31 Aug 2013

M0UKD's version of my 472kHz transverter

It is always pleasing to see other versions of my designs being successfully built. This evening I chanced upon M0UKD's website showing his nice version of my 472kHz transverter. He added an output for a frequency counter which is a useful addition. John gets around 12W out, which is about right.

MS Essentials

My wife's PC just flagged up that its McAfee anti-virus protection runs out in 15 days time. Rather than renew it I decided to uninstall the entire McAfee suite of programs and instead install the FREE MS Essentials protection program. I have this on my own PCs and, as far as I can tell, it seems to protect them pretty effectively.  Like others have found, MS Essentials runs in the background in an unobtrusive way without undue overhead.

50 nanowatts ERP tests on 70cms FM

This afternoon I did a quick test using my signal generator on 432.975kHz FM using my V2000 vertical. I put up a 50nW ERP FM signal with a 1kHz tone and looked for the RX signal on my little VX3 hand portable with its tiny helical antenna at my old QTH some 300m away from the new location. Although unable to copy the signal downstairs, the signal was S3 in the old shack upstairs. Based on this test with a pretty inefficient RX antenna, I think the 10nW signal would be copyable around 1-2km away with a mag-mount on the car. It goes to show how far QRM can travel.

Back on 472kHz WSPR and 8.97kHz

This afternoon, I put my earth-electrode antenna in the garden at the new QTH with the remote electrode against the far fence and the local ground connected to the mains ground in the shack. Check your mains earthing before trying this. Separation is about 15m i.e. a little less than at the old location. On 8.97kHz the current into the ground looks about right and the TX current similar to that at the old QTH. On 472kHz the match seems a little different but I have had several spots from G6AVK at 78km when using low milliwatts ERP. I need to optimise the match on 472kHz.

I am now going to try the earth-electrode antenna on 160m and 80m. All being well I'll do a remote RX test on 8.97kHz to see how my VLF beacon compares.

30 Aug 2013

Shack pic

Well today I completed the set-up of my "building desk" in the new shack. After several weeks out of action, I am now ready again to start building gear. For the first time my desk for building kit is in the same room as the operating position, so I can readily test gear "on-air" by simply connecting a coax cable or wire. This image is not very good quality I am afraid.

Late summer Es on 6m

It is getting later in the sporadic E season but there are still plenty of openings to be enjoyed. As I have yet to erect any antennas for the HF bands at the new QTH, I have been listening and working stations on 6m. This week without much operating time I have managed to find a couple of Es openings that have allowed me to work into HA, I, EA5, EA6 (Menorca) and EA7 on 2W SSB or CW to the V2000 vertical.

Using my 3G dongle to provide an internet connection (roll on Sept 2nd and my Virgin Media connection - I hope) I've also been WSPRing on 6m but so far just a few UK spots received.

29 Aug 2013

Our windmill

Just across our front garden wall we have a windmill that is almost 200 years old. It is currently undergoing a complete renovation with new cap, 4 new sails, new external rendering and lots of work inside too. Today, a 60 ton crane lifted the newly renovated (6 ton) cap onto the top of the windmill.

In the next couple of months the 4 sails go back on. The video was shot out of my lounge window today. When fully restored it will be well worth a visit as is a visit to our local museum next door.

From an amateur radio perspective the windmill will be a perfect aiming point for optical comms as it is about 20m from my shack. I suspect it will act as a good reflector for microwaves too.

See http://www.burwellmuseum.org.uk.btck.co.uk/StevensMill for more information.

28 Aug 2013

More antenna progress at the new QTH

After having our little grandchildren stay for 6 days (without their parents) the new home has now returned to normal (i.e. tidy) and all the toys have been put away, mine excepted! So, apart from sorting out and decorating the old QTH, my thoughts are increasingly turning to the autumn ham projects again.

I've just collected my Par 10/20/40 end-fed HF antenna and a 1m solid copper ground rod from the old QTH with the aim of erecting the former and pounding in the latter in the next few days. The Par antenna will allow me to get active on some of the HF bands. The earth rod will form the far end of my new earth electrode pair "antenna" which will be used for a series of tests on 8.97, 136 and 472kHz from the new garden. My 8.97kHz beacon can be fired up in QRSS quite easily so RX tests out in the fens can start as soon as the earth-electrode antenna is ready. It will be fascinating to see how this compares at the new QTH.

