Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Landles, GM4XZZ, SK

Much loved local amateur Landles Fairbairn became silent key on Wednesday.
My thoughts are with Jan and his family.

However, it would be wrong, I think, not to mark Landles passing with a few more words.

For those of you who never met Landles, you may think this is a bit of a diversion. However, let me assure you that Landles was one of the nuggets of gold in our hobby. We all know one, but do we value them? Do we take them for granted and we will miss them sorely when they are gone?

Landles was a bear of a man. His QSL card above shows that. Tall, broad shouldered, with a rangy look, you might think he would make a good boxer. In fact he had retired some years ago from the cement factory where he worked. He described himself as "mechanic to trade, explosives expert by occupation".

If you ever take the train from Edinburgh towards London you pass through the cement works at Dunbar. Amid the industrial scene of rail wagons being loaded and stone being crushed, you cannot help being amazed by the huge hole in the ground. The railway is now on an embankment, with vast quarries on either side. This enormous scar in the rock was made by Landles and his colleagues over many years, created by steady blasting away of the shale. Landles knew more about explosives than anyone I ever met (well, since I left GI anyway).

He was an intensely practical man, in the way so many amateurs can be. It just came naturally to him, or so he made it seem. We shared an interest in motors and engines. We used to spend hours on the local repeater going on about Stephenson valve gear for steam engines (a particular love of his). He once surprised me with a detailed knowledge of the English Electric 12SVT motor in the British Railways Class 31 diesel locomotive (not a subject I know much about). His email address featured the name of a maker of early marine diesel engines in Glasgow. I knew I had a lot to learn from this man.

Landles had seen service with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, maintaining the motors in the Eyemouth lifeboat. There was not much about engines he did not know, and we spent hours and hours monopolising the repeater talking about that. Or actually anything, including a detailed discussion of the route of the old branch railway line from Burnmouth to Eyemouth, or the Stirling engine, or meteor scatter. The scope of his knowledge was colossal. We rambled on about Bolinder semi-diesel barge engines, or a Lister-Petter engine I had found in a boatyard in Greece. Sometimes some other amateur would call in just to say they were amazed by the discussion, but leaving us to carry on.

When it came to radio Landles approach was simple. No fancy rigs, no complex antennas. He had conquered a speech impediment which he had from his early years. At first he stuck to CW, but later, after many years of effort on his part, he got over the worst of his problems and appeared on voice. Mastering his speech stands to his credit, and I admired him for the efforts he made. However, after his CW years, his first love remained data modes and in particular slow scan TV. He had been a part of the development of the FLDIGI software. He was so prolific on CW at one time he was one of those few amateurs who had his own envelope at the famous Box 88 Soviet QSL bureau.

He operated from a shed in his garden in Eyemouth. I would often bump into him during his daily walk, something we both did. When we were let down by an exam invigilator for a Foundation Exam, Landles cheerfully stood in. "I quite enjoyed that" he said afterwards, and I would have loved to use him again but the club decided not to have any more training.

I last met Landles on the bus to Berwick. He was off to Aldi to do his weekly shopping. We had a good talk about free over-60s bus passes, the band conditions, and what good value small retail chains now offer. That was it about Landles. He had a habit of turning up and engaging you in complex and wide-ranging discussions. It was as if your last conversation had been five minutes ago, or perhaps the conversations never actually ended, just had small gaps.

So you can gather I will miss Landles. His was a towering presence and he really knew his stuff. I respected him and I called on him when I needed him, and he helped in any way he could. When he heard I needed a grid dip oscillator, he turned up at the house with a grid dip oscillator. A true amateur.

I really value the friends and acquaintances I have in this hobby (though there are a few troublesome ones of course). But I think I need to value them more. They may not be around for ever. Landles' early retirement was cut short. He never got the chance to move to his beloved Tiree, where he loved to go for holidays.

Landles was my age and that does raise a certain unease about what I take for granted. This hobby is losing great characters, so we need to recruit some more. But really, Landles passing makes me value more all those of you who simply do your thing by communicating your ideas and working to keep the hobby ticking.

Landles Fairbairn, R.I.P.



Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Mirfield Quad Band Vertical update.

EDIT - For the last word (?) on this topic see http://gm4fvm.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/mirfield-quad-band-vertical-i-cannot.html

Sorry folks, I have been waiting for some developments here, but nothing has happened.

