Thursday, 27 July 2017

More on FT8, WSJT-X1.8.0-rc1 and imaginary band conditions

Well, I have had a lot more chance to work with FT8.

1) When FT8 does work

Included in my activity has been more time on 40m which was good fun as it included a QSO into VK and then I missed this ZP9 because I had to go out and quell a cat fight in the garden (don't ask, it involves a "Squeezy" bottle full of water - not to wet the cat but to cause it to find a close shave enough to leave the premises). ZP9 on 40 would have been a new one...

ZP9CTS missed on 40m at GM4FVM on 23 July 2017
Still, VK will do nicely.

In operation it is fairly easy to cut out an entire 30 seconds of otherwise missed DX opportunity by being quick to reply to calls.

I leave the PC pointer over the second line above the bottom (once the "Rx Frequency" box has filled - before then you have to pick the lowest blank line). It takes a bit of care to put it over where the other station's callsign will appear. Then I resist the temptation to click as soon as their callsign is decoded (on the line below). This is because my reaction time is not quick enough to click on that before the callsign moves to the line above.

 It certainly works if you click it within 2 or 3 seconds. Here is what the result looks like, showing that the next CQ was interrupted by the reply within two seconds and the other station received it fine ...

I have decided not to get steamed up about the superfluous 73 which often happens. Yes, I could hang over the spot with my pointer ready to click if I failed to get a 73. This might save 30 seconds. So far I cannot see the need to do it. It is worth doing it when getting replies to CQ calls as otherwise people can get fed up and stop calling.

2) When FT8 does not work

I have had a series of mysterious failed contacts where my reply was not decoded at the other end even though we were strong signals in both directions.
LA7DFA not decoding me on 6m for 20 minutes. Click to enlarge if necessary.
I was calling LA7DFA all this time and he only copied me once. After I got his report I sent mine but he did not decode that at all. This went on for twenty minutes. You can see that I missed his messages quite a few times too, even though I could see a big signal on the waterfall. Signals were strong enough and Per sent me several emails about it as things went on. There was little that we could do about it. Eventually Per suggested that we move to meteor scatter and once we had sorted out an "FTol" settings issue with MSK144, the QSO was instant. Hardly surprising as I could hear Per clearly.

This failure and a few others like it are rather mysterious. It does not seem to be a timing issue and I have switched back and forth between Meinberg and Dimension 4 several times which makes no difference. Signal strength is not an issue. Usually the other station has decoded my CQ and perhaps my reply. Drift does not seem to be involved. Sometimes I have decoded their message once, but not again. Sometimes it passes, other times it goes on for ages (though the example above is extreme).

A bit of a mystery that situation. I see others seem to be affected too. I still feel that I must be doing something wrong.

3. When nothing works (or so I imagine)


Between 1 July and 27 July 2017 I worked only 4 stations outside the UK on the 70MHz band.

This seemed so bad I decided to compare it with 2016, when the figure for the same period was 5.

Then I checked 2015, and then it was 7.

So four is not so bad. I do not recall July being quite so bad on 4m.

On 6m, by comparison, in 2016 I worked 18 stations and in 2017 I worked 55. So July is not so bad on 6m, and certainly not when I can rattle through the contacts on FT8.

Ah, the good old days. When July was full of 4m DX and the world was well ordered.

What went wrong?

73

Jim
GM4FVM

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

WSJT-X and FT8 - you have to be quick

This is not a criticism. I like FT8. This is just what I found by trying to use it on the busy bands.

After a night using FT8 on 40 metres, I have to say that it is very efficient. It proves, however, that I am not as efficient as I might like to be.

It all comes down to managing the 15 second time segments.

In a nutshell, the transmitted signals have to start right at the beginning of the tx segment (of course), but this is very difficult to achieve if you are waiting to see a decoded signal from the other end. So human intervention, which may not be well timed, was tending to slow everything down.

Lets us suppose that I decide to call CQ, just like the 40m calls last night.

EDIT I have corrected typos in the timing, but the point remains the same.

I might do this during segment 1, at 0 minutes and 15 seconds.

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM

Unless I was fairly careful or had set this on the earlier receiving segment, it is very unlikely to start at exactly the right point. Much more likely it will start after the beginning of the segment and therefore not be a signal which can be decoded by anyone else. Thus the next segment, my receive one, will be silent.

