Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Summer peak of VHF propagation

I can see a lot of stations on 6m trying very hard to work Japan (though it seems that China or India would do). There seems to be a lot of frustration. The God of Propagation does not listen to prayers, and is playing hard to get. So far.

Me? I have not got involved in that pursuit so far. I doubt very much if I can make a QSO like that and I am not willing to devote the hours of activity necessary to find out. Anyway, it is early morning activity so that is not appealing to lazy old me.

I would have thought that working Kazakhstan on 4m would be an early morning thing until I heard somebody mention that it is more likely in the afternoon. I am not yet too old to learn so I kept a watch on the DX Maps page and when I saw that UN7MBH was active at what looked like a suitable time I gave him a try.
4m (70MHz) stations worked at GM4FVM on 5 June 2020
I worked him first on 5 June 2020 at 16:44. He is in LO51 square and the distance is 3478km (which would be a 4m record for me if I had not worked 4X1TI at 3956km on 18 May). Needless to say that is a new square.

Calling CQ AS (or whatever) repeatedly as done by the 6m DX hunters is not in my style. I prefer to hang around and work people by stealth. I like the long game. Instant gratification is not necessary here. That meant that I missed Cyprus on 4m last year, but worked it this year. And my approach has probably put off working Kazakhstan for two years, but I like it this way. Maybe if I was chasing awards or entering contests things would be different. On the other hand, maybe I work this way because I am not doing those things.

I am not the type of operator who only comes on for Tuesday and Thursday evening between 20:00 and 22:30. I am not against contests; I think that they are "a good thing". I just think that there is more to radio than just that. I hear it said that there is "no activity" outside contest hours - well my experience seems to disprove that. I know some people actually take their antennas down outside those contest hours. They do their thing and I do mine. However, I find it is true that activity is definitely low during periods I have taken my antenna down.

Likewise, I cannot imagine just coming on for the Es season, or only for 2m for meteor scatter during shower periods. I cannot see the point in limiting myself by excluding large parts of the operating year. We have all these different bands for a reason. What I do works for me.

Not content with my first Kazakhstan station on 4m, on 16 June I worked both UN7MBH and UN3M (LO61) and then went on to work UN7IZ and UN9L (MO12) plus UN3GX (MN83) on 6m for one new country and two new squares there. Things like that tend not to happen during contests on Tuesday or Thursday nights, and they were all between 14:00 and 15:00.

You do not need a very big antenna to make contacts like this. Worst report from UN was -14dB so I could have done it on a dipole, though maybe not as easily.

Looking at the map of the first contact on 5 June, we can see that I then worked YL2CA (KO06, 1478km). This was at 16:53. Apart from G1CEY, which at 108km is a bit more "run of the mill" (though still welcome), these were the only two stations I worked all day on 4m. Thus you can see a distinct shape of one hop propagation to YL2CA and two hop to UN7MBH. Often there is so much activity that the pattern is lost amongst other QSOs.

The distances do not quite match 1478 and 3478, but the QSOs were nine minutes apart so propagation may have shifted slightly. I would not expect the distances to be exactly 50% and 100% anyway, as even with the low height of Es propagation and the limited area of ionisation effective at 70MHz, there will be some area of land half way between the maximum which will be "illuminated" by my signal even during a chordal hop. Although we represent radio signals by straight thin lines, radio energy spreads out into space and would be better represented by a cone. 

There are a lot of variables here, so it is good to see the pattern so clearly. The map projection means that the paths will not be shown as straight lines. This is because the Earth is curved but the map is flat. Despite this we can use the maps as a guide to propagation prediction and I may write something about this later. Also, the area covered at the end of the first hop is generally unknown to us, and may be in the sea or somewhere where there are no amateur activity, so we do not always see it. 

Then again, the signal may not actually touch down at all. For best DX there is no "reflection" of the signal off the ground at the mid point. The usual drawing we see in text books of two hop propagation is misleading. All the best DX paths are what is sometimes called "chordal hop" where the mid point may pass quite high over the ground, though for a near-maximum path length such as this one it will be quite low. The conical nature of propagation into free space will tend to bring the signal to ground at mid point, but the idea of it "bouncing" off the Earth to produce great DX, as we read in books, is fanciful. Sure it happens, but you don't work very far using it.

The remarkable thing about double hop Es, or even more amazing for multi-hop Es with more than two hops, is that it is possible at all. It becomes a big advantage that our signals spread out into free space in a conical fashion. The narrow straight lines we see in the books would never make it. The inverse square law makes it weak, but also makes it possible. As the frequency goes up, the ionised area we can hit gets smaller. Getting two roughly in a line is very difficult. When I studied for my licence it was thought to be impossible. I would like to say that we were taught that even single hop Es was possible, but they did not think Es was worth mentioning. Once I was licensed I looked it up and this revealed only single hop Es was covered by the books. 

Those guys spending hours calling CQ AS on 6m are proof of how hard multihop Es really is, but it is possible.

I write this two days after the Summer solstice. "The nights are drawing in". The next two weeks or so tend to produce the best of Summer Es. Whilst no doubt there will still be some Summer Es in September, these are the days to capitalise on it at its best.


Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Four days of Sporadic E, and why a superstation would not help me (much).

Four days of Sporadic E.

Not Four Days of Dunkirk, which is a cycle race, nor Four Days of Ghent, which was an important battle in Flanders in 1789.

Obviously Sporadic E is something you cannot count on. If you are a 10 metre band enthusiast you might get it four days in a row, mind you not necessarily all day. On 6m you might get parts of four days too, perhaps at the peak of activity during the two weeks around the Solstice at the end of June. On 4m four days in a row would be very unusual, and the most days in a row I have experienced on 2m is one.

Yes, maybe I have led a sheltered life, but my experience is for one day of Sporadic E on 2m, followed by a week or two of none. On average I might find two days of 2m Es here all season, with hopes for three days in the year. I might miss it too because "a day" of Sporadic E on 2m here might be three stations worked in 15 minutes and then curtains.

So let us consider (1) what happened (2) what it was like and (3) why I am not going to do anything to be ready when it happens again.

1 What happened.
There was a series of Es openings on 2m between 29 May and 1 June 2020 days. Not only was this unusual, the results on 4m were excellent too, and I could not find enough time to even think about going on 6m or 10m.
144MHz contacts at GM4FVM 29 May to 1 June 2020
Click to enlarge as usual.

This does not look like a 2m map, and nor do the statistics sound like 144MHz, in just short of 4 days operating (my logging mistake included 1 tropo contact from the evening before) resulted in 37 QSOs into 30 squares in 12 countries.  That is a very good month for 2m, in fact 12 countries is more like what I might do in a year. ODX was UR5FLN at 2482km.

On 70MHz I managed this:-
70MHz contacts at GM4FVM 29 May to 1 June 2020
I have left the callsigns off because they just overlap so much you cannot read them. 62 QSOs into 51 squares and 23 countries. ODX was EA8DBM at 3278km. There were lots of new squares worked, such a  new one in Iceland, a hard to get one in Poland and one in Germany which has been outstanding for years (even though it is the closest one). I now only need one square in Germany and two in Poland. I will soon need to find something else to occupy me.

