Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Supporting D-STAR activity in France

You might remember that back in April, following a conversation with Neill, F5VLD, I wrote that I had learned that D-STAR activity (at least on-air) is illegal in France.

I read today on Twitter that there is a petition to support French amateurs in their campaign to use D-STAR. I'm not normally a fan of petitions - I'm more inclined to write or speak to the personal responsible - but on the other hand, a petition is a good measure of support.

So, anyway - here's a link to the European Parliament petition

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A most excellent day on four metres

Unexpectedly, owing to domestic circumstances, I found myself at home today. VHF was in good shape and from early on, 50MHz was going well. I decided to concentrate on 70MHz today and see what I could work.

The Wouxun 70MHz FM handheld that arrived yesterday didn't yield any contacts, but it was a great indicator on a couple of occasions that the MUF had reached 70MHz, when the broadcast FM from Eastern Europe was clearly audible on the handheld. I'm looking forward to playing with the handheld (even though I was the last person in the country to know about their availability, living here under my little rock...!)

So, as I was passing the shack, I kept checking 70MHz on the FT847. IZ8DWF (JM78) was first in the log, I worked him on SSB this time. I was pleased to find IF9/I2ADN (JM67) for a new square. I2ADN always goes to some great places for the Sporadic E season and it was good to work him for the first time on 70MHz, we've had many QSOs over the years on 50MHz.

I5OXT (JN52) made it into the log at lunchtime. Later on, IS0AWZ would have been a new one from Sardinia, but he called CQ CQ CQ and didn't hear me. Lots of QRM from the East at that time, so I'm sure he was getting a lot of interference. At 1530z, I heard a weak SSB CQ on 70.200 which got louder. I was delighted to work YO9HP in KN35 for a new country on the band. ES1CW appeared briefly on 70.200 on the key, but I couldn't attract his attention.

Just after 1600z the band opened nicely into Italy again. I worked IZ5EME (JN52), IW0FUK(JN61) and I6BQI (JN72). It was particularly nice to work Angelo, I6BQI - someone that we used to work back in the 1980s on 144MHz Meteor Scatter.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A different route to work - different things to listen to

I took a different route to the station this morning. Leaving home a little bit earlier than normal, I popped into Oxford to see our friends at Jack FM. It's lovely to see them and see how effortless they make producing a great show appear.

As I was driving down the A34 from Oxford to Didcot, I popped the FT8900 on and had a listen around. To my surprise the GB3CF repeater at Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire was coming in very strongly - approaching S8 on some of the hills to the south of Oxford..

What was interesting to me was that my route this morning wasn't more than 10 miles or so from my usual one - but it's quite unusual to hear GB3CF on the normal route - certainly at that sort of signal strength.

New DVAP firmware available - fixing TX problems

An e-mail from Robin, AA4RC to the DVAP Dongle Yahoo group today announces the arrival of the latest release of firmware (v1.05) for the DVAP. Robin notes that he hopes that this should resolve the transmit issue that some people (including me!) have been having. Moe, AE4JY is credited with finding and resolving the problem. Thanks Moe!

The revised firmware may be downloaded from the Downloads section at http://www.dvapdongle.com

Saturday, June 19, 2010

DVAP fun and games

As you might recall, I upgraded the firmware on the DVAP the other week. I hadn't used it much since the upgrade. This evening I thought I'd play a little D-STAR. I found that I would start transmitting and then I would lose connection and my audio would be lost. One or two other people have been experiencing the same thing. Indeed, Ron, KA2HZO that I was speaking to this evening was having exactly the same issue.

Ron downgraded his DVAP firmware back to 1.01 and found that performance improved. I've done the same and things seem better. I had experienced the problem from time to time myself on 1.01 but it seems less frequent.

Of course, it could just be an issue with the internet connection - something else on the PC which the newer version is slightly less tolerant of. I'm sure it will be resolved in due course. But for now, I've downgraded to the v1.01 of the DVAP firmware.

Update: 21st June Had an e-mail last night from Nidge, G0WFS. He'd experienced the same problems as me with his DVAP running under v1.04 of the firmware. He reverted back to v1.01 and all is well again. So it looks like there are some issues with v1.04. That doesn't mean it won't work for you, but if you do have problems, a simple reversion to the v1.01 firmware should have you back up and running reliably in an instant.

An interesting Es day

There's been plenty of VHF Es buzzing around here today. It started off, literally with a buzz on 50MHz as I was driving down to the Post Office in the next village this morning. I heard some TV buzz on 50MHz, almost certainly out of Eastern Europe. A few stations started coming through including YU1EXY, the Belgrade University club station.

After that, I had plenty of things to do and didn't get to the rig again until around 1530z. There seemed to be a contest going on 50MHz. I worked LZ9W (KN12) and YT2F(KN03) as well as an EA6.

