Friday, January 22, 2010

WSPR vs CW - what's the signal advantage?

I was chatting to Justin, G4TSH last night. I told him about my experiments with WSPR on 7MHz and of course, couldn't resist telling him that my 1 watt WSPR signal had been heard in Tasmania. Justin wondered whether a 1W CW signal would have been heard in the same circumstances.

My feeling, at least based on the propagation at the time was that it probably wouldn't have been possible; it was a typical noisy evening on 7MHz, so my guess was that any QRP CW transmission would have been wiped out. Justin felt you could have probably made a rubber stamp '599/599' type QSO! Maybe, in the right conditions, but I think he might have been a little optimistic!

Thinking about it, I wondered if there's been any comparison about the advantage of WSPR over CW for reporting. A quick Google found me an interesting link on Roger, G3XBM's blog, who'd considered this very point.

Roger had asked Joe, K1JT, father of WSPR and the 'WS modes' for his comments and I've taken the liberty of reproducing Joe's reply to Roger;

"For an answer to your question about relative sensitivities of CW, WSPR, and some of the other modes implemented in WSJT, let me suggest going to the "References" link on the WSJT web site, ,
and select reference #11. Table 3 on page 9 gives the information you asked about. The difference given there is about 11 dB, in favor of WSPR over ear-and-brain CW. For most operators, the difference is more like 15 dB."

If we assume 6dB per S-point and that a 1 watt CW signal was S1 (or so), then a WSPR signal could be very weak and still detected. And of course, the repetitive nature of WSPR transmissions means that they may be heard where a 'random' CW transmission might not be.

Of course, in some ways, this is an unfair comparison. WSPR is purely a reporting mode whereas CW is a conversational tool, but it certainly suggests considerable advantages in using WSPR for propagation testing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Zen and the Art of RadioTelegraphy by Carlo, IK0YGJ

Carlo Consoli, IK0YGJ has written a book, an e-book really, called 'Zen and the Art of RadioTelegraphy. It's a super piece of writing that clearly has taken a considerable amount of time and effort.

In his introduction, Carlo writes, 'This book is the result of several years of experience in amateur radiotelegraphy. It suggests, for the first time, a learning methodology based on an integrated and multidisciplinary approach designed to accompany the apprentice from the first steps in ham radio all the way to a world-class proficiency in telegraphy. The book introduces, ad-hoc tailored to amateur radio, techniques used successfully by competitive athletes, including extreme sports such as free diving, adapted to the difficult process of learning telegraphy.

This book is not only written for the benefit of amateur radio operators who
want to learn this beautiful art, but it also meets the urgent need felt by the author to narrate his own path of development that has radically transformed him and the many friends with whom he shared the pleasure of such a long learning process and the immense joy of the discovery, both from the technical and from the human point of view.'

The book covers Carlo's suggestions on how to learn the Morse Code. But it's a lot more than that. Carlo covers the 'Zen bit', the psychology of learning - in this case the learning of Morse, but goes on to talk about how to set up your paddle, your keyer. He talks about 'Building your CW career' and even discusses a linguistic analysis of amateur telegraphy.

Carlo has a fun and lively style and I'd recommend the book to anyone who is learning Morse and interested in how to succeed - but I'd also recommend it to anyone who enjoys Morse.

Download it here

Thank you to Justin, G4TSH for passing this along!

OK2BVG hears G3XBM on 500khz at a distance of 1229 kms

Yesterday, I blogged about the tests that Roger, G3XBM was making with his 1mW ERP signal on 500khz. The great news is that Lubos OK2BVG has heard Roger's signal at a distance of 1229 kms. Really impressive! Actually, Lubos clearly has an excellent receive setup as he has heard G3ZJO's 200 MICROwatt ERP signal.

On G3XBM's blog, Lubos describes that he established a remote station at a quiet, country location to listen on 500khz and has been controlling his receiver via the Internet.

So, the 1000km barrier is broken. Just how far will a 1mW ERP 500khz signal go?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Can you help G3XBM on his 1mW 500khz challenge?

One of the blogs that I've been enjoying recently has been Roger, G3XBM's and in particular, following his quest to be heard over a distance of 1000 kms on 1mW of WSPR on the 500khz 'band'. He's doing well and has been heard up to 990kms by DL4RAJ but getting a report from over 1000kms is proving elusive!

Roger hints that he might not be running his 500khz WSPR system many more times this winter, so is keen to try and get as many people as possible to listen for him. Can you listen on 500khz on WSPR? Are you in Poland, Austria, Czech Republic or Sweden? Could you leave your receiver running on 503.900khz overnight for the next few nights? Have a go - it would be great to help Roger break the 1000kms barrier. Actually, even if you're not in those countries and fancy listening - why not give it a go, Roger will be pleased to get your report!

Actually, I wonder whether there is any possibility of some greyline propagation at UK sunrise which might help break the barrier?

Either way, it's a fascinating experiment - good luck, Roger!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Setting up my DV Dongle

My Christmas present this year from Julie was a DV Dongle. Unfortunately, supplies were short and despite ordering well in advance of Christmas, the DV Dongle didn't arrive until yesterday. Don't feel sorry for me, I had lots of lovely things at Christmas, so it was fun to have a Christmas present in January!

The DV Dongle is a bit of kit which contains the codecs to allow the digitally encoded D-STAR data to be processed by a PC and turned into audio (and text). First impression on unwrapping it was - 'that's small'!

Installation proved reasonably straightforward. First step was to download the device drivers from DVDongle.Com. Once that was done, I could see the pulsing green LED from the dongle - indicating it was working.

The next step was to download the DVTool software which allows you to connect to the D-STAR network and make QSOs. The Installation instructions on DVDongle.Com point you to a Java application. I installed it and tried to run it. Lots of disk spinning but no application. I couldn't see what was wrong. Around this point, on the DVDongle Yahoo Group I found some references to a WIN32 version of the DVTool application. I wondered whether I would have more luck with that, so downloaded it and installed it. Ran it up and could see that the application was failing owing to the lack of an 'input device'. Ah ok... let me plug the microphone in! Having done that, both the Java based and Win32 DVTool were quite happy to start!

I started off with the Java application. Following a little bit of abortive connecting to various D-STAR repeaters around the world and hearing nothing, I pointed my web browser at DSTARUSERS.ORG to see a list of currently active stations! Having done that, I was able to connect the DVDongle to a repeater in North America and hear activity! I found that using the Win32 application, I was able to see the transmitted data from the users, such as their callsigns, URCALL, RPT1 and RPT2 data. In addition, using the 'History' tab I could see the recent users of the repeater.

A first DVDongle QSO was made with Mark, G0LGJ driving towards Norwich, through the GB7PI repeater. Mark was kind enough to give me an audio report (back that microphone gain off a little!) and help me work out how to drive the software. Mark recommended I stick with the Win32 application as he had found it more reliable and to have a smaller memory footprint than the Java application.

After signing with Mark, I enjoyed listening to a number of QSOs taking place around the world from California to Australia. There's something quite magical about being able to 'parachute' into different parts of the world and make some interesting QSOs.

Some people will of course argue that the DV Dongle is not RF and is 'cheating'. I have some sympathy for the view. But, on the other hand, I'm not making 'Dongle to Dongle' contacts with no RF. By connecting to a repeater and having a QSO, we're at least making sure that there's plenty of on-air activity taking place around the world. And it's not as if this is the sum total of my amateur radio activity - I'm on RF in plenty of other places!

So, I'm really excited to be able to play D-STAR easily from home as well as from my E-92 handheld when I'm out and about. It will be fun to have the opportunity to listen to the worldwide D-STAR activity and I'm sure, make lots of interesting contacts.

Thank you, Julie, for my wonderful Christmas present!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Worth a read: David, W6DTW on shooting ourselves in the foot

I haven't come across David, W6DTW's blog before, but it's well worth a read.

