Friday, July 31, 2009

Wonder Loop on 40m

Last night I had a bit of time to try the Wonder Loop on 40m. Again, I used 5W of PSK31 so I could use the Propagation Reporter Network to see where my signals had been received.

Once again, the Propagation Reporter map does not give a full indication of how far my signals travelled, as there were only 10 monitoring stations on 40m at the time and some of them may not even have been in Europe.

My first contact was with Billy, 2E0WJC in Leeds, who was also running QRP. It was a solid contact with almost perfect copy. Later on in the evening I worked Gordon, G4TZX near Dover, for another good chat. I was then called by Frank, DL7LAX in Leipzig. There was some QSB but we managed to complete a contact. Finally I worked Kari OH2LRG/4 who had difficulty believing that I was using an antenna inside the shack. Most stations I have worked using the Wonder Loop are amazed that I am using an indoor antenna and want more details, so I end up having a chat instead of just the usual exchange of details.

I am very pleased with how well the Wonder Loop works on this, the lowest band it covers. For Kari and others, I should be starting work on the description of the Wonder Loop very soon now.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Com0com no go

I had an email from Dave Freese, W1HKJ today. He is going to try to resolve the issue with Fldigi and the Eterlogic Virtual Serial Port Emulator and I have volunteered to help test any changes. Dave asked whether I was using the commercial (but free) VSPE or com0com which is an open source alternative. I had come across com0com some time ago, but it wasn't immediately apparent whether it did what I wanted, nor was it immediately clear how to use it.

I thought that while I waited for Dave to come up with something I would try com0com, because it would be nice to have a free open source solution to the problem of many programs wanting to access one radio. The VSPE is freeware (at least, the 32-bit version is) but it might not remain so forever. So I downloaded the com0com setup file and installed it.

Com0com is essentially a null modem emulator. That is, it sets up pairs of virtual serial ports that can be used to connect one program to another on the same computer without requiring two real serial ports and a cable connecting them. Because that's all it does, I had first thought that it was no use for my purpose. But there is a companion program called hub4com, available from the same site, that can be used to connect the ports together in various ways. You can connect a real serial port to two, three or more virtual serial ports, connect programs to the other ends of those serial ports, and by that means all those programs can talk to the device attached to the real port. At least, you could if it worked. But for me, it didn't.

Unlike the VSPE ports, com0com doesn't allow more than one device at a time to connect to one of its virtual ports. So if you want three different programs to be able to talk to your radio at the same time, you need to create three pairs of virtual ports. This is done by running the command line setup program setupc.exe and entering the following three lines (note that each line is split in two by your browser):

install 0 PortName=COM11,EmuBR=yes PortName=-,EmuOverrun=yes,HiddenMode=yes

install 1 PortName=COM12,EmuBR=yes PortName=-,EmuOverrun=yes,HiddenMode=yes

install 2 PortName=COM13,EmuBR=yes PortName=-,EmuOverrun=yes,HiddenMode=yes

This assumes that you want your three ports to be COM11 to COM13. You can change those port names and create more or fewer ports as you wish. You are actually creating virtual serial cables, and the "other" ends of these cables are also serial ports, which are named by default CNCB0, CNCB1, CNCB2 etc. It's useful to use these distinctive names for the other ends so they aren't confused with the ports your applications want to connect to.

An annoying feature of this software is that for each port you create - that's two ports for each virtual cable - the Windows Add New Hardware Wizard starts and has to be told to install drivers. The reason for this is that the com0com drivers are not "signed". This is one of the ways that Microsoft discriminates against free software and amateur developers. Signing drivers requires an expensive Authenticode certificate. This is free software, so there is no revenue to pay for one. So the drivers aren't signed. You can curse Microsoft every time the Wizard starts up. I did.

There is a graphical setup utility called setupg.exe. You can probably use it to create the ports instead of the command lines shown above. I used it to check that I had set the ports up correctly. The result should look something like the screenshot below.

In order to use these virtual cables to connect your logging software, digimode programs and so on to your radio, you must connect them together using the hub4com program. As I stated earlier, you can download this from the com0com site. It comes in a separate zip file and should be extracted into the same folder as the com0com program. You can then open a command prompt, go to the com0com program folder and enter a command like this (again it is one line):

hub4com.exe --route=All:0 --route=0:All --baud=38400 --octs=off \\.\COM1 \\.\CNCB0 \\.\CNCB1 \\.\CNCB2

This is supposed to connect the ports so that all data from CNCB0 to CNCB2 (which are the other ends of COM11 to COM13) goes to COM1 and your radio, and all data from the radio sent to COM1 goes to CNCB0, CNCB1 and CNCB2, and from there to COM11-13 and your programs. It also sets the baud rate to 38400, which is what I am using with my K3, and turns CTS off. It's probably advisable to put this command into a batch file, so you can easily re-run it (or make changes to it) without retyping. Obviously if your radio is connected to something other than COM1 you should change that part of the command.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work properly. At least, I couldn't get it to work properly. I did get KComm and Fldigi to connect (separately) to my K3 on COM1 via virtual port COM11. But a lot of the time nothing happened at all. And I never got two programs connected simultaneously.

I ended up using RealTerm (another SourceForge project) for testing, since it is much easier to see what is happening (or, most of the time, what isn't happening) than trying to use ham radio programs that just do nothing if they don't get what they wanted. I found that I could type commands - such as mode commands (MDx;) - while connected to any of the serial ports, and see the K3 respond to them. But output from the K3 was only sent to the first virtual port that connected to it, whichever that was. I also found that if I connected to a port, sent commands and received responses, disconnected, and then connected again, sometimes there was no communication on the second connection.

I spent a lot of time trying to find out what I was doing wrong, but it appeared to me that everything was set up correctly and the software was not performing according to the documentation. So I have given up on it. I am describing what I did here in the hope that someone cleverer or more persistent than me will find out what the problem is, get it working properly, and tell me.

It would be good to have a free, open source way of enabling two or more programs to talk to a radio simultaneously. But I just don't have the patience to spend any more time on it.

Fldigi and VSPE conflict

This is another entry for the "I hate computers" section. I had noticed that Fldigi for Windows did not appear to be remembering the "use software PTT" setting, so the first digimode transmission of a session always went no further than the sound card and I had to open the configuration settings and set it again. Thinking that this was probably a bug that had been fixed by now, I went to the Fldigi website and downloaded the latest version, which was 3.12.3 at the time or writing. After I installed it, the program froze on start up and never even appeared on-screen. I had to use Ctrl+Alt+Del to terminate it.

