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Sunday 29 June 2014

Planning a DXpedition to Tan Hill

I am planning a DXpedition to Tan Hill, home of the highest pub in England, my plan is to take a rig, battery rated around 10Ah, may get a bigger one (my scooter's battery is 7Ah and I need that to power my scooter's starter motor so I cannot use that), or a portable jump-starter with a 12 volt outlet, I just need a collapsible pole and antenna, I plan to make up what is called a T2LT for this purpose.  This is inspired by others going up hills to do this, and Tan Hill makes a good place, I'm sure the Amateurs would like it too, and best of all there's a pub up there for food and drink

Update: Listening to GB3IR, the 2m repeater in Richmond, this evening (I obviously cannot transmit as I don't hold an Amateur license yet) the Amateurs that were on air have mentioned Tan Hill so they actually have used it themselves for HF work, so I am not the first nor am I the last.

The pub itself stands at 1732ft ASL, so the location is pretty much perfect for radio, especially DXing on both 27MHz and 446MHz (I may give the latter a go as well depending on how much charge is in my radios, though I can charge them up prior to the event and take spare batteries, but my aim is to try on 27MHz, as it is sat around spare and it the better of the three mobile rigs I own I will use the Midland 78+ Multi B (the TTI TCB550 is on gateway duties so won't be removed and the Moonraker FA5000 has an awful s-meter and cannot do AM, as AM is now legal and my Midland 78 Plus is type approved for use in the EU as far as I can tell it is legal to use on AM here, for the full 4-watt output on AM, it is required to put the radio into the setting for Spanish channels as these use 26.965-27.405 AM and FM at 4 watts.

My new Sony headphones and my converter will also be going with me, just for those stations I may not hear easily, laptop, maybe, though a notepad would allow me to write down callsigns, I simply need to pick up a portable power supply (a battery and volt meter may be sufficient as a temporary measure until I can get something better), a telescopic or collapsible pole, and an antenna, preferably of the T2LT type.

I may also look into picking up a President Grant II CB radio, as I hear these are very good indeed, and I've wanted a President CB radio for a while now, but until then I will just use my Midland 78+ Multi B.

One thing that I intend to do is take an SWR meter, my good quality Zetagi combo SWR and power meter will be ideal for this role, my cheaper two aren't brilliant, one has a needle that is not as precise as it should be and the other sometimes likes to stick, one of these is connected to my home antenna system for the CB gateway as the radio is also connected to it and I need to monitor if the tuner is working as it should be on occasions.

on PMR446 the antenna will be screwed into the radio, so no meters, coax, or anything else.

If I take the computer I may take the RTL-SDR and use it with another antenna, provided I don't overload it with my own transmissions.

So, I'll post an update as and when this DXpedition takes place, Tan Hill is there, I might as well use it for radio.

73 de 26CT730

Saturday 28 June 2014

Overclocking the shack computer... follow up

As it turns out, the motherboard in the shack computer is so horrifically useless that it doesn't like to be overclocked at all, it will, for a short while, but then it will revert back to default clock settings, so a new board is in order as I cannot use this machine for RTL-SDR reliably.

So, the next option is to replace the motherboard with a new one, not what I wanted to do but I appear to have little choice in the matter, lets hope the old motherboard actually comes out, if not I have another case I can use, if it works as it should I should have a better shack computer sometime soon.

73 de 26CT730

Overclocking the shack computer

Because the shack computer is proving a bit lagging performance wise, I have taken the decision to overclock it until it's internal components can be brought in line with up-to-date standards (it's a Pentium 4).

Overclocking is a process to make a chip, in this case a computer's CPU, run at a higher speed than it should, the idea is to get more performance out of a chip, sadly though this causes a heat increase and can risk damage to the component, and manufacturers never accept warranty claims through damage caused by overclocking.

I hope I can get the CPU to run at a stable speed and the machine performs better, I'll let you know

73 de 26CT730

Friday 27 June 2014

AM and SSB legal day

A nice positive post in contrast to the negative one earlier

I have been reading on the varied success and lack of it by various people on some radio forums I frequent now it is legal day, and I am somewhat pleased with the turnout however sadly I could not join them due to lack of an external antenna (my loft antenna only can do a couple of miles and AM would probably have broken through on neighbour's equipment in such close proximity).

