Monday, March 29, 2010

70MHz from Hong Kong; VR2FOUR and some history...

A press release on the Hong Kong Amateur Radio Society Site says the following:

HARTS is now operating a 4 metre beacon with temporary permit from the local telecommunication authority.
Callsign: VR2FOUR
Frequency: 71.575MHz (CW)
Power: 3W
Location: Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong (OL42AL)
Operating Hour: 1500 - 0300 UTC
Message in CW: VR2FOUR QTH OL42AL
Expiry of the temporary permit: 31.8.2010
Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Interesting stuff and I wonder where the beacon will be heard. Could it be heard in the UK? Maybe! Probably not for a while, but, you never know....

Some years ago, I was talking to Mick, G3LIK, who as many of you will know was in the Royal Navy. Mick told me a story that many years ago, he was in the Far East listening on one of the VHF channels close to 70MHz which was at that time, used for port operations. Mick did a double take when he heard Portsmouth booming through - indeed I think he told me that he called into them.

So, once in every so often, these paths will open up. You just have to be there...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

VP8DMH: WSPRing from Antarctica

Mike, VP8DMH (M0PRL at home) sent a tweet this morning that he'd put his WSPR beacon on for 24 hours from Rothera Base in Antarctica to see where it would be heard.

Checking the database at wsprnet.org over 1000 spots of Mike's 5 watt WSPR signal have been received so far today! Various UK stations, including G8SQH and G4ADJ reported the signals overnight - but there are loads of interesting paths that are appearing.

Fancy hearing Mike? Get your WSPR setup on the air and have a listen on 10.140

Monday, March 22, 2010

50MHz Transequatorial Propagation from Greece to Africa

Exciting news from George, SV8RX's blog is that he has started to hear stations from Southern Africa via TEP on 50MHz.

Although in the UK we're a long way from being able to tap into these TransEquatorial openings on a regular basis, the good news is that for us, it only takes a little Sporadic E to the Med to couple with one of these TE openings and you can be working into Africa or South America!

Early evening is generally the best time, but there are later openings as well..

Good luck!

Mobile activities over the weekend

On Sunday, I drove over to see Mum in Cheltenham and had some good QSOs whilst I was mobile travelling over the Cotswolds. As ever, GB3UK on Cleeve Hill provides great coverage for the majority of the journey.

Driving back home, there wasn't so much activity, so I was tuning around to see what I could hear out of the ordinary.

First 'interesting thing' was hearing the Farnham 50MHz repeater, GB3FX on the hills outside Cheltenham. I was able to blip up GB3FX which had a great signal once I had climbed up the hill out of Andoversford on the A40 heading east.


View GB3FX 6m repeater audible in Glos in a larger map

As you'll see from the map, it's a decent distance. It's possible that using GB3FX from up on the Cotswolds could cause some issues to users on GB3ZY, the 50MHz repeater on Dundry Hill, as they're spaced only 10khz apart and GB3ZY is a BIG signal on the Cotswolds. So do try it, but be mindful of ZY!

The second interesting path I discovered was to the South-West, from the hills around Burford to GB3ZB, the 70cms wide split repeater on Dundry Hill (co-sited with GB3ZY). Signals weren't huge, but I could easily access the repeater


View GB3ZB Dundry Hill in a larger map

I'll have to keep an eye on GB3ZB. It's well sited, so will presumably come up nicely with good conditions to the South West.

@G4VXE - my radio 'only' Twitter account

I've been using Twitter on a regular basis for a couple of years now and find it a really good medium - which has resulted in getting to know lots of new people - in a very positive way. I use Twitter pretty generally and tend to talk about whatever's happening at the time; maybe commuting, beekeeping, gardening, astronomy or even amateur radio! Unlike some, I don't consider Twitter an avenue to just talk about radio. That would be dull!

I tend not to talk about radio in great detail because the vast majority of my Twitter followers aren't radio amateurs. Or at least if I do talk about radio I try to couch it in terms that might interest a more 'general' reader.

For a while now, I've been musing on creating a separate Twitter account that I will use solely for talking about amateur radio. I'll assume that anyone that follows that account will be interested in a little more detail about what I'm doing on the air - so will happily talk modes, frequencies and specifics.

If that sounds interesting to you, then you'll find the radio amateur 'me' on as G4VXE whereas the 'complete me' is tim_kirby

Hope to see you on Twitter!