Some people probably think that because I can write programs this kind of thing is meat and drink to me. In fact I find it just as annoying and frustrating as anyone else. Although my experience means I have more ideas about what to try, I certainly don't immediately know the answer. And the onset of senility means that I often forget something obvious which means I waste a lot of time searching in the wrong place for the cause of the problem. I wish computers would "just work" like any other appliance!

So after half an hour that I would have preferred to have spent testing my loop antenna I eventually discovered that the problem was caused by the fact that I am using the Eterlogic Virtual Serial Port Emulator. If you have not come across it before, this is a bit of free software that allows more than one program to connect to one serial port at the same time. It has become an invaluable component of the computer side of my radio station as it allows my logging program, KComm, to be connected to my K3 at the same time as my remote tuning knob program, KTune, Fldigi or any other digital modes application.

VSPE is transparent to every application I have used it with so far. Even the Elecraft firmware update utility works through it, though obviously not at the same time as any other program. But something seems to have changed in Fldigi 3.12 so that it freezes when trying to access the virtual serial port, though it works perfectly when given direct access to the real one. Leigh, WA5ZNU has reported this to the developers so hopefully there will be a solution. Meanwhile I'm sticking with Fldigi version 3.11.

Some 30m test results

Last night, between the end of one BBC Promenade Concert broadcast and the start of another, I managed to spend half an hour on 30m PSK31 with 5 watts and the Wonder Loop. The map below shows the results from Propagation Reporter just before I closed down.

Not as impressive looking a map as the one on 20m this afternoon, but it was only for half an hour, and 30m is not as busy a band so there are fewer monitoring stations. However, conditions seemed better, received signals were stronger and I received replies after fewer CQs. I made two contacts into France and was also called by a station in the Czech Republic who disappeared after I sent my first over so it didn't count for a QSO.

Something that went unremarked in this blog at the time is that on 25 July a 2 watt WSPR signal into the Wonder Loop on 30m was received by Myles, VK6ZRY in Western Australia (who, incidentally, was also using a magnetic loop antenna!)

I think these results show the Wonder Loop radiates a good enough signal on 30m to make plenty of CW or digital QSOs. Next I will try 40m.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PSK31 contacts

Today I thought I'd try to make some PSK31 contacts using the QRP Wonder Loop. Because the mouse pointers go berserk on both of my laptops when in the presence of a strong RF field, I had to use the main shack computer and therefore the K3. But I turned down the power to 5W p.e.p, which is what I would run if I was using the FT-817 or the K2, although the tuning capacitor I used could easily handle 10W, and perhaps even more.

The picture shows the map displayed by Propagation Reporter after I had been on the air for three hours or so on 20 metres during the late morning and early afternoon. For those unfamiliar with the display, the small markers show the stations that had been received on the Wonder Loop and decoded by Fldigi. The large markers with a time interval show the location of stations that heard my transmissions, and how long ago they last reported me. These stations would have needed to receive "DE G4ILO G4ILO" without errors in order for their software to submit a report, so the large markers represent stations with whom it would have been possible to have a QSO. The concentration of large markers in Western Europe may in part be due to the fact that fewer people in Eastern Europe have a broadband internet connection, without which propagation reporting is not very practical.

It has been more than a year since I last operated QRP PSK31. I got the 100W PA for my K3 because I was starting to find QRP a bit frustrating after the many years (it seems!) of poor conditions. So I had forgotten that PSK31 with 5W can be a bit hard going.

I called CQ most of the time because that gives the best chance of being spotted on the Propagation Reporter network. Although a couple of dozen stations heard me (as you can see from the map) only two replied to my CQs. I made one other contact, with DB7HH, which was in reply to his CQ. Normally when working QRP I would search out other stations and call them, which would probably have resulted in more contacts.

I think the Wonder Loop performed well in this test. I think the difficulty in making contacts was mainly due to the poor conditions. There were no really strong signals during the period of the test. Although the results might not show it, I felt that the loop worked well enough that it would not be too bad if it was the only antenna I had. In fact, it's working better than I expected.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

First contacts

I made the first actual contacts using the G4ILO Wonder Loop today. I hooked it up to the 1 watt MFJ Cub on 20 metres. The Wonder Loop is actually the only antenna I can use now with my QRP rigs on 20m due to the extremely high noise I get on that band. It has a very sharp null at right angles to the plane of the loop, which can be used to reduce the QRN to an acceptable level.

I was very happy with these first contacts. Onno, PA1AP calling CQ near the QRP frequency 14.060MHz came back to my call on the second attempt. Perhaps he would have come back the first time but I called a bit off frequency. He gave me 519 and struggled a bit to hear me but he was actually using 100W at his end. Manuel ON/DL9EBG then called me when I signed off with PA1AP. With my style of operating that almost constitutes a pile-up! He gave me 529 but later amended the report to 579 with QSB. He was running 5W from an IC-703 and was a good signal - I gave him 599 which is what it sounded like in the little Cub receiver.

I think this shows that the Wonder Loop is an effective antenna that will get you contacts even when used indoors with only 1 watt of power. I was going to try using the FT-817 or K2 and a bit more power but found that my QRP keys were incorrectly wired for those radios. I'd wired the ring of the stereo jack to the shield thinking that this was more like the mono jack you'd expect to use with straight keys. But both rigs went key down when I plugged in the jack, so I had to rewire them so there was no connection to the ring.

After I had done that I noticed that there was a good Sporadic-E opening on 6 metres favouring eastern Germany and Poland, so I cleared the QRP gear away and fired up the K3. I made several contacts into Berlin and the surrounding area and one into Poland. I didn't hear many DX stations calling but a fairly local GM was working strings of stations at good strength, so I parked near his frequency and called CQ. This netted a few extra contacts, including the one with SQ5AXS, and Peter DL2FI who called me on CW! I was a bit surprised to be called on CW while working SSB. Peter's call rang a bell but I didn't remember why (he is a fellow Elecraft user and runs the German QRP Club) until after the contact. Sorry, Peter. I'm getting a bit slow in my old age!

Postscript: I just noticed while checking the stats in my KComm logger that I have now made 200 contacts on 6 metres with more than 100 different grid squares. That is the greatest number of contacts I have made on any band except 20 metres. I would never have believed it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Successes and failures

It has been a bit of a mixed day in G4ILO's Shack. I decided to have another try with the DC20B QRP transceiver. Ever since Chuck, W5USB sent me a spare keyer chip it has been working perfectly except for the fact that it is on 14.062MHz - too far from the QRP frequency of 14.060 for me to work other rockbound QPers. I thought that the problem might be the crystal, so I sent off for another one. Unfortunately after installing it the rig was still on exactly the same frequency!

