27 Feb 2010

Fresh Air Day

 Beautiful day here today, and one in which I managed to get outside and get the garden tidied (with one eye on planning for, and erecting a new antenna)? They forecasted showers during the morning deteriorating in the afternoon - I recorded a very pleasant sunny  11C, and when visiting our greenhouse it was a "cool" 23C, prompting thoughts of Qrp/P.Also working in the fresh air helps me to reflect on what I need to do for the weeks ahead, and more importantly achieving that "Balance" between "Radio" and "Home Life", as we all know just how easy it is to become engrossed in Amateur radio and it's assotiated activities - I find working very early in the morning on the radio/computer fits in with my weekdays - weekends are for getting those "other" jobs done - and the late evenings are good for me. Also been weighing up the possibility of erecting another antenna, mainly where to site  it. Another thing that I have been preparing for is the introduction of new radio equipment - I am now thinking along the lines of one decent general purpose Tcvr come (Back - up), and a "Main Radio perhaps in the shape of an FT950 or really pushing the boat out for a K3 - still undecided as I need "other" things in the shack as well. The one thing that strikes me is despite all the thought I have been putting into radio since I have been "Back on", is the lack of Qso's - this is something I need to work on, I have been spending  far too much time "Playing with and setting up software" - Linux to blame there ! Thankfully the bands ARE showing good signs of improvement, and am most impressed with Pauls (PC4T)'s  DX list using 5w - I sometimes think that perhaps it is a disadvantage owning a "G" call ? We press on.
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25 Feb 2010

Wonders of Windows

Most of my Amateur radio applications run on  my Laptop running XP Pro, the main reason being that I needed to keep abreast of all the new "Modes and software" that became available as and when - so I decided to download the WSJT suite of programs - it installed ok but would not run, and try as I may it was not having it - all the other apps were running ok to my knowledge - I wonder if it was something to do with last weeks install of "Service Pack Two"? (I was playing around with a web-cam on this machine which required SP2)  Darn - I knew it was a mistake - I also noticed the already (sluggish) computer was now struggling big style - Imagine trying to run HRD ? You can imaging my total relief when system restore "worked", and that at least I was then able to get into the setup part of it - Something like this happened a few years ago when I installed  "Logger" under XP, the uninstall program removed critical system files without my permission - I ended up with a half working system, and had to boot from a utility disk - it was hopeless, this seriously prompted me to go over to Linux - I have been running various flavours of it ever since and it's never bombed out once - I have had "Dickie" programs terminate unexplicably but it has been very reliable, maybe I've been lucky ! That said - it's getting late - I need to take a quick look at this JT65B - Will report back on it.
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24 Feb 2010

Old Brass Pounder

A couple of days ago I was looking through the Ad's and realized I did not have a morse key so without thinking I somehow had it in mind to get a new one (CW enthusiast without a key)?.. Suddenly realizing I DID have one I launched into a full scale house search for it, (why was it not in the shack), well after two days I found it - still packed away after our house move 12 years ago, (where does the time go), and it was as I remembered it, badly tarnished brass base and screw heads - mounted on an even more sorry looking steel plate, deeply pitted and rusty. So I spent the best part of this afternoon stripping, and buffing. This key belonged to my XYL's uncle Bob who lived on the wirral in cheshire, his call was G3KOR but he moved to north wales at some point as GW3KOR - sadly he passed away in 1987. He was a member of one of the local AR clubs and held the distinction of being able to write the log right-handed, whilst keying with the other during Field Day. The key was handed to me all that time ago and I did use it, but never noticed the name stamped on it, it was'nt until I got down to the metal I spotted it - Signal electric Mfg Mich USA I had a feeling it was an American key - see below:
Model M100 ?
The key is not worth a lot but it's a keeper for sure, it does have a light touch - it originally sold for $8.95 back in the early 1900's - I am very pleased with my "New" key. For more information on the company that produced these keys check this link:

22 Feb 2010

Flock Browser and Linux

How infuriating - I had already started writing this article when we had a power-cut - no back ups ! Grrr ! The point of this was that having installed "Flock" under Linux and got the direct blogging and mail working I later discovered that I could NOT view You Tube video content which was rather annoying, as I have a host of other browsers that play video fine - it appears to be a common problem, but the answer is simple. 1892560173_d3d0e85ce9.jpg
Fire up a terminal and Navigate to the folder:
usr/lib/firefox/plugin and copy the file 'flashplugin-alternative.so'
Then paste it into your flock/plugin folder wherever that might be on your system (Mines in the home folder) and viola ! It "should" now work with You Tube. I installed this browser on XP and it worked ok - I like it because it has a built in blogging facility (bit like firefox's scribefire) and you can stay linked to your blog and post from within the browser, you can also pull pics,videos and such right off the web - and you can also set up your e-mail as well - speed wise it's comparable with Firefox or Chrome - I did'nt think I'd want to use it too often as this particular feature did'nt work but now I find I'm using it all the time. NB: You'll need to "chown" the file flashplugin-alternative.so, as it's a root file and will be locked Have fun and hope this is useful to someone - Enjoy - Peter G4NKX
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20 Feb 2010

