Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Website woes

The tranquility of my morning was disturbed by receiving an email "Disk Usage Warning" from the web hosting service for the g4ilo.com website.

This was worrying as I had not made any significant changes to the site for several months. I was concerned that hackers might have found a way to upload files to the server so that it was serving porn or some other equally objectional stuff.

After a look around using the disk management tools in cPanel the public_html directory seemed to be excessively large.

I FTP'ed in to the server with FileZilla  and found that the error_log file was astronomically large. I took a look at it and the file was full of warnings about a deprecated PHP function:

PHP Deprecated: Function split() is deprecated in /home/g4ilo/public_html/lib/classes/class.contentoperations.inc.php on line 881

A sI hadn't changed anything my suspicion was that the web host had changed some global PHP setting. When I submitted a support ticket they didn't admit to anything but with a bit of help I was able to turn error logging off. This seems to have solved the problem so I am crossing my fingers that 's  the end of it.

It was fine maintaining and supporting a website when my mind was sharp and my eyesight good. But I don't find messing with this kind of thing very easy nowadays and I could do without the hassle and stress of things like this.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Seasonal Greetings

It's that time of the year again, the season when digimode operators blow the dust off  their festive macro files in order to send seasonal greetings to those with whom they make contact.

At G4ILO it is no different.I  know some folk deprecate the use of macros, but with my eyes the way they are the ability to complete a contacxt just by clicking a few macro buttons is a godsend. I just can't type accurately enough now to send live in real time.

This year I have opted for a politically correct "happy holidays". Instead of a happy new year I will be wishing everyone good health in 2014. Without good health nothing else matters as mucxh. I'm sure you know where I am coming from. As Joni Mitchell once sang (albeit about something different) "you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

So happy holidays and good health in New Year 2014 to all my readers.

Monday, December 09, 2013

10m still lively

Still seeing plenty of transatlantic stations on 10m WSPR. I wonder how long it will last?

WSPR spots on 10m band at G4ILO

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

This is a repost  of a posting made in 2009. It is still as true today as it was then.

I received an email a couple of hours ago to tell me that the Windows setup file for VOAProp is reported as containing a trojan at VirusTotal, so I checked for myself. It's true. Thei nstaller is reported as containing a trojan by 8 out of 41 scanners none of which I have heard of or have any reason to take seriously.

I checked the original copy of the KComm setup file that I have here just in case my web site had been hacked and a trojan planted. But the result was the same. I also checked the downloads of a couple of other programs of mine including MorseGen and VOAProp. They produced virtually the same scan results as for KComm.

For years I have advised people that if they have downloaded a file from a source they would trust and their security software flags it as suspicious, they should scan it at VirusTotal to get a consensus of opinion as to whether the file really is a virus, a trojan or spyware, or just a false alarm. Unfortunately, VirusTotal has kept on adding new virus scanners to its armoury regardless of whether they are any good or not. The lunatics are taking over the asylum and as a result, VirusTotal has become useless as a tool for ordinary PC users to check whether a file is suspicious. I recommend jotti.org instead.

Some of my programs that are accused of containing a trojan were last updated several years ago. They have since been downloaded by hundreds or thousands of people. It is inconceivable that they could have contained a trojan that remained undetected all that time. The thing that all the programs have in common is that the installers were all created using the same setup generator. The likelihood is that somebody used the same setup generator to create an installer package for a trojan and the third rate scanners are picking up on something in the installer package that is not unique to the trojan.

I have no desire to waste my time contacting the developers of obscure anti-virus products to inform them about this false reporting of my programs. Nor do I have any plans to repackage all the programs using a different setup generator. I'm sorry, but third rate virus scanners are not my fault and I don't have the time or the inclination to deal with the problems they cause. If you choose to trust your virus scanner instead of me  I won't argue with you.

Some of the scanners are flagging the fact that the files have been compressed using UPX. This is a harmless tool used to make executable files smaller. It is not a malware. But I don't know how users of these scanners are supposed to know that.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

FUN cubed

I have just received my first telemetry from the FUNcube satellite, a.k.a. OSCAR 73. It was a piece of cake, one of the easiest things in ham radio I have done. What helped make it easy was that I was using a FUNcube Dongle Pro as the receiver (thanks, John!) . The FUNcube dashboard software supports it out of the box. No drivers to install or soundcards to configure. It was a piece of cake.The Dongle automatically tunes to the right frequency.

Of course, the whole project has been designed to be used by teachers with no previous experience of this kind of stuff. So you would expect it to be easy for a seasoned radio ham!

The FUNcube Dashboard software
The whole thing went something like this:
  1. Download and install .NET Framework 4.0 from Microsoft.
  2. Download and install FUNcube Dashboard from http://data.funcube.org.uk/
  3. Register your call at the FUNcube data warehouse https://warehouse.funcube.org.uk/.
  4. Download, read and follow the instructions (PDF files) from the FUNcube site.
  5. Connect dual band colinear to FUNcube Dongle.

Sit back and wait for a pass.

 I was not present when the satellite went over as I was downstairs having lunch.

There are no suitable passes over this location this evening or tonight so I will have to wait until tomorrow for another try. Unfortunately apart from an FT-817 and the dual band vertical I don't have equipment that can operate 2m ans 70cm so I'll have to leave tryi ng to work through the transponder to someone else.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Desk stand for an Elecraft KX3

A surprise package dropped through the door yesterday afternoon. (I do like surprises!)  It was a SOTA Beams desk stand for the Elecraft KX3, customised with my callsign.

SOTA Beams desk stand for Elecraft KX3
In the absence of instructions and with the aid of a couple of the photos on the SOTA Beams website it took my poor brain a couple of minutes to work out how it went together. Actually there are a couple of self adhesive rubber feet and a length of edge trim the purpose of which are still not entirely clear to me.

The stand is robustly made from a laser cut  perspex type material and holds the KX3 at the perfect angle for desktop use.  (I'm not sure how that would be with the KXPD3 paddle. I didn't try it as with my shaky hands I can only send dits at the moment. :)

This stand is exactly what I have been looking for to hold the KX3 when operating sitting on the ground with the rig beside you. The viewing angle is just right for that too - much better than standing your nice radio on the damp and dirty ground. The bright orange of the one SOTA Beams sent me  (they are also available in black or red apparently) makes the stand highly visible and so less likely to be accidentally left behind on the summit or other operating spot.

The perfect angle for desktop or portable operation
Thanks, Richard! This is definitely going in the case with the Alex Loop ready forwhen  my health improves enough for me to take a radio into the Great Outdoors again.

Monday, November 18, 2013


With  smoothed sunspot number of  282 nd a solar flux of 177 we are continuing to enjoy great conditions on the higher HF bands. I can't remember the last time the sunspot number has been that high - though that joins a long list of other things I can't remember either. I'm surprised that more bloggers haven't commented on it - they were happy to spread gloom and despondency when the predictions said that this solar cycle ws going to be a dud.

I've spent most of my operating time on my favourite mode - PSK31. Truth is, I've always felt more comfortable at the keyboard than in front of the mic. But I really should try to get some time in on phone while conditions are this good. Who knows how long it will last?