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence

Set up as it is to auto repeat, it will call CQ again next time.

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence
3. 0m 45s CQ GM4FVM

Anyone likely to reply to me will have to wait to see the decode of my signal (duh!). From what I have seen, not many people with normal reactions can click on my callsign in their software before the next tx segment has begun. With only 2 seconds available for decode, reaction and processing that is hardly surprising. The rapidly ageing demographic of amateurs (including me) only makes this less likely to happen.

So at some point during the next segment I get to see a reply, but it is never going to decode.

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence
3. 0m 45s CQ GM4FVM
4. 1m 00s Trace seen but no decode

There is no time for me to put up "QRZ?" either, as I have to wait to see whether that trace decoded or not. So I just send CQ again. There is nothing for the other station to do either, other than transmit again, but this time I will decode it as it started automatically at the correct time. It turns out that it is A1DX, a (non-existent but) very desirable station to work.

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence
3. 0m 45s CQ GM4FVM
4. 1m 00s Trace seen but no decode of call from A1DX
5. 1m 15s CQ GM4FVM
6. 1m 30s GM4FVM A1DX KM33

Great, A1DX, a rare station in a fairly unusual square! I have to wait to see the decode, by which time even though I click on A1DX's callsign it is too late to get the full message transmitted and she only gets two fragments which she cannot decode. However, it shows at my end as having gone (along with the record of another CQ which it interrupted, showing up as two tx lines on the panel).

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence
3. 0m 45s CQ GM4FVM
4. 1m 00s Trace seen but no decode of call from A1DX
5. 1m 15s CQ GM4FVM
6. 1m 30s GM4FVM A1DX KM33
7. 1m 45s CQ GM4FVM/A1DX GM4FVM +03

At this stage A1DX will see that I have replied but get no decode, so she just sends her call again. We all need to be patient here.

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence
3. 0m 45s CQ GM4FVM
4. 1m 00s Trace seen but no decode of call from A1DX
5. 1m 15s CQ GM4FVM
6. 1m 30s GM4FVM A1DX KM33
7. 1m 45s CQ GM4FVM/A1DX GM4FVM +03
8. 2m 00s GM4FVM A1DX KM33

At this point automation takes over and the rest of the QSO proceeds very quickly without further intervention by either of us (just as well given the speed of our reactions). The path shown next will be followed providing that A1DX has the "Auto Seq" box ticked, but it turns out that she has. Otherwise it will take forever to do this.

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence
3. 0m 45s CQ GM4FVM
4. 1m 00s Trace seen but no decode of call from A1DX
5. 1m 15s CQ GM4FVM
6. 1m 30s GM4FVM A1DX KM33
7. 1m 45s CQ GM4FVM/A1DX GM4FVM +03
8. 2m 00s GM4FVM A1DX KM33
9. 2m 15s A1DX GM4FVM +03
10. 2m 30s GM4FVM A1DX R-16
11. 2m 45s A1DX GM4FVM RRR
12. 3m 00s GM4FVM A1DX 73

OK she might send 88s, as we do go back a long way.

But anyway, now a further issue arises. If I have by now altered my WSJT-X panel to send the next CQ, I will not know if A1DX sent 73 until it is decoded. She might have not received my RRR and then she would send R-16 again, which would mean me changing everything again and wasting time. So I am almost obliged to leave everything in auto until I see the decode of 73, by which time it is too late to stop me sending 73 myself. If I do intervene by changing this to CQ it gets me nowhere because the resultant changed message is not able to be decoded by anyone. So I end up with this ...

1. 0m 15s CQ GM4FVM
2. 0m 30s Silence
3. 0m 45s CQ GM4FVM
4. 1m 00s Trace seen but no decode of call from A1DX
5. 1m 15s CQ GM4FVM
6. 1m 30s GM4FVM A1DX KM33
7. 1m 45s CQ GM4FVM/A1DX GM4FVM +03
8. 2m 00s GM4FVM A1DX KM33
9. 2m15s A1DX GM4FVM +03
10. 2m 30s GM4FVM A1DX R-16
11. 2m 45s A1DX GM4FVM RRR
12. 3m 00s GM4FVM A1DX 73
13. 3m 15s A1DX GM4FVM 73
14. 3m 30s Silence
15. 3m 45s CQ GM4FVM

Thus, in theory a 6 segment cycle (as it often is on JT65) becomes a 14 segment cycle. The FT8 segments are only a quarter of the length of the JT65 ones of course.

