Tuesday, 28 June 2016

WSJT, meteor scatter, MSHV, & the Icom IC-7100 and IC-7300.

I know it is only three days since the last posting with almost the same title, but I seem to feel the need to rant on, and introduce MSHV.

I am a big fan of Joe Taylor's WSJT modes. I use the software he publishes a lot - for WSPR, JT65 and JT9 in particular. These modes are included in the latest WSJT-X version (I use v1.6.1).

WSJT-X is the wrapper used to include all the current modes and it can be used with CAT control to set up your rig frequency and so forth. We are promised that gradually all the new "JT" modes will be included in WSJT-X offering a seamless operating experience.

This is great but operators on the bands are not keen to switch to new modes. ISCAT for 6m and JTMSK for higher VHF bands, are both on offer in v1.6.1, but almost nobody uses them. Instead the bands are full of JT6M and FSK441, modes which are now rendered obsolete by ISCAT and JTMSK.

As a result, most operators on the VHF bands use older versions of WSJT - WSJT10 in particular, to generate their signals, and those older pieces of software do not support CAT. The consequence of all this is that using WSJT10 via a USB connection with the Icom IC-7100 and 7300 is almost impossible without some additional software such as CAT7200 to intervene and convert things.

I am pretty loyal to WSJT. However, it was made as open source software for a reason, to allow others to package those modes as they thought fit, and thus stimulate development.

Frustrated by the lack of software which can produce FSK and JT6M and work with the Icom rigs using digital audio streams, I have been checking out MSHV. Greg, SP3RNZ, suggested this software on his blog - see comment in my last posting here http://gm4fvm.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/icom-ic-7300-wsjt-usb-send-fsk-and.html

I had to test MSHV before recommending it myself. I did try it last year in an older Beta version (v0.99) when Chris GM4ZJI suggested it, but now it is in a much more advanced state in v1.13. There are 32 and 64 bit versions and I have tried both. It works fine with both the IC-7100 and the IC-7300 without the need for USB SEND, CAT7200 or anything else.

MSHV has proved to be a complete success here so far. Here is a screen shot of me doing some listening on 144.370MHz
I put out a CQ using MSHV earlier and worked DL4DWA in JO61 (1138km). A good little test, and a quick 6 minutes QSO was the result.

MSHV seems to put very little load on the processor and so far has not crashed or lost contact with the rig. It is also very nice to be able to include the working frequency without having to insert it manually every time -MSHV provides a handy box to include this feature.

LZ2HV, creator of MSHV, says that he took the open source software from WSJT and re-wrote it in C++. Presumably it includes the latest hamlib settings as both the Icom rigs are in the list of supported equipment. MSHV includes JTMS and ISCAT as well as FSK441 and JT6M. You can download it from here http://lz2hv.org/mshv.

Installation is easy, but do not make the mistake I made - once you have downloaded MSHV and removed the files from the ZIP encoding, the .exe applications with their pretty icons look as if they can be clicked and moved onto your computer's desktop. No! You need to create a shortcut and move that to the desktop. If you make the silly mistake I made, the software will work OK but you will have to re-enter the audio, interface and macro settings every time you open it. On the other hand if you create a shortcut these will be remembered each time. Stupid mistake to make. You would think I would have learned by now ( I made the same mistake last year with the earlier version).

I can see the issue for the WSJT team. To spend valuable development time incorporating "outdated" modes into WSJT-X may seem like a waste of resources. But, maybe to spite them, most amateurs are still using FSK441 and JT6M. This arose before - JT6M was dropped from WSJT9 and replaced with ISCAT. By version 10 JT6M had been re-introduced.

The best way for this sort of problem to be resolved would be for amateurs to download the latest version of WSJT-X and use the modes provided. But amateurs are resistant to change. They like using outdated modes. Look how many use RTTY, a spectrum consuming, insensitive, slow, power wasting dinosaur from the days of mechanical printers. And as for AM ... but amateurs don't change easily.

I thought this is supposed to be a scientific hobby, not a museum for preserving ancient technology.

For as long as people are using FSK441 and JT6M and refusing to use JTMS and ISCAT this problem will continue. Even then I saw a report that Joe Taylor had suggested that JT9 would be the preferred mode to develop further for MS use. I can see why, as the advanced versions of JT9 are terrific, but this is a step further beyond even ISCAT and JTMS. If most amateurs cannot even make the first step, when will they make the second?

