from KB1FY and 1 from K4HKX. Thanks for all the spots folks.

I think that was not a bad performance for 200mW and an attic dipole at just about the worst day for 40m in the year. I mean, we are near the Summer Solstice, and 40m tends to be a Winter band. Thanks to Bri and GF for suggesting that I should stick with the attic dipole. I would have put it outdoors, but keeping it in the loft and running 200mW seems to work.

Of course I heard a lot more stations, many using 10-14dB more power than I was.
So, there is something to keep me busy during the Winter.



Friday, 12 June 2015

Sporadic E during the night.

Es is generally known as a daytime phenomenon.

This is not unexpected as it is caused by radiation from the Sun ionising layers in the ionosphere.

Bearing in mind that I am located at 56 degrees North, Es is an even more brief event than it would be further South where the Sun is more often overhead. Or, more accurately, more often overhead wherever the signals meet the E layer.

So I have to exploit it whenever I can.

At times of high daytime ionisation, it is possible for Es to occur quite late on into the evening, even up here. The usual times predicted in the books are something like "late morning" (here about 11:00 to 14:30) and early evening (18:00 to 20:00). Certainly nothing overnight.

My VHF Es contacts over the past few days showed the vague pattern from the books - 7 June 50Mhz 12 to 13h, 8 June 70MHz 14:30 and 17:00, 9 June 70 MHz 12:30 to 15h, and then slightly out of order 9 June 50MHz around 16h.

As you might expect on 10 June there was ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ALL DAY - even every little on 28Mhz. They don't call it sporadic for nothing. There are days when nothing happens at any specific location. There might be things happening somewhere else, even quite close, but that is not much help.

OK, so we move on to 11 June. There was nothing much until about 17h, when I had to go out. I returned just after 18:45 and worked EA2ARD on 50MHz JT65 when he was a huge signal, and then I worked Gianfranco, IU1DZZ at 18:50.

If you need any proof that Sporadic E is a fleeting thing, after working Gianfranco the band closed in a matter of moments.
You can see on the waterfall the JT65 signal of F1MWV who went from big red mark to zero in a few seconds at about 18:56:20. It was like shutting a door. Signals that had been strong vanished in seconds. This is just an image of what VHF enthusiasts know very well: paths come quickly and they goes just as fast. You have to be a sharp operator to use them. I wish I was.

With the JT65 waterfall you can watch the band opening. In the middle of a transmission, you can watch another station rise out of the noise, and then possibly fall back into it later. Astounding. I am working on a posting about data modes. Well, several postings the way I ramble on about things.

Incidentally, the wideband mark further up the waterfall is me calling CQ on 70MHz.

So that might have been it, and certainly for most purposes the 6m band closed at 18:56.

I did work one station after this. I6WJB called me and this QSO resulted.

He gave me a report of -19, even after I upped my power to 75 watts. We made it all right but afterwards I wondered why this station was so strong and stable for a long period when the band seemed closed. I gave him -03dB, but he gave me -19dB. Was I really 16dB weaker with him than he was with me? Then I looked him up on and discovered he was running 1000W and has a good antenna system. I am sure his home-built receiver is very sensitive - he uses a 6m transverter, and we all know how good they can be (or so I keep saying repeatedly).

There is no doubt that loads of power and good antennas can get you through in this way, in a mixture of ionoscatter, troposcatter, meteor scatter and a bit of low-ionisation Sporadic E. It rather defeats the purpose of looking for Sporadic E, as I don't think that is what it was.

All that proves is that VHF is less "line of sight" than some people say. In the days before the military discovered they could use satellites, they routinely worked over long distances using high power VHF scatter modes.

I upped the power to 75 watts, but I did not have time to update my comment that I was running 25 watts (which was what I started with). One drawback of JT65 is that you do not have much time to compose your comments.. You have to prepare them in advance - 14 characters max taking a minute to send - and save them. That is why most folks don't bother with them at all. So I6WJB was not expecting me to send this cryptic message and he re-sent his 73 message. So that was a waste of time - it was wrong, and he did not understand it anyway.