I found that the one I had resonated as follows:-

Instead of 50MHz it resonated at 42
Instead of 70 MHz it resonated at 62
It was OK at 144 MHz and I cannot measure resonance at 432.

SWR was:-
2.7:1 at 50MHz
2.2:1 at 70 MHz
1.5 to 1 at 144MHz and 432MHz.

The gain was low (but for an antenna only 1.2 metres long that was to be expected). For 144 and 432MHz it seemed OK, but it was lacking compared to my other antenna at 70MHz and 50MHz. Hardly surprising.

I sent it back to Mirfield a couple of weeks ago but I have heard nothing since. He left a message to say he has received it.

EDIT - I see I sent it back and it arrived at Mirfield on 27 April.

Thanks to John GI7UGV and Chris GM4ZJI for asking about it. I have been so busy getting the rotator working I had not actually noticed that this has slipped off the radar.

More news if there ever is any.

Sorry, I must be more positive.

More news when there is some.



EDIT: I sent it back on 23 April and it arrived on 27 April. As I had heard nothing else I wrote an email on 7 June suggesting a refund or I would accept the mobile version as a replacement. Martin has replied to say that he has been on 2 weeks holiday and he sent the antenna back yesterday (6 June). Interesting. I shall await developments.

FURTHER EDIT: The antenna was indeed posted back on 6 June and it arrived here on 10 June. During its absence (23 April to 10 June) some tests were to be done on it. There is a note pointing to "SWR figures you will be likely to achieve", 1.8 at 50.5, 1.4 at 70.5, 1.4 at 145.5 and 1.3 at 433.5. It has been too wet for me to test this so far. The note says that the results are from each antenna mounted on a 10ft fibreglass pole - interesting as I do not use fibreglass poles. Also the antenna should be mounted well clear of roofs, walls, other antenna ... which I did before, but not on a fibreglass pole. It says the tests are done using RG58 coax. I used RG213 as I find RG58 is lossy. As a result RG58 tends to disguise high SWR by absorbing the reflected power into general losses, especially at 144 and 432 MHz. I will try to test it tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

EA4TX USB rotator controller review

An excellent piece of kit.

EDIT - having now used the EA4TX for a while, I do not know why I ever bothered with the original Yaesu/Kenpro controller. I would recommend anyone to change to the EA4TX. 

I know that some amateurs need their rotator computer controlled for elevation operation, when using satellites or moon bounce. I also know that some software programs can select the antenna direction, though I have to say that I prefer to know where the antenna is pointing by actually sending it there. But none of these applied to me.

My Yaesu G600-RC controller had become very noisy and unreliable, and then it stopped working entirely. When it became troublesome I worked out that the rotator itself would probably not be the cause, but rather the rotator control's mechanical indication was failing. I therefore decided that it would be much better to replace the controller rather than buy a whole new rotator.

There are several alternative rotator controllers available, and I trawled through the websites. Another brand seemed good but it was tailor made for a specific rotator, whereas I have two rotators (the other one is a Yaesu G450 in reserve at present) so I wanted a controller which could later be used with it too.

The EA4TX website makes it clear that the ARS-USB is a generic device which can be set-up to work with a wide range of rotators. The website (to be found here  http://ea4tx.com/) explains the whole thing. Reading that site I was able to be pretty certain that the ARS-USB model would do exactly what I needed, so I ordered one.

The general idea is that you can use your old rotator control box to supply the two voltages the rotator needs. In my case this is about 28V AC for the rotator motor and 4.2 volts max DC for the position information. The DC voltage varies between 4.2 and zero, depending on the direction in which the rotator is turning - altered by a resistor mechanically connected to the mast which is of course driven by the motor. In addition to this the new controller needs a standard 12V DC shack supply and it can be connected to a computer via a USB lead.

Pablo, EA4TX, sent an immediate receipt, a personal e-mail later and then a dispatch note with tracking info. Excellent service, which all his site reviews confirm. Nice website, with lots of resources to access to make sure this thing would do what I wanted.

