Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

I prefer looking forward to looking back over the year so I'm not going to indulge in a long navel-gazing retrospective of 2012. Nor will I be making any new year's resolutions for 2013 as if I did I expect most of them would be broken for perfectly good reasons whilst other things will be achieved that I haven't even thought of yet.

The only thing important enough for me to make a resolution about is to keep on getting healthier and beating that brain tumour into submission! If I could get my driving licence back and regain access to the Great Outdoors that would make me happier than I could possibly say.

I wish all my readers good health and happiness above all else in 2013. See you next year!


I told Tim, G4VXE, about the trouble I was having getting a USB TV dongle to work as a VHF/UHF SDR and he emailed me a couple of files. One of those was an installation script which I suspect is the same one mentioned in the article "Cheap and Easy SDR" in the January 2013 QST which a couple of people mentioned. I had read this article at least twice and then forgotten all about it, which is a shame as it would probably have saved me several hours of abortive messing about.

I ran the script once and it seemed to work but I still could not get anything out of my ezcap dongle. I then used MagiCure to turn back the clock a few days to before I started messing about, and then ran the script again. This time it worked. I ran SDR# and it appeared to be working. I set the frequency to somewhere in the FM broadcast band and within a couple of minutes I was listening to Classic FM on 99.9MHz in stereo.

SDR# receiving BBC Radio 3 in the FM broadcast band
This was all very good, but I have any number of radios able to receive FM radio. I wanted to try receiving ADS-B aircraft beacons. But although both ADSB# and RTL1090 (ADS-B decoders) seemed to work (i.e. didn't display any error messages) they were not decoding any data. I used SDR# to monitor 1090MHz, the ADS-B frequency, and I could not see or hear any signals, though I have no idea what they are supposed to sound like.

I decided to reinstall the second dongle which had worked as a TV receiver. Then, on a whim, I thought I would try running SDR# to see if it would connect with the other dongle. To my great surprise, it did. What's more, it seemed much livelier (more sensitive) than the ezcap dongle. I tried both RTL1090 and ADSB#. Both worked and immediately started decoding packets! I started up ADSBScope and within a few seconds aircraft began to appear on the screen!

ADSBScope plotting aircraft overhead at G4ILO
After a while I got cocky and decided to see if there were any other free aircraft-plotting applications I could try, so I downloaded VirtualRadar. After a bit of trial and error I found the right settings to connect with ADSB# and I was soon seeing the aircraft passing overhead plotted on a Google map.

VirtualRadar plotting aircraft overgead at G4ILO
Strangely enough, both RTL1090 and ADSB# think they are talking to the ezcap dongle! Not surprising I suppose as I have not installed any other drivers. It would be nice to be able to use the equipment as a TV receiver as well but I suspect that would break everything! I should probably quit while I am still ahead.

Both ADSBScope and VirtualRadar are nice applications, and I couldn't say one is better than the other. VirtualRadar runs as a web server and you have to point a web browser at it to see the display. It shows more information such as the starting and destination locations of many aircraft, which is interesting. But curiously VirtualRadar does not display aircraft callsigns (like G-ADSB) while ADSBScope does.

This is looking to be an academic question as this morning ADSBScope has decided to stop working. It won't talk to either RTL1090 or ADSB# but complains repeatedly about a "comm error." Ah well, at least VirtualRadar and SDR# are still working.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I hope all of you had a very good Christmas. I was not very well a couple of days before the holiday. Nothing to do with my cancer, I'm glad to say, but possibly a result of all the treatment for it. I'm feeling a lot better now, but have got to have more tests and may have to go into hospital for removal of gallstones or kidney stones - I'm not sure which as I've been told I have gallstones but I have had some sharp pain in the kidney area. As a consequence of this I haven't felt much like getting up at a reasonable hour to start the beacon monitor or HF APRS gateway.

Creative Design New FM+DAB USB DVB-T RTL2832U+R820T
Before Christmas my interest was piqued by Tim G4VXE's adventures using cheap digital TV dongles as receivers for, amongst other things, aircraft spotting. The first dongle I ordered was described as a Creative Design New FM+DAB USB DVB-T RTL2832U+R820T with antenna, and cost just over six quid!

EZCAP eztv645 RTL2832U / FC0013 USB DVB-T Digital TV Dongle
After a bit more reading up on the subject I began to doubt that this would be compatible with the software everyone was using so I ordered a second one, described as an EZCAP eztv645 RTL2832U / FC0013 USB DVB-T Digital TV Dongle for WIN7 LINUX SDR which was a massive £8.68 including postage from Hong Kong.

Both arrived yesterday. I tried the ezcap first, but my shack PC didn't like the mini-disc that came with it so I was unable to test it as a TV receiver. Following the instructions for the aircraft decoders I installed the driver using zadig_xp, then downloaded and ran rtl1090 which is a decoder for the ADSB packets. This seemed to work - no error messages appeared - but nothing else happened. To display the aircraft data that I hoped to receive I downloaded ADSBScope and installed it. I then spent a lot of time trying various options to connect ADSBScope with rtl1090 but got nowhere. I also tried SDRSharp in the hope that I could use the dongle as a VHF/UHF SDR, and ADSBSharp as an alterntive to rtl1090. But neither of them received anything.

After a while I gave up, disappointed. I then installed the Creative Design dongle and its software. A scan for channels found about 55 TV channels with its quarter wave antenna hung in the window. So it was obviously working. Just not with any of the SDR or ADSB software, as I had suspected.