WebProp- my solar weather web widget is proving to be a bit of an embarrassment with its prediction that HF band propagation will be poor. The algorithm clear places too much emphasis on the effect of high A and K index values.It would be better for users to use the condx=no option which will show only the raw ininterpreted data.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Two 2xK3 contacts in PSK31

Conditoins remain excellent on the 10m band. I made several contacts and even had Stateside DX stations reply to my CQs. Two of my contacts were with Elecraft K3 users - don't often hear K3s on digital though they are the perfect rig for it.

When I'm not actively working stations I like to look at the PSK Reporter reception reports map.  It's more interesting than WSPR as the reports are of actual PSK31 signals. It's a pity there isn't a beacon mode because you have got to transmit or call CQ to see reports of your own signal. At least it is motivation to actually go on the air rather than just lurk!

Interference to 10m WSPR

Take a look at this diabolical interference on the 10m WSPR frequency.

Fortunately it doesn't seem to affect decoding too much. The PSK31 sub band is free of it too.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Out of it

This afternoon I ventured on the air for the first time in several weeks. Indeed it  is the first time I've felt like switching on the radio since my brain tumour removal operation. It was not entirely a good experience.

I thought I'd try digimodes since I would only need to click a few buttons to complete a QSO. But I found the whole experience a bit bewildering. I made two contacts on 20m thinking I was on 10m! And a couple of times I left the other guy waiting for me to send something.

About the only way I can describe how I felt is "out of it" - the phrase sometimes used to describe a person who is so drunk that they don't know what they are doing. Only unfortunately in this case the demon drink was not to blame.

Somehow I think it is going to take some time for things to get back to normal.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Roger, G3XBM - get well soon

I was enormously pleased to see a new post from my fellow blogger Roger, G3XBM Roger is recovering from a severe stroke and  facing difficulties I can only imagine. I'm sure I'm not the only one missing his posts about QRP projects nd accounts of his low power activities. Get well soon, Roger.

Friday, November 01, 2013

A little bird tells me

@G4ILO is on Twitter!  You can follow me from the widget in the left hand column of the blog.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


My health has recently taken a bit of a turn for the worse. I am going to take a break from ham radio and from posting to this blog.It's just something I don't need to be doing at the moment. My thanks to all of you who have stuck with  me and followed my ham radio activities for the last few years.I'll be back! but only when I feel that I am doing anything of interest and am able to.

I still plan on posting updates on my progress with my battle with brain cancer in my other blog One Foot in the Grave. The fight goes on!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Five minute wonder

My  Nevada WH3080 weather station has turned out to be a five minute wonder. Barely 3 months since we installed it, it has quit working. The base unit is no longer receiving information from the sensors.

We checked the batteries. The batteries in the sensor unit, which are supposed to be charged by solar power, were almost dead. We replaced them by some ordinary alkaline cells. But there is still no communication.

I think it is going in the garbage bin. It was whilst trying to reset the unit that I fell over in the garden and flattened some of Olga's plants. It is cheap Chinese rubbish.If I don't throw it in the trash I expect Olga will.

To theit credit Nevada did offer to exchange it for a new replacement when we couldn't get the rainfall gauge to work. But I threw away the packaging so we couldn't take up the offer. Either I can go back to using the one I built myself fom a kit which only recorded temperature, humidity and pressure, or abandon the idea of having a weather station altogether.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

K3 gets a hearing aid

There was a slight lift on 6m this afternoon, enabling me to try out my latest acquisition: an Elecraft PR6-10 preamp for the K3. A few days ago I noticed that the KX3 had a more sensitive receiver than the K3 on 6m. I couldn't allow my K3 to be outshone by its baby brother so the preamp was ordered. I felt that the K3 could do with a boost on some of the lower bands as well so I opted for the new PR6-10 dual band preamp which despite the name covers the range from 6m to 12m. It was obtained and delivered to me very speedily by Elecraft's UK agents Waters and Stanton. This was one Elecraft item that actually worked out cheaper to buy from the UK!

The preamp was very easy to install. It is designed to fit on the back of the K3 using the BNC connectors for RX IN and RX OUT provided by the KXV3A board. The preamp's connectors are exactly the same distance apart as the ones on the K3 so you just need a pair of BNC couplers which Elecraft thoughtfully provided. I saw from the manual that the preamp was installed like this but I was afraid I would not have enough distance between the back of the K3 and the wall so I had ordered a couple of BNC patch leads as a precaution. In the end they weren't needed.

Elecraft also provided a made-up cable to link the preamp to the K3's switched 12V output and its ACC socket so you can select the bands the preamp is enabled for. On other bands a pair of pass-through connectors are enabled. This was the main factor for choosing the ready-made Elecraft preamp instead of a cheaper home-brew one as it meant I didn't lose the use of the RX IN and RX OUT sockets that are utilized by the MFJ noise cancelling unit which is essential here on the 20m band.

Installing the preamp involved dismantling the entire station.
Although fitting the preamp to the K3 was easy, getting access to the back of the transceiver was not, and entailed the dismantling of almost the entire G4ILO station. Taking it apart may have been one thing, but putting it all together again is another. Labels fell off disconnected cables, other cables disappeared down the back of the table and had to be fished out again. If that wasn't enough, the meter illumination lamp in the MFJ magnetic loop control box chose this moment to fail, resulting in a lot of time wasted after I had reconnected it trying to find out what I had done with its power supply.

Despite these hassles, installing the PR6-10 was worth the trouble, producing a clearly audible improvement in signal to noise ratio even on 12m. I can now hear stations that can't hear me!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A tiny Bluetooth TNC

One of the things I've been up to the last few weeks is testing a new Bluetooth TNC made by Rob WX9O who is selling them as Mobilinkd. I had to put testing on hold while my Motorola smartphone went away to be repaired (by BuzzBox whom I can recommend highly.) In the meantime word got round and Rob sold out of these gadgets before I could write about it.

The price was around $49.95 which I thought at the time was amazingly cheap and probably explains why they are all sold out at the time of writing. The module is a small PCB slightly smaller than a Baofeng UV-3R and if you remove the belt clip it can easily be fixed to the back of it. My picture shows it strapped to the back of one of the Baofeng's predecessors, where it makes a nice inexpensive and compact APRS tracker. The board and it's battery (which can be charged using a USB cable as shown in the photo) are shrink-wrapped in a tough translucent plastic casing.

Ready-made cables are available. Rob sent me a Kenwood-format two-pin connector which fits the later model Baofengs and the two worked together perfectly. The audio levels were just right on both transmit and receive.

Yes, receive. This is no mere tracker. It's a full KISS TNC and decoded all the packets received by the Baofeng. The software used was the latest APRSDroid running on my Motorola Milestone (a.k.a. Droid) smartphone.  Droid and TNC paired easily and made an effective APRS mobile station.

I did try to pair up the TNC with APRSISCE on an HTC Touch Pro running Windows Mobile 6.1. The two devices paired but could not connect as the Bluetooth software did not recognize the TNC as a valid device type. I think that is a limitation of the Windows Mobile Bluetooth software rather than the TNC module.

If you are interested in APRS and would prefer to do it over the radio rather than a cellular data connection (real hams use RF, right?) then this is a nice toy to play with.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Visitors Book gone!

They say that to err is human, to really foul things up you need a computer. And I have been fouling a lot of things up recently. The latest thing that I fouled up is the G4ILO's Shack visitors book.