There were some reports of 144MHz Es too. At one stage, I could hear DLs working Es that I couldn't hear any trace of. At 1735 though, I heard LZ2ZY (KN10) briefly. He was working into Belgium at the time and I didn't hear him work any Gs. G4MKF, not too far from me, worked a station that I couldn't hear at all, but the opening seemed pretty fleeting. Though it was a shame not to work LZ2ZY, it was great to hear him!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflections on 70MHz - planning for the future

As you've probably gathered, I've really been enjoying the Es season so far and seem to have managed many more contacts than for a year or two. One of the highlights has been making a few more contacts on 70MHz.

The equipment at the moment is pretty basic. I'm using the FT847 which has about 7w output and a rather poor receiver. That feeds a vertical antenna at around 30 feet.

Given that there is now so much more activity around Europe (and beyond), I'm wondering whether it is worth aiming towards having something better performing for next year. I think I'll stick with a vertical antenna, as it's comparatively low-profile and works well for Es. Less so for tropo, of course - but space for beams is a little restricted at home. I could well be tempted to look at a transverter with a little more output - and hopefully better receive performance!

The high noise level that I experience on 50MHz is a concern - will it be the same on 70MHz? Hard to know - there's no trace of it on 144MHz.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the contacts I'm making - the new and very welcome activity around Europe is really invigorating the band for me.

By the way - I wondered whether the WE9XFT beacon would have been heard in last night's opening? Dave, G4ASR reports that he heard nothing from it. Dave, WW2R who's in Texas, heard the beacon of the back of its beam earlier in the month at a distance of around 1600km - probably the most distant reception that's been logged so far.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another good weekend on 50 and 70MHz

Plenty going on over the weekend on both 50 and 70MHz. It seemed there was rarely a moment over the weekend when I visited either the radio at home or in the car and there wasn't anything happening.

Sunday seemed the better day for me on 70MHz. The band was opening quite early and I worked Ivan, S51DI around 0815z. There was also some propagation to the south and I heard the CS5BFM beacon coming through for a little while. We were busy and out and about for most of the day, but I checked the band later in the day and worked I0JX and OM3CFS which I was pleased with.

This morning started well on 50MHz too. I could hear some OZs having a local QSO whilst I was driving down to the station and heard a couple of DLs calling other people. LY2BAW was coming through well on CW and I was very pleased to have Andy, SP2DNI (JO94) come back to a CQ call on SSB.

Friday, June 11, 2010

San Marino on 70MHz - look out for Toni T77C!

I've just noticed an item on Roger, G3XBM's blog saying that San Marino is active on 70MHz.

Permission has been granted until October 31st.

This is great news. Toni, T77C is a really great operator and I remember well when he first got on 50MHz. I'm sure he will be very active on 70MHz and I'm hoping I'll manage to work him.

Remember, it's only a hobby

The e-mail signature of Alex Allan, GM3ZBE contains the wise words, 'Remember, it's only a hobby'. We all get embroiled in the hobby a little too deeply sometimes and perhaps lose a sense of perspective. Fair enough, we do that because we care passionately about our hobby. But sometimes, it all goes horribly wrong.

I read with disbelief this morning, the story of the dispute between two National Societies with regards to the adjudication of the HQ section of the 2009 IARU HF Championship. You can read a little of the story at Radio-sport.net

Oh dear.

Another interesting evening on VHF

Driving back from the station last night there were a good few Spanish and Portugeuse stations coming through on 50MHz. I worked CT1ILT and EA5/G0MGA. I was listening to EA2ARD and an EA1 coming through well. Though we often work into the south of Spain, it's less frequent to catch an opening to the north - which made me think that that perhaps the MUF was quite high.

And so it proved later on. Reg, G8VHI was lucky enough to work into Algeria. Bachir, 7X2RF is quite active - but you need to look for him on FM. Reg found him on 145.500. Useful to know if the band is open in that direction!

Quite late on, I checked 50MHz and it was still open into Spain and I listened to a number of EA stations working into North America.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Writing "The World of VHF" for Practical Wireless

If you've been reading the blog for a while you'll probably remember that up until just over a year ago, I was writing the 'Sport Radio' column for Radcom. I'd been writing it for about ten years and I thought that it was time for someone with a fresh perspective to write the column. Part of me didn't miss the deadlines at all, but on the other hand, writing a column can be good fun.

When the opportunity arose a few weeks ago to write a VHF column for 'Practical Wireless' I was delighted. David Butler, G4ASR was moving onto fresh writing challenges so a vacancy arose! I'd always wanted to write a VHF column for a magazine, as VHF/UHF has been a consistent interest in amateur radio for me over the 28 years or so that I've had a licence (gulp...). I enjoyed writing the guest VHF column for Radcom recently and realised that I would enjoy writing a regular column.

Talking to the Practical Wireless editor, Rob Mannion, G3XFD, I realised that writing for PW would be great. The editorial team have been so enthusiastic and welcoming, I can't say enough nice things about them! We've got lots of ideas for the new VHF column, which we've titled "The World of VHF". One of the reasons that I love the idea of writing for PW is that it is a magazine that's available on the High Street, which makes it really accessible to people who are just starting out in the hobby, as well as one that interests people with a more long-standing interest to.

David's column in PW, "VHF DXer" has been focussed on VHF DXing. We're committed to keeping up the great coverage of the VHF DXing scene that Dave's started, but we're also keen to cover other aspects of VHF/UHF operation too.

