Practicing CW QSO’s without RF

The bands are starting to make my cw practice pretty heavy going. I got one contact over the Christmas period with my ft-817 and end fed antenna and to be frank I made bit of a hash of it. Lots of errors mainly caused by a lack of practice time on the key.

I’m sure that I won’t be alone in saying that practice software goes a long way to getting rid of those errors and helps you move up from glacial sending and receiving speeds but nothing matches on air work . But what can you do when there’s no chance of a decent QSO / Sked. Well there may be an answer in iCW. It is a Mumble based system that does away with all that pesky RF and simply allows you to connect you key (via a keyer or in my case from the audio out of my transceiver) to a computer and then hey presto you can practice with your friends to your hearts content.

There seem to be a couple of websites that cover the detail. The main one and a one that shows you a bit more detail. Its a bit confusing but having said that the setup is pretty straightforward and some really helpful video’s help get the finer points sorted.

So it dire times of s9 noise and no propagation. There’s plenty of opportunity to get some practice in.

Radio taken a back seat

I’ve finished work for the remainder of the year and its a good time to take stock. I had a lot of plans, most of which didn’t happen as a result of some over optimism on the planning front so what went wrong. Well not much in fact when it comes to radio. I did however sneak a little progress here or there but its been barren for a few months. Before we get into new years resolutions I think its worth noting what did go on….

  1. I bought a MTR-5B rig which has had a few outings and a couple of QSO’s. Lovely bit of kit by the way.
  2. Practiced my CW a lot off air. Not so much on air.
  3. I acquired a TS-850 as well. Very nice
  4. I spent a bit of time perfecting the Raspberry Pi / RTL Dongle iGate. Pleased with that because I’m not that great with Linux.
  5. I am typing this on a PC loaded with Ubuntu. In an attempt to learn a bit more about Linux.
  6. Bought a FT-817. I really missed the old one for VHF contesting (get which section I prefer)
  7. Built a towbar mounted decorating pole mast. Well prototyped one at least.
  8. Attempted to programme an Arduino to display a load of GPS data. This is definitely in the work in progress tray.
  9. Did programme an Arduino to decode morse
  10. Wrote a piece for RSGB on the SatNOGS project we did at the club. May or may not get published

………….hang on this list is getting longer than I though it would

I suspect I’m not alone in this but looking back in the log I have not had a QSO in a few months other than on a repeater or as part of a contest. I thought that this meant I hadn’t really done much. But the reality is that, probably like quite a few, there are a more pressures on your time than you think there are. It just so happened that when this relaxed and I turned the rig on, conditions were down the khazi.

So Happy Christmas, Happy New Year and all that. Remember hams don’t just make QSO’s.

A little pre Christmas present

For less than a fiver. CPC shows how far I haven’t come with my minima build. