Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I spent a couple of hours this morning writing a little program using Lazarus / Free Pascal called krun. I will use it to run certain ham radio programs that I use with my Elecraft K3, hence the name beginning with K like my other Elecraft-related programs. In principle though it could be used with other radios, if their command language uses only printable characters.

What krun does is connect to the radio using the serial port and send a sequence of CAT commands to it. It will then run a specified program. It waits in the background until the specified program is finished and can then (optionally) send another sequence of commands to the radio before closing. The com port, baud rate, command sequences and path to the program you want to run are all specified on the command line.

The main reason for writing krun was to facilitate the use of packet radio software with the K3. The SV2AGW Packet Engine doesn't support CAT at all so it can't set the K3 into the right mode for packet operation. For VHF packet you must use FM, but with the transmit audio coming from the line input. It's hard to remember to switch the audio to line input before using packet and then remember to switch it back again for normal phone operation afterwards, so I often ended up transmitting a signal with no modulation. krun should prevent that. As a bonus it can set the frequency, mode and power level as well, so setting up for packet is almost a one-click operation.

I haven't made krun available on the website as it takes time to document and upload it and it probably won't be of use to very many people. But I may get round to it eventually, if anyone expresses a need for it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Armchair fellwalking

As I noted in yesterday's post about my walk up Binsey, I didn't take any photos. My wife Olga, who is usually with me whenever I go anywhere interesting, is the keen photographer and owner of the camera. I never think about taking photographs and if I do, my thumb is usually in front of the lens or my shadow is in the picture or some other disaster. Why bother, when other people do it so much better?

It occurred to me that, as I didn't have any photos of where I had been, I could instead link to a page on another site that had pictures of the area. And I found a wonderful site, David Hall Lake District Walks. David seems to have walked every hill in the Lake District many times, and not only has he photographed the views, he also has pictures taken along the route, a map showing the path he took, notes about the walk, time taken and distance travelled.

If you have any interest in walking at all, this is a site to bookmark. You'll probably spend many hours following David's walks from your armchair. If you are planning to visit the area David's site will give you a lot of ideas for walks to do when you come here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A chill wind on Binsey

Olga went to a fashion show at Armathwaite Hall this afternoon. As she doesn't drive, I had to take her, so I decided to while away the couple of hours until I had to collect her by taking the VX-8E up nearby Binsey Fell. This is a fairly modest hill at the northern extremity of the Wainwrights, WOTA LDW-190, which by virtue of its separation from other Lake District fells is also a SOTA summit, LD-041.

It was an easy half hour's walk up the grassy path from Binsey Cottage, even allowing for several stops to take in the superb panoramic views. (Memo to self: next time remember to borrow Olga's digital camera.) On the top it was very windy and quite cold, so the first priority was to find somewhere a bit sheltered from the wind where I wouldn't freeze to death and people would have a chance of hearing my voice and not wind noise when I spoke into the microphone.

I hadn't been up there long when my VX-8E received an APRS message from "WOTA" to let me know that M3XJV/P had been spotted on Coniston Old Man, LDW-030, on 145.525 FM. This is a prospective new feature of the Wainwrights On The Air website that I have been testing, to send "spots" by APRS text message to those who would like to receive them. The feature hasn't been made generally available yet and probably won't be, because a) no-one on the WOTA site has expressed any interest in using APRS, b) even if they had, there are too few APRS IGates in range of the Lakeland fells to provide effective coverage, and c) my experiments so far suggest that sending APRS messages from the internet is unreliable because the messages are sent once instead of being repeated until acknowledged, so unless you happen to be in just the right place to get perfect reception when the message is sent, you won't get it. In fact, this was the first WOTA spot I have ever received on my VX-8E while it was out of the shack.

I tuned to 145.525 just in time to hear M3XJV/P announce that he was closing down and going back down due to the wind and the cold. I tried a couple of calls of "G4ILO/P for a summit to summit" to no avail. Well, it was worth a try!

I made a few calls on the FM calling channel, 145.500, and eventually was answered by Steve, M0IGG on Walney Island at the opposite end of the county. That was pretty good going for 5W to a quarter wave telescopic, considering his low elevation and all the mountains in between. So at least my activation qualified for WOTA.

However despite making several calls on four different 2m repeaters, one 70cm one covering the city of Carlisle, and the FM calling channel, I could not raise even one more reply. After ten minutes or so of this, crouching in the lee of the trig point of the summit, to try to get some shelter from the wind, I too decided to call it a day before hypothermia set in!

Aircraft scatter on 2m

Whenever I see reports of tropospheric propagation on 144MHz I tune my receiver to the GB3VHF beacon in Kent to see if I can receive it any better than normal. I am always disappointed, because it appears that the mountains of the Lake District block all signals from the south round to the east, except for Sporadic-E which is presumably reflected in at a higher angle.

However, when I monitor the beacon using WSJT in JT65B mode I very often see traces like the one on the right, showing a strong doppler shift on the signal. The traces normally last for no longer than two or three minutes, then it's back to band noise again.

At this QTH when the sky is clear you can always see aircraft trails heading north-south on their way down to London. So I presume that the effect I am seeing is due to aircraft scatter?

I don't suppose it is of much interest to most 2m DX enthusiasts to spend some time trying to work a relatively QRP station in IO84hp square, but from my point of view it would be interesting to try a couple of skeds with other UK stations using, I guess, JT6M, just to see if it is possible to make a contact by bouncing RF off an airliner.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A lament for Whinlatter Forest

I'm always envious when I read some of the accounts written by American QRPers of their trips into the wilderness to make radio contacts from remote places. Photos showing endless vistas and antennas silhouetted against a distant horizon. It's something one can only dream of in this small, overcrowded island, and it's getting worse now that more people are taking their holidays at home in Britain.

Olga wanted me out of the house so she could do some cleaning without me getting under her feet, so I grabbed the VX-8E, jumped in the car and headed for Whinlatter Forest Park to do a quick 2m WOTA activation of Whinlatter, LDW-160. When I arrived, the car park was full and I only just found a space. Instead of the sound of birdsong the air resounded to the testosterone-fuelled cries of men on mountain bikes - and a couple of hard-looking women.

I first visited Whinlatter Forest 30 years ago and up until last year as long as you avoided the school holiday periods and Bank Holidays, you could normally have the place practically to yourself. The car park would be less than half full and once you had walked a short way from the main forest roads you would only infrequently encounter another person. And they would be on foot, perhaps with a dog, not hurtling past at breakneck speed scattering mud and stones in all directions on some two wheeled contraption.

