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.



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