On the site I also have a contact log. This runs from a backup of my KComm (MixW format) log file. KComm automatically backs up my log to the web server, in order to create an off-site backup of my log. As a bonus, I have a PHP script that reads this backup file and displays the contents in a human-readable format.

What I stupidly did, when re-configuring KComm after my computer troubles a couple of weeks ago, was put the guest book file name log.dat for the backup file name, instead of what it should have been: g4ilo.log. So when KComm uploaded my contact log backup it overwrote the guest book data file instead. I only discovered this after wondering why the contact log on the site wasn't updating.

I looked back in the site backups maintained by the hosting service but they only go back a couple of weeks.  I must have made the error before then. All I have managed to salvage is the most recent 3 entries. I'm rather upset about that, because the guest book contained comments made over many years from the early days of the site, which I had painstakingly preserved over various versions of guest book script.

At least I didn't lose my contact log going back to 2001. That would have been a disaster!

K3 vs KX3 on 6m

There was a good opening on 6m this morning which lasted until early afternoon. I'd just been reading some list traffic on how good the KX3 receiver is so I thought I would plug it in to the antenna and see what I could do. After all, Six is the magic band, who needs 100 watts?

Listening on the two receivers was like night and day. On the KX3 the band sounded much more lively. Stations that were only peaking an S7 on the K3 were S9 plus.

On the KX3 with just 10 watts, just because a station was loud it didn't mean I could work them. I got some 59 reports but with several stations they didn't hear me even if I had no competition. The loudest stations had a lot of callers and they just didn't hear me over the crowd. You wouldn't think 9dB would make all that much difference but it does!

I've seen comments about the K3 being deaf on 6m, or even 10m, but I had never really bothered about it until now. If I can hear them on the K3 I can usually work them even though I generally limit the power to 80 watts.

But I ended up a bit dissatisfied with the K3's receive performance on one of my favourite bands. The simple solution - fit a preamp between RX IN and RX OUT - isn't an option for me as I need those ports to plumb in the MFJ noise cancelling device. It's a pity no-one has come up with a mod to boost the K3's fairly useless internal preamp on 50MHz.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New APRS IGate for Aberdeen

Kit Hall GM4EMX has sent details about a new unattended APRS iGate that will be located at his QTH in Aberdeen. The callsign will be MB7UAB.

Kit told me something I didn't know about the allocation of callsigns for APRS stations in the UK.

  • All APRS station callsigns start with MB7U (for Unconnected, I would guess.)
  • A single letter following the U denotes a digipeater (e.g. our local digi MB7UQ)
  • Two letters following the U denote an iGate.

I hope Kit's new iGate will soon spark some activity in the Aberdeen area which up until now has been pretty much an APRS desert.

Chromium plated

I never did find out what was causing Google Chrome to crash so much on my computer. However, after several months of using Chrome I found Firefox rather slow and clunky. So I had a look round to see if there were any other browsers. It turned out that there were more alternatives than I ever imagined.

The first alternative browser I found was one called Avant. This is a powerful browser with a lot of configurability, developed by a Chinese programmer. It boasts the ability to render web pages using your choice of the Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome rendering engines, which is probably handy if you're a website developer. I set it to use Chrome and it displayed the pages that had give me trouble with nary a murmur. But I found the user interface rather heavy after the minimalist approach of Google Chrome. So I kept it on my hard drive but carried on looking.

The next candidate I stumbled across was SRWare Iron. It almost counts as two browsers in one, as it installed two shortcuts on my desktop, one named SRWare Iron and one named Chromium, both pointing to the same executable. This turns out to be a browser built from the same open source code as Google's Chrome by a German company. Germans seem to be a bit sensitive about privacy, so the main difference with this SRWare browser is that it does not send information about your browsing habits back to Google. What, you didn't know Google Chrome did that? Neither did I until I discovered this program, though I thought I opted out of this during Chrome's installation.

Apparently you can opt out of all the Google tracking if you choose the appropriate settings in Chrome, but most users won't do this. So Iron / Chromium could be said to be a better version of Chrome than Google's, certainly from the privacy point of view. Chrome extensions like AdBlock Plus work as with the real thing. Chromium even supports the ability to log in to your Google account to save and restore your bookmarks and other settings, which was very handy.  Try it, you'll never notice the difference.

I'm happy with Chromium / Iron as my default web browser now. So far, it hasn't crashed on me. But I also discovered another Chrome clone. It's called Comodo Dragon and it's made by the Comodo security company. Dragon is also built from the Chrome open source code and omits the Google tracking code, but it     has some extra security features added by Comodo. So it looks like an even better option if you are really privacy-conscious.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Life without Chrome

I've not been doing much radio the last couple of weeks. I haven't been able to raise much enthusiasm. No doubt for those of you with jobs, being able to play radio all day would be a blissful situation. But it's not much fun being in this small, sweaty shack in this hot, sunny weather. I'd really like to be able to get out and about in the beautiful Lakeland countryside, further than I can reach on my own two feet. And my hopes of doing that took a bit of a blow yesterday.

I did continue trying to get Google Chrome to run on my shack computer. For a short time I thought I had succeeded. I spotted that Microsoft .Net 3.5 was installed twice. I uninstalled both copies and Chrome appeared to be stable after that. Then I spotted Windows Update installing Net 3.5 again, and before I could stop it Chrome immediately crashed. I tried removing Net 3.5 again after disabling automatic updates, but this time it didn't help. I could crash Chrome every single time I opened this post from PD0AC's blog. Usually Chrome would just vanish from the screen, but other times I got blue-screen or black-screen error messages and once Windows XP spontaneously rebooted. So I have given up.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Back to Firefox

Goodbye Chrome. It was fun while it lasted. But in the last day or so Google Chrome has become so crash-prone that it is unusable. Suggested solutions amounted to disabling plugins and add-ons but my installation was pretty basic apart from AdBlock. Nevertheless I took the step of uninstalling Chrome completely and then reinstalling again. But it still crashes. Just trying to sign in to Yahoo is enough to crash it.

So it's back to Firefox. I don't have time for flaky browsers.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The LinkedIn virus

I'm still getting the repercussions from the lapse in attention which resulted in LinkedIn sending invitations to anyone who has ever emailed me. Most people have just deleted or ignored them. A few were concerned that the email might have been a virus and contacted me to ask if I really had sent it. But now LinkedIn is emailing everyone who didn't reply with a message saying I'm still waiting for them to accept the invitation.

A few people have been annoyed by these emails and have asked me to stop sending them. Unfortunately the deed was done a few weeks ago and I have no idea how to put a stop to it. If I had known that it was going to cause this much hassle I wouldn't have even considered accepting someone's invitation but hindsight is a wonderful thing that I unfortunately don't possess and now there is no undoing it.

Krun - a command line utility

Last week when I posted about using the new dual-mode version of WSJT-X I mentioned a utility I had used to put my Elecraft K3 into split mode before starting WSJT-X and returning it to normal operation after finishing. I've been asked to share information about it, so here you are.

The utility is called KRun, from K-Run. K for Elecraft radios (K2, K3 etc.) and Run because you use it to run another program. It was written to use with my Elecraft transceivers but I see no reason why it should not work with other radios that use a similar CAT command syntax such as Kenwoods. Don't ask me if it can  be used with your Yaesu or Icom radios because I know nothing at all about their command format.