After your walk, communing with nature, you could stop for tea in the visitor centre cafe - a beautiful spot looking out over the forest. On one memorable occasion I remember that a Sibelius symphony was playing on the sound system - perfect. Nowadays the sounds you'll hear should you venture in are the thumping cacophony favoured by the adrenalin-seekers who now get their refreshment there. If Hell was a forest, it would be Whinlatter.

This has not happened by coincidence. There are now businesses in the forest that rent out mountain bikes to visitors and offer other "thrills" like the chance to whizz from tree to tree suspended by a pulley from aerial ropeways. So the Forestry Commission, the public body tasked with the management and conservation of our forests, has presumably been complicit in this transformation.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that mountain bikers are entitled to enjoy their fun just as much as portable operating radio amateurs. But they are much harder to ignore because there is a lot more of them - not that ignoring them is a good idea due to the speed they travel. I would have thought that the adrenalin junkies could get their kicks just as well in a converted disused quarry where they would not offend those who are looking for peace and quiet. Who gave the Forestry Commission the right to tear up a place of outstanding natural beauty and tranquillity in the name of profit?

Friday, September 25, 2009

How to wget my eQSLs?

I notice that a few bloggers have galleries or slideshows of the eQSL cards they have received on their websites. I thought it would be nice to do the same. However, I have over 500 confirmations on the eQSL server and saving each card to a file manually is not a task I relish.

The only program I know of that can download eQSLs automatically is one written by WD5EAE and its use is deprecated by because it consumes too much server resources. I thought I could modify the program to add a delay between each download, as WD5EAE provides the source code. But it is written in a horrible proprietary language called WinBatch that costs $499 for a compiler. So that's a non-starter.

I thought that I could write a script using the GNU utility wget to do this. The difficulty is that you have to be logged in to access the relevant pages and uses cookies to verify that you are authenticated.

I ran the command:
wget --save-cookies %TEMP%\eqsl --keep-session-cookies --post-data "Callsign=mycall&EnteredPassword=mypwd&Login=Go" -O -
which logged me in and saved a cookie to the file "eqsl" in my temporary folder. But when I attempted to get a list of my Inbox using:
wget --load-cookies %TEMP%\eqsl --keep-session-cookies
the page returned showed that I was not logged in. I'm not much of an expert at this sort of thing although I've used wget in scripts to download files before. But I've looked at other wget examples on the net and I can't see what's wrong with this. Can anyone help?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

K3 not for sale

Email from Wayne N6KR at Elecraft to K3 firmware beta testers: "The following changes are in the works for the *next* release:

- No RX or TX EQ in DATA modes

- When the VFO is being used for repeater channel hopping (among
memories tagged with '*' in their label), PL tone and +/- offsets
will be properly loaded for each channel, allowing transmit
to work correctly."

This is why I won't be selling my K3 just yet, after all.

Does this show that I should have had more faith, or that being a pain in the ass gets results eventually? I'm sure you'll tell me.

DinKey Disappointment

If I take a radio when I go out for a walk, it's usually a VHF handie. That's partly because my wife Olga always comes with me and I think it's more polite to make contacts she can hear than sit with headphones on sending Morse while she twiddles her fingers. But it's also down to all the extra bits and pieces you need to take if you're going to operate QRP HF, like key, ATU, cables and antennas, and the difficulty of actually sending Morse sat on a rock with the radio and key perched on your knee or wherever. There are portable keys available but they are rather expensive. So when I came across the DinKey a few weeks ago I thought it would be a useful and affordable addition to my FT-817 that would encourage me to use it more often out in the field.

Olga collected the DinKey from the Post Office for me yesterday, after paying the £10.72 import tax (about $18) which made it a rather more expensive accessory than it would be for American amateurs. I thought that I would now be regaling my readers with details of my first contacts made using it, but I haven't made any, because I find it almost impossible to send with!

The keyer seemed to be missing dits when they follow dahs within a character, so that "CQ" came out as "KO" or "GO" or sometimes even "MO". I found that the keyer was set to 12wpm so I increased the speed to 16wpm, which is as fast as I can send or receive anyway. That didn't make any difference. Eventually I turned the speed down to 8wpm and I could then send reliably. But that is too slow even for me. The FT-817 batteries would probably be exhausted before the contact was finished!

I spent several hours trying to find the cause of the problem. To cut a long story short I believe that it is because the DinKey uses the FT-817 microphone jack and exploits the option the 817 has to send Morse using the up and down buttons on the microphone. It is not a bad contact or fault in the DinKey per se.

From what I am able to determine by observation, when the FT-817 is busy sending a dah (or a dit) as a result of a closure of one of the mic button contacts it checks for new button closures rather infrequently - perhaps no more than four times a second. This means that when a paddle is closed to send a dit at any normal speed, from 12wpm up, the contact is often closed too briefly for it to be detected. The only way to send reliably is to wait until a dash has been completed before pressing the dot paddle, which results in rather long inter-symbol gaps and rather stilted sounding Morse. When using the microphone buttons it's hard to send very fast anyway because the buttons are quite stiff and any missed dits or dahs would probably be blamed on finger trouble.

Iambic operation is impossible. And although I have never managed to learn true iambic operation - keeping one paddle closed while I briefly close the other to insert a dot into a sequence of dashes or vice versa - clearly my sending style takes advantage of the fact that all electronic keyers support iambic operation which allows me to key slightly ahead of what the radio is sending and let the keyer sort out the spacing. This is not a habit one can easily un-learn, nor do I particularly want to, so I find the DinKey to be just about unusable.

Fred, KF6HQC, the maker of the DinKey, appears to agree with my findings, though he puts it down to "lazy" sending - which I don't agree with - or sending too quickly. He claims that only about 2% of his customers have written to him about this, which I find surprising, though I'm equally surprised that none of the three pages of positive reviews of this product on eHam mention it either.

But perhaps they all send faster than I do. Following Fred's email I tried increasing the speed to 24wpm and found that the DinKey was much more usable because it is harder to key faster than the keyer is sending. The occasional dit was still missed, though.

So it would appear that the DinKey is more or less OK for very proficient CW operators who can send at 24wpm and up (as long as they don't expect iambic operation) but no good for those of us who are only comfortable at slower speeds. I don't send at 24wpm because the keyer runs away from me and adds extra dits and dahs that weren't intended. And I can't receive at that speed anyway. I send slow because that's the speed I want people to come back to me.