I even managed to work a square in Italy on 4m, which is odd because as far as I know Italian stations are not currently on 70MHz. The rules in Italy are not my area of expertise but I am pretty sure that one was not quite fully licensed. I have twelve squares in Italy from the previous operations there so let us see.

In truth I could have claimed even more. I think I worked the Balearic Islands on 2m but I did not see the confirmation and events moved on quickly. Contacts like that go down in my log as doubtful, though they are complete from my end. By doubtful I mean that they do not count as contacts at all unless I get confirmation from the other station that they view them as complete too. Even though 73 is not part of the contact, despite what some over-zealous individuals might have you believe, if I send RRR but do not receive 73 I do not claim it. That is my choice, and everybody can do whatever they like in this regard. I do not make the rules for what constitutes a contact, mostly because there are no rules. There might be if I applied for an award or entered a contest, but I don't do that. So my rules rule.

2) What was it like?

Does 2m open up and look like 20m? Yes but only briefly.
WSJT-X screen at GM4FVM 31 May 2020

I had to make a quick decision. Do I want to work Romania, Ukraine or Moldova on 2m? All of them, but I have to decide. I have worked Ukraine before, but what chance do I really have with Moldova? Try them all of course, but which one will still be there after I work the first one?

With Es on 2m you often get barely enough time to complete the contact. In fact, most of the time you do not complete and you are left high and dry. So you have to cut every corner and make some guesses, such as if the band is likely to open in a certain direction at a certain time. DX Maps certainly seems to help with the Es MUF chart:-
DX Maps Maximum Uusable Frequency chart on 31 May 2020
I sat and peered at that map as it was updated, looking at where is green, where yellow and where red, planning and plotting. Did it help? Well it kept me occupied.

I watched 6m, looking for clues as to where I might work on the higher bands. This helps distract me. In the past I looked at 10m for clues for 6m, this time it was looking at 6m for clues for 4m, and 4m for clues for 2m. No time for working anyone on 10m, and no time for anyone on 6m either. I did go down for a scrappy contact into USA on 6m, but it did not really work for me. Too stable to be fun really.

So it really comes down to me taking hunches, and regarding the ones that pay off as signs of my remarkable wisdom and operating ability.

What was surprising was the repeated way this happened, day after day.

As for the ones that do not come off, well I know that another chance is not likely to come along again soon. When I noticed on the 24 hour PSK Reporter chart that I had been seen in Portugal on 2m (which would have been a new country if I had heard a call) I reckoned that it would be next year at least before the chance would arise again.
24 hour PSK Reporter summary of GM4FVM FT8 reports on 144MHz on 31 May 2020

Next day I worked two stations in Portugal. The chances of that happening on 2m under normal Sporadic E conditions must be tiny. These four days were extraordinary.

It was nice to work Azores on 4m after 7 years. It was nice to get an opening into France on 2m when I worked three new squares around Lyon and Grenoble in the space of a few minutes, whereupon they were gone. It might be years, or never, before I will hear those squares again.

Of course, I have no real idea when conditions are going to help me. I spent ages trying to work a station in Greece on 4m which would have given me a new square. I watched when he was on and tried to point in the right direction when I could. It never happened of course. I ended up working another new station in Greece with a different new square. That means the first one is still up for grabs, and I still have no clue how to do it.

3) What am I going to do to be ready for when it happens again?

Like many amateurs I am tempted to think that my input on all this is crucial and if I was only better equipped and better prepared it would all go better the next time. What a silly idea, Jim. You will never be ready for something like that, if it ever happens again, which it might not.

Were conditions really so different, or was it just normal conditions and lots of amateurs stuck at home due to lockdown? Do openings like that happen but just most times there are not droves of hams sitting at home wishing for something to turn up? We shall never know. I am not going to lose much sleep over it.

What could I do anyway? Sure I got things wrong and I could have worked more stations if I had been a better operator. I kept pressing the wrong button, sending CQ when I should have been calling a specific station, or sending my locator rather than a report when short of time. Those things I could improve. But I can never be 100% perfect (yes, I wrote that) and nor would that change conditions if it were ever to happen.

And I certainly will not be improving my station just in case. When I moved here 12 years ago I got going with an FT-897 and a 4 element 2m yagi. I now reckon I have made at least 10dB improvement over that - 6dB to 200 watts, 1dB in the coax, 4dB in the antenna. Receive performance is also better thanks to the masthead preamp, plus the coax and antenna gain on receive too.

Some of the superstations round me have another 10dB more than me, and some more than that. I could easily get 4dB more with a linear, another 1dB in the coax and 6dB or more with antennas. Plus more, and more height gain with a free standing 20m mast ... but no.

Those superstations are quite entitled to do what they want, and when the going gets tough they will beat me every time. However, I am quite content with what I did and that is that.

For sure, for weak signal work another 10dB would be handy - certainly for moonbounce. But most Es is not weak signal work. All more power will do is perhaps extend the time I have to complete an Es contact and maybe secure a few more contacts. However the cost of the next 10dB is vastly more than the cost of the first 10dB, and the gain in results is likely to be much less. I feel my station is in balance, and to raise the power further without improving the receive side will only work when contacting other more powerful stations. So I am not about to do it.

Maybe with weak signal work on 70cms or 23 cms I could do with making improvements, but then Es is not really an issue up there.

What we had here was nature treating us to a wonderful display. Such things only come around from time to time. I am not about to try to recreate a fleeting event by changing everything. I like nature to have hand it things, even if they are hectic while they are underway.

For the future I will take my chance.

Just calling CQ and taking a chance is a wonderful thing. When it pays off it is great fun, and I learn a lot about radio by doing it.

I saw some familiar callsigns and I hope you had a good time too.

To those of you who missed it, or who were outside the area it covered, you have my sympathy.

Better luck next time (but I suggest that you don't buy a 20m tower just in case).




Wednesday, 27 May 2020

PSK Reporter - a very useful tool

If you are a user of many data modes, PSK Reporter has the ability to be a big help. Like most things, it is not perfect but it does offer a lot of information.

As the name suggests, PSK reporter originates from the days when PSK was the main data mode in use. Nowadays it also works directly with most "sound card" modes such as PSK itself, FT8, JT65, JT9, MSK144, etc. Obviously it does not work for modes such as JT6M or FSK144 which do not have sufficiently strong error correction to produce reliable decodes (which is also why I do not use those modes).

PSK Reporter also aggregates data from other sources, in addition to what it gathers itself. So although most of the info comes direct over the internet from stations using WSJT or MSHV software, and to a lesser extent fldigi and DM780, it also receives data from sources such as CB-reporter, various CW skimmers, and many other places. So it does sometimes record CW and SSB contacts too, but rarely in my experience.
PSK reporter for 144MHz centred on Europe on 27 May 2020
I have shown the map above, but there is a very handy page of statistics too. For example, it lists who posts most reports ... surprisingly, not me by a long way ... and which modes are in use as reported via their sources ...
Random shot from PSK reporter statistics showing the modes received
It seems that PSK reporter developed out of the page of statistics, but I find the map very useful and this is where I will be concentrating my efforts today. A while back somebody asked me to explain on this blog how it works. I cannot claim to be an expert but here goes.

