Friday 13 October 2023
Monday 2 October 2023
We have just invested in our first motorhome. An Elddis Autoquest 115. It is a lovely little 2 berth van, less than 6m long but surprisingly roomy inside.
Of course, our first thought was to get a radio in it. The problem is, where to mount an aerial? The vast majority of the body work is not metal, so getting a ground plane is tricky. I saw a video on YouTube showing a way to do it and decided to have a go.
Basically, the aerial is fitted on the passenger door. Linda finds it difficult to get in and out this way, so this door won't be opened that much. Nevertheless, I didn't want wires hanging around.
The mount I decided on was the Diamond K415. This has 3 axis adjustment. Perfect for the job.
I chose the Sharman MC-4MT cable kit to go with it. This is available in a couple of cable lengths and I decided on 4m.
The main issue was to keep the cable neat with as minimal a loop into the cab as possible. The loop has to be close to the hinges to keep it at a minimum length.
I had to think about this for a while but after some testing, I decided on holding the cable to the inside of the door lip using clear silicone. This worked well and I used Blu-Tack to hold it in place until it set.
Getting the cable up the side of the pillar was really easy and made for a tidy job with only a small loop.
Monday 11 September 2023
What a lovely week. The first week in September was scorching and I could not resist getting out to work some portable radio. I decided to activate some POTA entities. I have 4 in easy reach. G-0070, G=0266, G-0271 and G-0040.
I have done G-0070 several times but it is always a lovely place to be and I have finally found a spot where I am not bothering the public and the aerials are out of the way. Morecambe Bay SPA Protected area covers the area around the edge of Morecambe Bay and has both Lancashire and Cumbria options. I have not done the Cumbrian one as yet. It is easy to activate from the car.
G-0266 and G-0271 are a 2fer. Leighton Moss SPA (and RSPB) Protected Area and Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This is also easy to activate from the car. The ability to get a car to activations make is easy for disabled amateurs to join in with POTA. This inclusivity is one of the things I love about it.
G-0040 (Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve) is a little more tricky to find. I have previously attempted to activate this from the road but as Silverdale has a lot of rock, I could not get the ground I needed and I was a poor signal. I decided to do more research and found a lay-by to park the car and a gate giving access to the nature reserve.
It was a nice gentle little walk and I put the KX3 and BandHopper in the backpack with a small battery and a pad and pencil. The Tactical Mini pole sat nicely in the pole strap on my backpack.
I did not have any Internet and a very poor mobile signal at the roadside but I expected that I would have something when I was out in the open. This proved not to be the case. For information purposes I am on the 3 network. Next time, I will plan further ahead as I know where to go for the activation. I intend to walk a little more around this area at some point as well, it really is lovely.
One thing I will definitely take nest time is a groundsheet and a stool or lightweight camping chair. Getting down to the ground is simple enough but getting back up is starting to prove a little more problematical :)
I am also going to research the Knee Board idea. Postage from the States make the popular one over there really expensive, so time to check if anything is available over here or whether I can make one simply.
I really love doing POTA activations and I probably need to do some research around WWFF as well to increase the popularity of the activations. I also want to get a little further afield and find some more locations to operate from.
I have made a short video about my recent activations and you can find it below.
Thursday 24 August 2023
TNC's have not really moved on since the 90's in general. My interest was piqued by this new little board from TARPN (Terrestrial Amateur Radio Packet Network).
The NinoTNC is so named because the project was started in 2015 by Nino, KK4HEJ and has been developed since then. The latest design with the blue board was released in 2020 and the project continues.
This is a TNC that will operate up to 9600 baud to the radio and is simple to configure using on board switches.
It comes as a kit and with a little patience and a multimeter is a nice little build. It took me about 3 hours and that included testing at various stages and filming segments as I built.
The build sequence is very nicely done. You start with the crystal and then a few resistors and capacitors. Next you fit the socket for the CPU.
Friday 28 July 2023
In the Morecambe Bay area, there were quite a few stations linked together known as the BayMAN (Metropolitan Area Network). It was great fun watching what would become normal Internet protocols working over 1200 baud via radio! We also had a licensed station up at Lancaster University too, with a chat server (WWConvers) and links around the world.
I eventually set up GB7MBC which added a DXCluster to our list of services. GB7MBC was the first Internet linked DXCluster in the UK and is still popular today. Of course, it runs, like most DXClusters, over the Internet now as packet radio in general cannot handle the amount of traffic with skimmer spots etc.
Linda was talking with a friend, Matt, G7HMV who was involved with packet in the south and mentioned it to me. Before I knew it, I was playing with AX25 packet again!
North West Packet Group was formed soon after, based around a FaceBook group, which at the time of posting has over 200 members. I could not believe the interest!
I decided to use my NoV and put the GB7MBC BBS on the air. It is accessible in the Morecambe and Lancaster area on 144.950MHz.
A second BBS has been set up in the Rossendale Valley area. This is well located and is GB7ROS.
Currently, we are the only BBS's in the North West and we will have some forwarding nodes coming online soon!