I recalled that someone suggested the way to lower the frequency of a crystal was to use some series inductance. I don't possess any inductors, but I do have some ferrite beads, so I cut the circuit trace connecting the crystal to the trimmer and inserted an inductor consisting of one turn through a ferrite bead. That made no difference. I then tried four turns of thin magnet wire through the bead, and the crystal would not oscillate at all. Two turns didn't work either. By this point I was so annoyed by the time and money I have wasted on this thing that I threw it in the junk box. Unless someone can tell me EXACTLY how to get this radio down onto 14.060 - short of ordering a custom crystal, which would be a waste of money - I'm giving up on it. I already have the MFJ Cub, so I only got this kit because I thought building it would be fun, which it hasn't been at all.

The second failure didn't waste too much of my time, but coming on top of the first one it didn't help my mood any. I had often wondered if it was possible to make a miniature paddle directly on the back of a 3.5mm stereo jack plug, using a piece of double sided PCB as the paddle. I soldered the tip and ring terminals to opposite sides of the PCB and fashioned contacts out of the part of the ground connector that normally clamps to the cable. The result was a failure - the contacts were not solid enough so the feel was awful and they moved about so one side or the other ended up making permanent contact and you sent a stream of dits and dahs. Well it was a nice idea, but I was disappointed that it didn't work.

The success was the changes I made to the G4ILO Wonder Loop. I fabricated a tripod mount in the base of the tuner so I could mount it on a photographic tripod. This was quite a challenge for my limited engineering skills and the result - involving a lot of epoxy adhesive, some of which hasn't set yet because I didn't mix it very well - will never be revealed in any photograph. But it seems to work, and allows an additional option for deployment if no suitable surface is available.

I changed the fixing for the coupling loop to use Velcro, so no screwdrivers are needed for assembly. I also reduced the size of the coupling loop! I am a complete dunce at anything to do with numbers and when trying to work out in my head what a fifth of the main loop would be I actually came up with a value that was nearer a third. The amazing thing was that I was still able to get a perfect SWR with it. With the new smaller loop the tuning seems that much sharper so efficiency is probably better.

The antenna works so well that when just a few feet away from either my Samsung NC10 netbook or the old Eee PC it makes the computer's trackpad pointer go crazy when transmitting. This has so far prevented me from trying any digimode contacts and is going to be a bit of a disadvantage to operating "picnic table portable" unless it's a very big picnic table. But it's a good sign that the antenna really works - the only other portable antenna that can do this is the Superantennas MP-1.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What's wrong with RCA connectors?

Why are BNC connectors "the standard" for QRP HF radio use? Who decided, and why?

My QRP connector of choice is the RCA (more commonly known in the UK as "phono") connector. They are cheap, small, and easy to assemble, and one size can be used with standard RG-58 or miniature RG-174 cable. MFJ uses one in the small Cub transceiver, and I seem to remember that Heathkit used them at frequencies up to 145MHz and powers of up to 100W. You can get gold plated ones if you want to be flash, or want to minimize losses. If you're a cheapskate, you can salvage them from old audio equipment.

The use of BNC connectors and other types designed for use at UHF where losses can be significant is completely unnecessary at HF. QRP is supposed to be about "doing more with less" and I think using RCA connectors fits that description admirably.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Young people and ham radio

Roger, G3XBM, writes about a talk he gave last night to a local radio club, and notes on how few young people were there. He comments that this is an issue we have to address, and concludes: "Even after 50 years, radio still is magical for me."

When I first got interested in radio, the idea of communicating with distant places by bouncing waves off the ionosphere was magical compared to the alternatives: expensive international phone calls or posting a letter. But I fear that to today's younger generation, brought up on reliable worldwide communication using the mobile phone and internet, the unpredictability of radio communication may look less like magic and more like a dull old trick. We have to try and put ourselves in their shoes and ask "what's in it for us?"

There have always been geeky types who are interested in how radio works for its own sake, but these days many of those people will find even more interest in doing clever stuff with computers. What's more, computers don't need getting permission from your parents to festoon the house with aerials, nor do they interfere with Mum's watching Coronation Street or brother's computer speakers.

To sell ham radio to young people you need to promote it as cool and fun. I'm probably completely mad, but perhaps the answer is right under our noses, something that has been written off as outdated by many amateurs: morse code. There have been several stories recently about young people who got interested in radio by hearing code transmissions and wanting to understand what was being said. They pick the code up quickly, too, at that age.

So perhaps you could get youngsters interested by allowing them to use QRP CW on, say, 20m or 30m, in a narrow frequency range? All you'd need is a VXO transmitter and direct conversion receiver, which could be manufactured for very low cost. A couple of watts and a simple wire antenna such as an end fed dipole, even indoors, would produce some surprising contacts. When I was a kid, reading about ham radio and thinking "gosh, you have to be rich to be able to do that" I'd have loved to be able to get on the air with something so simple.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Does anyone think that the Cormac Propadex, which I have incorporated in the navigation pane of my home page, and included below to save you the bother of looking, is anything other than eye candy?

According to the page you go to if you click on the Propadex image, the index is supposed to show if the F2 maximum useable frequency for this time of day is higher than the average of the past 60 days for this same time of day.

That looks as if it could be useful. The problem is that it uses ionosonde data from the U.S. Air Force Radio Solar Telescope Network (RSTN) site in San Vito, Italy. I've kept an eye on this index over the past couple of months and it seems to show wildly fluctuating readings that I have a hunch (not having done any detailed investigation) are influenced by the presence or otherwise of Sporadic-E in that region. I have not noticed very much correlation with observed normal HF conditions. Right now, as I'm typing, it's showing an index of +205, yet conditions are still dire from the recent solar disturbance.

It seems to me that this index is of very little use unless your signal path passes over or near San Vito, Italy. Am I missing something?

Who switched off the ionosphere

It's hard to test antennas when there is no propagation to test them on. I was starting to worry that I had messed up my Wonder Loop when it suddenly occurred to me to check the front page of my own site. WebProp was showing me that conditions are disturbed, and we're in the middle of a geomagnetic storm! The wonder is that anyone was hearing me at all.

It's all very well writing this software, you still have to remember to use it. :(

Size matters

What a difference an extra 14 inches (36cm) makes! I'm referring, of course, to the diameter of the radiating element of a magnetic loop antenna. I replaced the 40cm diameter loop of my Wonder Loop with a 76cm (2ft 6in) diameter loop made from RG-213 coaxial cable. Suddenly its performance is transformed from unquestionably poor to very impressive. Early tests show this is a desktop antenna that will blow Miracle Whips into the dust and give results not much worse than a full-sized dipole!