His latest post on Shooting ourselves in the foot: Amateur Radio's Culture of Exclusion is well worth a read. David describes the problem admirably, though doesn't really suggest how we might find a solution (which I think most of us would struggle to do!)

David's point about Twitter in the last paragraph is well made and I know will cause some friends in two CW clubs I could mention, a wry smile!

Check out too, David's posting on 'An example of why Amateur Radio is failing to attract young people'. Interesting points.

Practically, there's an interesting link from K6DBG on how to turn a WiFi router into an APRS digi.

Thanks for some thought provoking posts, David! I've added you to my RSS reader!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

APRS-IS for Windows by Lynn, KJ4ERJ

Thanks to Julian, G4ILO (who, by the way has a really excellent blog over at I was reading about APRS-IS for Windows written by Lynn Deffenbaugh, KJ4ERJ.

Lynn has ported the code that he wrote for a Windows Mobile client to the Windows platform for a really useful APRS desktop client. To get the software, which is free you need to join the APRSISCE32 Yahoo group. The software is a work in progress, but it's good enough for me!

Installation is straightforward, though if you (like me) have a habit of not reading instructions, bear in mind that you enter your callsign, centre the map on your location and then exit the program to save the settings! I didn't and wondered why I was getting NOCALL as my station callsign.

It's a nice APRS desktop client and seems to work well. If you have a Windows Mobile/CE device then it will be worth trying that software out too!

Monday, January 04, 2010

So you want to be a Polar Bear QRP operator?

If you've watched some of Steve, WG0AT's Peanut and Rooster videos, then you might have wondered, as I did, what the Polar Bear operators that are often mentioned are.

This lunchtime, I did some hasty research! It turns out that the EPA QRP Club (N3EPA)are the creators of the Polar Bear QRP Club. As you can read here members of the Polar Bear QRP Club agree to take their radios to the great outdoors and operate in the months of October to March.

You can join the ranks of the Polar Bears at their Yahoo Groups List here

Hmmm. I could dress myself up warm, walk up Harrowdown Hill, taking the FT817 a battery and an aerial and see what I could do.... The Polar Bear events are listed here. The next event is currently scheduled for the 30th January, 2010 and is excitingly titled 'The Wolf Moon'.

OK. Here goes the seemingly obligatory public safety message. I'm enticing you to go out in the cold and operate your radio. Wrap up warm, be safe and don't sue me if you freeze, ok? Seriously, as with any outdoor radio activity you need to take care, but you know that....!

I know more and more people who are combining their love of the outdoors with a simple approach to amateur radio - hopefully this will appeal to you!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Another new CW club - The Essex CW Club

Is there something in the air at the moment? News now that another morse club has recently been founded. The founders of the Essex CW Club are based in Essex in the UK, but are looking for members from further afield. The group states

Essex CW Amateur Radio Club is for anyone with a passion for Morse Code. Although the founders were from Essex, England, we welcome members from much further afield. In fact it would be great to hear from like-minded folk from anywhere in the UK and beyond.

If you are already proficient in CW, then you can join as a full member. If you aspire to learn CW and become proficient in using it on-air, then please join as an associate member. There are plenty of people in the club who are able to help you learn and progress with your CW skills and offer advice in how to make the most progress with your learning.

Membership is free, though donations are encouraged.

G1FCW is the club callsign and the club meets on-air (using CW of course!) on the last Wednesday of each month on 3,540 KHz +/- QRM at 19:30 hrs UTC. We also meet on 14.045 MHz ± QRM at 16:00 hrs UTC on alternate Tuesdays (from 12/1/10), for our more distant members. Listen out for G1FCW and call in if you can!

Read more about the club here

Saturday, January 02, 2010

If you're after a couple of Radio Resolutions for the New Year?

Yesterday, I was 'tuning' around a few conferences and repeaters on Echolink and I was struck by how quiet they were. That must surely be a reflection of how quiet the VHF/UHF bands are. So, can I suggest a couple of 'radio resolutions' to you for the New Year?

