Monday, 21 March 2011

Murphy's Law

Question: What happens when a Radio Amateur leaves his rig monitoring PSK on 15m to do some essential maintenance at Home.
Answer: Stations from Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela make their appearance along with many from Brazil. USA was pounding in, although none of the missing states for me showed up on PSK-Reporter.
My tropical fish tank looks good now though after 4 hours of work, and found a fish I had thought had died.
Spent some time trying to resolve a PSK-125 signal, then realised the noise reducer on my TS-570D was on. It has no effect on narrower band PSK, but made decoding PSK-125 inoperative.

GB3MP - going a bit weird lately, receive performance seems erratic, and on several occasions TX noisy.
"Sausage and Scouse" net had to abandon it's regular sched last week as many stations usually loud and clear were unreadable at times.. i understand that since the privatisation of the site, access is an issue, as is the cost for any visits for maintenance. I-O-M government support GD3GD I believe, pity this can't be done here as it would be an asset in any local emergency. Perhaps when Wales gets more financial devolution...

Been scouring local shops without success for fabric to cover my homemade speaker enclosures. Then Eureka... I had found an old pair of trousers which will never fit me again so snip snip snip, I have fabric for my speakers That didn't cost me an arm and a leg, just a leg!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

2 months in - observations

Main difference I see from "the old days" is in operating practices on VHF, although only from a minority. For some callsigns seem to be obsolete, as does management of the QSO. Sudden drop of carrier in group leading to doubling where nobody knows who it has been passed to. In large groups sitting on repeaters, breakers being acknowledged, but not brought in for some 10 minutes when the reason for the break may well have passed.
Also on VHF, both simplex and on repeaters the presence of interfering stations playing music or just swearing/insulting those on frequency. The opinion of those affected is that OFCOM will do nothing, and on one occasion I heard that after the police had been advised of a known 'pirate' they said that it was not illegal and there was nothing they could do.

On HF predominately, the noise levels from more and more electrical paraphernalia. Conversations with other Foreign Amateurs seem a thing of the past, especially using data modes.

EQSLcc is brilliant. I am however surprised (disappointed) at one 'modern' station in Gibraltar who will only QSL direct, and this only if we send him money to cover postage. Perhaps a nice little earner...
Again a computer based facility I find excellent. I use DM-780 for data modes,this being part of the "Ham Radio Deluxe" suite of programs. Within that program is a PSK-REPORTER module. Stations using this optional facility automatically report back to a central server details of stations identified on the PSK waterfall, recording time and in most cases frequency. The user can then look on a world map and see a map showing stations heard, or stations who have decoded the transmission of the home station. This also appears in a logbook form. Very useful for checking the directionality of any aerial.

FT-480R boxed up and ready to go back to Castle for replacement of the relays, one of which seems to be the culprit for TX dropping out randomly. With the money spent on this OLD rig I could have bought a new one...

My local crowd seem a good bunch. There is no local Club however the nearest being some 17 miles away. Perhaps we have a niche to fill?

Just finished building the speaker enclosures for the shack, now 15m and 17m antennae to design and install.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The FT-480R yet another issue

Been using the FT-480R received back from Castle Electronics earlier in the week, It appears from reports that the output intermittently fails, although no indication on the transmit led-line indicators.
Changed antenna, no change in behaviour, so spent 30 minutes sitting on 145.200 after connecting in an in-line power / SWR meter. Thought this was not working as the new vertical showed negligible SWR. The beam showed 1.4:1 so not bad for a start.

Anyway, the rig puts out 12W FM for some time, then it drops to very low power, estimates at < .5W.  Back to receive and it is full again, sometimes for a period of minutes, in fact up to 12 till next failure, but sometimes 20 seconds or so. Initial thought is the relay... Back to Castle.

Seems that this cheap rig circa 1980 is going to cost me more than a new modern one.

Thanks Nottingham Amateur, you dodged a bullet which got me right in the bank account.

At what point do I cut my losses?


April 2011
 Sent rig to Castle again, both relays repaired and now fully functioning except for the memory. Going to get a new rig and keep this as a spare.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Wind over the willows

Thursday, just 4 days since 2m beam went into proper service. Received my FT-480R back from Castle Electronics yesterday. The fault on this radio which I bought of another amateur on eBay was that the front end was way out of alignment. This is a fault which could not have happened in transit from this Nottingham based guy, so unless he was totally unaware of how deaf the rig was, (very improbable unless a complete idiot), then I had been taken for a ride. The rig ended up costing me £112.00 + £10.00 initially, plus £6.00 postage to Castle, plus £100.00 for repair and return. £228.00 in total.
My advice, unless you can pay by PayPal for goods sight unseen then don't take the risk. This unscrupulous guy refused PayPal, now I know why, there was no comeback under eBay buyer protection.