Because of what I've had to pay in tax, I shall be out of pocket even if I take up Fred's offer of returning the DinKey for a refund. So I'll keep it and either see if I can use it in another QRP project, rewire it so that it uses the FT-817 mic jack just for support, but plugs into the rear key jack for operation, or wait until I can manage 24wpm - though the latter isn't very likely to happen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Taxed to the hilt


is why it is no longer economic for us in the UK to order small ham radio accessories from the USA.

Look closely. The declared value is $30. The VAT is £2.72 - roughly $4.50, or 15% of the value. No problem there. But then there is the Royal Mail International Handling Fee, which is £8.00 ($13.20). So this $30 item ended up costing nearly $50, because we're charged three times the cost of the tax for the privilege of having it collected from us!

It's legalized robbery, isn't it?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Does competitive radio make people rude?

After I posted on the Elecraft reflector yesterday that I was going to sell my K3 and give up Elecraft for good I have received getting on for a couple of dozen emails from people, many of whom I have never heard from before, urging me to reconsider my decision, "keep up the pressure on Elecraft to get better" and "nil illegitimi carborundum" (don't let the bastards grind you down) - the bastards in question being my attackers, not Elecraft, I hasten to point out.

It has been very morale boosting to know that there is a largely silent group of list lurkers who share my views. It's a pity that more of them don't put their heads above the parapet sometimes and draw some of the fire, but some of the opinions I've read from supporters are far more inflammatory than anything I'd ever dare put.

I was musing to one of my correspondents that the Elecraft list was not the pleasant, friendly community that it was ten years ago in the days of the QRP K2. It started to go downhill when the KPA100 was introduced. I can remember a few flame-wars between the diehard QRP fraternity - of which I was, at that time, a fully paid-up member - and the 100W brigade. I think it was about that time that a guy called Nils Young, WB8IJN, a.k.a. El Gringo Errante, who would regularly entertain us with his musings, bowed out. I wonder what happened to him?

I was informed yesterday by one user that the K3 was meant to be a competition grade radio, not something to make repeater contacts with. It's a pity no-one told Wayne, N6KR, who that same day announced a firmware update with a 1750Hz toneburst specially for UK repeaters.

Does pursuing competitive ham radio - contesting and DXing - make people bad tempered and aggressive, or is it the other way round? My recollections of the early Elecraft days make me think that QRPers are nicer people, more thoughtful and more laid back. If I keep the K3 after all, perhaps I should remove and sell the PA. :)


Prompted by Jason, NT7S's latest post in his thoughtful blog "Ripples in the Ether", I have finally got round to adding a blogroll to this blog. In case you don't know, a blogroll is just a jargon word for a list of links to other blogs that a blogger thinks are worth reading. As Jason points out, networking ham radio blogs together in this way brings in more visitors and increases the readership, because if people like your blog they think that they will probably like other blogs you like too. Most of the blogs I now read regularly I first found using the blogrolls on other sites.

Adding a blogroll should be easy, and probably is if you host your blog on Blogger's site. But I'm obstinately still having Blogger create and upload static HTML pages to my web server, in the belief that this will improve the SEO (search engine optimization) of my entire site.

Whether it really does or not is anyone's guess. Search engine optimization is supposedly a science - though actually a black art - that is intended to get your site listed nearer the top of the first search engine results page so you get more visitors.

There are loads of "experts" who will give you all sorts of advice as to how to improve a website's SEO. However, in my opinion there are three things that a website must have to have to get lots of visitors:
  • It has to have been in existence for a while - the longer the better.
  • It needs to have lots of good content containing the phrases that the people you want to come visit will be searching for (like "QRP" or "stealth radio".)
  • It needs to have lots of incoming links from other good, related sites.
There isn't a lot you can do about the first one if you're just starting your site. But since a blog contains a lot of content it's obviously a good thing to have, and since blogrolls are links to sites they are a good thing too, because if you link to other people's blogs they'll probably link back to you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One bright spot

This has not been a good day from a radio point of view as I received yet more condescension and personal attacks for daring to suggest on the Elecraft Reflector that the K3 could do with some improvement in certain areas. In fact I have decided that enough is enough. This is supposed to be a hobby and I don't need this kind of aggravation. As soon as I have determined what is a fair price I'm putting the K3 up for sale and then, as they say, "I'm outta there!"

But there has been one bright spot. I won something on eBay! Specifically, I won a lot of 10 Aladdin coil formers. These are practically unobtainable now, but they are used in many older QRP projects including some of the ones on Roger G3XBM's website. So now I will have no excuse for not trying to build some of them!

Narrow minds

Against my better judgement I got drawn into defending some of the criticisms of the Elecraft K3 made in my previous blog posting and on eHam. Needless to say this caused the predictable howls of anger from the Elecraft fan club. A couple of people suggested that if I didn't like the way a feature worked I should have sold the K3 (or not have bought it in the first place.) Others who to the best of my knowledge only use SSB or CW claimed that since the K3 was perfect for them there could not be anything wrong with it.

My suggestion that those who never operated digital modes were perhaps not qualified to give an opinion on whether my criticism of the K3's data mode was valid produced this gem of a reply from NZ0T: "I don't use digimodes and if I did I most likely would not have purchased a K3. Frankly if I wanted to pound a keyboard like a computer nerd I wouldn't even be a ham." Very enlightening!

I think someone at Elecraft should review the installation instructions for the crystal filters. It would appear that some users are installing the narrow ones in their minds instead of in the radio.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Review of the Elecraft K3 - 18 months on

As my Elecraft K3 is the most important and most expensive item in G4ILO's shack, some readers may be surprised that there is no review of the K3 in the Reviews part of my main site. The reason is that when I first received my K3, I was quite disappointed with it in many respects. Many of the advertised features that were among my reasons for buying it were still to be implemented when the first radios were shipped. Any criticisms that I made at the time would, I hoped, eventually be obsolete. So I have been waiting for the K3 to be finished, or at least to perform as I expected, before giving my verdict.

More than two years on from its inital announcement, there are still things I'm waiting to be finished or put right. So I am publishing my review in this blog, representing my thoughts about the K3 at this point in time, rather than on my main site.