My big wheel for 2m has still to be procured or made and erected. When this is in place I shall try some QRP weak signal work as mentioned before.

Something else I want to do is some tests locally on 6, 2 and 70cm using a signal generator connected to my V2000 antenna. Tests with G6ALB suggest just a few uW are enough to reach the next village. So I was wondering what the coverage to a mobile would be like locally with, say, 10uW from my generator? A drive-around test in all directions might be fun.

We are still waiting for Virgin Media internet and home phone access though - due Sept 2nd - to allow proper WSPR tests to begin. I bought a 3G wi-fi dongle with 3GB of data which is being used as a stop-gap. WSPR is my mode of choice when testing new antennas or new set-ups as the internet database (near instant) feedback gives a very good idea of how things are working.

Belgium on 472kHz

Rik Strobbe ON7YD reports that some Belgian amateur classes (holders of a HAREC licence) now have access to the 472kHz band with 5W EIRP and without mode restrictions. Unfortunately Rik's PA failed on TX on the new band and is having to rely instead on a 6W transverter for now with just 20mW ERP.

22 Aug 2013

V2000 erected and first QSOs on 6, 2 and 70cms from new QTH

On Tuesday I completed the erection of my tri-band colinear at the new QTH and carried out some tests over a 3km path to G6ALB to see how results compared between my old and new QTH on 6, 2 and 70cms. I was expecting results "on the hill" to be somewhat better, but in actual fact over this short path the results were identical within the limits of experimental error. Andrew put in various levels of attenuation to see how low he could go and still copy me. On 2m for example he could put in 43dB attenuation and still just copy me. 43dB is an attenuation of 20000 times suggesting just a few uW is enough to cover this distance.

Yesterday morning I was able to work through the Welwyn Garden City 70cm repeater, although conditions were up a bit. Last night I worked several I and HA stations on 6m SSB and CW during an unexpected Es opening, getting good reports with my 5W.  Conclusion so far: the antenna works fine.

I am now considering that big-wheel for 2m on the same mast. I am looking forward to working some SSB/CW stations again on 2m.

17 Aug 2013

Assembling the new shack

Today I started to collect all the remaining kit from the old building shack and set it up in the new QTH.  The large pieces of test gear are the easy bit. It is all the boxes and bags of "these might come in handy some day" components and crystals that are the problem. Also wire: I have so many reels of "useful" wire! My plan is to continue this over the weekend and get most of the useful stuff moved and other, less useful, kit boxed and stored in a box should I ever need it.  I am really hoping that I can be a lot better organised going forwards. Once I start an electronics building project the workbench goes from orderly to chaos very quickly!

When I was an RF engineer (not a very good one BTW) we used to keep resistors and capacitors in little open topped brown envelopes in a box on the bench. This worked very well and was easier and less space intensive that racks of storage drawers. I may go back to this for the more common non ESD sensitive components.

16 Aug 2013

Moved to new QTH

Although still without internet and phone - thanks Virgin Media - we have now moved to the new QTH. I have still to erect my V2000 vertical but hope to have this up over the weekend. Amateur radio is taking a back seat whilst teething troubles with plumbing and electrics are sorted.  Until we get internet at the new QTH these blog postings are likely to be few and far between.

13 Aug 2013

Moving tomorrow - emotions mixed

So, after 37.5 years in our current home, we move tomorrow to a newly renovated bungalow in the same village.  Emotions are running high this evening: this has been the place where our children were born and raised, where our grandchildren have stayed and played, where I have enjoyed all sorts of fun on the radio. The new home should be lovely and better in many ways, yet this evening my wife and I are feeling rather sad at having to say goodbye to our "old" home.

Actually we are not quite saying a final farewell as we still own the old property and intend to keep it for some years to come. At the moment we are deciding whether to rent it out on long lets or to furnish it for weekly holiday lets. The house is in a quiet road on the edge of the village overlooking pleasant countryside and the local church. If we decide on holiday lets we could even come back to stay for a few days or at least use it for the family for a few weeks each year.  These are decisions for the weeks ahead.  More immediately we have to get ready for the removals men arriving at 8.45am in the morning.

This morning I went up to the chimney of the new home with the builder who was fixing a cowling. The view from up there is spectacularly good confirming it should make an excellent VHF/UHF/microwave location. This is something I shall look forward to!

12 Aug 2013

Virgin Media cock-up

This evening I am VERY annoyed! 