There is  no point me using new high speed versions of JT9, as I have tried to do, only to find everybody else is using old style JT6M.

Luckily, for as long as we stick to FSK and JT6M, good people like LZ2HV will be willing to invest their time and effort into making software that allows us to continue. I for one appreciate his efforts in producing a very good re-formulation of WSJT modes.

I wish it was different. I wish we would set a date and change over to the latest modes produced by the latest efficient software. We could also change our working frequencies to fit into the bandplan - for example use 50.320-50.380 and 70.250 as the bandplan suggests.

In the real world I know this is not going to happen.

I think that the present situation just devalues the bandplan. At the moment the bandplan sets out clearly the frequencies and we all ignore them.

Until that great conversion day dawns, when we all upgrade to the best and fastest JT modes available, I suspect MSHV will have a large band of fans. Including me I guess.

Please cancel the suggestion, made by me just 3 days ago, that I was sticking with WJST and CAT7200. I am modernising and adopting MSHV.



Saturday, 25 June 2016

Icom IC-7300, WSJT, USB send, FSK and meteor scatter modes

I have had a change of heart since I wrote this. See also another posting with almost the same name here just a few days later: http://gm4fvm.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/wsjt-meteor-scatter-mshv-icom-ic-7100.html

Now this is going to be pretty nerdy for the meteor scatter community, but I think it is worth saying for us sky nuts.

As mentioned here before, the IC-7300 has a 13-pin DIN type accessory socket on the back where you can input PTT and audio in the classic manner. Using that socket you can send WSJT-type modes, and loads of others, connecting to your PC by a sound card and using a chip and RTS data to trip the PTT.

That will work, but some of us think that as the rig has a USB cable and the capacity to accept digital audio that is a better way to go. Indeed, working the PTT by hard wiring seems almost from the dark ages compared to CAT or CIV interfaces. The main advantage to using the USB lead is that software can set your transmitting frequency, mode and so forth, all at the same time.

Grand so, but there are still a lot of us using software such as WSJT10 for meteor scatter. The key modes we use, such as JT6M, FSK441 etc are not available yet on the WSJT-X suite. The drawback to this is that, unlike WSJT-X which integrates frequency and mode setting with PTT and audio, WSJT10 is built on the assumption that we will set our own frequency and use RTS (or DTR) signals to work the PTT either via a parallel cable or nowadays often via a parallel/ series converter chip and a USB cable. In other words, the WSJT10 concept is based on us using the accessory socket.

The 7300 will not accept the PTT commands from the WSJT10 software, and the WSJT-X suite does not include the modes we need. Or not quite. Unlike the IC-7100, the IC-7300 does include a "USB SEND" setting which appears to solve the problem.
There it is, under MENU, SET, CONNECTORS. Click that and the USB cable will accept either a DTR or RTS PTT signal from the WSJT10 software.


Not really.

The IC-7300 manual states "When you operate RTTY or CW through your PC’s USB port and your IC-7300, you may not be able to send “SEND” or “Keying” signals until a few seconds after you connect the USB cable."

For me, that means 5 seconds delay every time the WSJT software activates the PTT. NOT just 5 seconds delay the first time I use the USB SEND to do this.

I think I know why this is happening but it is deep in my limited understanding of PC architecture and I will keep it to myself until I can prove it.

I heard from David, GM4JJJ, who found the same problem using USB SEND.

You could get away with using meteor scatter 5 seconds late, but you would lose that proportion of your transmitting time. Meteor scatter is hard enough without discarding almost 10 percent of your transmission. It might work for most of the time, but I run the sort of station which needs 100% of his chances to be heard.

It might work with that limitation for FSK441 and JT6M, but it definitely would not work for JT65, WSPR or similar modes where the start timing is crucial.

So, for now, I am sticking with CAT7200. That is a little bit of software which converts the RTS signal from WSJT10 into a CAT message which the IC-7300 can understand. It is very fiddly to set up but it seems to work OK. You find it here

If anyone out there can work out how to get around the 5 second delay with USB SEND no doubt you will let us all know. In the meantime Greg, SP3RNZ, has set out a good explanation of how to use USB SEND, in his case with MSHV software. Greg's page is here  

Greg's posting has encouraged me to have a close look at MSHV software, and I will report on that soon.

