Sunday, 30 July 2017

Tool Box

Here a few things which I've been using for years, I must have had them all for over 10 years now.

Tool Box - probably a Christmas present, like most of the stuff here. I don't think I've ever completely emptied it since new.

Connectors Box - this is where I keep any adaptors, other connectors, memory cards etc. Spot the AT to PS/2 keyboard adaptors which even I've got to admit are just wasting space in there but have I ever emptied this since I got it in about 2002? Probably not. From Woolworths, so that dates it a bit.

 6-way Screwdriver. Stanley 68-012. Until today, I hadn't realised it was 6-way. The shaft of the screwdriver will fit two different sizes of nut. Good enough for nearly anything you would normally use a screwdriver for, except small terminals or anything where there might be live connections nearby. Apparently the new model is worse, so this may be becoming something of a classic.

Charger - Vanson Speedy Box. It's not the fastest charger but I got it from Maplin at the time when the higher capacity Ni-MH cells (1800mAh+ for AAs) were quite a new thing. It also discharges cells.

Laptop Bag - By Kensington, from Ebuyer when I got my first laptop in 2005 (and used for another 4 after that). It's a backpack but the straps can be hidden away and can be turned into an over the shoulder bag (but I think I've lost the strap for that without ever trying it).
With 16:9 displays, the basic 15" screen laptop has got wider and you can see mine hardly fits in the bag now (it was bought for a 15" 4:3 ratio screen model). That's a 640GB Toshiba USB HDD in the bag.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Bit Of A Lift

Tropospheric ducting can be categorised into two types:
a)A bit of a lift
b)A massive lift
Yesterday was actually type B.
On the way home from work I was stuck waiting for a train an hour so had a play around with the Netmonitor app on my phone. I was in an area where there is, normally a 2G phone signal if you're lucky. This means that if there is any odd propagation at UHF, all sorts of different phone masts start being picked up, and being near the sea also helps.
Well after leaving Netmonitor on for a bit, it had picked up a few cells in the Stranraer area, which is over the horizon so pretty good, but the best was a GSM signal from Larne in Northern Ireland (around 160km), and a 4G signal from Donaghadee, almost as far away across the Irish Sea.

When I got home, there were some big signals on the 70cm band, with at least one of the two Isle Of Man repeaters on 430.825 being full scale. I had a go at using the DMR handheld indoors to access GB7BR at Bride, and managed to get in. Also got into GB7UL at Carrickfergus from the handheld indoors.

 This repeater on 430.825 is usually no S-points, but full scale here.

A handy 'beacon' on 427.850 - Dublin buses trunking data, active 24/7 and the first thing to come through when there is any propagation across the Irish Sea on UHF.

On 145MHz simplex I spoke to GI0BDX in Newtownabbey.

One signal which I'm still not sure about is an Echolink gateway on 439.100, which I can't find on any lists (unless it's in Germany, which seems unlikely). Could be in Ireland as that's where lots of other signals were coming from.
Today (Thursday) everything was back to normal, back at its usual signal strength.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Perfect Radio

Here's a list of features I'd been thinking of for the perfect radio - mostly for VHF/UHF use and it would also be used in scanner mode quite a lot so many are scanning related. It's just a list I made for myself on my phone so not too much detail.

Radio Features:

Save to SD card/PC in format which can be exported as a video showing s-meter, freq etc. Only record when squelch open.

App to play back recordings with audio.

Smart skip - channels which are too busy get locked out until a break in activity - e.g. if >30% of scan passes are active it gets locked out until drops to <20 br="">
Per-channel delay times - e.g. wait 60 seconds even if squelch closed on a calling frequency in case they call again.

S-meter squelch on per-channel basis

Reset of all lockouts

Lockouts can have an expiry time

Linked search bands (like UBC3500)

Lock out ranges of frequencies or modes (applies to memories in that range too).

Record stats on channel use - auto lock out channels which are never used.

Open squelch on ANY CTCSS tone.

Lock out all non-tone channels

Signal in dBm on display

Select a lockout mask from a list

Change settings by geographic location - new set of memories or lockout mask when leaving town.

Select radio profiles from a list.

DMR auto identifies cc, slot and tg.

Direct entry of talkgroup via keypad on DMR.