Friday, March 19, 2010

An unusual Echolink QSO this morning...

I always enjoy talking to Des, G0RBD as he has a very wide interest in the hobby and there's always something new or interesting to discuss. This morning we hooked up on GB3TD as I was driving down to Didcot from home.

One of the things we were talking about was Echolink. I mentioned on the blog a week or two ago that I have the Echolink client for the iPhone which works well. As I was approaching Didcot, I asked Des if he could access GB3FH in Somerset. He said he couldn't directly, but that GB3FH is connected to GB3ZY (Dundry Hill 50Mhz repeater)which he could access. We signed on GB3TD as normal but agreed to try via GB3FH/GB3ZY.

As I was walking away from the car, I connected up my headset to the iPhone, started up the Echolink client on the phone and connected to GB3FH using the 3G network. I called Des via GB3FH/GB3ZY and we were both delighted to find that it worked well. In fact it worked so well, that Des could hear the station announcements as I walked up onto Platform 2 at Didcot!

Excellent fun.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

R1ANF beacon active from Antarctica

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that one of the things I find magical about radio is listening to signals from far-flung parts of the globe. Few regions of the world are as far-flung as Antarctica.

I was pleased to read on the Southgate ARC's blog news that the R1ANF beacon is active from Antarctica on 14.101Mhz.


View R1ANF Beacon, Antarctica in a larger map

The path to Antarctica is an interesting one and the north-south path often supports propagation when you think the band is closed! I've had a number of surprise contacts with Antarctic bases over the years.

The exciting news is that R1ANF seems to be the first of a number of Antarctic beacons that are planned.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Commonwealth CW, D-STAR and good old FM: A varied weekend

Quite a varied weekend's activity at G4VXE. Kicked off on Saturday morning with a D-STAR contact with Chris, G0WTZ who was setting up for Martin Lynch's D-STAR day at their shop over at Chertsey. Feedback is that it went well and I heard from Declan, M0TMX that he was able to try out one of the new Internet Labs DVAP units. Declan said he was really impressed and is looking forward to getting hold of one himself.

Saturday evening, I remembered it was the Commonwealth Contest. Though I'm largely not playing HF Contests these days, I have a particular fondness for the Commonwealth Contest dating back to the time I spent in Canada in the late 1990s, when I got to know many of the regular combatants really well - especially John Sluymer, VE3EJ. Decided I should quickly get on 40m and see what was happening! I was delighted I did. First contact at great strength was John, VE3EJ - and I worked a bunch more Canadians in good time. Another nice one on 7MHz was VK6LW from Western Australia. Despite being quite late in the evening in the UK, it was good to find 14MHz still open with a few stations coming through from the Caribbean; J38CW was a nice one to find.

On Sunday, I drove the 50 miles or so across the Cotswolds to see my Mum and used the 'local' GB3WH 145MHz and GB3UK 438MHz FM repeaters for some great QSOs. Whilst I was in Cheltenham, I had a quick chat on D-STAR with Simon, G4SGI via the GB7GL node. Simon was just preparing to go out bicycle mobile (Check out Simon's page on QRZ.COM to see his really impressive bicycle mobile installation or on YouTube for a bit of video!)

Enjoyable to have some quite varied activity this weekend.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

VHF Tropo alert: GB3PO heard in Oxfordshire!

Having not had my own car for the last three weeks or so, while the gearbox (and the locking system) were replaced, it's been great to have the Polo with the VHF mobile back. Driving out of the Didcot station car park this evening, I was surprised to hear GB3PO the Ipswich repeater ID at good strength. Nice and consistent too, as I heard it repeatedly as I drove back home.

So probably well worth a listen on VHF this evening, if you have a chance.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A few contacts this weekend

We had quite a busy weekend, but I managed a few minutes on the air. I walked up to the allotment field on Saturday afternoon to measure for a polytunnel. The field is at the top of the ridge that runs through Longworth and I took my E-92 handheld with me and was scanning around. I heard GB3EH on 433.200 which was a repeater I'd not heard before. GB3EH turns out to be on Edge Hill near Banbury (I looked up the details on my phone, whilst I was out!). Interestingly, GB3EH didn't seem to have CTCSS access and, as I couldn't remember how to do a 1750hz tone on the E-92, I tried the time-honoured method of whistling the repeater up (I favour a glissendo whistle which, hopefully, passes through 1750hz at some point! - a trick taught me by my old friend Evan, G3CJ who sadly passed away several years ago).

