Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ubuntu and Amateur Radio

I had the chance over the last day or two to install VM Player on my Windows machine and install Ubuntu. It´s working well and I´m delighted with the ´regular´ software, Firefox and Twhirl working just as it should. Openoffice is fine, of course.

But what ´must have´ Amateur Radio software for Ubuntu is there to try? Let me know what I should try - I´d love to hear from you.

The Fine Art of making a QSO

I was listening to one of the Echolink gateways this morning and a couple of guys were having a contact. Well, should I say, one of them was trying to have a contact. The other chap, who, I´m guessing was newly licenced, really seemed to have little idea about how to make a contact - one word overs, no indication of what his callsign was and so on.

It would be easy to ridicule, but I don´t want to do that. It is difficult, when you first get on the air, perhaps, to work out how to conduct contacts. I daresay in ´my day´ it may have been easier, as we had been listening around the bands before getting a licence. Things have changed though - and though there is some rudimentary advice in the licence syllabii on how to make contacts, it is pretty minimal.

If you´re a beginner, what can you do to sound like you´ve been on the air for years (in a good way!)

- Listen around - this will help! Get an idea of how more experienced operators conduct their contacts, what they say and so on.

- If you suspect you may be tongue-tied, then write out some postcards with ´template QSOs´ on them (eg ´My Name is..... My QTH is..... Your report is.... Hope you copy ok..... M?XXX from G?XXX Over´ And then the next over might be something like ´M?XXX from G?XXX all copied. My equipment is.....´. And so it goes on. Hopefully you´ll soon feel more comfortable, will ad-lib and will never need your postcards again!

- Callsigns. Though you are not obligated to give callsigns on each transmission, it is good practice to do so unless you are engaged in a quick-fire back and forth. Just give your callsign at the end of each transmission. No song and dance is required ´from G4VXE over´. Phonetics are useful. If you haven´t worked someone before, then it may be helpful to give your callsign phonetically when you call them first of all. As soon as you have established contact and you are confident you have each others callsigns ok, there´s no need to spell it all out phonetically. Don´t forget at the end of the contact, though, to think about giving your callsign in phonetics. After all, someone else may be listening who might want to give you a call!

- Perhaps you may have operated on CB before hand. Don´t worry, you are very welcome on the Ham Bands. But please, leave CB jargon on the CB band where it belongs. Your ´personal´ should become your name and your ´twenty´ your QTH or location. We have our own jargon, you see! And never, ever, say ´Call´ after your callsign when you´re on the amateur bands, as in ´M3XYZ G4VXE Call´. Never.

- Sounding enthusiastic and interested! I´ve heard some people that sound like they couldn´t careless what the other person says - in fact - it almost seems the fact that someone else is on the other end of the contact passes them by. They just go along, ´talking to themselves´. Engage with your QSO partner - ask questions and respond to them. It IS meant to be fun, after all!

Well, I´m sure there´s much more that could be included, but I hope this might be of some benefit to people starting out - in how to make your contacts more interesting - and hopefully - you will sound like a seasoned pro!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Testing out the new mobile mount

My magmount for the car had got a bit loose. There were gaps around the base of the antenna which flapped around a little and I have a feeling that water was getting in somewhere, based on the fact that the SWR for the first mile or two seemed higher than normal. After that, the RF dried it out!

Anyway, the boys kindly bought me a new magmount for Christmas. I fitted it up yesterday and immediately thought that signals seemed quite a lot stronger!

This morning, Russell and I popped up to Witney. I put the radio onto MB7IDM and was pleased when Ben, JA1RTS from Tokyo called through the gateway. We had a nice chat during the short drive up the A415.

So, the antenna and mount seems to be working well. I might try the 18MHz mobile aerial this week, which I´ve not yet had a chance to have a go at.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More on MB7IDM

I've been keeping the second VFO running on 145.3375 over the last few days and have been having some nice QSOs. This morning I ran into Peter, GI4XFS/M in Bangor, Northern Ireland when we were both on the way to work. Nice QSO and great to be able to add a new dimension to the mobile operating that I do.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How can you have a good contest if you don't make any contacts?

From a contesters point of view, I don't suppose you can.