My reason for buying a K3 in the first place was largely just that it was an Elecraft. I had owned a K2 since 1999 and had built several of Elecraft's other kits and modules since then. I have great admiration for Wayne, Eric and Lyle, talented radio designers who are not afraid to take an innovative approach in their products. They are also enthusiasts for their products, happy to engage with their customers through the medium of the Elecraft email reflector and respond to criticisms and suggestions. Elecraft has a first class reputation for customer service. None of what I am about to say is intended to detract from any of that.

However, the K3 exists in a marketplace alongside many other radios. It has to be judged by how well it compares with its competitors in its price class, and those below it. The K3 is lauded as the radio with the best receiver, able to pick out weak signals in close proximity to very strong ones better than anything else. It is claimed to be better even than more expensive radios. For many keen DXers and contesters that capability may be important enough to justify overlooking other failings. However, for the average Joe Ham with poor to moderate antennas in a QTH with a noise floor filled with emissions from electrical devices such receive characteristics have little value except perhaps to give bragging rights. It's how a radio looks, feels and sounds, how comfortable it is to use, and how suitable it is to use for modes other than CW or SSB that many of us ordinary Joes like to play with, that are more important. And in many of those respects the K3 does worse even than some of the cheaper alternatives.

To start with the look and feel. In pictures, and at a normal operating distance, the K3 looks quite attractive, if stylistically somewhat dated. However, its compact size suggests a medium to budget price radio rather than high end. Close up, the many screw heads scream "kit built", which of course my K3 actually is. The poor paint finish, plasticky knobs and gritty feel of the smaller rotary controls also say "cheap", which the K3 certainly isn't. Some of those complaints are a direct result of the K3's design aims to be user assembled (if required) and light weight (for portable / DXpedition use.) But most K3s are bought ready assembled and never move from the shack desk, and those buyers may not accept the compromise. The K3 is a radio to use, not drool over.

A frequent criticism of the K3 is its poor ergonomics, especially the lack of separate band and mode buttons. It's a fair point: other radios in the K3's price class are bigger, and can afford larger controls and more buttons. Both my K2 and my FT-817 select band and mode by up/down buttons, so I felt that was something I could live with. Still, every time I change band instead of mode, or vice-versa, or go the long way round when making a change, it's annoying. And it's an annoyance that's easier to forgive in a radio as tiny as the FT-817 that has no choice in the matter than in one that could easily have been made a bit bigger.

My biggest irritation with the K3 is its implementation of memories, which is frankly awful. In every other radio I have used, you press a button labelled V/M to switch between VFO and memory mode. In memory mode, you immediately go to the last selected memory band/frequency/mode etc. The VFO or some other control then acts as a rotary switch which you can use to change memory, and as you change memory the transceiver immediately changes to the band/frequency/mode/repeater shift etc. that has been programmed into that memory.

In the K3 there's no such thing as memory mode. You're always in VFO mode. You can save frequencies to memory and you can recall frequencies from memory back to the VFO but when you press M>V the first time, the radio stays where it is. You rotate the VFO and the memories change in the display, but the radio still stays where it is. You're just selecting the memory you want. You have to press M>V again before it will actually change to the band/mode stored in the displayed memory. So you can't use the memories to quickly check for activity on a list of different frequencies. This probably isn't something SSB or CW operators want to do. But FM users will, for sure.

To try to overcome this criticism and provide the opportunity to scan a selection of memories Elecraft introduced what they call channel-hopping memories. This smacks of an ugly workaround that is only a small improvement over the standard behaviour. To make a memory a channel-hopping memory you must give up the first of the characters in the alphanumeric tag for each memory and make it an asterisk. The K3 will then scan a block of consecutive memories tagged with an asterisk almost as if you're in memory mode, actually changing the frequency and listening there. You can even rotate the VFO to scan through them manually. But - and here's the killer - it ONLY changes the frequency, not the mode, the repeater shift, the access tone or any other attribute stored in that memory. To fully load the memory into the radio, you still need to press V/M again.

The K3 has the best support of any radio, bar none, for using transverters. You can have up to 10 of them, and the K3 will display the actual VHF or UHF frequency when you are using one. Elecraft has even brought out an internal 10W 2m transverter option. So this is a radio that many people might choose over an IC-746PRO or TS-2000 to use not just on HF, but also to chat on their local 2m simplex and repeater channels. You'll need to buy a crystal filter for FM, which will cost you as much as a budget 2m HT, but you'll get a receiver whose adjacent channel rejection and signal to noise ratio on weak signals is second to none, and certainly better than the aforementioned Icom and Kenwood radios.

But the K3's flawed implementation of memories makes FM operation a nightmare. You program your local repeaters and simplex channels into a block of channel-hopping memories. You then select a repeater and make a call through it, successfully. Then you turn the dial to cycle through the other memories and hear someone calling on a simplex channel. You call, but they won't hear you because you didn't remember to press M>V so you still have the repeater shift on from your previous contact. Or if you hear someone on another repeater and call him, you may have the wrong access tone. The K3's memory implementation is completely unintuitive. Unless Elecraft completely redesigns it to work like other radios, go for the Icom or Kenwood if you plan on doing much FM operation.

The disaster that is the K3's memory implementation suggests a radio that was designed by people with little experience of anything besides HF CW and SSB operation - or indeed experience of how the competition did things. Certain other aspects of the K3 tend to support that suggestion.

The K3 could have been the digital mode operator's dream radio. There is built-in support for encoding and decoding both RTTY and PSK31, though you must send using a Morse paddle rather than a computer keyboard, and the K3's display doesn't provide much space to show the decoded text in a scrolling window. In the DATA mode, the K3 implements a "soft" ALC that lets you set a comfortable audio drive level and then keeps the power output constant across almost the entire range of the audio spectrum. Click the cursor on any signal in the waterfall and just call. No more constantly tweaking the PC mixer slider level to control the power level and keep the drive below ALC to maintain a clean signal. It's PSK heaven!

Like most modern transceivers, the K3 offers both transmit and receive equalization: perfect for voice modes. For sound card digital operation, though, you want a flat audio response with no equalization. Other radios that have both a DATA mode and equalization turn the EQ off when the data mode is selected. Even radios that cost half the price of a K3 can do this. But not the K3. So if you're a keen digimode operator and don't want to have to manually change the EQ settings whenever you switch from phone to data, you'll just have to leave the equalization flat. Elecraft knows this is an annoyance, but apparently it is difficult to change due to the way the firmware has been written. So we're still waiting.

