Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer's over....well maybe

Or at least that's how it always feels to me with the last bank holiday of the summer done and no more until Christmas!

As I blogged last week, the conditions are changing and there's been noticeably less Es this weekend. I did work EA7DUD on 50MHz in a brief opening yesterday and I noticed some Es around 27MHz from Italy and Scandinavia.

Having had a bad cold/cough most of last week (I was forced to abandon a QSO last Friday owing to a failing voice), I've been on 14MHz JT65A most of the weekend, often remote controlling the PC from the sofa with Pippi the cat on my lap. Some nice QSOs, most notably with LU2XPK in Tierra Del Fuego and also a couple of UA0 stations in furthest Siberia as well as many enjoyable QSOs closer to hand.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Remote control JT65 QSOs with my iPad and iPhone and the LogmeIn client


Recovering from a heavy cold and cough yesterday and because there was apparently nothing doing on 50MHz, I thought it was about time I got the HF JT65A gear going again, which I did and made some
enjoyable QSOs on 14MHz.

I'd wondered from time to time about making remote control QSOs. I use the Logmein client to control my PC if I'm out and about and just recently, I'd noticed that their iPad/iPhone client was free for the basic service. Since for datamodes, I didn't need anything more than screen control - no need to 'pipe' audio, this should work just fine.

So last night, I sat on the sofa downstairs, with my iPad and tried to control the PC running JT65-HF. It seemed to work just fine. It felt odd calling someone without being in front of the radio and being able to tweak the power/alc settings and of course to be able to hear signals! However, I made the leap of faith and R2DX was my first ever remote control QSO. I followed on with AB1J and a German station.

I also have the Logmein client on my iPhone, so this lunchtime, I tried the same type of experiments across the Internet from the office. Although broadly successful, there was too much latency, and though I could see signals being decoded and press the appropriate buttons - the timing didn't always work out correctly. Apologies to Harald DL8ZBA who must have wondered what was happening when I calleed him!

Nevertheless, this looks quite promising, particularly around the house and perhaps further afield when there is a good network connection.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wouxun KG-UV920R gets out into the wild

After speaking with Ian G4WUH on his new Wouxun mobile 144/433MHz dual bander at the weekend, some more reports are starting to come in.

A very useful resource is VA3ISP's blog which details some of the findings so far.

A friend in Hungary has also received a rig and I am looking forward to hearing how it works out on the air.

Reading through some posts today, I realised that the reason for the long period of time between my original blog post about this rig and the eventual release date was that some redesign work had to be done. Wouxun have made a good impression with their handhelds, let's keep our fingers crossed this continues with the mobile.

An interesting weekend's VHF

Having written last week about the shifting conditions on VHF, it was fun to notice and enjoy both sides of the coin this weekend; summer conditions in the shape of some Es and autumn conditions in the shape of some tropo.

Saturday started off with an interesting QSO with Ian G4WUH on the GB3UK repeater - interesting because Ian was using one of the new Wouxun 144/433MHz dual band mobiles. Very nice it sounded too and Ian spoke highly of the sensitivity of the receiver.

Just as I was about to head back out to the garden I noticed some signals on 50MHz and discovered that there was some Es around up in the direction of Scandinavia. The best distances were SM2SUM (KP03) and YL2LW (KO26) but there were a couple of new squares closer to home in Norway. Signals got very loud at one stage and I thought I should check 70MHz. I was glad I did, as the first thing I heard was ES1AEW/2 on 70.200. Didn't work him, but had a nice QSO with ES1CW on the key. Not so far away, but just as interesting was a QSO on 50MHz with the Grantham club, operating GB0BL from the Bressay light near Lerwick, Shetland - I was delighted as the GB3LER beacon was coming in and very often there are no stations to be heard.