JT65 was devised as a slow moon-bounce mode. It is not ideally suited to Sporadic E. It works well with if you have 6 minutes of stable conditions. It is good fun though.

Anyway, night time Es is not uncommon at this time of year. This takes two forms up here in the North, the first one is polar-type Es, further to the North of me. The polar stuff makes sense as the concept of "night time" is a bit crazy when you have constant daylight North of the Arctic Circle. Secondly there is residual Es carried over from daytime ionisation, which is in the usual directions (South from me).

There seemed to be a bit of Polar Es around, as someone posted on the DX Cluster that he was hearing the 6m beacon on Jan Mayen Island. I couldn't hear it then, but I often can during Polar Es events.

Recalling IU1DZZ reporting overnight Es a few nights ago on 10m, I decided to leave WSPR running overnight on 6m and 10m. I sometimes do this during the height of the Es season. At first there were a lot of spots from Finland and Norway. But after 02:00 it settled down to silence for almost two hours. Then ...
2015-06-12 05:42  IK1WVQ  28.126071  -23  0  JN44cb  +33  1.995  GM4FVM  IO85wu  1502  933 
 2015-06-12 04:48  IU1DZZ  28.126137  -19  0  JN45hk  +37  5.012  GM4FVM  IO85wu  1381  858 
 2015-06-12 04:42  OH7AZL  28.126145  -22  0  KP33on  +33  1.995  GM4FVM  IO85wu  1832  1138 
 2015-06-12 04:20  OH7AZL  28.126145  -20  0  KP33on  +33  1.995  GM4FVM  IO85wu  1832  1138 
 2015-06-12 04:18  GM4FVM  28.126110  -24  0  IO85wu  +27  0.501  OH7AZL  KP33on  1832  1138 
 2015-06-12 04:08  OH7AZL  28.126146  -28  0  KP33on  +33  1.995  GM4FVM  IO85wu  1832  1138 
 2015-06-12 03:54  OH7AZL  28.126145  -23  0  KP33on  +33  1.995  GM4FVM  IO85wu  1832  1138 

I have seen it busier than this, but it does show that the wee small hours are still capable of providing Sporadic E.

All this is me trying to show that my single day on HF - 24 hours on 7MHz - does not indicate any my intention to sit up overnight and work on the low bands. There is still plenty to do for me on VHF, even overnight. 40 metres is just a bit of playing around for me. It is interesting, but it will have to wait for a time when there is not a pile of things for me to do on VHF.



Monday, 8 June 2015

Yet another radio - the Yaesu FT-450D???

I guess I could be regarded as an "established" radio amateur.

I was going to call myself "mature", but that would be silly.

How can a mature person still get excited when the radio switches back from tx to rx and he strains to hear the tones of JT65 (FSK441, or whatever)?

No, I mean that with my free bus pass less than 6 months away (if I live that long), I could now be sitting behind one of those wonderful shacks you see on Just a lot of empty desk, with a bespoke piece of oak panelling surrounding an FTdx-9000 (which costs £7999.95, by the way). The one screen is a Apple something, fully integrated and he changes the whole computer rather than any bit of it if he needs an upgrade.

I do  not aspire to an FTdx-9000. I am sure they are fine, but I do not want one. I might want the tidy desk, but you can forget that. My computers are homemade and there are bits in there that last for ever.

If I do not want a rig in the £8000 range, maybe something cheaper like a Kenwood TS-990S at just £5589.95 would do me? No thanks. Not even a Flex 6700 at almost the same - £5799.95.

No, no. Not for me.

The rig that sets my benchmark price is the current Elecraft, presently the K3S 100-F a snip at just £2699.95. Just like those others, I would NEVER have an Elecraft K3S 100-F. Nor the simlarly priced offerings from Icom, Yaesu etc. No thanks, not even as a present, for free. If I won one in a competition (I know some of you lucky people have won rigs in competitions) I would sell it.

I am sure that the Elecraft and those other rigs are just great. If you have one, I am not knocking them. I just do not need them. Instead, for me, they are what others aspire to, and by measuring my shack against that standard, I reckon I am doing pretty well.

