Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Early morning drive to Berne

My passport has been in the renewal process for a few weeks now and, typically, I have an urgent need to travel. The passport service on the internet is one of the most "round and round in circles" web sites I have ever been on...such contradiction from one page to another. After finding out the requirements on obtaining an emergency passport and booking the only available time slot for an appointment, I had to plan for an early drive across the north of Switzerland to the capital city, Berne.

Phased? No chance! The opportunity to see what might be about so early was likely to be fun. And it proved so too! 20M hadn't opened when I started driving so the first half hour of the drive was listening to a band slowly coming alive. And then, very audible for me, was what turned out to be my first contact into ZL. I was really chuffed and now only have Hawaii to complete my "you really should have done these by now Robert" list.

Radio wise, the drive back was not as busy. I did have a great chat with GB2012OLY. It turned out that Chris was on the mic (M0DOL) and we nattered on for a few minutes........me wondering how annoying it must have been for those waiting to exchange with the Olympic station :) 

Friday, 10 August 2012

VKs up the ying-yang

I have to say, I am really pleased with the FT857D and LT2 antenna!

For so many years I had to make do with so many restrictions that hampered my radio experience and chipped away enough at my enthusiasm that I eventually found other pastimes to engross myself in. Here in Switzerland, not being in the best location and having neighbours that don't take too kindly to their surrounding blighted with metal (or wire), I have to make do with a compromise antenna. Even so, with this short vertical dipole, I have managed to work several stations from locations I had never heard before.....including a couple from Australia. I know that's probably not a big deal for some of you but we are not all blessed with space to take advantage of.

But from the car....WOW....what a difference! The mornings have undoubtedly been good over the past months, so good that VKs are predominantly the most common callsigns I hear on my drives to work. I am sure the /M has a lot to do with my success in managing to get their attention....and I am not complaining :)

I have been totally enthralled with the 2012 Olympics and, as a Brit, I am really proud of what the country has produced and the superb efforts of all our athletes. With such excitement and euphoria, it makes me really miss home. So, in an attempt to try and stay close, I make a real effort to exchange with as many UK stations as I can. The Olympic special event stations are currently the focus of my attention and I particularly like the 2O12 prefixed calls (2O12L from London, 2O12W from Sth Wales). I hope to work a few more before the games finish.

Footy season only 1 week away.......hoorah!!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

HB0 mobile

I had a few days off work and decided to pop over to Liechtenstein for a few days. I was hoping for some good conditions and some good height which would make for some interesting mobile contacts. Height wasn't a problem.....but it was dreary weather for both days with the the odd hour of sunshine chucked in.

It was the weekend of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee so there were many UK, and commonwealth stations, with the Q prefix to be heard. I had a brief chat with several stations but the ZQ prefix was the nicest as it was a new one for me. I managed to exchange with another G station, who I can only assume was trying to escape the festivities, was portable on several islands off the coast of Brittany.

A week or so back I emailed a Tasmanian station, who I happened to hear on the way back from work one afternoon, and informed him I would be in HB0 these few days in the hope of a quick exchange....unfortunately, the weather put pay to that.

The wife, a budding photographer, enjoyed the opportunity too......

This was the view from our hotel. The river that cuts the valley is the Rhein....which also makes the boarder between Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Vaduz castle is the palace and the official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein.

We were just short of 1.5Km up at this location. 
Notwithstanding the disappointing radio conditions, we had a great few days and look forward to possibly returning again.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

How far will 1 Watt go?

After the constant concentration during this weekend's contest, it was nice to settle back to something a little more relaxing and sedate. I am not normally overly active on the macro based data comms we have available but wanted to try something new. This led me to venture into an "odd" but fun digital mode, JT65-HF.

The software is freely available and setting it up with the Flex5000A was an absolute doddle.

After watching things develop on the receive screen, I guessed it might be worth my while quickly reading the manual so I didn't make too much a fool of myself when finally hitting the ENABLE TX button. I set the Flex to 1W and checked the ALC, -4db should be enough not to upset anyone ......then waited for the unfortunate guinea pig who was to be my first.

I think the DF station soon figured out I was a novice on the mode and quickly scarpered.  So another quick read over the correct protocol and I was ready for another go.