Which brings me back to the point that more than two years after its announcement, and more than 18 months after I first received it, I'm still waiting for some aspects of the K3 to work as expected. Believe it or not there are still advertised features such as synchronous AM detection that have yet to be implemented. I purchased the high stability TCXO option and there is a facility, described in the manual, for you to enter in temperature calibration data to increase its stability. Except it does not exist. It's still to be implemented.

In a nutshell, my verdict on the K3 is: great hardware, shame about the firmware. Two years since its first announcement, it's still a work in progress.

PS: You can now read a 'lite' version of this review at

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just say no to Yahoo!

If you want to discuss a specific aspect or product related to ham radio, the chances are there is a Yahoo! group about it. In fact, for certain subjects there are likely to be several, due to some people's habit of starting a group before looking to see if one already existed for that topic.

Why are Yahoo! groups so popular with the ham fraternity? I hate them! First of all, I hate Yahoo! as a company, for reasons that I won't go into. Second of all, Yahoo! groups are essentially mailing lists, a technology from the early days of the internet before search engines and forums were invented. When my mail client shows I have new messages, I tend to interrupt what I'm doing to see who has replied to me. I don't want to be disturbed by someone's contribution to a thread I haven't participated in and may not even be interested in. Consequently I read Yahoo! groups on the web. And compared to 21st century forum software, Google Groups or the free forum platform Nabble, Yahoo!'s web interface is slow, cumbersome and just plain sucks.

The third, and really major reason why I deplore the use of Yahoo! for ham radio discussion groups is that they tend to be moderated by despotic paranoid individuals who make them private and then apply their own idiosyncratic rules as to what is or is not admissable. The problem with making them private is you have to join to see what is being said, because none of the content can be found using Google (or Yahoo! Search, for that matter) which would add to the openly available knowledge on that subject. Personally I like to see what the tone of a forum is before subscribing. But often I just have a casual interest in what is being said about a particular transceiver or whatever and have no desire to join and participate.

It wouldn't be so bad if joining was simply a matter of clicking a few buttons and you're in. But the despotic paranoids who run some of these groups make you jump through hoops before they'll even accept you. You have to wait until a moderator reads your request to join, and if he doesn't think your reasons are convincing enough he won't admit you.

One Yahoo! group - about magnetic loops, if I recall correctly - had some rule to keep out "lurkers" that you were expected to post 4 times in a fortnight after joining. The group didn't like what I posted as I was raising concerns about RF exposure levels from magnetic loops, so I was kicked out. Another group, recently started to discuss an as yet unavailable new transceiver, includes the following condition: "Application for membership waives any "free speech" rights, and implies that the applicant is willing to submit to the rules set by the group moderators and owners." I'm afraid I find that unacceptable.

Can't we make more use of open discussion platforms like Google Groups or Nabble for specialized ham radio forums, and do moderators need to act like Stalin?

No tropo

Well, it seems like I have the answer to the question of whether it is possible to work VHF DX during tropo openings from my location behind the Lake District Hills.

The map above shows the 2m opening that is apparently going on as I type this. What I can hear in my receiver with my beam pointing east is... precisely nothing. :(

I was delighted to be able to work down into Spain and Portugal in June during some big Sporadic-E openings, even though I heard and worked a lot less than people elsewhere in the country. I guess that was possible because Sporadic-E clouds are high enough to reflect signals over the hills to me. Tropospheric ducts occur in the atmosphere at heights of only a couple of thousand metres, so I suppose a clear path is still needed.

I would really like to move back to Essex!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Voices from space, whispers on 80

It was one of those crystal clear evenings when the stars shone like jewels from a black sky. N2YO's satellite tracking site showed that the Space Shuttle would pass over at about 9.20pm at magnitude -2.0 - brighter than Jupiter - so my wife and I went out in the garden to watch it. Olga spotted it first, rising over the roof of the neighbour's bungalow.

I had the VX-8E tuned to 145.825 to see what APRS I could catch, but nothing was heard, so I flipped down a channel to 145.800 and heard an astronaut's voice, clear as a bell. We only heard one side of the conversation, but it was still quite something to watch the space station go over and know that the person talking about why he had wanted to become an astronaut was actually in that bright, moving star, up there.

Meanwhile, up in the shack, my FT-817 was doing some WSPR testing on 80m using my Wonder Loop magnetic loop antenna. To get it to tune 80m I connected an 820pF silver mica capacitor across the loop / variable capacitor terminals. The tuning was nice and sharp, and although the SWR did not seem to be particularly low it only raised one bar on the FT-817 meter.

There were not many people on 80m WSPR but I was consistently received by LA2XPA, while I received G7JVN several times. For comparison I replaced the Wonder Loop by the ATX Walkabout and received two more spots from LA2XPA at similar signal strength. I also put out a number of CQs using 5W of PSK31 but got no replies. I wasn't even spotted on the PSK Propagation Reporter site.

I didn't really expect the small Wonder Loop to work very well on this band. However, earlier in the day I had stumbled across a site I hadn't seen before showing a small diameter magnetic loop with plug-in tuning modules covering 160m to 6m, so I was interested to see how far I could extend the Wonder Loop's coverage.

A taxing morning

A few days ago I received a letter from the Inland Revenue (the UK equivalent of the IRS) reminding me that I should pay tax on my bank interest. This caused some hollow laughter, since the amount of interest the banks are paying on savings at the moment is so paltry (0.1% p.a. on some accounts) that the tax on it amounts to almost nothing. However it seems to be a sign of the times that in order to try to fill the massive hole in the public finances caused by falling tax revenues and bailing out the banks, no amount of tax is deemed to be too small to be worth collecting.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a USB programming cable for the VX-8R from Valley Enterprises in Idaho, via eBay. The cost was $39.95 plus an extremely reasonable $3.96 for USPS First Class International Shipping (total 26.50 British pounds.) The package was posted on 3rd September. This morning, 15th September, a card was pushed through the letterbox to say that a package was available for collection at the post office and there was £11.63 (about $19.25) to pay!

I couldn't think what the package was, because such a large amount suggested that the value of the item was much higher. But when I went down to the Post Office I found that the package was indeed the programming cable. The sticker on the envelope explained that the VAT was, as expected, £3.63. On top of that there was a Royal Mail International handling fee of £8.00!

This is simply outrageous! I have no objection to paying VAT, or even customs duty where it may legally be charged. But then to have to pay a fee for collecting it, a tax on a tax, a fee that is more than twice the value of the tax itself, is ridiculous! Does it really cost more to collect this tax than to physically transport an envelope all the way from the USA to here? This is legalized robbery!