This morning I tried installing the ezcap software CD that my shack PC couldn't read on another computer. The software installed perfectly on this laptop so I plugged in the dongle and hung the antenna in the window. The software scanned for channels and found precisely nothing. I think this proves conclusively that I have a duff ezcap dongle. Ah, eBay!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter blues

I like Christmas, but with that sole exception I hate this time of year. The short days, when it's dark at breakfast time, dark at tea time, and in between the sun struggles to reach an elevation where it can be seen over the tops of neighbouring houses.

It's not just the daylight the sun fails to make much impact on. There's next to no propagation on any of the higher HF bands. I believe that LF band enthusiasts have their best time at this time of year. But I have never been lucky enough to have an antenna for the LF bands. My attic multiband dipole will work on 80 metres but it is shortened so much that the usable bandwidth is barely 60kHz. It is really only usable on the QRP CW frequency and the PSK31 operating frequencies.

Yesterday I thought I would try some digital work on the 30m band. I couldn't hear any PSK31 at first but I did hear some JT65 so I thought I would try that. I made three QSOs including one with N4ABN which I thought was quite good nfor mid-morning. The trouble with JT65 is that I find it difficult to maintain concentration. It's 50 seconds before anything is decoded, and during that time my mind has drifted off and I have missed the moment when I should have responded.

Just as an aside, I noticed a quirk with the JT65-HF software. I don't use CAT control of my K3 (never could get it to work) so I have to set the frequency of the radio and the software manually. But whenever I did this, after a few seconds the frequency would reset itself to 0. I happened to notice that the frequency was being displayed with a comma as the decimal separator. I had left the PC configured like that after testing the fix for the problem with KComm. On a hunch, I reset the separator to a dot (period) and lo and behold the frequency stayed as I set it. I'm surprised that no-one seems to have spotted this but at least we know now how to fix it.

After making a bit of a meal of three JT65 QSOs I decided to switch to PSK31. Although it is not such a good mode for DX, if proof were needed, there were 3 or 4 spots of me on JT65A in the USA but my PSK31 at slightly higher power never penetrated beyond Western Europe.

I do find PSK31 a more rewarding mode to operate, though, because you do usually find out something about the other operator or his station. Having said that, has anyone noticed a trend towards shorter QSOs in PSK31? Quite often now it's name, report, qth, locator and goodbye. Whilst I can't say I miss knowing the make and model of the operator's computer and the colour of the interface cable, I do like to know what power they are running and what antenna they are using.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The accidental QRPer

HF band conditions are not all that good at the moment. I was on 20m (in itself an indication that conditions on the higher bands are poor) and tried to call a couple of US stations but all I got was QRZ? I heard Jarda OK1DMZ calling CQ and he was a strong signal so I replied. Back came a 599 report. It was only when I sent the station details and sent my power that I realized I had it set to 5 watts!

I've lost count of the times I've found myself accidentally operating QRP because the rig was set to 5 watts after having been WSPRing at that power level. In better conditions I've made several contacts before realizing my mistake, which just shows that QRP does not always result in having a weak signal. But when conditions are like they are at the moment, power helps!

Monday, December 17, 2012

What's up with CS3B?

Looking at my IBP beacon monitor pages over the last couple of days I have noticed an odd thing. I am not receiving the Madeira beacon CS3B on 17m at all.
Extract from G4ILO beacon observations
Either my multiband dipole has a very sharp null in that direction (which I think is unlikely as an indoor antenna probably receives enough reflections not to have any sharp nulls) or the beacon isn't transmitting any signal on that frequency.

A quick check around other beacon monitor pages and I can't see any spots of CS3B on 17m at all. Should I tell someone?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A periodic problem

I had an email from a KComm user from Russia today. He reported that when he clicks on a spot in the DX Cluster window the message "Invalid floating point operation" appears.

I guessed immediately what the cause of this was. It's a problem that has been the bane of my life ever since I started programming as a hobby. In most of Europe the character used for the decimal point is a comma, not a dot (or period as our American friends say.) If your program is being used in a European country, adopts the correct regional settings and then reads some data expressed in the US or British way (such as the frequency in a DX Cluster spot) when it tries converting data to a binary floating point value it will come up with an error. If the European Union was actually any use you might think they would have standardized the representation of numbers by now, but hey...

If you are affected by this issue then a workaround is to use the Regional Settings in Control Panel to change the decimal separator to a dot instead of a comma. I've looked at the KComm source code and fixing the problem doesn't look as if it is going to be easy so a solution may be a little while in coming.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The 1,000th post

Blogger tells me that this blog contains 999 posts, which must make this one the one-thousandth. When I started blogging almost four years ago back in February 2009 I had no idea that it would go on for so long.

Of course, the events of 18 months ago gave me every reason to believe I would never achieve such a total. Fortunately fate, having given me a metaphorical kick in the crotch, decided to smile on me after all and so I have defied the doctors' predictions. Slowly but surely I have been going from strength to strength, so that I think I have a fighting chance of going on for at least another 1,000.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my readers, especially those who comment or email, without whom the whole business of blogging would be a waste of time. I am particularly grateful to the many who sent messages of encouragement which were a great morale booster to both Olga and myself during a difficult time.

I hope you will all keep reading this as well as my "brain tumour blog" One Foot in the Grave, which is rapidly approaching a milestone of its own. I hope I will keep on "beating the bastard" and carry on blogging (and hamming) for years to come.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

QSLs received

QSL cards received by G4ILO 13 Dec 2012
I received a batch of cards from the QSL Bureau this morning. Here are a few of the more colourful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

RSGB Centenary

It's fashionable for British hams to knock the RSGB. But I have never been much influenced by fashion.

The RSGB will be 100 years old in 2013. No doubt there will be all sorts of celebrations, a special event station and so on.

To mark the occasion I will display the RSGB centenary badge on my blog and my website until the end of 2013. I think it would be a good idea if more RSGB members who have blogs and web pages did the same.

Here is a snippet of code to make it easy for you to add this to your website:
It's an image not text so you can't cut and paste it - Blogger kept interpreting it as HTML code so this was the only way I could find to include it!

China on a handheld

Today was cold and frosty. I was sitting downstairs in the warm browing through my newly-arrived January 2013 RadCom. In the shack my K3 was listening for beacons, my K2 was being a Robust Packet APRS gateway on 30m and my TM-D710 was being the local VHF APRS gateway whilst the other side of this dual band radio was running my Echolink node and logged in to the IRELAND conference (Echolink's equivalent of D-Star's reflectors.)

The Baofeng UV-3R+ on the table burst into life and I heard Wu, BG6RRN making a call. No-one replied to him so I called back. And so I found myself having a chat about Chinese radio equipment with a Chinese radio amateur using a Chinese handheld!

Wu spoke pretty good English - better than my Chinese anyway! He asked what I thought about Chinese radio equipment and I replied as diplomatically as possible that I liked it because it was cheap but the quality control could sometimes be better. Wu was familiar with the UV-3R+ I was using to link into my Echolink node and said that they were very popular in China as well.

Wu told me that he has had an Icom IC-7000 transceiver for a month but had so far not made any European contacts. He has never tried PSK31 so I encouraged him to try it. I hope I'll hear him on the HF bands one day. Today's chat may not have been a proper radio QSO but I do enjoy the opportunities Echolink provides to talk with hams with whom I would not otherwise make contact.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A bug in KComm

Today started off with me continuing to compare the two morse decoders MRP40 and CW Skimmer in view of PC4T Paul's insistence that the latter was the better morse decoder. When I heard someone calling CQ with no takers I took pity on them and returned their call. JY4NE and C6AKQ went into the log very quickly, in fact so quickly I was left wondering if I had actually worked them. Some people moan that all digital mode operators do is exchange macro files, but in a lot of CW QSOs you barely exchange anything!

Next I replied to a Russian station who was a bit more chatty. Unfortunately my logging program KComm locked up in mid-QSO. It was embarrassing because I was sending from the keyboard and didn't even have a key plugged into the transceiver so I couldn't continue. I'm sure there will be people who would add me to a blacklist for this, but these days I tend to treat CW as just another digital mode. Hence my interest in good decoder programs. :)

KComm has a feature where you can insert the answer to a multiple choice question into the outgoing text. It is expressed like this: %?question|answer 1|answer 2|answer3? which would cause a box to pop up saying "Question" and you click on the answer you want inserted. It was this feature that was causing the program to lock up.

After a couple of hours tracing code in the debugger I could not see what the error was, unless it was a bug in the Lazarus library software. The feature had been in KComm since many versions ago, but this current version was compiled with a new version of Lazarus, so that was a possible explanation. Eventually I managed to modify my program code to avoid the error, with the result that this afternoon there is now a version 2.02 of KComm.

I tested the update by having a QSO with Mik EW8O in Belarus. Then I decided it was time for a rest - I find debugging code these days is mentally exhausting!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Morse Decoder

For several years now  I have been of the opinion that the best Morse decoder for Windows PCs is MRP40 by Norbert Pieper. A few days ago Paul PC4T commented to one of my posts that he thought CW Skimmer was better so I thought I would give it a try in case I was missing out.

MRP40 decoding some Morse
I ran both programs simultaneously decoding the same signal. After listening to many QSOs I am still of the opinion that MRP40 is the best decoder. It decoded text more accurately and the spacing between words was better - CW Skimmer would often run words together then insert a space in the middle of a word. Skimmer also seemed on occasion to insert an spurious E at the beginning of some words or calls when I didn't hear an extra dit.

MRP40's decoder is less laggy than CW Skimmer's - text appeared sooner after it was sent. I also found MRP40's AFC useful in locking on to signals. It could track drifting stations and would adjust itself precisely to the signal if you didn't click exactly on the trace. CW Skimmer seemed more fussy and didn't decode a signal unless you got it spot-on. This is perhaps understandable given that Skimmer is intended to be able to distinguish between multiple signals in a pile-up.

CW Skimmer is the better program if you want to decode all the calls in a swathe of spectrum and if you want to link to your logging program so as to highlight new countries or prefixes and mark stations you've previously worked. That is, after all, what it has been designed to do. But as a morse decoder pure and simple MRP40 is still the winner in my book.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Beacon monitor failure

After wasting most of the weekend trying to get it to work I have abandoned the idea of monitoring the IBP beacons using Faros. Although I did have it working with my Elecraft K3 I did not want to tie up this expensive transceiver on such a task. But my efforts to get my FT-817 working with this software came to nothing.