PSK reporter is a voluntary effort and its users are hugely grateful to Philip Gladstone for keeping it running. Of course, it has its glitches and failures, but in general it is wonderfully reliable.

There is a similar though separate effort for the WSPR mode, wsprnet.org.

So every time you use WSJT software, or MSHV or many others, they communicate via the internet with PSK reporter. You can turn it off, so you will not send any reports, but pretty well everybody else will have it turned on, so basically turning it off at one point is a waste of time. There are millions of reports in a day, tens of thousands an hour - recording and processing all this is a remarkable achievement for a volunteer effort.

In case you think that displaying all this information is some infringement of your liberty, well, if you press a transmit button then you have already made yourself pretty visible. The data from others is already out there because it is coming from people who can hear you on the radio. If you want to stay in hiding I suggest you take up some other hobby. Plus, you are probably already sending the data reports yourself.

From my point of view I set PSK reporter four tasks.

If you transmit, dozens of stations will report you. That is, unless you signal is bad, or you have done something silly, and that is the first task of PSK Reporter. So, first task, it shows IF you are getting your signal out. The second task is showing WHERE you are getting your signal out to. This is easy to appreciate thanks to the map. Even if nobody replies you can use PSK Reporter to see whereabouts you are being heard.

Third task is to show WHO heard you, at the level of a specific station. I use the map for situations where I am calling CQ and I see someone in, say Greece indicating that they heard me. Perhaps I see no reply, which may be because I am not beaming directly at them and signals just hit a peak when he heard me. So I can turn my beam directly towards Greece. This often works. It is quite common for a DX station to get just one decode from me when I am beaming somewhere else, but I need to beam directly to make a QSO.

Then the fourth task is recording and publishing WHO I HEARD. This does not seem quite so important but of course it is crucial if other people are to turn their beams towards me. Perhaps they do not have a beam but were about to go QRT because they were not getting anywhere. Now they can see that I am hearing them, so there is scope to get through.  They need to know there is a path open just as much as I do.

Short wave listeners play an important part in our hobby and PSK Reporter offers them a chance to show everyone who they are hearing. This is often very valuable information. There is no restriction on who can report to PSK Reporter so many SWLs take part. Rather than taking ages to send a QSL card, they can use PSK Reporter to give their helpful information straight away.

So what information is available on PSK Reporter? You can see directly by putting your mouse over the pin in the map (pins are explained later) what the details are. "Here is one I made earlier" ...
Screenshot from PSK Reporter of a reception report.
This is the type of info everybody gets to see on PSK Reporter when you are reported as having been heard. It gives my distance, locator and bearing from the point of view of the receiving station, in this case G8ECI. It also gives the information from WSJT or MSHV or whatever he is using. That includes my locator, frequency down to a hertz (if his frequency is correct), mode, band, and signal strength received.
This information is freely available to anybody with an internet browser. The other day somebody on KST chat room decided to abuse me about something he thought I said about shielding information on KST. It is a fact that the information he seeks to shield on KST is available for anybody too see via PSK Reporter (see image above). Repeating it on KST does not make much difference. I did not say anyone should or should not shield information on KST but despite this he decided I had some view on this and lambasted me anyway. Insulting me is not the best way to get on my side.
I have no need to give reception data on KST because it is all on PSK Reporter all the time. Sure, showing on KST that I am receiving a particular station is a good thing, but I do not feel any need to put any more data on there than a callsign. It is all published on PSK Reporter for anyone in the world to see. I never have and I never will put details on KST simply because there is no point repeating something that is published somewhere else. It seems strange to me that somebody thinks I might. And he got very steamed up about the idea that I might do something which is pointless. Anyway, a bit more aversion therapy from KST for me.

Returning more directly to PSK Reporter. There is also sending information associated with the pin (some call it a "flag" though it is clearly a pin) on the PSK Reporter map. This information will not appear if you turn PSK Reporter off at your end, but the more detailed data will appear from the other end anyway if they are on. I managed to accidentally report myself last night ...

As you can see it is possible to post yourself, but you have to try pretty hard to do it. Unless you have multiple radios with multiple sets of software running at the same radio you are unlikely to find that an issue. My secret is out. I was running five sets of software and four radios, but they are not usually on the same band. Honestly. But in reality this was not a false report, I did indeed receive my own signal, albeit over a very short distance.

As I have chosen to enter this information, it shows my antenna details. In my case I have also entered into WSJT, for example, my 28 element yagi for 23 cms. This will show up on the appropriate band. Some people either enter nothing, or we get a default "dipole" or we see that they have entered the wrong information for the band in question. Some people put their power and equipment details in the antenna field too.

When people enter the wrong information it can produce interesting results. For example, get your locator wrong and you may appear to be in the North Sea, maybe in the German Bight just off Heligoland. Or anywhere else for that matter. Change frequency in WSJT at the wrong moment and you may send reports for the wrong band. Those errors can be quite spectacular when someone comes up from 80m to 70cms and plasters their 80m contacts all over the 70cm map. The issue here is not PSK Reporter's fault but those of the operators. In WSJT you can stop this happening by having a different configuration for each band, or just press "Stop" between bands. Yes, I have done these things myself. I was that soldier.

So having looked at the information which thousands of computers are sending to PSK Reporter, 5218 active reporters sending 200 reports a second as I speak, we are getting near discussing the map. But even above the level of the PSK Reporter map, the PSK Reporter data is aggregated further to the DX Cluster. So when I look at DX Maps I can choose an option to have the PSK Reporter information added to that picture. We might think of DX Maps as something which carries QSO reports, but it can also show real time reception reports directly from software, if you select the PSK Reporter option. PSK Reporter is an the heart of lots of these systems.

Now much as I love the PSK Reporter map, on first acquaintance it looks bewildering. I think you need to tame it by choosing the options you need, bookmarking that page on your computer, and then using your own set up from the bookmark.

The opening page comes up with an array of colours, thousands of contacts in different colours on different bands, and a generally puzzling tub full of information. At the top of the map page here https://www.pskreporter.info/pskmap.html you will find a row of drop down boxes and one text field. To make some sense of it all, I would suggest that you enter On [pick a specific band band], show [signals] [sent/received by] [anyone] [leave this field blank] using [all modes] over the last [15 minutes]. Press the "Go!" button. That should calm things down, though on some bands it will wipe everything off! So you can work from there by selecting what interests you. Once you have the page that suits you can use the bookmark to come back to there as a starting point.

If you follow multiple bands you can open a new tab in your browser with another instance of PSK Reporter in that tab set to the other band. It needs you to press "Go!" every time you open it the first time, but after that each page updates automatically, Flicking between the tabs changes the band, but you will need a decent video card as these maps are quite demanding on computing power. As you learn about the different tabs your use of the thing may change.

