Monday, 2 September 2019

First 1296 contact and the woes of uploading to eQSL

My last posting unveiled my aspirations to work somebody on 1296MHz ...

It did not take long to have my first contact on 23cms.

David, G4RQI, agreed to give it a try. That would be a distance of 243km and quite a long way for 10 watts. I was spurred on by a comment from Gordon, G8PNN, who said that he was now working stations on 23cms that he would have been happy to have worked on 2m when he started in the hobby. If that is the case, I might have a chance with 243km on 23cms. My antenna has a claimed gain of 18.5dBi, so that should help.

David picked the right parameters for the QSO. As we both thought it would be difficult with my low power level, he suggested one of the fast JT9 modes, JT9F. I have used this mode quite a few times on 2m and it benefits from just about any enhancement it can get, such as aircraft or tropo scatter. As it turned out, just about any mode might have done.

Then David suggested 15 second T/R interval (of course), 1500hz tx and rx frequency and as he is South of me, he was to transmit first (quite correct). Following all the rules, he suggested that as 1296.140 was clear at his end we should use that. Fair enough, I started calling CQ and he heard me almost at once.
QSO with G4RQI on 1296MHz on 1 September 2019
As usual, click to enlarge if you need to.

You can see RQI's trace on the lower part of the fast graph. I had stepped out of the shack to deal with some query or other from Mrs FVM, and I could hear David on the loudspeaker from down the hall. Mrs FVM remarked that I seemed distracted from whatever it was she was on about at the time.

Returning to the action it was not an immediate QSO. Although David gave me a +05dB report there was a lot of variability in my signal at his end, possibly due to QSB or sporadic aircraft scatter. Anyway I gave David a report of -02dB. He was never less than -05dB and peaked at -02dB. I decoded every one of David's transmissions.

An interesting aspect to this was the figure WSJT-X gave for David's frequency - 1175Hz. We had agreed in advance to use 1200, so that suggested a discrepancy of 25hz in 1296140000hz. Is that 1:51 million or is my maths wrong? Not bad and it proves how good GPS locked radios can be.

We could certainly have completed this QSO on a mode less capable of utilising scatter enhancement. I think FT8 or CW would have worked. I know that David did not get such easy copy on me, but given a bit more time SSB would surely have completed too.

I really appreciate David's help with this. I usually find it very difficult to work into IO93 on any band, so doing it on 23cms was a surprise.

So off we go again. 1 x DXCC entity, 1 x square, 1 x QSO on 1296MHz.


Over the past few years I have been finding myself spending ages replying to QSL cards on eQSL.

I do not usually originate QSLs but I feel the need to reply to ones I receive. eQSL's method of dealing with them requires me to spend ages comparing the received card with my log and then sending a reply.

So I thought I might try uploading my log instead. That way eQSL would simply treat any correct in coming QSL as confirmed at both ends and present me of with a list.

Various warnings on my logging software - the excellent VQ Log - pointed out that there are limits on how much data you can upload to eQSL. I tried a couple of variations, all of which were rejected before deciding on only 2019's QSOs. This would have been great except that the ones eQSL rejected still seem to have been uploaded anyway. I am getting confirmations of eQSLs from QSOs which took place in 2017, even though eQSL told me that those records had not been received.

I am a bit perplexed about this. Over the past three days I have received HUNDREDS of confirmatory eQSLs, many of them done by hand. People all over the place are sitting down doing the very laborious thing I was trying to avoid myself. Whilst it saved me time, the people receiving the resulting eQSL seem to be under the quite reasonable assumption that I would like an eQSL back in return. But I don't really want a confirmation, I just want to avoid the work involved in replying manually to the eQSLs I receive from others.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If I want to simply reply to eQSLs it looks like I will just have to sit down and go back to the old laborious manual way of replying.

But hold on ... how many of those eQSLs I spend so much time replying to are in fact from folks like me? Maybe they never really wanted a hand crafted reply, carefully checked with the log book. Perhaps they too were just trying to avoid opening eQSL and finding 100s of requests to answer. So they too just upload their logs and let someone else deal with the consequences. For the past decade those mugs have included me, who did think it was a bit odd to get dozens of requests from the same station.

Now, if Henning, OZ1JXY, ever opens his eQSL account he will find about 100 requests from me for eQSL confirmations for 4m meteor scatter contacts. I hope he doesn't reply to them all. I do not expect replies to all of them. One eQSL would be nice though, because I might have worked into that square over 100 times, but I still have no QSL to confirm it.

The upside of all this is that I have found about ten errors in my log. The downside is that I have made a lot of people busy. Those who already upload should not mind, those that don't upload might mind. One or two of them have emailed me to tell that they definitely do mind.

I suppose when an amateur of 40 years (plus) standing uploads a log (it was only supposed to be 2019, honestly), it is bound to create some traffic.

But do I upload again? Honestly, I doubt if I can face opening eQSL and replying manually to a hundred and half eQSLs, as happened recently. So probably either nobody gets a manual reply, or everybody gets an automatic one.

Where is Solomon when you need a judgement?

I will need to decide one way or the other.

P.S. My Yaesu FT-817 has developed what appears to be a terminal fault. It seems that the processor has been zapped by lightning. With the Icom IC-705 on the way, I think I will wait the year or two it might take for this new rig to appear ...



Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Autumn arrives, and the 1296 project.

The appearance of a big yellow combine harvester in the field behind GM4FVM heralds the arrival of Autumn and a sign that it is time to change gear ratio on the radio front.
Garden at GM4FVM with New Holland combine in the field behind.

No sooner had the crop of oil seeds been got in, but the entire remains of woody twigs and stalks was hoovered up and removed. No doubt these are for the biomass industry, to be burned and turned into electrical power which ends up being fired up the lum a second time, this time the imaginary chimney on GM4FVM's linear. (I have gone solid state, no chimneys here ... at the moment).

Maybe I could install my own biomass generator and save the transport cost. Now, will the government give me a big grant for that?

The seasons are changing. In Scotland this means a wet and cold Summer has ended and given way to the best weather of the year (why do school kids holidays end just before the sun comes out?). The sporadic E season is drawing to a close, on 4m anyway, though I have been busy working stations on 10m. New DXCC entity on 10M - Kaliningrad! Wow!

With the end of Es came a bit of tropo enhancement thanks to the warmer weather we suddenly had for the school kids to peer out the window at. Although pressure was not especially high, I did have a good time on 2m and 70cms. As usual, click to enlarge the images if you need to.
144MHz contacts at GM4FVM 23 to 26 August 2019
 On 2m that was 21 QSOs into 6 countries and 15 squares. Best DX was, as so often. Charly DF5VAE on Ruegen (JO46RK, 1001km). Charly remarked on his cluster posting that before we had a contact there were many meteor scatter pings in my weak tropo signal. Later the tropo built up and we made a contact. I have noticed this myself, perhaps where meteor pings are noticeable adding to the tropo. Often any strong meteor bursts will prevent decoding on FT8, JT65 etc.

Notable too was a contact with Tim G4VXE in IO91. It is only 465km, but in a direction not favoured by the hills at this end. Tim uses lower power than me, and a vertical antenna. After several years of trying, and one "almost-contact", we finally made it. This just goes to show that it is the challenge rather than the total number of contacts you make that matters.

A bit like making one run in a 76 run partnership for the last wicket in an Ashes cricket match. "The best one not out I will ever make", as we might say. That was probably the trickiest 465km 2m contact I will ever make.
Edit, after I wrote that I had three more QSOs on 2m suggesting that the tropo opening was not yet over..

EC7ZR was, I fancied, in Northern Spain. Only later did I work out that he is in Cordoba, IM77 and 2034km away. That knocked the 1001km best DX of the past few days out of the ring. But then I worked EA7HLB in IM76, not far from Malaga, at 2146km.

Not realising all this DX had already come my way, I kept trying to work a station in Madrid. Not only was I befuddled, but so clearly was Jesús, EA7HLB, who called me 2 minutes later and started another QSO. I saw what was happening but left it going in case there was some problem before at his end (missing 73 or something). Anyway, my report went up by 15dB, and his went down 2dB, but despite this the second QSO was as complete as the first one at my end.

You just never know what is next in this radio lark.