Import DMR contact list of any size from csv file.

Export of all radio activity to CSV file (time and location of any signal above a threshold or transmission).

Audio AGC receiving on FM and digital modes - can be applied to recordings.

Each channel member of a rule group, with tones, lockout, power, geo zones etc.

Zones - distance from a point, grid squares etc. Can be either allow or lockout.

Priority tx frequency - when radio is set to auto/scan mode, any ptt activity transmits on a fixed calling frequency (could be APRS/emergency). If PTT pressed for >2 seconds, receive goes to that frequency and scanning stops. If not, it carries on scanning or rx on other freq.

Built in usb audio and serial port.

CAT control even on handhelds (micro USB) and FM mobiles.

Access over telnet/SSH, or serial console with command line.

Web browser access on ethernet/wifi models.

Bluetooth earphone/mic support.

Music playback off sd card/aux in, through bluetooth or speaker. Mix music with receive audio, ducking with squelch. So rx audio can go through car speakers.

Soft sub band muting, when sub band rx broadcast FM etc.

Channels can be scan groups or search bands.

Tone/dmr only smart search saves any real channels and not interference. Can choose to save only correct tone/group or ANY tone/group on that freq.

Tone/dmr only scan can still pause silently on other found channels for 5 sec if busy and show MPT1327 trunking ID etc. Channels can be set to stop while busy but have speaker audio muted, either recording or not recording.

Lockout rule for channels by time and date.

Programmable sequences of vfo/scanning e.g.

Vfo 145.500

If no activity for 10 min or if squelch open 30 sec in 60 sec step on

Vfo 433.500

If no activity for 10 min step on else goto start

Scan all groups

Goto start.

Email alert on events (per channel etc.)

Override of tone squelch above signal threshold

Voice keyer uses mp3/wav files

Schedule playing file/morse ID/beep/dead carrier, with delay on busy channel.

Built in decoding of jt65/psk/cw/packet/wspr with upload of spots or saving to text file. Aprs gateway support (passcode etc.).

App for android with ptt button support to simulate radio over internet connection.

Parrot mode - records up to a time limit and transmits received audio. Can use audio agc. Minimum tx time can be set or a preset audio file can be played instead of received audio if squelch was open for less than minimum time (broken signal or testing access).

Programmble i/o (3-16v in, 5v , source, sink or dry relay contacts out?) For events, ptt, squelch out etc. External squelch contacts can be different to audio squelch.

Digital vox on any signal above digital silence.

Momentary ptt latch/unlatching signal

Tx deviation independent of rx bandwidth

If signal above threshold, squelch changes to s-meter.

Direct link between 2 radios over network - controls on one radio take over from the one with the antenna, with full tx/rx audio.

Analogue i/o programmable, 0-10v in, 0-5v out for external s-meter, power control. Events can set or be triggered by voltage levels.

SWR available on analogue output or to set digital i/o.

Parameters of other radios can be read/written over network/internet. E.g your frequency can be sent to server/friend if within certain bands so they can see if anybody is on a certain band. Events can be sent, ptt pressed, squelch open etc.

Rewind last 20 seconds of audio - when squelch was open.

Events can be triggered by a certain frequency being active or above a threshold - "i can hear 440.800 so change to midlands profile" or "if paging >-30dbm, lock out range 108 - 200 MHz", checking on a 'silent' scanning memory.

Replace audio with a few seconds 'ringtone' or silence on selected channels when squelch opens, or if squelch opens and no tone/encrypted/no audio.

Squelch open/close 'roger' beep can vary depending on signal level.

Receive diversity on 2nd antenna.

Dual receive relay scan - sub rx scans and tunes main rx to active freq. Stays on that freq until something else found.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Freeholds Top

Yesterday I was in the Manchester area so stopped off on the way home at Whitworth and walked up to the summit of Freeholds Top (SOTA G/SP-011). I'd been up there a couple of times before (2003 and 2006).
I took my Retevis DMR handheld and the Baofeng GT-3 dual band handie, both with their own antennas.
I made one QSO on DMR simplex (438.6125) with G8HIK in Radcliffe and the rest on 145MHz FM. All were in the Greater Manchester area.
I parked at Shawforth, grid reference SD890210.
Just had to restart my PC while editing this post after Windows 10 got a BSOD, at least Blogger saved everything.