If you run the utility it puts up a window listing its command line parameters.

These command line parameters are what tells KRun what you want it to do, so you'll need to know how to create a shortcut containing command line parameters, or use a batch file. You'll also need to know what CAT commands to use, which will require a degree of familiarity with the Programmer's Reference manual for your radio.

The parameters are:

  • --com=n where n specifies the serial port used by your radio
  • --baud=x where x os the baud rate to use
  • --cmd=string specifying the string of CAT commands to send at startup
  • --wait=s where s is an optional delay in seconds to give the commands time to execute
  • --run="path" the path of the program (e.g. WSJTX) that you want to run
  • --arg="args" optional command line parameters for the program specified above
  • --ucmd=string optional CAT commands to send on closing

An example invocation is:

C:\Ham\krun\krun.exe --com=3 --cmd=FT1; --run=C:\Ham\WSJT-X2\wsjtx.exe --ucmd=FR0;


  • C:\Ham\krun\krun.exe is the location on my computer of the KRun utility
  •  --com=3 specifies the com port to use
  • --cmd=FT1; is the CAT command to set my K3 into split mode (with terminating semicolon)
  • --run=C:\Ham\WSJT-X2\wsjtx.exe is the location on my computer of WSJT-X
  • --ucmd=FR0; is the CAT command to cancel split mode (with terminating semicolon)

To create a shortcut to do this, first create a shortcut to KRun itself, then edit the Target to add the command line parameters as given above.

You can download KRun as a zip file which contains KRun.exe, the utility itself, and WSJTX, a shortcut configured as described above. If you try to use the provided shortcut instead of creating one from scratch yourself you will need to change the program paths to suit your own system.

So there you are. It works for me so hopefully it will work for you. If it doesn't then a better solution would be to persuade K1JT to add these CAT commands to WSJT-X!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Android on an HTC Touch Pro

My Motorola Droid has been sent away for repair (requiring a part from China, a two week wait and a cost of over £50.) As I am therefore without a phone, I thought that I would try to install XDAndroid on my old HTC Touch Pro. I tried it once before about 3 years ago and it worked well enough to convince me that Android was a better phone operating system than Windows Mobile 6.1, but not well enough to be usable as an everyday phone.

This time I hoped that there would have been some updates to make Android more stable. The installation process seemed easier than I remembered. I thought I would document it, not just for others but for my own benefit in case I want to repeat the procedure for a third time.

You will need a blank microSD card. 4GB is plenty big enough. Then download the XDAndroid package from the repository at http://htcandroid.xland.cz/. I chose GBX0C_Full_Bundle_2012.04.24.zip because it was the newest.

Unzip the package to a temporary folder. The result is a folder named after the bundle,containing the files. Copy all the files (but not the folder itself) to the root directory of the microSD card.

The next step is to identify your model of phone. There is a long string of letters and numbers under the battery near the serial number stickers in tiny print. It will be 4 letters and a number. Mine said RAPH100: Raphael is the code name for the Touch Pro.

Having determined the code name, look in the files you unzipped for a folder named Startups. It contains several folders with names to match the phone. In the RAPH folder was another folder named RAPH100. That folder contains a file named startup.txt. Copy this to the root directory of the microSD card along with the other files. Now you can put the microSD card in the phone, replace the battery and switch it on.

Using the WinMo file manager look in the root of the storage card. There should be a file named Haret.exe. This is a Windows program. Run it. You should see a window that says "Booting Linux" which quickly changes to a console screen with tiny writing scrolling up the screen (I needed the extra strength reading glasses I use for fine electronic work.)

Watch the boot process carefully. It should stop at one point and ask you to perform the screen calibration. When I did this before, I recall that the the script displayed boxes on the screen that I had to tap with the stylus. This time there were no boxes displayed, so I had to guess the positions. The first time I guessed wrong: the result was an installation of Android that was insensitive to my touches.

I tried again after watching a YouTube video of the process which showed the screen calibration and saw that the tap points were: top left, top right, screen centre, bottom left and bottom right. After you have tapped the five points the boot process then carries on for several more minutes after which you should see an Android opening screen. Swipe the lock to the right and away you go!

In Windows Mobile you can create a shortcut to the program Haret.exe in your Start Menu which will make it easier to start Android next time. Do be certain that you create a shortcut not a copy because Haret has to be run from the root of the microSD card.

This version of XDAndroid seems a bit more stable than the one I installed three years ago. It's good enough  for an emergency phone, which this is, but it runs slowly and functions like Bluetooth and GPS don't work reliably. Development of this Android port ceased a year or so ago so there won't be any updates. Interest in running Android on HTC Windows Mobile devices ebbed away as the users got themselves real Android phones. But it will do for now. It whiled away an afternoon and resulted in something I can use until my Droid returns from repair.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Doing the splits

At the end of last month I was testing a new version of WSJT-X for Joe, K1JT, under NDA. The program has now been released, so I can write about it.

WSJT-X 1.1 can decode both JT65 and JT9 at the same time
The major new feature is that WSJT-X 1.1 supports both JT65 and JT9. What is even more remarkable about it is that it can decode both modes at the same time! Enabling dual modes is optional, but if you use the feature and double-click on a station to reply to it the program will switch to the correct mode for the reply.

Another thing about this new version is that it can decode signals in a bandwidth 4kHz wide. If you have a transceiver that can receive such a wide bandwidth - Flex SDR radios can do this, as can the Kenwood TS2000 and my Elecraft K3 with FM filter installed - then you can take advantage of this capability. I didn't think my K3 could go that wide, but all that was needed was to run the K3 Utility and enable the FM filter in DATA mode.

If you're sharp then you will have thought of a snag. What happens if you reply to a station on the right hand side of the bandwidth? Receiving may be OK through the FM filter but on transmit the 2.7KHz SSB filter is used. The solution is clever: you keep the audio in the range 1 to 2kHz, engage SPLIT mode and set the transmit frequency to shift the signal up or down so that it matches the frequency of the station you are working.

I must admit that this perplexed me at first as I didn't understand the significance of operating in split mode. My audio tones (heard with the K3 monitor turned up a little) were often lower or higher than the station I was replying to, and I was afraid I was replying on the wrong frequency. In fact, I was: I had forgotten to switch SPLIT on!

To avoid mistakes in future I created a Windows shortcut using a little utility I wrote to send a CAT SPLIT ON command before starting WSJT-X 1.1 and equally importantly, set SPLIT OFF when I had finished a session with WSJT-X. It's just too much to expect me to remember to do this manually! I suggested to Joe that WSJT-X itself should send the split commands, but apparently it's not that simple when you have to cater for every transceiver under the sun. So if you are working JT9 or JT65 and  stations reply to you one or two kHz off-frequency don't be surprised.

I should make it clear: WSJT-X 1.1 doesn't decode both modes across 4kHz. It decodes JT65 in the lower half and JT9 in the upper half. You get to decide where the dividing line lies.