The revised antenna is somewhat larger and bulkier than the rather neat original. Accommodating the bigger loop created a few problems. An important factor in the design was to make antenna that can easily be taken to bits, packed up and transported in a suitcase or backpack. It was also intended to be free-standing. Therefore the support and loop need to be detachable and the loop has to be made of wire so it can be coiled up for transportation. The use of copper tube was out of the question - though obviously an option for constructors wanting to make a magnetic loop for home use only - while the solution adopted by G4TPH of using short lengths of aluminium strip bolted together to make a dodecahedron seemed cumbersome.

A length of uPVC electrical conduit was cut for the support, and a 240cm length of RG-213 was cut and the braid at each end soldered to two gold plated 4mm spade terminals. 80cm of stout wire was cut for the coupling loop. Because the cable would need to be removed from the support it is just hooked to the top of the support, and a self adhesive cup hook was attached to the top for that purpose.

The most obvious problem after hooking the cable to the support and attaching the terminals to the binding posts on the tuner was that RG-213 does not have sufficient stiffness to hold a circular shape in such a large loop. The shape could best be described as that of a saggy backside (younger readers may have to wait a couple of decades to see what I mean by that. :) )

Despite this, the antenna still pulled in some pretty strong signals, so I set it up with the FT-817 on 30m WSPR for testing and went downstairs for a cup of tea with the XYL. While we were half way through our tea we heard a crash from upstairs, and rushed to investigate. The self adhesive pad used to secure the hook had given way, allowing the loop to crash to the desk, leaving the FT-817 to transmit (of course, this happened during a transmit period!) into a virtual short-circuit. Fortunately, the radio survived the experience!

The support was re-made using superglue to attach the hook to the mast. I also solved the saggy backside problem by gluing two more hooks to each end of a length of the back part of the uPVC conduit. This sits resting on the top of the loop support, hooked round the loop on each side. The uPVC back strip is thin enough to curve slightly under the weight of the coaxial cable, allowing the loop to be more of a circular shape. It's a bit Heath Robinson, but it looks better and more importantly helps the antenna work better, because the ability to tune to a 1:1 SWR is dependent on the position of the coupling loop with respect to the main one. You can see this support piece in the photo, which shows the Wonder Loop sitting on top of the 2m transverter while I was making some initial tests on 30m WSPR.

One effect of using a larger loop is that the frequency coverage has changed. Whilst the 40cm loop covered 30m thru 10m, the larger one covers 40m to 15m.

Initial A/B receiving tests with the Wonder Loop positioned as shown in the picture compared with the MFJ magnetic loop in the attic above it suggest that on 40m it is down about 6dB compared to the MFJ, on 30m it is about equal, and on 20m received signals actually seemed a bit stronger.

As shown in the photo the Wonder Loop was only a few inches from the wall and also a conduit carrying two of my cables up to my attic antenna farm, but it actually tuned up on 30m in that position to give a 1:1 SWR. I then did over an hour of A/B testing using WSPR on that band. The results were interesting. My signals were copied well in Europe and even by several east coast USA stations. I was consistently getting reception reports 10dB higher from IK2CMN and IV3DXW when using the Wonder Loop than when using the MFJ! Some reports from other directions seemed a few dB lower, but reports under identical conditions from the same stations at different times can often vary by 10dB or more due to QSB so it is hard to attribute such small variations to the performance of the antenna.

These are not scientific tests, as the two antennas are in different positions and may be subject to different coupling effects or reflections from other objects. Nevertheless I think the point is made that the Wonder Loop with 76cm diameter element performs extremely well for an indoor desktop antenna.

I will be doing some further tests on as many as possible of the bands the Wonder Loop covers (it's hard to find any propagation on 17m or 15m so testing on those bands is difficult.) As time permits I shall also attempt to make some QRP contacts with the antenna. But I am extremely encouraged by the results so far, which suggest that this portable magnetic loop could equal or even outperform typical portable QRP antennas such as random wires, loaded verticals and low slung dipoles, while avoiding the need for supporting masts, ground wires and counterpoises.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Alex goes professional

As an enthusiast of magnetic loop antennas, one of my favourite websites has long been that of Alex Grimberg, PY1AHD. I decided to visit it again today whilst doing a bit of research to find out whether, if making a magnetic loop out of coaxial cable, the inner should be connected to the outer shield or left disconnected. And I found that since I was last there Alex's site has had a professional makeover.

What was even more interesting was that Alex has decided to release a portable magnetic loop commercially. Called the AlexLoop SML 7-30, it is a small portable magnetic loop that covers 40m to 10m and is intended for QRP use. Supplied as a kit, you get a hand-held mast with a rubber holding grip, near which is mounted a box containing the tuning capacitor. The loop itself is formed from a length of flexible thin wall copper tubing which must be soldered to the variable capacitor and then secured to the mast with cable ties.

Apart from the fact that it is hand-held rather than table standing, doesn't have a built-in SWR indicator, uses a fixed size loop and is not apparently easily dismantled for packing and travel, the AlexLoop looks pretty much like what I am trying to create with my Wonder Loop. I would guess that the bits to make one could all easily be purchased for less than $30, which is about what I've spent on my antenna. So I was dumbfounded when I clicked the Buy Now button to find that the AlexLoop has a regular price of $219, though if you act now you can get it at an introductory price of $179, with postage to Europe adding a further $72!

Spurred on by the thought that my Wonder Loop could be the idea that will earn me that long-deserved fortune, I continued my researches and decided to do some more experiments. I never did find out whether it is better to connect the inner of the coax or not when using it to make the main element of a magnetic loop antenna. Some constructors do, others don't, and many more don't specify. I did find a couple of sites that said a thicker element improves efficiency, so I decided to re-make the 40cm diameter loop using an odd length of RG-213 coax. However, it didn't seem to perform any better on transmit than the one I made using 10A PVC covered wire. It seems that I'll have to make the loop at least twice the diameter to have a chance of radiating a decent signal. Hopefully I might manage to try that tomorrow.

WSPR while you work

DIY is one of my least favourite activities. If any major job needs to be done around the house, I'll get someone in. However, this is Britain, the country where everyone wants to get paid for sitting on their backside instead of learning a trade and getting their hands dirty. Good painters and decorators, joiners, plumbers and electricians are hard to find, and usually booked up months ahead (or on one of their biannual holidays in Barbados.) If they aren't booked up months ahead they are probably either cowboys or East European immigrants who are happy to get off their backsides and earn a living but may not have any actual painting/joining/plumbing/electrical qualifications. So if you need something done quickly and don't want to be ripped off or featured on "Homes from Hell" there is often no alternative to doing it yourself.