Thankfully, the second station was a little more patient with me and a successful contact/exchange was made. I was surprised, using PSKReporter, which stations were reporting they could hear me. My antenna is not in an ideal place and, as previously mentioned, I am surrounded by some hills on all sides.....so 1W wasn't doing bad.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Contest Fun

Although having been licensed for (hold's breath) nearly 30 years, I have spent many of them inactive for one reason or another. Second time around, I was fortunate enough to upgrade all my equipment with the latest technology and matching peripherals. One thing I made myself buy was an iambic morse key...nothing special, as it was going to be a learning curve I was embarking on.

Contests are a great way to fill in the missing spaces in your log book. I enjoy the "giving away" of points to the serious contesters but do set myself some boundaries when getting involved.

PwrSDR, DDUtil, DXLabs, Expert 1K and CWSkimmer

This weekend was CQ-WW-WPX, CW. A 48 hour fest of key tappers, side swipers and bug bashers where there is always going to be something new (for me), something that makes it all worthwhile.

I try to focus on the non-EU if possible, unless the contact is really something out of the ordinary or they're a G station, but as with most contacts I make, if they don't show in QRZ, I don't work them. The reason for this is my compulsive nature to ensure I have all the important data filed in my logbook. It was nice to exchange with some VKs, JAs and Sth Americans but my favourite for this weekend was a station from Mongolia (JT1CO). If you've ever wondered what Ghengis Khan looked like....go and check out his QRZ page.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Code or no code....that is the question!

When I returned from my many years away I was amazed at the changes that had taken place. Strange call signs, several licence levels, different exams and no morse requirement.

In the late '80s, I recollect someone saying that there was a chance many of the allocated amateur frequencies would be reduced, or even taken away, as the number of hams had fallen so much. So needless to say, and much like most things when numbers are falling, it got a whole lot easier to obtain a licence and, subsequently, be permitted to use the HF frequencies.

I appreciate that the senior members of our hobby took a different exam to me but, for me, the old C&G RAE was something you had to really put some effort into if you wanted to get that Class B licence. I have always been more interested in electronics, even though I ended up with a mechanical career, but without the help of the local hams (G4VEL & G0CLT in particular) I might not have been fortunate enough to pass. And yes, I do consider myself fortunate as, as said, it wasn't easy.

My first radio was a FT-290R which was connected to a 14ele Parabeam with masthead pre-amp. It worked well and I enjoyed many contacts with this set up. But, it wasn't long before I started to feel I was missing out after spending many an hour round G0CLT's listening to his exploits of HF. I managed to convince him to teach me morse and, after 6 months (or so) I had got to a reasonable standard.
It was at a rally in Cambridge when G4VEL spontaniously went up to the RSGB morse tester and gave my name for a test. I had no time to get nervous and, somehow, managed to do just enough to get through the session.

And there it was, all done. A tough exam and even tougher morse test and I was now a Class A.

I always saw the morse test as a stepping stone to the promised land and feel that removing the requirement has somewhat diluted things. I still bracket UK licence holders with the old Class A, Class B heading and, although I do not begrudge that they are able to use the full spectrum, just feel that things could have been done a little different. So for me, there is no mystery in Amateur Radio anymore. The Foundation licence is not challenging in the least and if you can read and memorise a few diagrams you will inevitably pass the Intermediate licence in a lot shorter duration that it took me to get on HF.

If the aim was to get more people licensed, then that aim has been realised!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Old Faithful

Coinciding with passing my morse test at a rally in Cambridge in '87, I moved house. This was always a great way to generate a little spare cash for self gratification. After a brief visit to a dealership in Hatfield Peverel, I returned home with a brand new FT767GX. I was really chuffed as they had only recently come on sale.

I am quite surprised, that at 25 yrs old, I still have it and it is still in perfect working order. I tend to treat all my radios with kid gloves so I am glad that, cosmetically, it is still in really good knick.

Ah.....I would like to introduce you to M6FCH, or #1 Son as I call him. I guess he must be nearly 25 now!

Starting out in this hobby can prove to be quite a daunting task, particularly in today's economical climate. So being the good OM that I am and seeing as he took an early liking to squealing (and dribbling) down the mic, I have told #1 Son that he has the use of the radio and anything else I may have amassed over the years. He basically gets the radio, antennas, PK232 and a few other odds and sods.....not bad for a freebie. If your reading this m8....its a loaner not a keeper :)

This radio was where I cut my teeth with HF and where all my 'firsts' were experienced. Endless days and nights with the great guys I met on the WAB nets, the radio used as a DA2 and the one I took to VO1 when on detachment to highlight a few.

Oh, this is me a few years back just to prove I still have the radio (and a little more hair than I might have now!)