Nice 4m FSK QSO today with Jerzy, SP8HWY. After a long period when meteor scatter was not delivering many contacts, I hope this points the way to increased activity. Jerzy is a regular and someone whose dedication to VHF work is much appreciated. Keep up the good work OM.



Thursday, 23 June 2016

Mapping log entries

I have been playing around again with mapping.

Following a tip by DH8BQA on his blog (link in sidebar) I have been experimenting with DL4MFM's log analyser.

I uploaded ADIF-format log data for those contacts I mentioned on 4m on 18 June and I managed to produce this map.
This was a lot quicker than the previous mapping system I was using but only if you do not consider the time spent creating the log. Also the map resolution is better.

I am still stuck in the land of the paper log and likely to remain so for a while yet. I come from an era when paper logs were not just the only thing around, but they were compulsory. Indeed not just compulsory for your contacts, but also for recording your frequency standard tests, your station opening times, contacts made while mobile and all sorts of other things. Old habits die hard, though at least I now only log dx, contest, or new contacts.  Keeping a log while mobile was a bit of a chore.

If I ever entered a contest I guess I would need to enter that electronically, but then I do not enter contests.

DL4MFM's analyser seems to be available to anyone and is a great tool. I guess, though, that if you entered a lot of contacts it might take a while to map them.



Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Six meters - repairs to my TE Systems 0552G linear.

My old Bremi valve linear - the one we converted, blew up, and re-converted - has been retired again. It was too much of a beast, too flaky. It needed even more work done on it and I have had to admit that I have run out of patience with it.

In its place I now have a TE Systems 0552G. It is theoretically capable of about 350 Watts or so. I propose to use it for about 100W of data for meteor scatter, which should be an easy task. I have added two fans on transmit. It also shares two fans running continuously with my 2m linear.

I bought it second hand from a good home but it only lasted a week before failing. Not the usual bang and bad smell as with my RM VLA-150, or the broken valves and melted chokes as with the Bremi, but it just went off.

The fault turned out to be hard to find. Actually I still have not found it. It must be on the underside of the circuit board. After much deliberation I decided that the circuit board would have to stay in place. The fault is probably a dry joint or a cracked track.

So I devised a plan to bridge the fault with appropriately thin wire. This particular linear claims not to need a fuse (or so the handbook says) so I have resisted putting one in. However, as the power supply is rated at 60 Amps I do not want to find that the underlying fault is a burned out track. So the bridge is lightly made to fail if that does happen to be the problem.

I still had doubts about this plan and so I consulted my friend and mentor, Bob, G3KML. Bob came round to see the problem. First we spent half an hour while I explained that the circuit diagram in the 0552G manual (and on the internet) is wrong. If I believed the circuit diagram then this fault is impossible, as no voltage was reaching the switch board, but the PAs were live. According to the diagram such a situation cannot happen.

Bob also thought that taking out the board would be a mistake. He thought that my plan should work. We did a few tests to prove it. I took a few days to think about it and decided to bridge the hidden fault (wherever it is on the circuit board) with a simple wire.

The wire is routed round the outside of the board. I made a mistake with the point chosen to solder in the bridge and that has resulted in the switches on the linear not quite working in the right manner. I will fix this some other time, the point is that the machine is restored to operation.
The TE Systems 0552G with my bridge in place
So my jinx with 6 metre linears goes on. At least this one has been restored to health for now.


Saturday, 18 June 2016

4 metre band dx - here one minute, gone the next.

I guess you know by now that I can support almost any activity within this hobby (well, RTTY is a bit difficult for me to support these days) except doing nothing.

Or, even worse, doing nothing and complaining about it.

So today I was sitting at the rig doing ... ah well ... short wave listening. Like the good boy scout I never was, I was being prepared.

I had this hunch about an opening to the East. For a couple of days I had been able to hear, but unable to work, stations in Kazakhstan on 6m. I know that they recently got 4m too, or some of them did, so that might be possible too. Keep one ear open.

Starting at 07:29 I worked a series of stations to the East on 6m, then oddly EA2ARD, due South.

Time to try 4m. After working EA on 6, I tried to look for CT beacons on 4, but nothing. Try East again. Then at 08:58 I worked a regular Gabi, HA1YA, on 4m. Interesting.

Time for a CQ to the East on 4m. Nothing except some distant SPs chatting away in their own language. Try again at 09:03.