If you enter a callsign into the text box which I suggested you should leave blank at the start, the field before automatically changes from "anyone" to the "the callsign". If you press "Go!" only contacts with that station will appear, but it can look a bit confusing as other stations pins still show up but are greyed out. You can put your own callsign in to see who is hearing you (select "rcvd by" in place of "sent/rcvd by). Or you might want to see where on the map people are located who are calling you, in which case you would enter "rcvd by" and your own callsign.

Or you can just nosey about seeing how your competitors are doing. Competitors? This is a scientific hobby Jim, we are not competitors but fellow researchers.

Returning from "the callsign" to "anyone" takes the specific callsign out of the callsign box and if you press "Go!" the screen returns to a general map of activity on your chosen band. You can look to see what you have heard on any band, in which case you use the "all bands" option. VLF bands are bundled together, and then all widely-used amateur bands are covered up to 23cms, including also 11 metres.
11m data contacts (mostly ROS or JS8Call) on 27 May 2020.
There are ways to get the feel for the enormous volume of data being updated every minute or less. If you click "display all reports" you get an enormous table of results. Clicking "show all bands" gets you to that rather bewildering opening map with hundreds of pins all over the map. Be ready with your bookmark because the browser's back button takes you right out of the PSK Reporter (or mine does anyway). This large scale information is of course valid and correct. It is just at the scale of a continent and over the entire spectrum. I feel that PSK Reporter can be a bit overpowering to start with, but it is very good once you learn how not to get overwhelmed.
12 hours all band monitors with map centred on Europe on 27 May 2020
At the other end of this scale, with 411 monitors on 2m alone, there is much to be seen by looking at the whole world view. Not so many people on at night of course, but you quickly see that most activity is in Europe, followed by the US, Japan and South America. Lots of areas with low populations such as in Africa and most of Asia have almost no activity. Frankly, the same it true on most bands. You begin to see why on some bands nobody replies from some places - there isn't anybody there.
15 minutes of 144 MHz with map centred on the world view on 27 May 2020

You can enlarge or reduce the map using the + and - buttons or the scroll wheel on your mouse (I find using the mouse for this makes me dizzy). It is a trade-off between more detail and less coverage. On some bands it is hard to get the optimum balance.

The map pins are different colours on different bands. If you are listening on more than one band at once, such as using an SDR or several radios, your pin will be multi-coloured. As you send in more reports for any period, your pin gets more or fewer segments depending on how many bands are receiving in any period. In my case this can be 4 different colours.

Someone asked me why PSK Reporter does not find beacons, especially data beacons. I have no idea. Perhaps it was decided that they would clutter everything up so they were excluded, but I do not know how or why. There are online discussions (link at the bottom of the PSK Reporter page) and I suppose I could find the answer there. I am not saying I couldn't be bothered to look it up - but then I do not have to say everything I think. The person who asked me should consider the possibility of looking the answer up without assistance from me. I was never a details person, and I am not starting on details at this point in my life.

PSK Reporter is a very useful tool. Sure, it has its issues, just like anything else. I think that if you can find out how to use it best for you it can be a useful tool. I have certainly got more contacts by using it. There is nothing in my book like seeing that somebody is hearing you from an unexpected direction. I still use DX Maps, where the sporadic E propagation map is superb. And PSK Reporter is not good for SSB and CW contacts, as during an aurora for example, or for most contests. I generally have them both DX Map and PSK Reporter open together.

Good luck with it anyway, and thanks once again to Philip Gladstone.



Tuesday, 19 May 2020

IC-9700 preamplifier power (again) and Asian Es at last.

Firstly, I hope this is the last posting on the topic of the DC power provided by the Icom Ic-9700 over the coax for preamps and other in-line items. AI4Y has produced this excellent video clip ...


This does not deal with the issue of using TX Delay to add sequencing to the timing, as M1BTR pointed out in  my last posting. AI4Y says that his SWR does not show a spike using his SSB preamps, and so he seems safe. I found the same thing, and I use a mix of SSB and SHF made preamps. However, to be safe, and when using other preamps, I would suggest adding some delay via the TX Delay control. I also have some added delay selected in the WSJT-X software which I often use.
I have mentioned that I am working from home. I have not had a "full-time" job since the last century, having been self employed with occasional part-time work since then. This suits me fine. The problem with the present project is that it is too big for my "office", which also contains the shack, so I have to set the work station up in the dining room in the East Wing of FVM Towers.

Mrs FVM is given to have a "proper" dining experience on a Sunday evening, I have to clear everything of a work nature away every Sunday afternoon. This week dinner was trout. As we live in an area associated with wonderful fishing rivers, it is only right we should enjoy some fine fish. And Sunday night's trout did indeed come from the banks of the River Tweed. From Berwick upon Tweed in fact. To be precise, from Aldi, in Berwick upon Tweed.

Faced with setting everything up again on Monday morning I decided to exercise my control as my own boss, and give myself the morning off. As my employer I deemed this to be expedient for me, my employee. Why rush to get everything set up on Monday morning?

So I used my time on the radio instead. This was partly down to a hunch that we might be due some Sporadic E. It turned out to be a very productive morning.

On 6 metres there was an opening into Japan and I heard several Japanese stations but as usual only once. After that there was an agreeable opening into Asia and I worked two new countries, A9 and 7Z.
50MHz FT8 stations worked at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020
 As usual click to enlarge if necessary. I worked 13 stations in 7 countries.

This was not easy as there was a considerable pile up on 7Z1SJ. I knew this would have been a new country for me, but pile ups are not to my liking so I went off and found A92GE instead. As it turned out David, A92GE, is further away anyway, so that made the best DX of the day 5326km. Not bad to the East. After quite a few attempts I did eventually work 7Z1SJ too.

All of this was on 50.323, as that is the frequency supposedly set aside for European stations to work outside their own continent. I had moved from 50.313 to find the stations from Japan, so I was already on 323 as all this emerged. There were, of course, European stations working other European stations on 323. It is easy to make a mistake. Then again this idea of reserving a set frequency for DX working is good practice not the law. Of course, all the European stations I worked were all contacted on 50.313.

I kept an eye on the 6 metre band but my main focus was on 4 metres. Last year I remarked on this blog how irritating it was that I had failed to work a station Cyprus run by Norman, 5B4AIE, on 4m. This irked me because we both heard each other, and because not only would it be a new country but a new continent (Asia) on that band. I was rather hoping for another chance of working Norman. As it happened it turned out differently ...
70MHz FT8 stations worked at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020.

My first 4m contact into Asia turned out to be with Efi, 4X1TI. I am not complaining. Norman is 3514km from here, whereas Efi is 3958km away. That is a new personal DX record for 70MHz for me. And then, better than that, I worked Norman too, to make it both countries. Norman often uses the callsign 5B4AIF for his "club" station, and this time he had 5B60AIF. Sounds like an informal type of club.

I was pretty chuffed to work 4X1TI as it has taken me years to repeat being heard in 4X on 70MHz.
70MHz at GM4FVM on 18 May 2020
So that is it, at 11:41 on 18 May 2020 I worked my third continent on 70MHz. That has only taken 43 years, 1 month 6 days and a few hours since my first continent on that band (Europe). Only 9 years and eleven months to the day since the second continent (Africa). Not that these things matter to me, you understand.