Sunday morning saw 145MHz FM lively with lots of French stations. In particular, the repeater on 145.725 was strong, way over the top of GB3SN in Hampshire. A bit of research showed that it was the FZ2VHC repeater near Le Havre. I listened to a QSO finish and then cautiously dropped my call in. To my delight, Jean F6CRB replied, in English and was delighted to have a QSO with a UK station - we chatted for a few minutes. Some other repeaters and simplex stations were heard although the good conditions were over, probably by around 1030 local time as the day warmed up.

It was enjoyable to once again, get the 145/433 MHz scanning going again and see what could be worked.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

UV-5R programming again - and USB drivers!

Last weekend I decided I wanted to put four or five new frequencies into the memories in the UV-5R. No drama - I got out the USB lead, plugged into the laptop and was about to start the programming software, when I noticed that the driver hadn't started properly - no Com port available!

Odd - it was fine last time I used it. So I tried reinstalling using the installer. No luck. Tried another version of the installer, no. Tried a generic driver. No. Then I remembered there was something funny about having to manually install ser2pl.sys. No.

After all this about an hour had passed and I only wanted to program about 6 simplex frequencies in. My patience was exhausted and I decided to program it manually.

This weekend I found the original install CD for the programming lead and I thought - great, I can definitely make it work now. Plugged the lead in, ready to set up the drivers and...

Yes, you've guessed it, it worked straight away without me having to reinstall or do anything. Why? I have no idea.....

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The changing seasons - with an eye on propagation

Living where we do in the country, we feel the change of the seasons quite intensely. Far more so, I think, than when I lived in a town. Here, I have cried with happiness to see the first blossom on the cherry tree signalling that the darkness of the Winter is behind us - and the first sighting of a swallow or swift back from Africa in the Spring is something that never fails to bring me joy.

From a radio point of view, just as welcome, in the Spring, is the return of the Sporadic E propagation and I realise that it is a milestone of the year which makes me happy. So, since May I have been happily employed working as many Es openings as I could on 50 and 70MHz and have been thrilled by the contacts I've had. It's a form of propagation that continues to fascinate me year in and year out. This year, having 27/28MHz in the car to monitor propagation as provided extra interest.

But the Es openings though not gone, are less frequent than they were a month ago. Over the last week, I have noticed, not only a changing quality of light, but a changing in the propagation in the morning on 144/433MHz. As the nights are cooling down a little bit more, the first couple of hours or so after sunrise see some 'local' enhancements with VHF/UHF repeaters 50 to 100 miles away coming through better and then fading as the temperature of the day rises.

Like it or not, and I must say, I do not, Autumn is on the way.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chirp update

I had the chance to try Chirp, simplex  on a couple of PMR446 radios with Julie this evening. We still didn't manage to exchange Chirps on air. Having tried the test simplex, that's eliminated the audio circuitry of the repeater from the first test. My guess is that we're not getting the audio bandwidth we need.

However, the lovely people from the Chirp team have been in touch, so we'll see what we can come up. It would be exciting to get something working.

Perseids 2012 - part 2

After the Olympics closing ceremony had finished at around 0030 local time 13th August, I set the WSJT gear up monitoring 144.370 for a second night.

As to be expected a bit less activity but still some nice reflections:

SP4K
I8KEV (Best reflections of the night!)
DL0HOF
ON1IM (Probably tropo or backscatter)
S51AT (Great consistent reflections)

Very encouraging to have copied all these stations. I've got the 2m PA available again now, so ought to be able to run enough power for some MS tests, even with the little antenna. I think it will be something fun to try over the quieter conditions of autumn and winter.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sometimes the interesting QSOs aren't the long-distance ones

I think I've reflected before that sometimes it isn't always the really long distance contacts that catch your imagination. Yesterday was an interesting day, although I didn't really have any contacts that I would have called DX - but they were still interesting from a propagation point of view.