Webcam under Linux

I have for a long time now wanted to get a web cam running under Linux but just never got around to it - I guess in part due to the fact that in the past there were "still" issues with Usb devices under Linux, and so it just never happened. One day last week I received an e-mail from Skype that I would likely lose any credit on my account if I did not make a call within the next 20 or so days - to be honest, I dont use it that often, however I decided to put a call through just to keep it going. Well ,I then left the PC running only to return some time later that afternoon (forgetting that skype was still active) - whilst at the PC I noticed a flash at the bottom right hand side telling me that an old colleague of mine had just signed into skype as he was on my call list - so thought it an ideal time to give him a shout, surprise surprise ! up popped a video box, and there he was in full colour, I have to admit to this being my first encounter with video, and my colleague expressed his surprise at my not having a "Webcam" so - after the call I thought I'd take a quick look to see exactly which cams were supported under Linux - It did not really say as the list I had was sketchy (not unusual), and several appeared to need "Tweeks", but did give a list of cams that might work, one of which was a Logitech c250 - Apparently with a lot of these Usb devices is all about the little peice of firmware built into the device that is read by the program at start - up, much like a scanner, or printer so I went out to make my purchase. I spotted the C250 in Tesco of all places and for around £15 (Yes it's very cheap) - I simply downloaded a program called "Cheese" which supports quite a few devices on Linux including the Logitech series cams, plugged in the cam and without any interference or tweaking on my part up popped the program complete with image Figure 1 Obviously at this price it's not exactly HD, but it all worked "out of the box", and thats just the way it should be - I remember having quite a struggle getting my Epson USB scanner working under Linux - believe it or not, this device did not work under XP having installed Logitech's (correct drivers) - Anyway it's mission accomplished as far as I'm concerned, I'll probably only use it once in a blue moon with Skype but it was interesting to see it working. By the way it's not me in the Pic :-) Enjoy the Weekend: Peter

19 Feb 2010

Shack Re-fit

Well today I finalized my new mini racking to put into my "Cupboard" shack, and am scouring suppliers to fill it with some long awaited "new" equipment Top of the list is a new radio, my current radio (FT817) needs freeing up for portable/mobile operations in the spring and would really like to install two new radios - however I am torn at the moment as I cannot make my mind up exactly what I want/need - it would be nice to have one good radio for CW/SSB and general casual use (although CW is my preferred mode) - and one other left set up for PSK use, at the same time I'm at least "considering a K3, as I use CW mostly. At the end it will come down to "£'s" and I really need to start thinking seriously as it's not only the radio's - there are other requirements as well to factor in the final spend. For PSK I am going along the lines of FT897 or IC718, both fairly basic radios, I've seen both, and like the look and feel of them and according to all the user reports I've seen represent good all round value. For CW, this is a rather more serious matter for me as I feel the receiver has to be a bit better than average and I'd immediately turn to the K3 (Basic Qrp version) Ft950 maybe, or IC7400, all have very good receivers - again it's about cost - lower down the ladder I do like what the FT450 offers - there's also the Ten-Tec Jupiter - not cheap either. Looking on E-Ham is helping me to finalize my short list - but it's not just radios, I need some other ancillary "bits" too - I think I'm going to have to increase the budget anyway ! I would be interested to get first hand comments about the FT897/IC718 as I know a lot of people use these for PSK and as a second "Back-up" radio. Another few weeks to make mind up perhaps.

Night Sky

I looked out this evening and saw a crescent moon and decided it might be worth taking a peek with my "Optus" scope - the only thing I was missing was another tripod which I'll have to get so it meant having to be "extra" careful in steadying the camera whilst interfacing. The first 6 or 7 shots were frankly not worth looking at however I kept shooting in quick succession and managed to capture a half decent image. I did have to reduce the exposure as it is surprising just how much light is emitted - but here is the result, I suspect that with more practice and a second tripod might yield a better result - still, I am a total novice at Astro photography so am always open to comments that might improve results. I have an old Pentax SLR that still works with a 600mm Telephoto - I'd like to get that running again and see what happens - trouble is I'd have to digitize the photos after wards - plus of course the "waiting" for developing !

17 Feb 2010

Hearing some "W's"

At last hearing some US stations coming through-Last night in particular (Tue 16 Feb) on 40 - not too many EU stations around, in fact the band seemed remarkably quiet, also some activity late on 20M. Am now picking up more qso's on Psk which is pleasing, I am now beginning to enjoy it more, still not completely happy with MixW though - there is something about the actual logging fields available whereby it seems you cannot enter"Locators", without editing the qso later, maybe I'm missing something but there seems no other way than to enter it under "Notes" - maybe someone has the answer ? If not I may try a few other programs, Fldigi has been set up on my other machine so might give it a run. Busy week - end ahead, with installation of the new radio shelving - then looking forward to filling with new equipment.