Hameldon Hill BBC transmitter site 12km to the north west. Across the valley from Freehold's Top to the west is the Whitworth TV and DAB mast.

 Manchester somewhere in the distance

 I don't think these were here last time I visited

The last photo is a capture from a video I shot on my new "Action Pro Sports Camera" (a very cheap GoPro type thing). 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Huawei Mate 9

Got my new phone last Thursday, a Huawei Mate 9

Side by side with the old Galaxy Note 4. No physical buttons on the front and 0.2" more screen squeezed in.

 The phone came with a case, but I'd already ordered one.

USB-C cable, the first USB-C thing I've ever had, and a Micro USB to USB-C adaptor.
I think the RF performance of the phone is better than the Samsung, it does seem to hold a 3G/4G signal through areas where it would completely drop out before, and maybe 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is also better.
It can also show the channel number of the cell in use and some neighbouring cells, the Samsung never did this (but earlier Galaxy Notes did).
There is space for 2 SIM cards (or one SIM and one Micro SD card) but on the version I got from Three UK the 2nd SIM isn't recognised.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Tonight I had a go at decoding aircraft data signals on 1090MHz using an RTL USB TV tuner dongle, RTL1090 and Virtual Radar.
I was just using my usual 50/144/430MHz vertical antenna with this, so it wasn't going to work too well, but I decoded a few planes going over the local area.
Also tried the DAB receiver software SDR-J.
A DAB+ station on the 3rd national multiplex (no local sites, nearest is Winter Hill).
I've ordered a new phone, a Huawei Mate 9, to replace my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (which is still OK, and the Note 1-3 that I had before that would probably be OK to still be using).
Why not another Samsung?
  • Samsung and Apple's top of the range phones are now about £750. Even over a 24 month contract that's a lot of money just for the phone before they add on any calls and data. There is serious competition at a lower price now (but not 'cheap'), Huawei etc.
  • At the moment there isn't any version of the Note on sale, after the Note 7 was recalled. There was no UK release of the Note 5 either. 
  • Even though the Galaxy S7+/S8+ are big screen phones, things like the curved screen and the new 2:1 aspect ratio put me off. I think real horizontal screen size is more important than getting rid of a few buttons (I liked the 1280x800 screen on the original Note, the Note 2 actually made it worse by going to 1280x720). 
  • With the iPhone 6+, Apple took the 'phablet' form factor into the mainstream (the big iPhone is just as big as a Galaxy Note). I could almost buy one now, except I don't like iOS.
  • I don't think I'll miss the S-Pen very much, it was a novelty but I ended up using it mostly as another way of taking a screen capture. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

WSPR from Mallorca

A few weeks ago I was in holiday in Mallorca (El Arenal) and took my WSPRLite with me. I'd been thinking about using a balloon to hold up a half wave for the 20m band but didn't see any balloons when I got there so had to rethink.
In the end I used the Snowdonia Radio Company UnUn feeding into the ventilation duct up the side of the hotel, with no idea what the SWR might have been. Some RF did manage to escape though, 106 stations reported me on 14MHz WSPR that week, the furthest being OY1R in the Faroe Islands at over 2500Km away.

We were on the 4th floor, so the feedpoint of the 'antenna' was about halfway up.
I also took my Baofeng handheld to see what other radio activity there was on VHF/UHF. Heard some amateur repeaters in the 70cm band (repeaters over there transmit in the 438-439 MHz range) but they were all digital. For people visiting the island it's a good thing to have digital repeaters that can be linked up.
Repeaters on 438.250 (DMR), 439.200 (D-Star), 438.450 (D-Star). Page with all Spanish 70cm repeaters.
No analogue repeaters or simplex heard at all on the amateur bands, and a lot of activity on other frequencies was DMR.
The FM broadcast band in Mallorca is very busy, with the main broadcast site at Bunyola having 25 different transmitters, and another at Palma with 18. Many transmitters at Bunyola are only 300KHz apart, with a couple at 200KHz spacing!
 The masts at Bunyola, about 25km away to the north.

A few people on HF nearby

Lots of Ubiquiti 5GHz Wi-Fi links