1) Every day, try to call CQ on one of the bands that you are active on! It doesn't matter which band it is - but call CQ! Don't just call one of your regular contacts, but make sure that you're available for people you don't know or who may be listening waiting for a chance to contact you.

2) Let no CQ go unanswered! If you hear a CQ that isn't answered - answer it yourself. So often, it seems to be that you hear someone CQing just as you have to go off and do something else. Even a quick reply is better than none and may encourage a bit more activity!

I tried this a couple of years ago and it was a lot of fun. I'll try it this year too! See you on the bands.

A new decade, a new morse club? CWOPS

In the course of some e-mails last night with I learned that a new International CW Club had been formed, by Jim, N3JT. In part (and these are my words) this has probably come about out of some dissatisfaction with the First Class CW Operator's Club (FOC) [incidentally, I resigned from that club, yesterday].

The club is clearly new, but in its aims, it appears to address a number of the shortcomings that FOC has either had, or been perceived to have had.

If you're interested in Morse, then perhaps you may care to take part in some of the activity periods. I know many of the members of the new club and am sure that you will receive a warm welcome.

Have a read about CWOPS here (beware, it's got background sound on the home page!)

Me? I don't think I'll be rushing to join any morse clubs. I think I'll just try to use morse on the bands where it's appropriate and to encourage others to do the same.

Friday, January 01, 2010

iBCNU v1.7 is available - resolving the bugs in v1.6

If you've been reading the blog for a few weeks, you'll know that I'm fond of the APRS application for the iPhone called iBCNU. Version 1.6 which was released a few weeks ago had a few issues with the application crashing at startup.

I was delighted to see an update of the program (v1.7) released on 29th December. I installed the program yesterday and it's working well. The issues at startup have been resolved.

In addition, Dave, AB3Y has made the following changes:

+ if speed detected, it is shown as overlay on main screen
+ added metric and imperial units switch
+ added support for custom APRS filters
+ added detailed GPS information screen
* resolved crashes during application start
* resolved text truncation on LOG screen
* resolved text truncation on HELP screen
+ added new items to HELP screen
* changed custom interval upper limit to 1000s
* fixed visual bugs on Settings screen
+ added data RX and TX counters to LOG screen
+ added disconnect button
- removed "(" from streams
* changed splash screen

Nice work, Dave - and I think this is a really fun application to try if you have an iPhone. If you give it a go, try sending me an APRS message to G4VXE-6!

A New Year, A New Focus?

A day or two ago, I changed the 'strapline' on the G4VXE.COM from 'News/Views about HF/VHF, DXing etc' to 'Amateur Radio - or at least, my version of it!'.

I thought the distinction was important. When I started the blog, which was back in 2006, I was very much focussed on DXing (long distance) activity as well as contesting. Over time, my interest has changed somewhat.

I'm still interested in making long distance contacts, but I no longer chase DXpeditions like I used to? Why?

I think the day that particular dream died, was a day that I was listening to an expedition (3Y?) on 80 CW. It would have been a lovely contact, but as well as a fierce pileup, the idiot quotient was high with all sorts of obscenities being sent in morse! I wondered why I'd got up in the middle of the night to listen to rubbish like that. We could talk for ages and not very productively, I suppose, about why that's happened. The long and short is that I concluded that DXing does not bring out the best in a number of people.

So, over the last two or three years, my HF interests have simplified, so that I tend to make simple portable HF contacts - or perhaps playing with WSPR or some of the data modes. On VHF, I still find making CW/SSB contacts on 50, 144 and 432MHz very interesting with a focus on the propagation.

With my interest in computers then APRS, Echolink and D-STAR all fit into my version of the hobby and I enjoy talking to people all over the world in ways that we couldn't have considered possible ten years ago.

So if you started reading the blog, looking for tips on DXpeditions and contests, you're probably disappointed. On the other hand, hopefully I can offer you a varied read - and even more hopefully try to inspire you to try something new in radio.

I hope so! Happy New Year!


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