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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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!

 

Power Distribution in the Shack

WARS Powerpole Distribution Box
WARS Powerpole Distribution Box

Once you start accumulating more than a couple of pieces of radio equipment, the questions around power supply quickly comes up. Radios can quite easily draw in excess of 15 Amps @ 13.8 Volts depending on the model. My two main HF rigs have a specification of 23.8 Amps and 18 Amps respectively. This is generally more than your standard off-the-shelf supply.

For domestic consumption, linear type supplies (Transformers) are only really viable up to 25-30amps. After that the cost starts going up significantly, as does the weight of the unit. Thankfully switch-mode technology seems to have come a long way in recent years, which resulted in me purchasing a 40 Amp power supply, and no noticeable RF QRM.

With power sorted out, the next thing to deal with is how to get the power from the supply to the devices. With a 40 Amp supply, you can power a whole lot of things, but I quickly discovered the posts only allowed me to connect 2 devices after I attached lugs to the leads. Also, lugs generally are not that portable going across different power supplies – what works on my QTH setup will not work in my car, or at someone else’s house. There had to be a better way.

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QSL Cards

QSL Card

“A QSL Card is the final courtesy of a QSO” – ARRL Operating Manual for Radio Amateurs

In recent years online QSL services such as eQSL and the ARRL Logbook of the World would have you believe that confirming DX QSOs has moved into the electronic world and QSL cards are no longer required, however I still find it quite enjoyable to receive real paper QSL cards in the mail – I think its a lot more personal knowing that someone has gone to the effort of sending you a card rather than having a computer automatically generate a message and upload to the internet. I’m not the only one, with local operator VK7GN having an amazing QSL collection that was featured on TV.

It’s been a long time since I made up QSL cards. My last QSL cards were single sided, with 1/3 of the card taken up by a picture of my IC-706MkIIg and the brief information and QSO details. This was printed onto matte 4×6 photo paper and I wrote on them and sent when QSL cards were received. I wasn’t terribly happy with these as they felt a little cheap and flimsy, and were not the standard QSL card size of 140mm x9 0mm.

Following the OCDX Contest I felt it was inevitable that I would start receiving QSL cards again and that I should have some QSLs cards of my own to reply with. I started by searching the web for QSL card printers, and while many were out there the pricing was getting expensive (the $AUD has *tanked* in the last 12 months) and not being sure of the quantity I required it was a bit of an undertaking, so I decided to create and print them myself.

Using Photoshop and Pixelmator and using one of the photos I took of the Aurora Australis, I had a look around online at what some other QSL cards looked at before finishing my design. After that I had a bit of fiddling to do to get the card front and reverse to line up and fit 3 to a A4 piece of card to print. I then trimmed to size with a guillotine.

I am pretty happy with how these have come out. They look good, they feel good, and I will be happy to start sending them out as QSO confirmations as I receive QSL Cards.

 

Everything Old….

The last time I was active on air was a brief period in 2011. During this time, I just wasn’t that interested in radio and it took a back seat to other projects and interests.

Fast forward to July 2015. My lovely partner has gone overseas for a few weeks and I decided to spend a couple of evenings at my local radio club which holds amateur TV nights most Wednesday evenings. This wasn’t new to me. What was new however was a couple of work colleagues deciding to come up with me and the discovery that the stuff I couldn’t do before I now could, especially having bought a contemporary new transceiver.

So now I find myself not knowing which way to go first with many of these “old” things (and not so old) that are all new to me again:

  • VK3YT’s endeavours with High Altitude Balloons I find just amazing, and can easily see this becoming science projects in high schools or colleges, promoting amateur radio, electronics and further research.
  • JT65 Weak Signal Modes being used for high altitude balloons, HF communications, EME, Meteor Scatter and a whole range of other types of communications that are just not suitable for voice communications
  • Traditional Modes such as BPSK, RTTY and STTV, and more exotic modes like THROB, Feld Hell and Contestia. Previously I did not have the hardware available to do this at home. Now I do. Enough said there really.
  • Packet Radio. AX.25. One of the many projects I am currently running with. I have acquired an old TNC, and it’s just a matter of interfacing it with the radio.
  • Speaking of interfacing, I need to make a suitable new interface for my Icom IC-706MkIIG that includes PTT and audio in.
  • Amateur Satellite communications. It doesn’t seem as hard as it sounds remarkably, and I think that would be great fun.
  • FreeDV – The new digital voice mode on the block. it’s achieving some amazing things like FM quality audio with weak signals, and is definitely a QSO mode I want to try.

This, along with station maintenance and improvements is definitely going to keep me busy in the foreseeable future. I’ll touch more on the station maintenance in a later post.

 

Testing Coax for Faults

It’s been a while since I was regularly operating my station and much of the coax that is in use has been exposed to the outside environment for over 10 years. I know the best way of testing coax is by using specialised sweep tools, but having only basic testing equipment available I though I should ask the Ham Radio community over on Google+. I think Google+ is an entirely underrated social platform, and I find myself leaning towards it’s use more and more.