I will try and get hold of a collapsible portable antenna and a BNC to SO239 connector and a short run of coax to connect to one of my handhelds, as well as a spare set of batteries and give AM a go now I can legally do so (I could also use my scooter's battery with the antenna adaptor for my Midland Alan 42 but I have to remember that I will need to run the scooter's engine), and will log whatever contacts I make, in fact on a quiet weekend I can go up to Tan Hill and do exactly this as it's a lovely high spot in which to work from.

I'll let you know how I get on and I look forward to many contacts using AM, SSB isn't an option yet for me..

73 de 26CT730

comments disabled

After receiving a nasty, yet empty and laughable, threat from a psychopath I have disabled comments until further notice, I run my websites and blogs to inform and I understand there are those that will not agree with me, but threats will NOT be tolerated.
Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause
73 de 26CT730

Wednesday 25 June 2014

SDR improvement

After seeing an article on the RTL-SDR blog and a more detailed article on the SDR for Mariners blog I decided that to eliminate the excess heat (and by association the excess frequency drift) I would use a cooling method from this page, immerse stick in can of cooking oil.

This cooling method hast two plus-points

  1. The liquid is not conductive and no damage to the stick should occur
  2. The can will act as a faraday cage, the SDR alone contains no metal screen and picks up everything in it's surrounding environment easily without an antenna (I tried this with a CB radio connected to a home brew dummy load in close proximity with the gain at 0, it picked it up with little problem), in a metal enclosure it should not pick up anything
The can I have chosen is the largest golden syrup tin I could find, I have chose to modify this with two connectors, BNC for the antenna (this will be of the 50Ω impedance, rather than the 75Ω the dongle would expect but a mismatch shouldn't be an issue, to allow compatibility with scanner antennas), and a Neutrik NAUSB-W chassis mount USB port set up with the "B" side on the outside of the tin and the "A" side inside to connect the dongle to.

These will be sealed with silicone to stop the oil leaking out of the connectors and to keep air out.

I'll report back on how this works, apparently it works quite well according to what I have read.

73 de 26CT730

Thursday 19 June 2014

ShackCam updates

My ShackCam, the webcam feed of my "shack" (the corner of my living room where all my radio gear lives (normally)) has been under test for about 11 days and the only change I have made to the setup in that time is set up the webcam capture programme to start when the computer starts, the camera itself remains the JVC Everio camcorder, it will be replaced with a Raspberry Pi, using the Pi camera board, on my local network in the coming weeks to free up the camcorder for other uses, the replacement camera will also be subject to tests.

Those that have viewed the ShackCam won't have seen much of me in there as I've been finalising other things in my new better life after the unpleasantness at the hands of Internet psychopaths who have thankfully left me alone for two weeks now, but I will be on air more often very soon, and of course in the shack, and now the nicer weather has come around I might take to the hill and make the trip up to Bishop Auckland to do my Amateur radio exam in the next few weeks.

Don't worry, I don't just simply put the camera on without being in there, I will be in there.

73 de 26CT730

Tuesday 17 June 2014

AM and SSB CB legal on 27th June (and a Scooter CB update)

The good news is that Ofcom have made their decision and have given a date for legal AM and SSB CB, 27th June, earlier than the expected July but in time for it.

The regulations have specified 4 watts on both AM and FM, current multi-standard sets have both AM and FM modes of operation, the President Grant II is the ONLY current mobile radio on the market that meets the legal standard for SSB operation on the CEPT (midband) frequencies, pre-legalisation sets will still remain illegal, as will "export" radios, for use on these bands.

The UK only band with it's horrific offset will remain in use and FM only for the foreseeable future.

SSB operation is set at 12 Watts PEP

This is 30+ years in the making, with me not having a proper CB station as yet (my antenna is in the loft) using AM and SSB may cause massive problems to both me and my neighbours, using FM is fine, I also tend to use the antenna for the gateway, though I have transmitted by plugging the supplied mic into the gateway radio, though this has normally been for SWR adjustments so they don't really count, so my first legal AM and SSB call may not be for a while just yet.