Worked All Continents on 4m? How long do I need for that?

Those other 4m contacts are pretty good too. Many of them are over 1500km and OH7RJ very nearly 2000km.In total 21 QSOs in 3 hours 32 minutes, 18 squares, and 9 DXCC. Oh, and two continents, one of which was new - did I mention that?

Now, I need to get my work gear out again and start proper activity.

The trout was great by the way. We must fish in the Aldi pool by the Tweed more often. They do not help you pack your bag at the check-out though.




Monday, 11 May 2020

More on IC-9700, tropo and lockdown

Greetings from sunny Berwickshire.

I have been out on my statutory walk
The "Post Road", Ayton.
This lock-down thing is not so bad out here. I get to walk in places like this.

Katy isn't so keen though ...
Katy on lockdown
I know that for a lot of people the insecurity is overbearing, plus the lack of work and money destabilising. It is better than spreading an illness though.

Luckily here I am working from home. I have been working from home since 1999, but rarely have I been so busy. Will I ever sell what I am working on? Who knows. But it does keep my brain cells going. So radio has had to take a bit of a back seat. It is always a tussle which work usually wins. I am lucky that I have anything I can do at the moment, and if you are stuck unemployed I sympathise. I remember what that is like too.

What I am saying here is that I consider myself fortunate and I know that many others are much worse off. Despite this, I only have my own furrow to plough, so I plough on.

I have received a very useful email from John M1BTR. He has done a sensible thing by contacting Icom UK about the DC power supply on the IC-9700.

He writes:-

Total current available for pre-amps is 750mA

Sequence delay is set for each individual band through:


The chap who phoned me says he uses a setting of 15mS for his transverters.
The preamp 12V lines are fused. A short will blow the fuse. It's a big job to replace them as a number of circuit boards have to be removed to gain access to the fuse(s). 

Ah, SET - FUNCTION _ TX Delay. Why didn't I think of that? (Answers on a postcard not required).
As you can see I have now set mine to 15mS too, though I did not find any SWR reaction at "OFF" anyway. Best to be safe here I think.

Again --- why did this not occur to me before? I had set this up on my IC-7100 6 years ago. I looked again now and I see that they are all set to 30mS on the IC-7100. I think that was for using RF Vox amplifiers made by RM Italy as I used to have those - in fact I still have two small ones kept for a future HF/VHF portable rig which nobody is making yet.

 This is how the IC-9700 manual explains it.
The reference is to avoiding SWR spikes on the IC-9700, which is fair enough in the 9700 manual; I am keen to have it to save damage to the "external equipment" as well and that aspect is not very clear.

Still, I should have known and clearly I did 5 years ago. I just seem to be finding the manual hard to comprehend.

John has provided the information on total current available and the fuses which is very important. I think that should be in the manual and if it is I cannot find it. The turn-off and warning I mentioned in my last posting may be in addition to the fuse. 750mA is certainly enough for my purposes. Even with one of the common generic preamps on each band they would only draw about 600mA. I imagine that fitting a fuse is cost effective from Icom's point of view and not everybody uses the power output facility anyway. I suppose that a re-setting fuse would just create a different set of problems.

So thanks to John for making a helpful contribution to this emerging debate.

If you are joining that stream there is lots more on the IC-9700 to be found by following the label in the sidebar.
There was nice tropo opening between 4 and 7 May ...
144MHz FT8 contacts at GM4FVM 4 to 7 May 2020
On 2m that brought in 24 QSOs to 5 countries and 13 squares. I always enjoy a contact into LA on 2 metres. This time I was heard repeatedly in the Faeroe Islands again, but still no contact on 2m there - yet. On 70cms it was 6 QSOs into 3 countries, with each being in a different square. ODX on 2m was DK2EA in JO50 at 1114km, and on 70cms DJ5MS in JO54 at 903km. Once again 70cms DX was not bad at all compared with 2m, and I bet more activity would bring it closer to being equal.
432MHz FT8 contacts at GM4FVM 4 to 7 May 2020
As usual, click to enlarge the images if you need to.

Another feature of recent conditions has been that I have had 9 FT8 QSOs into PA on 4432MHz since 14 April. Many of these have been stations running quite low power and vertical antennas. I bet I could have done better if my antenna had been vertical. It also shows what happens when there is activity. I simply noticed these stations on PSK Reporter and then tried very hard to reach them when the QSB permitted. It took time and patience though.

On 23cms I have had another contact with Niels Erik, OZ2ND. My last one on 23 March was a bit scrappy, this time I worked him with no difficulty at all. That makes me feel a lot happier with my 689km distance record on 23 cms.

Outside the tropo lift I was pleased to work a new DXCC entity on 23 cms when I completed an SSB contact with GD1MIP on 11 May. Despite the dramatic reduction in passenger flights at the moment, there are still enough planes around to ensure some contacts via aircraft scatter. We had been trying for a while and I must say that my hopes were flagging. Andy's enthusiasm kept me going but I had just suggested giving up when he said "one more plane". So I explained I could only wait 2 more minutes. He was right, it worked. We could have had a longer SSB QSO from that one plane, but I had to go QRT. But still, another country worked on 23cms for me, bringing it to four (G, GM, GD, OZ) and seven squares. Thanks Andy.

Various others have helped the 23cm square count up and I appreciate their efforts too. The VHF/UHF section of the GMDX group have been very helpful in this effort. They are mostly focused on contests, which is not my primary goal, but we share a common interest in working each other so everybody gains.

I have made various improvements to the 23cms set-up, as mentioned before. Latest arrival is an ex-equipment Jenelec power supply. Sadly it has a dodgy electrolytic so that has gone into the "to do" pile. With work beckoning I doubt if it will be fixed soon either.

Not much Sporadic E yet.
Our First Minister continues to encourage us to "stay at home", and only to leave the house under certain clearly defined circumstances. I am following her guidance. Please follow best advice where you are because we do not want to have to go to severe lock-down..
Katy under severe lock-down


Monday, 27 April 2020

The Icom IC-9700 external pre-amp DC supply is a bit odd too ...

This is more on the oddities of the IC-9700 unexpectedly continued from four days ago in the last posting which is here and then even more here. The last one has a link which expalins it fairly well.

I have to confess that I made a mistake (wot, another one after Wrong-band-gate?).

Yes, when I wrote my initial review of the Icom IC-9700 (you can find that here) I was mystified by the lack of any proper explanation of how the external power supply to power a mast head external pre-amp worked. I described it as "an issue I am not so sure is really an issue".

Well, the mistake I made was to think I had the masthead preamp supply turned on when it was turned off. The reason why I made that mistake was the same as the issue I described, the manual does not explain this well enough. Actually, it does not explain it at all.

The procedure I followed at the time to get the masthead preamp supply turned on was in fact that procedure for the IC-9100. Thanks to Andrew, G0JCC, for clearing that one up for me. I was happily turning on and off the internal preamp and assuming it was the external supply.