The first problem was getting Faros to control the FT-817. It uses a program called Omni-Rig to do this. The solution - no thanks to the developer who has still not replied to my plea for help - turned out to be a bad FT-817.ini file installed with Omni-Rig. I tried other programs to verify that my FT-817 CAT interface was working properly. I even ran the same developer's CW Skimmer software which also uses Omni-Rig, and which controlled the FT-817 just fine. The idea of looking to see if there was a different FT-817.ini file was just a flash of inspiration.

Having got Faros controlling the radio the second and final problem was getting it and the Yaesu talking to the same sound card. This did work if I used the computer's built-in sound card, but that is normally used by my K3. I have several radios in my shack, most of which are connected to the shack PC and all of the others use various USB sound devices. Whilst all of my other software - including my own program KComm - produce a drop-down list showing distinguishable names of all these devices, Faros displays a list showing three lines that all say "USB Sound Device." I tried selecting each one of them in turn, but I could not get Faros to talk to the sound device that was actually connected to the FT-817.

If it was confusing for me trying to choose from identically named devices, it also seemed to confuse Windows, which ended up sending PSK31 audio out of the PC speaker instead of to my K3! I had to reboot the computer to get sound using the correct devices again. At this point I threw in the towel and admitted defeat. Some things just aren't worth the hassle.

So endeth my attempt at beacon monitoring.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Print me an enclosure

Picture from
Jason, NT7S has just posted an article entitled "3D Printed Enclosures" on his blog. As a ham with a drawer full of unboxed projects who has often spent hours searching for suitable enclosures for a project and only finding ones that are either a wee bit too small or miles too big, the idea of being able to make my own custom enclosures is very appealing.

I had heard about 3D printing before, but thought it was either an April Fool spoof gone wild or one of those blue sky ideas that never become reality. My (admittedly cursory) searching has so far failed to turn up any articles that explain how it works, who makes 3D printers or what they cost. (However the site from which the picture was taken,, looks like a good place to start.)

A radio on every port

I left Faros running overnight. I needn't have bothered: Nothing whatever was heard on the bands 14 - 28MHz from 1730 yesterday until 0730 this morning. Even now, the Finland beacon OH2B is the only one making much of a showing on the lower 3 bands, though there is a flicker of a signal from VK6RBP on 15m. I haven't interrupted beacon monitoring to take a listen on 10m yet but prospects for the ARRL 10m contest don't look very good.

I am going to have to interrupt beacon monitoring some time soon. I need to yank the shack computer out to install a spare 2-port RS232 board to give me two more real serial ports. I should have left it in instead of replacing it with the 4-port board whose four serial ports are now all used up (K2, K3, TM-D710 TNC for 2m APRS and TM-D710 Echolink control, since you ask.) I want to use my FT-817 for beacon monitoring as it is a bit of overkill to use my K3 for this, and the FT-817 CAT cable I have has a DB-9 for a real serial port. I could always use a USB to serial adapter of which I have three, or even make up a USB cable using a wire-ended USB-to-serial plug. But USB ports are in equally short supply, as you might imagine. Whilst the cover is off the computer I will take the opportunity to hoover out the inside which has an amazing ability to attract dust!

Being able to use the 817 for beacon monitoring won't solve the conflict between monitoring and operating as I still have only one suitable antenna for both tasks. But it will allow me to give the K3 a rest!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Beacon monitor back online

For the time being I have put my IBP Beacon Monitor page back online. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is really something that needs to run 24/7 to be of most value. I note that I am not the only beacon monitor who states that monitoring runs only when not otherwise using the radio and antenna. So perhaps I will manage to keep it going for a bit longer than previously.

I updated the list of other beacon monitoring stations at the bottom of the page, deleting those that did not appear to be active. The official NCDXF/IARU International Beacon Project beacon monitors page has a lot of dead links on it.

It's interesting to take a look and see what propagation is like in other parts of the world. It's a pity there aren't more beacon monitors in the USA. And is propagation really that good in VK-land?

I like the additions F4CWH has made to his beacon monitor pages. I wonder if he would share with me how he has done it? I would particularly like to indicate which beacons are off the air. Three of them. including the one on the east coast of the USA (New York) are not operating at the moment.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

YouView or not YouView

This post is nothing to do with ham radio. However it is about radio - or rather TV - and the internet, and I'm pretty sure some of my readers know more than I do about this subject.

Here's the thing. A few days ago TalkTalk - our telecoms and broadband provider - sent us a letter offering a free YouView box as a sop for the tariff going up. If I understand correctly, a YouView box would provide us with two things that we don't currently get from our plain old Freesat box: the ability to record programmes (our Freesat box isn't one with a hard drive in it) and the ability to catch up on already broadcast programmes using things like BBC iPlayer.

If we want to watch programmes after they have been broadcast then we have to use iPlayer or whatever on our computers, of which we have about six in the house already, not counting the old Toshiba laptop I run DOS on to program Motorola radios or the other slightly less old Toshiba laptop that has a whole column of dead pixels in the middle of its display. I haven't tried connecting one of the computers to the wide screen TV in the living room and watching BBC iPlayer that way. We watch it on the computer screen if we want to. If we want to record programs for later viewing we need to buy a newer more expensive version of our Humax Freesat box.

A YouView box would cost £299 so it's quite an attractive deal to get one free. The question is: would we be able to use it without a lot of hassle?