If it goes round again, the correct start time of segment 15 reduces subsequent iterations to 13 segments. Instead of calling CQ after 6 cycles on JT65, I ended up calling CQ after 12 cycles on FT8. This produces twice as many QSOs on FT8 compared with the same time on JT65, not four times as I might have expected before actually trying it.

It is quicker if you are the one answering the CQ of course. It takes longer if you are the one calling CQ as you have the dead rx periods.

I recognise that there might be some failings on my part due to my slow reaction times. The other stations seemed to be doing the same. I tried to sharpen up at my end, for instance by being ready to double click on the other station's callsign as soon as it appeared on my panel (you have to do it on the "RxFrequency" side as it moves up the screen on the other side, plus it will move up a line as soon as you start to tx, so I aimed for the second line up). This usually saved two segments, but I had to be lightening quick.

Nobody at the other end seemed to be moving any more quickly than I was, and all the QSOs were like the one above. I had to call CQ twice before I got a decode of the other end's callsign, even though after the first CQ I could see something on the waterfall. It was never decoded the first time. They were not getting as quick as I was.

With careful timing it is possible to reduce this process, but nobody was doing it last night. My lack of ability to avoid sending a second redundant 73 at the end of the cycle really annoyed me, but I just did not have the time to get it right and change over to CQ as soon as I had received 73. That is my standard procedure on JT65. Maybe I just need to loosen up and accept that as the whole process is better then the odd missed segment is OK.

This all seems simpler on MSK144. The modes are not technically comparable, but MSK144 also has 15 second segments. There is enough time to work out what to do next on MSK because timing is not important on meteor scatter - and on 60 second JT65 there is plenty of time even though you still need to concentrate. I pondered a bit on whether the same FT8 protocol with 30 second segments (with the extra 15 seconds devoted simply to deciding what to do next) would actually take the same time to complete a QSO. The answer with some of the real-life contacts was "yes".

Of course the built-in automation takes a lot of the problems out of all this. It works 100% fine. It is only when cranky old humans get involved that it all goes awry. Well not "awry" as it still works, but it diverges from the ideal. Put simply, my desire to complete "a QSO", meaning all the stuff done right, is part of the delay. I am the one deciding not to go straight on to CQ without seeing 73, but then that seems pretty logical to me. Let me put it this way - I do it on all the other modes.

Further automation, like automatically replying to the next signal or the weakest signal, is on the way for FT8. The snag with this, despite the attraction for others, is that I don't want to do it. I really want to know who I am replying to to before I reply. The UK does not have a "banned list" but some DXCCs do. In general I just do not want to be able to work everyone who might just call me.

Automatically going to CQ once 73 is received would be a good option for me though.

This is a fine balance to strike. At what point does speeding up the QSO get too fast for the operator to keep up with?

In the early 1980s I was taking a post graduate course at Queen's University of Belfast. I took an option in Ergonomics, which examined what was then called "man/machine interface". You know, aircraft cockpit dials all reading the same way, and how to design a control panel for a nuclear reactor. Great stuff and very useful in later life. Well ...

At one point we were trooped (!) into the university "Drill Hall" where a line of personal computers was arranged. I had never used a personal computer before, as the only computers I had used were the size of small buildings. We had to compare the interfaces on Microsoft and Macintosh machines. Microsoft was DOS, the Macs had ... windows. I wrote a long essay (my essays are still long) to say that windows were a much more accessible human/machine interface than obscure keystrokes. Speeding up the process using windows still left the operator with enough time to decide what to do next at their own pace, having been provided with timely visual clues. Did Microsoft read that? I don't know, but that is my qualification to blether on this topic now. I studied ergonomics you know.

I might have just got a bad night on 40m, with everybody new to the mode. However, it looked a bit like we might have got near to the limit as to how far we can shorten the reaction time available to operators and still expect them to sort things out in time. We can react more easily to messages that can be decoded as they arrive - like CW - where the message is gradually building up during the QSO. With data modes however, you get nothing until you are presented with a fully decoded message or still just nothing. What you do then is limited in all sort of ways. Further automation is possible but do we really want it?

