Wednesday, 28 December 2016

New Camera

For Christmas, I got a new camera, a Canon SX410, which replaces my Panasonic Lumix FZ38.
Slightly smaller but with 40x optical zoom instead of 18x. I've had the FZ38 for over 7 years now, and before that I had a Konica Minolta Z2.
For the last 4 years the FZ38 has had a bit of dust inside the lens which could be seen on photos when using high zoom levels.

SX410 with the distant houses around 4km away


FZ38 with dust inside lens

Yesterday I managed to lose some pictures off the SD card, half way through copying them onto the PC, Windows said the card wasn't formatted and even after using Photorec, only about half of them could be recovered. Note to self: that's what the write protect switch is for on the card (not that I've ever used it).

I've ordered a Baofeng GT-3 (Mk 2) dualbandheld after selling the Alinco DJ-G7 triple bander. A bit of a downgrade, I know, going from a £300 to a £30 radio but lately I've not been making much use of the handheld radios, especially not on 23cm. I decided not to go for the cheapest Baofeng dual band radio, after reading reviews of the GT-3 which said there was some difference in performance.
I've also ordered a new battery for my DMR handheld (MD-380 clone) so I can use it portable again and not just rely on the battery eliminator.

One of my goals for 2017 is to make more blog posts, at least one every week if possible, even if they might not all be radio related (if not then they will probably be electronics themed).



Friday, 16 December 2016

No FT-817

I no longer have an FT-817 (or anything which can receive or transmit SSB on any frequency).
Still got 28MHz FM from the FT-8900 in the car, so I do have HF, but I usually forget about that as I don't drive round with any antenna which can do 10 metres.
The 817 needed some work doing on it which after months I never got round to doing, but hopefully someone else has got it sorted now (or just using it to listen on).

Off to Manchester tomorrow in the car so I should be getting some APRS reports as I travel down the motorway. Been running APRS for just over 7 years now. Many new radios come with APRS built in now, but what would make them better would be some kind of internet connection via WiFi or ethernet, so they could work as APRS internet gateways (either on receive only or both rx and tx).

Monday, 17 October 2016

Benchmark

Desktop above
Laptop below - the 3D graphics was actually better on the laptop. I'm obviously not a hardcore gamer!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Apple Care

This weekend, I've been busy sorting out family iPhones, as two new ones arrived, and the others were handed down to other family members, needing them all resetting and restoring from backups.
After nearly 5 years of having a "normal size" iPhone (4 through to the 5S), my wife now has an iPhone 6S Plus, and wonders how she ever managed with a smaller screen. The Plus sized iPhone looks even bigger than my Galaxy Note 4, because of the extra space below the screen needed to fit a circular Home button.
Me, I'm sticking with Android for now, even though Apple have had 2 models of big screen iPhones. I've nothing really against the iPhone or iOS, and I would say that it's a good choice for a lot of people (it Just Works), but there are a few negatives..
1) No Wi-Fi scanning apps. You can't see anything like
 and this is a definite NO for me. This is the number one reason I won't have a phone with iOS. I know jailbroken phones can run this kind of thing but why get an iOS device in the first place if Android phones can do it with no mods? To most people this wouldn't make any difference but as somebody who is interested in radio stuff, not being able to get detailed information about radio frequency signals such as channel number is no good. 
2)Limited file management options. It's not easy to work with files on an iOS device that have been created somewhere else unless they arrive through some cloud service. Moving photos off to a PC/Mac to free up space is easy but putting them back on isn't simply the reverse of that process. 

I do have one iOS device of my own, which is an iPod Touch (6th generation 16GB), that is normally in airplane mode and used for playing music when I'm out of the house. It sometimes goes online though, if I want to put my phone on charge when at home I'll use it as a standby "phone". I've used iPods for music for over 10 years (started with an iPod Mini 4GB in green), before there was iOS or iPhones. I found that it was actually better not to have a music player that was just a dumb removable drive, as with a large music collection, things like play counts, ratings and smart playlists mattered. There isn't a popular non-Apple standard for managing this kind of data, I can't plug a USB drive of mp3s into my car audio system and have it write to a file with the time that each one was played or whether I skipped it, then have my smart TV play only the ones I'd not played in the last 7 days. 
Maybe in a few years the patents will expire for everything an iPod does and somebody will have a go at it, but by that time it will all be done through streaming music apps.