If I understand correctly, in order to use a YouView box we would need two things that we don't already have: a digital terrestrial TV antenna (we get all the TV channels we need on Freesat) and an Ethernet connection to our router accessible from where the TV is (because apparently YouView doesn't have a wi-fi adapter.) Obtaining these would entail a fair amount of extra expense on hardware (i.e. the cost of having a TV aerial installed, and some kind of wi-fi adapter or a long and ugly piece of Ethernet cable.) Nor do I know whether YouView would need the same type of TV input already being used by the Freesat box, namely the HDMI input.

So my thinking is that it's not worth the cost and hassle. Getting stuff like this to work usually results in my tearing my hair out - and it's only just started growing back! But then I'm not the one who cares if we miss Strictly Come Dancing because we are out or some other show that clashes with something else we're watching. Perhaps I shouldn't look gift YouView boxes worth £300 in the mouth. Your thoughts, multimedia experts?

A musical interlude

If you had wondered why there have been no posts for several days, the reason is that Olga and I have been away. That is not information I want to broadcast in advance. But I'm back now and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Actually it won't as I am not doing WSPR at the moment. I'm running Faros and monitoring the IBP beacons. Unfortunately this is an activity that does not result in publishable output unless you run it 24 hours a day 7 days a week. My only suitable antenna is the multiband dipole. I can't spare that 24/7 unless I never go on the air to make contacts so much as I'd like to restore the beacon reception reports I can't.

The reason for my absence was that Olga and I went for a long weekend city break in Manchester. It was the first time we have been away since I became ill with the brain tumour. So it was good to be back resuming a normal life.

We went to three concerts at the Royal Northern College of Music, including the finals of the RNCM piano competition. We enjoyed them very much. I envy people who live in Manchester because the city has a full and lively cultural life. Between the RNCM, the Bridgewater Hall and the Lowry in Salford you could go to concerts every day of the week! Greater Manchester is home for several colleges and universities so there is a big student population and it is uplifting to see so many young people about. Here in Cockermouth we do have the Lake District but someone I know was not wide of the mark when he described it as "a cemetery with lights."

We stayed at Roomzzz Aparthotel right in the centre of Manchester and we liked it very much. We had a studio apartment which was very, ahem, roomy with a huge bed and a double walk-in shower plus a kitchen with all mod cons including a dishwasher. There was a wide screen TV which was also the display for an in-room Apple Mac so I needn't have bothered taking my Android Tablet. We thoroughly recommend this hotel and will certainly stay there again the next time we visit.

Monday, November 26, 2012

10m 26 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 26 November 2012
What this map doesn't show is that all the spots are barely visible, -25 to -27dB, so propagation would not be good enough to support a regular communication mode.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

25 November 2012

The last day of the CQ WW DX CW contest. But nothing of interest to report. Sunday morning was one of those mornings when I didn't seem to fully wake up. It was after 11am before I got into the shack.

My intention was to make some more contest contacts on 10m. Although I don't compete seriously, I usually decide what category I am going to play in - single or multi-band, QRP or Low Power - and stick to it so that if I do make a decent number of contacts I can send an entry in. But this time my effort didn't even justify sending in a check log.

I heard some interesting big gun stations such as in Africa (Gambia, Senegal) but I just could not be heard over the others calling. One Russian station seemed to be following me around and he wasn't having much luck either. It was hard going even with the more run of the mill stations. I felt like I was running QRP. In fact, I've had better results when I did run QRP (such as for the CQ WW WPX back in May, when I used the KX3 ) than I was having this weekend.

It was obviously a mistake to limit myself to 10 metres. Not everyone was having such bad luck as me though. I heard a DX station who wasn't hearing my calls working fellow blogger Tim G4VXE. So much for the magic dipole!

After I broke off for lunch I couldn't be bothered to get back on the air again and so I spent the afternoon listening to a broadcast concert. I will draw a veil over my lamentable effort. (Those who are really interested to see the extent of my embarrassment can take a look at my contact log.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

10m 24 November 2012

The first day of the CQ WW DX CW contest and propagation on 10m is disappointingly down compared to previous days.

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 24 November 2012
No propagation to USA as you can see.

I have made a handful of contest contacts on 10m but I have been too preoccupied with computer issues to really get into it. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Friday, November 23, 2012

10m 23 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 23 November 2012
Propagation on 10m was not as good as yesterday. WSPR traces were fainter as signals were weaker. On the air conditions were not stable and deep QSB affected most QSOs. An hour in the afternoon resulted in these contacts:

2012/11/2314:2928.121BPSK31KC2VOU599539JonEarlville, NY
2012/11/2314:4128.122BPSK31K2PSD599599RonRandolph, New...
2012/11/2314:4928.122BPSK31KF2GQ599599RobertJupiter FL
2012/11/2314:5828.122BPSK31WA4FLZ599589ShepMiami FL
2012/11/2315:2128.121BPSK31N0BIV599599DonJefferson Cit...

Gotaways were: CN2OS (Morocco) and HK2LS (Colombia).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

10m 22 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 22 November 2012
Really excellent propagation this afternoon to the eastern USA as the WSPR spots show. An hour's break before afternoon tea resulted in QSOs with 7 new stations.  I actually had people calling me after I signed with another station. I like the callsign of the first station...