It soon dawned on me that something was wrong. Not that it mattered much as I was using an outboard sequencer and bias-tee system so I did not need to rely on the internal 9700 supply. Nevertheless I did check and found no voltage on the 144MHz socket and I came to the conclusion that something had stopped working. Then soon after I discovered the 23cm socket was the same. The issue went into the "to do later"pile along with various clocks computers and linears that need fixing.

It did irritate me though. An issue that doesn't matter usually bugs me for ages.

Then this weekend I got an email from John G3WZT. He had found exactly the same thing, though fortunately he took it a bit more seriously that I did. After 24 hours of mind-wrangling it finally dawned on me what was wrong. The supply was indeed turned off, not faulty. In my long experience of these things I find they never work well if they are turned off.

And ... I did not know how to turn it on.

You have in fact to turn it on in two places for each band, in other words six times for all of them, and if you press the P.AMP button you get the internal one instead which will throw you right off course. And I had been thinking that the button applied to both pre-amps (because it says so in the manual - silly me). The idea that the button turned on the external preamp power came from the way the IC-9100 works, helped by the misleading manual for the IC-9700.

There is a lot of resistance put in your way If you want to turn this supply on.

The first line of resistance is page 1-1 of the manual which says the button on the front panel controls two preamps.

The second line of resistance you need to cross is the External pre-amp control in "Connectors". You should only need to do this once.
IC-9700 Selecting External P.Amp in "Connectors"

The third line of resistance you need to cross is on "Function page 2".
IC-9700 Selecting Function page 2 after External P.Amp has been enabled for that band.

Right, so here goes.

This, I think, is the way to turn on the IC-9700 DC supply for external preamps.

1) Select "SET"
2) Select "CONNECTORS"
3) On Screen 1 of Connectors select "External P.AMP
4) Turn the DC power supply on for the bands you want to use.
5) Return to main screen
6) Select FUNCTION
7) In Function select page 2
8) Turn on EXT P.AMP.

If you do not do steps 1 - 5 then the EXT P.AMP button on Function page 2 is greyed out.

Having done this the EXT P.AMP button on Function page 2 becomes your toggle switch for the external preamp and the button on the front does that job for the internal preamp. There is no indication on the display that you have the external supply turned on, you need to rely on the button on the Function screen for each band in turn.

Now there is very little in the manual to explain what is going on here. No wonder various people are confused. The manual misses the following piece of information:-
1) that the radio has DC over the rx coax at all, because how the DC gets out of the rig is never explained
2) the voltage
3) the polarity
4) the maximum current available
5) whether it is sequenced
6) if so how much it is delayed
7) whether the delay time can be varied and, crucially, -

Briefly, these are the answers I can cover based on my observations (1) DC bias is available on rx once you find out how to turn it on (2) about 13.8V falls to 11.7V at 330mA, (3) +ve to coax centre meaning commercial preamps like SSB and SHF products work natively (4) not sure but it runs two of my 200mA preamps on two bands (5) apparently so, but don't count on it because we are not told (6) no idea (7) apparently not (8) I have done my best above.

It is not really my job to re-write the Icom instruction manual. Without much information I can only surmise these things so please do not take them as definite.

What information they do give is pretty cryptic, as here on Page 4-1 of the main manual:-
Part of Icom IC-9700 main manual page 4-1
This makes sense to me now, but only after I know what is happening. Just a bit of info - like what this is and how it works - would have helped me enormously. And the key bit of info missing for me is that it does not say that you have to come back out of Connectors to go to Function page 2 and turn it on for each band in turn.

I think what threw me right off the track is the comment on  page 1-1 "PREAMP/ATTENUATOR KEY Turns ON or OFF and selects one of two receive RF preamplifiers ..." What? The button acts on two preamplifiers? One of two? Which? One at a time, and how does it select them? I took that to mean the button worked on both internal and external preamps depending on how you set Connectors. This was not an unreasonable assumption as on the IC-9100 the equivalent button controls its external preamp. If that was not so, where are the two preamplifiers? This reference to two preamplifiers seems to be wrong.

'Onest Gov, it wasn't a mistake, I was misled good an' proper.

Anyway I am not one to be bitter, as you all know. Oh no. Icom, also, this type of thing would have been a lot easier if you had got page 1-3 correct in the original digital manual, then updated the manual available at the Icom UK site to correct that mistake, and not left me to resort to a paper copy where you have stuck a corrected page 1-3 into a sheaf of loose papers.

It is working now. I have been able to take out my cobbled-together sequencer and bias arrangements, freeing my rats nest behind the bench of 0.32% of its clutter. I also have 47mm of freed-up shelf space. [One of those two statistics is made up, the other is true]. I can do this now because my 2m and 70cm linears both pass the DC supply through to the preamps on receive. My 70cm one does not have a DC path through it, but then I do not use the IC-9700 for 70cms.

EDIT - I discovered that my 2m DCI cavity bandpass filter does not pass DC. I know this now because the IC-9700 must check for a short circuit on the coax. When it found the short it automatically turned off the DC supply (the button on the Function page 2 screen turned to "off") and posted a message on the display warning me of what had happened. I can find no mention of that in the manuals either but at least it works. 

I have checked the sequencing and there appears to be no SWR spike on going to transmit. At that level anyway everything checks out with the sequencing. We shall see however. I hope nothing gets blown up due to faulty timing. I would have more confidence if I had some information in the manual to support the evidence that it works. So, for now, all I can say is that it seems to be OK.

I now expect emails from sad individuals saying that I am carping and that I should have worked this out at the start. OK, the Icom IC-9700 is a very good radio. This DC supply is now working perfectly well. What I am going on about is that several of us have been left confused. I thought there was something wrong with the radio, not because I am totally dense but because it is very hard to understand the way it has been documented.

There are 96 pages in the basic 9700 manual. The basic manual is just a quick start guide as there are 173 pages in the advanced manual. I would have thought that any radio that claims to be a VHF/UHF DX-capable device would make things like this able to be understood, even by me. Surely a page could have been found to give us the details?

Much help was received in solving this from Andrew, G0JCC, and John, G3WZT. Thanks both of you for setting me thinking.



Friday, 24 April 2020

The odd aspects of the IC-9700 and 23 cms progress.

I have been busy with more difficult stuff (more later) so here are a few odd tales to keep us going.

First some small success:-
A QSL for my first contact to Denmark on 23cms:-
QSL from OZ2ND for 23cm contact on 23 March
As Niels Erik says, the two previous contacts on 144 and 432 MHz were good too. In fact I would have been happy with either on their own. This was our 19th contact, but perhaps the sweetest one for me.

I do like to receive a QSL card though the post. It also shows the merit in asking people to move up a band after they have worked you. You then have a reasonable chance that the propagation will also be good at the higher frequency.

Progress on 23cms:-
I have had a bit of trouble getting out on 23cms. You would not think this given the QSL card above, but I do not seem to be having the success I thought I should. I can hear better that I can be heard. Or so I think.

After a good QSO with Jeremy M0XVF I was amazed to hear Sid, G8SFA. Of course, to confirm my doubts he could not hear me. After emails and a long phone call Sid could confirm that I was not reaching him. So more work needed.

