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 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
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

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

2m on 18 May 2013 at 0940z. Map from
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.

Good or Evuln?

A few weeks ago one of our websites was hacked. We didn't notice for almost a week due to browsers caching the pages. The consequence of the hack was that every page accessed returned a 404 error meaning that the page was not found. During that week Google's spiders visited with the result that almost the entire site was lost from the search engine.

I discovered the hack just in time to be able to restore from my web host's oldest backup. It was a real hassle as well as a stressful time and I wanted to find a way to alert me more quickly if it happened again.

My first thought was to use, the site I use to alert me when a change occurs to the IBP Beacon Status page. That was no good as both sites contain dynamic content that changes frequently.

A couple of days ago I was visiting some ham sites and I came across one with a badge stating that the site was scanned and malware free. I clicked on the badge and it took me to, a site containing a lot of information about how to secure a website and offering tools to detect an attack.

Tools include a malware scanner that will check your site to see if it contains something bad. You can have this check run daily for free if you display a badge on the site. This appeared to be just what I was looking for, so I registered with the site and added the badge to both G4ILO's Shack and also offers a service to clean and fix websites. This is something I might well have used a few weeks ago if my web hosts's support hadn't been helpful in assisting me to identify the hacked files. But the cynic in me rang an alarm bell. It would be in's interest to claim that my site was hacked and then offer to clean it up for a fee. What a good scam! In fact the owners of a couple of sites that had been told they had been hacked thought it was a scam and that their site had been hacked by!

So is good or evil? I did a lot of digging. I think that if it was a scam I would have found a lot more evidence of people who had been scammed. has been running for several years and contains good information. The owner replies quickly and promptly to enquiries. There is an address and contact information on the site. I believe that is a genuine attempt to provide a useful service.

I have since found other similar services such as ScanMyServer which do not offer a site cleanup service. Come to your own conclusion.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

60 years of age!

Today is a day I thought I'd never see - my 60th birthday.

Even on such a special occasion you can't keep me away from the radio and computer!

Monday, May 13, 2013

What weather station?

A few days ago my Fox Delta WX1 Micro Weather Station stopped working. As it turned out, I just had to switch off the power and switch it on and it started working again . But while I was waiting for the rain to stop so I could go out and look at the device I began thinking about getting a better weather station - one that measures wind speed and direction and rainfall as well as temperature, humidity and pressure.

When you start to look at weather stations the choice is overwhelming. My first priority was that it should work with APRSISCE and generate the file wxnow.txt that it uses to update weather objects. That requirement led to the stipulation that it should be compatible with the free weather software Cumulus, which creates the required file. There is a list of weather stations that work with this software, which narrowed the choice down a little. After reading many reviews the best choice seemed to be the Davis Vantage Vue. Unfortunately this cost about four times more than I was willing to pay, so it was back to the drawing board.

The weather stations made by the Chinese firm Fine Offset and sold under the Watson brand name seemed to meet my criteria at a more reasonable price. However, browsing through the reviews on and elsewhere there were quite a high proportion of dissatisfied users. Complaints about anemometers that stopped rotating, poor wireless reception and so on. With weather stations as with everything else, it seems, you get what you pay for.

Despite the reviews I am tempted to get one of the Watson W6861 solar weather stations. But before I did I thought I would take the opportunity to ask my readers for their experiences. Many of you must have home weather stations. So which ones are good, which are bad and which should be avoided at all costs? I await your comments with interest.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Not much happening

Nothing blogworthy has happened at G4ILO in the last few days. My mind has been preoccupied with two other things: frustration at still being without a driving license and anxiety about my forthcoming gall bladder operation. As a nurse said yesterday during my pre-operation assessment, a gall bladder op is nothing compared to the surgery I have had for my brain tumour. The difference is with the brain tumour everything happened very quickly so I didn't have time to do much thinking about it.

I haven't been completely inactive on the radio in the time since my last post. Most days when I haven't been going to a medical appointment I have turned on my 2 metre and 30 metre APRS gateways. Most days I have also set my K3 to monitor the WSPR frequencies on 10 metres. There have been some signs of Sporadic-E activity, such as the presence of Russian taxi operators on the 10m WSPR frequency. A few days ago DXmaps showed a small but intense Sporadic-E opening on 6 metres. My 10m signals have frequently been spotted by 4X1RF and have also reached Argentina and the Philippines. I hope that things will soon perk up and motivate me to do something worth writing about again.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

KComm updated

I have just made available version 2.1 of KComm for Windows, my logging and digimode program for Elecraft transceivers (K2, K3, KX3).

There are no major changes in this version. I have added a couple of modes (JT9 and DV) on the logging side, and fixed a handful of very minor bugs.

The latest Linux version remains at 2.03 until someone makes a new binary for 2.1.

Spring is here!

Testing a new build of WSJTX for K1JT I hopped on to 10m and was surprised to see a strong signal. It soon revealed itself to be SM6NZV who gave me a +8dB report on my 5 watts.

This reminded me that it is May 1 today, the start of Spring and usually also the start of the Sporadic-E season. I tuned around on 6m and heard a couple of weak stations on my dipole, also a couple of stronger GMs working stations I could not hear.

I thought about installing the SDR-4+ as a panadapter for the K3 which had been one of the things I had intended to use it for. But something was amiss and I didn't have control of the receiver's frequency. I think the settings had got hosed, probably when I was playing around with using a USB DVB dongle as an SDR. I have no idea how to get it working again and I started getting stressed about it so I decided to abandon the idea.

SDRs are not for me, or at least not those that use a PC for a user interface. Windows is just too fragile, though if Linux is any better it's only because there are fewer things to install on it in the first place!

Instead I will set up scanning on the K3 to scan a section of the 6m band. I always forget how to do this so I had to dig out the manual. Load the start frequency into VFO A and the end frequency in VFOB, make sure the mode and frequency are what you want and store it in a memory. I used memory 6 for 6m scanning.

To start a scan you just recall memory 6 (M>V, 6) and press and hold SCAN. I'll probably forget that sequence of button presses as well so I looked up the CAT commands in the K3 Programmers Reference (SWT23;SWT29;SWH41;) and stored it in a KComm shortcut. I'll probably make one for 2m as well though the chances of hearing any 2m Es up here are slim indeed. Last year I don't think here was a single opening that extended this far north on 2m.