Having just had a conservatory built there were some finishing-off jobs that needed doing now, so having just finished making my Wonder Loop I couldn't spend any more time on the radio. Instead, I set it up on WSPR and left it. This was probably a good thing, as it enabled me to get an objective view of its performance. Unfortunately the objective view is that it doesn't work as well as I hoped it would.

Although my 1W signal on 30m was heard as far away as Poland, and I even received signals from the East Coast USA, results on 20m, 17m and 10m (the only other bands with enough WSPR monitors to be worth trying) were disappointing. Nothing at all was heard on 10m, although another G station was active and being received. 20m was difficult to test due to the interfering presence of RTTY on the WSPR frequency band. I was heard in Germany on 20m, but weakly and not very often

Reports on 17m were also disappointing - so much so that I switched to the ATX Walkabout for comparison and received reports more than 6dB better. The ATX Walkabout is a great little antenna for both the size and price. Anything that can't outperform it isn't worth using.

The Wonder Loop is a good receive antenna. It is much quieter than the vertical ATX and has a sharp null axially through the centre of the loop that allowed me to reduce the QRN I'm plagued with almost to nothing. But clearly it needs to be made more efficient. The 40cm diameter loop is a convenient size, but whether it is just too small, or whether efficiency could be improved by using thicker wire or some heavy co-ax for the radiating element is something that will have to be determined by further experimentation when I have more time to spare.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Wonder Loop

Today I finished a project that has been on the go for some time - the G4ILO Wonder Loop. The idea came to me several months ago while testing the Wonder Wand antenna. Regular visitors to the site will know of my interest in small, very portable HF antennas that can be set up without any supports, even indoors. Most will also know that these very small antennas tend not to be very efficient. I have been extremely impressed with the performance of the MFJ Magnetic Loop antenna, and wondered if a magnetic loop would make a better "wonder" antenna than trying to use a short telescopic whip. How small could you make a magnetic loop and still get better performance than a Miracle Whip or Wonder Wand?

The Wonder Loop is an attempt to make a QRP version of the MFJ Loop Tuner. Essentially it's a project box containing a variable capacitor whose terminals are brought out to two 4mm binding posts, to which are attached the two ends of the loop radiating element. The small coupling loop plugs into an RCA socket which connects it to an N7VE QRP SWR indicator built into the box. I'm grateful to one of my blog readers, Steve Silverman KB3SII, for this. Steve sent me the one he bought at Dayton after reading of my frustration when QRP Kits sent the wrong kit, thereby enabling me to complete the project. The transceiver plugs in to the BNC socket on the side. I'll probably publish more details, photos and results in the main part of the site later on, once I have done more tests.

The neat thing about the Wonder Loop is that it is very compact for transportation, because everything detaches from the box. You can also use loops of different sizes, for different frequency coverage or to get better efficiency at the expense of larger size. The loop support is a length of uPVC electrical conduit. The loop itself could be made of stout wire or coaxial cable.

Currently I'm using a loop just over 40cm in diameter, which gives a tuning range from 30m to 10m. It's on test using my FT-817 and WSPR as I write, with the Wonder Loop sitting on my shack desk, just like in the photo. So far my 1W signal has been heard in Germany by two stations on 20m, in the UK and Germany on 17m, and in France, Germany and Holland on 30m. Not bad in just an hour and a half!

Plans include trying an 80m loop, and one for 6m. So watch this space!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One small step to nowhere

Forty years ago today, Apollo 11 blasted off on its historic mission to land a man on the moon. On July 20 the world watched, hearts in mouths, as the lunar module piloted by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin sped towards the surface of the Moon with time and fuel running out as the crew searched for a suitable landing spot. No-one who watched it on TV can forget the moment when Armstrong took those hesitant steps down the ladder to become the first man to set foot on another world, uttering the immortal words "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." People looked up at the moon in awe, imagining the two men and their tiny craft who had just landed there.

As a sixteen year old geek - if the term had been invented then - with a great interest in astronomy, electronics and radio, and a keen science-fiction reader, the Apollo 11 landing was a seminal moment. Months earlier I had written to NASA and they had sent me a picture of the earth rising above the lunar landscape taken by Apollo 8. It was pinned up beside my bed on the wall. Now we were actually there. Next stop, Mars. Then where?

In 1969 my whole life was ahead of me, and it appeared to be a future in which there was no limit to what man could do. It seemed that science and technology could solve any problem, and all my science fiction dreams would come true. I eventually began a career in computing, which in those days was a bit like science - you wore a white coat and worked in air conditioned rooms using the latest high-tech equipment.

How things have changed! How those hopes were dashed! Today's technology makes that of the '60s seem primitive by comparison, but there is no glamour to science and technology any more. In 40 years the computer has gone from a tool affordable only by universities, the military and big corporations and operated by elite "boffins", to something an eight year old uses to play games or download the latest hit songs and which Mum uses to keep in touch with Granny. The optimism that led America to believe it could, within a decade, land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, was replaced by a realism that space exploration was a luxury costing money that could be better spent elsewhere. The word "geek" was invented, and became a somewhat derogatory term. Science became the bringer of bad news about things like global warming and swine flu.

Are things better now than they were at the end of the 1960s? I don't think so. Sure, I'm a lot better off than my parents were and have luxuries they could never have imagined. But there was an innocence and optimism about life then that has gone now. Those were the days of the Cold War, but that wasn't something that impinged on our consciousness much. I'd rather have the old enemy back, the USSR, than the threat of terrorism that we face today. I'd rather have what we had then and still have hopes for the future, than have what I have now and worry about how long it will last.

Neil Armstrong's small step ultimately led nowhere. A nation lost confidence in itself, the world became more inward looking, more concerned with everyday, mundane matters. The future became less bright. People no longer look up at the moon in awe and dream about where we will go next.

I miss the innocence and the optimism. If only I could turn back the clock forty years and relive those moments anew.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reprieve for 40

Things are not quite as dire at G4ILO's Shack as I reported a week ago. Although the noise on 20m is still as bad as it was, the use of resonant noise antennas does allow me to null it out on most of the band, though the noise (and my ability to eliminate it) does seem to change from day to day.

The noise is still bad on 80m as well. I only had limited capability on 80 anyway because the bandwidth of my short dipole is so small, centered around 3580KHz. However, it picks up the noise pretty well. It's hard to get as much noise on the noise antenna so I have not found it very easy to null it out. So I think 80m may be a goner.