QRZ? This was SV2DCD in KN00 (2413km). I have only worked SV once before on 4m. Minimum QSO completed and he was gone. Silence. He came straight back with a posting on the cluster so he had definitely got all my details. Wow!

I tried CQ again and then I was called at 09:06 by OH7RJ in KP33 (1836). Pena heard me despite the difference in beam angles from the last QSO. I was beaming to Greece (125 degrees) when he heard my call and he is 53 degree from here.

Two new DX squares on 4m then but after 09:08 ... nothing. The whole 4m opening was over in 10 minutes. Later I went on 6m SSB (unusual mode for me these days) to work 2 OKs and 1 OE. Then back to 6m JT65 for UR5WCE in JN97 (1722). But 4m ... nothing.

This is the thing about 4m. You might expect it to be like 6 metres when it comes to Es, but it is just high enough in frequency to produce these remarkable spot openings. Greece and Finland in a instant and then gone.

There are more and more 4m stations on the air now, and in rarer squares. Now that Elecraft make a 4m transverter to add inside their rigs (albeit a low power one) and Icom have the IC-7300, more and more stations are able to come on from less common squares.

It pays to be in the shack while you are thinking about what might happen next.

Still no sign of Kazakhstan on 4m!

Not yet. But I might have 10 minutes to spare this afternoon.



Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Transatlantic on 6m - more thoughts on finding dx

All that talk of 6m dx yesterday :-
brought an interesting response from Richard GI4DOH. This in turn triggered off some more thoughts from me.

Richard is absolutely correct. So I thought it might be worth exploring it all further.

it was nice to have nearly 40 QSOs with NA on 6m yesterday on CW. So now you know :)

Yes thank you, that is useful information.

Firstly 40 QSOs in NA is very creditable. It shows a good station and good technique.

The "now you know" comment is about the comparison between my 125W of JT65 into 2 elements and his 400W of CW into 3 elements. It is a fair comparison and I guess that about 6 times as many contacts could be expected in this race.

I estimate that Richard's signal would be about 6dB stronger than mine at the other end, and he was using probably the most effective mode in the hobby - CW.

On the receive side our stations may be closer, maybe 2dB plus the intangible factor of Richard using a better class of rig.

Signal strengths did not seem to be a big factor during that opening. With five minutes being the standard JT65 QSO length, a good test is the length of the QSO. JT65 QSOs gets longer if information has to repeated (on meteor scatter this can go up to several hours).

My QSOs were - six minutes for the first one (ignoring the power information I sent which took another minute - see the table on the earlier article). Then it was 5 minutes, 6 minutes, 5 minutes, 5 minutes and 3 minutes (the Canadian station used an abbreviated system which is normally only used by meteor scatter operators). So we were all able to copy each other easily enough.

In between those contacts, I was not actually working people for 44 minutes. 30 minutes working, 44 minutes calling CQ or whatever. I had worked all the stations which I could hear here on JT65, and then more than half my time was spent not working anyone. I bet Richard's pile up did not give him 44 minutes free time.

So I only worked 6. I was happy about that. I now know that there were loads of other stations around. Indeed I could easily have gone on to SSB where I had 325 Watts peak available, though I am not sure that 325 peak SSB would have made much difference compared to 125 Watts continuous of JT65. The significant difference made by switching to SSB or CW would have been to produce a lot more stations to work.

There I was, using a mode which often takes 5 minutes to complete a QSO and sometimes more. And there were so few stations that I could work them all. I just sat here watching the screen for more than half the time. I could have turned a knob and gone to SSB to work a lot more but I did not.

I think this shows up a couple of points. Firstly, I like my radio at a nice sedate pace. I seem to avoid pile-ups and if I do create them I come on here and moan about it to you lot. Richard, on the other hand, is a true DX-er and can work a lot more stations than me in a given time. His station set-up helps him and it is tailored to his needs. Secondly, Richard has enough like minded people to keep him really busy in the peak periods, whereas my interests are a bit more ... singular.

I think it is great that we can enjoy our two approaches to this, and still have that common bond which links amateurs. If I ever manage to meet Richard in the future we will no doubt rabbit on about all things radio. I bet that we would not find it necessary to wish that the other could enjoy the hobby their way. That is what I love most about the radio hobby. It is essentially about sharing our common love for the science and the art which we practice. Oh yes, and he will rib me a bit about sitting on my hands for half the opening, and I will take that on the chin. I am not a shrinking violet and I can take it too.