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Handy

I like to move with the times, not being left with the feeling that I am missing something, hoping I don't have to say, "what's that then" when chatting to like minded people. This trait I have brought me to another diversification in the hobby, namely D-Star.

Now say what you want about digital technology, connection to the internet and "it's not real radio" all you like, D-Star is here and making life for many a lot more pleasurable.....including yours truly.

I opted for the IC-E92D handy with the GPS mic

As previously mentioned, I live in a valley and wouldn't you just believe it, the nearest D-Star repeater decided to up sticks and move further away! So, after dishing out the cash for the handy I was left with no means to try the digital side of it out. Being the resourceful chap I am, I managed (yet again) to convince the CFO to let me buy a DV Dongle.

Thankfully my ageing laptop, which has been demoted to programming and storing various radio files, has sufficient processor power to work the reflectors.

I have made a few new friends on the reflectors and really enjoy the effortless connections, armchair copy if you like, that this mode offers. Certainly if you are new to the hobby and looking for something that opens up the world at minimal effort....this is definitely something worth looking at.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Mobile

A few weeks ago I got my hands on a FT-857D. I enjoy mobile working, probably a throwback from my WAB days. I researched and read endless reviews on antennas in search of something that would work well and ended up buying a Little Tarheel II screwdriver.

I added the longer whip as I really wanted the extra gain...even at the loss of 50Mhz. The really good thing with the BMW is that the battery is in the boot. This allows for all cabling to remain in the car and well away from any engine ignition bits.

The antenna is motorised, so the toggle switch which powers its up and downs needed to be positioned in an easily accessible place. I stuck the switch and the junction of the cat5 mic lead to the central fixture. Not wanting to drill any holes was a must....so double sided tape was used.

The head unit is attached to a windscreen mounted goose neck unit from the local media store. All in all I was very pleased with the install.

So having fitted it all in, it was off for a drive to see how it faired. The looks you get from the unknowing are priceless! Twisted necks and those that slow down to have a better look. Today was CQ-M contest day, an ideal time to see if I could be heard. 14Mhz wasn't particularly buzzing but still had enough activity to make the installation test worthwhile. I exchanged with a couple of stations and was happy when one of them commented that the signal was good from a mobile.

The Flex

I have had a few radios in the past but currently I own four. My main radio is a Flex5000A.

Whilst in Sth. Korea I spent many hours drifting around youtube clips and came across this new technology called Software Defined Radio. I have to say I was blown away and somehow managed to convince the CFO to allow me to buy a new radio. The software has moved on in leaps and bounds over the two years I have been a convert that even this picture is now quite out dated.
I did not go 'cold turkey' over the lack of tangible buttons and knobs to twiddle.....in fact, I much prefer the 'point and click' and I certainly wasn't bothered that the PC had to load up before the radio was usable. Ample time to make a coffee!

The connectivity that is available makes the conventional shack, with leads and accessories, a thing of the past. Everything is contained in the PC and, therefore, in the digital domain. The logging software, the data programs and pretty much everything you can think of.  One lead in and one lead out!

I have tried several popular software packages but have settled with DXLabs Suite. I find it dovetails perfectly and suits all my requirements. If I am playing at contests, I will use N1MM logger and for a little help with the decoding of morse, I use CWSkimmer. The only downside is due to my location. Mid-building apartment with neighbours who just about tolerate my hobby and a foreigner to boot! Being the nice guy I am, I try to reciprocate their tolerance and have changed the Cobbwebb for a TW2010. What I would do for some space, some height and a more directional antenna.

And so we begin

I have been thinking for some time that I might like to put a little of my radio likes and dislikes into words and pictures.....so here we are!

Usual disclaimer....anything in here is just a point of view and not meant to be vindictive in any way....so I hope some of it might be of some entertainment value to you.

So, who is Rob?

'85 saw my introduction into amateur radio. I held the call G1MJR for a few years before somehow passing the dreaded 12wpm morse test and being given G0IFL in '87. Most of my early years were spent on WAB nets and I even managed to go mobile from time to time. Being in the forces, I travelled a lot and putting up antennas was not always the easiest thing to do. This had a fundamental effect on my enjoyment and eventually I packed the radio away and pretty much forgot about it. For some unknown reason, in 2007 I started to regain the interest. I broke out 'Old Faithful' and even bought a new mobile radio for the journeys back and forth to work. My enjoyment was a little short lived as I was sent off to the Middle East for a while. On returning, I relocated to Switzerland and here I am. Not the ideal location as for every high mountain there is a deep valley....and I am in one!