2012/11/2214:4128.123BPSK31W2PSK599599AndySouth River, ...
2012/11/2214:5328.121BPSK31KB8ZUN599599JeffreyNorth Ridgevi...
2012/11/2214:5728.122BPSK31KD4JMV599599HarryNaples FL
2012/11/2215:0728.123BPSK31W3SW599599AndyBinghamton NY
2012/11/2215:2028.120BPSK31KA3UJE599599TerryLykens, PA
2012/11/2215:2628.120BPSK31WA2VMO599579BobStaten Is. NY
2012/11/2215:3628.121BPSK31KB3CUP599599ElzaGreensboro, PA

Not so smart phone

My Motorola Milestone 2 (which I think is known in some places as a Motorola Droid) has started acting up. I've had it more than a year now so it is out of warranty.

A couple of days ago I picked it up one evening and it was stone cold dead. Pulling the battery made no difference so I dropped it into the multimedia base and when it came to life it showed the battery was at 0%. The phone sleeps in the multimedia base so it is always fully charged and there is normally 60% left by the evening unless I've been running some GPS applications, which for just this reason I don't. How odd.

The next day after a full charge the phone appeared to be OK. A couple of hours later I scrolled to the page where the Gmail app lives and its icon had changed to a box with a gear wheel in front of it. When I tried to run it I got a message "Application not installed." Even odder.

I tried the tech support guy's standard fix which is to switch it off and then switch it on again. To my relief this did the trick. The Gmail icon was back again and the app seemed to be working normally. Until this morning.

When I got up I was surprised that the phone wasn't winking its green light at me to show there was email waiting. Had no-one at all commented to my blog? After breakfast I turned on the shack PC and lo and behold there were 4 messages in my inbox. The phone still showed nothing. Eventually I checked the account settings and every one of my Google accounts had the "Synchronize Gmail" setting turned off. How very peculiar.

I turned sync on again and the phone is checking my mail as normal. But I just wonder what it's going to do next?

WSPRnet issue with Chrome

Has anyone else noticed that when you open the map page at in Google Chrome the sliders (the bit you drag to scroll up/down or left/right) are missing from the scroll bars? They still work if you drag on where they ought to be, but as they are invisible it's a bit confusing.

Truth in advertising

From the website

If only all amateur radio dealers were this honest!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10m 21 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 21 November 2012

QRZCQ Update

I have just uploaded a couple of new images to, the new ham radio database site.

If you wondered where the nice QSL images in recent blog posts came from, I took them from those ham's profile pages on I thought it was a good idea to use a QSL image for the page, so I scanned one of my printed QSL cards and uploaded it to my own profile on the site. You are allowed two pictures, a main one and a secondary one, so I uploaded a photo of me in the shack for the secondary image. It's good that the site developers allow decent sized high resolution images.

Somebody will probably take me to task for stealing images from a web site. But in my opinion (for what that's worth) a QSL image should be okay. If I received it from the bureau what's to stop me from scanning and uploading the image of cards I receive? I'm just anticipating receiving it. :)

I have also uploaded my contact log to That was a simple matter of exporting the log to an ADIF file from KComm. The most up to date copy of my log will always be the one at G4ILO's Shack, though, because that is taken directly from the off-site backup copy of my log, uploaded automatically whenever I close KComm.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

20 November 2012

Today my main rig has spent even more time on other things than WSPR. Besides trying to work some PSK31 DX I have also been testing a beta release of K3 firmware. This new version has an improved CW decoder that is a bit less finicky about settings. It works very well but is still beaten by the Windows program MRP40 which I regard as the gold standard for CW decoders. As Wayne N6KR says, the MRP40 algorithm is probably ten times more sophisticated and the K3 MCU doesn't have enough code space for it.

I've been interested in Morse decoders since the first home computers and can remember keying in a program listing in BASIC from a QST article in the late 70s. Later I wrote a decoder in Hisoft Pascal which ran on my ZX Spectrum. It actually decoded strong, perfectly sent Morse but it was not reliable enough to be useful. More recently I tried implementing a Morse decoder in KComm but it was a total failure.

I didn't have a lot of success with PSK31 DXing on 10m either. I only made two contacts but I heard what would have been two new South American countries: HC7AE in Ecuador and CE4BRO in Chile. I didn't need to look up HC in a book as I remember from my teenage SWLing days hearing HCJB Quito, the Voice of the Andes!

I think band conditions were better today but they supported more propagation from Europe so there were higher QRM levels (and lower operating standards ;) ) I moved up the band to try and get away from all the IMD products but hardly anyone was listening up there so it was a bit futile.

Someone who did hear my CQ calls was Vito IZ7DMT. He was a whopping signal but was signing IZ7DMT/QRP. He told me he was running 5 watts from an FT-817 and was rather indignant that I wouldn't use the illegal /QRP suffix during handovers. Nice QSL though!

Here is the result of today's WSPRing:
10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 20 November 2012

VOAProp Repackaged

If you are a user of my program VOAProp you probably know by now that it has a problem due to NOAA having made a slight change to the format of the WWV solar data report. I cannot fix the problem in the program as I no longer have the files needed to rebuild it. Thanks to Mirek, OK1DUB a solution was found that involves changing the web address of the solar data file to download a slightly edited version from Mirek's web site. The Troubleshooting page in the VOAProp help was updated to include this information. Unfortunately hams never read the frigging manual and so I have had to use the holiday absence message of Gmail to send a rather annoying automatic reply directing those with a question about VOAProp to the aforementioned page in order to save myself the even greater annoyance of receiving several emails a week about it. (It would be really nice if GMail's Filters could include the option of sending an automatic reply only if an email meets certain conditions.)