There is of course a third way. First there is the efficient QSO maker, then there is the pondering geek with his theories, and then the "third way". I speak of those who find the whole idea just too difficult. Those who turn on the radio after the event, and content themselves with the knowledge that they have not got a good enough station to work any of this. They often blame the "big guns" for spoiling it for everyone else, but don't even try to see if that is true. Or perhaps they blame their operating technique as not being up to it all. SAYS WHO?

Certainly, if you do not try, you will  not work many stations. If you try and fail then ... why not just try again some other way? If we can see two diverse responses to an opening whereby Richard worked them thick and fast until he ran out of the conditions and I tootled along until I ran out of other similar nerds to work, then why no try your own approach? Why not try a vertical dipole, a multi-band antenna, a mag-loop, a loaded whip, anything. Try that FT-817 sitting in the cupboard. What have you got to lose? Being a radio amateur is not a competition or a beauty contest. There is no prize, just the satisfaction of doing your own thing.

No prize in this life anyway. After that, who knows?

A delightful experience - it really is the magic band.

My own skimmer spotted MD0CCE on 6m and when I listened in I found I could hear the US station he was working. It didn't take long to get a wee pileup going - all good fun indeed.

Here Richard is wisely using his own resources to spot the opening on its way. The skimmer is a device connected to the IF of a rig which can sample a slice of band and look for CW callsigns. It allows the operator to monitor what is on the band and, even more importantly, most skimmers post the results on the DX cluster. Then sites like dxMaps (see side bar link) post them for all to see.

If you watch dxMaps you can often see Richard's postings. Whilst I do not use a skimmer, I use WSPR, which is a large personal beacon network. dxMaps is often only populated by skimmer and WSPR posts, but that does usually give early warnings of openings.

WSPR is not popular at VHF (a touchy subject which is not for discussion here and now) but I use it frequently at 10m. My own style is to follow the MUF up and down the spectrum, and dxMaps is a key factor in that. The recent 6m multi-hop Es opening did not lend itself to my system, as such openings usually only work at one frequency band. So it was dxMaps reporting of contacts from Portugal to North and South America which alterted me.

Richard's point is interesting in another way. He saw someone not-quite-local working someone distant. That can be a great clue. I have my "pickets". Hamish, GM4WJA, calls me his picket for 10 metre conditions. I am far enough away from him for my information to be useful, so he watches my WSPR posts while building up his band information. The purpose of a picket is to hear an opening which you cannot yet hear yourself. You hope it is coming your way.

On 6 metres I have Rob, 2E1IIP and Chris GM4ZJI, on 4 metres Rob also stands in for me, along with Andy GM4JR. On 2 metres Nick G4KUX and David GM4JJJ are the ones I watch. I might be sitting watching Vera on the TV (there seem to be a lot of murders round here), but perhaps I am watching you too via dxMaps on my laptop at the same time.

When I want a quick test of conditions, I listen to the top of the CW section on 6m. Usually that is the best test I have for auroral conditions here. My CW is definitely good enough to pick out the callsigns.

Most of these ideas work well on all bands and in most situations. "Keep your ear to the ground" is the best piecce of advice I can give. "Get up and do something about it" is the second most important piece.

Anyway, whatever gives you the warning, it is worth watching. And it is worth trying. Whatever mode you use, whatever antenna you have, why not just give it a try?

The photo dates from 17 May 2004 in Skiathos. It shows typical Greek rural
transport at the time. Mazda may have gone on to make more exotic vehicles, but for plain practicality I admire this automotive classic.



Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Transatlantic on six metres

I know that several readers of this blog managed to get across "the pond" on 6m yesterday using the multi-hop Es opening. I managed to get a few glimpses of the dxMaps screen to see how everyone was getting on, but I was pretty tied up on the band myself.

I might add that as I only moved here after the solar cycle decided to deflate, I do not have much of a track record on six. So I have only managed to cross the ditch with 6 metres from here on two occasions  - once to VO1SO (GN37, 3621km by SSB) on 18 June 2011, and then to WP4JCF (FK68, 4186 by JT65) on 17 June 2014. So total DXCC count to date = 2, Newfoundland and Puerto Rico.

You would have thought that I might be looking for such an opening around the middle of June this year. I wasn't. I was daydreaming, as usual.