A few years ago I reviewed my status as I became "established". And I decided that the then current Elecraft and its future revisions would establish the benchmark for my rigs. I wouldn't have one. What I decided to do is have rigs to the value of that one, but not that one.

I am entitled to an Elecraft, My status gained by having lived long enough to have a licence for 40 years makes me "worth it". A number of years ago, during a spell when I lived in GI, I put out a call on the 2m FM calling frequency. A station came back to me and at one point said "I just called you because you have an old callsign. I wanted to give a contact to an old timer". OLD TIMER??? That was 1997. What am I now? Established enough to be entitled to a fancy rig, rather than a "starter" rig.

So I thought I could buy three or four modest yet capable rigs for the price of one Elecraft. As an "established" amateur I have earned my right to own a fancy rig, but instead I use the same amount of money to buy several rigs. In fact, one each on 2m, 4m and 6m, or sometimes one each on 4m, 6, and 10m. You cannot do that on an FTdx-9000, even if you had spent £8000 on it.

My rigs are starter rigs, mobile rigs and portable rigs. And they are worth about the value of an Elecraft K3. That suits me better. I like it. If one fails, I just get on with the others. I can upgrade gradually. I can, and I do, use three rigs on three bands at the same time.

My rigs may not have the ability to cut through a pileup on 20 metres, but I don't use 20 metres. They might not be able to cope with the noise on 80 metres, but I do not use 80 metres. I explore the MUF rising through the high HF and VHF frequencies.

All this is about justifying me having another rig. However "established" I feel, I still need to justify what I am doing by saying I am doing it instead of buying an Elecraft.

Right, enough of that. I do not need to be defensive all the time.

A Yaesu FT-450 has joined the shack. It is a guest filling the space which had been reserved for something else which has not appeared. It turned up, got plugged in, and already after a few days I have forgotten what things were like without it. After a spell on WSPR, first contact was on 6 metres, with EA1ASC. 59 both ways. Then IN3NGP  on 6m JT65, no problems.

The Yaesu FT-450 does not photograph well. I like the reversed display which has white figures on a dark background. But no camera seems to like it.

In natural light photos the display looks jumbled. In reality it is quite clear.
In a flash photo like the lower one it looks all miserable, though you can see the display. Well, no, you can see a dark smudge where the display is supposed to be. Hmm, it looks better than that. And the body is smooth, not crinkled as that photo shows.

I think I could get a better photo using natural light and a polarising filter. I don't have a polarising filter, so you will just have accept what I have. I know that is tough of me but you will have to get over it.

Anyway, the FT-450D looks good here and it fits in well.

Yaesu have a tradition of producing stripped down cheaper versions of higher value rigs, like the progressively cheaper FT-897, 857 and 817. This FT-450D is in a line below the FT-950. Various features not included, but it is still very good. And it is not in line with the latest models such as the FT-991. So it is in a transition line-up between the FT-897 audio DSP range and the current big display FT-991 type rig.

I rather like those transition rigs. It does not quite have the latest features. Most glaring carry over from the previous era is an RS-232 socket on the back. No USB socket. I can live with that. It does not have upgradable firmware like the latest rigs. EDIT - it does have upgradable firmware, see the link at the bottom of this page. It has been around for a few years and should be sorted by now. It does not have a touch screen. It has fixed tuning rates, not the ones that speed up as you turn the VFO faster (now that would be useful). But it has other things that, say an FT-857, does not have, like IF DSP much better than the audio DSP in the 857. It has a large clear display which the 857 definitely needs.

So all in all, a sort of "in-between"model in Yaesu's line up with some current features, but some old ones too. The benefit of this is that I was able to get it cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap. More on that later, maybe. I could have bought five for the price of the Elecraft.

In action it seems pretty good. No doubt I will have more to report later.

I notice the fan comes on during tx, even running flea power on WSPR. It is fairly quiet, on my FT-450D anyway.