I even managed to slip in a 4m QSO with Pedro, EA7AFM in IM66 2143km. He is right on the coast in the Sherry region, facing the Atlantic in South West Spain. You guessed it, a new square (so were the 2m ones, of course). But that was not so ground-breaking because that was Es, not tropo.

Or was it ... 

Isn't this a great hobby?
432MHz contacts at GM4FVM 23 to 26 August 2019

My 70cm maps will probably never look as interesting as my 2m one, but they still involve quite a bit of effort. As we shall see, I have downgraded my 70cms antenna a bit, but it is also higher than it was, so that may even out with tropo. Best DX was to PE1IWT in JO32, at 712km. I did hear a Swedish station but could not get back to them. That would have been a new country (but you did not work it, did you Jim, so it is not a new country).

On 4m, tropo is not so much in evidence, so this map covers the period since the last update. Having said that, I did work quite a few G stations on tropo over the past few days to give them IO85 square on 70MHz.

No chance of showing the callsigns on this map, as they would all overlap. Just as well actually, as I seem to have registered GW3ATZ as being in JO91 instead of IO83. How did that happen?
70MHz contacts at GM4FVM 18 to 26 August 2019
From the map projection looks as if Yussi, OT7TE in KP36 (1759km) will win the best DX category, but in fact it is SV8PEX who steals this one. Thomas, in Corfu, JM99, is at 2408km, just showing how much the map projection distorts the apparent distance. Thomas gave me another new square, and it all adds to the total.

For 4m the total was 30 QSOs in 11 DXCC and 23 squares in 9 days. That is probably it for the current Es season on 4m, but of course we never quite know. As I write this EA6VQ is pounding in on 70.154.

After a long season we 70MHz fans have, for the most part, worked everyone there is to work. It is time to accept the changing of the seasons and wind down. I know some amateur simply try calling CQ more often, but that rarely improves the propagation (which doesn't stop them doing it though). Cyprus still missing.
My 1296 project has been moving on apace. Not that anybody had heard about my 1296 project until now.
2m/70cms 7/14el dual band beam on top, 23cm 28el beam below
In the past I have looked at reports of activity on 23cms and I have noticed that most of it seems to be people posting reports of beacons. Oh, I do enjoy an hour or two of listening to beacons, but in the long term it does not quite meet my needs.

The clincher was that spending a lot of money on a band with very little activity was always going to rule it all out anyway.

Times change, things happen, and here we are. It now turned out that I had enough credit at the ham shop for some coax, in fact more than enough for 1296 and a lot left for necessary short jobs and patch leads. This was to be Hyperflex 10 too, not quite perfect for 23cms, but I calculated the total loss for a 20m run was something like 3dB, only around 1dB more than 70cms. Hyperflex is what I have been using on 6m, 4m, 2, and 70cms, so it has the advantage of standardisation should I want to use it for anything else. My plan to use specially dedicated high-grade coax for 23cms faded away; the price could not be justified for such a short run.

I even had enough left in my account for 1 Messi & Paoloni N-type compression plug too. One and a half plugs actually, and throwing in another £5 clinched the deal.

I never liked compression plugs, nor 10mm coax, until Messi and Paoloni came along. Hyperflex is FAR easier to use than Ecoflex, and it lasts longer as well. The M&P compression plugs took a bit of getting used to, but the proof is in the fact that all of them have lasted while inferior plugs are always giving me trouble. Compression N-types are not quite water proof but they are certainly condensation proof. I shudder when I recall the rain passing down a vertical antenna, right through a soldered PL-259, and down metres of the RG-213.

Perhaps the key factor in my love of M&P plugs (the N-types at least) is that I can actually solder in the centre conductor. Any other N-type plug certainly says you should solder the centre pin, but they then design the plug to make this impossible. I have spent hours trying to get the solder to wick down the tiny hole as the instructions say you should. But it never does. Instead I am left with a blob of solder on the top of the pin, refusing to move, preventing the assembly of the plug and, crucially, failing to secure the centre conductor properly. Usually this is happening outdoor in the Scottish summer, when the soldering iron instantly loses heat in the piercing wind off the North Sea, just as the clouds gather and promise rain, rain which will seep into the coax and ruin it. Turn the iron temperature up and I could melt the plug.

Not that I am bitter or anything, but grrrr. Why did it take so long to make a better N-type compression plug? Sure M&P plugs are painfully expensive. I love them. Relief at last.

So £5 to find for the coax and plugs. The antenna fell into my lap courtesy of Neil G4DBN. He kindly offered me a Wimo 28 element antenna for free, and I made a contribution towards the carriage. That was really helpful, and the 28 element Wimo was just what I had in mind. Being a "forward mounting" antenna (actually mounted at the back, but just on one side of the mast), it does not need to be at the top of the mast, and nor do I need a fibreglass pole. The aluminium mast, being behind the multiple reflectors, should not be a factor.

That leaves a masthead pre-amp. I had been watching with gloom as the pound had been sinking in value against the euro (and we all know why that is). So I was rather perked up to find an SHF 23cm pre-amp on sale in the UK for less than the price in Germany so I snapped it up. Not cheap for that one part, but all the other pieces were in place.

All I needed now was some good weather ... and boy was it hot. Nevertheless it all went together easily enough. To make room for the extra antenna I have (temporarily?) changed back from the separate 2m and 70cms antennas to the Antennas and Amplifiers 2m/70cms dual band yagi. It was in the garage, and its place has been taken by the two separates, pending any possible reversal of this decision (which knowing your record Jim, cannot be far off).

Pulling the coax through the attic in the heat was great fun.
The jumble as the antenna and rotator cables pass into the house, with the 23cms cable towards the camera
There was some plan to this at the start. I decided not to use a wide conduit between the attic and the shack. As the route is via the back of a cupboard it will never be seen, and anyway, a wide conduit would allow draughts (UK spelling conventions in this blog, when it suits me). After we had the attic super-insulated the narrower tubes stop the air flow getting down from the roofspace. But now there are 8 of them. That is four Hyperflex, one Ecoflex (relegated to 6m), one RG-213 (technically 2m FM, now mostly marine band) and one rotator control cable. One slightly narrower rotator control cable shares one conduit with two RG8 runs, one for the HF antenna currently spare, and other for the 10m dipole, and there is also a run of unknown narrow coax squeezed in elsewhere for the Trimble Thunderbolt GPS receiver. It all looks like a jumble now. Two tubes are slightly splayed to fit the joists above. It could be neater. This is one of those things I might do differently now, but then why change it?

When I am silent key and my executor sells the house, somebody is in for a surprise at the back of the cupboard.

So what are the early results? Well, I can hear the GB3NGI beacon! Hearing beacons, eh? Exciting stuff.

Tom, GM8MJV has kindly offered a sked when we are both ready, and that will be interesting.

In the meantime the GB3NGI beacon seems to dart around a bit (or else it is me)
GB3NGI 23cms beacon as decoded at GM4FVM
Still, never mind. I have now heard something on 23cms, and it is 253km away from me.

This I regard as a success.

New mode too:- JT4 Submode G - who would have thought it? I might become a mode collector.

I cannot hear the beacon a Kilsyth, or at least not yet. Many of the others seem to be off the air.

New band, lots to learn. I am not expecting much, but then I said that about 70cms.

I have not built an EME-ready station, just something to get me going. I said that about 70cms too.

This is probably a waste of my time. However, so is all the rest really.

I want to do it and I managed to keep the cost down. So why not?




Thursday, 15 August 2019

Perseids and FT8, plus MSK144 T/R 15 seconds and other settings.

EDIT - see comments below, many more European amateurs have recently decided to use 30 seconds for T/R on 2m, while on the other bands 15 seconds is still used. This is stupid and will lose them contacts, but being stupid seems to be the order of the day. I cannot blame anyone for listening on the bands, hearing 30 seconds, and carrying on using it. Bear in mind though it will lose you contacts. However, the two systems do not mix so we need to work this out soon. Meantime I am off 2m meteor scatter. I have plenty of other things to do.
 If you want to know how come I am qualified to say all this, the answer is at the end of this posting.

Screenshot of the MSK display at GM4FVM - 3 bands on MSK, all on 15sec T/R of course
There is a sight for tired eyes.

As usual click to enlarge if you wish. There is plenty to see in this one, DK4TG is being received on 2m, F6KBF is clearly using 30 second T/R, nothing much is happening on 6m apart from the washing machine making noise, and I am calling OH1MLZ on 4m. Because OH1MLZ is on the odd period I am having to call him on even, though as he is to the North of me this is OK. There is 100 degrees difference between the 2m beam heading and the 4m heading - meteor scatter is not given to accurate beam headings.

