Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting ready for CQWW CW?

It was nice to chat to Paul, M3JFM this weekend who was making some nice contacts on HF CW. I was particularly impressed when Paul told me he'd worked KC1XX around 0930z on Sunday morning, so I had to go and work KC1XX myself!

If you're just trying out CW for the first time, or if you're not, don't forget that there's more CW activity this coming weekend than any other!

73s.org video podcast

I was playing with the iPhone the other evening and I noticed a video podcast from 73s.org. I downloaded it and this morning, I had a look at it whilst I was on the train.

Presented by Chris, N7ICE, I enjoyed it. The subject matter of the podcast that I looked at was a comparison of two VHF/UHF handhelds. Chris presented it well and enthusiastically.

Chris has produced 4 podcasts so far, so I'm going to take a look at the others, which I'm looking forward to.

You might want to check out 73s.org. Chris calls it Facebook for Radio Amateurs. Looks fun. I've signed up.

Also, I've been gently taking the other approach and introducing some of my non radio-amateur friends on Facebook to some of the things we do in amateur radio. It was fun to get a phone call from a colleague at work the other day who enquired if he could ask me a question in Morse code! I said that was fine....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A quick bash on 160m

By and large I don't do much on 160m - the Butternut doesn't work particularly well. However, I can usually work the stronger signals if I tune the aerial with the FT1000MPs ATU.

Actually the tuning process is a bit tricky. If I tune on 100w, the rig's internal ATU just hunts and never tunes. If I tune the power down to micropower and try and tune it there it generally gets close enough to be able to run something close to 100w!

Anyway, remembering that last night was the RSGB 1.8MHz CW contest, I thought I'd pop on quickly and work whoever was loud. First in the log was MD0CCE and second was near neighbour Bob, G0ADH. GM4FAM was a fine signal but had more people calling, so I didn't make it through the pileup for the couple of times I called.

Ars Telegraphia

I was a little alarmed to see a tab in Firefox entitled 'Ars Telegraphia', but on closer inspection, it turned out to be Paul Evans, VP9KF/G4BKI's blog.

Paul's a very dedicated CW operator and he's currently operating from Bermuda (VP9). His blog shows the trials and tribulations that he goes through to make contacts and the very great amount of enthusiasm he has for the hobby.

Check out Paul's blog here and his comprehensive website here

Saturday, November 15, 2008

D-star - the way forward for most of us?

I had an enjoyable QSO with Ray, M0WGA (WA4WGA) in the week. We chatted a little about D-Star and Ray brought me up to speed on what had been happening since we last talked.

Of particular interest to me was the further development of adaptors to work with existing analog radios to make them work with the D-Star system. I just had a chance to take a look at one of these adapters, designed by Satoshi Yasuda, 7M3TJZ/AD6GZ

See the details here

I would gladly try out D-Star with an adapter, but would be less keen on investing in a whole new radio and I'm guessing many would feel the same.

GB3VHF - an update

A little update on the GB3VHF situation. Following the announcement last week, there was an outpouring of views. It would appear that attempts are being made to recover the situation and keep the beacon on the air. Here's the latest press release from Chris, G0FDZ.

GB3VHF closedown – new moves by the RSGB

I have today received a letter from the GM at RSGB HQ stating that the
Board has asked him to enter into discussions with the site owner, with
regard to seeking the possibility of a more realistic site rental for
GB3VHF.

This is good news indeed and I have been asked that until discussions
are completed that I keep GB3VHF on the air. This I am happy to do and I
am grateful that the Board has intervened on this matter.

The society acknowledges the historical position of the beacon and its
advanced technical parameters.

On the question of access to the site for emergency close down, I have
been approached by a colleague who has suggested a satisfactory
technical solution enabling the possibility of remote shutdown. This
would overcome the access problems that could arise ‘out of hours’.
Tests will be conducted to prove the methodology, and if satisfactory
the system will be enabled once authorisation has been obtained.

I have been assured by the RSGB that I will be kept informed of progress
and when I have any news, I will pass that onto you the users, via the
beacon website and the UK-beacons Yahoo group.

So in the meantime, please continue to enjoy using GB3VHF for your VHF
DX-ing, propagation studies and scientific tests.

Thank you and kind regards to all users.

Chris Whitmarsh G0FDZ

Beacon Keeper GB3VHF

Saturday, November 08, 2008

RF Safety and Radio Amateurs - are we the canaries in the mine?

The effects of radio transmissions on the human body are always cause for interest. Every now and then, there's a scare story about the effect of mobile phones on our health. When it comes to scientific proof either one way or another, it's never terribly clear what the conclusion is.

Sure, we see reports saying that they're safe. But those of you with longer memories will remember that at one stage, it was considered safe to stand on Christmas Island and watch an atomic bomb being exploded! I'm not suggesting that the two are in any way a parallel, but we should at least recognise that hindsight is a wonderful thing! In a few more years, when people have been using mobile phones for longer, patterns will be clearer.