The item arrived quickly and was well packed. Included is a resource CD with lots of diagrams and installation tips. The controller itself is sturdy and neat looking. Low profile too - 184 x 77 x 180mm.
The display reads the angle the antenna is currently at plus the angle you have pre-set it to run to (pre-set on the computer - more on that later). The buttons are for left (F1), right (F2), and up (F3) and down (F4). I do not need up and down as I do not have elevation control, but on an azimuth controller like mine, F3 and F4 can be used to set a preset angle which the rotator will then move to - and I do use that function a lot.

I had chosen this brand of controller specifically because it can be tailored to many different rotator types. Therefore, as you might expect, there is a bit of thought needed for installation. There is NOTHING which the average licensed amateur could not manage. You have to be able to understand a circuit diagram and make some connections. Having said that I made a few mistakes along the way which were entirely my fault or due to the fault in the old controller - the EA4TX unit worked perfectly.

The supplied CD gives you all the instructions and diagrams you might need. For many rotators all you need is the screw terminals on the edge of the printed circuit board. My G600-RS is not "most rotators". That model pre-dates Kenpro being taken over by Yaesu and the wiring plan is quirky. It makes sense if you want to prevent any damage being done if both "left" and "right" turn buttons happen to be pressed at once. To do that the wiring plan is complicated compared to modern rotators..

So, to interface with this, the EA4TX has extra relay contacts which most rotators do not need - and these are accessible on the board. They are easy to find on the silk-screening, but I had to take the PCB out and solder the connections from underneath. I then ran jumpers to some screw terminals as the rotator wires are too thick for direct feed-through onto the board. Simple enough. All that went fine.

I ran the AC and DC runs into the EA4TX via one grommet-protected access hole - the 6 core rotator cable goes through the other grommet. Getting the voltages out of the old rotator box was easy - in fact only six of the eight screw terminals on the back of the old G600 control box are used, so I simply un-soldered the connections from the switches and routed them to the unused screw terminals. No need to even drill a hole in the old rotator control box, but other rotators models will have different connections.

At this stage it all should have worked, save for two things which got in the way:-
1) Although the diagram which comes with the new controller shows the 100uF starter capacitor in the circuit, I went by the written description and left it fitted in the old controller box. This was despite working through the diagrams before I bought the new controller, identifying the capacitor, and noting that it probably needed to be moved. This will not be an issue with newer rotators which have the capacitor mounted in the rotator. I had a quite a struggle with understanding this, eventually adding "chocolate box" connectors into the wiring so that I could try every permutation. Then I moved the capacitor and everything started working.
I am not really familiar with AC electrolytics, and not familiar with capacitors in motor circuits. I therefore perhaps took too little notice of it. Anyway, it works fine now. I fitted it inside the box using "sticky strip". Not very professional maybe, but the rotator box never moves so the capacitor should stay where it is.
2) Next snag was that although everything was now working, the rotator would sometimes overshoot the angle which it was supposed to stop at, or appear to move when it was supposed to be stopped. Just a few degrees, but that should not happen. I quickly deduced that this was due to lack of a steady voltage coming from the old rotator control box. EA4TX's diagrams showed a simple circuit with a 1K resistor to form a voltage divider on an internal feed from the 12V shack supply. I did that and it fixed it. Now I am not relying on the old controller for the DC supply. Perfect.

You have to adjust a pot inside the ARS-USB box to set the readout for the specific voltage your rotator uses. In my case I found it easiest to use "F2" start-up in "Absolute mode", point the antenna to North (extreme right of the indicator scale - F2 button continuously until the motor cutout works on the rotator). Then restart in normal mode and set the pot to 360 degrees. That produced good results if I set the pot carefully. You have to do a similar calibration with any rotator controller and it really is easy.
Here is a photo of the inside of the controller at my last "lash-up" stage, with the screw terminals I added earlier, the starter capacitor (bottom right) and the 1K resistor (on the screw terminals at the bottom). That proved everything was working and all I needed to do then was tidy up the wiring and close up the box.

By this stage the rotator controller working by following the buttons on the box, and was accurate now that it was free of the faulty old controller's DC supply. But it can work via the USB and that was the next step for me.

This controller is perfectly happy working stand alone with no computer. If that is all you need to do, stop here.

Computer Control

This is simple but I made two stupid mistakes:-
1) By mistake I loaded the standard Windows driver via Windows Update rather than the specific EA4TX one on the CD. I am not sure if that would have been a problem but it is easy to fix.
2) I installed the supplied software (ARSVCOM) in the Windows 7 version rather than the Windows 10 version. Silly mistake to make. The Windows 10 version is in a separate folder on the CD.