15 Feb 2010

PACC Contest

What a great pity - I missed this contest, I had wanted to participate in the contest  this time as It's fairly easy going - but sadly had to give it a miss - too many other things going on this week - it has been a busy one - I have entered into the spirit  of this contest in past years using CW and found it very enjoyable - never mind there will be others I'm sure - I am just playing with PSK this evening, and thinking about setting up a few macros in Fldigi, at the moment I am using mixW which I am slowly getting used to but I have found that I cannot copy Locators I receive into the logging area, all we have in this area is Call/Name/Qth/Rst sent/rcvd and Notes - there does not appear to be a field for "Locators", whereas my old HRD does. I can click to enter locators under the "Notes" field, but it means having to edit the contact afterwards - I am not sure if there is a workaround for this, but it seems odd as thats one of the things of interest you need for the log, wonder if it's supposed to be like that ? Which prompts me into trying something else, HRD is too big, and I find it somewhat  slow and cumbersome to use.

10 Feb 2010

I Heard a WSPR

Have seen some reference of late on this new  HF mode WSPR "Weak Signal Propagation Reporter Network" - To be honest I did have a play with it a couple of weeks ago, but somehow got distracted, and ended up with a session on the key late one evening - I could not get it receiving anyway. However last night (Tues 9th) at around 23:15 I decided to give it another go - and heard my first "Whispers", I have not looked into all the technicalities of this mode yet - but I do know these signals take up a very small bandwidth indeed, and for the most part are inaudible. Here are my first whispers: DH5RAE  KD0AR  DK3SML  SU6/A8ANR  DK8FT  W8LIW  F6ECI  W2TSL  DC1SV  G3SRO 
PY2GN  ON7KB  DF2JP I had it set up on receive only primarily to get a taste of what was happening, but in future will investigate further - I can see this has a use with regard to Propagation and band conditions - I had this running on 40M for approximately half an hour - quite interesting !
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6 Feb 2010

Today - STILL suffering a sore throat but out battling the elements in our garden planting some bulbs for a spring display. Then into the workshop to construct a wooden shelf to fit in our cat enclosure, and whilst in there I found some spare MDF board with which to make some further shelving to house "Radio" equipment - At the moment I have my station set up in a cupboard, the idea being that it is all small equipment and keeps it  together  away from my main desk - but with some additional equipment (arriving soon) I thought it might be an idea to expand on it.
The shelving will  not be built into the cupboard as such but will be of the free standing type, so if I decide at some later stage it could be removed and set up on a desktop - but we'll see how it goes.
At the moment all I have is the FT817 and ATU,  A VC3000DLP Tuner,  Tokyo HT120 CW rig, and a Hanson Swr/Power meter - Plus a power supply which lives below - plus the usual desktop stuff - Keys etc.
Not to mention my olde Ts830.  seen below.

My OLDE - TS830 - Still working

Will report later on the station upgrade - bearing in mind the need to keep it simple !

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4 Feb 2010

The Optus scope

Well - I got hold of the "Aldi Optus scope", at £20.00 I had to try one.

It was well packaged in a sturdy box and very well presented and upon opening the box I was pleasantly surprised to find it was in a black canvas carrying bag.

It came supplied with the tabletop tripod which appeared to be quite well made, and when I put it up it looked and felt quite rigid, so that could be quite useful in certain circumstances, but I would be using it primarily outside on a full size tripod. The scope itself looked quite nice covered in what would surely be a waterproof rubberized shrink wrap of some kind - anyway I set it up and had peek down our drive which is exactly 75 yards in length and scanning around the trees at the end Wow ! most surprised to find I could distinguish birds pecking around below the bushes on the "opposite" side of the road - this prompted me to peek up in the trees and immediately "spotted" a squirrel, but of course I was not yet ready to grab a snap.
I think this is going to be quite a fun thing to use - I would not expect the optics to be as good as say a £60-£80 pound scope as I did notice some artifacts and a slight halo around the edge but the photo's can easily be cleaned up and enhanced later - focusing is done from the small knob at the front, while zoom is controlled from the eyepiece  - I'm not in this as a professional, to me it's another tool to use that will enhance my enjoyment, and will surely enable me to take some of those close-ups.
During the course of the afternoon I did hang around to see if anyone would come down and pose for me
But it was a none starter.
I realise that trying to capture wildlife shots especially, you need to be pretty well ready to go ! and one area that needs to be looked at is interfacing the digital camera to the scope - I will certainly need another tripod.

This  scope is another useful thing to have with you and I can see me using it when I go out on my /P  expeditions during the Spring/Summer this year - I'm looking forward to it.
Also - did not mention the end cap, and extending lense hood - the eyepiece has a rubberised cover too.
All in all for the price I think this is well worth it - generally from what I've seen so far the images look ok through this scope, and quite sharp - experimenting with the camera is a must, and I think this will provide me  with hours of fun.

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