Here is an FT8 QSO today on 6m ...
50MHz FT8 at GM4FVM on 19 July 2017. Click image to enlarge if necessary
This is better than the 40m ones last night. There is the same jittery start. Did he not hear me the first times I called, or did he click to reply during a segment and I did not decode the partial message? There was QSB. Once we got into automatic mode everything went well until two 73s and even an extra one from me which I cancelled part way through. It is not really comparable with last night, as on 6m DX everybody is keyed up and concentrating, while on 40m around Europe it is ... different.

Let us get this straight. Most of the QSOs I had would never have taken place on JT65, and no other mode either. Whilst FT8 might not be working for me at four times the speed of JT65, it is certainly getting through the QSOs at twice the rate, which means half of the 40m ones would never have happened in any other mode. As for the 6m contact, well -17dB is a pretty weak signal, so FT8 won the day technically. Once he actually heard me and started his reply the QSO was complete in another 45 seconds. With JT65 the QSB would have got him before the end anyway. I am a fan of FT8.

FT8 works. The high pace makes me feel fraught and unlike JT65 there is not much time for logging and feeding the cat between overs. I can cope with that (can Katy?). However, it is a bit ... wearing ... keeping up with it. Worth the effort though.

The protocol works very well, the operator is in need of a software upgrade.

If you ever need your nuclear reactor control suite updated, you know the person to call. I will put in some delay time to allow for second thoughts before pressing "go" - you cannot get people to react fast enough and still see the consequences of their actions. Other people! Eh? Who needs them?

I wonder did windows ever catch on in computing?

73

Jim

GM4FVM



Friday, 14 July 2017

VHF data frequencies plus WSJT-X 1.8.0-rc1

Thanks to David, GM4JJJ, for pointing out me that the long awaited sharpening of the blades of WSJT-X, version v1.8.0-rc1 r7847, is now available at the WSJT Home Page link on the right. Follow the link  to WSJT-X and select the "candidate release" of WSJT-X 1.8.0.

Our attention was immediately drawn to a new "mode" (or protocol as some people put it). FT8 offers many advantages over JT65 on VHF. In particular it should suit weak long distance signals affected by QSB and Doppler.

At first glance there are several features in FT8 which I can certainly see will help. Immediately noticeable is a 15 second segment time which is just what we need for DX. This means that a QSO can be completed in a minute. If you want to know why that is important ask a CW operator. On JT65, a mode otherwise well suited to VHF DX work, you can sit and hear a station for a minute, reply, and at the end of 2 minutes get nothing back, never knowing whether you were heard or not.

I used to work with a guy who said "try to see the bigger picture - what does this mean for me?". Tee hee. The bigger picture here is that I might have worked Japan in the time I sat and watched many JA stations calling CQ. Quite possibly they were also watching me and other Europeans calling CQ, and the path just was not open for two minutes. Yes, overall it was open for a hour or more, but between any two stations it was only open for a minute or two.

I can get a whole QSO done on FT8 in a minute ....
A full QSO on FT8 in one minute, with 15 seconds thrown in for the 73s
At this speed you have barely enough time to respond so there is auto sequencing to reply automatically. Anyone who has used 30 second segments on MSK144 will feel very comfortable with FT8.

Not only are the segments shorter, but the synchronisation is at the start, middle and end. A readable signal in a 15 second segment should be 100% decoded, whereas the same length of strong signal would be less likely to decode in a 1 minute JT65 segment and even less so in 2 minute WSPR one, depending on the fading. If I understand it correctly, the chance of decoding is better as the segment gets shorter, thanks too to more frequent synchronisation. That is another plus for FT8 but not at the level of the "fast" JT modes like MSK144 or fast JT9, which can decode tiny fragments of signal. However, it does represent a huge step forward for the terribly weak and fading VHF stations we now hear.

What FT8 seems to represent is a very clever blend of tweaking the protocol with tailoring to the WSJT-X wrapper. So while a better decoding process will bring benefits (-20dB is promised), cutting the segment time and auto sequencing will bring much more chance of working those fleeting Japanese, Chinese and ... well, who knows where? ... stations.

I tested it by working a few stations and some I could not decode due to their clearly late timing. Every well timed station was copied easily.