Joe K1JT thinks that JT9 users will move down a bit into the top end of the JT65 range, to enable people whose transceivers don't give them 4kHz bandwidth to take advantage o9f the ability to work dual modes. In fact, at the moment, the result seems to be to have enabled JT65 users to spread out over 3kHz or more as is clearly illustrated by my screenshot. Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Time and trouble

I'm still reconstructing my PC system after the disk got trashed. I didn't lose any important files nor my ham radio stuff. But many of the configuration settings that Microsoft helpfully squirrels away in hidden locations like the registry or somewhere off Documents and Settings were not backed up. Mea culpa. Unfortunately I never came across a full backup system that I liked (I purchased Acronis but it was full of bugs that they want you to pay for an upgrade to sort out.

I keep on discovering things that need to be restored. I was getting some gobbledygook decodes from WSJT-X and then remembered that I needed to install Meinberg NTP. But the installation failed: the service wouldn't start, reporting the error that "NTP failed to respond in a timely manner." There is a note on the Meinberg website that the service might fail unless you install some Visual Studio restributable package, so I installed it but still no luck. I've run Meinberg NTP for years and have recommended it to everyone and it's so annoying that I can't install it.

Hacking the registry to up the frequency of Windows Time updates.
Nothing for it but to rely on good old Windows Time Service. I found the registry hack that lets you increase the frequency of updates. I also changed the time server to europe.pool.ntp.org which responded much more quickly that time.windows.com. Hopefully that will do the trick. I hunted for an old version of Meinberg from before 2009 which I must have installed when I first set the PC up, but no luck.

Monday, July 01, 2013


I have just trashed my shack PC. Not intentionally, you understand. I was trying to resolve a problem and the result was that the system has restored itself to the state it was in when it was new back in 2006 or whenever it was.

I have been using a backup program called Magicure. I've probably mentioned it in this blog before. It's kind of a System Restore on steroids. It has saved my bacon countless times and I have come to depend upon it. But it started giving an error message when it tried to do a backup. No new backups were being made. So I had to do something about it.

I emailed Magicure support for help but didn't receive a reply. I saw that there was a newer version of the software so I decided to download and install that in the hope that this would get it working again.. But the installer complained that there was another version present and asked me to remove it first. So I started to uninstall Magicure. That was a mistake.

The uninstaller said that it was going to roll back to before Magicure was first installed. If I was a bit sharper-witted I might have smelt a rat at this point. But I thought "no, surely it isn't going to do that." I just want to remove Magicure. So I clicked OK and within a few seconds I was looking at a Windows XP login screen with only Administrator as the available login. This looked ominous. No user "Julian". It looked as if it had rolled back the entire system to the state it was in when new, when I first installed Magicure.

I have no idea what the Administrator password was. But if I knew it I would be no better off because the computer won't respond to the mouse or keyboard. So I can't get in to the system to assess the extent of the damage. I don't seem to have a Windows XP disc to reinstall from scratch, either.

What an utter disaster. I have no idea what to do at this point.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Yet Another APRS Client

An apt title for this post, but also for the software in question. Yet Another APRS Client (YAAC from now on) is a new program written by Andrew, KA2DDO that has recently entered beta test status. I stumbled across it a few days ago and am now running it on my G4ILO-2 VHF iGate.

YAAC map display with US Geological Survey topographic data.)
YAAC is written in Java so it runs equally well on Windows, Mac and Linux platforms as long as you have a recent Java runtime installed.

YAAC is open source software and uses open source mapping (Open Street Map - OSM). APRSISCE does too, but whereas it uses bitmap tiles, YAAC uses vector-based map data. This makes the maps look a bit different (more as if they were drawn by a spider.) You can easily add topographical data from the US Geological Survey (the screenshot above shows this.) YAAC also supports the use of scanned-in maps but I haven't tried this.

YAAC is very easy to use. There is a wizard to help you set up the program, though there is also an expert mode that allows you to get to all the settings directly. There are far fewer things that can be changed than APRSIS32 has which is one reason it is easier to use, but YAAC's user interface is more standard. A File menu is on the left of the menu bar, Help on the right, and all the configuration settings are on a multi-tabbed dialog box not nested in three levels of menus. YAAC would be an ideal program for someone new to APRS, which is not to belittle the program in any way as it does all the things that most users would be perfectly happy with.

YAAC supports a wide range of TNCs including TNC2 compatibles and the Kenwood mobiles. In APRS mode the Kenwood D700/D710 can only be used receive-only. In Packet mode the Kenwood can be used as a KISS TNC. Believe it or not I hadn't realized it had this capability until Andrew pointed it out to me. Just two commands (KISS ON, RESTART) are needed to put the Kenwood into KISS mode. The other thing that confounded me for quite a while is that the Kenwood TNC expects hardware flow control. Once that setting had been made everything started to run perfectly.

YAAC's "Radio View"
One disadvantage of using the Kenwood D700/D710 in Packet mode is that the rig's display doesn't show any APRS information.However, Andrew has implemented a rather neat "radio view" which emulates the Kenwood display. The only extra thing that would make the emulation complete would be to limit it to only those packets received over the radio. With an APRS feed covering a wide area the display changes too quickly to be readable.

YAAC doesn't provide as much information about APRS objects as APRSISCE does.The window on the right is what you get when you click on one of the G4ILO icons. When two or more stations are co-located the calls overwrite one another making them unreadable. APRSISCE manages to position the calls so they don't overlap at all.

Because YAAC uses vector graphics it does a better job of displaying APRS icons and even orients the icons of moving objects in the direction of motion. Zoom in to street level and you'll discover that icons are provided for points of interest. I was quite impressed when I saw what was displayed for our small town of Cockermouth. I think these objects come from OSM data.

Street-level display of Cockermouth including places of interest
You might get the impression that I really like this new APRS client. It appears to be well designed, well written and is well supported by Andrew, its developer. It's a very impressive piece of software. I originally intended just to try it out for a couple of days but I think I'll stick with it for the time being.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Milestone at the end of the road

My Motorola Milestone 2 smartphone, which I bought nearly two years ago, has gone kaput. When I slide out the keyboard, the display goes blank. The device is usable, but only as an ordinary phone. I can imagine what has happened. There is probably a flexible ribbon cable like in the KX3 connecting the two halves, and a trace has broken. (A good job I've got the charger for the KX3 so I don't have to keep opening it up to change the batteries.)

Of course, it is out of warranty. The question is, is it repairable at a reasonable cost? Motorola's support site won't give an estimated cost of repair. "Send it to us and we'll give you a quote" they say. I'd really like a ballpark figure for what it is going to cost before doing that.

I guess I'll just have to spring for a new phone. But there weren't many alternatives with a real hardware keyboard and I expect there are even fewer now. I wish I could type using the software keyboard (which I'll have to for now) but I have a 50% error rate. I don't think my fingers are much fatter than normal. How do you guys manage? Perhaps you don't text much and don't do email on the phone.

Another Android APRS client

Good news for APRS enthusiasts with Android devices. Lynn Deffenbaugh, KJ4ERJ, is embarking on a port of his popular and successful APRSISCE to the Android platform, called APRSISDR.

I use the words "embarking on" advisedly. Although there is a Yahoo group and a collection of testers (including yours truly) the software is in an embryo stage at the moment. You can see the beginnings of an APRS client starting to form but Lynn is really just testing the Android platform at the moment to see how various key things can be accomplished. I would hazard a guess that it will take several months before something usable appears, though those who were in at the start of APRSISCE development will recall that it advanced in leaps and bounds. It's going to be a fun ride, but for most I think it will be best to wait patiently for more news to emerge. Watch this space!