Apart from those rather crass errors on my part, it all went easily. You find an extra Eltima-created COM port on your device manager screen. The set-up emulates a Yaesu system and I believe that the same commands work - so you can use the controller with almost all rotator control software. Whilst I do not intend to use any software with integrated rotator control, having the control on the computer screen is very handy for me. Just using the supplied ARSVCOM software meets all my needs.
The rotator display is right where I want it - on my secondary screen surrounded by my active data windows. All I have to do to move the antennas is to enter the angle in the box and click "Go", or click on the dial, or press one of the buttons. I have preset the buttons for the four main directions I use in addition to the four pre-defined buttons for the four compass points. Excellent.

I like this controller. It frees me from stretching and pressing buttons while I really want to be working people. "One click" sets the direction. Now that I am only taking the AC voltage from the old controller I can cut off the entire faulty indicator circuit and just take the AC voltage direct from the transformer. My rotator has an extended lease of life. All I have now is some relay clicks and no longer a screeching mechanical pointer. With shipping and tax added, total cost was €196.44, which I think is good value.

OK, you have to do some thinking and some installation, but as an amateur I feel I should be able to do those things. By fitting it you learn. If I ever had to fit one again I would be able to much more easily. The reviews I have read say that Pablo is willing to give advice if you get stuck. I was able to sort it all out by myself, even my own FVM-made problems.

Downsides? None that I can see really.



Thursday, 12 May 2016

Why are Amateurs so reluctant to change? plus IC-7300 versus Red Pitaya

I used to work in a small team dedicated to promoting equality of opportunity within our organisation's workforce. If I learned one thing, it was that generalising about a group in society is the first step towards treating them unfairly.

So off I go describing "Amateurs" as a generalised group. Underlying this must be the idea that "they" are stuck in the mud, and I am a saint. Well, that's about it really.

When I started in this hobby I worked quite a few amateurs who derided commercial gear. By extension this applied to SSB generally, as although they could make their own AM and CW equipment, SSB was beyond them. So they pooh-pooed all those operators using Drake, Collins and KW equipment, and they ran down SSB too. "This'll see me out", one of them said about his AM transmitter, and so it did. He never got around to SSB before he became silent key.

I feel looking back now that, as they could not get their heads round SSB, and maybe could not admit to not being able to master the technology, they would have preferred if it was stopped "for the good of the hobby". If that failed, they would win the moral argument anyway by not using it and insulting everything to do with it.

The argument moved on to the 2meter band (or "VHF" as they called it then) where Tokuzo Inoue was revolutionising the VHF market with cheap reliable FM gear (later called "Icom") and Yaesu, Standard, FDK, Trio and the others followed. My first 2m rig was a tunable receiver and an AM/FM transmitter. The transmitter was entirely valvised and there was not a single transistor in it. Nobody in my area used FM, they were all on AM. These new "foreign" rigs were transceivers (gasp) with Standard even making one where you only had to buy one crystal for both tx and rx operation. And they were all transistorised too!

I sat one night listening to a couple of old stagers on 145.8 MHz with AM valve rigs complaining about the Liner 2. "£100 for a Japanese rig which only covers one band, and that is only VHF! Who would pay that?", they rumbled, just as Liner 2s were flying off the shelves. They doggedly stuck to AM. No doubt resisted change in every aspect of life (TUT - prejudice, Jim!).

So my argument is already weakening. Only some amateurs resisted change then, and only some do now. However, it seems like a rather large proportion. It is not just about age. I am not especially young myself, but I do try to embrace change. It is just (what seems to me) to be a view that "those people" are happy in their little corner of the radio world and they would really like the rest of us to be banned just in case it disturbs their peace. Or at least we must give up progress and do exactly what they do. Actually, what they have always done, of course.

There is also another strand in this which never seems to change. The nay-sayers always seem to blame the radio brand for progress, in other words it is Collins fault, or the Liner 2's fault, for the technical progress which the brand is exploiting. And of course there is an underlying put-down for the country from which the equipment comes (provided it is not their country of course). As if the tide of SSB expensive black-box complexity could have been resisted if we banned Japanese rigs in the 1970s. But I heard it seriously suggested that Japanese rigs should be banned from entering the country (though no doubt Yaesus re-branded as "Sommerkamp" would have been allowed in).