Apparently it is possible to set it to automatically reply to the first station which comes back to your CQ, and further developments will see it able to reply, not to the first reply, but the weakest reply out of several. Now that is a DX-ers dream.

I worked a couple of stations using FT8 on what I am pretty sure was iono-scatter. It was neither as steady nor as strong as Es, and it certainly looked like that mode. FT8 looks like a great mode for iono-scatter, and once Es has faded it will be very interesting to see how we get on with the even more esoteric propagation methods. I will be particularly interested to try mixed iono/tropo/meteor scatter - type melanges.

EDIT - by melange I mean mixture - not the drug in the film, which was fictional by the way. Nor the "Melange" two stroke oil/petrol mixture machine I used for my Puch motorbike in the 1970s.

MSK144 seems to have totally replaced JT6 on 4m and 6m meteor scatter. I would really like to see FT8 replace JT65 on VHF Es. What chance of that happening? Not much I suspect. Human nature being what it is (the rest of this has been deleted so as not to offend the dozy old duffers in the hobby who think we should be running a museum).
=====================================
I am not even going to start on the great 6m "operators versus the band planners" debate. What frequency should we use - the one the Region 1 band planners think we should use, or the one that works?

I did raise this before, and I will explain it at some stage for anyone who is understandably confused. But for now, I just do not want to get involved.

I was involved at some stage in the past with the 4m equivalent. I had some discussions with the then RSGB VHF Manager. It was easy to agree with this gentleman that 70.091 was good frequency for WSPR on 4m. Much later a row developed between me and some others versus a self-appointed rule maker about this. We won the argument as 70.091 remained, but I was hurt, bruised and annoyed by the whole episode - enough to put me off 4m WSPR for years.

Lately, several of us have been putting forward 70.176 for JT65. This seems to have stuck. I have worked a number of DXCC on that frequency and I see others doing it too. I have no particular qualification to decide these things, just 40 years of using the band and an interest in using data. That self-appointed rule maker seemed to be more interested in STOPPING me using data.

Thank you to several VHF supporters for occupying 70.176 and making it unofficially ours.

So with the arrival of FT8 a pattern of allocations emerges which would put, in ascending order, FT8 on 70.174, JT65 on 70.176 and by analogy, JT9 on 70.178. MSK144 is already on 70.280. WSPR is already on 70.091.

None of these frequencies is "right". The contesters will complain about infiltrating their precious bands, but then data modes are in use during openings, whereas contests never happen during openings (erm, or so it seems). I do not want to start a whole debate about 70.176 as it is now in use. The other modes as suggested by me fit around this as they do on other bands - leaving the 6m shambles out of it for the moment. So does anyone object?

Total data users on 4m - about 20 maybe. Total bandwidth used = very little, during periods of vanishing brevity. Surely this is not too much to ask? Just somewhere to go to find similar minded folk. A sort of "data cottage" - no maybe we should not suggest data cottaging on a family-oriented blog. A data village pump. That is a better idea. A centre of activity. And anyone who wants to transmit any other mode over it can do so. After all, it is in the "all modes" region.

Actually, it doesn't matter all that much. I have discovered that 4m operators can actually turn their VFOs and find other people. There you are, on 5MHz they transmit outside the band because they do not have the wit to change frequency, but on VHF we can actually listen in different places at different times. Amazing. Chapeau. Speaking of which, isn't Fabio Aru amazing?

This area around 70.176 is pretty good for the various international frequency allocations we have at the moment. It is not perfect, but it might be OK. There might be an argument for moving WSPR to 70.172 to fit in, as 70.091 is not so widely available, but I do not want to start that row up again.

Well, I have said it now. I bet there is an argument about this idea.

73

Jim

GM4FVM

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Amateur radio rotator rant

OK, I have been fed up about this for ages and it is time for a full-frontal whinge.

There certainly is a thing called "buyer's regret". That happens when you buy something and then wish you had bought something else. This is not the case here, I think.

I think that none of the rotators on the market meets my needs, for reasons I will explain.

The thing about rotators is that the market for them is not very big. In my career I have had three rotators, the first two bought second hand. So in my first 40 years of radio I spent less than £100 on the first two. Then I gave the first one away about 10 years ago (a Ham M dating from the 1960s). It went to a needy new amateur. The second one, a Yaesu G-600, which must be 20 years old now, is still in use.

