News and Views Archive, 2007
December 28th, 2007: Old Tyme Radio
As I have documented, I came back to Amateur Radio in late 2006 after a 40 year break and in the meantime I had had a career in electronics and then left the industry. I feel a strong connection with my Amateur Radio roots in the early sixties. Back to people whose names I have forgotten, not because they were not memorable but because their names escape me! Members of the Reading Amateur Radio Club, the guy who worked for the GPO (guess what wire he used for his aerials) who welcomed me into his shack and lent me a BC3?? Command set so that I could listen to the club net on Top Band. To a good friend and fellow apprentice at AWRE who gave me my first RX, a good quality BC receiver to which I added two 6:1 reduction drives and made the IF regenerate to get more sensitivity.
The Americans have their 'Elmers' whereas we tend to have 'friendly chaps' but there was one amateur at the Reading club who was a G something two letters. He was a bit like Buddha and it was really something to be allowed to visit his shack, I remember that he had a high bench and in pride of place, with it's yellowish lights, was the biggest receiver I had ever seen. An AR88LF stuff of legends. I tell you, such a machine can be very intimidating if the best you have is an R109. I used to dream of 20 metres and Top band - mysterious places!
Things change, amateur radio, electronics, computing, the whole caboodle has become a vast complexity and there is no way we can understand as much as we can use. However, there are lots of bits around the edges that we amateurs can play with, we can experiment and innovate, and when it comes down to basics, we can communicate when all others have fallen silent.
The special thing about being a newly licenced amateur is enthusiasm, a certain naivety that allows us to be optimistic when the old farts are decrying everything. After so many years away from the hobby I was happy to find that it still existed and I predict that amateur radio will become increasingly important and relevant over the coming decades. Due to climate change there will be many instances in which amateur radio operators are the only means of reliable communication. Certainly, recent disasters in the US have shown that radio Amateurs were the only people who could maintain cross-service communications. Not that I'm looking for a disaster but I do worry that commercial pressure may lead to threats on our very small bandwidths.
December 27th, 2007: Christmas Presents
It was a good amateur radio Christmas for me, for you too I hope! My main present was a Kenwood-751E 2 metre all mode transceiver obtained via eBay, it was sold by Barry, G7NME. He is the best kind of eBay seller, the auction had ended just before Christmas and Barry sent me the TRX by Special Delivery 'so you can have it before Christmas'. Good man! Other radio presents were the ARRL Handbook and Pat Hawker's Antenna Topics.
Kenwood comes with a very good reputation in amateur circles and I was curious as to how the 751 would perform, I had read the reviews on eHam and they tend to uphold the good name of Kenwood.
My 'try it out antenna' is merely my telescopic 6m dipole closed down to an open space resonance at 145 MHz which I placed on top of the equipment shelving in the shack. I have to say that the the squelch is somewhat quirky and does not behave as the handbook suggests but this is one sensitive RX. Not having operated on 2m before I took a relatively easy route by joining my club net, the furthest station was around 10 miles away (he also had the clearest path). I had set the low power output to 10 watts and reports from everyone were good, the best signals here were the ones that gave me the best reports.
I have a plan to build a Moxon for 2m and put it on a rotator, it would be so lightweight that I should be able to use the most simple of TV rotators.
December 7th, 2007: Making Stuff
I spent 25 years in the electronics industry and left it behind 20 years ago. It's just over a year since I became re-interested in amateur radio and after a period as a SWL I bought an Icom IC-703 and got licenced. It was great to get on the air, something I used to dream about in 1964, and I get a buzz out of working QRP DX.
What came as a surprise was how much I enjoy making 'stuff', the whole process, planning, documenting, sourcing, building and testing. The BITX20A project has really shown me how much pleasure I get from the construction process. I know that I'm no design innovator and my own designs are basic adaptations but that does not not bother me.
I think that construction will be at least as important as operating. Anything I make that might be useful to others will documented on this site.
November 24th, 2007: BITX20A
This receiver kicks! I have initially set the tuning range to be from 14,180 to 14,317 and checking during the afternoon I have been pulling in stations from the US & Canada as well as the proverbially strong stations from Italy. Using an aerial switch I made comparisons with my Icom IC-703. Subjectively there is little difference in sensitivity and selectivity. The station manager declared that the same stations were much easier to understand on the BITX20A than on the 703. The Icom has a richer tone, but the BITX20A has greater clarity when listening through the local plasma TV QRM. I would imagine that the audio bandwidth of the Icom has more bottom and that the BITX20A has more top. The VFO is very stable considering the PCB is just sitting on the bench and I had no trouble following long QSOs without re-tuning.
November 3rd, 2007: More Vista?
Back in August (see below for details) I took a look at the take up of Microsoft's Vista operating system by looking at the operating systems used by visitors to my websites. At that point Windows XP was used by 74 percent, for the month of October it was 73.5 per cent - still the most popular OS. back then Vista was being used by 5.7 percent and in October by 5.9 per cent. Linux, MacOS & Windows 98 seem to be holding their own with similar percentages as back in August, likewise Windows 2000.
As before, these figures only represent visitors to my sites ( around 15,000 of which approximately half were identified, the other half were probably search engine spiders).
October 26th, 2007: BITX20A Kit
I got the BITX20A kit last Saturday morning and everything I'd heard about it was true. The PCB is a truly professional and a well thought out production, the standard of the components is good and they are as described. This kit is very good value for money and the first batch of 200 has sold out, I understand that orders are being taken in readiness for the next batch. At this moment there are already a few sets already on the air.