Thanks to some more encouragement from Jeremy XVF, I have been ironing out a few problems. I had been using some back-to-back N-type plugs to get around linking various bits together (just one on each band). The idea is to reduce the rats nest of 10mm diameter leads round the back of the desk. I have become increasingly wary of these.

Some came from David GM4JJJ with the equipment he left to me. I then bought a couple more claiming "not the usual rubbish". So now of course I do not know which is which.

I got even more  concerned when bits of the waterproofing seal fell out of one and looked decidedly dodgy in another one.

Not easy to photograph without taking the thing out into the sun and angling it like a telescope. Anyway this was the best I could do with it just pointed upwards (the sun never gets overhead at non-tropical IO85, in case you wondered).

I doubt if this puts anything in peril, though they are supposed to be precision items.

So I went through and took them out and replaced them with short patch leads. Expensive but effective.

Then I tried to set up an arrangement whereby the switch from 2m to 23cms is easy. As you will know the IC-9700 does not allow differential linear switching. Also, since the RM LA250 linear arrived I have had to borrow my 23cm bias-tee for 2m. More later in this blog.

I now have a nice new SHF-Elektronic FSP-144 2m bias-tee for 2m, and so the general purpose one can go back to 23cms.

Anyway, with everything properly wired up on the 23cms this time so I could get going with a bit more confidence. The figures are a bit better. SWR down to 1:1.1, power output up to 53W. This is annoying with a 100W linear.  The root cause seems to be the IC-9700. As I have noted before, power output is only about 4W on 23cms. I am not sure why that is. I need to discover a reason, apart from the obvious possibility that my power meter is faulty. The little LED display on the linear suggest about 50% output, so I have that to go on ...

Buoyed up by all this I went on to the RSGB 23cm contest to give away a few points. I was pleased to work M0XVF and a couple of regulars, but also GM4BYF for a new one. I usually find the Edinburgh area a problem but not this time.

Then a strange quirk of the IC-9700
When I reviewed it I mentioned that the 9700 has two receivers but only installs one sound card in a computer. However, it does have two loudspeakers and two line outputs, leading me to the idea that I could rig up a second audio input and monitor two data frequencies at once.

Well a couple of days ago I was trying to listen on 1296.200 while leaving the other receiver on 2m FT8. The 23cms receiver was set as active and 1296.200 was highlighted as the bottom (sub) VFO. The WSJT-X software was showing the frequency as 1296.200, though of course I was not expecting any FT8 as I was listening to 23cms on the loudspeaker.

Imagine my surprise when MM0CEZ popped up calling CQ apparently on 23cms. Or at least 23cms was the active frequency on the IC-9700. I could hear nothing on the loudspeaker. Curious, I decided to work him and sort out what was happening later. It quickly became clear that the WSJT-X software was controlling the frequency and showing the data contact on 1296.174, but I was working Peter on 2m. Whatever the frequency on the software (23cms), the signal was going out on the secondary frequency (but top on the display), i.e. on 2m.

I thought I should explain to Peter that this was a mistake as he is not exactly DX and he must have wondered what I was up to. He was very good about it and offered not to tell anybody if I felt I needed to keep quiet. After all, I thought, who would admit to working someone on the "wrong band"?

But this does seem to be a "thing". I set about re-creating it on the IC-9700 today. Would you expect this readout to produce a signal on 144MHz?
WSJT-X software showing IC-9700 on 23cms, with 2m contacts being regularly displayed
It might be nice if it was real as I would like to work PA on 23cms.

During this time I was listening on 1296.200 and the IC-9700 display was showing this...
IC-9700 showing a display which does not suggest to me that it is working data on 144MHz.
The S/Po meter on the top (shaded) display shows RF output on 144mHz, whereas the meter reading on the 23cms section with the green mark shows an S-meter reading on 1296.174. The meters at the bottom below the 1296 readout do not relate to that frequency but to 2m data transmission shaded at the top.

There is nothing wrong with this. I think it does not happen if the frequencies are reversed between the top and bottom displays, in which case the data output would be on the same band as the software suggested. I just find it very difficult to comprehend.  I can select and listen to a VFO but yet while my computer is showing the same frequency it is also working stations on a different band as well. That WSJT should show a different frequency from the one it is using does my head in.

An outcome like this is inevitable as the 9700 only has one sound data connection to the radio (active on the top display), but it allows the CAT control to alter either frequency depending on which is selected. So I was able to change the lower highlighted readout from 23cms to 70cms and back again, and the WSJT readout followed, while the RF output continued to come from the USB signal from the computer on 144.174 (despite the computer and the highlighted readout on the 9700 showing 1296.174 and 432.174 respectively).

I usually use the 9700 as a single-band-at-a-time radio. I think, being a bear of small brain, I should stick to that approach.

I said when I first tried the 9700 that it should have been possible to take two separate audio feeds out via two separate sound ports (after all, it has two loudspeakers). The Elad FDM-DUO have several audio and CAT connections. This IC-9700 outcome I find bizarre.

At least Peter saw the funny side of being worked on the "wrong band".

And now for something just plain potty:-
I do not have any 27V operated relays in my relay box. I was offered some 24V ones a few years ago but turned them down as I could not think of a use for them.

It occurred to me that if I had a relay on the 27V DC supply to my 23cm linear it could switch the PTT between the 2m and 23cms linear. When the linear supply was on it would switch the PTT to that, and when unenergised it would connect to the 2m one. No need to plug and unplug the phono plug and lead as I had been doing. And it would be fail-safe as the 2m linear has RF VOX and the 23cm one passes the full 4 watts through. Just turning on the power supply to the 23cms linear would switch everything and no plugs to swap about.

Even better, with both the 2m and 23cms now having their own bias-tees I could supply both pre-amps from my single sequencer. Perfect, and they are now both off when either band is in use, which is good as it means they do not get RF shoved down them on the other band.

The thing is, no 27V relay. And no shops to go to. And even if I was not locked down there would be all that soldering. And I am busy as I have to work people on the wrong band and important stuff like that. And, I want no further expense right now.

Why not use anything lying about? The transfer relay I bought from GM4JJJ's SK clearance sale at the GM Microwave Round Table says "DC to 2.2GHz". OK, DC is a bit less than I had in mind but I can always take it out again if I need it. If I use plugs that is, with a non-solder solution.

I have a few dodgy N-type to SO-239 adapters. And some PL-259 to phono adapters. Drat, only two of each and I need three. Hey, I have an N-type to BNC (I wonder why), and a BNC to phono adapter. I have little need for these adapters as almost everything is now N-type. Why not use them for DC too.

No need to lose sleep over whether the N-type, the PL-259 or the BNC are best at .... 0hz.

And finally, the transfer relay had a 4 pin plastic plug which I have nothing to socket to it (as they said in the 1960s). I cut that off and added two banana plugs. Not that I like banana plugs but they have their uses. In this case to stick into the DC connection posts on the 23cms linear.
Transfer relay and the assortment of pluggery required.
This must be one of the maddest bits of construction I have done. Well, not construction, more assembly. Does it look terrible? Yes. Does it work? Yes.