It started off on 70MHz with a QSO with John, G3VHH on MB7FM, the 70MHz parrot in Tring. It was an interesting QSO and one of the first I had on FM using the new transverter setup. Just after lunch, I noticed on Twitter that Ken G0PPM said that he was in Wales and calling CQ on 50.150. I nipped upstairs and to my surprise could just hear Ken. Not well enough to do much other than exchange reports, but not bad for a mobile to - vertical contact at just over 110km. Ken then asked if I could try on 28MHz. I said I could, but didn't really expect to hear him. Although I couldn't hear him on SSB, we were able to complete a rudimentary QSO on CW quite easily which was fun.

Later on, Julie and I decided to go for a walk up White Horse Hill and I threw the IC-E92 in. As we were sitting, enjoying the view from the top of the hill, I had a tune around and could hear M0JLA/P talking to Stewart, G0LGS in Cheltenham. After they signed, I rather hopefully called Rod, M0JLA and was pleased when he came back. It turned out that he was on a SOTA summit near Presteigne in Herefordshire, not far from the Welsh border - a distance of 120km or so. Rod was using a beam, but I was just using the little rubber duck antenna, so felt quite satisfied with the contact.

All interesting contacts and a little bit out of the ordinary.

Perseids 2012 on 144MHz

I haven't really got myself out of 50 and 70MHz Es mode yet, so still really only looking for those openings - which are getting a bit less frequent now. However, realising yesterday that it was the peak of the Perseids meteor shower, I thought it would be a good time to see what I could hear using the digital modes - as now have the interface mentioned earlier in the year.

Last night I setup the FT847 on 144.370 which is the FSK441 frequency and set the WSJT software running in monitor mode to see what would happen. When I looked at the 'log' this morning there was plenty of interest and quite a number of stations heard:

DK1CO
S55AW
PA0BWL (tropo or backscatter?)
DK1KH
F1JQM
EA3AXV (one of the outstanding signals for me - copied many times)
DG1WEH
PA3BIY
DL3MBJ
S51WO
YU7TRI
IN3FFN
S50C (another outstanding and consistent signal)
YO2LAM (probably the best DX)
DL0HOF
PA5KM (tropo or backscatter)
I1RJP
F1HQM
SP2HMR
F6APE
SP2OBQ

Well, I probably should have spent some time trying to make some QSOs, but actually I was quite happy to see what I heard and I am delighted with this haul. The antenna here is just the little 5 element, so this was probably more about strong short reflections rather than longer but quite weak ones that you get when you aim closer to the horizon with a long yagi.

It's not all over yet though and it will probably be worth setting the receiver going again this evening.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Experiments with Chirp - sending an audio URL....

In amateur radio terms, Chirp is an ambigious term! In this context, we're not talking about your CW transmitter warbling up and down the band and we're not talking about a neat package for programming your handheld.

Two or three weeks ago, Rory Cellan Jones presented an item on the BBC about an application called Chirp that runs on smartphones. It provides the ability to transfer files between devices using audio.

Let's say I've a picture or a URL on my phone that I want to send you. I start the Chirp application on my phone, as do you. I select the photo that I want to send you and press the button. First of all, the application quickly uploads the picture to the Chirp server. Once it's done that, it sends a series of tones which your phone 'hears'. The tones act as like an audio QR code and provide your phone with a URL with which it can access the picture that I uploaded.

Julie and I have been using Chirp to transmit photos between our iPhones and iPads - it's easier than emailling photos back and forth.

The other evening I was talking to David M0TFY on GB3WH and we were talking about Chirp and we wondered whether it would work on the air. After all, how often do you want to send someone a URL or an email address over the air? If you're like me, pretty frequently! Something like Chirp would work well.

Our experiment of using Chirp using our iPhones miked into the radio across GB3WH failed. However, I've a feeling that if we tried simplex we might be more successful - my suspicion was that some of the tones that Chirp uses were not being passed by the audio circuitry of the repeater.

Even if the Chirp application doesn't work over the air (which I think it probably should) - it might be an interesting project for someone to write something that would use tones that would pass over the air readily and robustly to send URLs or eMails...

The Chirp application is free and runs on iPhones. You can read about it here or download it from the App Store.

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