Saturday, October 30, 2010

Telling Terry What's New

About a week or so ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Cheltenham Amateur Radio Association and give the Terry Russell, G3JFH Memorial Lecture.

This was a particular pleasure for two reasons - I grew up in Cheltenham and CARA was the first amateur radio club that I ever attended. I received a lot of support there as I learned the ropes and made a lot of good friends. It was simply wonderful to see many of them last week - they must be doing something right as they didn't look any different!

Secondly, I knew Terry Russell, G3JFH pretty well. He was an influential member of the club and indeed he was my first contact on the air! He'd also been a friend of my Dad and they'd done lots of cycling together.

When I was trying to decide what to talk about, I thought it might be nice to 'Tell Terry' about the trends and developments in amateur radio since he'd passed away a few years ago. So that was what I did. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I hope that people found at least something of interest.

Here are the Powerpoint slides in case anyone wants to take a look.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On whether it is more blessed to receive than transmit...

If you come from a DXing background like I do, then one of the lessons that will have been drummed into you is that you listen, listen some more and then listen again! The great DXer listens and makes his/her transmissions count. And that makes perfect sense if you're combing the bands looking for new ones.

But how does that translate into our activity on the 'day-to-day' chat bands, like VHF/UHF or even some of the HF bands. Quite often you hear people saying, 'I listen an awful lot but I don't transmit very much'. And of course, I know that sometimes it isn't convenient to transmit - it might be an RFI thing - you might not have time - you might not want to disturb the household.... these are all good momentary reasons.

But sometimes, I think we could all be a bit more active on the bands within the constraints of our day-to-day lives. It was Sunday afternoon and I was sat in the lounge entertaining the cats (if you have young cats, you'll know how important this is to avoid curtains being swung on and bookcases scaled....). I had my iPhone with me and I dialled up a few interesting looking repeaters on Echolink and called through them. Perhaps no-one wanted to speak to me - but certainly no-one called. D-STAR was a bit more productive and I had a couple of nice chats. But even so, the systems I listened to were hardly buzzing with activity!

Perhaps we are spreading our activity too thinly across many bands/modes/repeater systems/digital modes? I think there's some of that and I've certainly heard the view expressed that on D-STAR it's easy to lose the activity with so many different reflectors (remember D-STARUSERS.ORG is your friend).

Sometimes though, I think there is a sense of wanting our leisure time activities to be laid on for us and for us just to 'watch'. I get disheartened seeing people sitting in front of the TV apparently endlessly. They may well be watching informative programmes (or they may not). But what bugs me about it is that it's a one way street. There's no engagement or activity. I've seen a similar trend on Twitter with people who signup and look at other people's tweets but never share what they are doing or thinking.

If there's one thing I've learned about Social Media it's that you must engage to make a success of it and get the best of it.

And so it is, I think, with amateur radio which was probably the world's first social media platform. To me, just listening does not equal engagement.

So get out there. Call CQ and answer a few more calls through the repeater or on the bands. Have fun and I'll see you on the air!

Update on the DX code of conduct

I was pleased to receive the following e-mail from Randy, W6SJ this morning.

You were among the dedicated operators to show your support of the DX Code of Conduct project. You and the other respondents energized me to really get some effort behind a project to change things. We gradually attracted a committee of high profile people, many of whom you might know as dedicated HF operators.

The result is that the DX Code of Conduct has been translated into over two dozen languages. Many of the national societies have featured in in their magazines and have links at their websites.

We developed a section for DXpeditioners and have gotten incredible support from them. All have supported us and they are listed too. After all, they are the real beneficiaries of polite operating.

We also have spread the word through a number of clubs and we just developed a Power Point that is designed to be shown at club meetings.

Please take a look at our website and see our progress. Note that we have had over 5500 unique visitors.

Your enthusiasm was important to me and the others on the team and you should feel pride at having given us the courage to try to change the situation.

Please take this opportunity to tell the rest of your friends about the project and encourage them to support it as well..

Please let me know if your club would be interested in seeing the Power Point once it is ready for release.

Randy also goes on to say "PS - This site and the Power Point were developed with my pretty feeble HTML 3.0 skills and both it and the PPT could benefit from some enhancement by a person with "artistic website skills." If that describes you, perhaps you might want to volunteer to help us create a 21st Century look. "

It's great to see that the DX Code of Conduct is receiving plenty of support. I hope that will translate to plenty of support on the bands too. We can but hope. And if you can help Randy with the web presentation of his excellent ideas, then I hope you'll get in touch.