As I often point out (at length), 6m has been a bit of a missed opportunity for me. Even at the peak of antenna expansion, I only had a 3 element up there, and for most of my time I have only used a Diamond HB9CV-alike. Just 2 elements.

So when I noticed the usual suspects near the South West tip of Portugal working across the pond I did not take much notice. They can get across the Atlantic to North and South America fairly easily. Despite this, I thought it was worth a chance and turned the antenna to 285 degrees and called CQ on JT65. After a short while I noticed AB1NJ (Vermont FN34 4920) calling CQ and I was off. I even turned the power up to 125 watts (which is as much as the antenna can cope with).

I stuck to JT65 for the whole session. Later I worked KB1ESS (Massachusetts FN32 5069), KB2FCV (New Jersey FN20 5337), W3CP (Georgia EM74 6452), KB3OZC (Pennsylvania FN20 5449). After that I was called by TF3MSN (HP84 1440) before taking a break. Then I wanted to work Canada and managed a QSO with VE2DLC (Quebec FN58 4424). Finally, I worked TF3ML/P (HP93 1375), though I had worked him earlier, before this opening. Still, he was really really strong, so I felt I should tell him so.

Click to enlarge if you cannot see it clearly.

Not only my first Continental US contacts on 6m, but five in a row, and all in different states. Very nice. Each of those contacts exceeded my best dx for the band before yesterday.

Plus Canada. It took a few moments to realise that Newfoundland and Canada count as one DXCC. During my schooling at a proper "Empire Loyalist" type school - to use a Canadian expression - I knew that Newfoundland had joined Canada in the 1940s, but the DXCC status eluded me. Dodecanese, which joined Greece about the same time, counts as a separate DXCC. Confused? You will be...

Most of these guys had good antennas and I don't. Most of them seem to have kilowatt linears too. It did not bother me that I might have worked more using a Yagi and full legal power, or more still using CW. It was just great fun as it was. There may not be another big 6m opening for me for years.

I hope those of you who could get in on it enjoyed this opening.



Sunday, 12 June 2016

Doing the VHF treble again.

I have written before about how much I enjoy "doing the treble" on VHF


That rather long and waffly piece sets out the detail, but in general the idea is that I enjoy jumping up the bands to catch the highest usable frequency I can get.

Today was a classic example. I have been hiding away with a migraine headache. Shut in the shack with the lights off feeling terrible and there was nothing on the radio anyway.

As I recovered I thought I would give the radio a go.

I had been monitoring 10m WSPR and it started to open into Germany and Poland. I tried 6m JT65 and after a while I worked one station:-

15:46 50.276 SQ8JMD KO02 1558km worked (he was -20 dB, but came up later).

My thoughts then turned to 4m, and the FM rig was finding Russian OIRT broadcast stations.

16:02 70.200 SP2MKO JO93 1345 worked 59.
16:07 70.200 S51DI worked 59 (what a good worker Ivan is for the 4m band)

So of course, it looked like the MUF might reach 2m, so I called

16:10 144.300 SP5WCK KO12 1708 worked 59
16:12 144.300 SP8QEJ KO11 1345 worked 57

I got a bit carried away as I have never worked SP from this location on 2m. GM4JJJ was also on the band and he moved up 10 and I moved down 10.

16:12 144.290 SP2MKO JO93 1350 worked 59

There was so much splatter on that frequency I moved down another 10

16:16 144.280 SP5XMU KO02 1549 worked 59

Imagine it, not able to find a quiet spot on 2 metres thanks to Polish DX.

After a few calls I returned to 144.300 where JJJ and myself took it in turns but that seemed to be it on 2m.

So  I moved back down onto 4m.

16:50 70.200 SP2MKO JO93 1350 worked 59.

This must be the first time for me that I have worked the same station in the same opening on both 2m and 4m. Marek suggested we move to 6m but I lost him there, sadly. In the meantime someone else called me on 4m.

16:52 70.200 HA3GR JN86 1731 Worked 59

16:58 70.200 SP2FH JO92 1418 Worked 59

Time for tea, after which:-

17:39 70.200 SP8EP KO11 1708 worked 57
17:44 70.200 SP5XMU KO02 1549 worked 59 and another  2m/4m double.