Some of the advice coming back I expected, such as investing in an MFJ-269 or FoxDelta Analyser (which is good advice by the way, I see an antenna analyser being next on my purchasing list). However, I think Tim (VK2XAX) provided me with some excellent advice to get started:[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”600″ size=”12″ bg_color=”#eaeaea” txt_color=”#000000″]

Yes there is a couple of things you can do with basic ham shack items:

  1. stick your power/SWR meter on a small patch cable with a dummy load directly on the output of a 2m radio. Set you power out to precisely 10 watts aka 40dBm call this p1. Remove meter from rig. attach suspect cable to rig. attach meter and dummy load to end of cable and measure power again without touching rig output power. call this p2.
    p1-p2 = loss for your cable.
    look up spec sheet for your cable e.g. RG213 has a loss of ~15db@100MHz for 100m so 15/100 = ~0.15dB loss per metre. e.g If your cable is 34m in length then it should have a loss of ~5.1db aka about 3.5w.
    If your 34m cable shows a different value to 3.5w then you should be able to calculate that loss and work out how much worse than the specs it is.
  2. If you have a big dummy load, stick that on the end of the cable with the SWR meter at the radio and pump up the power to max and see if there is any SWR – there should be none. If there is SWR then the cable is most likely damaged in some way that is causing reflection These are good “rule of thumb” tests to check your cables.[/mks_pullquote]

Tim then went on to detail in a separate Google+ post a demonstration of his testing.

I was quick to check out the second of the two items, as high SWR was my immediate concern (The SWR without ATU seemed a little higher than I remembered, ranging between 2-3:1). I was pleased to find that it is not the coax contributing to the SWR (which means I need to look at the balun next…). The loss measurement will also come later.

Other more obvious inspections I have done are:

  1. Continuity – just use a multimedia so find any obvious issues like open circuit, or short circuit  between the conductor and ground.
  2. Visual – Inspect Coax and connectors for any physical signs for deterioration such as oxidisation around the connectors and ground braid and  any indications that the outer jacket of the coax has been damaged or has become brittle, allowing water to enter the coax.

I have unfinished business with the Coax and dipole, so I am sure there will be a post in the future providing a continuation of the testing.

 

 

Rig Control with RUMlogNG

My workspace for my radio gear is pretty limited, therefore space is at a premium. The Toshiba Tecra M2 which I used as my station computer for many years finally reached the end of its life, with none of the major operating systems supporting non-PAE chipsets. Not ready to purchase a laptop just for radio operations, I was hoping that I could use a more contemporary platform for operations – an iPad.

A quick search around and I came across RUMlogNG, which is easily the best logging interface I have seen in a ham radio iPad app that is modestly priced.

RUMlogNG Logging Page

One of the more interesting features was that basic interaction with your radio was possible (reading of frequency, mode), with the suggestion to use one of Pignology’s Piglets. Reading the specifications of the piglet, it became apparent that what it was doing was taking the serial CAT interface of the rig control, and making it accessible over wifi network to connected devices by streaming the serial data out of a TCP port.

Armed with this information, went looking for alternative ways to connect serial interfaces to RUMlog, and happened across this forum post, talking about an app called remserial. After attaching a Serial to USB Converter to a Raspberry Pi, I was able to run the below command as root:

pi@raspberrypi ~/remserial-1.4 $ ./remserial  -p 7373 -s "9600 raw" /dev/ttyUSB0

The app did not crash when I tried this, so I assumed it was running, and then configured RUMlogNG to connect to the Raspberry Pi on port 7373. Success! RUMlog did not throw any errors and back on the logging screen, I saw that frequency and mode was being updated off the radio.

Rig Control with RUMlog

Day 1

Today is the first day of getting back on air. It’s been a pretty full on day actually as I never anticipated the amount of things I needed to do to get everything working. I guess before I continue, I should mention one of these arrived in the mail for me yesterday:

My new Rig
No complaints about this arrival

The Yaesu FT-DX1200 is quite an upgrade from the trusty Icom 706-MkIIG, which has now been relegated to VHF/UHF Duties.

The joy of a playing with a new rig on Friday night was short lived – the new Yaesu draws 23.8A @ 13.8V peak. My power supply was a fair way short of this at 15A. operating would have to wait until Saturday. In the meantime, I could start getting a PC ready for rig control.

Let me just say, you will reach an inevitable point in time when hardware, although suitable for the purpose will not be supported by modern operating systems. I found out that upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10 was not supported at 64bit, but was if I would find Windows 10 32bit. The problem here however is that the 32bit download tool will not work under 64bit Windows 7. joy.

I also managed to go out to Jaycar in the morning and buy a 40A switch-mode power supply. Some people will cringe, because these type of power supplies are notorious for causing RF interference (QRM). Fortunately I see very little QRM affecting the rigs.

Ham Radio Battle Station
The Battle Station. Win10 Installing

After installing Win10, I found that the drivers associated with the rig control interface cause the computer to crash. Dammit. back to Windows 7 I have gone. I think I have done about 5 OS install attempts in the last 24 hours.

Finally, I am getting around to configuring Ham Radio Deluxe to control the Rig. I am finding the lack of documentation in configuring the DX1200 quite frustrating and as I am writing this I am looking for information on how to sent PTT to the rig, which will probably take me into the evening.

After this, import my previous QSLs, set up VKCL for the RD Contest in a couple of weeks and start doing a more thorough configuration of HRD.