I was not really expecting this rig, and I was caught with no way of connecting it up for data. I fished out a 6pin min-DIN to 3.5mm audio plug lead and got it working with the data-VOX settings in the menu. This was not very good as with WSPR the audio level is very low and the data-VOX had to be set to 100%. It clicked into tx at random with spikes on the audio line. Also, it means that the audio was not isolated and earth loops can result. So I found an old data lead from FT-897 days. It has opto-isolation for the USB setting using RTS PTT, which is fine if you do not need CAT, and necessary for WSJT10. But the audio isolation is via some not very good audio transformers. I have ordered a better data box from ZLP electronics which has an in-built sound card. More on that when it arrives.

The one immediate snag was that although I could get WSJT-X and Ham Radio Deluxe to work on CAT, WSPR would not work on CAT. I used it for a few days with WSPR working on RTS PTT switching via the data socket while I fiddled with a way to get CAT working on WSPR via the RS-232 socket. Very frustrating. There are a few (old and confused. just like me) explanations on WSPRnet about this. I tried them all and none worked, until I started a systematic process of getting to the bottom of it.

Clearly CAT works, or WSJT-X would not work. So I looked at the settings and I had to select RTS and hardware handshaking in WSJT-X, which seemed odd. Turning them off meant WSJT-X CAT stopped working. Someone suggested adding a script to the WSPR handshake line to alter the timeout settings in the WSPR software. This is sort-of emulating my WSJT-X settings. I did not think that would work and it didn't

I had read that the issue surrounds the timeout settings for CAT in the FT-450, but I did not want to change them in the rig and throw off HRD and WSJT-X. Still, I did it that way as doing in in WSPR had not worked. I set CAT TOT (time out time) from the default 10 to 100 (I also tried 1000 but that did not work). I also turned off RTS by setting CAT RTS to DISABLE. As I expected, WSJT-X now did not work, but turning off hard-selection of RTS and returning handshake to none in the software restored WSJT-X. Funny enough, HRD ran on either settings. And then WSPR worked too.

So, I suggest using the menu to disable RTS and also increase CAT TOT to 100 or much more. I have no idea why RTS is set to hard select in the default settings. Maybe this is a legacy of the RS-232 era. Anyway, no need for it now.

In doing this you are using the FT-450 menu system. I know that many people dislike the Yaesu menu system. I did too at the start. Now I do not really like it, but I can use it. When I got my FT-897 I spent ages trying to learn it. I used to have to do a reset of the rig to clear what I had done. This was frustrating, but I learned slowly.

That experience of doing resets certainly helped. The FT-450 would not work in all settings when I got it. I have learned over the years, before putting memories and settings into new rigs, do a hard reset. Reset everything to factory settings. I have no idea why a rig is not delivered working fully to factory settings, but time and again I find they do not. The IC-7100 was the same. My advice is to do a full reset first, and before you find you need to overwrite all your memories.

So there we are. The FT-450 is now my 6m rig. Maybe I will use it with the RM linear once I get that running too. I think it got pretty hot when running JT6.

Frankly, apart from some set-up for WSPR which will not affect most people, there is nothing to report. A good rig.

These days it is marketed as a starter rig. Certainly it would be good for that, and it has 6m, which the equivalent starters from Icom and Alinco do not have. It also has a tcxo, which means good data frequency stability at no extra cost, which makes it a good data rig. But for me, it is a real all-rounder. I am looking forward to testing it out.

See more thoughts on the FT-450 here :-

EDIT: thanks to Mark for pointing it out, so for more on installing an official Yaesu FT-450D firware updates see here:-



Sunday, 7 June 2015

Attic (receiving) antenna

We used to be warned the we should avoid placing a transmitting antenna in a loft or attic as there is a danger of interaction with domestic wiring and the transmission of interference.

I recall that, but I do not remember where it came from. It may have been in the notes to the Amateur Radio (Sound) License we all were issued with. I cannot find my books at he moment, but it was drilled into us that this was a bad idea.

Having said all that, I have been watching the success which Gianfranco, IU1DZZ,  has been having with an attic fan antenna. I had some idea of making one of these covering 40 metres (which is a band I have some interest in because I know nothing practical about it) and maybe some more bands.