Old Versions

Yesterday I was faced with a tough decision, one which could have had serious consequences. Should I delete some old Firefox installers from nearly 10 years ago (version 2.0), from my collection of downloads that had been building up (a few thousand different applications, mostly freeware stuff which I might have used once and uninstalled in 2008). I keep these on a 32GB USB drive so I can quickly go to another machine and install something
Would I ever need to install a new browser when I had no internet connection to download one? Yes, I work with some PCs which have no internet connection but still need a browser to configure switches, routers etc. (and IE is an older version than we need) but outside of work, probably never.
There is always OldVersion.com which has more old software than you would ever need, including stuff which wouldn't even work if you installed it as the servers (Windows Live Messenger etc.) don't exist any more.
I like to think I could have the files ready to sort out a PC running anything back to about Windows 98, if anybody I knew had a problem with it but I can't even think of anybody using XP now outside of a business.

There is still plenty of software for Windows which was released over 10 years ago that is still usable (including in Windows 10), and what might been seen as bloatware with pointless features back then is now pretty lightweight compared to the latest version and does just what you need it to do (MS Office 2003, Adobe Reader apart from the security issues).

Here are two of the oldest downloaded applications I still have (both files dated 20th September 1999). Both installed and running in Windows 10.

Real Producer G2
Remember Real Audio? The very low bitrate codec which could be used to stream over a dial up internet connection? The one where you were locked into using Real's own software to do anything?
At the time I hadn't started collecting or ripping my CD music in mp3 format. Real Producer was handy for recording radio shows off air as it could record directly to disk at 20kbit/s (only 10MB per hour) at listenable (better than AM radio, about 10KHz mono audio bandwidth). I think my PC at the time with its 187MHz CPU would be struggling to encode mp3 in real time so Real Audio was pretty good in that way.
Article about Real Producer G2 from 1999
I didn't find a download link for this (even at oldversion.com) but there is still a Mac version (for Classic Mac OS) at Tucows.



The File Splitter
At the time, this was a very useful application. If it wasn't for this, I wouldn't have Real Producer as I had to split the download to fit it onto floppy disks to get off the PC in the library at uni. This was before CD writers were standard, and 9 days before I bought my first CD writer for £200.
The application is still available to download (last version 1.31, released in 2005)
Yes, I deleted it (still there in Crashplan though, and on a DVD) but I replaced it with version 1.0 instead!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Weekend on 145.500

Here is a log of daytime activity heard at my house on 145.500 (somewhere around 9am - 3pm) this weekend. I recorded it while I wasn't at the radio and had a listen through the recordings tonight. I think I have all the callsigns right.

Saturday 8th October 2016:
Listen to the recording
M6ANX (Barrow) calling
2E0LBI (Barrow) replied to M6ANX
M3RDZ called M6VGU
G0MRL called G0KNK
2E0LBI (mobile) called 2E0EVD and G0GSJ
M0TEB/M (Barrow) replied to 2E0LBI
GW4TJC/P called CQ from SOTA NW-039 Foel Goch
2E0LBI/P called CQ
M6ANX replied to 2E0LBI/P
MI0RRE replied to someone
MI0HBO called another MI0 station
M6ANX called 2E0SLK
2E0LBI called M6DHV
MI0GDO called MI0TLG/M
M6ANX called G4RQJ

That's quite a few stations from Northern Ireland, there might have been a bit of a lift on VHF today


Sunday 9th October 2016:
Listen to the recording
2E0LBI/P called 2E0EVD
M3RDZ called M6VGU (Burnley)
G0HIO/P called CQ SOTA - no location given on the air but from the Sotawatch website spots, it was probably Tarn Crag LD-026.
M6UXH/P calling CQ WOTA from LDW014 Blencathra (also SOTA LD008). Not very many replies to her CQ calls. Signal got better towards the end.
2E0MIX (Whitehaven) called M6UXH/P
2E0EVD called M0TEB
G8INU had a word with 2E0RZG before they went to 433.525 (Lytham St Annes area)
G6POI (Burton In Kendal) called G0??? and spoke to G0KSS and G3VVT (Kendal and Burton, neither of whom I could hear)
G0UAA (Burnley) called G0OCK
M6DHV (Barrow) called 2E0SLK




Thursday, 6 October 2016

Shack Pics

Some pictures of radios, just so I can post something on my blog

Radios above:
Puxing PX777 (VHF)
Retevis RT-3 (Tytera MD-380)
Wouxun KG-699E VHF Lo-Band
Uniden Bearcat UBC3500XLT
Puxing PX-2 (UHF)
Puxing PX777 (UHF)
iPod Classic 160GB
Alinco DJ-G7E (2m,70cm,23cm)
RF Explorer 240-960MHz





Wednesday, 10 August 2016

WSPR Stats

After looking at how many people are using DMR, I thought I'd look into how many people were using one of my favourite modes - WSPR. As almost every reception report is logged and displayed online, this is quite easy.
I got the data from KB9AMG's site which shows "2 way" reception reports. These are where both stations have logged reception of each other and uploaded this to the WSPR spots database, rather than actually having a 2 way QSO. This is a pretty reliable way of counting all stations who were active, removing any false decodes.
I combined the data from the months of May, June and July 2016.