The scooter CB project is taking shape, yesterday was it's first outing and run as a CB radio, the main problem I identified was QRM from the engine, possibly the ignition coil or sparkplug given the sound of the interference, the only other issue was difficulty pulling in the gateway from a distance but that could be down to the gateway itself, it could also be down to the testing on the radio's rubber-duck antenna, a full mobile antenna will be fitted in due course, I couldn't do a proper inaugural mobile call to the CB gateway, as by the time I was in range to actually here it others on the FRN came over but it was nice to hear the "k" and the morse code idents.

So, I'll be on air mobile soon, and CB radio operators all over the country (the serious ones at least) will be celebrating the introduction of AM and SSB CB radio on the 27th June, and with the band opening some I can imagine contacts to the US will be possible, we can legally talk to them but they may not legally be able to talk to us because of some rule the FCC impose, I for one look forward to it

73 de 26CT730

Sunday 15 June 2014

Scooter CB, modified headset tests

Having modified the headset connector cable in a different manner to what I would have liked, though using more or less the same principle, I put it under a couple of tests to see if it did exactly what I hoped it would do and I am pleased to report that it indeed works properly, the modifications were as follows:
  1. The cable between the PTT button and  the radio was cut before a join in the cable that has 4 cables coming out of it, the PTT wires were then closed and taped over,
  2. The cut section was then prepared to go into a new section between the mic jack of the radio and the mic plug on the headset
  3. A new connection was made, this was built using some spare wire I had lying about, two new 2.5mm connections, one plug, one socket, the PTT switch disconnecting the tip of the 2.5mm socket when not pressed, and reconnecting it when the button is pressed
As a result, the Midland Alan 42 Multi handheld that will be the scooter CB now switches between transmit and receive correctly, this means I simply need to add the antenna, EGP, and a cable to connect them to the radio, and I'll be on the air on my scooter in no time, all in all I am impressed with what I have achieved, I can also swap out the current lead for a Kenwood-type for my Wouxun dual-band handheld in the future should I wish to use mobile on the scooter it once licensed on the amateur bands

I look forward to testing it out on a proper antenna.

73 de 26CT730

Thursday 12 June 2014

an innovative idea

With the motorcycle helmet headset not working as it should be with the Midland 42 I had an idea that might work to solve the problem.

Firstly would be to place a loopback plug into the PTT button connector on the wiring for the helmet headset and waterproof this with Sugru.

Next, create a new adaptor using a 2.5mm plug for the radio and a 2.5mm socket for the existing plug on the headset connector cable, this adaptor would contain a new connection point for the handlebar PTT, all the wire joins will be sealed with heatshrink tubing to keep them as water tight as possible.

Once the above adaptor is made, test this with both the Midland and Intek to ensure compatibility, then further test to see if it can be left in situ for use with PMR446 radios, it should be the case that it can be, if not this modification is designed to be removed easily, as Sugru is simply silicone it should remove as easily as silicone sealant.

This will be done this coming weekend, in the mean time I will be testing the CB's audio quality using the earpieces, I can listen to the CB gateway for this.

more to come

73 de 26CT730

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Another scooter CB progress report

Having fitted the earpieces and mic to my motorcycle helmet, I plugged the headset into the supplied cable wired for the radio and found a small problem.

With the cable disconnected from the headset, the PTT functions normally, that is press to TX, release to RX, however, connect the headset to the radio, all is changed, the Midland 42 goes into TX with no power, and pressing the PTT applies the power, this does not occur on my Intek MT-5050, which is a PMR446 set, and running mic-only with the Midland 42 does not eliminate the issue.

The headset is getting a trial run today to see how it handles an actual trip on the road, I may connect the Midland 42, possibly speaker-only, and monitor traffic on the CB gateway channel.

I also intend to connect up the car adaptor temporarily in order to ascertain if the TX issue is eliminated with the earthing of the scooter, if so, then I won't need to modify the headset in any way, otherwise I'll need to modify it as such so that a second switch is needed in order to transmit.