As you may have gathered, I find this reluctance to change very strange for a technically minded hobby. If we had not had progress in radio technology, then all those duffers who wanted to stay on AM would never have had AM transmitters in the first place - we would still be using spark. I may not want to take part in some aspects of progress, but I do not feel threatened by them. The other group seem to want any aspects of the hobby which they do not appreciate to be banned immediately.

And so it is again, but now with "digital voice" or internet linking" or "remote operation" or whatever aspect of radio progress we have now. Or all of it, I suspect. Now these nasty innovators seem to make their rigs in China, so that seems to be a point to which to direct anger. Nasty foreigners developing new technology again. Of course, these "foreigners" are just applying the new technology, but let accuracy not stand in the way of this debate.

Someone rubbished Chinese manufactured rigs on a board I was reading, stating that he had bought a good Japanese FT-2900. Try turning that over and seeing where it was made. Even the microphone is made in a second country (clue: neither one is made in Japan). Why does it matter where this gear is made? Making radio equipment now is largely robotic and employs few people. And anyway, as Japanese gear was rubbished before, why is it so good now?

When I read a letter in the RSGB's magazine "RadCom" from someone asking whether he should be categorised a "dinosaur" for preferring direct rf communication to internet linking, I was spurred to reply. The RSGB published my reply in which I said that there is nothing dinosaur-like about that. What makes a dinosaur is not being tolerant of others doing amateur radio the way they want to. You are a dinosaur if you want amateur radio for you and not for others who are trying to develops their skills in a way you cannot not tolerate. In my humble opinion of course.

I respect dinosaurs as full members of the amateur community. What annoys me is that they seem to want people with other opinions (including me I suppose) to be eradicated from the scene. And if they cannot get rid of us, they simply denigrate us instead.

I do not follow every aspect of this hobby. Why should I? But I am not intolerant of the aspects I do not follow. In fact, I am interested in most of them. Why would I want to stop other amateurs using complex new technology? Because it threatens me and then I feel like a dinosaur?

Get over it.

I heard the same argument years ago about repeaters (people who use them are not "real amateurs", they make amateurs lazy, etc). All true to some extent I suppose, but what problems do repeaters cause me? None. Nor satellites, nor WIRES, nor RTTY ... well, RTTY I do not like and it might be one thing I would discourage (but not actually ban). But that is another story. And it doesn't matter anyway because my voice counts for nothing. Which is right and proper. Dinosaurs seem to feel that the world should care about their views. Fundamentally, I don't care about their views any more than they care about mine. Which is nothing. So all square there then.

The main feature of the dinosaurs is that they went extinct. So will the dinosaurs in our hobby. Sadly based on my experience, there will be more along in every generation. They are as wrong now as they ever were.

These arguments tend to come to the fore when new technology gets ready to revolutionise our hobby. It did when SSB appeared and took the hobby away from the home builders, it did when transceivers appeared and made everything smaller and better, and it did again when repeaters taught us how commercial operators were moving forward. Right now it is internet linking (or VoIP generally), digital voice and the software defined radio revolution.

When I reviewed the IC-7300 (see the review here: http://gm4fvm.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/icom-ic-7300-review.html) I said that I expected that Icom had more developments up their sleeve. As I pondered this it occurred to me that the Flex 1500 has the ability to listen to two "slices" of bandwidth at the same time. It is a bit limited on the 1500, but I did use it to monitor both WSPR and JT65 frequencies at the same time. I guess the IC-7300 could do with that. In fact, no doubt that is someting to be offered on "the rig to come next", whatever that is.

It interested me to receive an e-mail from Bri, G0MJI about the Red Pitaya SDR receiver. Red Pitaya (as well as being some sort of exotic plant) is a name I associate with "Raspberry-PI" type LINUX-based small-scale processors used for test gear. But the Red Pitaya can be used as an SDR receiver. It has been generating a lot of interest in the WSPR community. It can run multiple receivers at once, has multiple RF inputs and allows the user to receiver on several bands at once (up to 8 I believe).

Bri's comment is interesting
The world changes...
Indeed it does. However, the dinosaurs are not prepared simply to look the other way, they want to stop it changing  so that they can continue to ... well, make us all use AM, or force us to abandon repeaters or whatever.

