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.

Festival of Bright Ideas 2016

REAST FOBI Stand 2016

I recently had the pleasure of helping my radio clubĀ host a stand as part of the Festival of Bright Ideas in Hobart, held has part of National Science Week. This has been one of the first public events that the club has been involved with for some time, and has it turned out, it was a great success!

Read moreFestival of Bright Ideas 2016

Bluetooth Rig Control for $10!

HC-05 Interface Board
The Bluetooth Dongle. Read below for details

If it’s one thing that continually amazes me is the impact Arduino & IoT are having on Amateur Radio. Things that were once complex pieces of electronics with a complex price tag are now commoditised and available for pennies.

When I first started, a CAT rig control interface could cost up to $200, particularly if on-brand. Taking a look on eBay now, you can find a heap of these Bluetooth Dongles that plug into the back of my FT-817 for generally around $12!

Unfortunately for me, the one that arrived is dead on arrival. It did give me an opportunity to pop the cover and see what is inside. there is not a lot to it at all! To the right of the LED in the picture is basically an AMS1117 3.3V regulated power circuit base, with an HC-05 Serial TTL to Bluetooth Module soldered on as a daughterboard. With only 5 pins in use – +ve, gnd, rx, tx, and LED state, very little needs to be done with these units other than connecting the cables at the right places!

My testing of this unit found that the HC05 board is defective. I have confirmed all power is going to the right places, and it is correctly wired, but unfortunately the unit does not broadcast a bluetooth device ID. This is the big catch when buying from eBay – you get what you pay for! lucky for me the seller is willing to send a replacement unit.

I think however I will eventually purchase one of the units made by K6VHFĀ (His eBay store here). Its ridiculously more expensive, but I will get a unit that has been assembled and tested properly by someone familiar with the radios – and given I spent about an hour of my time today troubleshooting the defective one, with unknown quality of the replacement, that may be money well spent.

I’ll give an update when I have a working adaptor!

A Quick Activation of Trevallyn Recreation Nature Area VKFF-1156

 

IMG_2017

I had a day trip to Launceston today to assist a new amateur radio operator get on air with his HF rig. I decided that if I has some spare time left over we could stop by the nearby Trevallyn Recreation Nature Reserve and work a few contacts from it.

VKFF-1156 is again somewhere pretty easy to get to, being part of the tourist trail in Launceston and giving access to Lake Trevallyn and the hydro power dam. Access is via sealed road and I ended up setting up of a flat area a couple of hundred metres up from the boat ramp.

This also gave me an opportunity to try my new portable station. I have done away the the aluminium mast and Icom 706 as my go-to configuration and now have a squid pole, linked dipole and FT-817 QRP radio for portable operation. It all sounds suspiciously like I might be getting into SOTA soon! I will probably boost the in-car Ā configuration with a QRP amplifier.

IMG_2018

This also gave me the opportunity to try a tweak to my logging set up by use Fast Log Entry to for WWFF. For those of you who are observant, yes that is an iPad, and yes that does look a lot like Windows! What I actually have is a small 7″Pendo Pad running Windows 8.1 (These can’t be bought any more) that I connect to iPad hotspot with, and then remote desktop to the Pendo tablet to run FLE. Its all a bit complicated, but FLE is the simplest way to log WWFF contacts effectively in an ADIF format.
IMG_2019

I’d love to say I jung around and got the 44 contacts, however the Tasmanian sun is very harsh and I was very quickly getting burnt. Also, the bands were incredibly open from that location – I could not find a free frequency to call on on the 20m band, with 40m being equally full. In the end I had to make do with just 3-4 contacts and the knowledge that I really need to go back again and do it properly.

Building A linked Dipole

IMG_1989It’s been a little while since I have posted, and its not because I haven’t been doing anything. I’ve been getting my portable station even more portable that before. Ov er the past 3 weeks where I have had a spare evening I have been putting together a new portable station that is even more lightweight than the previous setup featured in my post on Peter Murrell Reserve. Key to this has been producing a linked dipole.

Linked dipoles provide the benefit of creating a single-wire antenna that is resonant on multiple bands without a tuner by “linking” together lengths of wire with clips. While there is no limit on how many links you make, it may not be practical to make the dipole suit everything between 1.8 and 450 Mhz.

I ended up going for a 5 band antenna – 6m, 10m, 15m, 20m, 40m.

Read moreBuilding A linked Dipole

Activating Peter Murrell Reserve VKFF-1146

QRV VKFF-1146As much as I am a fan of Summits On The Air (SOTA), activating a summit requires a level of portability that I am yet to obtain as well as a level of fitness that I am yet to obtain too, which is why I got pretty excited when I discovered the World Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) Program.

Recently there have been a number of additions made to the Database for VK7, which originally was national parks only. The inclusion of a number of new conservation reserves meant that I was able to activate Peter Murrell Reserve which was only 30 minutes away as opposed to a significant 2 hour drive to the nearest national park. It also helped that the carpark fell just within the VKFF boundary.

Being such a glorious day weather wise I made the spur of the moment decision to activate the park.

Read moreActivating Peter Murrell Reserve VKFF-1146

Stuffing the Smoke Back In!

Loads

This post will end the saga where I let the magic smoke out of a somewhat expensive commercial antenna.

Today a package arrived in the mail from china which greatly excited me. In it was 100x 10k ohm 3 Watt carbon film resistors from eBay, costing around $8 including delivery. with these, some Veroboard and a little bit of patience I was rebuilding the resistive loads in the antenna. one of the old loads is on the left and the new home brew one is on the right. The damaged resistors are marked as 10k ohm, but measuring them with a multimeter gave a reading of 1.1k ohm.

Read moreStuffing the Smoke Back In!

Letting the Smoke Out I

Oops

AboveĀ is a rather fine example of letting the smoke out. My last postĀ talked about replacing a dipole that had worked well for many years but suddenly not so much. With the options of breaking it all apart to check the inside pieces, or throwing out the antenna, I chose the former.

What you are looking at is a very cooked load. Originally 9 10k ohm resistors in parallel are now well in truly charred. behind this (as evidenced by red winding wire) is a ferrite rod with a coil wrapped around it, in parallel with the resistor bank. These loads are used to give the antenna its low SWR across all bands.

Cooking the loads occurs when you forget there is a difference between Px and Py power and also forget that most baluns/loads can take a greater amount of the former over the latter. In this case my new radio allowed me to transmit 100 watts of PSK31, when the antenna was only rated for 50 watts.

It’s not out of the realms of possibility to repair this, should the ferrites in the loads and balun still be in working order. However when you take into consideration that I am would probably needĀ to replace most of the stainless steel wire, obtain replacement resistors and still end up with a balun of questionable integrity (due to aforementioned power excesses), it may be time to recover what I can from the antenna and throw out the remains.

New HF Antenna for Home – an OCF Windom!

OCFWindom

When I made up the 4:1 balun earlier this week, I didn’t realise that I would be putting it to use by the end of the week!

Ever since I got active again, the commercial multi band dipole that I had been using for many years was no longer working optimally. When I first purchased it, it had an SWR of < 1.8:1 across most bands, but recently the SWR had had risen to around 2.5:1 across most bands. After discussing and troubleshooting the issue with the antenna manufacturer, it was decided the cost to replace faulty parts exceeded the original purchase price of the antenna.

It was time to replace the antenna.

Read moreNew HF Antenna for Home – an OCF Windom!