Curiously, 40m does not seem to be affected much at all. I have a choice of a linear loaded dipole or the MFJ magnetic loop on 40m, though the magnetic loop outperforms the dipole so that's what I mostly use. In the evening I get an S7 noise level on either antenna, which is probably not bad for an indoor antenna in an urban location. More importantly, it's not the awful sparky crackly noise I get on 20 or 80, so it's possible to listen to the band. In fact, I can receive signals on 40m quite well. This evening on PSK31 I heard (and worked) on the magnetic loop RA4HDT who is almost in Asiatic Russia, and while I was typing this Fldigi's PSK Reporter decoded PY2RD in Brazil.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My PSK31 Pet Peeve

One of the things that annoys me when making a contact on PSK31 is when someone ends a QSO by telling me not to eQSL. Now if people aren't interested in eQSLing that's their prerogative, but if I want to log a contact to the eQSL site so as to have a complete record of my activity then that's mine. As with any type of QSL it's my choice whether to send one or not and whether I send it via the bureau or electronically it's their choice if they want to receive it.

I copied the following off-air a few minutes ago:

>>> PSE DO NOT SEND - E QSL OR LOTW !!!! <<<

What a lot of fuss! If anyone doesn't want an eQSL all they have to do is stay away from How hard is that?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Commenting fixed

Thanks to a helpful reply from someone in the Blogger help forum, it should now be possible to post comments to the blog again. I have changed the comments settings so that comments are now posted in a pop-up window. The problem occurred because I had chosen the option for comments to be embedded in the blog page. The height of the embedded comment window was restricted and preventing some users from seeing all of the comment form. This problem has only recently started occurring, so it's presumably a bug in Blogger, but the workaround is better than waiting for them to fix it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

No comment

A few people in the last couple of days have emailed me with comments that they tried to post to the blog, particularly to the QRT item. André, M0JEK explained the problem as: "The window keeps getting chopped so I can't enter the code."

I have just tried to post comments using both Firefox 3.5 and Internet Explorer 6 (since I don't use Internet Explorer, I've never bothered installing a later version) and can't see a problem. So if you do experience the problem and are clever enough to know what the reason is, I'd appreciate it if you would let me know.

[Wild guess.] Perhaps it has something to do with how you are receiving the blog, such as through a feed aggregator?

How much power should hams be allowed to use?

There's a discussion going on at at the moment about how much power hams should be allowed to use. There was a poll with options that ran from 100W to 1.5KW (no option for QRP!) 1.5KW got by far the most votes.

Since the G8 summit at which carbon emissions targets would be discussed was in the news at the time the thread started, I chipped in with the tongue-in-cheek comment that if governments were serious about reducing carbon emissions, perhaps amateur radio communications should be limited to solar powered QRP. That comment was more or less ignored, apart from one individual who defended the use of high power by saying that the amount of carbon generated by QRO amateur radio operations was insignificant compared to other factors. In fact many people are arguing (and arguing quite coherently for that powers of 5KW or more should be permitted. Not much concern for climate change among the ham radio community, then.

Readers of this blog will know from some of my Soapbox postings that I'm fairly sceptical that climate change is all our fault. But I'm even more certain that it is impossible for us to prevent it. The attitude that "what I'm doing makes an insignificant difference so there is no reason to change" is one of the main reasons I'm sure it's impossible to stop it. I dare say the people who blast past my little Hyundai in their large black V8-engined 4x4s using four times the amount of fuel think exactly the same thing, that their carbon emissions aren't going to destroy the planet.

If we really are facing climate change Armageddon then isn't it time governments started banning activities that make wasteful or inessential use of power, instead of asking people voluntarily to take ineffective measures like switching off the TV set instead of leaving it on stand-by? If and when that happens, I'll start taking the climate change threat seriously. Until then, I'll continue to believe it's just another scheme to enable some people to advance their careers, others to get rich, and the rest of us to pay more taxes.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Freedom of information

According to the latest post in GW7AAV's informative and often dryly humorous blog, the RSGB has written to Ofcom raising concern at the release, in full, of the database of UK amateur radio license holders on its web site, which was done following a number of requests from radio amateurs for the details to be released under the Freedom of Information Act. Apparently, the RSGB’s main concern is the security of the details, which can now be downloaded by any individual, radio amateur or not.

As far as I know, the RSGB Amateur Radio Callbook can be purchased by any individual, radio amateur or not. So I can't see how anyone's security is being compromised more than it is already.

The availability of the callsign database in machine readable form means that it would now be possible to find out who owns the antennas at 21 Acacia Drive, Surbiton, or list all the amateur license holders in Cockermouth. But there was a callbook CD given away by Practical Wireless a few years back that allowed searches by name, town or postcode. I distinctly remember using it to find out all the licensed amateurs in the CA13 postcode area. So nothing new there, either.

Could the objections have more to do with the effect that making this data freely available would have on RSGB Callbook sales? Surely not.

DX Sherlock VHF alerts service suspended

An email from Gabriel, EA6VQ received at lunch time informs me that the very useful DX Sherlock VHF propagation warnings by email service has been suspended due to restrictions imposed by Gabriel's internet provider. This service sent personalised propagation alerts whenever DX Cluster spots indicated there was a likelihood of a VHF band opening from your specific location.

Although most of the time when I am available to take advantage of a VHF band opening, I'm keeping an eye on Gabriel's DX Sherlock real-time propagation maps, the email alerts were an extra tool to help make sure that you don't miss an opening. The suspension of the service, presumably due to an attempt by Gabriel's ISP to stop spam being sent over its system, will be a loss to the VHF community.

I don't see an easy or cheap solution to the problem. Although I pay for shared web hosting for my own websites, restrictions on the number of emails that can be sent through a server are normal these days, even when you are paying for a business class service. It's enough of a restriction to make it impractical for me to run an email newsletter for my main business site - I had to outsource that out to a third party.

Gabriel's email suggests that the solution will be to rent a virtual private server. This sounds expensive, and would presumably mean that users of the service would have to pay a subscription. If that were to be the case, it would be nice to have the option to receive the alerts by text message to a mobile phone as well.

But many might choose to opt out of the service rather than pay for it, so it would be a shame if it could not continue for free. Perhaps one of the providers of web services to the ham community could come to the rescue, such as or Or perhaps there is a ham who already runs a dedicated server who could let Gabriel send email from it for free?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Desperate strokes

Still fighting the QRN here, though the nature and strength of it keeps changing, making it hard to assess the effectiveness of different sense antennas for the MFJ 1026 noise canceler. I'm currently using a SuperAntennas MP-1 for the noise antenna. It's fiddly to adjust, as always, but when tuned correctly it pulls in a big noise signal on 20m which enables me to cancel the noise very effectively.