Surely the Revenue and Customs department should pay for the tax collection, not the consumer? After all, when I pay my income tax at the end of the year I don't pay an additional fee for the privilege of having them collect it from me. Unfortunately, other than expressing my indignation in this blog there is not much I can do. Our politicians are only interested in the fat salaries they can get once elected plus the extras they can make on expenses. So who would I complain to?

In total, this programming cable has cost me about £38 (the equivalent of $63.) On top of that I still have to pay ten quid to G4HFQ for the software. The equivalent Yaesu ADMS VX-8 software and cable from a UK dealer would cost £61 plus shipping. So I've still saved a bit, but not as much as I expected.

Once upon a time if you ordered low value items from overseas and they came by post no-one bothered to collect the tax on them. But now that the postal service can make a profit from collecting the tax it seems that no item's value is too small. I shall think twice before making any more purchases from outside the EU.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Sunday was a fine day - though there was a bit of a cold breeze from the east - and my wife Olga and I decided to take a picnic lunch and my VX-8E for a stroll to the top of Ling Fell, one of the lower Lake District hills that is 205th in height seniority out of the 214 Wainwrights.

I only made two contacts on 2m FM using 5W to a Comet SMA-24 antenna. The first was with Gordon, G0EWN/P who was on the summit of Skiddaw in clear sight of me (the summit, not Gordon!) I couldn't raise anyone else after that so we had lunch and then I called CQ again, to raise Tony G1OAE in Workington.

Although Ling Fell is not all that high - about 375m according to the GPS in the VX-8E - I could hear on 144.8MHz the frequent "brrrap" sounds of APRS signals which I never hear at my home station. Most of them were too noisy to copy, but the VX-8E decoded a position report from EI2MLP at a distance of 319km, which I later found was on the summit of Leinster in south east Ireland. I also received a status report from MB7UND apparently in Taunton, Somerset, listing EI5GRB as DX heard. So clearly there was some tropo about.

Obviously a better antenna would have helped to make more contacts, and dedicated Summits On The Air (SOTA) activators would probably say that it is a waste of time going up a hill without one. However, my objective is primarily to have a nice walk and a picnic lunch with a nice view, unencumbered with kilos of aluminium. I also feel that it is wrong to spoil other people's enjoyment of the summit they've spent time and energy to get to by erecting antennas. Even this minor summit had half a dozen visitors in the hour or so we were up there. How people get away with putting up beams and HF dipoles on the more well-known and popular tops I can't imagine. I guess you need a thick skin and a willingness to ignore adverse comments.

Receiving these DX APRS packets made me think that APRS could be a useful tool to detect openings on 2 metres. It's too late for the Sporadic-E this year, but I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has used APRS as a propagation detector.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ultimate APRS tracker?

I just stumbled across this. It's an APRS tracker app for the iPhone, called iBCNU. It uses the phone's built-in GPS to send out position reports periodically using the 3G network or wi-fi. Since it isn't using ham radio it is a bit like cheating, but considering the problems I've discovered with lack of ham radio APRS coverage in rural areas it seems like the best solution.

The display is really cool. It even shows your current Maidenhead locator, which would be great for VHF "rover" activity. Even the VX-8 can't do that. Besides position reporting it also supports APRS text messaging.

It's a shame the iPhone is so expensive, and is only available here in the UK from O2 at the moment. Mind you, the VX-8 wasn't cheap. Since I already had a 2m HT, getting one of these would probably have been a better way to get the APRS functionality I wanted.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Gate closed

Although the technical hurdles in establishing an APRS gateway in the North Lake District have more or less been overcome, the final stumbling block has proved to be licensing issues. A comment received in a forum a few days ago prompted me eventually to research the matter. It seems that in order to permit unattended operation of an Internet connected station I would have to apply for a Notice of Variation to obtain a GB7 call. To be granted this I would have to specify a minimum of three licensed operators who would be able to access and close down the station within 30 minutes.

I don't know even one licensed operator who could fulfil that requirement for me! It isn't entirely true that, like Tony Hancock in the famous sketch, I have friends all over the world but none in this country. But there is no other radio amateur in the town where I live at all! There is one who lives in a village a few miles away that I have encountered on the air a couple of times, but that's all. Besides which, giving the keys to the house to three or more strangers is not something I or my wife would wish to entertain. So the North Lakes IGate is dead in the water as an idea. A receive-only gateway presumably wouldn't be a problem. But without the ability to support two-way text messaging the whole project loses its appeal.

What is really needed in an area like this is a gateway on a mountain-top site covering a wide area, managed by a repeater group with the resources to meet the licensing requirements. But there does not seem to be enough interest in APRS for this to happen.

A new 2m voice repeater has recently opened across the water in Scotland, GB3LA, which is a strong signal here. This supplements the two other 2m repeaters accessible from here, GB3AS and GB3DG. Neither of those were heavily used. In fact you can leave a receiver scanning for hours and hear nothing except the occasional periodic identification. So why we needed yet another 2m voice repeater I have no idea.

If it had been an APRS gateway instead then it could have provided coverage over a wide, sparsely populated area popular with hikers for whom APRS could be a useful, not to mention safety-enhancing service.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Success, finally (I think)

I hope I'm not speaking too soon, but I think I finally have a working APRS IGate running on the Eee PC! After recompiling soundmodem to cure an apparent problem with the audio, as I wrote yesterday, I ended up with a worse problem: the diagnostic 'scope display froze when I used it. I was on the point of giving up, but on the basis of "nothing ventured, nothing gained" I ran the soundmodem software anyway, started Xastir and lo and behold, received a position beacon from my VX-8E!

There was still a lot of Googling, tinkering and tearing out of hair to get from there to where I am now, and I probably can't even remember half of it. I won't even start to describe my abortive attempt to set up aprsd to work as a gateway without the mapping interface of xastir which I don't like very much. If any aprsd wizards read this and would like to offer their advice I'd still like to try it, though.

One problem I noticed when using soundmodem as a kernel mode driver (which isn't necessary for xastir, but is for aprsd) was that at start-up it spewed out a long burst of what sounded like packet but actually wasn't. Google (however did we manage without it?) turned up a few snippets about this, with the generic advice that soundmodem was being treated as a network device and you needed to stop your network daemons binding with address This was Greek to me. I was hoping for help along the lines of "click here, uncheck that check box" and so on. Eventually I discovered that the rogue daemon was the avahi-daemon service. In Ubuntu you can disable it from System / Administration / Services, then restart and no long transmission when soundmodem starts. It's simple when you know how!