Monday, October 18, 2010

All roads leading to Software Defined Radio (SDR)

Before I tell you about the weekend and SDR - I want to do a shameless plug. My lovely wife, Julie is very talented in many dimensions. She's just set up an online shop on ETSY where you can see some of the beautiful craft items that she makes and perhaps buy them too! Do have a look there - with Christmas coming up, you might find a nice gift for someone special.

Anyway. Back to Software Defined Radio. It's funny how sometimes you can't escape a particular topic! On Saturday, the latest Practical Wireless dropped through the door. Naturally I checked the VHF column had come out ok (it had, thanks Rob and the team!) and then started to look through the other examples. I was particularly interested in the review of the FlexRadio 1500 QRP SDR transceiver by Phil, G3XBZ.

What a fascinating looking little box that you plug an aerial and a morse key into, connect the USB to your computer and control the rig and all the filtering from within the computer. Phil had obviously had a good time with the rig and had made some nice CW and SSB QSOs with it. Ideal too, I should think for data modes. Very tempting. I don't need another rig or anything like that. But if I did....

The next 'nudge' towards SDR came from an interesting posting via the Southgate club's blog about the AMSAT-UK FuncubeDongle. This is a dongle, which takes antenna input via an SMA adapter and plugs into your USB port. It forms a VHF/UHF/SHF receiver, obviously aimed at the satellite market which operates between around 64 to 1700MHz. You can use it with any of the current raft of SDR control programs and thus decode all sorts of modes.

Interestingly, there will be two versions of the dongle - a basic one aimed at the educational/schools market - to allow them to listen / decode transmissions from the Funcube satellite and a 'Pro' one with a little more flexibility. The feature set of the basic and Pro models isn't entirely clear at the moment. This looks a brilliant project. Pricing for the 'Pro' model looks to be around £100. A 64-1700MHz receiver for £100. That sounds worth keeping an eye on, doesn't it!

See the FuncubeDongle site here. But before you do, go and see Julie's ETSY shop and tell her I sent you :-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

FSDXA announce dxpedition to Kiritimati (Christmas Island/T32)

Last weekend at the RSGB's convention, my friends at the Five Star DX Association (FSDXA) announced their next expedition to Kiritimati (Christmas Island) - T32 in the Pacific Ocean. The team aim to arrive 28th September, 2011 and depart 26th October, 2011.

The plan is to operate under the callsign, T32C. You can read more about the expedition at the official T32C site

I was very honoured to be invited to join the team, by Neville, G3NUG, though sadly I had to decline.

Having been involved on the inside of an FSDXA dxpedition before, I am absolutely certain that this will give DXers the very best opportunity to work T32. Hopefully, over the coming months, we'll be able to bring more insights into the forthcoming operation.

You can see their first press release here

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wouxun go mobile with the KG-UV920R

Alerted by posts by Patrick, WA0TDA and Steve, GW7AAV, I see that Wouxun have announced an entry into the mobile rig market, with their KG-UV920R rig covering 144/432MHz.

Based on the coverage that Steve mentions in his post, there is FM receive from 65-220MHz - so this rig could receive on 70MHz too! In fact, reading the posts, I was wondering whether Wouxun will, in time, consider a 70MHz capable mobile rig.

The Wouxun portables have proved excellent and I am looking forward to hearing more about the mobile rig in due course.

Tuesday night tropo...

I didn't spend too much time on the radio on Tuesday evening, as the cats were requesting entertainment again - which was a pleasure to provide! Being the second Tuesday of the month, it was the 432MHz Activity Contest and there was still some tropo around. The best DX for me was DF0MU in JO32 - which I was more than happy with. It was also good to work GD8EXI (IO74) - the first time I have worked GD from Longworth on 432MHz. Interestingly, like last month, he was at his strongest when I was beaming southeast. A reflection, perhaps? I was also pleased to hear some northerly IO93/IO84 squares which are less common for me.

Oh. And a special mention to the contester, whose callsign I will not mention, who when I called him first, he only got my suffix. No problem. He asked if I could give my prefix. No problem, I did. Then he proceeded to moan that he hadn't got my full callsign! I seem to remember mentioning when I wrote the contest column in RadCom, that it's best to be nice to the people who call you - otherwise they might not call you again. This gentleman won't be hearing from me for a while, then!

Tropo seems to have faded down mostly now, although there was something weak on 145.650 this morning, either GB3PO or ON0WV - I couldn't tell. Apparently the forecast for the weekend could be favourable for more tropo. Let's hope so!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

VHF Tropo still going well

Most of yesterday evening was spent very enjoyably, getting to know our new cats - they are real stars! However, just before bed, I did pop into the shack to see what was happening.