It is no help at all on 80m though. I think I'll just have to abandon that band. My short dipole has a pretty narrow bandwidth and is not all that much use on 80m anyway,

HamSphere closes

I received an email from Kelly, the operator of HamSphere, a "virtual ionosphere" (i.e. VOIP ham radio emulator) to say that the system has closed. It doesn't surprise me, since the system was free, and the cost of the web hosting and bandwidth must have been considerable.

I have said before that I don't really see the attraction of pretending to make ham radio contacts over the internet, no matter how QTH-challenged you are. But some people do, and I expect they will miss HamSphere.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


I suppose it had to happen eventually. I've been battling noise on HF for some time. For several weeks the MFJ-1026 had been doing a good job of eliminating it on 20m. But recently the noise seemed to be changing, such that I often could not eliminate it entirely. This evening I noticed it had suddenly got much stronger. Perhaps the metal framework of the conservatory that has been erected today is reflecting the noise from many different directions. Whatever the reason I now have S9+20 noise on all bands from 20m and down (I didn't try the higher ones), I cannot eliminate it, and operation on the HF bands is now completely impossible. The picture shows the noise level, right now, on 80m.

Here is a sound clip of the noise on 80m. The sound actually varies depending on what frequency you're on. At one part of the band it sounds a lot like car ignition interference, and the K3 noise blanker knocks it down to a "mere" S8 or so. But at other frequencies nothing will touch it.

Having experienced, through Internet remote operating, just what a difference it makes having decent antennas, I think the time has come to give up trying to operate from here. The results just aren't worth fighting for. The only bands that are free enough of interference to use, 10m and up, are dead most of the time. I love those bands when they are open, but they aren't open often enough to make a viable hobby.

Moving house isn't an option. My wife doesn't want to move, despite the recent friction with one of our neighbours.

What I would like to do is set up an Internet remote with a group of other similarly QTH-challenged UK amateurs. However, this would require a significant investment in time, money and effort and I don't know whether there are enough other people with sufficient of all three plus the motivation to make this happen. Nor do I know how to contact them. I could try writing to RadCom, but I'd probably get a lot of time-wasters who'd like to use something like that but have nothing to contribute. It would be simpler just to subscribe to one of the existing remote club stations, use that when I want to do some operating, and sell my own equipment.

Whatever happens, it looks like being the end of operations from G4ILO's Shack as I currently know it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Remote confusion

It seems that some people are a little bit confused by the calls used when someone operates an Internet remote control station. When I use F/G4ILO they think, quite understandably, that I am on holiday in France. When told that I am in England and operating the station by remote control some people wonder why I am using the F prefix. But the rules state that you must use the same call that you would use if you were actually sat in the remote shack and operating normally. The fact that I have a very long microphone cable and am in a different country makes no difference. Imagine the confusion if someone from a DX location operated a remote control station in Europe using just their normal call! It really makes sense when you think about it.

I'm a little confused myself by this, though for a different reason. I'm enjoying this remote control operating so much I'm starting to wonder what is the point of having all this expensive equipment here. I listen to what I can hear through my headphones from F4JRC, then I listen to what I can hear on the same frequency through the terrible noise on my attic dipole here, and I wonder why I persevere. I could sell most of my gear and pay for a few years subscription to use a remote like HB9AZT.

Every QSO I have had has been so enjoyable, too, because hardly anyone has contacted a remotely controlled station before and they want to know all about it. The two stations I contacted tonight were interesting in their own right, too. First I worked Roberto, PD5X, who had outstanding audio - and it's a testimony to both the TS-2000 and Skype that I could tell it was outstanding in my remote headphones. He was using an IC-7700, a PR40 professional mic and a W2IHY audio equalizer. Then I contacted someone with possibly the longest call ever: PA/DL1GGL/MM. Ludwig was on a 28ft boat just north of the Netherlands running 80W into the mainstay. I never make interesting contacts like that using my own gear!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

G4ILO goes to France, virtually

A few days ago I was tuning around 20m just after lunch time when I heard the unmistakable sound of a California accent in QSO. Thinking that propagation must be exceptional I listened some more, and found that I was listening to K6PLR from San Diego operating via F4JRC Internet Remote. I found F4JRC's website and discovered that he has a TS2000 that can be operated over the Internet using the Web Transceiver software developed by W4MQ. There are also several other stations that can be operated with the aid of this software. Some are free upon request to the operator while others will grant access upon payment of a subscription. This could be the ultimate stealth ham radio station - one where the equipment and antennas are located somewhere else.

I spent the weekend trying out the W4MQ software to see how it worked. Because I didn't have a login to access any remote radios I tried installing the host software so I could try and connect to my K3. The software is designed to work with Kenwood radios such as the TS-2000 and TS-480 but because the Elecraft K3 protocol is based on the TS-2000 it will work with that too, though receiver adjustments like turning the noise blanker on and off or changing the receiver passband don't work. You can't use the K3 data mode either, making PSK31 operation difficult. The PSK31 client is quite primitive and buggy and I crashed the server while trying to use it.

You need to obtain a password from the remote station owner to get access to his station, and in order to get transmit privileges you need to send a copy of your license. I contacted Thierry, F4JRC and he sent me my login details last night. This morning, I set up the web transceiver software on my Samsung NC-10 netbook, plugged in a computer headset and began operating from near Avignon, France.

The first thing I did was ditch the built-in IRB audio and use Skype. This gives amazing audio quality, in fact it sounded just like my 'phones were plugged directly in to the radio. The latest version of Skype has problems with the last version of the IRB software. Fortunately I'm one of those people who never updates software unless the version I'm using no longer works, so the copy I had was just right.

The first station I worked was Telis, SV2HWR. It was our first contact, but he knew me already as he had my WebProp propagation indicator on his blog. Next I heard Peter, DJ0JE calling CQ. He was a big signal, and we had a nice chat. When I signed with Peter I heard an American voice calling me. After QSYing off Peter's frequency it turned out to be Bernd, KC9MOS from Chicago, who was using another Internet remote base at HB9Z. He had often used the F4JRC station that I was using, and this was his (and my) first IRB-to-IRB contact. How cool is that? I was then called by Werner, DL4TJ, who had a question about my K2Net remote control software, but the conditions were poor between us and I lost him. Finally I was called by a G0 who was operating from EA7, but while I was attempting to turn the beam in his direction I lost the connection to the remote station.

This was one of the most memorable hours on the air of my ham radio career, and it raises some interesting thoughts in my mind. What with electronic QRN and troublesome neighbours I sometimes wonder how long it will be before I am forced to QRT from here, and what I would do if I was. This could be the answer.