Monday, June 24, 2013

An Aaargh! moment

Some of you may have received an invitation to join my LinkedIn network from me today. To those who accepted, thank you. To those who found the invitation unwelcome, I apologize.

It was not my intention to spam you in any way. Unfortunately I didn't look carefully enough at what was displayed so that instead of emailing just those whom I had painstakingly selected from the list, the invitations went to all of the hundreds of addresses in my Gmail contacts list.

It was a real Aargh! moment, but by the time I had uttered the exclamation it was too late! Judging by all the invitations I have received in the past from people I don't remember, I don't think I am the first person to have done this.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

FUNcube Dongle

I've been spending a few hours playing around with a FUNcube Dongle Pro. There was a lot of excitement about this project a couple of years ago when it started. In order to get one you had to be quick off the mark on Ebay. I never succeeded, then I got ill and then I forgot about it. This one was passed on to me by a friend who successfully purchased one but never used it.

I started off by following the instructions in the user manual. I followed this by installing and setting up a complicated-looking SDR program called Spectravue. I was baffled by most of this program's settings and I wasn't sure if it worked.

What I should have done was try some of the SDR programs I installed when I was playing about with USB TV dongles at the beginning of the year. I started SDR#, selected the FUNcube Dongle from a pull-down list, clicked Start and it just worked!

Simon Brown's SDR-Radio worked as well, and with equal ease, though as luck would have it I tried it on the very day that the (free) licence key for the program expired. This appeared to come as much of a surprise to Simon as everyone else. As I type, Simon has just uploaded a fix which I have yet to install.

I thought I would try using the FCD as an ADS-B receiver which I did with the TV dongles but I soon discovered that I can't. The FCD looks like a budget USB sound card to the SDR software, so its bandwidth is restricted to 2 x 48kHz. The digital TV dongles can transfer a much wider bandwidth. This is noticeable if you try to receive Band 2 FM radio - through the FCD the signal sounds distorted on peaks because the bandwidth isn't quite wide enough for FM stereo which needs a full 100kHz..

It will be interesting to use the dongle with the FUNcube 1 satellite when it gets off the ground later this year (we hope!) In the meantime I'll use it to watch for Sporadic-E in the VHF band.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Operation successful.

My operation to remove my gall bladder was successful. Now I'm supposed to take it easy and avoid strenuous activity for a few months. No more five mile walks for a bit. It looks as if I will be logging more time in front of the computer and radio for a while.

The operation to migrate this blog to a new generation Blogger template has also been completed. Comments are now working again, but I'm not happy with the header graphic. I had to go with what I could make given my absence of artistic skills, rather than what I would like to have done. So there may well be some more changes in that area to come.

I had hoped to use a smart looking template from a free templates site. But at first I couldn't find how to load it into Blogger. So I started off with one of the standard Blogger templates. As I was customising that I accidentally stumbled across the option to load a template from an XML file. Working in Blogger is like being in a maze, remembering seeing the tool I wanted but going round in circles until I located it again.

The problem with the custom template was that I found it contained some things I didn't want, and the Blogger visual design tools didn't allow me to remove them. It would probably have been necessary to edit the XML, but that is a step beyond my expertise. So in the end I went back to the modified Blogger template. I'm happy with the layout now, and commenting works again which was the reason I was forced to change. In fact I now have Google+ commenting which if you haven't tried it is much better. But I'd still like to find something more radio-themed for the header graphic.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Under construction

Due to the problem with commenting I am reluctantly moving this blog to a new template. This will probably take a few days - especially as I will be going to hospital on Tuesday - because a lot of trial and error will be involved (more error than trial I dare say.)

Please bear with me while I make changes, try different graphics and so on. Normal service will be restored as soon as possible!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

No comment

It appears that commenting is broken for this blog. If you try to comment then the comment box pops up but if you click in the box to type your comment it just displays "Opening..."

I have mentioned the problem in the Blogger support forum but I haven't received any answers as yet. I'm hoping they will realize there is a problem and do something about it.

I am wondering if this problem has occurred since I Google+ - enabled my blog. I mean, I know it has, but I'm not sure if commenting broke after I enabled it. And I don't know how to un-enable it.

The only thing I can think of trying is to go to one of Blogger's standard boring templates. Because commenting still works on One Foot in the Grave, which uses one.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Antenna expansion

I know when summer is here when I have to keep on tweaking the tuning of my MFJ magnetic loop antenna throughout the day. Having an antenna farm in the attic (or loft as it is more commonly called over here) protects the antennas from the depredations of the elements but it does subject them to extremes of temperature during the summer months. As the loft warms up during the morning the metal of the magnetic loop expands. Because the magnetic loop is a very sharply tuned antenna this has an effect on the SWR. I don't know what the temperature in the loft reaches on a sunny day but I wouldn't want to go up there.

I'm not talking about a small change. I may tune the antenna to achieve a 1.2:1 SWR first thing in the morning and by lunchtime it can have increased to 2:1 or more. This wouldn't be so noticeable if I was moving around the bands retuning as I go. But I use the magnetic loop for my 30m APRS station which stays on 10.1473MHz all day and every day. (It does a jolly good job there, by the way.) If I don't pop into the shack now and again and give the antenna a quick tune I could be subjecting the transceiver to a higher SWR than is good for it.

The magnetic loop is the only antenna I have that will cover 30m, so I don't have any alternative for my APRS system. This need for retuning affects all the bands I can use the loop on, not just 30m.

I suppose my multiband dipole also expands and contracts with temperature, but because the tuning is broader the effect on the SWR is less noticeable. Outdoor antennas have their tuning affected by rain or ice, of course, so I'm not alone in having to put up with weather effects on my antennas.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sporadic on Six

Today there has been a really big Sporadic-E opening on 6m which lasted for several hours. In fact it is still going on as I type this.

This snapshot of activity from DXMaps gives an idea of what the opening was like at its peak. The whole of western Europe must have been covered by a reflective Sporadic-E cloud!

From DXMaps I could see that the opening extended up to 2m for a time, though I didn't hear anything myself. Unfortunately my QTH is poor for VHF so conditions have to be exceptionally good for me to hear any 2m DX let alone work it. So 6 remains my favourite VHF band.

I made several 6m contacts on SSB and several on PSK31. The most interesting call was LY44WFF, a DXpedition to Klaipeda, Lithuania KO05oi which is quite a rare square so I'm told. Best DX on PSK31 was probably David, 5B4AHY.

I never quite know how to answer calls on 6m PSK31. Some operators seem to use quick, contest style operating while others reel out their name, QTH, EPC number and so on. I prefer the quick format myself, with the aim of getting the contact completed before the conditions fade out. But if someone wants to exchange a bit more information I try to do that too.

A station operating RTTY was an unwelcome presence among the PSK just above 50.250. One RTTY station came up right smack on top of someone operating PSK63. Surprisingly I got perfect copy of the PSK63 station which was straddled by the RTTY signal! Surely it is time to abandon this old, wide, slow outmoded mode?