It occurred to me this morning that I could fix the problem for new installations by including a configuration file containing the address of the file on Mirek's web site. So I rebuilt the setup file including this extra file and have now uploaded it to G4ILO's Shack. It will not help existing users if they download the new file as the installer will not overwrite their existing configuration file so as to preserve the user's settings during an update. As emails about the issue are still coming in I will have to continue sending the automated reply to everyone who writes to me.

Monday, November 19, 2012

10m 19 November 2012

Another day of good propagation allowed my love affair with 10m to continue.

2012/11/1912:3428.121BPSK31NP4EG599599EdgarN. Puerto Rico
2012/11/1914:2528.122BPSK31YY4HAH599599HeirounValencia Vene...
2012/11/1914:3528.122BPSK31N4PJL559599PeteDeep Creek La...
2012/11/1914:4128.122BPSK31AB8O599599JohnMilford, OH n...
2012/11/1914:5928.122BPSK31KJ4LEC599599MarionCumberland Ga...
2012/11/1915:0828.122BPSK31W5FER599599JimSan Antonio, TX
2012/11/1915:1728.122BPSK31VE3NOO599599MichaelSandhurst, On...
2012/11/1915:2328.122BPSK31AE5XI599599TerryLas Cruces, NM
2012/11/1915:4428.122BPSK31K9ZJ579579RichWaukesha, WI
Besides these contacts I heard, but couldn't catch, stations in Mexico and Paraguay. I'm hoping the good propagation will continue so that I can add these to the log.

Because of this, not too much time was spent on WSPR today, so the WSPR map looked like this:

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 19 November 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

10m 18 November 2012

I nearly got myself locked out of the WSPR map page today. I must have managed to save the settings to try to display spots for all bands for the last 24 jours, or something like that, because whenever I went to the page the web browser froze up while it tried to render the map and I couln't get back to the settings boxes to change it. I had to find out how to delete all cached files in Chrome before I could access it again.

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 18 November 2012
I lost quite a lot of time trying to sort that out. I also spent an hour or so seeing what I could work on 10m PSK31. I managed to QSO with several US stations including N7WET in Tucson, Arizona and KB5IAV in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

I worked two all time new countries as well. Fabio CU3HN in the Azores has one of those QSLs that never fail to bring a smile to my face.
Victor, HP1AVS in Panama I had heard before but not managed to work. So I was pleased to add his call to the log as well.
I love 10 metres!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

10m 17 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 17 November 2012
Another day of good propagation. I don't know why OH1CO was using the suffix /QRP (aren't most WSPRers using 5w or less?) but it really upset the WSPR encoding algorithm. His call was being decoded at my end as OH1/P00XEK!

It's magic!

I'm starting to believe that my attic dipole does have magical powers on 10 metres. Right now I'm hearing or being heard by 8 different stations but they are only hearing or being heard by me!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

KComm is 2.0!

I have taken advantage of the poor propagation conditions - the WSPR application waterfall has been blank all day and just two stations have spotted my 10m beacons, while APRS on 30m is only just beginning to receive any other stations - to make available a new version of my logging program for Elecraft transceivers, KComm, which is now version 2.0.

The main difference in the new version is that the Elecraft KX3 is supported (though it could be used in older versions by pretending it is a K3.) I have also added an option for specifying alternative URLs such as for looking-up callsigns, so you can now say goodbye to logging in to every five minutes if you want to.

The other changes are all minor bug fixes and small improvements that probably no-one will notice.

My regrets to Linux users but I no longer have a Linux system available so I cannot provide a Linux archive of the new version. I really need a Linux user to install Lazarus and compile the source code then send me a new tar.gz file to put on the web site.

Poor conditions

Propagation is really poor at the moment. Never has my WebProp propagation widget been quite so accurate. On 10m WSPR I am hearing nothing and no-one is hearing me. On 30m APRS it's just as bad. I'm not picking up a single packet.

I opened WebProp's page in Google Chrome and noticed that the small format widget had a vertical scrollbar on the right hand side. I thought I could remove it by adding a few pixels to the iframe height attribute but it didn't seem to make any difference. I think a bug in Chrome might be causing this. The presence of the scrollbar reduces the width of the table causing several lines to wrap and making the table taller.

I found that the scrollbar was eliminated by adding the attribute scrolling="no" to the iframe definition. If you are using WebProp on your website I recommend you do the same. If you aren't sure exactly what to do then go to the WebProp web page. The code examples have all been updated with this extra attribute.

I recommend you to do this even if you don't see the scrollbar in Google Chrome. That will prevent it from appearing in any web browser.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

10m 13 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 13 November 2012
Some pretty good propagation on 10m today, though not exceptional. During the morning it was interesting to note several spots of G and GW stations. I was received by fellow blogger Tim G4VXE. I didn't hear him though.

I took time out to make a few digital contacts. I worked two Russians on 12m (using the 10m dipole) then a few more plus a couple of Americans on 10m. Best contact was NP3IR Hector in Puerto Rico, who has just this minute spotted me on WSPR too!

2012/11/1314:4528.122BPSK31W4ECZ559579Waynenr Tampa
2012/11/1314:5128.122BPSK31UY7QL599599OlegPologni nr Zo...
2012/11/1315:0528.122BPSK31KC4FNE599599BobBlacksburg, V...