As Radio Amateurs, we have been close to radio energy for longer than most, so it's therefore very interesting to see studies being made about radio amateurs and their health. I was fascinated, this week to read 'The Canaries in the Mine' by Gregory Lapin, N9GL - a study of radio amateurs which considers how RF exposure may have affected them. It makes generally encouraging reading.

Friday, November 07, 2008

GB3VHF to close next month

I'm really disappointed to have to pass on the following news, from Chris, G0FDZ regarding the forthcoming closure of the GB3VHF 2m beacon, next month. This is almost unthinkable! GB3VHF has been part of the VHF DX landscape for as long as I can remember. Whilst understanding the reasons for the closure, completely, I wonder how we can help get this valuable resource back on the air?

In the meantime, Chris - thank you for the marvellous service that GB3VHF has provided over the years.

Here is the full press release

After nearly fifty years of near continuous service from the
transmitting station at Wrotham in Kent (JO01DH), the 2 metre beacon
GB3VHF will fall silent towards the end of December 2008.

For a good few years the beacon enjoyed the site facilities at Wrotham
by means of a ‘peppercorn rent’. At this time the site was owned and
operated by the amateur radio friendly BBC.

During the 1990’s the site and facilities was acquired by Crown Castle
Transmission Ltd and around that time the RSGB were involved in
negotiations with site providers such as Crown Castle, NTL and Pye
Telecommunications Ltd, with regard to site sharing fees that the site
sharers thought more accurately reflected the true cost of accommodating
and providing mast sharing facilities for amateur radio equipment, such
as beacons and repeaters. At that time it was decided that ‘peppercorn
rents’ would cease and that site sharing costs would rise to meet a
substantial proportion of the commercial rate applicable at that time.
The rent increases were applied on an escalating scale and it was found
by many groups that the increases could not be met and consequently many
groups had to quit these sites. One example of this at the time was the
70cms repeater GB3NK which used to sit alongside GB3VHF. Once the site
rental had reached a certain level the Kent Repeater Group could not
afford to pay for any increases and so the repeater site sharing
agreement was terminated, and the repeater was removed from the site.
This story was a common feature of repeaters across the UK and most
keepers removed their units from these premier sites.

The RSGB continued to pay site rental for some beacons, which were
considered by the site owners at that time to be used for scientific
purposes (they still are!!). However, gradually the owners applied
greater site rental increases until such a time that the site rentals
became unsustainable. This is now the situation with GB3VHF and the
society has decided that they are not prepared to pay further increases
to the new site owners Arqiva Services. The RSGB have decided that
future site rentals would mean that the beacon keeper would have to pay
50% of the 2009 site rental and to pay 100% of the site rental in 2010.
As the figures involved are substantial, this is considered to be a
major expenditure and consequently not within the possibility of one
person (or even a group) to pay. One answer could be to seek donations
from users, but the task of achieving this on an annual basis and the
probability of not being able to achieve the required figure every year,
together with ever increasing annual costs make it a formidable task.
The financial liability would put the beacon keeper in a very risky
position indeed.

Another consideration which has led to the decision to close, has been
that of the problems with gaining access to the beacon site which have
been made very much more difficult during the past year. Extensive
security measures have been put into place by the site owner, thus
making ‘out of hours’ access a difficult process that cannot always be
guaranteed 24 hours a day. It is a licensing requirement that the beacon
can be closed down in an emergency at any time day or night.

These two major problems have led to the only viable decision, and that
is to cease operation of GB3VHF from the Wrotham site. This is very
regrettable as the beacon was completely modernised only two and a half
years ago and turned the beacon into one of the most advanced units of
its kind in the world.

The amateur radio community both in the UK and Europe have welcomed the
new beacon facilities such as it’s GPS locked on-air frequency accuracy,
on/off CW keying, JT65B and precise timing. Comments received have been
very favourable indeed, and I know that the beacon will be considered a
great loss to VHF users in many parts of the UK and mainland Europe.
During the last two and a half years the beacon has been received in
more than seventy locator squares and the greatest distance being
Tunisia in locator JM56HJ at 1849 kms.

As for the future, attempts will be made to secure a new viable and
sustainable site that may hopefully provide coverage similar to that
currently enjoyed. However, such sites that don’t involve enormous
rents, these days are very difficult to find, and it is likely that a
suitable site to relocate the beacon to will be some way off.

It is hoped that the beacon will return to the air in the future so that
an ‘old friend’ will once again be heard on 2 metres.

Chris Whitmarsh G0FDZ

Beacon Keeper GB3VHF

Sunday, November 02, 2008

144MHz CW

To tell the truth, I'd forgotten about the 2m CW contest this weekend until Ian, G4PDS reminded me on Friday evening.

It's been a busy weekend but I managed a few minutes to look on the band. Things were very quiet on Saturday, though I worked F6DWG/P in JN19. On Sunday morning the most distant station heard, but not worked was DK0BN. I was pleased to work Justin G4TSH operating at G0FBB.

Don't think conditions were too great, but it was a fun session anyway.

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