It looked unlikely that my WSPR signal, say maximum 5 watts, would cause any problem with the house wiring. I might even be able to use JT65 at 25 watts or so. I suspected that my 500mW and less, my usual WSPR power would be too low for noisy 40 metres.

If that was my total knowledge of the issues, I was pretty ignorant. Well, I am pretty ignorant anyway.

To begin with I needed "proof of concept", which means a simple 40m dipole. I can leave the multi-band fan antenna idea until it is working smoothly.

Gianfranco said "time to measure the attic" and he was right. I did not immediately go up to the loft, but I measured the outside of the house, reckoning that the attic would probably be the same length as the house as otherwise the rain would come in. That was a mistake.

The dimensions showed that a 40 metre dipole would fit, and so I got the bits together. I wanted to try 40m most of all. I think my lack of knowledge about 40m is because I thought it was good on dark nights in winter, and I am a lazy sod who does not like to stay up at night. But then, WSPR never gets sleepy.

My "spares" box (a.k.a. junk box) had all sorts of useful bits and pieces. One was a dipole centre which was once in the middle of the W3DZZ antenna I used for my first HF QSOs. Then there were some "dog bone" insulators and some copper wire to cut to length.

Surely that is all you need for a 40m dipole? It seems to be simple compared to many other antenna designs. If I was to buy a commercial "super duper" antenna it would cost £150. This cost more or less nothing: I bought some cup hooks to hold it up. Even the tie-wraps I was going to use were re-used ones from other projects (yep, I reopen and reuse my tie-wraps!).

I like balanced antennas, and I dislike "ground plane" types (except at VHF where you can make a sensible ground place). Verticals loaded against earth might work in some places, but not here on our sandy soil. Just personally, I do not like "off centre" fed dipoles either, and I especially dislike the "G5RV" design, but more of that another day.

I did have to clean up the dipole centre and file off quite a lot of corrosion, but that is not a big chore. This antenna was not intended for use outdoors, but it was made with that possibility in mind. It should be possible to use it outdoors with a bit more weather proofing.

Could anything be simpler than that?

So up I went into the attic to find that the 40m dipole would not fit in it. Is this how Dr Who's TARDIS gets to be bigger on the inside than the outside, because my attic is bigger on the outside than the inside?

It eventually dawned on me that I extended the house and converted an attached garage into two more rooms. The garage has a different roof, and a different attic, separated by a wall. Now I could have drilled through the wall, but I left it for now. A "proof of concept" experiment can cheat a bit, and drilling holes in walls could wait for later. So the 40m dipole was bent down for a couple of metres at each end. It would fit in along the entire length through the hole in the wall, should it work well.

Up went the dipole and a quick check with the antenna analyser showed it was resonating at about 6.5MHz with an SWR of nearly 2:1. No doubt bending it back did not help, but at least it was too long and I can fix that easily later. On 15m the same antenna was resonating too high, and I decided to abandon any ideas of using it on 15m for now.

So I connected it to the FT-817 and set the power to 2 watts to see what it could do. 5 watts would be better, but the 817 needs a fan to do that  (how I miss the Flex 1500). First tx cycle and the house burglar alarm went off. Or more accurately it put out a huge continuous scream and the readout said "WARNING TAMPER".

I was not really expecting the burglar alarm to go off, especially as it was not set. However, I had also forgotten that, as the replacement garage is separate from the house, it is connected to the alarm system by a UHF radio link. and the transceiver for the link is mounted ... in the attic. Actually about half a meter from the antenna.

The radio link is encrypted and if the receiver detects a signal which it does not recognise, it thinks someone is trying to tamper with it. It then sets off the alarm, whether the alarm was set to start with or not. I thought that the alarm was "off", but it checks for tampering 24 hours per day.

Resetting the alarm and some tests later, revealed that 1 Watt was the maximum power which did not set it off. I did not think that 1 Watt would do much on 40m but it was worth the test.