I have completed over half of the board and hope to finish it this weekend, the next state is to set the radio up and do some bench testing. Compared to the bits and bobs I have made since coming back to amateur radio this is a big project but thanks to Hendricks QRP Kits it is a pleasure!
October 14th, 2007: On the Air.
HF band conditions were somewhat better today than they have been for a while with a Japanese station coming in clear at around 1100 GMT on 17m and east coast American stations strong in the early afternoon. Southern European stations were strong on 10 metres and towards the end of the RSGB 6 metre activity morning there was a short opening to Portugal and I worked CT1FQ SSB 5 and 8 both ways. Within a few minutes he had faded away, it would be interesting to know how many UK stations working him. Other than CT1FQ the furthest I worked on the magic band was Derby.
October 9th, 2007: The BITX20 Journal and Site Updates.
I have created a section of the site for the BITX20A here and from here there are links to pages covering my additions and mods the first of which is the tone oscillator for the SWR bridge. I have also created a journal which will detail the construction, testing and operation of my BITX20A. I understand that my kit should be shipped this week and that over 150 of the first 200 are sold.
September 24th, 2007: The BITX20 .
The BITX20 is a homebrew 20m SSB transceiver designed by Ashar Farham, VU3ICQ. The philosophy behind the design is that it should be inexpensive to make from easily available components in the developing world and should perform well. The circuit is novel in that, except for the PA and one very common op amp, the transceiver makes use of NPN transistor pairs in bi-directional blocks. You can see the circuit and design details on Ashar's site here.
I came across the design in the October edition of Practical Wireless which carries an article by John Seagar,
G0UCP, and was fired up. The simplicity of the design lends itself to expansion and variation and I have decided to go with the BITX20A variation. This uses a push-pull output stage to give 10 watts output plus numerous other enhancements and is available as a kit from
Henricks QRP Kits for $85. The whole rig, using conventional components, fits on to a PCB measuring 5.5 x 3.5 inches (140 x 90 mm).
I hope to have one the first batch of 200 kits in my mits during October and will devote a page to the process of construction, testing and operation.
September 9th, 2007: Across the Pond.
I made my first contact with the USA today during the Worked All Europe contest. Around mid-day GMT on 14.154 MHz NO2R, in Asbury, New Jersey, was coming into Southampton at a very steady 5 and 9 (SSB). He was working many European stations. I tried calling once or twice but there was something of a pile up because he was strongest signal from the States so I waited for a quiet space and then answered his CQ. Peter came back to me and, with a slight struggle over my call sign, we made the QSL, a distance of 5,500 kilometres. Not so bad on ten watts and a fan dipole in the loft at this point in the sunspot cycle!
Contests and patience seem to be a good combination when working QRP, it was during a contest in July that I made my first contact with Canada. VE3EJ in Grassie, Ontario also gave 5 and 9. We have to remember these were both contest 5 and 9s!
August 27th, 2007: What a Vista!
The general feeling is that Microsoft's Vista operating system is an all time flop with Microsoft being reduced to implying that the number of copies sold to OEMs equals numbers sold to actual users. Those in the know, corporate and geek,geek avoiding the operating system like the plague for a variety of reasons. These include klunkklunkyinvasive security measures, over the top resource requirements, hardware and software compatibility, the dreaded DRM, cost and, for Windows users, the lack of need to change from XP.
But what is actually happening out there, what operating systems are people using when they are on the Internet? I run three very different websites Wymsey (humour), Peartree green (local interest) and Radio Wymsey (amateur radio). Between them these sites get around 3000 hits a week so I thought that it would be good to look at what operating systems visitors to these sites are using. The period looked at is from August 1st to August 25th, 2007.
Across all three sites XP is overwhelmingly the most popular operating system varying from 70.8% to 80.9%. Vista varies from 1.9% to 7.3%. Only on one of the sites is Vista in second place and even then it has a tenth of the visitors that XP does (74.5% to 7.3%). Drawing all three sites together produces the following results:
Linux (all versions)
Naturally, I am not claiming that these figures represents all operating system usage, the figures above only represent visitors to the above sites between the dates mentioned.
August 26th, 2007: Holidays
The Essential Holiday Station
The slightly arty picture, left, shows most of the essential equipment for the holiday station M0WYM/P (click on the image for a larger version). We were located in Falmouth, Cornwall (IO70ld) in a first floor apartment facing south, some 15 metres above sea level and around 300 metres from the sea.
The ICOM IC703 was run from a 7.5 amp hour sealed lead acid battery which was charged from the main as required. I made a 20 metre dipole with a 1:1 balun, one leg of the dipole was out side on the apartment balcony and the other ran indoors around the lounge bay window! The 703 was happy with this and in fact allowed me in fact to put out a signal on 10 and 40 meters, the SWR never being more than 1.5:1.
For six meter operation I trialled my portable six meter dipole which was designed to fold up very small and is intended for backpacking and foot/portable use. Although the balcony was fairly small I was able to rotate the dipole through about 120 degrees.
This was not primarily a radio holiday but I did catch a couple of openings on six, one into Germany and another day into Italy, overall the furthest distance worked on six was I0KNQ/P at 1579 kilometres. Background noise is very low in Falmouth when compared with Southampton where plasma TVs near to me more or less wipe out 20 most of the time. The result was that I heard stations that I had no hope of working with my bendy dipole and ten watts! I did take advantage of some short skip and worked MM0BNN/P, 2M0RFC and LA5RPA/M who was 59 to my 57. On 40 metres I managed to get a 57 from Germany using the dipole - goodness only knows now much of my 10 watts was actually getting into the ether!