That's cool! I can mark and copy lines from my contact log, then paste them into Blogger and they come out formatted. Never knew you could do that.

Monday, November 12, 2012

10m 12 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 12 November 2012

Farewell Firefox

After many years as a stalwart Firefox user I have today made Google Chrome my default web browser.
I had tried Chrome once before. It was probably too early a version as I could not get on with it and missed too many of my Firefox extensions. Since then I have grown less dependent on those extensions and Chrome has become compatible with or has gained alternatives to those I need.

I installed Chrome a second time in an attempt to solve a problem that I thought was an issue with Firefox and turned out to be something else entirely! The installation was quick and easy. Chrome imported all my Firefox bookmarks with ease, reminding me to close Firefox so it could access them. I didn't allow the installer to make Chrome the default browser initially, but after half an hour I was ready to take the plunge.

This won't be news to those of you already using Google Chrome but the new browser feels much faster than Firefox. I see that 20% of visitors to G4ILO's Shack are using the Chrome browser. I think it won't be long until it overtakes the 27% of my visitors using Firefox.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

10m 11 November 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 11 November 2012
Ten metres seems to have perked up a bit today, though conditions don't seem as good as they were a week or so ago.

During the afternoon on PSK31 I heard, but didn't work, Mexico and Panama. No WSPR monitors there so they don't show up on the map.

Calling CQ resulted in contacts with some East coast USA stations. Propagation to Europe can't have been that good. I think this is the first time that I didn't get called by European and Russian stations.

I heard several USA stations working in a 10-10 contest. I don't have a 10-10 number so I didn't try to contact them. As a fan of 10m I like the idea of 10-10 but to be a member you have got to be sponsored by several existing members and then pay a membership fee. That's way too much hassle and expense just to get a number to send people. The European PSK Club has the right idea. Membership is free to anyone and communication with members is via a web site.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

10m 8 Nov 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 7 November 2012
 Another fairly quiet day on 10m. I took time out from WSPR during the early afternoon to do some PSK31 operating. There was some good DX about. First I worked Ian 3B8IK in Mauritius. I heard 5H3NP in Tanzania, but he didn't appear to be CQing. I found a clear spot and called CQ myself hoping to be heard by the African station but every time a station from the Eastern USA called me! It was better than when the band was wide open as there was less QRM making it easier to hear stations.

I like working stateside because ops seem more willing to have a proper QSO instead of just exchanging reports and details. I don't think that says anything about the relative friendliness of Americans and Europeans, it's just down to the fact that Yanks and us both speak the same language whereas for the European stations that are all I can usually work English is not their native language.

PSK Reporter map showing stations heard/worked by G4ILO on 8 November 2012

No-IP Free

A few months ago I began using the No-IP Free service in order to be able to access my home network using a hostname or  fixed IP address. This worked well until a couple of weeks ago when I started getting the error "no host". I logged in to No-IP and could find no reference to my account. So I recreated it with the same details and it is working fine again.

I vaguely recall seeing something to the effect that to keep the free account active you are supposed to log in once a month. The trouble is I find it hard enough remembering what day of the week it is never mind something like that. Previously I had used the DynDNS free service but that didn't like the frequency with which my broadband changes IP address. My broadband provider says that I can only have a fixed IP address if I have a business account. It would be cheaper to stump up $20 a year for the No-IP Enhanced account. But being a dyed-in-the-wool cheapskate I'd like to avoid doing that. Any recommendations for free IP services that stay working as long as you want?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

10m WSPR spots 7 Nov 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 7 November 2012
Very few WSPR signals received at G4ILO today. A number of weak transatlantic spots of my 2 watt signal make the picture look better than expected.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

10m WSPR spots 6 Nov 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 6 November 2012
Strange conditions today. I'm seeing hardly any traces at the moment but several east coast US stations are spotting me. I even checked to make sure I wasn't running 100w by accident!

Is my web site down?

My website G4ILO's Shack is currently down. It appears to be down for everyone, not just me.

Sometimes a site appears to be down when it's really a problem at your end. There's a really useful site you can use to check if the server is down or not. It goes by the memorable name It's worth bookmarking, especially if you have a website of your own.

I've opened a support ticket with the hosting service. Hopefully my site will be back up by the time you read this.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Go To blazes

Is it just me or do you also get irritated when you see or hear someone abusing the term "go to"? As in "The Buddipole is my go to portable antenna" or "G4ILO's Shack is my go to website for interesting articles about ham radio". Okay, I made the last one up.

What are they trying to say? That the Buddipole is their preferred antenna or mine is their favourite website? If so, why don't they just use the perfectly good words that have existed for years to say so?

Who started this? I think I first saw it in a computer magazine about a year ago. Journalists are responsible for spreading many linguistic abominations. I should know. I was one.

I assume that this is an Americanism which has recently crossed the Atlantic but I have no evidence to back that up.

10m WSPR spots 4 Nov 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 4 November 2012

Saturday, November 03, 2012

10m WSPR spots 3 Nov 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 3 November 2012
The number of spots is fewer and the signal strengths weaker. It appears that the period of good 10m propagation may be over.

Friday, November 02, 2012

10m WSPR spots 2 Nov 2012

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 2 November 2012
No WSPR yesterday as I had to keep a hospital appointment. Today you can see that propagation is appreciably worse than on previous days when I have run WSPR. There were significantly fewer and fainter traces on the WSPR application screen as well.