Then eventually I had need of another one (maybe I should not have given away the HamM). I bought the third one for (I cannot recall how much now) but it would now cost £376.75 for the rotator, plugs and bottom clamp.

£376.75 for the most basic rotator on the market (the Yaesu FT-450)!!!

That does not include postage or the cables. Nobody is likely to use less than 30m of cable. 40m supplied by Yaesu and complete with the plugs costs £100. You can do it for less, but with the plugs costing almost £30, not much. You can find the plugs on eBay for a few £££ and get your soldering iron going. As for the cable, at one point in one of my runs the rotator cables is two parallel runs of old mains flex (total cost for that bit £0).

If you buy the long cable and the bottom clamp that brings it to £480.

You can, for sure, do these things to get the price down. Once you do so, you are departing from the CE approval which is needed to sell appliances in the EU. This is meant to protect you. If you do something like use old mains flex and then your house burns down, your insurer may take a dim view of you departing from the CE marked "official" Yaesu cable with its pre-fitted plugs.

I looked fairly carefully at the small rotator market at the time. The Yaesu was not my immediate choice. I would have preferred a worm-drive mechanism, which the SPID rotator has, but even the lightest SPID appears to be much heavier than the Yaesu and claims only to take 50mm diameter masts (mine are 52mm).

Also on the market seem to be:-

The equivalent Hy-Gain rotator, the venerable AR-40X sells for £449.95.

You could get a Create RC5-1 for about £500 (+ £££ bottom clamp) or the Spid RAU is £480.

Now if you take a step above the entry level there is much more choice. However, these are choices not available to me. My mast is light weight and not able to accept anything much heavier. Anyway, if you pay enough for a rotator you can get anything you want, which is not the point for anyone on a budget. It is a bit like me remarking on my £1000 rigs and then getting emails from people saying that a £4000 Elecraft radio and matching Elecraft linear is better. Yeah, sure, and a new Rolls Royce would be better than my 8 year old Volkswagen. I keep making points like this but the Elecraft "my wallet is bigger than yours" brigade keep writing to rub my nose in the dirt of my limited budget.

My gripe is not so much that the Yaesu rotator I settled for is not really very good. Well, it is not very good at all really, but then for a motor, some gears and a housing, what do I expect?

My gripe is that at least some of the cost of the Yaesu, (and the Hy-Gain and Create) rotator must go on providing me with the mechanical indicator. When you think about it, this is a masterpiece of electro-mechanical engineering. However, I don't need it, I don't want it, and I cannot see why they persist on selling it.
Controller for my Yaesu G-450 complete with clock-face indicator and no digital control
Going back to my old Ham M, it had a nice simple single slider control on the front. Sprung to centre off, and a slight pressure either side released the electro-mechanical lock on the rotator. Any further pressure on the slider moved the antenna. You could stop turning it and keep the slight pressure on so that it coasted to a halt before allowing the lock to engage. And the display was a simple meter calibrated from South to South via North - it just read the voltage coming down from the resistor in the rotator.

Then moving on to the Yaesu 600, its control box had two buttons, left and right, plus some dorky wiring to stop you trying to turn the antenna both directions at once. It also has a lock, but you cannot control it separately. And it had this amazing clock-face 360 degree indicator, which the Create and the Hi-Gain have too. This a great thing, but does it really tell me much more than the old meter did? They used to sell the meter version alongside the clock-face ones, and the meter version was cheaper (of course). Now you have to shell out on the fancy display.

None of this would matter had my display on the G-600 not failed. Maybe after 20 years that is not so surprising. But whilst a meter could have been fixed, this marvel of all that clockwork complexity was beyond me. So I bought an EA4TX digital control box, reviewed here. Now this is a great device but it costs almost as much as the Yaesu G-450, once you have added the tax and carriage, and you have a lot of tinkering to get it to work. It was a simple choice when I was faced with the G-600's indicator failure to buy one, and it has kept that rotator in business for another couple of years, but it is a lot of money and work to go to if I want to replace my G-450 indicator.

Let us just consider this. I have one rotator under computer control, the G-600. I had to re-wire the G-600 controller to extract the motor voltage and organise the new EA4TX box. It worked out fine in the end. Now I would like to have the G-450 under computer control and the sums just do not add up. I need to delve into a perfectly good controller to get the motor supply out, and then spend as much as the original rotator on a control box. Crazy.