Anyway, rant over. The rig is performing very nicely now when connected to the new vertical, so have migrated the TR9000 to SSB duty on the beam. This is working OK, but no real test yet, and need to lift the beam up another 3 feet or so. 10' pole now arrived which will go up soon.

The wind is having fun with the aerials however, just hope they are still up there this evening!

Snowdonia Radio Company emailed me Tuesday apologising for their delay in responding, busy and all that, and requested I send them contact details so that we can discuss the issues I have/questions raised. Did so, but no call yet.

I find the hex beam design for HF interesting, and am looking to adapt this for loft installation for 10m.
Will report if successful or not, but need to get the hang of the aerial evaluation software first. Also working of add-ons to link eQSLcc to Ham Radio Deluxe to automatically update my log with details of QSLs received.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

where is the 2m activity?

Received my ZL special 5 element beam from Moonraker last week in installed it on a rotator about 25 feet agl. This was topped off some 5 foot higher with a 2m 1/2 wave vertical to replace the 2 x 1/2 wave phased vertical made from copper pipe. Main reason being aesthetic, both aerials technically 2.5 db gain.
Instructions for the beam were basic but clear, none received for the vertical, although construction obvious.

What a bummer - vertical down some 20db on the old one,  As for the 2m beam - not a thing heard, although spent some time on the ARRL contest, need 6 more states to complete my collection. Since raised it a further 2 feet, some improvement, but still down. Reasonable take-off in most directions can hear GB3LD, GB3VT at S2 and S4 respectively, well could on the old antenna.
Spent several hours listening on 144.300 MHz on Sunday evening with no success, generally pointing east where I expect to most activity.

Ordered a 10 foot mast (Sunday) to lift all by 3 feet, and hopefully will get some improvement.

Tuesday mast arrived, did not fit through the letter box though!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Tuesday - Bazooka for 20m installed

After much reading I decided a few weeks ago to construct a 20m Bazooka antenna for deployment in the loft. Built it using RG59/U co-ax with 300 ohm ribbon end pieces and later realised I had insufficient 75 ohm co-ax for the feeder. A company close to me (KENABLE) stocked what I needed at a very reasonable price, 100m was purchased.. Arriving home I set about connecting the feeder to the antenna - The solder would not take on the 75 ohm coax, so out I went again for some 'chocolate block' connectors. None in stock in Screwfix, but Tool Station had them in at 29p. Yahoo.
Connected up then set about fixing it in place. An hour later, covered in dust, I emerged from the roof space victorious. Little bending of the ends was needed and it lies approximately North-South.
Another hole drilled through the wall, coax fed through, and PL259 employed.
Aerial connected to the rig's #2 input and I trolled the band.
Seems to have an S-Point or so gain over the long wire , and picks up less static. This letter point was to be expected as the Bazooka is supposed to be a quieter aerial noise wise.
As I use PSK via HRD and DM780 software I left the Propagation monitor running over Wednesday to see if there was any discernible difference between antennae. Result - bazooka seems more efficient and more signals seem to be clear of the noise.
Rest of Wednesday spent constructing ZL-Special for 2m.
Also thinking of bazookas for 15m and 10m now. Probably folded dipole for 17m.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

My views on customer service

Over last weekend I contacted several companies to either purchase equipment or enquire about kit already owned. Responses have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
I decided to continue my rebuild of the station by purchasing a 2m beam, rotator, and a less conspicuous vertical antenna. I ordered the antennae from Moonraker, and the rotator, 4-way PL 259 switch (HF use) and PL 259 plugs from Nevada Radio. After I had placed the order from Moonraker (on the Sunday) I realised I had forgotten the ferrite chokes I needed. I e-mailed their support area and received a response almost by return  advising that they would add these items to the order and take additional payment automatically. Kudos.
On the Monday I received a telephone call from Nevada Radio advising that the rotator was not available and that they would not be restocking the item. It also transpired that the switch was also not available. I was offered the PL 259 plugs post free to compensate for the inconvenience.
I subsequently looked on the internet again for the rotator and found it at Moonraker, albeit £20.00 more expensive. 4 way switches were vastly more expensive elsewhere. I ordered the rotator.
Later that afternoon I received an e-mail from Moonraker advising me that they had noticed I now had 2 orders with them which they have now combined thus saving me postage. WooHoo.
Also on Sunday I e-mailed Snowdonia Radio Company regarding a query on their HF 360 vertical. This is the second time I have contacted them. As of Tuesday lunchtime no response. (again)
Moonraker 10/10
Nevada Radio 6/10
SRC 2/10 (very disappointed in support capability, 2 given as their long wire antenna is quite good)