Not that everything is right in the world of progress, of course. By holding back developments for their own commercial benefit, manufacturers may be being exploiting us. Why doesn't the IC-7300 have multiple band receiver? Because that comes later. In the meantime the Red Pitaya has raised the bar. Yes, some really expensive Flex and Anan rigs have multiple slice receivers, but Red Pitaya have made it available for (a  bit) less money. In due course, this is a move which may well be followed by mainstream rigs.

I look forward to what is coming next. I am not fearing progress. Not yet anyway.

As I have no particularly suitable photo, here are my antennas on the main mast as of yesterday. The 6m HB9CV seems to have appeared back on the main mast, even though there is not enough room for it and it makes the whole thing rather heavy. But then, I did drop it when I had it up on the other mast. Progress? Probably not, but we shall see if it all blows over.



Monday, 9 May 2016

Don't keep your drafts saved up..

Ooooops ... that thing about VHF which appeared briefly in this space was just some thoughts.

Not even spell checked.

I have deleted it.

I should not really keep the drafts saved here.

More later.


Agreeable little aurora - 09 May 2016

Geomagnetic conditions have been disturbed for a few days now thanks to a Coronal Hole pointing straight at us.

The radio conditions peaked here at about 16:00 on 8 May, though I heard auroral effects for a couple of hours on either side of that time. The disturbance rumbled on for a couple of days and the absolute peak seemed to be at about 03:00 on 9 May - not a good time for radio in Europe.

Still, the peak here brought the usual effects. I heard the GB3NGI beacon on 2m and the OY6BEC beacon on 4 metres, plus various LAs and PAs on 4m and 6m CW. I might even have resorted to CW but I suddenly recalled that the keyer had the wrong plug on it (grrr).
It started with me working GM0HTT on Orkney in IO89 on 2 metres (red on the map). Then GM4NFC (IO75) on the West Coast on 4 metres. I can not work the West Coast direct, so although Alex is only 76km away I can only work him under enhanced conditions. He was also using an IC-7300 for his debut on 4m aurora. The "Southern Uplands" presents as much of a boundary to me as the Highlands. With a chain of hills formed by the Cheviots, the Lammermuirs and the Pentland Hills, the barrier to me working the West of Scotland or the Central Belt is pretty impressive.

After that Andy GM4JR was pretty strong on 4m, but then I had about an hour of hearing just those stations and beacons until at around 17:30 I heard LA and PA stations again on CW. I was hunting around for an adapter or a plug for the keyer when I happened to press the voice keyer key on the rig which sent CQ on SSB. This brought a response from David G4ASR (IO81). After that I worked LA9BM who had heard the SSB contact and switched mode. JP40 is a new square for me on 4m - 4m square number 170 - and a healthy 798km away. It went quiet again and I had still not solved the keyer lead issue when I heard Tom EI4DQ in Cloyne on CW. Still with no key, I replied on SSB. Tom switched mode and we completed a contact at a healthy 592km.

This was as unique an auroral opening as any. As it had been boiling away for a day or so I was waiting for it to peak here. Watching the auroral oval on Solarham gave me a good indication of when conditions would reach here. Although some people in Europe had a few contacts in the morning, by watching the oval I was pretty sure my chance would come around 16 to 17 hours, which it did do.

Although I did reach two stations well south of me, I only heard these two "big guns", who are experts at VHF operation. I did not hear any other southern stations, which suggests it was a fairly limited event. When it opens properly there is always a pile-up from the South! Nice to work JP40, but as usual the lack of activity means I tend to hear beacons and not stations.
Thanks again to GM4PMK for keeping his magnetometer site going. Even with a mechanical excavator in his garden (which caused a huge spike a few days ago) he is sending out useful information.

Once again, what a joy to see these strange events unfold before our eyes.



Sunday, 8 May 2016

EA4TX rotator controller and why do I do what I do?

Someone asked me a question which I felt pretty happy about answering, though it has got more thought since.

More or less, he said "Why do you fiddle about trying to work more squares on VHF in Poland or Spain when you could be reeling in the countries on HF?".

It feels strange to be justifying my activities in this way as I have never really done it before. I just do what I do. I do it because I like it.

No, I do it because I love it.