Some people claim that voice-over-IP (VOIP) systems like QSONet or HamSphere are the solution for those who are unable to put up antennas. I have always argued that I can't see the point: they don't use radio, no propagation is involved, therefore what exactly do you talk about? "The computer here is a Dell notebook, running Windows Vista. You're 5 and 9, but there's some packet loss this morning." But this is using real radio, the only difference is that you aren't actually sat in front of it. I've often operated my K3 from another room in the house, via my home network. It's the same principle, just a bigger distance.

You don't get to handle the radio controls, which I admit is something I like about real radios and one reason why I'm not a fan of SDR. Another difference is that the equipment and antennas aren't yours. But does that matter? They could be. If you subscribe to an IRB station, or got together with a few other people to set up your own, then you could own some of the gear. It's arguable that my K3 and top of the range 2m transverter - or the money I have invested in them - could be put to more effective use at a different location than here. And there's nothing to stop someone whose main operation is using an Internet remote playing about with QRP radios and temporary wire antennas if they need that fix of solder smoke.

As antenna restrictions become increasingly common for those of us who live in towns and cities, perhaps remote operation of jointly-owned (or even commercially operated) ham radio stations will become more common.

Monday, July 06, 2009

In praise of Firefox

I love Firefox. It is quite simply, hands down, far and away the best web browser, ever. I can't understand why everyone doesn't use it. In fact, it is probably the best computer application ever. I must spend at least 90% of my time at the computer using it, so if there was anything not to like about it, I would have found it. And the reason I like Firefox so much is that, whenever I've thought of a feature or tool that would make my life using it much easier, it turns out to be possible using one of the seemingly limitless choice of "extensions".

Over the weekend, the Firefox on my shack computer developed an annoying habit of freezing, running the CPU at 95%. After killing and restarting it a few times, I noticed that they were advertising version 3.5 "the fastest Firefox ever." I was still on 3.something, so I decided to uninstall the old version in case it had picked up something nasty, and then install the latest version. This went without a hitch. But it still froze up, and it appeared to happen whenever I logged on to Gmail.

Gmail is a huge Javascript application and it has been getting slower and slower as it becomes more bloated with features, especially on my shack PC which is 5 years old and was cheap (and hence low powered) even when I bought it. It isn't unknown for Google to change or break something in Gmail. However, Gmail has a "basic HTML" version for people with slower PCs or unsupported browsers. I switched to that and made it the default, and what a difference! Even without the freezing it would be worth switching just because it is so much faster.

There is only one thing that I miss in the basic HTML version of Gmail. I like to keep the Spam folder empty, so I can quickly scan the new messages in there to see if anything has got marked as spam that shouldn't be. And the basic version doesn't have a "Select All" box that allows you to select all the spam messages in order to delete them. I Googled this to see whether I had missed something, or if there was a workaround. And sure enough, there is. Once again, Firefox comes up with a solution!

The solution in this case was a user-written script named GMail Select All Button for Spam in Basic HTML View. In order to run this script you first need to install a Firefox extension called Greasemonkey. If that sounds complicated, it isn't. Both Greasemonkey and the Select button script can be installed just by clicking a button and accepting a confirmation dialog. Including a restart of Firefox, it took about a minute. The Select All button didn't appear until I changed the settings for the script to use the https:// address for Gmail. If only everything to do with computers was this simple!

Whatever I have wanted to do in a web browser, from automated form filling to examining the HTML and CSS code for a page to finding out the IP address of a server, Firefox has never failed to come up with a solution. Forget Internet Explorer, forget Google Chrome, forget Safari. There is only one web browser: Firefox!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

VHF Field Day

This was VHF Field Day weekend. I had been looking forward to it, hoping that the activity of numerous well-sited portable stations would enable me to assess the possibilities of my stealth 2m system on the "wrong side" of the Cumbrian Mountains.

Sadly, the results were disappointing. The only contest stations I consistently heard were four fairly local Scottish portables, including MM0CPS/P only 37km away on the other side of the Solway, nearly 60dB over S9 on 2m, and whom I was even able to give a point on 70cm using the FT-817 standing on the shack desk with a retracted telescopic whip for an antenna.

I did hear a few fairly weak portables from England, but most faded away - presumably on turning their beams - before I could work them. The only G contact I made was with G3ZME/P in IO82nn, which I think is a hill called The Cloud in Shropshire. He reported a strange warble on my signal, which I also noticed on his, and on other stations I heard in that direction. My QTH is under the main flight path for flights from the north and from across the Atlantic going down to London, and on a clear day you can usually spot two or three jets at great height. Perhaps the only way my 2m signals can propagate down south in the absence of Es reflection is by aircraft scatter?

My disappointment was considerably mitigated by the fine Sporadic-E opening that occurred on Saturday evening. I checked after dinner, and saw that contacts were being reported from more northerly latitudes than usual. I soon had CT1HZE in the log. He was a huge signal and was audible for most of the two-hour opening, often S9+ when nothing else could be heard at all.

EA7AJ and EA4TF were also worked, but there were several gotaways including EA5MT, EA2AGZ and EA4DM. I started to wonder if one-way Sporadic-E is possible, because some of the Spanish stations I heard were a clear S9 but kept on calling CQ despite multiple attempts to call them. Even if they were running ten times my 25W I would have thought they would still hear me, based on how I was hearing them. But I guess they were "alligators."

It has been a lot of fun getting on 2 metres again, but disappointing that only during Sporadic-E openings can I make any contacts. I'm still waiting for a big tropo opening to see if that will send any DX my way. With my neighbour problems, putting up a long yagi and running high power to work MS or EME will be out of the question.

Friday, July 03, 2009

So near, and yet so far

I was trying to get something to work on the computer when the excellent DX Sherlock VHF propagation warning system alerted me to a Sporadic-E opening on 2m. Sure enough, a good opening was taking place. Many stations in southern England, Wales and southern Ireland were working down into south-eastern Europe, with the signal paths crossing in a solid block somewhere over France.

Sadly, all I could do is watch the opening develop on the map, as not so much of a peep of a signal was heard in my receiver. I don't think it was my limited situation at fault, either. The propagation just did not extend this far north. It seems I just live in the wrong place for VHF activity. 6m was quite busy, with contacts being reported from all over the UK, but once again I decided to pass that over for the chance of making some contacts on 2.

Unfortunately I didn't have any greater success in what I was trying to achieve with the computer either. But I'll leave writing about that for another time.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Stuart Makes His First Contact

Thanks to Larry, W2LJ, for mentioning this wonderful story in KB6NU's blog. Read it, it will probably be the most heartwarming thing you'll read all day.