In 3 months, in England, 493 stations were active on WSPR.
Breakdown by callsign type:
2E0 = 45
2E1 = 3
G0 = 56
G1 = 21
G2 = 1
G3 = 50
G4 = 91
G6 = 20
G7 = 32
G8 = 29
M0 = 103
M1 = 12
M3 = 10
M5 = 4
M6 = 16

Compared to the figures for DMR (see the last blog post), there is much less interest from Foundation and Intermediate licence holders. As with DMR, the M0 callsigns are the most common (21%, compared to 16% of DMR), but G4s are not far behind at 18%, which is much higher than their 10% share of DMR registrations.

Worldwide, there were a total of 3990 stations active in the 3 months on WSPR. Most of these were only active in one of the 3 months
Breakdown by months active:
3 = 871 (22%)
2 = 935
1 = 2184

Where are all the G0s? Shouldn't there be at least as many as G4s (G0 callsign range was almost fully issued) and M0s (still not fully issued)?

Monday, 8 August 2016

DMR Stats

Had a look at how many people are registered on the DMR MARC database, from the UK. This gives a rough idea of how many people have ever transmitted on a DMR radio in the amateur bands. There's nothing stopping you setting the radio ID to anything you want, especially on simplex, but I think most people would register.

Total DMR IDs:
19th May 2016 = 3641
8th August 2016 = 4035
That's an increase of about 10% in the last 71 days (or 6 new IDs per day). It's still only around 5% of the total UK amateur licences. But 4000 is a very large number if you compare it with say the number of people entering a VHF contest or logging Summits On The Air contacts in the database.
It will be interesting to see how the total increases over time, 

Breakdown by callsign type (England only)
Total England = 3353
2E0 = 496
2E1 = 38
G0 = 306
G1 = 185
G2 = 7
G3 = 92
G4 = 331
G5 = 4
G6 = 182
G7 = 225
G8 = 185
M0 = 533
M1 = 124
M3 = 163
M5 = 12
M6 = 470

That may or may not be a reflection of how many of each callsign type are active on the air in general, as newly licenced amateurs could be more attracted to modern tech gadgets rather than traditional equipment.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Two Decades of M1AVV

Tomorrow will be the 20th anniversary of me having an amateur radio licence. The date on my licence was 6th August 1996 but it wasn't till 18 days later I knew my callsign. Partly because I was on holiday and the licence was on the doormat when I got home, but stuff just took so much longer before we all had internet access. 



I got the licence aged 15, so I'm "only" 35 now.
My first amateur transceiver was a Rexon RL102 144MHz handheld, and at the time was the cheapest proper handie (it was just under £100 but there were very low power radios for a bit less). Nowadays something of that spec would be about £20 from Baofeng, but it was pretty good at the time.
Things have changed a bit in the last 20 years, there were digital modes but most packet was through bulletin boards rather than the unconnected APRS messaging used now. I think repeater use has gone down (at least on the analogue ones), with simplex FM use maybe increasing in some areas with people coming off CB. There were a lot more people on repeaters actually mobile driving to/from work.
Back in '96 you didn't have to worry about what CTCSS tone to use (1750hz toneburst always worked), narrow deviation (nobody used the 12.5khz channels) and definitely no talkgroups. But even now I'm not keen on asking people to go to a 12.5khz offset channel on 145MHz simplex, I still don't bother programming them as memories, so feel free to talk about me on 145.5875 or something.
In the 20 years, I've probably had a contact with someone at least once in every single month, and the longest I've gone without having a radio switched on receiving amateur frequencies will be about a week (well it was our honeymoon!). I always think I can make more of an effort in answering or making calls though.
I was M3ICQ for 2 years (did the Foundation morse test to get on HF as an M3 in 2002) and also KC0PUZ for 10 years (did the US exam at Harrogate rally in 2003, licences expire after 10 years and never renewed it).

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Bigland Barrow

A visit to Bigland Barrow, one of Wainwright's Outlying Fells (WOTA LDO-112).
I'd set off this morning to do Gummer's How (SOTA G/LD-050) but the traffic slowed to a halt at Haverthwaite so I diverted to Bigland Hall and walked to Bigland Barrow instead.
This is one of my nearest Outlying Fells (or any Wainwright) and is only a short walk.
Took the FT-817 and W50 antenna, which was a change for this summit as it's usually somewhere I just want a quick walk to and only need the one contact to qualify for WOTA.
Today I made 8 QSOs, including G0HIO/P on Harter Fell SOTA G/LD-028.