A day before we are due to move we have been informed by our phone/TV and broadband provider (Virgin Media) that they cannot now do the installation at the new property until (at least) Sept 2nd and not on Aug 15th as promised a few weeks ago. This means we have no home phone, no internet and no TV (other than Freeview) for at least 2-3 weeks. What annoys me is that had I known this 2 weeks ago I might have decided to go elsewhere. They apparently need to dig a hole in the road to get the cable through and need local authority approval to do the digging. Let's hope we don't get a "job's worth" who takes a month to process the approval to dig.

I asked several people at Virgin Media if I could have my phone redirected to my mobile ("no, we can't do that") and if I could be loaned a 3G dongle so I could get internet connectivity ("no, we can't do that"). Why ever NOT?? What a total shower they are!

So, if you need to contact me please do so via my mobile number which I have emailed to some of you.

Also, do not expect to see blog updates for some weeks until I manage to get internet services at the new home and replies to emails are likely to take some time.

To add to my woes today, this morning I managed to knock a tin of paint all over our bedroom carpet when painting a piece of furniture.

All in all, today has been quite stressful what with packing for the move on Wednesday and trying to sort out everything.

11 Aug 2013

The Chinese HF SSB/CW transceivers are REALLY coming.....

Steve G1KQH has alerted me to a new QRP HF multi-mode transceiver from China that is available on eBay. The English translation leaves a lot to be desired, but this again signals that the Chinese are starting to get very close to marketing credible HF transceivers that we can expect to see sold by the likes of Martin Lynch and Waters and Stanton. In my view we are 12 months away from this point, but when some really decent HF rigs become available be prepared for some VERY tough times for Yaesu, Icom and Kenwood.

See: http://www.aliexpress.com/store/product/Whole-ham-kn920-kn-920-utrashort-wave-ham-radio-station-equipment-shiortwave-SW-free-shipping/926979_1075987935.html

On the same theme, Hamshop in the Czech Republic has announced it is the EU dealer for the single band KN-Q7A SSB transceivers from CRKITs in China. These are neat little single band 40 and 20m transceivers available as kits or ready built. They are getting rave reviews on eHam.net.

Rotatable mast bonus

Regular readers may remember that I was asking about rotators some months back. Well, I have just realised that the place where I intend to fix my 2 inch diameter mast at the new QTH is such that I can rotate it by hand by opening a window about 10 feet from my new operating position. This means, if I so choose, I can erect a small beam for 2m and 70cm, or a combined 2/70cm beam and turn it 360 degrees very quickly using the trusty "Armstrong" method. So, initially I'll erect the V2000 vertical but may well add some small (not too sharp) beams for VHF/UHF contest and tropo work. Turning a beam by hand is quicker than a rotator and allows signals to be peaked by ear.

Anyone have any recommendations for a combined 2m/70cm horizontally polarised beam with around 3-6 elements, ideally fed with a single 50 ohm coax? I have seen combined 2m/70cm HB9CV antennas but think there are other options too.

8 Aug 2013

First building projects for the new shack

It will take a few weeks to settle into the new home and get things straight, but already my mind is turning to projects for the autumn. Several of these are hang-overs from the current QTH i.e. "gunner" projects (I'm gunner do this or that!) or projects already started but needing to be completed. This is the list so far. You can be 100% certain this list will grow and change.
  1. Check the LF/MF/HF noise environment at the new QTH. I have no real idea how this will be. I am more in the middle of the village at the new QTH, so suspect switchmode PSU and other noise sources may be more of an issue?
  2. Finish the 10m WISPY transceiver. Both the direct conversion RX and DSB TX have been built and successfully used on air, but I have still to put the 2 bits together as one transceiver in a box.
  3. Finish the optics for my G4HJW designed Finningley optical transceiver. I finished the electronics build some weeks ago but the move got in the way of the mechanical parts. I need a new stable tripod for this too.
  4. Carry out some VLF earth-mode tests at 8.97kHz from the new QTH to compare results after the QTH move. My baseline earth-electrode "antenna" will be very slightly shorter and the direction more NW-SE (it was E-W before).
  5. Carry out some 472 and 136kHz WSPR tests using the earth-electrode antenna. Again, the aim is to see how results compare at the new QTH. The earth-electrode's new loop direction will affect who can copy me.
Whether I concentrate on HF/MF/LF or move more to VHF/UHF will depend on the noise environment. Although there are plenty of things to try to reduce QRM if this proves to be a problem, it may be the perfect excuse to try something new, such as weak signal QRP work at VHF and UHF. We'll soon know.

Starting to equip new shack

Although our move is a few days away still, I am starting to move my equipment across to the new shack. I may erect my V2000 vertical this weekend too, so that I can have a first QSO from the new shack on the East Cambs 2m FM net on 144.575MHz next Monday at 8pm.

I am debating where to put the triband antenna: either on a gable end over the garage or on a longer pole attached to the rear wall of the garage. The latter would make antenna changes slightly easier as the pole would be attached at ground level, so no ladder climbing needed.

My understanding is that outside of a conservation area I do not need planning permission for a second antenna on the house such as a V2000 vertical as long as the linear horizontal dimension is not greater than 1m, which it would not be. A 2m big wheel on the same pole would probably be OK too. I should be able to string a 10m or 15m dipole from this support to a tree at the other end of the garden that would feed conveniently into the shack just below.

4 Aug 2013

All my antennas now dismantled ready for the move

Today was an historic day: for the first time in around 20 years or more, I have NO antennas up outside at this QTH. The Par 10/20/40 end-fed HF antenna and the trusty V2000 VHF/UHF tri-band colinear were taken down this evening. The V2000 has been up continuously now for the best part of 10-12 years and is in remarkable condition still. Apart from a bit of dirt on the fibre glass covers and a little oxidisation on the metalwork, it is like new and electrically still works perfectly. There are several "copies"  of this antenna around, some of which are nothing like the original version.

It will be some days before I get the antennas sorted and erected at the new QTH, but at least the brackets and antenna hardware are now down and available for a suitable moment.

68-76kHz LF band allocated in the USA

Just in from WG2XRS/4.....
"You might have heard a group of us have received a license covering 68 to 76 kHz with 10 W ERP for most all modes including SSB!  Authorization came yesterday and already have W4DEX on QRSS and into W1VD and others with very solid sigs on 72.4 kHz.  Am gearing up for that operation as we speak.Bob, WG2XRS/4."
This is fascinating news. Although getting anything like 10W ERP is a major challenge at 73kHz, much weaker amateur signals have spanned the Atlantic in the early 2000s when the 73kHz band was available by NoV here in the UK. See  http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mike.dennison/index/lf/transcontinental/2001-2/at2001-2.htm

There is no doubt that some of the US stations will be copied in Europe this coming DX season. Since the first few years of this century a number of new weak signal modes have appeared such as WSPR2 and WSPR15 and OPERA. Also, with GPS locked systems and superb frequency accuracy, it is possible to run very slow CW and DFCW modes knowing that the TX frequency can be very accurately set, so the RX can look for the signal in uHz bandwidths to dig it out of the noise over a period of hours. All we now need is for a limited number of 73kHz permits to be again allocated in the UK.

Please note this is NOT a general allocation in the USA: it is a special research permit to a limited number of stations in much the same way as some access to 500kHz and 136kHz has been granted over there. Their FCC does seem to be incredibly slow at getting new bands like 472kHz allocated. I don't know why this is such a problem: perhaps they fear allocating these LF bands will be a threat to homeland security?

2 Aug 2013

New Address with OFCOM

This evening on-line I notified the TV licence people of our upcoming address change as well as notified OFCOM of my new address.  It is now unlikely I shall make any further QSOs from my current QTH as the last remaining antennas will be coming down next week. Getting my VHF/UHF vertical up is a priority at the new QTH although there are a few more pressing issues to deal with first - like getting some carpets on the floor!

On the front cover of Practical Wireless this month

Well, I had quite a surprise when the Sept 2013 edition of Practical Wireless (PW) magazine dropped on the mat in the post this morning. Although I knew my review of the Wonderwand Wonderloop was inside, I did not expect my bald head to be the subject of the main cover image! My wife Lis took the photo in the back garden of our current home.

I hope those reading the Wonderloop review will think it a fair one. The loop is tiny and uses thin 1mm wire, yet the performance was actually pretty good considering its size, averaging a couple of S-points down on a decent back garden antenna. As the review shows, some good results were obtained.

May I recommend you buy PW as there is a reasonably decent selection of articles in it most months. It is now the only independent amateur radio magazine published in the UK. I do miss the old Short Wave Magazine which was a good magazine in its heyday back in the 1950s and 1960s.