As a ten-year old I built flashing light units and crystal sets. I got hooked then on radio after finding Short Wave Magazine in the window of Donaghy's shop at Finaghy Cross Roads. I am still fired with the same curiosity about radio and electronics. And technical things in general too: anything manufactured interests me from small two-stroke motors which I admire and hate at the same time, to massive Pielstick gas engines, and everything in between.

There has been a sudden outpouring of Sporadic E, as you might expect at this time of year. Early in the season we have the usual situation where it is best in the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. The official propagation predictions say this week is likely to be poor in the UK due to the prevailing jet stream, and we shall see about that. Anyway, those predictions are all about the South Coast of England, and everywhere else in the UK might as well not exist as far as they are concerned.

It was still a pleasure to work Jerzy, SP9HWY, again on 4m meteor scatter on 2 May. Then on Es, more 4m people I know, EA6VQ who runs DXMaps, and Tomas,  EA2BCJ, who I worked on 4m meteor scatter last month. EA5/G3XGS on 6m JT65 must bring our tally to about 6 modes on two bands. On 6m I worked Jon, EA2ARD, on two more modes, JT65 and JT9, to add to JT6M and SSB in previous years. And in between this, 6m Es brought EA2OK on JT9, plus F1ADG, EA1CCM, I0KIB and IZ5EME on 6m SSB (all worked on the £50 Moonraker vertical). Plus countless 10m WSPR Es contacts with old friends.

Despite the sameness and the repeated contacts in various years with the same stations, I keep coming back for more. During my life as an amateur I must have lived through 40 Sporadic E seasons starting in their usual stuttering way, but I still return again and again. I do not see sameness, rather I see the differences between the seasons which might give clues to understanding them better.

I just enjoy watching these dramatic solar system events, be they Es, meteor scatter or aurora. I feel pretty humble and a bit privileged to witness them. I am still learning, and so I keep on opening up my mind to new ideas as to what is causing them.

But deep in my heart I am a radio amateur. I love the whole thing. Just because I do a lot of VHF now, does not mean that I am not interested in all the other things which are going on.

OK, I do not engage in DF events, or enter contests, or use internet linking, but that does not mean that I cannot enjoy hearing about them. And I have never given up on HF. During recent forays on 40m with just my wire dipole, as inspired by Gianfranco who rightly pointed out that it was easy to do and worth the effort, I had a couple of really enjoyable evenings. On 20 and 27 April I worked ZS1BHJ (10042km), LU8HGI (7082) and a shedload of US and European stations, all over considerable distances. And I still feel the thrill of using a bit of wire to work the world. So, when asking me why I do what I do, can we first define just what it is that I really do?

At heart, I want to do all of it, but I choose to do some bits at some times more than others.

The joy of this hobby is that I can change my mind later and do something completely different. I might just do that.
My main rotator, and the only one in use here right now, is a Yaesu G-600RC, pretty well the same model as the Kenpro KR600RC. I bought it from a local amateur who had got it from a silent key sale and although it was old it had seen very little use. It cost £50!

As might be expected from a veteran, it has become a bit unreliable. The controller has started to develop strange behaviour. At times, while rotating, the indicator stopped for a while. Sometimes it would leave you in the dark as to where it was pointing, before dramatically catching up, and at other times it would stay fixed until you reversed back past that point and took another go. And it started producing a dreadful screeching noise (not good for late night aurora chasing). I felt pretty sure that it would stop completely fairly soon.

To replace the G-600 controller I bought an EA4TX ARS-USB controller.
A full review with a better photo will come later. I am waiting for some parts (£3 on eBay; am I likely to pay extra for speedy delivery???) for a little extra detail I want to fit.

The EA4TX controller is working well and is an excellent piece of kit.

It is a lot cheaper to install a new controller than buy a new rotator!
The G-600 does carry over a rather cranky wiring scheme from the Kenpro era, which Yaesu sorted out on later versions. That did fox me quite a bit when setting up the ARS-USB, but I have sorted it out now.
Anyway, as well as controlling the G-600 via the left and right buttons on the front, the ARS-USB allows computer control via a USB lead. It comes with a simple program to manage this as well as being compatible with many logging and contest programs.

I do not really need computer control, but it is very nice to have.

More on that later, but so far it is working very well.

The G-600 controller indicator failed completely on Friday, so it was wise to buy the new unit when I did. For once I got a timing issue right.