View of almost the entire walk from where I parked

 A few local summits to the west

"Wartime relic, now in a state of disrepair", which is useful for increasing the antenna height


I should have been here

Another Outlying Fell, Newton Fell North is around 3km to the east. This is used as a Wi-Fi link site and one of the channels was strong enough to be picked up on my phone (SSID NF-SH, channel 116, 5580MHz) as Bigland Barrow is almost directly in line with the beam.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Billinge Hill

Friday's activation of Billinge Hill SOTA G/SP-017
Used the Alinco handheld and 40cm whip. Not as bad for overload from all the masts as I thought it would be, even on 145MHz any interference was gone at the lowest attenuator setting (about 3dB?) so it wasn't really a problem.
Most of the transmitters on Billinge are between 163 and 183 MHz, so some way from the 2m amateur band, and on the mast furthest from the summit. Apart from Airwave TETRA around 393MHz, I don't think there are any UHF transmitters up there any more.
I made 8 QSOs from Billinge Hill, 7 on 145MHz and one on 433MHz. The furthest was G4ING who was in Hyde, around 42km away, also only on a handheld.

Summit of Billinge Hill


View towards Winter Hill


Remains of something

4 masts on Billinge Hill

Cropped from my phone camera so not the best quality, this is the one with the broadcast antennas on, and looks like it would have had emergency services pre-Airwave. About halfway up are the DAB yagis pointing towards Liverpool. Wish FM 102.4 looks like 2 crossed yagis, one towards Wigan and the other towards St Helens. The other mast is probably from the analogue mobile phone days.

Very busy mast with most of the high VHF stuff on. Furthest from the summit.

Apart from the microwave dishes, only a couple of low VHF dipoles. These might not even be used any more.

On the way here, I stopped at the slightly lower Ashurst Beacon, further north on the other side of the M58. This would be a much better place to play radio from if not after the SOTA activation, with a large car park and land open to the public. There are two viewpoints with car parks, about 2km apart on the ridge, one is better for the north, the other for the south.
Here is the trigpoint at the south viewpoint (168 metres)

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Brant Fell and New Car

On Saturday I was at Windermere in the morning so I had a quick walk up Brant Fell (WOTA LDO-113) on the way home. Just took the Alinco handheld up there and made 2 contacts, M0AYB/P who was on the way up St Sunday Crag from Patterdale, and M0LKB at Ulverston.
Parked at SD413961 on the road to the east of the fell, where there is a parking space at the start of the footpath.










On Thursday I picked up the new(ish) car, a Nissan Note N-Tec 1.4 petrol. It has built in satnav, Bluetooth and USB music playback.
No less than 3 12v sockets - one below the dash, one behind the front seats and one in the boot. Also some good places to keep a radio out of the way.



Fixing the FT-8900 head unit to a phone holder. Screwed back together after putting cable ties through.
 




Sunday, 1 May 2016

Car Electrics

In the last few weeks I'd been having some trouble with the Yaesu FT-8900 radio which I have in the car. When switching it on, it displays the DC voltage and I'd noticed that it was very low. Under 11v with engine off. I've got the FT-8900 wired up the way that every instruction manual ever written tells you not to - through a cigar lighter plug. This is not usually a problem, I've never had a radio connected any other way in the car and never used over 20 watts mobile from the FT-8900. Also, the radio is transmitting APRS while I'm driving, with around a 1% duty cycle and 20 watts.
At first I thought the car battery was not charging and would soon be completely dead, but I did a check with the engine running and the voltage did go up, so the alternator was OK. The voltage while charging did seem a bit low, maybe 12.8v. This was while I had the radio on receive, but when switching it off, the voltage went up to the normal 14-ish. That's a big voltage drop for something drawing under 1 amp on receive. I checked the voltage drop between the negative wire on the radio and the car body, and it was very low.

It turned out the connection between the lighter plug and the socket was bad, because there was something that looked like a burn mark on the centre contact of the socket. Something had probably knocked the plug out slightly and the resistance had increased.
I cleaned the contacts up and the total voltage drop with 20 watts transmit power is around 0.3v (including the wiring from the battery).
 With the engine running, there must have just been enough voltage at the FT-8900 to let it transmit (or at least look like it was - nobody picks me up on APRS round here anyway!). I'm guessing below about 9v the radio will shut down.