Monday, June 10, 2013

A dongle for the FT-817

If you have used a Yaesu FT-817 on SSB you'll have probably been annoyed by the lack of a TUNE button to generate a steady carrier for antenna tuning. You usually have to press the MODE button a few times to select FM or PKT, use PTT to send a carrier, then change mode back to USB or LSB. It isn't one of life's greater annoyances, but it's a nuisance all the same, especially if you use an antenna like the AlexLoop which needs retuning every time you change frequency.

A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from one of my blog readers, John G4HUK, enclosing a Quick-Tune Dongle that he makes for the Yaesu FT-817, FT-857 and FT-897 rigs. It's a neat little gadget that plugs into the ACC port on the back of the radio. What it does is let you generate a tuning signal in SSB mode by double-clicking the microphone PTT. Simple but effective! It won't be so useful for home users who have a CAT cable plugged into their ACC port already, but for SOTA operators and other exponents of outdoor radio (apart from CW operators who can just hold the key down) it could be a godsend.

The Quick Tune Dongle installed on the back of the FT-817
The dongle didn't work for me at first until I set the baud rate of my FT-817's ACC port to 9600. This is explained in the 'manual'. The instructions also explain how you can reconfigure the dongle to change the way it works. By default it will use PKT mode to generate the tuning carrier and ignore double-clicks made in any mode other than USB and LSB, which I think will suit most people.

I think it is an ingenious little gadget which you can get from HUK Electronics for £15.95 + postage. Here's a video of the dongle in action.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Summer has arrived

Another warm, sunny day. It really seems as if summer has arrived. But it's not the weather for sitting in the shack operating the radio. It actually gets a bit unbearable in the shack on warm days with all the equipment (not to mention the operator!) radiating heat.

The weather forecast is for fime weather on the next few days. I'm not complaining but dare I say it, Olga and I have been wishing for some rain - Olga to water the garden and me to see if the rain gauge of the new weather station is really working!

With some freshly charged batteries in the KX3 I thought I would see what I could hear from out in the garden. The answer was - not much. Band conditions seem to be pretty dire at the moment. True, the antenna I was using out there (a WonderWand L-Whip) is not the most efficient I could find but it is easy to tune and usually receives OK. But today I could hear almost nothing.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A new review

I have just added a review of the Nevada WH3080 Solar weather station to my G4ILO's Shack website.

The website gets a lot more visitors than the blog so I will be adding new content over the coming months.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sunny weather

I hope I don't jinx it by writing this, but I think my weather station is now working. Everything is showing the values expected, including the rain which shows 0 mm as we haven't had any. Trust the Cumbrian weather to not rain when you want it to.

It was actually Olga who got everything working. I had lost patience with it and was all for sending it back. Olga patiently went through the manual (which she found was poorly written) and double-checked everything. She even used my test meter to check the voltage of the newly installed batteries. She found that the rechargeable alkaline batteries supplied for the sensor/transmitter unit were only giving 1.3V each. So she took them out and replaced them with some new Energizer alkaline cells. And everything including the rain sensor started working!

The manual says "Insert 2xAA 1.5V rechargeable batteries into the battery compartment of the remote sensor and immediately afterwards 3xAA alkaline batteries in the base station." It didn't say anything about charging them first. If I had provided my own rechargeable batteries I would obviously have charged them first. But as they came shrinkwrapped in the box I assumed they were ready to use. False assumption! It was as simple as that!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Duff stuff

I don't know why it is, but whenever I buy some piece of gear I always seem to end up with duff stuff. My weather station that I received a few days ago will not register any rain. A little voice says "why do you need a gadget to tell you if it's raining in Cumbria?" but that's not the point. I would really like it to work. I have sent an email to Nevada (the dealer not the US state) but have yet to receive a reply. Watch this space.

My UV-3R+ has also developed a fault, or at least its battery has. It started having a flat battery when I didn't expect it, but irregularly enough for me to think that perhaps I forgot to switch it off. But now the battery won't charge up. The charger works and I can measure a charging voltage on the battery pins but when I remove the battery from the charger the voltage across the two internal contacts is about 1.3V. I've ordered a replacement from 409Shop.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Watch Hill - LDO100

It has turned to rain for this Bank Holiday Monday, but the weather on Saturday and Sunday was glorious. Clear blue skies and a fresh breeze. Perfect days for walking. On Saturday I felt quite depressed thinking about what I might have been doing on such a day before I became ill with a brain tumour. So I determined on Sunday to try to reach a summit. There is really only one possibility from home without transport to get to the starting point: Watch Hill a mile or so to the east of Cockermouth.

G4ILO on LDO-100
Back in the '90s when I lived on the east side of the town I regularly used to walk to this summit. It used to take me about half an hour of brisk walking from my front door to the lower of the two summits; forty-five minutes to reach the higher one known as Setmurthy. (Cockermouth locals also know it as The Hay.)

Today we live on the opposite side of Cockermouth which adds at least another mile through the centre of the town. I still was a regular visitor to the hill but having a car I could drive to a point on the farthest side where there was a lay-by and I could reach the top in just 15 minutes. So it was one of my favourite spots for portable operating.

Today my walking pace is somewhat slower than it used to be. It took us about two hours to reach the first summit, including a stop for coffee. I half expected that we would have to turn back before reaching the summit but the sight of it was just too tempting and that kept me going.

Given that I wasn't certain I would even make it to the top I carried just a hand-held VHF rig, the Kenwood TH-D72. I intended that the walk would be tracked on APRS but for some reason only a small section was recorded. I carried a 5/8 wave telescopic antenna to improve the range on 2m but my first CQ calls didn't raise anybody.

The Kenwood is rather a complicated radio and it is too easy to turn a knob or press a button accidentally. I also need reading glasses to read the display and see what buttons I am pressing. Some setting had been disturbed and I had managed to get the 'B' side of the radio, used for APRS, switched to 70cm. With Olga's help reading the display I was able to get the radio set up as it should be and I made two QSOs to activate this summit which is LDO-100 in Wainwright's Outlying Fells.

Returning home it was downhill all the way to the town centre. It should have been easy but I my legs were tired. I think I'd overdone it! There was still a climb back up to reach home so we finished the journey in a taxi!

I'm still a long way from back to normal. I doubt that I'll ever get back to how I used to be for reasons I'll enumerate in the other blog. But for now I feel that a milestone has been passed and I'm happy with what I managed to do today. If only I could get my driving licence back I would be able to reach many other easy summits.

Friday, May 24, 2013

WebProp hiatus

Some time on the afternoon of 21 May WebProp stopped updating. The first person to notice it (actually the only person to notice it) was Mirek, OK1DUB, who sent me an email.

This is a screenshot not a live instance of the program
I SFTP'd into the web server to check and sure enough the files containing the propagation information extracted from the WWV 3-hourly bulletins had not been updated. They were updated when I ran the script manually so my script was OK. The likely explanation was that cron, the Linux job scheduler, had stopped running. I filed a ticket with Hawk Host's support department.

They claimed that cron was still running, though the evidence of my own eyes showed that it wasn't. It took me a while to convince them that there really was a problem but we got there in the end. This morning when I logged on to my computer the latest propagation information was being displayed again. Hopefully my cron jobs will now stay running.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The case of the disappearing weather objects.

I have just spent what seems like several hours trying to find out why my weather station data sent by Cumulus to the APRS network vanishes without trace. I have tried using the wxnow.txt method of generating APRS weather objects in APRSISCE and that does work, but unfortunately it messes with the MYCALL setting in my Kenwood TM-D710 converse mode TNC. So I thought that I would avoid the problem by getting Cumulus to send the data to APRS-IS directly.