This posting is about the 2019 Perseids meteor shower and a brief round up of other contacts, plus how to select the best MSK144 settings in WSJT-X. However, there is a rant I must get off my chest first

Some amateurs think that using 30 second T/R interval in MSK144 gives them some sort of advantage. It doesn't, it makes things harder for them and everybody else. It is deliberately putting themselves at a disadvantage (which, of course, they have every right to do). Plus it wipes out 50% of my receiving time and makes many of my QSOs fail.

I have been using MSK144 on 15 seconds since it was released in 2016 and it works better than 30 seconds ever could. Today I worked LA4YGA in a total QSO time of 90 seconds - using 30 seconds not we would never have got the signal reports exchanged, never mind the 73s.
Super quick QSO only possible with 15 second T/R timing.
 A complete QSO in a single meteor burst. Oh sure, make life difficult for everybody with 30 seconds, but I prefer to make contacts.

To make sense of this for any non-data mode readers, using 30 seconds (a throwback to previous meteor scatter modes) is like buying an SSB transceiver and running it on AM on the basis that people on either upper or lower sideband could reply. True, but hopelessly inefficient. Running AM would fill up the bands, get in the way of SSB operators, and it wouldn't really work anyway. Yet I know some people do just that, and I remember many did it during the changeover from AM to SSB, and where are they now?

Trying to be King Canute and resist change by telling the tide to go out always ends up the same way. Wet feet and others thinking you are a dork for even trying.

There isn't a "wrong" here of course. Amateurs can do what they want. When they are preventing others from going about their business, that becomes wrong in my book.

In this book of mine, the "wrong" way to use MSK144 is to use 30 second T/R cycles. The "right" way is to use 15 second cycles. Why is 15sec right - because the guidance in the WSJT Home Page and the User Guide tells you so. They wrote the software, they know what they are talking about.

But more on how to get the best out of MSK144 later. I will not mention 30 seconds and the people who use it again in this blog posting. Rant over (for now).

This isn't new, it has just suddenly got worse -

The Perseids meteor shower peaked around 12 August, though as I write this I am still having contacts on its long tailing-off period

2 metres MSK:-
144MHz meteor scatter contacts at GM4FVM, 2 to 15 August 2019
23 QSOs, 10 DXCC entities, 22 squares. Best DX OH6CT in KP24 at 1815km. I have worked Olli previously on 4m, though on 2m this was new square. Special was to work ES3RF as Estonia was a new country on 2m. I had previously worked Gena on 4m and 6m, though once again this was a new square on 2m.

Thanks to GM0WDD for a test and some encouragement, and the same goes for GM4GUF and MI0XZZ who also gave support.

And within two days of my contact with Pasi, OH4LA, I had a QSL card through the post from him (another new square by the way!):-

Needless to say I replied by sending my card direct. The reply was sent by post, in the postbox within 15 seconds of course. Whatever you think of them, QSLs have a certain appeal.

Note too that Pasi is using 800W and a 17el 9m boom antenna with elevation, and I am using 250W and a 7 element 3m boom yagi fixed towards the horizon. I am sponging off the efforts of others here, but the results speak for themselves.

4 metres MSK:-
70MHz meteor scatter contacts at GM4FVM, 2 to 15 August 2019
17 QSOs, 7 DXCC, 14 squares. Best DX was S52OR at 1583km.

SM7CAD was once again a really welcome contact, given that only one frequency, 70.1375, is available in Sweden. Curt worked me split, and the QSO was quick and easy. Well, quick and easy after I finally sorted out how to do split with WSJT-X. WSJT-X makes it easy to do CQ on a calling frequency and move once called on to a working frequency, but that is not true split. As I couldn't figure it out, the last time I worked Curt I had to go and work him simplex on 70.1375. This time I got it right. Curt was very patient and helpful throughout my confusion. It only took a day for muddle-headed me to sort it out, and 4 minutes for the QSO.

At this point I feel I should make a point contrary to an editorial comment in one of the commercial radio magazines. The editor said that the increasing popularity of data modes could be a bad thing as it may result in the authorities reducing band allocations if we show we can fit into smaller spaces. Maybe, but what are the chances of getting spot frequencies instead, like the Swedish 70.1375? After all, commercial FM channels 12.5kHz wide are slotted in all over the place. 

I would like to put in a bid for one on 40MHz and another on 90MHz, please. Both the standard commercial 12.5kHz wide type. That would leave room for three spots 2.5kHz wide, one each for FT8, MSK144 and JT65 for moonbounce. The rest of the space is for CW or other narrow band modes.

Surely we can be fitted in. "Microbands".

I never heard anybody say that CW might be bad for amateur radio because it is so narrow, so why single out data modes?

6m metres MSK:-
Next to nothing heard. I do only have the quarter wave vertical, but there is very little meteor scatter on the cluster this year.

Even some tropo and still some Es:-
VHF FT8 contacts at GM4FVM, 2 to 15 August 2019
This is also covering the same dates so there is a little duplication over what I reported here on my last posting. I kept the dates the same to show the difference between these other modes of propagation and meteor scatter.

There is a mix-up of stuff here, from ON4POO on 2m tropo to CU2AP on 6m Es. However it shows that there is other life while meteor scatter showers continue. There are 53 QSOs in 20 DXCC covering 47 squares. The contact with SV1DA may look like 6m, but once again double hop Es opened up on 4m, SV1DA appeared, was worked, and instantly disappeared. That is the second time that has happened. Still no sign of 5B4 on 4m. Nor 4X4. Bah.

MSK144 Settings
To get the best out of meteor scatter using MSK144 you really need to read the user guide and tweak the settings to suit your station. This will involve adjusting them to the maximum you can taking account of the processing power available in your computer.

I have a more powerful PC than the one I use for radio purposes. However, it makes noise on RF. Therefore I stick with my old second hand PC, which has a processor reclaimed from a former computer on which the power supply blew up, destroying everything except the processor (!). The specification for the computer is (for what it is worth) Intel 4 core i5-2500 @3.30GHz with 8GB of RAM running Windows 10.

I say "for what it is worth" because there is no simple guide as to what is the best computer. If it works, stick with it, I suggest. The best you can afford (from eBay in my case).

Mine is pretty modest by modern standards. The processor is old and as you can see from the top of this post, it can still run three instances of MSK144 on the top settings. At the same time it runs a fourth instance with WSPR, and three display screens, plus plays the cricket commentary from the internet and makes the tea. No, Mrs Doyle makes the tea.

So if mine can do all that, something fairly simple should run MSK144 alone. I say this because, although most computers can run MSK with the best settings, the WSJT-X download is set with defaults somewhere near the capabilities of a Sinclair ZX80. There is probably enough processing power in my watch to run with the default settings which come with the download.

The people behind WSJT have to be cautious, but they do seem to think we use very slow and low power computers. So your modest machine can probably run the best settings too and you will do much better if you increase them above what comes pre-set. The WSJT-X user guide tells you how to do it.

Here are the recommended settings in the WSJT-X user guide, which are higher than the ones pre-set in the download:-

To configure WSJT-X for MSK144 operation:

  • Select MSK144 from the Mode menu.
  • Select Fast from the Decode menu.
  • Set the audio receiving frequency to Rx 1500 Hz.
  • Set frequency tolerance to F Tol 100.
  • Set the T/R sequence duration to 15 s.
  • To match decoding depth to your computer’s capability, click Monitor (if it’s not already green) to start a receiving sequence. Observe the percentage figure displayed on the Receiving label in the Status Bar:

MSK144 Percent CPU
The displayed number (here 17%) indicates the fraction of available time being used for execution of the MSK144 real-time decoder. If this number is well below 100%, you may increase the decoding depth from Fast to Normal or Deep, and increase F Tol from 100 to 200 Hz.

They even show what this would look like:-
Then there is the bit about running the highest values you can:-

Most modern multi-core computers can easily handle the optimum parameters Deep and F Tol 200. Older and slower machines may not be able to keep up at these settings; at the Fast and Normal settings there will be a small loss in decoding capability (relative to Deep) for the weakest pings.

In my case, with an old processor and four instances of WSJT-X running at once, all are on deep decode and FTol 200, and the figure in the "Receiving" box is about 30%, and of course it is green.

Next what to do to make quick QSOs if we are running 15second T/R or less (of course we are running 15 seconds T/R, as recommended in the previous paragraphs and the image):-

T/R sequences of 15 seconds or less requires selecting your transmitted messages very quickly. Check Auto Seq to have the computer make the necessary decisions automatically, based on the messages received.

Despite stories about the end of civilisation as we know it, ticking Auto Seq does not make automatic QSOs. It won't even respond to a station who replies to your CQ. In MSK you must click on the station to reply otherwise nothing happens. All Auto Seq does is finish the QSO you started (if you decide to let it do that).

Then there is some interesting stuff - did you know that the MSK message is contained in just 72 milliseconds of transmission, which is constantly repeated? So much shorter T/R periods are possible, e.g. 7.5 seconds?, though we do not seem to be ready for that yet. You can make it even smaller (20 milliseconds) by ticking Sh.

For operation at 144 MHz or above you may find it helpful to use short-format Sh messages for Tx3, Tx4, and Tx5. These messages are 20 ms long, compared with 72 ms for full-length MSK144 messages. Their information content is a 12-bit hash of the two callsigns, rather than the callsigns themselves, plus a 4-bit numerical report, acknowledgment (RRR), or sign-off (73). Only the intended recipient can decode short-messages. They will be displayed with the callsigns enclosed in <> angle brackets, as in the following model QSO

You can read these hashed messages enclosed in <> if you see long or compound callsigns in use, e.g. GM4FVM/P. You can read them even if you are not one of the stations involved if you tick the SWL box. If WSJT encounters something out of the ordinary it will often appear in the <> format and using SWL may help you to see it.

I have never used Sh, perhaps because I have never got over the idea that everybody should be able to see what I am doing, even if they don't know about Sh. Silly, but that is just me.

What surprises me is that if they reckon 15 seconds with minimum 100 FTol are the right settings, why don't they set those as defaults? If it was me, I would set 15 seconds with no scope for variation (as in FT8) and put the choice of period into the "Advanced" section. But I am a bear of small brain.

So there you go - key points, T/R = 15 seconds (obviously, it is best), FTol = at least 100, better still 200 (as the other stations are often off frequency), decode = Deep if your PC an take it (small benefit but why not have it), and Sh on 2m if you really feel you need it (but the other station might not understand what is happening - best kept for skeds?). Simples.

Best advice - read the WSJT-X User Guide. Don't believe what I say, and certainly don't believe what you hear on KST Chat and other dark misleading corners of the internet.

Joe Taylor, K1JT, who wrote the software, has a Nobel Prize in Physics to his name. If anyone else professes to be an expert on WSJT ask them if they have their Nobel Prize certificate handy.

As for me, I am still waiting for the summons to receive my Nobel Prize. But I stress again, don't believe me, read the guide.

I may not have a Nobel Prize, but I do have this:-
Add caption ... "No further comment required."




Sunday, 4 August 2019

Meteor scatter right to the end of the year

Ah ha! Sporadic E fading (well, not so frequent), barometric pressure falling with storms predicted. How does the year-round VHF action you rambled on about on the last posting work now?

It's meteor scatter time again!

I might point out that all year is meteor scatter time, but outside the peak meteor showers you have to be a lot more careful. However, a series of showers is on the horizon so prospects should be good for the rest of year, and on into early January.

The Perseids shower usually produces some of the best conditions. At times there can be an opening similar to an Es openings, so much ionisation is created by meteors colliding with the Earth's atmosphere.

The Perseids can be expected around 12 to 13 August. However, it is a long lasting shower and I am in business a week early.

My 2m activity on 2 August showed the first signs of the return of easier meteor scatter ...
144MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 2 August 2019
As usual, click to enlarge the images if necessary.

Very good tropo contacts with OZ9PZ (JO46 692km) and OZ1CX (JO45 663) standing out, G4MJC (JO00) very nice at 581km. GM0HTT always welcome from IO89 at a very respectable 350km. MM0CEZ remarkably strong at +12dB.

However, it is the contact with SP2AJ (JO92, 1426km) which marks the start of the meteor scatter season for me. Now is the time to search for good DX which is often tricky to reach at other times.

1) Just about anyone who can do FT8 on VHF can do meteor scatter. More power helps. More gain in the antenna helps to some extent, but too much makes getting the direction right more difficult. Essentially though, all you need to do is change the mode.

This subject has come up before on this blog ...

I know I will be repeating myself below, but here are some things to update or remind ourselves of:-

It is pretty straightforward to use MSK144 to work meteor scatter on the 4m or 6m bands. On 2m in Europe, however, use of MSK is not so common. For some reason various dunderheids stick with the outdated mode FSK441, which might make sense for contests (it might make sense for that, but it doesn't) but for which there is no benefit for general QSOs.

Even stranger, others stick with the outdated JT6M mode on 4m and 6m, though they are recognised as rather strange in their habits, even amongst the other neanderthals still using FSK441.

Very wisely, WSJT-X ditched FSK441 and JT6M years ago. You can still find those out of date modes on MSHV if you really must live in the past.

Needless to say I worked SP2AJ on MSK144. Why wouldn't I?

2) Using MSK144 is pretty much like using FT8. However, as the meteor reflections can be extremely short the software works on momentary fragments of signal. Thus unlike FT8 you do not need to receive all of the 15 second transmission. Fractions of a second are enough. You don't need to send the entire sequence so you can start at any stage of the 15 second segment.

3) Don't expect immediate replies. Unlike other modes, you are relying on a meteor entering the atmosphere just where you need it, whereas they tend to come in at random. So expect to send a call and wait anything up to 30 minutes for a reply. Then it might be 30 minutes before the next message arrives. It is usually less than 30 minutes, and can be instant, depending on the intensity of the meteors. 2 or 3 minutes is common at peak times.

4) Transmit in the "right" segment. We in the UK are taught to use the "even/1st" segment if beaming North or West, and "odd/2nd" if beaming South or East. The same idea has transferred to FT8. It makes sense as if you get it wrong you will blank out the contacts of neighbouring stations.

This what UK operators have been advised to do. It may not apply elsewhere.

If you are using a vertical antenna you will not be beaming in any particular direction so it is best to use the same segment as the strongest stations around you.

Nobody will mind too much if you answer a station on the "wrong" segment. The point is to try to avoid calling CQ on the wrong segment, and therefore keep the station replying to you on the right segment.

5) Check your frequency and F Tol. I set my frequency using a GPS-locked beacon - GB3NGI - which is 272km away and provides a good test of the receiver, the antenna and the frequency. This may make me feel superior but it does not stop my rig drifting, nor other factors making a difference between our two stations.

I might think that I am on the right frequency but what really matters is that both stations are on the same frequency.

If another station calls me then I know that they have heard me once. However, Doppler effects can alter my received frequency slightly, possibly pushing me out of his filter. For filter, read "F Tol" (Frequency tolerance). Here I set F Tol to maximum (200), but at the other end they may be using the default (20), which means I would have to be within 20hz of the correct frequency. Given possible drift and Doppler variations, it may be worth moving nearer to their frequency. You can gauge that by the reported RX frequency - if it is less than 1500hz then you can lower your VFO frequency to match it, or vice versa if above. If both of the stations move it gets complex, but then most don't.

The preferred way to deal with this would be for both stations to alter their RX frequency in WSJT-X to cope with the discrepancy but I find that this rarely happens at the other end. Generally I leave things as they are unless I see signals on the trace but no decodes (a sure sign of being off frequency or F Tol being set too low).
GM4FVM - beaming East (Tx odd/2nd), F Tol 200, beaming between 119 and 131.
6) Don't beam directly at the other station. Software will give you both an azimuth to beam at and also a suggested alternative heading called "Hot" or "A", or some such name. Although it does not matter so much for distant stations, for nearer ones, such as DK2EA above, the Azimuth is given as 119 but "A" is 131. Theoretically beaming directly at 119 means no signal will reach the other station, so beaming slightly off helps. In practice I find the "A" figure to be a bit too much difference, so I beam in between.

7) Pick the best times. To some degree, the best time is when other stations are active. "The propagation is always best at the Weekends" - means whatever the propagation, more activity means more contacts. Combining that with the best conditions - a weekend near a meteor shower - is likely to be best. In 2019 the Perseids peak is 12 or 13 August, Monday and Tuesday. I hope to be on then, but I suspect more contacts are to be had on 10 and 11 August because the weekend is usually best for activity.

Irritatingly the RSGB propagation predictions keep promoting "around dawn" as the best time for MS contacts, whereas the meteors know nothing about dawn. Dawn moves around with the season, but the meteor peak remains around 06:00 local time. So get on early or late in the day for best results, and afternoons are not good as others tend to go QRT anyway.

It is worth remembering that contacts can be had all day, every day, given the time and a reasonable station. However, there is nothing like morning during a major shower for a shed load of contacts.

So why not give it a try? On the 6m band it is fairly easy. 4m is really good too. 2m is a challenge when it comes to beaming accurately and coping with shorter pings. However, the harder it is, the more satisfying are the results. Although almost all traffic now is on digital modes, it is still possible to work MS stations on SSB or CW - though those modes are labourious and involve a lot of repetition.

Sure more power always helps with meteor scatter. Once again 6m and 4m are less demanding and 50 to 100W works well, for 2m about 200W is good. Ranges up to a theoretical maximum at 2000km are practical, though the further you go the harder it gets. My experience is that longer distances are more common the higher the frequency goes, so once again 2m repays the effort of working there.

And what are you doing about it, Jim? It took a day to write this, so I have some early results from 4 August ...
Meteor scatter contacts during the morning on 4 August 2019.
OZ1JXY was on 4m. This was my 92nd meteor scatter contact with Henning since December 2014. These have been at all times of the year and all times of the day. Maximum power over the years was 150W (often less) and the largest antenna had 6 elements - none of that information fits into the idea that MS needs super power and gigantic antennas. Today's QSO took 4 minutes to complete.

The other QSO was my best DX of the day so far - EU3AI in KO22 at 1757km. Me working Belarus on 2m - something I would have thought impossible for most of my amateur career. Yet this is what meteor scatter brings and the reports were +00 at my end and +10 at Konstantin's. It took 32 minutes to complete my first MS contact with Belarus. In fact, the only VHF contact I have ever had with Belarus was back in 2011 during a fairly massive Es opening. That contact 8 years ago was a fluke, but Meteor scatter does the job (again) this year.

Have a great Meteor Scatter season.



Sunday, 28 July 2019

What a VHF (and 70cm) week.

I have a friend who has a simple approach to amateur radio. He turns on his radio and talks to some people. He isn't really bothered about propagation, he prefers old radios with valves inside and big geared VFO knobs on the outside. Everything is analogue, and he does not have a computer. Obviously, he doesn't have an internet connection either. He knows his stuff, having been involved in the electrical installation industry for many years, but he doesn't do more these days than screw some PL-259s together - infrequently. He never fixed on a compression N-type socket because he uses PL-259s and adapters. Progress is not really what he is about. But he is happy.

I am not really like that. Show me a band full of HF stations ready for a blether and I head for the hills (frequency hills that is, VHF). I do love a bit of white noise to listen to. Now there, for me, is a challenge. I like my weeks of near silence, punctuated by giving away a few points in a contest which I do not enter. It is a thrilling pursuit, or at least for most of the time. Then, to my amazement the bands open and I have to work other stations by the bucket load.

Sure, I love the openings, but there is only so much a man can take. The sound of silence has an allure for me. This week the silence has been shattered.

By the way, this guy (the traditional amateur - I mention) and I have lots to talk about even though we never share the same bands. Let's call him "Gouda" - the cheese making city in The Netherlands. Gouda and I meet often and talk over hot chocolate and filled rolls about the Tour de France, the pathetic collapse of our local amateur radio club, and antenna theory. Antennas are much the same, be they HF or VHF. There is more in common between any two amateurs than what separates them. Sure, we occupy opposite ends of the hobby, but it is the same hobby.

No, Gouda's approach, which gives him great pleasure, is too staid for me. Never mind the ready supply of contacts he has, I love the possibility of what the week ahead might bring. Sure it might be nothing, but sometimes it is lots.

Sometimes I have a week like this past week.
All stations worked on VHF and 70cms during 7 days ended 27 July 2019
Given that we are near the end of the Summer Es season and tropo was not likely to be good due to low barometric pressure, a result like this could not have been predicted.

I prefer my radio unpredicable.

Despite my hopes for Es, this time of the year usually marks a decline, especially on 70MHz. This week, however, there were several good events. In fact each day was good, but I will only list some events and bands.

22 July - 4m
70MHz on 22 July 2019 as seen on dxMaps

There were two classic 70MHz openings that day:-
OIRT broadcast stations on 22 July at 07:34

Lots of broadcast stations, probably from Ukraine and Belarus alerted me to a probable opening to "The East", and my first contact was with SP2MKO (JO93, 1345km) at 07:21. After working OE9KFV on 6m (it is hard to know what to do with strong broadcast competition, and changing to 6m is a good idea unless you then attract Russian TV interference there) I returned to 4m to reach 6xSP, 2xS5, and 9xDL stations plus OK1IN and YL2HA. YL2HA, in KO26 (1671km) being a new square.

That was the end of that opening at 09:22, though the OIRT continued for most of the morning, jumping between stations as ionisation changed.

There was then another opening further to the South starting at 12:38, with S57TW (JN75), and E76C (JN84) worked. Then without much warning, double hop propagation appeared. Single hop is limited to about 2000km, whereas up popped SV2JAO (KN10, 2459km) for a new square on 4m. This is classic Summer Es, and the chances of double hop lasting long are low. SV2JAO was the only double hop of the day, and he faded after the contact and was not heard again. I was still hoping to reach 4X4 on 70MHz, but so far it has eluded me. I suspect it might happen, rather like SV2JAO, briefly and without warning. After HA3GR at 13:23, that was it for 4m on 22 June.

23 QSO (on 4m and 6m), 21 squares, 8 DXCC. Not bad for the end of the season. 

25 July 2m and 70cms
With low barometric pressure predicted, about 1010mb, whereas a good tropo opening takes 1026+, I might have thought that not much would happen. However, the Hepburn map (link on sidebar) had been predicting good propagation for several days around then. This was due to an unusual period of slack air and high relative humidity. Sure enough on 25July it happened.
2m stations worked at GM4FVM on 25 July 2019
38 stations worked in 5 DXCC. Whilst none of it was really remarkable DX, it was a sign of how good 2m can be even on days without very high pressure. Best DX was OZ1CCM (JO55, 823km).

As usual nowadays I turned to 70cms...
70cms contacts at GM4FVM on 25 July 2019.
7 QSOs in 5 squares and 3 DXCC hardly sums it up. It was great to work Dirk, PA3FMP, who has been a target for a contact for some time. This was a new square, JO22, and PA3EAP gave me my first contact into JO32. DL1KAD was best DX at 809km, and JO30 for a new square too.

That is now 37 squares on 70cms, in 12 DXCC entities. Interestingly the 70cms ODX was only 14km shorter than the 2m one. And, I was asked again could I try 23cms.

I won't go on ... (much)

This was a very good week but there is no need to go over every contact. What I am trying to show, once again, is what there is plenty to work without the free standing tower and kilowatt linear which some people feel they need. Sure, other weeks are not so good. Enjoy it while it lasts, I say.

On 24 July Cyprus granted access to local amateurs to use 70MHz on an unlimited basis with a 400W output limit. That same day I heard 5B4AIE operating his club station 5B4AIF. I heard him, and PSK reporter confirms that he heard me, but no QSO resulted. Working Asia still is just  beyond my grasp on 70MHz. Someday it will happen of course, be it 5B4, 4X4 or some Central Asian state, and once I crack that there will be other challenges.

I work on all the VHF bands available to me, plus 70cms and 28MHz. Not only does this give me an insight into propagation, it means that there is rarely a real lull. Those days I describe with just white noise are not so common when I have five bands to choose from. And I can switch between Es, tropo, meteor scatter, aurora and sometimes even "moonbounce". So there is lots to be done, and weeks like last week are not so uncommon as I might try to pretend.

Maybe I am more like "Gouda" after all. I am getting near the point where I can, like him, just turn on and work somebody somewhere. Not quite though. Almost.

Why, when there are only two or three locals left on VHF, do I insist on giving them names which seem to be straight out of a spy novel? Roland and Gouda. What next? Mata Hari (Margreet MacLeod), ZigZag (Eddie Chapman), or Garbo (Juan Pujol) possibly.

And just to prove you don't need a beam on a tower ...

Not in the same week, but here are a couple contacts using the Sandpiper half wave vertical
Transatlantic contacts on 6m at GM4FVM on 16 July 2019
 I have not been giving 6m a lot of attention this year, but I have got across the Atlantic three times so far. Best DX is 5666km (triple hop?), but I prefer to use the highest frequency open so I have not been trying very hard. Still, no beam or mast, just a half wave on top of a length of pipe at about 5 metres above ground.

Don't give up. There is always something to be done even with just a vertical, especially on 4m and 6m.
Actually, there is more than I would have you believe, or even admit to myself.


Sunday, 14 July 2019

IC-9700 first look

My recent comments about the IC-9700 were a bit enigmatic - you can find them here ..

I had noticed that it had an issue with the PTT output which would be a problem for me. Anyway, it put me off buying one, but now I have one so I need to check it out.
Icom IC-9700 at GM4FVM
As with any new rig which had never been out of the box, it needed to be set up. In this case the key element is to update the firmware. So, once it had been connected to a computer by a USB cable it was easy to do the update. In this case it is update Version 11.

Firmware update Version 10 had already added the possibility of using a GPS-locked frequency standard. It surprised me that the 9700 was initially launched with a 10MHz input on the back for use with a GPS or similar frequency standard, it then left the settings so that you had to reset the frequency manually. Version 10 update revealed that Icom could change the firmware to make this correction automatic. With a rig which can operate on 1296MHz I would have expected the automatic correction to be available from the start. This was a surprising marketing mistake by Icom, and when put together with the fact that the radio only has one PTT output for all bands, it suggests that Icom got the launch wrong.

Never mind, the frequency standard problem has been resolved in a firmware. Modern SDRs can be reconfigured in this way. No need for a physical alteration if you can do it over the internet. However, there is no simple resolution for the PTT issue. This limitation will not present a problem for anyone not using linear amplifiers. However, the output devices in the 9700 are working fairly near 100% of their rated output, so linear amplifiers are not a bad idea, even for a limited gain in power. I remember early buyers of the IC-9100 experiencing blown output stages - but then many rigs have that problem.

To make the frequency stability solution work, of course, you need to add an outboard frequency standard. I have one already - my ancient Trimble Thunderbolt. This still works but has several downsides. Being old it is not configured for the latest satellites and it needs a USB connection to a PC. The OCXO on mine is old spec too, though it is possible to fit a better one.

The Trimble Thunderbolt issue is a common problem for me, and no doubt other amateurs. It is a nice piece of equipment, high spec when new and well ahead of its time. Mine was ex-equipment, via eBay and the Far East when few amateurs could afford them new. They cost £1000s new and 6 or 7 years ago I was glad to get an old one for a fraction of that. These days you can get better ones new for less than I paid for mine which was very second hand. So do you sideline your prized chunk of old tech, cut your losses, and buy a vastly better, smaller, more efficient modern off-the-shelf marvel? Or do you stay in the dinosaur world where people lie in wait to entice you back into valves, AR88s and the joys of mechanical teleprinters?

I could use the Thunderbolt for the 9700, or just keep it for another thing it is good for - regulating the PC clock. I guess it would be better to buy a more modern frequency standard, such as a Leo Bodnar one, for the Icom. Not only is it likely to be more accurate with less phase noise, it only needs the PC to set it up - after set up it runs independently.

Apparently the drift problem stems, not from poor ventilation inside the 9700, but too much ventilation. It is supposed to be fine until the fan cuts on, whereupon the airflow cools everything so much it induces drift. So far, with me only drawing a couple of watts from it, the fan has not turned on.

So enough about all this. I recall all the issues with the IC-7100 at the start, and eventually I took some simple action with the main one, ignored the rest, and I am still using it six years later.
It is far too early for me to comment too much on this rig. I hope to do a review later. For now, I do not even have an antenna for 1296 MHz. To put one up I would need some expensive coax, and right now I am holding back on that.

When it comes to reception on 2m it is superb. As you might expect from an SDR the receiver is surprisingly quiet. Sensitivity is good. The comparison I will try to make is between the 9700 and my IC-7300/ME4T transverter combination. Essentially the transverter arrangement is capable of moonbounce though I do not have proper EME antennas to make that much use. Can the 9700 also manage on moonbounce? Perhaps we shall see. In any case, first acquaintance looks promising.

I have also tried it on 70cms, though only on receive. Once again it sounds quiet. I think I can say it is better than the IC-7100, but you might expect that. I missed the chance to try it on the recent 70cms contest, so the jury is still out on that. As I have only used receive the fan never came on and the frequency stability never varied from excellent.

When it came to trying this rig on data modes I had the familiar problem with any new Icom transceiver - the Hamlib library used by WSJT-X has not been updated to include it. I had to trick WSJT-X into thinking it was some other model of Icom rig. This is not a problem with other makes of gear as they use the straight CAT protocol, whereas Icom use a specific CI-V coding for each model. Of course, being a radical new thing, it was rather difficult to find a similar rig to give as a temporary identity to the IC-9700.

Thinking that the IC-9100 might be a good place to start I quickly found that the Icom SDR rigs have a different TX instruction. That meant that pretending to WSJT-X that the 9700 was in fact a 9100 would produce full functionality in my mind. Back in the real world, it didn't work. Strangely the IC-7610 set-up did not work either. So after an awful lot of fiddling, I changed the settings so that WSJT-X thinks that the 9700 is an IC-7300. That way I do not have full functionality but at least it works partially. The software can tell the rig to use 144 or 432 MHz, but it gets confused with 1296 (which is hardly surprising). Never mind, I can now use WSJT-X. Once WSIT-X is updated with the coding for the IC-9700 I can change it back to default.

Another solution to the Hamlib problem would have been to use MSJT software instead of WSJT-X. While I was struggling to get WSJT-X to work I did indeed use MSJT and it works. I find it hard to adjust to MSJT. I cannot fault the functioning, but the user interface just doesn't suit me. There are lots of little things like the fact that WSJT-X continues to finish a TX segment unless you press "Halt TX", whereas MSJT just cuts you off in the middle of a TX period when you ask it to stop a sequence. That sort of thing makes a difference when I am busy. Anyway, MSJT works folks, and it is another work-around.

Very early verdict - I like the IC-9700. I will add some sort of frequency standard at some stage. It has a great receiver. It has lots of TX power but I am not sure it is a good idea to run it flat out, either for the PA devices or for the internal temperatures. Have I understood both manuals yet ?? - NO. Have I tested it fully yet - No, probably about 15% of its capability. But already I like it.

To return to the PTT thing finally, I wrote about this before and suggested that somebody (me?) could make something to resolve that problem ....
The CIV box I have in mind has a simple CIV decoder (maybe an Arduino) and 3 relays (or solid state switching). It just reads the CIV and switches between the relays to select the PTT. No need to sense the PTT from the CIV as it comes out on a different pin on the same socket as the CIV does. Three LEDS on the box to show which one is selected and as a fail safe all three work if the box loses the CIV signal.
Timing and sequencing are not an issue as the PTT is still controlled by the DC line coming straight out of the rig. All the relays do is to switch it about.

I wrote that when this was just a thought. Now I have an IC-9700 maybe I have to get into gear and do something. So I dug out the CI-V protocol and there is plenty to read there. Eventually I have left it for some future date, but such a thing would certainly be useful in other settings.

Hopefully I will form a view on the IC-9700 soon. Right now I seem to have an IC-7300 and a transverter which I don't need.

It is only 5 weeks since I wrote about matching the IC-7300 to the transverter. I did not expect to have an IC-9700 today but I have. I had better get on with it but at first glance the 9700 appears to be excellent.




Thursday, 4 July 2019

Taynuilt, GM4JJJ's legacy plus 2m and 4m Es openings compared.

We have been off on our travels again
Antenna pole on the GM4FVM car at Taynuilt, with Mrs FVM showing an interest(?).
A week's holiday in Taynuilt near Oban provided an opportunity for some GM4FVM/P operation from IO76.

I think IO76 is a rare square because I have never worked it on 6m, only once on 4m and never on 70cms. A dipole, which was all I had for 4m, works quite well during an Es opening - but we didn't get a 4m Es opening. The same dipole, shortened, did good work on 2m tropo, and I did quite well on 6m using a ground plane antenna too. However, even with tropo looking to get better, I decided about half way through that it was supposed to be a holiday and I had better knock off the radio.

The day before setting off for Taynuilt, Sue and I visited David, GM4JJJs, shack and met Pat again. Long before David became Silent Key he had asked me to accept various - specific - items of equipment. He had carefully worked out what I would be likely to need. In fact, he divided up lots of equipment and passed it on to several amateurs.

Peter, GM8GAX, was undertaking the task of sorting everything out, packing it up and clearing David's shack. That is a difficult job, and Peter had plenty of work to do. Eventually we headed back with boxes of gear, all of which will be much appreciated. I have plans for all of it.

It was immensely kind of David to pass on all his equipment to fellow amateurs like that. It is also very kind of Pat to make sure David's wishes were carried out. Peter has done a lot of work to make it happen. I hope to be writing about various bits and pieces as I use them. I was using the excellent YouKits antenna analyser to set up the dipole in Taynuilt.

This exercise has been a shock for me, even though David had told me a long time ago that it would happen. Indeed, he wanted to be sure that everything found a good home. I agreed to be part of it all, but that doesn't mean that I am without doubts. I just wish it hadn't been necessary. I wish David had more chance to put it all to use. It is hugely generous of him, but it is also a sad day for me to accept all of his generosity.

I know that David would want me put this gear to use and that is what I intend to do. I do feel sorrow about the way I have come by it, but I will certainly follow David's wishes. I considered David a friend and he obviously felt the same.

How different all this has been than the other SK's distress sale ("Roland") I have been posting about.

I was never short of gear, and I certainly have plenty now.

The circumstances could have been better though.

My feelings about all this are troubling me, but maybe we will stop dwelling on them here on this blog.

Peter also passed on to me this QSL card which he found when clearing the shack. It is for a contact with David (who was then GM8HEY) in 1977 ...

There was a nice 2m Sporadic E opening on 2m on 2 July. This being the first Tuesday in the month, it was RSGB Contest evening. Never having entered a contest, I still feel that it is helpful if I turn up occasionally and give away some points. There have been times recently when IO85 was a rare square ...

I decided to spend 55 minutes on the "144 MHz MGMAC", a short contest mostly involving FT8. During the second half of the event I heard several stations in mainland Italy and Sicily but no contact resulted. Then, between 18:51 and 19:13 I worked five Italian stations, best DX being IT9PQO in Sicily (JM78, 2328km). As well as JM78, I also worked two stations in JN61 and one in JN52, bagging two new squares. It surprised me a bit that working IZ5IOR in JN53 did not bring a new square. The key to this is that JN53 is only 1618km away, and close enough to have worked on 2m meteor scatter.

Looking at this more carefully, I was surprised to find that I have worked Italy 16 times from here on 2m, but only 10 are on Es (and only 5 before this week). The other 5 are on meteor scatter with just one on Earth- Moon- Earth.

Italy is an elongated land mass along a series of fault lines in the Earth's crust. The operative word here is "line", as the geology has created a long line of mountains down the "spine" of Italy and by some fluke this is aligned almost perfectly in line with the path from the UK. Thus with Italian stations being organised along this line, from 1400 to 2400km, there is often a chance to work them. Put simply, Italian stations are where Italy is, and Italy spans a huge number of possible paths due to the alignment of its landmass.

The famous "Italian wall", which some amateur complain about, is not due to some strange propensity of Italian stations to operate all the time, but rather due to the peculiar geography. There is often propagation to some part of Italy because of the large range of distances from the UK. To pick a fairly random comparison, Austria is also elongated, but more at right angles to the UK. Thus Austrian stations don't all seem to line up along the same beam heading, and so you don't hear so many of them at once. Denmark is almost perfectly on a right angle from here and I do not often get several stations at once from there, and much the same goes for Finland. Luckily I do not often need a beam heading for New Zealand as they are in just about every direction you could imagine (maybe that is why I have never worked ZL, unlike Italy. Could the distance be a factor too?)

The UK must seem similar from the Italian perspective, but not quite so long or so nearly in a single direct line. In addition, the distant parts of the UK are different DXCCs. Being able to hear G, GD, GM, GI, and GW in one opening would be quite good fun. In Italy's case, only Sardinia is a separate radio entity.

Viewing the day's 2m activity on a map it looks quite clear ...
2m contacts at GM4FVM on 2 July 2019, including both the MGMAC contest and the Es opening
We can see clearly in this image the basic characteristics of a 2m Es opening. The distinction between the "flat band" tropo activity - best DX G3YDY, JO01, 493km (nice contact for tropo) - and the Es into Italy is easy to see. The Italian stations are arranged in a line from my perspective. The Es opening only lasted for 22 minutes so there was no time for the Es to shift. 2m Es openings are rare and short. The distances were, in order of contact ...,
at 18:51 2328 km,
at 18:54 1886 km,
at 19:02 1736 km,
at 19:03 1877 km, and finally
at 19:13 1618 km
The tendency this time was for the DX to shorten over time, which suggests that the ionisation was increasing. This of course relates to a tiny part of the ionosphere over those 22 minutes - other parts might be behaving differently.

There might, of course, have been other areas of ionisation nearby. When you look at the map, just a tiny bit West and the opening would be into open sea. If the path opens into areas such as the Alps, the Atlas mountains or the Adriatic Sea then there isn't much to work.

You have to rely on an amateur being active in a small area of land (hopefully not sea) - an area which is rapidly moving North in this case - on your frequency and mode, and at the time the opening occurs. Each station was only heard here for a couple of minutes. It is surprising 2m Es openings happen at all. You do rarely get long-lasting ones, but they are unusual.

Just for comparison, the 4m and 6m Es opening of the following day was a more leisurely event. Or perhaps I should say "events" as they took 8 hours and 3 minutes to complete. During this time various paths opened up and closed again. For this purpose I will look only at the 4m ones, though the 6m ones lasted even longer and featured multi-hop openings which I did not try to join.
4m contacts at GM4FVM on 3 July 2019
The contrast in directions worked is considerable. I first worked 9A2ZM at 13:29 during an opening to the Adriatic which lasted 9 minutes and was a bit like the previous day's 2m opening. The difference is that at 4m I could reasonably expect more openings later that day. On 2m the next Es opening could well be next year.

There wasn't long to wait, as I then worked EA2XR at 14:22. That sort of thing is fairly common on 4m, whereas having a second opening in a different direction would be unusual on 2m. It was not until 19:29 that 4m opened again - or maybe I was just not the shack. Life comes before radio and I cannot sit about listening all day. That opening lasted about an hour and I worked three stations - there are not may folk about on 4m. I hung around on a hunch and ten minutes later EA8DBM in IL18 (3278 km) appeared to round off the day. Almost as far was EA6SX in the Balearic Islands, but that proved to be a rather scrappy contact. I was finished at 21:32.

So how do we compare a few minutes on 2m to work one country and 4 squares, with half a day on 4m to work 5 countries and 8 squares? Well, 2m Es openings are vanishingly rare here. Those stations further South than me generally do better. But I like the steady progress on 4m, with each phase of the opening having its own character - EA1VM was a new square (IN72) and 4O6AH was both a new country (Montenegro) and a new square (JN92).

You could build up your totals more quickly on 6m where the openings are even longer and more common, but let us not go too far down that road. Down there lies 10m, where the openings are even more common, and eventually you reach 20m and the oblivion of HF operation on almost-always open bands.

Nope, it is not really the "goodness" of an opening I like. I do not care much for the comparison between them. It is all good. I love the uncertainty. The periods of listening to white noise before the band opens. You have to work quickly as you might only have minutes. Which way to beam? Can I go up a band - if it affects 6m, is it present on 4m, or even 2m? Is my antenna as good as it could be? And, of course, the glory of watching the ionosphere doing its thing.

And then the opening gets "better". Further. More stations. And then ... it is over. Gone for another year/ week/ day. They always get better just before they stop. No point calling CQ now Jim, you've missed the best bit. The fish that got away. Like hearing San Marino (actually "The Most Serene Republic of San Marino"), not calling them, and then never hearing them again. Not very serene after that one. Add Egypt and Lebanon on 6m to the list of giant fish that got away.