The elegant way to do this might have been to buy a 27V relay, which at this moment seems a bit mad. The way I have done it allows the valuable transfer relay to be removed at any stage. I could STAY HOME as instructed. And what was I going to do with those adapters anyway?

The even more elegant way is to build a single board computer to read the Icom CI-V line and switch the PTT that way. Don't worry, I am working on that one.

EDIT - More on the IC-9700 in the next posting here



Thursday, 9 April 2020

Lots breaking down and a deep sense of dread.

I was going to start this posting with an appreciation of Catherine Catherwood, our Chief Medical Officer. Not now, as she has lost her job after breaking her own rules.

The point being that I usually only trust ideas and numbers and science. I generally do not trust people. People who want to convince me have to produce facts, rather than just claiming to be right. We all know who does that type of thing, and we do not trust him.

When I need advice I turn to an expert.

More of coronavirus later.
This is the time of year for Es to get going, and it has not disappointed - briefly. Things are also doing well on the meteor scatter front, though tropo has not been quite as good as one might have hoped.

There was some early action on 24 March. The earlier tropo which had brought me OZ on 23cms did very little more. Despite the high pressure there was nobody to work. For several days I could call CQ and see my pin in the 2m PSK reporter map at various OZ locations, but having worked all of those there was nobody to talk to. The path across the North Sea on 2m tropo was open for long periods for three days.

The tropo was better to the West where sadly there are very few stations. Mark, EI3KD, was running a special event station on 2 metres to mark the events of 1920 in County Cork. I could not resist that one. I then asked Mark to move to 70cms, which he did and gave me a new DXCC and new square on 70cms.

Despite this, tropo was a disappointment over a period when pressure was high but the moisture content of the air was not suitable.

24 March seems a bit early for a full scale Es opening on VHF, but that is what happened. On 6 metres I worked 30 stations in 21 squares, 5 countries and two continents.
50MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 24 March 2020
On 4m it was not quite as dramatic but it was still an earlier than usual opening...
70MHz contacts at GM4FVM on 24 March 2020
Since then there have been fairly regular stations popping up on FT8 on 6m. Although I have had QSOs, none of it looks like the Es season has started here in earnest, or not yet.

Meteor scatter has produced a steady stream of contacts on 4m and 6m. I have turned on the 100km markers on this map, with thicker lines for 500km.
VHF meteor scatter contacts at GM4FVM, 24 March to 10 April 2020
The most distant contact with Jurek, SP9HWY, at over 1500km was a lengthy affair as it so often is outside a specific shower period. I am looking forward to the Lyrids peak around 22 April when I hope I might make some progress on 10m too. Mind you, if the Es season is underway then 10m might be pretty crowded.
Yes, lots of things are breaking down, not least of all me.

On the day our local dentists went into lockdown my largest filling fell out. I was "triaged" over the phone and told I was not bad enough to warrant attention so I should rely on temporary fillings for the duration. I had never heard of temporary fillings, so this required a visit to the pharmacist in the next town.

And so began my relationship with a gunky slime somewhere between chewing gum and Isopon on the crud scale. It is not really a filling, but it certainly is temporary. It keeps falling out. I suffer, of course, but in a stoical, level headed way as befits a mature adult who knows it is nobody's fault.


Then my 2m linear, which has already been back to DX Shop four times for repair, failed again ...
The LinearAmp Gemini 2 amplifier failed with a false SWR warning .. again.
For an amplifier to have failed five times in two years is really disappointing. I believe that there is some underlying fault which has never been addressed and I will deal with that in due course.

In the meantime some temporary assistance has arrived in the shape of an RM Italy LA250 linear. How long I can keep this is not clear but it solves the problem for now. The good news is that it is not a Gemini, it came from somewhere else, and it seems to work.

After the Gemini had come back from repair for the fourth time I sold my Microset brick amplifier in the expectation that I did not need it any more. Here is the RM, another brick amplifier, but one which seems to be in a different class. Fortunately I still have the 40 amp power supply and I can borrow the sequencer and bias-tee from 23cms. More on the RM once I have had time to try it, but so far so good.

My CUG mast, which holds up my 4m and 6m dual band beam, failed too. The top pulley broke when I was attempting to raise it. This has also happened before ...
Broken weld on mast pulley at GM4FVM.
The pulley has broken off its mounting plate. It is designed in a way to avoid a catastrophic failure in the sense that if it fails the mast does not fall. However, that design is itself a weakness as it involves a weld under strain which, as can be seen in the photo, is subject to corrosion.

CUG masts have been helpful and say that they have a new design where the pulley is riveted to the back plate. I hope to get one of those soon. The mast jammed half raised, but I was able to work the cable through the hole without the pulley and gradually lower it. It is now down and under its own weight, with the lifting cable slack. Possibly the cable was damaged during that operation, we will need to see, but nothing terrible happened. It is just stuck down now.

Now I have to stress that none of this matters much in the great scheme of things. The world is in the grip of a major crisis and my tooth problems, and even my tripped linear and broken pulley, are nothing in this. Some people have lost their jobs, others are at home on reduced pay, and still more alarming, many are in hospital fighting for their lives. Many have already passed away, and even the grieving have their problems as we know here, as funerals are disrupted.

My issues are not significant. However, this is a radio blog and not a corona virus blog. My duty is to carry on and spout my nonsense. I must do my bit. I even keep trying with KST Chat, even though I find it terribly tedious. I have had good chat with great people, but having it on for long periods locks me into a strange inability to act.

I think KST is warning me about the dangers of radio torpor. An induced state of inactivity, in this case induced by the radio. Doing radio because there is little else to do sets it off. Sitting here starting at screens, imagining there is something useful to do, when there isn't. Sometimes, you just need to get up and do something else, limited though that might be just now.

My general state of dread does not come from the threat I am under from this virus. I have been in danger before, as we have touched on here. There have been times for me, as for most of us, when I have been under threat. Usually this hardly gave me time to think. Either it was over and clearing up was needed, or I had already been knocked unconscious - or delirious - by then. Anyway, danger came as a shock, and it was over pretty quickly.

What is happening now is not an acute state, it is chronic. We do not know when it will end. Looking back, wars and so forth seem terrible in the sense that they lasted for four years, or five years, or whatever. We forget that to those present at the time they did not know when it would end. Just as we now do not know when the present emergency will end.

I feel a temptation to think that sitting in front of the radio is an end in itself. But the radio is a cruel mistress as I have noted before. Just sitting here does not dispel the feelings of dread, it increases them. Sometimes I just have to turn it off and go and clear out the garage. Surprisingly, there are lots of antenna bits out there which I must sort out.

Do something constructive Jim. Do not become a total misery (a partial misery is bad enough). Tidy up. Fix things. Made a new plan, Stan (ooops, not a good comparison).

Radio is a hobby. It is not an excuse to hide away. That way lies the sense of dread.

Spring is here and there is plenty to do.

Just do it.

And keep washing your hands.

And speak 2m from the microphone, just in case.