But on the other hand, the ARRL 10m contest last weekend proved very interesting from a propagation point of view, despite the fact that I didn't actually make any contacts!

I only managed a few minutes here at there on the band, mostly on CW, but I did hear a number of weak signals on several occasions. Mostly the signals were from Spain, though several Gs were heard via ground-wave/tropo. A GM station was heard briefly, I assume via meteor-scatter.

So, all in all, it made an interesting operating session or two. What was particularly interesting was that when I was listening to the EA stations coming in by meteor scatter, quite late on - the 15 and 2om bands were completely quiet here.

December tropo

It doesn't seem terribly unusual to have a little VHF tropo propagation in December. I think it was a couple of years ago - the band seemed to be open into the Netherlands and Germany for around a week around Christmas time - so much so that it almost became dull!

On Monday evening, whilst I was driving home, I heard a station from Kensal Green, London accessing the GB3WH repeater. Although nothing seemed out of the ordinary on the FM channels, I had a quick look when I got home.

Sure enough the GB3VHF beacon in Kent and F5XAM near Calais were above normal by several S-points. I called CQ on 144.3 SSB and 144.05 CW without any luck. I decided to try a CW CQ on 432.2 and was delighted when a weak signal replied to me. It proved to be ON7WP - we had a quick but pleasant QSO.

I couldn't detect any other stations active in the short time that I was on, but it was good to make the contact. The band was still in good shape when I went to work on Tuesday morning, but the tropo had collapsed by Tuesday evening and GB3VHF was weaker than usual!

The MB7IDM gateway

Earlier this week, when conditions were quite good, I was scanning up and down the 2m FM channels to see what was coming through. The receiver picked up some activity on 145.3375. I could tell that the signals didn't have much to do with the tropo opening so I moved on, but filed the frequency away for future reference.

Once the band had returned to normal, I came back to 145.3375 to take a look. It became clear that there was an Internet gateway, MB7IDM on the frequency. A quick look at Google revealed that the gateway was located at Calvert in Buckinghamshire, run by Gary, 2E0RHR.

For the last couple of days, I've been listening to the gateway off and on, but it wasn't until that I got around to plugging the frequency into the rig, along with the CTCSS frequency (103.5hz) that I found I was able to access the gateway.

Coming home this evening, I was able to have a contact with Will, MW3WSC in Porthmadoc through the gateway, which was great fun. Hopefully I shall be able to use the gateway more regularly now that I have figured it out. I may even be able to put the DTMF keypad to good use and work out how to connect to different nodes.

Thanks to Gary, 2E0RHR for putting the system on.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

ARRL's 10 metre contest this weekend

One of my favourite HF contests, given the right conditions is the ARRL 10m contest. It takes place this coming weekend from 0000 on Saturday to 2359z on Sunday night.

The big question is what will conditions be like? During CQWW, I listened briefly on 10m but didn't hear anything other than a local beacon.

Over the 48 hours, some openings should occur, but it's a question of catching them! Let's hope some contacts will be possible. If you're in the shack, why not leave the rig running around 28500 on SSB, or perhaps 28005-010 on CW.

Sporadic E or Meteor Scatter during the daytime may be possible whilst late afternoon or early evening may show openings to South America or Africa. Let's hope so!

EA6 active on 70MHz

From Leo, SV2DCD comes news that he's worked Mike, EA6SX during the recent Geminids meteor shower on 70Mhz. Reflections were good, reports Leo, culminated in continuous copy over the last 3 periods (perhaps some Es around).

Mike, EA6SX is using 10 watts to a yagi. Let's hope there will be a possibility to work him next year via Sporadic E.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What a difference one person can make...

I want to take a moment to tell you about Mike, G0UWU. For the last four years, since I've had the VHF radio in the car to operate on my commute, Mike's been a 'regular fixture' on the 7am shift on GB3WH and I've enjoyed hundreds of QSOs with him whilst he's been driving from home in Gloucester to work at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.

Well, a week ago yesterday, Mike retired. So he doesn't have to do that long commute anymore. I'm sure he's pleased about that - and I wish him every happiness for his retirement. But it's not the same in the morning without Mike to chat to!

But the point of this post, apart from wishing Mike well - is to highlight the difference that one person's activity on the bands can make.

Be that difference!

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