I was being heard in Europe but I then made the mistake of putting a fan behind the FT-817. It runs more efficiently when cool. The power then crept up to 1.2W, and set the burglar alarm off again. This brought questions from Mrs FVM about whether there was any danger of the alarm going off overnight, so I decided to set it to 500mW until bedtime and then just receive overnight.

Half an hour produced this result

I was not expecting to be heard in Tasmania on half a watt ...

2015-06-06 19:44  GM4FVM  7.040070  -28  0  IO85wu  +27  0.501  VK7DIK/P  QE28sf  17216  10698 

I was fairly happy with Northern Norway, so anything else was a real bonus.

OK, -28dB is a bit weak, but a VK7 is a VK7.

It seems that from a radio point of view, the concept is proved. It works. However, the presence of the burglar alarm transceiver means that I need to use the services of the inverse square law to stop interference setting off the alarm. I reckon it is not actually picking up the signal as such, so filtering will not work. I think that the receiver is being overloaded by the RF and that is causing it to register an unexpected signal and think it is being tampered with.

I could try moving the end of the antenna, but it is already too long. The best way to put distance between the antenna and the alarm radio is to move the antenna out of the attic.

But before I move it outdoors, I decided to let it run overnight and see what I could hear (no tx-ing!!!). I received more that 1750 decoded WSPR spots, including quite a few from the USA between 00:00 and 06:30.

So what have I learned from this? :-
1) certainly, a simple attic antenna will work on 40m (Gianfranco was right of course)
2) in my particular case, the burglar alarm will remain  a problem unless I convert the garage to a wired system (difficult)
3) I knew nothing about 40m
4) I still know nothing about 40m but it looks like a great band.

That is it for the moment. I may try using it again, maybe with 100mW or something like that. Whatever the power level, it would need to be low enough to prevent any accidental activation of the alarm. I do not want to wake the neighbours during the night.

I will probably try it outside when next I do some work on the 6m antenna. It should fit below the rotator. Then it will be in the clear, but to be honest, it works fine in the attic.



Thursday, 4 June 2015

Your comments (thanks)

SP3RNZ, IU1DZZ, G0MJI and GI4DOH have been in touch by various means recently. They have been interesting discussions.

Greg, SP3RNZ has an IC-7100 and has all the same issues as I have. That is sad but at least it means it is not just me who imagined all this.

The big issue with the 7100 for most people is the low average to peak SSB output. "Weak modulation" you might say, though if you say low power the world falls in on you. Mention low power and a queue of folks line up to say that it does produce 100W peak, your meter is wrong, and you are a disgrace to the ham community for suggesting the Icom make anything other than perfect equipment. Or say something unpleasant about my Irish heritage.

Well, yes, it does produce 100W peak, but some of us were expecting an audio and compression system which was equal to other rigs. No amount of tweaking the audio output produces a satisfactory result for me. If you have a rig which works fine for you, great, but mine is weak for me. All we ask for is a performance equal to other rigs, we are not even asking for something better.

As even mentioning this subject on the net brings waves of criticism, people are going onto Youtube and trying to show the real results. That just brings more criticism of their meters, or plain racism if they happen to be from outside US or England. So one guy did this comparison (it takes him a while to prove what he wants, but remember that he has the whole angry world to convince)

If you scroll down you see he gets the racist blast too. Not fair.

He reckons that the IC-7100 on 100W SSB is roughly equal to another rig on 50W. I would agree with that. Just as well I use it as a linear driver.

I tried to go onto many of these Youtube sites and offer my support. But it is a waste of time. The "powers that be" have decided that constructive comment is to be ignored.

For two years I have been saying that there is an audio output problem with the IC-7100. Not a big enough problem to totally spoil a very good rig for me. All I got for saying this was being thrown off a site for expressing it. Ah well.

Icom should issue a firmware update to fix this.

Sorry Greg, it is a very good rig otherwise. See you on 4m again soon.

Gianfranco, IU1DZZ asked me on another site had I ever tried meteor scatter on 10m. Well, no, but what an interesting idea. Maybe someone can tell me this goes on all the time, but I do not know about it. I would like to try. Gianfranco asked about ISCAT or JT6M. They should work over the path between us and at that frequency. Maybe we would get ionoscatter propagation too. I like that idea. We should try.