Next I found that APRS messages addressed to my VX-8E (G4ILO-7) and received by xastir were not being transmitted over the air so it could receive them. I had made all the necessary settings, or so it appeared, but there is an additional step: you have to create a file in $HOME/.xastir/data called nws-stations.txt containing a list of calls whose messages you wish to send over the air. The first time I tried it, it didn't seem to work, and I posted a question about this on the xastir mailing list. The post was spotted by John, EI7IG, who sent me an APRS message that appeared on the VX-8E! Why it didn't work the first time I have no idea.

I think everything is now working as it should be. I'm using my FT-817ND on the RF side, for the simple reason that I already have the cabling for it. I'll probably try using my TH-F7E later on, but I don't have the necessary cabling for it.

So now I can be tracked as I move about the local area, and can send and receive text messages via amateur radio. I've already had a few exchanges with EI7IG and I can tell you, I wish Yaesu had implemented predictive text on the VX-8E! If you have APRS too please send a message to G4ILO-7 to say hello. But check my current location page first to see if G4ILO-7 is shown, because APRS text messages aren't stored and sent later if the recipient's current location isn't known.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Eee I'm getting nowhere

Developments on the APRS front have been moving on faster than I can write about them. A couple of days ago I had an email from someone who was running an APRS IGate on an Asus router. I thought this was a good idea - better and more economical than leaving a PC on all the time - but one to consider for some time in the future. Then I remembered that I had an Asus Eee PC 2G Surf sitting unused on a shelf. If I could install the Linux equivalent of UI-View, Xastir, on this, I would have a standalone low power consumption APRS IGate at no extra cost!

The first thing I did was install Xastir-Eebuntu 3.0 from the live CD available in the Xastir Wiki to the Eee PC. It was time to vape the Xandros OS that came with the Eee PC as it was too old to run the latest ham software and failed with errors when many of them tried to use the soundcard anyway.

Because I don't have a TNC I needed soundmodem, which is the Linux equivalent of the SV2AGW Packet Engine. I downloaded that from the Ubuntu repository and then configured it according to the excellent HowTo: SoundModem instructions in the Xastir wiki. Xastir worked just fine, and I could even hear what sounded like packet coming out of the speaker. But no matter how I adjusted the input audio levels I could not decode a single packet transmitted by my VX-8 radio.

Eventually I found that the soundmodem configuration utility has a diagnostic tool. When using the oscilloscope I saw horizontal lines in the waveform - exactly the problem described here and shown in the screenshot on the right.

While wondering what to do about that I had an email from Gareth, GW4KJW, who suggested running UI-View32 under wine, the Linux Windows emulator. This seemed like a good idea, so I installed wine from the Ubuntu reporitory and then extracted the AGWPE archive into a folder and ran it. This appeared to work OK. I then installed UI-View32 from its installer. Ui-View ran, but the map display went black a fraction of a second after the map was displayed. I also got a run-time error message when trying to load a different map.

After more Googling I found that this problem had been encountered before. I tried the recommended solution of downloading and running the winetricks script. This worked, after installing some CAB extractor utility it needed, and UI-View looked fine. But it still did not decode any packets.

Using the AGWPE soundcard test utility I found that audio was being received by the software. However there was a delay of a few seconds between changing the audio level and seeing a response on the oscilloscope display. Presumably some delay was occuring getting the audio from Linux to wine to AGWPE. Perhaps the Eee PC is just too underpowered for this application. The audio looked normal - no horizontal lines - but I could not get anything to decode, so I decided to give Xastir one more try.

First I had to fix the problem with the breaks in the audio. I downloaded the source code for soundmodem (version 0.14), and after downloading and installing a couple of libraries I was able to compile the source code. However when running the diagnostic tool I noticed that the oscilloscope display froze after a second or two. Thinking it was just a glitch, I went ahead anyway and made the changes mentioned in the linux.hams posting mentioned above. This changes the sample rate from 9600Hz (which soundmodem tries to use and which is probably not supported by the Eee PC hardware) to 11025Hz. I then recompiled and tried again. Unfortunately the display still freezes, so I am no further forward.

If you ever wondered why hams who use Linux are hardly ever on the air, I think you have here a very good example of the reason! I suppose the next stage is to try and find some appropriate groups to post the above findings to in the hope that someone more knowledgeable than me will have the answer. But it's all so time-consuming and frustrating that I'm running out of enthusiasm.

Friday, September 04, 2009


After inviting all of my readers who have APRS capability to send a text message to my new VX-8E I was left with egg on my face when someone did and the radio did not receive it. The messages were reaching my computer but not being transmitted over RF so the HT could receive it. Nor did the reply I sent once I discovered the messages using get any further than my computer.

The problem with messages sent from my radio not getting to the recipient was simply resolved by setting the default message path in UI-View32 to I (for Internet) instead of 1 (which is the radio port.) The problem of messages sent to my radio never reaching it was harder to solve, and is still not resolved very satisfactorily.

In the Internet Server configuration of UI-View32 I checked an option to "gate all local messages to RF." I thought that would result in messages to stations in my area being transmitted over the air. But apparently not.

There is an obscure option called "Edit IGATE.INI" where you can specify which messages are gated. The trouble is, you can only specify them by sender or recipient. By adding "G4ILO-7 RECIP" to this list, I managed to ensure that any messages being sent to my VX-8E having "G4ILO-7" as the destination are transmitted by my gateway so the HT can hear them. But there appears to be no way to set the gateway up so that if someone comes to visit me who also has APRS equipment, he can also receive messages via my station.

If, for the sake of example, I go to the G-QRP Convention next month and take my VX-8E with me, and my position gets logged as being in that area, then I would like to receive messages sent to me there, not have them transmitted over the north Cumbrian airwaves where I won't hear them.

Is this possible using APRS? I don't know at the moment.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

G4ILO takes a walk

My new Yaesu VX-8E arrived this morning. The VX-8E is the European version of the VX-8R, apparently. I ordered the GPS unit plus the adapter for mounting it on the radio, and the drop-in charger for convenience. Got a good price for the package from Chris at Martin Lynch and Son, and he threw in the shipping for free.

The method of mounting the GPS on the radio looks a bit Heath Robinson, but I don't normally use a speaker-mic so it seemed like the best option. If I'm out walking I usually put the radio in a top pocket or clipped to the right shoulder strap of my rucksack which gives it a good, clear view of the sky.

The battery charged up in about two and a half hours, just as claimed, so after lunch I was able to sit down with the radio and start working through the manual. I skipped quickly to the APRS configuration section to get that all set up. The GPS was working, so I sent a beacon, heard it digipeated back by my FT-817, and saw G4ILO-7 appear on the UI-View32 display.

Now it was time to go for a walk. I set the beacon interval to 2 minutes and beaconing to AUTO, popped the VX-8E into my jacket pocket and went for a stroll around town. I was using 5W to the stock rubber duck antenna. As the map from shows, only about three position reports were missed: two as I was walking in the park down near the river with a steep bank between me and the home QTH, and one as I was walking along Crown Street.

My wife Olga was watching my progress live on the computer and opened the front door just as I walked up the drive! She was very impressed by this demonstration of how ham radio can be useful. It would be nice if she was impressed enough to get her own license because I would find it quite useful to track her whereabouts when she disappears to the shops for hours, but that's just wishful thinking!

I'm impressed with the performance of the GPS. It works fine in my jacket pocket, unlike the iFinder GO2 walker's GPS I have which needs to be in a prominent position to get a fix from the satellites. The VX-8 even gets a fix from inside my shack.

I tried sending a text message, which popped up on the computer screen. I was able to answer it once I was back home. :) Some people may wonder "why bother, when you have text messaging on your mobile phone" to which I can only answer "why use ham radio at all then?" I think it is great that you can do all this using an amateur system, and I wish that it were possible to subscribe to ham radio related information such as propagation or DX alerts using APRS messaging.

If you are on APRS yourself I'd love to hear from you by APRS message to G4ILO-7 telling me where you are and what you're using. (But check to see if G4ILO-7 is on-air first, or your message won't reach me.)

IGate issues

Ever since I was a child, I have been fascinated by maps. My attempt to receive signals from satellites led to my finding out more about Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) and I became interested in trying its position tracking capabilites, as well as the potential it offers for ham radio-based text messaging. So I'm currently awaiting the arrival (hopefully today) of a Yaesu FT-8R APRS-capable HT in my shack.

While I was waiting I decided to set up an APRS Internet Gateway or IGate, so that my position when I'm out and about with the VX-8R can be monitored on sites like, and OpenAPRS. This wasn't something I wanted to tie up the Elecraft K3 and DB6NT transverter doing, so I set up my FT-817ND to act as my APRS receiver, using my computer's integrated sound card (I have a separate SB Live 24 card for use with the K3.) For the IGate antenna, I reinstalled in the attic my 2m Slim Jim. However, last night while making some PSK31 contacts on 80m with the K3 I noticed that my IMD Meter was showing a poor signal again.

For some reason that I do not understand, having the Slim Jim connected to my station upsets the K3 and makes it produce a distorted signal. At the time, I put it down to having too many antennas in not enough space and I took the Slim Jim down. But now I need it. Disconnecting the Slim Jim from the FT-817 cures the bad signal from the K3, as does disconnecting the FT-817 from the shack power supply. It was a short step from this to finding that operating the FT-817 from its own independent power supply rather than the Diamond GSV-3000 that also powers the K3 leaves the signal clean. At least, it does on 80m. I haven't tested on any other bands yet. Unfortunately the only other power supply I have that's suitable is a small switcher, so now I have a clean PSK31 signal but warbly noises wandering around the HF bands.

The other problem related to the IGate that I haven't yet solved is what software to use for it. Like most newcomers to APRS (I guess) I started off with UI-View32. This is quite a nice program that displays APRS position reports on a map, offers APRS messaging capability and also has a built-in IGate. However, it is no longer being developed or supported as its author is a silent key. Also I preferred a standalone IGate that I could leave running all the time without the overhead of position tracking on a map.

The only alternative I could find is AGWUIDigi, from the same author as the AGW Packet Engine that I use. I think this works, but it appears not to post its own position beacons to the Internet, so when I run it my IGate does not appear on any of the maps. This is a significant limitation to me, as I want my station to be shown so that others can see that there is APRS activity in my area, and hopefully encourage more use of this interesting mode. Perhaps it's a simple configuration issue, but I can't see it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Ukrainians lose 30m and part of 20m

This announcement seems to have slipped under the radar so thanks to Dan, KB6NU for the news that according to a Ukrainian National Commission for Radio Regulations press release, Ukrainian radio amateurs are no longer allowed the use of 30m, the top 100KHz of 20m, nor any of the amateur bands from 23cm and up.

I asked my Ukrainian wife Olga to read the original press release, and she could not find any reason given for the ban. I am quite shocked at this news. I often work Ukrainian amateurs on the 30m band. Why should the Ukrainian government suddenly take away the use of bands that have been allowed for many years, even under the Soviet regime, and which are allowed in all the surrounding countries? What use do they plan for these frequencies, that preclude operation by Ukrainian amateurs, and how will this affect the rest of us? I think that the national radio societies in Europe and elsewhere should make the strongest possible protest to the Ukrainian government for denying the use of frequencies agreed by international convention to be part of the amateur service to its citizens.

I have spent time in Ukraine and found Ukrainians to be some of the warmest, friendliest people anywhere. Unfortunately, Ukraine has one of the most corrupt and incompetent governments of any country on the planet. Politicians of all parties seem more concerned with exploiting their power for personal gain, and show little concern for the welfare or ordinary citizens. The current nationalist government creates friction with Ukraine's natural ally, Russia, while Europe shows no desire to invite a country with so many problems into the EU.

Living with the loss of a few amateur bands is not the biggest problem facing many Ukrainians today. On the other hand, one would have thought that the Ukrainian government had more important matters to be concerning itself with.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

New QRP rig from China

I was speaking on the phone to Chris of Martin Lynch & Son a few minutes ago and he mentioned that they were about to introduce a new portable QRP CW transceiver made in China.

Called the HB-1A, it looks like a clone of the Elecraft K1 though it doesn't appear to have an integrated ATU. It covers 20, 30 and 40 metres and has a built-in keyer with CQ memory. Chris claims the output power is 5W, though other references to it that I have found on Google quote 4W output. More information should soon be available on the ML&S website. The price, I was informed, will be about £200.