Ah, the joy and the pain (Frankie Beverly and Maze again). It's Rainin' Through My Sunshine (wasn't that the Real Thing? I went to see them at Ballymena County Hall in 1981 but I cannot remember them singing that).

Nobody said radio should be easy. It is the random nature of it that makes it interesting. It's great and then it is over. I love it, both when it happens and when it does not.

Treasure the good radio days, and treasure your radio friends too. We are all sporadic, over before we are ready to stop.

To finish, here is the view at Oban, where we went in the train from Taynuilt. I bet that Sun is doing some ionising.
As usual, you can click to enlarge any of the images if you want to.




Sunday, 23 June 2019

Roundup, Es, RFI, Network Radio, SK sale and a cheering tale.

I've been busy - Giro d'Italia in cycling, Cricket World Cup, all the important stuff. Not bad on the radio either.

At this time I suffer from hay fever. The crop in the field this year is oilseed rape (canola), which cannot be the problem as it has "gone over". The oil seed is now long past its bright yellow flowering stage and it now forming its "pea pod" style seeds from which the oil will be pressed. It is now about 2 metres tall and obstructing the view from FVM Towers.
Behind the fence at GM4FVM, the oilseed rape is blocking the view.
So the obvious culprit is not the the real problem, just like the result I find when I go problem solving with anything electrical.

Sporadic E
This has been pretty good.
4m contacts at GM4FVM 1 to 19 June 2019
Some nice stuff here for me. Best DX being EA8DBM in IL18 at 3278km. EA8 is a good path from here, whilst more challenging  results were to Greece and Malta. My two main possibilities for 4m contacts into Asia are to Israel or Kazakhstan. At various stages over the past few days either or both of these looked possible, but so far no luck. I will keep trying.

I managed to work a new square in Spain - IN93 - in the Basque Country and on the French Border. If I can work JN02 (not sure if there is anyone active from there on 4m as it is pretty mountainous), that would give me another "French" square on 4m. Thanks to OMs in Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Spain I have a few squares covering the borders of France. I wish all the rest of French squares would be operational. In the meantime, there are still a few in Spain to collect.
6m contacts at GM4FVM 1 to 19 June 2019
In many ways these 6m contacts are more precious to me as they were worked on a vertical with the rig barefoot. Once again EA8 is the best DX, this time it was EA8AQV in IL28 at 3264km. I haven't really been trying much on 6m. It is on all day, but mostly I use to to see what is being received. Key to the whole project is using 6m (and 10m) to work out which direction Es might open into on 4m or 2m. However, each QSO is valued by me.
I heard WU1ITU, which cannot be a bad result for the half-wave vertical. I also added a few new squares in peninsular Spain on 6m to add to the 4m ones. I still have a few to get on 6m too.

There was even DX to report on 2m where I worked ON4POO again and, more remarkably, Gavin GM0WDD. It is generally easier to work "Winnie" in Belgium at 718km than anyone in Gavin's direction. WDD is only 57km from me. It isn't so much how high the hills are, it is how close they are to you. In Gavin's case we have the Lammermuirs and the Pentland Hills standing between us. A tricky path is as much fun for me to work as grand DX, though of course they all count.

Computer RFI
I have been interfering with myself again.

Computers and amateur radio do not mix well when it comes to Radio Frequency Interference. I can get most problems with USB-type connections sorted out. Ferrites usually do the trick. However, display connections cause me more difficult issues. Lately I have had problems on 432MHz, especially since I improved the antenna. This takes the form of parallel lines on the waterfall and a dull tone in the loudspeaker.

I now have three display screens on my computer. One is fed using an SVGA cable, the second uses a DVI cable, and the third has a HDMI cable. It is the HDMI one which caused the original problem, despite  me having tried to buy a high quality cable. In theory, the ones designed to prevent the data being corrupted by incoming RF are better screened, and should resist signals coming out the other way. Not so, I read that there is not much to chose and random selection of cables is the only effective way to find a good one.

After a suggestion from Tim, G4VXE, I wrapped the HDMI cable in aluminium foil. Perhaps surprisingly given the wonky look of this method, it worked quite well.
Computer display cable wrapped in foil - in this case an SVGA one.
When I did it not only did it reduce the interference on 432MHz to almost zero, the noise level on 6m dropped remarkably. Sadly, interference then appeared on 50 and 70MHz, possibly now not masked by noise.

I then tried ferrites on the other two leads, and changed the SVGA cable. Those two changes resulted in the lines on 50 and 70MHz disappearing. Wrapping the other two leads in foil did not make much difference.

So that seemed to remove all this interference. however, it seems to be lurking in the background, albeit at a low level. Unplugging the HDMI cable and plugging it back in clears a very weak set of traces. Next I might try changing the display board in the computer, and making sure it has a good ground connection.

Frustrating. I seem to be chasing myself around.

Network Radio
I have said before in this blog that I have no problem with network radio. I have an Inrico TM-7, though I can also access network radio using an old mobile phone or a laptop computer.

Someone said network radio is not real radio. In my view is isn't amateur radio, but it is "a thing". Who cares how to define it? It is good way for amateurs to communicate, especially as local FM has gone quiet and, anyway, network radio lets you communicate with "locals" all over the world. It is like the KST chat site without the keyboard nerds who cause me such grief (or they would if I used KST).

Speaking of Tim, G4VXE, it was he who let me know that he has started a VHF/UHF FT8 forum on Zello - Zello is the "PTT" (push to talk) software used by millions worldwide. I have joined this group. It is early days and only a few of us are one it, but it has potential to provide a talk-back channel which could be useful.

More from the SK sale
I spoke before about "Roland" and his equipment disposal turning into an unseemly clearance/ destruction operation. Well, a couple more things have turned up for me to buy. One was a spare microphone for an IC-7100. I am not sure why Roland needed one, but I can use one for my own IC-7100. Mine was one of the first shipment which had the basic microphone, now I have bought a keyboard mike.

Secondly, and separately, came an MFJ "Intellituner". MFJ-929. This is an HF auto ATU, which might not sound like the obvious thing for me to have. A useful feature it has is that it can select between two SO-239 output sockets, depending on the band in use. As this item also left Roland's shack minus power cable, minus the rig cable and minus a handbook, I did not immediately recognise what it could do.

As it stands, in addition to being an auto-ATU, it detects and displays the frequency of the transmitted signal plus it provides SWR and power output data. It also selects the appropriate antenna based on information stored in its memory. However, it needs an RF signal to do this. Once I make a rig cable for it, it should be able to detect the band based on the band data coming via the ATU socket on almost any commercial rig. I do not know if this one works, but in theory this should be able to select between my indoor 10m dipole and my long wire, and thus it may well become a handy addition to my shack.

I think that is it from Roland. Things have kept turning up, without boxes or leads. Hopefully, when it comes to some other individual picking over my radio left-overs they will find all the boxes and manuals (and certainly the leads).

Some Youth Work
No, not me. DH8BDA writes a good blog, much more to the point than this one. There is a link on the sidebar of this site.

A while ago he wrote a posting about his step-daughter's electronics project. I will put a link to it below. Sure, Olli strayed from the core radio topic here, but I thought it was a lovely piece.

It is well over 50 years since I started radio construction with my Philips and Sinclair Radionics kits. I was not trusted with soldering, so I had to put up with the Philips ineffective spring joints, or Sinclair's bolt-together components with colour-coded bases. These things got me going. I remember the joy of it. Even more joyful was the experience, as a 10 year-old, of being excused the woodwork examination at Primary School so that I could build a crystal set for the teacher to listen to. Wow! I rose in the teacher's estimation and became class nerd, and both at the same time.

I would like say that these things are "character building". Maybe we do not know how that character will develop. Perhaps Annie will never build another electronics project, or she may become obsessed with it. Who knows? I do not think it matters. The joy is in the achievement of the project.

The key phrase is that Annie is "interested in how things work". With that curious approach she should go far.

By being creative we grow. That might be creating a radio, or a garden, or a model of the Titanic made with match sticks. The point is that during this voluntary task we allow our imagination to run free, we show ourselves that we can work through a project, and eventually we can appreciate it. Saying "I did that" is a great reward.

She didn't have to build it it; she chose to build it it.

Thanks to Olli and Annie for cheering me up, and for reinforcing my confidence in the young people of today.

If you have a minute it is worth reading. You can find it here...