RD Contest 2017

RTTY QSOs during 2017 RD Contest
RTTY QSOs during 2017 RD Contest

The 2017 RD Contest was over the weekend of August 12-13 and I was keen to participate this year, having been unable to participate last year due to my involvement in the Festival of Bright Ideas. With Tasmania winning the state vs state competition, I was keen to do my bit to defend that title.

With the waning solar cycle leading to pretty poor propagation conditions in my near NVIS antenna setup, my focus had been working local stations on VHF and higher bands. Critically, I was now in a position to take advantage of the allowed RTTY digital mode, which was worth double points on 144Mhz and 430Mhz, 4 points on the 23cm band, and a triple multiplier between 1am and 6am meaning there was up to 12 points per contact on offer!

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A 3D Case for the TNC-Pi

TNC-Pi Printed Enclosure
TNC-Pi Printed Enclosure

In my last post, one of the things I mentioned was that I built a TNC-Pi shield for my Raspberry Pi, that allows be take part in packet radio. One of the things I didn’t like so much was that I had nothing to put it in to protect the circuits from dust or a misplaced screwdriver shorting out the board.

I was therefore pretty happy to receive as a birthday gift a 3D Printed enclosure designed to hold the Raspberry Pi and TNC from Scott VK7LXX. I’d pointed out the design about a week earlier when looking around, but lacked access to a 3D printer and spare time needed to print.

As you can see in the image to the left and above, it makes quite a comfortable fit. I used a bit of foam to sandwich between the Pi-TNC and the USB ports of the Pi just to prevent any contact of soldered joints with the metal casing around the USB connectors.

Scott tells me this printing was done at a “coarse” level, to speed up the print process and took around 3 hours to print. Those who are eagle eyed will notice that cases bottom is slightly rounded due to an imperfection in the print process – I’m not worried by this because the objective is to protect whats inside, not necessarily be pretty.

3-6 months ago, I was mocking the idea of needing a 3D printer, but I’m not laughing now. I can definitely see myself using a 3D printer to make custom parts in the shack!

Where the Heck is VK7BEN?

It’s been quite a while between posts, and in fact this is only my second post since January. It’s not because I have been slacking off though. So I’ll try and give a bit of an update as to whats been going on.

Pa posing for the camera, Huon River

A couple of weeks after my last post, my Grandfather died 🙁 It was for reasons known about to family, but it always happens sooner than you would like and the loss has been immense. I was particularly close to my grandfather and even 3 months later the thought that I can no longer see him is very raw and hard to deal with.

“Pa’s” influence on me has certainly be that of love for Tasmania’s vast wilderness. When I am not playing with amateur radio, I love taking photography of a wild Tasmania, of which you can see many of these photos over on Flickr.

Pa also encouraged my technical abilities and was fascinated by the things I was doing in the radio space, from who I contacted via DX, to how light could be modulated with audio along to being able to broadcast Television. As I said, I’ll miss my conversations with him.

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Giving a FSQ! Instant Messaging on Air

FSQ in fldigi

It seems I don’t get to play on air as much as I would like, but the other day I discovered a video by Kevin KB9RLW talking about this digital chat mode called FSQ. I shared the link with guys in the VK7 Online Chat Room and before I knew it, there were 3-4 people getting set up to use this mode.

Fast Simple QSO (FSQ) has been around since 2014 and is developed by two New Zealanders – Con Wassilieff ZL2AFP & Murray Greenman ZL1BPU. It has some rather interesting characteristics about it such as weak signal capabilities, the ability to send files and pictures and also that commands can be sent  as triggers to remote devices.  The latter is very interesting for propagation reports – being able to send a command out and then have reports given back about your SNR amongst other uses.

Anyway, early days for my experimentation with this mode and I am sure you will hear more from me about it soon!

 

SOTA Activations VK7/SC-001 & VK7/SC-045

Today I finally got around to activating my first summit – Mt Wellington VK7/SC-001.