Malcolm, G8NRP mentioned in an e-mail to me that he'd been at G3PIA on Saturday afternoon working some very strong German stations. I didn't get to check 144/432MHz SSB before Saturday night/Sunday morning. I had some nice contacts, though nothing terribly distant. PA6NL were the best DX for me on 432MHz, coming up to a good S9 as they turned the beam in this direction.

Norman Fitch, G3FPK Funeral Details

I received news this morning from Elaine, G4LFM at RSGB that Norman's funeral will be held on Monday, 22nd March at Croydon Crematorium at 13:30. I promised to pass the information on to anyone that might want to attend.

Friday, March 05, 2010

D-STAR hotspot news: Tait hotspot and DVAPs

Declan, M0TMX was telling me that G7HIF is going to start building a 1w Tait Radio with a Hot Spot board inside the radio. Check out @DStar_Northant on Twitter or see the board and radio on the Tetra stand at Sunday's rally at Cambridge here in the UK. Great to see this. It's easy to see how an extension of this approach could make it easier for repeater groups to put on a D-STAR repeater.

For a small hotspot, around the house, the DVAP Dongle as previously mentioned on the blog looks interesting. I'm hoping I'm going to have a chance to try one out myself in a few weeks time. Will keep you posted. The DVAP plugs into a USB port - connecting to the D-STAR network across the Internet, with its 10mW 144MHz transmitter sufficient to cover 100 feet or so, so that you can use your D-STAR handheld around the house.

Catching up with the news: ROS and The RSGB Manager's Blog

A bit of a catch up post today. I've been a bit preoccupied this week. We had to say goodbye to one of our beloved cats, Bitzy, on Tuesday. She was 16 and was suffering from liver disease. Any of you who are pet owners will know how distressing such an event is. But things move on and we have lots of happy memories.

ROS If you've been around any of the blogs over the last week or two, you'll see there's been mention of a new digi-mode called 'ROS'. Initially, things looked very exciting and it looked very effective at weak signal work. Lots of people jumped on the bandwagon and started using the mode, causing quite some interference to other band users and the NCDXF beacon chain on 14.100.

In North America, the FCC got involved and ruled that as the mode was 'spread spectrum' (its bandwidth is 2.2khz) then it could not be used on bands under 222MHz in the USA. Somewhere round about here, the developer, clearly disappointed, took things rather personally and took the peculiar approach of saying that anyone who mentioned the FCC's ruling would be banned from using the mode! Poor Julian, G4ILO who mentioned this on his blog got the short end of all this and was banned and subjected to correspondence which at the very least, should never have been posted on public forums.

Rather bizarrely, the 'don't use ROS below 222MHz in the US ruling' was then apparently retracted by the FCC, but as of yesterday, the retraction was retracted and the current advice from the FCC is that 'ROS' should not be used in the US on bands below 222MHz. The ARRL are now involved and let's hope that a considered and consistent outcome will appear in due course.

Hardly an episode that reflects well on amateur radio:

- the initial upsurge in usage, paid little heed to the needs of other band users in all the excitement.

- disappointing that a talented software writer should feel it appropriate to 'ban' amateurs from using his software for just writing about the issues around the use of the mode. Hardly in the spirit of amateur radio, or even in the context of human rights, free speech.

- the apparent 'it's not ok, it's ok, no it's not' approach from the FCC did little to diffuse the situation. It's understood that FCC staff were trying to do their honest best in a difficult situation, but sadly the lack of co-ordination really didn't help.

Here in the UK, we're able to use the mode legally, but owing to the furore that has grown up around 'ROS' - many people have decided to stay away. A shame, all round.

The RSGB Manager's blog The RSGB have often been criticised, sometimes rightly, sometimes not, for being less than transparent in their work. Very often, I suspect that this has been unjustified. Nevertheless, when something comes along to make communication easier and more open, it is to be applauded.

I was delighted to notice that Peter Kirby, G0TWW (who incidentally, is not related to me, despite our common surname) - General Manager of RSGB has started a blog

It is interesting and well written. I don't expect to agree with Peter in everything he writes. That doesn't matter - but it's great to see Peter putting his thoughts out there.

Currently, it is not possible to leave comments on Peter's blog. I hope this facility will be added in due course - allowing real discussion to take place.

Who knows, if the blog is a success, as I'm sure it will be, perhaps we'll see RSGB HQ on Twitter?

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