So why don't Yaesu just sell a controller with two switches and digital readout showing azimuth? Or even a small LCD screen with a pointer on it? And, crucially, a nice USB socket allowing connection to a computer? After all, this is what SPID do for the RAU. And high end, larger, heavier, more expensive rotators do allow easy hooking up to a PC.

I think that the problem for Yaesu and the other manufacturers (except SPID!) must be that any investment in updating the rotator control box must be a very doubtful proposition when they only sell most amateurs one or two rotators in their entire career (in my case, one every 20 years). You need to sell a lot to recoup the cost of re-tooling your production.

Set against that, most electronic devices now have been redesigned in this way. Moving parts are minimised. Even a single humble meter can be the cause of a re-design, to be replaced with a digital readout. Transverters have been redesigned to replace a meter with a numerical display or an LED strip display, and transverters are very low volume products. So surely the cost of making those mechanical clock-face displays must justify a change of direction (ahem!).
The EA4TX shows how simple it is to include PC connectivity and stand-alone back up.
From what I can see SPID do a display with a simple three figure azimuth read-out in degrees. This has a USB output for the PC. You can use this "stand alone" without a computer using the display, or with the computer using the USB socket.

You can add on interfaces for some Yaesu rotators but you have to buy the unwanted display first and the interfaces are expensive and do not work with the G-450 anyway.

What I would really like to see would be Yaesu making a modern controller for the G-450 (and I suspect the G-650) with a built-in power supply and a socket for their standard rotator plug. This would be a straight replacement for the existing rotator control and it would feature a USB socket. As well as being available with the new rotator (and surely cheaper than the exiting controller) it would also be sold as a replacement for people like me ... or those whose mechanical readout has inevitably failed.

But, you say, there already is such a device. Yes, believe it or not, Hy-Gain sell just such a thing for Yaesu rotators - the YRC-3X. Weird. They sell a device to fix their competitor's rotators. This is exactly what I want. Downside? It costs £449.95, just for the controller. In other words, I could just about buy a brand new SPID and its perfectly suitable controller, for the price of the Hy-Gain replacement box.

If only I knew for sure if the SPID does fit my masts or not. 50mm - do they mean that as an exact measurement? And as for the weight quoted for the SPID, are those shipping weights for the whole kit, or just the weight of the rotator? I am fairly sceptical about the level of detail you get for these things, after all, the torque and wind loading figures given are not comparable between makers either.

You can see that if I could sort out the details I would rather sell the Yaesu G-450 and buy the SPID than spend the same amount of money buying the Hy-Gain box to convert the Yaesu. Not that there is anything wrong with the G-450, just that I am irritated by paying twice to get it working the way a  modern rotator should.

Anyway, Yaesu continue to sell an outmoded and no doubt expensive to make controller and give no option for purchasers but to buy it. I bought one. The rotator is OK, as far as cheap rotators go. It meets my needs in the sense that it has not broken down yet - though the first Yaesu G-450 which was supplied to me was seized solid and it took weeks to get a replacement. If the wind causes the gears to strip then I will know that it is not good enough mechanically. I already know that it is not good enough when it comes to the controller.

I suppose that the manufacturers are stuck with small volumes of sales. If Yaesu think that selling the G-450 with no computer connectivity will force people to buy heavier and more expensive rotators then they are wrong, as they would be too heavy for me. I cannot blame Hy-Gain charging a high sum for their replacement Yaesu controller as the market must be small. So, come on Yaesu, get that controller modernised and start selling replacements.

Where is the Chinese manufacturing industry when you need them? A rotator is a 30volt-ish motor, a bearing or two, a couple of gears and some castings. A controller is two switches, a display, a circuit board with a couple of relays, PSU and USB socket. Surely that could be done for less than £380? In radio terms the volume may be small, but someone could corner the market with a well-priced rotator. If the existing manufacturers cannot modernise and innovate (with the exception of SPID who do try), then can newcomers come in and shake it all up?

Where is Adam Smith's hidden hand? (Note: obscure reference to the Father of Economics, who also resided in IO85 square).

Rant over.

73

Jim

GM4FVM