One other thing I learned from all this is that the Nissan Juke (and probably lots of other cars) doesn't keep the battery charging all the time when the engine is running. This is something I'd never thought of before, normally you would leave the engine running if you wanted to power something that might drain the battery - like a high power transmitter.
After starting the car, the alternator is connected to the battery, but once the battery voltage reaches a certain value, it cuts off when the car thinks it is fully charged. Now this is a problem because I don't think the "fully charged" voltage is really fully charged, and it just replaces what energy was used the last time the car was started, and then cuts off. Searching online, I found that this is a known issue with certain Nissan Jukes and the batteries never charge properly. It also effects add-on lights which detect the battery voltage to switch on when the engine is running. Putting a load on the battery (the headlights usually work) can switch the alternator back onto the battery as the car sees a voltage drop and thinks the battery needs charging.

Monitoring battery voltage (engine stopped) with a CellLog 8S

Wiring to radio and APRS tracker. The FT-8900 cable is soldered directly inside the 3-way splitter. The APRS tracker is on the lighter plug, so I can disconnect it when not wanting to transmit data.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

WotIHeard

I've started a SoundCloud page where I upload recordings of radio activity, usually 145.500 at weekends and bank holidays.
These have the gaps taken out, and I try and get at least 11am - 3pm (peak time for SOTA activations etc.) when I'm not at the radio.

I'm using a Yaesu FT-7900 and Comet GP-15 triband antenna. At 145MHz the coax has about 1.5dB more loss than it really should do, because of some RG-58 extending it out of the loft. But on VHF, the receiver is limited by external noise, there is always some reading on the signal meter with an antenna plugged in (only the 7900 has a meter sensitive enough to show anything on external noise). No, even on 145MHz you can't get away from noise generated by electronic devices in a built up area.
Audio comes from the 'data' socket on the 7900, directly to the unbalanced input of a Edirol UA-25 USB audio capture. The UA-25 has a peak limiter enabled on the input, this only operates on bursts of noise or very high deviation signals.
Recording is threshold activated on the PC, at -29dB and 1 second release delay. The FT-7900's squelch only cuts the 'data' output by about 30dB when closed, so this is as low as the threshold can be without unwanted recordings.
After recording, I copy the left channel to both left and right, apply another limiter (in software) with a -6dB threshold to cut down the 'clicks' when the squelch opens/closes and level out differences between people using a mix of 2.5 and 5KHz deviation (I don't think the FT-7900 has narrow and wide filters based on the transmit deviation setting, like the more expensive Yaesu mobiles).
I should also do a low-cut filter too, it doesn't sound like the low frequencies are rolled off much in the radio, and as well as the DC clicks when the squelch opens/closes, I can hear who has their CTCSS left on when not on repeater channels.
I also use the Edirol UA-25 when I'm running the APRS gateway, with the PC's internal audio used for HF data modes. The red plug in the photo also comes from the 'data' 6-pin DIN socket, but that is from the 9600 baud packet output, giving unfiltered, unsquelched receive audio. This is good enough to use with digital voice decoding software like DSD+ to receive DMR transmissions. I don't think it works quite as well as a proper DMR radio but it's handy because if I find a DMR signal when using the FT-7900, I can quickly start up DSD+ and check it out, rather than having to change radio.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

WSPR in Linux

I'm typing this from Linux Mint 17.3, while running WSPR. It was quite easy to install the Windows version of WSPR 4 using Wine. The only problems were no choice of sound devices (I have both internal and USB audio, often a different radio application is using each one) and the list of serial ports for CAT control of the radio still showed COM1 etc. which don't exist in Linux. I think these can be set up to use the proper device but I just chose VOX to transmit.
When I was installing Linux Mint I chose to install it alongside Windows, and it installed itself on an external USB HDD (with the boot menu on the internal HDD).
You can see on the screenshot where I had to turn the input level up from its default of 0. It still managed to decode 2 stations with only half the time slot though.


Friday, 5 February 2016

DMR

Everyone else seems to be getting DMR equipment so I thought I'd get one myself - a Retevis RT-3 UHF handheld. It's a clone of the Tytera MD-380 and one of the cheapest, at under £120.
I've used it on my local repeater GB7MB (Heysham, Colour Code 1, 439.700 MHz) and also simplex where there is quite a bit of activity on 438.5875 MHz round the Barrow-In-Furness area.
I've not been much of a repeater user but I like the way you can see the activity on any repeater using the DMR live monitor
GB7MB log 
I can also receive a few other DMR repeaters at home:
GB7PN 439.425 Prestatyn (2nd best)
GB7CA 430.925 Douglas, Isle Of Man
GB7TP  439.6875 Keighley