I have set up a website to help enable people to get involved and to provide a central information hub for installing node software etc and this is growing nicely. You can find it at http://www.nwpg.website
The biggest challenge for new users of packet radio is that virtually nothing has happened since the interest in the mode waned towards the end of the 90's. The old well loved programs like Winpack simply do not work under a modern Windows system.
That said, both BPQ and FBB have linux versions which are up to date. LinBPQ and LinFBB install nicely on a Raspberry Pi and work flawlessly. I have documented the installation of both on the website.
It remains to be seen if this resurgence of interest continues. It is wonderful to see people experimenting and enjoying the mode again.
Sunday 2 July 2023
Brian and I decided to brave the elements again this week. The forecast was mixed but looked to be improving throughout the day. (Spoiler: it didn't!).
It was rather gusty and the wind followed the tree line, so we were afforded little respite. Never mind, onward brave adventurers ;)
The bandhopper went up like a dream. I really have the hang of it now and it takes no time at all. The shelter was a different proposition :)
Linda suggested the shelter to me last week and we had a look for a suitable one. We ended up with this one from Amazon
As. you can see above and in the short video below, there is enough room for a small table and chair. You could probably get a table and two chairs if you knew the other person well enough ;)
It certainly worked. The main shelter was pegged down with the supplied pegs and just to be sure, I guyed the shelter down with the 4 supplied guys. Again, there is no instruction on how to do this but I attached them to the four loops on the shelter as it seemed to be the correct thing to do. You can see one of them here..
It didn't blow away, so I guess I got it right :). For someone used to camping or other shelter/bivvy type tents, this would seem simple but to me, it was completely new.
In all, it took me about 20 minutes to erect this time but I know a lot more about it now.
As well as this, I have been looking at alternatives for logging for some time. I have been using my phone with HAMRS so far and although this works really well, it means having the phone on a stand of some kind and renders it unusable for filming.
The previous week, Brian brought his Amazon Fire tablet with him. What a brilliant idea! I managed to get a refurbished one from Amazon at a good price and downloaded HAMRS on to it. HAMRS is available on the Amazon App Store.
Now I found my first frustration! The standard keyboard is large and even in portrait, covers the Save button.
The obvious thing to do was to find a smaller keyboard. The only one I could find that allowed resizing was Gboard. The only way to get this was to hack the tablet a bit and install the Google Play stuff. This was surprisingly simple to do and I got Gboard and set it to its smallest size. Now in portrait mode, I can get to the Save button easily.
Job done there then.
My next frustration was found almost immediately. Neither keyboard gave be a 'Return' key. They both appear to simply tab between fields. I suppose that I could simply tap 'Save' but it was bugging me. A good friend offered me a small Bluetooth keyboard to try. As soon as I connected this, the internal keyboard vanished and I had a full screen app with a 'Return' key :). Now all I need to do is enter a callsign, let QRZ and HAMRS do their magic via my iPhone hotspot and hit 'Return' to log it. result!
All in all, a really nice day out and we mostly managed to miss the rain. I had *just* managed to get my gear away when the heavens opened! Brian was not so lucky but we got his gear away with no issues and left feeling a bit damp but happy :)
The video is short but shows the shelter nicely.
Friday 30 June 2023
Anyone who knows me, knows that I enjoy computers, I like to connect my radio to a computer to simplify logging etc. I have nothing against technology in general. I have been in communications and IT for years, professionally.
It's not that I am against data modes. I just don't understand the draw of FT8.
I have tried it and I guess it's OK but it seems that the whole world and its canine companion is using FT8. It's even invading VHF currently. Looking at the waterfall, some people are using incredible amounts of power as well!
As a low signal mode, I can see the interest from a propagation point of view. It's like a 2 way version of WSPR I guess but other than that I fail to see the enjoyment. I know people who have blown the finals on their radios by running them at full chat on FT8! Why? I mean, just why? Where is the challenge?
What about running it at 1W, or maybe 100mW? Of course, you might struggle at times to be heard through all the high power stations using double the bandwidth of everyone else, but at least it would be a challenge. I just do not get it. Linda used FT8 for 3 months on 20-30W and achieved DXCC without any difficulty. It's all too easy.
This year, I am concentrating on CW, from home at least and trying to get contacts is a nightmare. Now I appreciate that conditions are bad but getting contacts on SSB or CW is difficult. It sometimes seems that every band is open with FT8 but nobody is listening on any other mode.
I put calls out for ages on several bands and I can see that the bands are open by the RBN reports on CW but I get very few responses. In contrast, the FT8 frequencies are bouncing. Does nobody want to chat anymore? Are we becoming a hobby of computers talking to each other with us interacting occasionally?
Why not accept the challenge of SSB or CW on the HF bands? If you can't get an aerial out at home, go mobile. You can use a cheap end fed aerial and a battery, it doesn't have to cost a fortune. Portable radio can be a lot of fun, especially if you have a friend to go with. It's much more fun than watching a screen as well!
I am sorry if this came over as a bit of a rant and maybe it is the Grumpy Old Man starting to appear in me? Maybe it is just me, I don't know.
I hope to work you on SSB/CW very soon and have a good chat :)