I will report back later

73 de 26CT730

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Scooter CB: progress report

The scooter CB project reached another milestone today, the arrival of the motorcycle helmet headset, interestingly made by Albrecht, which is part of the same group of companies as Midland, something I note because the radio is a Midland Alan 42 Multi

The headset came in two parts, the radio connection part with PTT switch, a Kenwood type also exists so I could simply replace this for the Kenwood type to use my Wouxun KG-UVD1P on the Amateur bands once licensed, and the headset itself which is two speakers and a microphone held in by velcro pads.

The connections are all quick to make and disconnect, the PTT uses a DC type connector to connect it to the headset, the headset itself connects using a mini-DIN connector (looks to be 6 pin), and at the radio end there are two plugs, 2.5mm mono for the microphone and 3.5mm stereo (though seemingly wired mono) for the speakers, these are not a combined plug however, they are separate plugs, but this does not cause any issues otherwise.

The earpieces will be fitted to my motorcycle helmet either this evening or later in the week, further progress will be made later on once I have ordered antenna parts and they have been delivered, but I can still do a test run with the headset inside my helmet and a radio with me, weather pending because radios don't like water very much and you know what the British weather is like

73 de 26CT730

Sunday 8 June 2014

26CT730 ShackCam once again operational

The ShackCam is now once again operational, however I am testing it so it may go on and off intermittently during the course of the day and it won't be shut down overnight.

The link to view it is on the right as always, and as always it is a JVC camcorder fed by a Dazzle DVC100 frame grabber, however I am looking to cobble together a WiFi network camera with better quality than the Dazzle can offer (the JVC camcorder is otherwise pretty good video wise), a network camera will also offer flexibility as if I need the camcorder for it's intended use the ShackCam doesn't need to be reinstated.

But for now it's running, I'm not in the shack at time of writing but I will be on and off through the day.

73 de 26CT730

Saturday 7 June 2014

Scooter CB, proposed antenna arrangements and a bit more updates

Now, the scooter will need an antenna fitting, however it needs an artificial groundplane, and there are at least two options.

The first option is to use the Sirio GL27, this comes with a mirror bar mount and thus would mount onto the scooter's luggage rack, however this antenna is supplied with a cable that cannot be cut short thus making installation somewhat difficult without raising the antenna high up, not ideal as I cover my scooter every night and need an antenna that will fold out of the way.

Option number two is one of those electronic ground plane devices from, this is a plasic cylindrical device that an antenna with a 3/8 thread screws into the top of, and the coax cable screws into underneath, I can simply fit this inside the top box and the antenna screws into the mount on the outside of the top box with the cable exiting underneath.

After running the loading test the other week (and at the same time proving a man who likes to claim he knows everything about motorcycles and likes to call himself "Goliath" when that isn't even his real name as being completely and utterly wrong) I am free to move onto the commissioning of the scooter CB, it will be ideal as it means I'll be able to use the 27MHz Free Radio Network gateway in Richmond, and perhaps do proper range testing with it as I have not had that chance.

With a major cause of problems for me now out of the way my focus can return to radio and the like, I am currently monitoring my PMR446 gateway at the time of writing this, and feel quite relaxed compared to what I normally would, it even now means I have no contact with the above mentioned "Goliath" who claimed my scooter's alternator would struggle with the load of a CB radio.

So more airtime for me in the coming months, and maybe eventually in the next couple of years I can have a house with a garden big enough for my antennas, which I'd like.

73 de 26CT730

Thursday 5 June 2014

Closer to legal AM and SSB CB.

Ofcom, the regulator of all things radio and television here in the UK, have released a draft interface requirement document suggesting that AM and SSB will become legal on CB in the UK in July as planned, this can be found here and outlines what will be allowed if this document moves beyond draft status in July.

Of course as I like to keep a copy should this become law I will need to take a printout of it.

So, we are almost there and we will have legally what the CB lobby in the late 70s and early 80s wanted, the American system or as close to it as possible, this is almost 33 years too late though, but at least someone somewhere decided that there was nothing wrong with AM and SSB.

73 de 26CT730