Brian, G0MJI sent me a very interesting email about WSPR. As you all know, I use WSPR on 12m, 10m and 6m regularly. Every day really. I have also worked Bri on 4m  WSPR. But we agree that going to 2m and above is not very effective for us. OK, if you want to try, fine, but aircraft scatter gets in the way. I know that WSPR is being used in USA and Australia for long path work, but it seems a bit unsuited to European settings where the aircraft scatter is a bigger problem.

This idea provoked a discussion about Opera mode. I have never tried it. I know that some people are passionate about it. As an on/off interrupted carrier mode like CW you would expect me to like it more than WSPR which is constant carrier FSK. It should be less affected by things like aurora and aircraft scatter. True, but it just does not seem to work very well. Opera should be less inclined to blow up linears, Flex 1500s, etc than continuous carrier modes ...

What Bri's views also sparked off in me was a thought which built on some comments by Richard GI4DOH. There is a bit of philosophy here. You see, although I do set targets and try to beat them, these targets are not about me as an operator. They are about the propagation. I am trying to set a target for the ionosphere. I want to work smarter rather than harder (because at heart I am lazy?).

"I am not a dx-er", and I am proud of that.

I could be the sort of operator who, faced with not getting any QSOs, moves down in frequency. So, if the MUF is not high enough, I can move lower. But, I rarely do that. I only move lower if I am interested in the lower band, in which case I experiment there for years.

Here is the map of every station in the entire World using WSPR on 12 metre band lately (clue - you need two stations to have much chance of working anybody).

Click on it to enlarge, if you think you missed some stations.

I would rather sit and listen to silence on 4m, 6m, or 10m, or all three, than go to 20 meters where I could work a pile of stuff. And I sleep on a bed of nails and wear a very nasty hair shirt, take the stairs rather than the lift or elevator, and if I ever have a heart attack I have a packet of Asprins here ready for work the next day.

Oh the agony of it! I have joy and pain, sunshine and rain (Frankie Beverly and Maze, "Joy and Pain", great record). I have all the great gear, and nobody to work. Hey, go to 20 metres, young man. NEVER!!! I want to learn something, not sit and work 340 countries on any band you like.

After replying to Richard along the lines that it was 38 years, 2 months and 10 days since we had a CW QSO (more now), I have been practising my CW! Gasp. I am surprised, but I am not as bad as I thought. Maybe one day I might actually try it on the air. I mean a serious session, not just half a QSO.

I have Paul, ON4ADI to thank for this. During the St Patrick's Day Aurora he just called me on CW. Perfectly formed and not too fast. It was a joy to copy. He just assumed that I could read it, and he was right. I did not have much choice. But I did not have the key handy. Now it is plugged in.

What really, really, bugs me, is those people who are so certain of their competence that they sit just below 50.099 and call CQ endlessly at 20 wpm+. Grand so. But that excludes me and a lot of other people. So I cannot call them, and they may still be calling CQ now, for all I know. I post a "hrd" message on the cluster to let them know I have copied their callsign, but as they are going too fast I will not call them. I cannot call them. So let them be, again, I have no choice.

Thanks for the contributions, folks.

The Flex 1500 went today to Norbert Wrede in Germany. Hopefully he can fix it. Certainly, he replied to my email in a very helpful and friendly way. Whether it is economic to fix it we shall see. It is not like the FT-817 or the transverter, both of which have been delved into by me many many times. It is too baffling for me to tackle. Let's see.

It cost £15.01 to post, so the taxi meter is already clocking up money.



Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Flex 1500 failed, plus resoldering everywhere

I regret to have to report that my trusty Flex 1500 seems to have died, or at least become very sick.

It takes 10 seconds from pressing the PTT to anything appearing at the output socket, and then another 10 seconds before full power is reached.

I am not sure if this is a common fault, or even if it could be fixed here in software. I tried deleting the drivers and reinstalling them, and then using a different version of PowerSDR. I then tried using a different PC. The results were always the same.