Given I had a “very long weekend” for Australia Day, I was determined that I would get some portable radio operations in over the weekend. A work colleague Richard, VK7FLCS, had also expressed an interest in seeing how easy portable operation was so the date was set for early afternoon to activate Mt Wellington, and then Mount Rumney if time permitted.

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The LCA 2017 Open Radio Mini Conference

Looking out over the Derwent River from the LCA2017 Conference held at Wrest Point
Looking out over the Derwent River from the LCA2017 Conference held at Wrest Point

This week I had the pleasure of attending Linux Conference Australia, the largest Free & Open Source Software Community event in Australia. As part of the conference there were a series of mini conferences held in the first two days and I was lucky enough to be asked to be involved with the Open Radio Mini Conference.

Scott VK7LXX Presenting on SatNOGS
Scott VK7LXX Presenting on SatNOGS

There were a number of fantastic talks at the event on Satellites, Getting into Amateur Radio, HPSDR, 10GHZ EME, Hamlib along with a panel discussion. One of the fantastic things about LCA was that all the sessions have been recorded and placed on Youtube, so I can just link to them below:

Also at the conference was Steve Conklin AI4QR who presented as part of the main conference on the Phase 4 Geosynchronous Satellite Efforts in progress with AMSAT. This was a fascinating presentation and can be found by following this link.

LCA2018 is going to be held on the UTS Campus in Sydney next year, and hopefully there will be another Open Radio Miniconference!

Experiments with an End Fed Half Wave Antenna

Portable Setup, Mount Direction
Portable on Mount Direction

I went away to the Tasmania’s West Coast in October 2016 and had hoped to work some stations. For radio, the trip was a bit of a disaster with the place we were staying having lots of solar inverter noise. The other thing was that it was very tedious to use a linked dipole in the location I was in. Since that day I had resolved that I would try and end-fed antenna and see how that goes.

The End Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antenna is popular with many QRP Portable stations, particularly for activities such as SOTA or WWFF. The big drawback of the end-fed is the high impedances they have, which means that you need to carry some sort of Antenna tuner to match the impedance with the radio. The thought of lugging around an antenna tuner and then having to retune every time I switched frequency was less than appealing though.

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In the Beginning…

Happy 2017 Everyone!

The New Year is about beginnings for many, so it seems as good a time as any to share my story about how I started in amateur radio.

I was introduced to Amateur Radio in the Early 1990s by Charles Payne, VK7PP. I met Charles when I was tracing back the history of my Heron Sailing Dinghy, Sobraon, at the time and which he and his son Andrew built in the 1970s. When he took me up to his study to find some photos, he pointed out all his amateur radio gear and showed me how to make contact. After that I visited several times over the next 2-3 years to explore amateur radio after school, before leaving for college meant that it was too difficult to visit.

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2016 Oceania SSB DX Contest

Over the weekend, the 2016 Oceania DX Contest was held. This was my first contest for the season, having missed this years RD Contest due to other commitments.

This year was definitely hard going compared to last year, with band propagation conditions truly terrible throughout the contest and then suffering the static crashes from a lightning storm occurring on the SA/NSW/VIC border later on Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t being particularly serious about the event this year, and therefore much of the time was spent in “search and pounce” mode making the initial contacts and then after the initial flurry, going off to do something else and returning to the radio every half hour or so to spin the dial and listen for any new signals.

And new signals were very few and far between, with only 9 contacts logged in the last 12 hours of the contest, with most bands only answering with the sound of the noise floor up until the last 3 hours of the contest on Sunday.

In the end I managed 42 contacts over the 24 hours of the contest, with the band split below:

Band QSOs
1.8 2
3.5 14
7 16
14 10

In comparison, this is around half the contacts from my 2015 contest effort. Notably last year there was much more activity on 20m (39 contacts) than this year, and 15m saw some contacts where this year there was none.

During the contest, I think my highlights would have been working 2 stations on 160m – it’s very rare for me to work anything at all on “top band”, along with being able to exchange contacts with stations I knew such as IK4GRO and VK5PAS (Hi Paul!).

Well the next big contest is CQWW SSB, which will be “The Big One”. Looking forward to it.