I have often had 4m/6m doubles with the same station , and many cross-band contacts between those bands, as they a quite close proportionately to their frequency. But the same stations in 2m/4m doubles is much harder. 2m is more than twice the 4m frequency.

And finally, the one that got away:-

17:10 70.200 LZ1ZP KN22 2454. I heard him clearly, he called QRZ, I think he got my callsign, but I lost him under a blast of OIRT broadcasting stations. In the clear he was easily workable. Bah!

I really enjoy the short openings you get on 2m sporadic E. Or I enjoy them if I happen to be sitting at the rig when they happen. This was the first good one this year, after a couple of near misses. Maybe that is it, or maybe we will get some more.

Working two of the same stations on both 4m and 2m was a bit unusual. It also shows that there are some VHF fans around doing the same band hops which I do.

I am not alone.

Here is a screenshot of the OIRT broadcast stations cluttering up the 4m band.

At least it proves that the band is open.

My head still hurts and I managed to get several of the log entries mixed up. At least I could correct them. Migraines really disrupt my functioning and affect my sight and reasoning ability. I become clumsy and un-coordinated. Lucky, they are rare for me.



Monday, 6 June 2016

A great week of Es, followed by lots of tropo.

Two weeks ago I was away in our caravan in the Highlands. Despite taking rigs and power supplies and antennas, I managed to forget one crucial component and I spent a week without radio. Maybe spending a week without radio is a good idea sometimes.

On the Friday I read the RSGB Propagation News and it was pretty downbeat:-

For next week it's not a good sign that there seem to be few suitably-placed jet streams, often involved with Sporadic-E formation. They are mostly located over Spain and the Mediterranean and so a bit too far away.

After seeing that I expected a pretty poor week (though of course as I do not believe that Es is predictable using Jet Stream projections I was not entirely sure I wanted to give up).

Hmmm "Seem to be". Weasel words? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_word

I got home on the Saturday and tried to see what I could find.

What followed was not a product of the lack of "good signs", as it was probably the best week of the year for Es all over Europe. Best week SO FAR of course.

On 28th May I worked on 6m (all JT65) HA, UT (Ukraine), SP, YO, LY and on 4m SSB HA and LY.

29 May brought 6m (JTmodes) OH,YL, SQ, EA, 9A6, DJ, LY, SA and 4m SSB G, S51, OH, ES and LY.

30 May brought 6m (JT modes) G, IZ, DL, OK, OE, S5, 4m SSB SP, S5, and 4m FM S5.

31 May brought 6m (JT modes) CT, EA, IS0, and 4m SSB G and GM.

By 31 May I was getting tired of it and not working all I could.

1 June brought 6m (JT modes) HB9, I, F, and EA.

2 June brought 6m (JT modes)  SQ, G and I.

By 3 June I could hardly bring myself to turn on as I was at full capacity (I have not even worked out which new squares those brought, as there were many contacts in each country).

So by 3 June I limited myself to 4 minutes on the 6m band to work OH3NE on JT65.

Come 4 June I was back on 6m working several CT stations.

I expected the RSGB propagation news to make some reference to that fact that the previous week had suggested that the Jet Stream would not be helpful, but there was no mention of the week's openings. It said:-

As we said earlier, we’ve had a good start to this year for Sporadic-E with many days of European Sporadic-E on 50MHz upwards to 144MHz. Tea time on the 30th produced strong 144MHz signals from YU1EV and others, copied from East Anglia right over to West Wales and the Isle of Man.

 I am not sure how that ties in with the previous week's comments. However, I noted this remark:-
Disturbed weather patterns with strong jet streams are what is required for Sporadic-E, but the next week is looking quieter as the jet stream migrates to the northern parts of Europe. This could mean paths to Scandinavia more often than southern Europe as in recent weeks. If you do one thing, check the VHF bands for Sporadic-E around tea time, before eating, and you’ll catch most of what develops.

Here is my breakdown on Es QSOs last week by hour intervals (08 = 08:00 to 08:59 and so on)


I think that, based on my experience, suggesting listening before eating your tea is not really the best advice. Yes, it follows the old idea which you read in books about the mid-afternoon break (not much happening here 13:00 to 14:00. But there is still lots of activity in the morning. I think that most experienced and current VHF operators would be surprised by that advice.

