Saturday, 15 April 2017

War on LED lights, VHF conditions pick-up, GMs switch on radios.

My comments recently about (hopefully) eliminating LED lights around here seem to have struck home. Several e-mails suggest I am not the only amateur with noisy lights.

Firstly I need to say that all these outdoor lights are not some fantasy illumination scheme dreamed up by me. In fact, all of them were either here from the time when the house was built or installed by the electrician who wired the extension.

Living in the country and generally away from whatever sreetlights there are, means that it is pitch black here at night. The visibility of stars is superb.

Lights are just one aspect of noise. The only influence I have over most of the noise is to turn things off when not in use. This appears to be the main step to take in reducing the noise floor. Turn everything off at the main switch when not in use. Never leave a light, charger, printer, or anything really, in "standby".

I have managed to find an eBay source of compact fluorescent floodlight units to replace the two LED floodlights which are left. After they are sorted that leaves one 150W quartz element which I object to as it uses so much energy, and one LED security light. The new Osram LED security light seems perfectly quiet. I am now pondering replacing the remaining noisy LED security light with another 2 x 6W Osram fitting. It is only my reluctance to change a light that still shines with a more expensive quieter one that stops me doing it. I need to know that it is value for money before I change it.

The Osram LED proves that quiet LEDs are possible, and the compact fluorescents show that for a small price in extra wattage consumed even a floodlight can be quiet.
Slowly VHF is waking up again after the Winter low.

Between the second week in January and the end of March we VHF-ers find that Meteor Scatter and Es have deserted us, so we have to rely on whatever other crumbs fall off the propagation table. Usually some tropo or an Aurora comes to our aid. This time there have been very few crumbs falling in my direction.

The almost-Aurora continued for several days after I worked SM2GCQ on Auroral Es. All the measures continued to promise an opening but nothing happened. So when the GOES magnetometer showed a wobble I was about to write it off as another false alarm.

At last, on 27 March, this did produce a small Aurora at GM4FVM.
OVATION Auroral map, showing two potential areas, but Scotland facing neither
 As so often, my first contact was LA9BM on 4m CW.
With a K number of 7 I was on guard for something happening.
Then on 4m SSB I reached GI4SNA, OZ2OE and GM4JJ, before switching to 2m SSB to account for GW8JLY and GM4JJJ again. Then back to 4m SSB for GM6CMQ.
Auroral contacts at GM4FVM on 27 March 2017.
27 March was not bad given the lack of Auroral success so far this year. The historical trends show that Auroral activity peaks in the two years after Solar Cycle Maximum. We must be past that stage now. On the other hand, Auroral activity never actually stops at any stage of the Solar Cycle, so we must wait to see how we do over the next year or two.

Meteor Scatter conditions have been steadily improving.
Meteor Scatter contacts at GM4FVM 24 March to 15 April 2017
The map tends to disguise the lumpy nature of these contacts. I was only active for 5 days during the period, and on those days the number of contacts were 1, 3,1,1,3 (with one station worked twice). I did call CQ a lot, but it turns out that some stations now use MSK144 and the PSK Reporter as a spotting tool for all-day reception. This is perfectly acceptable, but it does result in DXMaps suggesting that there was a lot of 6m QSOs going on, whereas in fact one station calling CQ can result in 4 or 5 spots on the map.

I do this myself. I often put MSK144 on to receive to see what is happening at times when I cannot be in the shack. I choose to turn off PSK Reporter spotting while this is going on.Each to their own of course.

Once we have Es back on 6m I suspect that the number of stations listening on 50.280 all day will decline dramatically. I will certainly change my habits once I hear some serious DX via Es.

As I write this on 15 April there are quite a few strong reflections noted on 4m Meteor Scatter. Thank goodness. It has been a long Winter.

I am now getting regular Es spots on 10m into EA8. Perhaps the Summer Es are not far away from VHF now.
Another aspect I have noted during recent openings (not that there have been many), is that I no longer seem to be alone. For quite a time there were perhaps only one or two GM stations active during VHF openings. Now there can be five or six. I have had DX station complain to me how little GM activity there was. Some squares are still hard to find of course, but recent activity seems to cover several GM squares. And this comes even after one or two long-time activists have departed the scene.

Perhaps everything is not doom and gloom when it comes to activity. Can this be due, at least in part, to the new rules in the RSGB UKAC contests? Whether you agree with the new contest rules or not, GM VHF activity appears to have risen from "terminal decline" to "modest". That is quite an achievement really.
I have been away again, this time for a short caravan trip to Grantown on Spey in IO87. The only radio equipment I took was a dual band 4m and 2m hand portable, which remained totally silent during the entire stay. In recent years this trip took place in May when there was Sporadic E around, but this year it had to be taken earlier in the year.

The consequence of taking the Grantown holiday earlier is that I should be here during the early parts of the Es season. Often in the past I missed vital moments.

I cannot be here all the time. Perhaps I should try ...



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