It seems to me that this is a hardware fault - like real radio. You know, output devices and things. Not software. My only nagging doubt is the Flex firmware. Flex offer an integrated firmware/software installer, and I hope that the re-installation using a different PC would work to solve that one.

Anyway, after a couple of days fiddling around with it, I rang the UK distributor for help. They told me that their "Flex expert" had left and I would need to send it to Italy. They gave me the details of someone (in Germany?) who might help, so I have emailed them. We shall see.

Meantime, trusty HF rig number two, the Yaesu FT-817, is doubling up between 10m and 6m. This is not quite satisfactory as I only have a couple of watts at my disposal. In fact, I have to run 2 watts on both 6m and 10m, whereas I usually run either 200mW or 20mW on 10m. It is hopping between bands on WSPR so it does not cover both at once, and, hey, I want to listen on both.

At this point I will digress onto how I work VHF at this time of year. I have a separate rig on each of three bands. That might seem crazy, but most of the time they are just listening. So I have the following combinations available - the FT-817, the Flex and the IC-7100. The Flex does not cover 2m, but the other two do, and with the ME4T transverter for two of them, they all cover 10m (honorary VHF), 6m and 4m. Simples.

I only have two ears, but then 10m is usually covered by WSPR, and so is 6m most of the time. 2m only comes into play from time to time, and not often during the Summer (it seems to be a meteor scatter band for me now).

So not having the Flex is a blow for now. I hope it can be fixed at a reasonable cost. I would feel sorry to lose it, but let us leave that idea for now.

After having a problem with the 6m antenna, which turned out to be both a faulty SO-239 socket and a faulty PL-259 plug, both at the same time, I decided to do a health check on all patch leads. Yeuch! What a mess they were in.

I found that quite a few solder joints were failing through corrosion and age. The basic problem seems to be in the plugs. At one stage, when I was more of an HF operator, I took more or less any patch lead. I matters more at VHF.

Several of these leads are commercial. Sometimes, I bought them to save time. If I saw some at a good price I bought one for the spares box. Always handy when you need to bodge up a test on some new antenna or something. But many of these have failed.

Not just the joints, but the plugs too. All I did with this one was screw the co-ax up into the plug, and the plug fell apart. How that was supposed to work I have no idea, and I bet the impedance was pretty random.

I found one patch cable which I cannot ever remember buying. I could hardly have made this one myself. It must have arrived with some second hand linear or something. The coax seems to be of the unknown "CB" variety. The braid was barely making contact with the barrel of the plug. The plugs were too wide to grip the outside of the coax. A quick test with the multimeter indicated a high resistance joint in the centre strand of the coax. One plug fell to pieces.  The other plug had a blob of solder which was loose in the pin, but too wide to pull through. I could not be bothered to unsolder it, I just cut it off and binned it.

I have no idea why I decided to keep the coax and save this lead. I just cannot bear throwing away something, even lousy co-ax. I found a compression 259 which fitted one end but I only had one. All my pugs were built for thicker co-ax (no surprises there then). Hunting through my "can't bear to throw things away" box, I found an old PL-259 with an inch or so of cut-of co-ax. It was small enough in the barrel to grip this thin co-ax. So I unsoldered that and refitted it.

Tah - dah!!! A refurbished patch lead, with nice grippy plugs and low resistance joints. And it uses crap co-ax which confines it to the "emergency drawer". Someday I will replace the co-ax, thus preserving my investment, but with a lead that has two new plugs and a new piece of co-ax. Not any part of the original will remain.

Anyway, all other leads have now been checked and "re-certificated".

I heard it said that you can tell the difference between a radio amateur and a professional radio engineer, because hams re-use their plugs and leads, whereas professionals throw them away after one use. I bet they are made for one use.

I find that the only PL-259s which work on multi-use patch leads are the ones with plastic rear sections which grip the coax firmly. Otherwise, constant use unscrews the coax and they fail. Or you make your own, solder the braid properly or use compression plugs.

NO SHORT CUTS HERE, you know. I am famous for my quality soldering.