I also think that the Jet Stream prediction was very wide of the mark. Most of you know that I think that predictions based on Jet Stream patterns are just plain misleading. Yes, sometimes they are right, but then sometimes they are wrong. Cleverly, this is described as "news" rather than predictions, but many inexperienced amateurs will read them and actually think they are likely to be correct.

It may well be that studying Jet Streams is helpful in understanding Es, but I doubt it. However, I have no proof (which is the basic problem for me). What I do see is that, not just this one week, but for weeks on end, the RSGB advice based on Jet Stream patterns has been wrong, time and again,, at this QTH. This was just one week, but it was wrong again.

I do not think it is very scientific to make a suggestion one week and then just ignore the fact that it was wrong the next week. In my view science only progresses if we accept that we are sometimes wrong and learn from it. So the next week we should accept our errors and move on.

"Disturbed weather patterns with strong jet streams are what is required for  Sporadic E". Really? I read the articles about this, and I found a lot of rhetoric and not much actual proof of that. It might be that these things have some influence, but to say that these things are "what is required" is surely going far beyond the simple facts. Doesn't the Sun have something to do with it? And there is Sporadic E under a lot of different conditions.

Or, to put it another way, aren't there often "disturbed weather patterns and strong jet streams" when there is no Es? Just looking for Es and trying to prove a link is not sufficient for the scientific approach. We need to see the times when those supposed "required" factors are present and there is no Es. Why not? Explain that one in terms of those two factors. In that case it is very convenient not to mention when the predictions go wrong.

Maybe, as I say, Jet Streams are helpful in analysis of Es. Can they predict Es? I think not. You might say that Es is inevitable and Jet Stream studies might help the understanding of the direction and timing Es occurs. Well, maybe, but again I see no proof of it.

The keys words I want to see are causation, necessary factors, requried factors, proof of cause and effect, evidence, predictability, repeatability and reliability. Or I would want to see these before I started using the RSGB website to peddle my own pet theories. So I will just stick with my blog for now.

What do I have to put in the place of these theories? Nothing. I think that in the Winter, solar events play a part and I need to do more study before I can draw any conclusions. But if it proves wrong, then it proves wrong. For Summer Es, I feel pretty sure that direct solar influence, both in atmospheric heating and direct radiation energising the E layer, plus the combined effects of the mangetic field and sheer to build up concentrations of ions, will prove to be far more influential.

But each to their own theory.

Then on 5 May a large Tropo event started. The 5 May RSGB News stated:-

The weather pattern is fairly slow moving and although we start with high pressure, this will get displaced to the east. This could still provide some Tropo from northern Britain across to southern Scandinavia.

So not much to expect there then. On 4 May I worked PA and OZ on 2 metres. Then on 5 May I worked 28 PA, 5 G, 18 German, and 6 ONs, mostly on 2m but also 6 of these on 4m. It did not feel like Northern Britain to Scandinavia.

OK, you cannot really predict accurately where these openings will occur and it was very localised. All the stations I worked were in 7 squares. But if the area cannot be predicted, why try? Is this not just misleading?

Working 58 stations quick-fire on one day took its toll. I was shattered. But I was in a constant pile-up. VHF contacts are not "599 73 OM" affairs, or mine are not anyway. I always try to exchange meaningful information would might develop more knowledge about the conditions and the stations. It was exhausting.

So far on 6 Jine I have worked 6 PA, 2 German, 1 ON and 1 M6 stations, all in the same tropo event. With a bit of luck, the charts suggest that we may get several days of potential enhancement. I wish that the proposed opening into Scandinavia will happen, but we will see.

I was blessed with an education in statistics. I know that if we see good conditions this week then we can reasonably predict a return to normality next week. And so it is with Es. This week it has calmed down again. Which is what anyone might expect. With high pressure, we might expect tropo openings. This is not prediction or "news", this is what we expect based on the statistics. If something proves to be unpredictable in our current analysis then we should accept that and learn from it.

With Es, it usually changes from day to day, which is what made last week so unusual. Dare I say it, unpredictable.

I feel that we would be better off without advice to turn our antennas the wrong way, listen at the wrong times and generally expect the wrong conditions.

Oh, I am really worn out. I need a break from this job and I should take up a hobby.

Wait a minute, this is supposed to be a hobby, isn't it?

Finally, I always try to get in one photo. In the absence of a picture to illustrate these events, here is a photo of a train when trains were real trains. The location is Carnalea and the date is 9 Aprill 1985.