I'm going to need lots of help in writing the new column - reports, news - whatever you have! You can e-mail news in to tim at g4vxe dot com - or find me on Twitter (@g4vxe).

I'm really looking forward to the new column - but more importantly - I'm really hoping that you'll enjoy it too.

A reduction in noise level

For several years now, the noise level on 50MHz has been high at home, sometimes as high as S7 to S8. As you'll have noticed, it doesn't stop me working people, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier! You just have to wait for them to be loud.

I'd had various suspicions about the sources of noise; the BT Home Hub, some of the boys' myriad of game playing devices, my amplified speakers, the display on one of my PCs... I've noticed a difference in noise level from all of these devices. To be honest, I'd just shrugged my shoulders and accepted it. It was bad enough that if you were listening on 50MHz CW/SSB as you drive up our road, you would hear the noise level come up!

Well, anyway, yesterday we had no power at home. The electricity company turned off the supply so that they could work on the overhead lines. Intriguingly, when power came back yesterday evening, the 50MHz band was much quieter!

Now, it could just be that the device causing the problem hadn't been switched back on, but in *our* house, most things had been restarted or switched on again. My suspicion now is that the main source of noise was probably somewhere on the local power distribution network (we have a pole with power cables on our property) and the noise was being radiated along the lines. All the other devices I'd had my eye on probably *did* cause noise, but not to the same extent.... As I think about it, this is probably right, as I seem to remember the noise level climbing as I passed a couple of other power distribution poles around the village.

The electricity company have turned off a different portion of the village today - let's hope that it doesn't get noisy again!

Monday, June 07, 2010

DVAP firmware successfully upgraded

I blogged on Friday that there was new firmware and utilities available for the DVAP. I'm always slightly worried with firmware upgrades, but it went flawlessly and the firmware upgraded just fine.

Along with the new firmware, there are two new utilities. I haven't played with DVAP FM yet much, but the DVAP Util is quite interesting. As you see from the image, you can use the DVAP as a spectrum monitor. I tried it quickly on the small internal aerial and it picked up and displayed transmissions from my HT ok. I wondered if it would pick up the local repeaters, but they didn't show clearly. I might need to connect a better aerial for that to work.

An interesting principle though and could be quite useful.

Six metre mobile continues to go well

I'm still having lots of fun with the 50MHz mobile gear in the car. On Saturday morning driving back from the garage after getting my tyres fixed up I worked EA1BFZ in IN80. Later on in the day, I worked G5WQ/P taking place in the Six Metre Group contest.

On Sunday, I'd just popped out around midday and there was some activity going on. One of the most interesting stations I heard was EI9FBB/P in IO51 - a very short distance in Es terms. When the skip gets REALLY short on six, then that's when the MUF is going sky high - and it was obviously there or thereabouts. Had a listen when I got back home and heard IZ5EME and 9A6R on 70MHz, with David, G4ASR calling CQ SV too. I didn't hear anything on 144MHz but I didn't stick around long.

This morning, I was surprised to find 50MHz open around 0615z. Around 50.150 there was a conversation going on between two OK stations and a few OK/OMs on CW at the bottom of the band. As I drove towards the station, I called CQ and worked OK1VEI and then tuned to the bottom of the band where OK1RD was working strings of JA stations (JA3/JA5s). Sadly the TV timebase was loud and I couldn't hear a trace of the JAs, but you never know on another day....

Friday, June 04, 2010

New DVAP firmware and utilities available

A 'tweet' this morning alerted me to the fact that there is new firmware available for the DVAP Dongle, as well as some new utilities.

The two new utilities, written by Moe Wheatley, Ae4JY look interesting. The first allows you to use the DVAP to sweep the band and show where the peak signal readings occur.

The second, DVAP-FM allows the DVAP to be placed in FM mode. It sounds like it is possible to use the microphone/soundcard to transmit through your DVAP on FM, as well as play and record messages.

I'll check out the firmware and utilities over the weekend and report back.

You can find the downloads at the DVAP Dongle download page

Some interesting mobile contacts

Haven't had a chance to post for a couple of days, but I've had some interesting contacts from the mobile.

On Wednesday morning, I was a little later leaving, having had to go to the garage before heading into the station. Around Abingdon, I popped the IC706 and had a listen around on 50MHz. Despite being fairly early still, there was an EA7 coming through on CW. I tuned around on SSB, but there was nothing doing. I decided to call CQ on 50.150. Imagine my surprise to be called by Dave, EA6/M0DLL! It's great when that happens. Obviously the band was just opening, because Dave said I was the only station he could hear at the time, but after we signed, I noticed he had a steady stream of callers.

On Thursday morning, mist was hanging over the fields - always a sure sign that there's some tropo around. Listening on 145.650, with GB3WH not transmitting, I heard the Humberside repeater GB3HS, some 120 miles away pop up. As I've noted here before, I hear GB3HS two or three times a year, usually in the morning when there's a little tropo, but it's always good to hear it. Tried a few CQs on 145.500 but no luck!


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