OP7V from Belgium was very loud on 432.200 and I enjoyed a QSO with him. By the time I listened, 432MHz was quieter, so I switched over to 144MHz was was pleased to find DK3EE (JO41) coming through at great strength - so had a nice quick QSO with him and also DF0WD (JO42) who I also worked quickly.

Swapped e-mails with Allan, GM4ZUK and he'd been out portable last night and worked over 300 stations on 144/432/1296 over a few hours last night. Allan's best DX on 1296MHz was OY and SP!

(Edited this in thanks to Ralf, DK4KW for letting me know about it)

This morning conditions were still good and ON0WV was coming through at S9 on 145.650 on my drive to the station. There was a very strong repeater on 145.6375 too, with French stations QRV. I didn't hear it ID, so it may have been the Jersey repeater, GB3GJ.

Monday, October 11, 2010

You know it's autumn when the tropo starts

We've had a busy weekend which didn't contain too much radio. Last week was a bit of a sad one for us; we scattered my Dad's ashes on Monday and then on Thursday we had to say goodbye to our much-loved cat, Buttons who was 16. A cat-less house was not good for us and we were 'directed' to visit the animal rescue centre, run by the Blue Cross at Burford. There we met and fell in love with two new cat friends, Pippi and Max, who I am pleased to say have kindly consented to come and live with us. They moved in yesterday and needless to say, much fun and time is being spent, looking after them and trying to settle them in.

When I popped out to the garden centre yesterday, I noticed some reasonable 145MHz tropo to the east, with the GB3PO repeater in Ipswich coming in better than normal on the mobile. Just before I went to bed, I saw a tweet from G0PKT on the east coast saying that he'd been working some good DX on VHF/UHF. I stopped off in the shack on the way to bed and had a quick QSO with Juergen, DL5EBS (JO31) on 432MHz. Signals were great - also, DJ6JJ was on 432.200 working Polish stations. Interestingly, I was able to detect fragments of the signals from the Polish stations.

This morning, on the drive to work, conditions were still good. On 145.650, I heard ON0WV identify very clearly a couple of times. And during our commuter 'net' on GB3TD (433.075) we were surprised and delighted to be joined by John, G6HKQ from Norfolk.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Remembering Robin Greenwood, G3LBA

Yesterday, through my friends in the Harwell Amateur Radio Society, I was very saddened to learn of the death of Robin Greenwood, G3LBA.

When Julie and I moved to Longworth around 8 years ago, we decided to attend one of the barn dances to get to know people. Julie went to pick up the tickets from a house in the village and came back saying, 'there's a chap who's got a lot of stuff like yours'! At the barn dance, I met this chap, who turned out to be Robin, G3LBA (Gee Three Light Brown Ale as he put it). That was our first enjoyable meeting.

Over the years we met at many village events and always had fun! Robin was an avuncular character, always interesting to talk to. He had an interesting professional background and had worked for the European Space Agency. Stories about the International Space Station were often heard in the Village Hall!

On the air, I think we had about two contacts in 8 years! Being around 500 yards apart we were quite loud with each other, on both HF and VHF. I suspect we were active at different times. Robin had done a lot of work with the local repeater groups and several local repeaters have bits of Robin's work in their configuration.

I last saw Robin about three weeks ago at the village fete. He'd been suffering from thyroid cancer and was very clearly not well. He had hopes of seeing his next grandchild born early next year, but very sadly that was not to be.

Robin joked that I would soon have the airwaves in the village to myself. Frankly, I like a bit of company. Farewell friend.

See the Harwell tribute to Robin here

Friday, October 01, 2010

RSGB conducts a survey of radio amateurs in the UK

The Radio Society of Great Britain are conducting a survey of radio amateurs based in the UK. On their website, RSGB say, "The objective of the survey is to gather as much information as possible on 21st century amateur radio operation in the UK. The survey, which is internet based, will run for three months and the data collected will be used to determine the direction that amateur radio takes over the next 10 to 20 years".

With my cynical hat on, I'm afraid I'll have to take issue with the last point. Amateur Radio will take its own direction, regardless of any survey results! In my opinion, perhaps a better way of putting it would be that the survey would help shape the RSGB's attitude to taking amateur radio into the future.

I've just completed the survey myself and I encourage you to do so if you are based in the UK. I was surprised at some things that it dwelt upon and surprised at some of the things that it didn't cover, or only lightly touched. There is more I might say about this, perhaps when the survey is over, but I wouldn't want to be accused of leading the witness!

Either way - take a few moments to respond - it can only help for as many people as possible to take part in the survey.

It will be interesting to see what use is made of the results.

The RSGB's Amateur Radio Survey can be found here


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