The data packets were being sent but they never showed up on aprs.fi. I produced debug logs for both Cumulus and APRSISCE. These showed the packets being sent. So where did they disappear to?

To cut a long story short, Cumulus was sending the data packet with a path of TCPXX*. This is listed as "deprecated" in the APRS spec but it is actually blocked by the APRS-IS network software. The CWOP (Citizens Weather Observer Program) which I believe runs on an older version of the software, is not so picky so no-one had encountered the problem before. Can you believe that I must be the first person to try sending weather data to the APRS network using the Cumulus software?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A new weather station

Yesterday Olga and I set up a new weather station in the garden. It is a Nevada WH3080 SOLAR. It took a while for me to figure out how to put it together but I got there in the end with a bit of help from Olga (who took the radical step of reading the instructions!)

The sky is always blue in Cumbria!
We had a bit of trouble mounting the weather station in the garden. The manufacturer supplies two large hose clips (you can see them in the picture) which are not the ideal hardware for attaching a pole to another pole. But they did the job, if not very elegantly.

There were no problems receiving the weather station on the control panel sitting on the shack PC 10m away. This Nevada weather station transmits on 868MHz so no interference from or to 70cm amateur transmissions. No problems with the software either, not with EasyWeather nor with Cumulus which is what I will be using.

The software setup went so easily that I couldn't see how it was working. When I plugged the display console into a USB port the PC went "ding dong" to acknowledge a new USB device had been connected but I couldn't find the new device anywhere. I expected it would appear as a serial port in Device Manager but no new ports were added. I didn't have to specify a COM port in either program either. How the console talks to the weather software is a mystery. I'm not planning to write my own software to process the weather data but I'm still curious as to how the software gets the data.

Using the example web pages provided with Cumulus I set up a Cockermouth Weather page very easily. Cumulus creates a wxnow.txt file which APRSIS32 uses to generate an APRS weather object. However I have just noticed that Cumulus can send updates to the APRS network directly. That would be a simpler way of doing it, but that way the weather object would not get transmitted to the local APRS network. I've since discovered an issue when using APRSIS32 to generate a weather object via a converse mode TNC, but hopefully Lynn KJ4ERJ the author of APRSIS32 will come up with a fix for it.

More QSLs

A new batch of QSLs arrived from the bureau today. This is a selection of the most colourful ones.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A nice audio report

I just finished a contact with a very loud Austrian station, OE3DIA on 10 metres, who took time out while working a string of stations to give me a complimentary audio report, quite unsolicited. It's good when that happens! The comment was "Very nice audio cutting through the QRM" I was using the K3 at 80 watts and the mike was one of those Heil mikes with the dual insert, set to "narrow". The K3 transmit audio equalisation is factory standard, in other words flat.

As it happens I had just been doing some audio comparisons between the KX3 and the FT-817. There has been a thread going on the KX3 Yahoo group started by a disenchanted American ham who claims that the FT-817 has punchier audio than the KX3. It's rubbish, to put it politely. The KX3 has a built-in speech compressor, while my 817 has an RF processor made by Joachim, DF4ZS (more details on my FT-817 page) built into the microphone. Without it there is just no comparison.

I recorded some audio clips so you can hear for yourself:
There is a bit of distortion on those clips which was not noticeable when listening on the radio. I think I might have a problem with my sound card.

I'm not sure if the difference are that noticeable in those clips, but when you look at the needle of the power meter the KX3 certainly has the more punchy signal.

Both the FT-817 and the KX3 were running off 13.8V and set to 5 watts output. I couldn't compare them on battery power as I don't have the charger board for the KX3 and the external battery pack (10xAA NiMH cells) I intended to use appears to be past it and the KX3 kept cutting out on voice peaks.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mobile rig for the price of a (Chinese) HT

So cheap you just have to buy one! According to the the listing it's VHF or UHF not dual band. Thanks to Steve G1KQH for the tip-off.

6m 18 May 2013

This Saturday morning there was a big Sporadic-E opening on 6m. There were some pretty big signals, though once again I seemed to be on the edge of the opening. The Sporadic-E seemed centered over northern Europe and you can see from the map that it was pretty intense!.

6m on 18 May 2013 at 0930z. Map from DXMaps.com
I had KComm's DX Cluster window open. I don't use the cluster on HF and dislike it intensely, but spotting stations on the cluster (in a specific format with locators for both endpoints) is how VHF contact information gets to DXMaps.com.

I saw a couple of contacts from Ireland spotted on 2m so I switched bands.

2m on 18 May 2013 at 0940z. Map from DXMaps.com
As you can see, two lucky EI stations managed to work into northern Italy, one of them using a vertical antenna! Signals must have been strong but when I QSYed to 2m I didn't hear anything. The Es must have been over the northern French coast and you can see that the same Es cloud must have permitted F6HTJ to spot the GB3ANG beacon and enabled DG7IG to work EA1CCM as the paths intersect at the exact same point..

I wasn't lucky on 2m but I was a bit more successful on data and tuned to the PSK part of the 6m band just in time to catch a French station signing off with Tim, G4VXE. I managed QSOs with Gerard F4LKG and George EA4GB but I don't think many stations were listening because my CQs went unanswered.

It seems as if the 2013 Sporadic-E season is off to a good start!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Life on 6m

Six metres came to life today but it was not what I would call "wide open". I had to hunt around for contacts. I started off using SSB but switched to CW which had a bit more action.


Something seems to have gone wrong with the logging this afternoon because I'm sure I received some 599 reports and I'm even surer that I gave out some 579s. When someone gives me a report that is not 599 I usually try and give them a realistic report. But it really is easier if everyone is 599 because KComm remembers the last report sent and receive and logs it as the same unless I remember to change it. Normally I've forgotten what report I was given two seconds after receiving it.

Operating and logging at the same time is more than my poor brain can cope with these days. I prefer digimodes where you get a printout of the complete exchange and can fill in the log at your leisure.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

10m 16 May 2013

10m WSPR spots @ G4ILO 1242z 16 May 2013
By running WSPR day after day on the same band you start to get a feel for how propagation behaves that you don't get from casual operation. It's interesting to compare this map of WSPR spots for G4ILO around lunchtime today with the kind of results I was getting in November. Then I was getting DX spots throughout the day. Now I'm getting mostly local spots, within Europe.

In the autumn the picture changed slowly through the day. Now, in springtime, the picture changes all the time. Stations pop up for a few cycles and then disappear, never to be heard of again. The signal reports vary wildly as well, from just above the noise to +10dB or even higher in the space of a few minutes. This didn't happen in November. It is a clear indication of Sporadic-E propagation: reflections from fast-moving clouds that are highly ionized and very reflective, creating a path with very little loss.

From time to time I pause the WSPR and tune the band to see what activity there is. I've also tried 6m for short periods. I've had a few spots on 6 (this is with 5W to my attic dipole) but the magic band is still fairly quiet at 55 degrees north. 10m is far from being wide open yet too. I've still to see what WSPR is like when the band is open and signals are romping in at S9+. So I will continue with my WSPR monitoring in the expectation that things will get even more interesting.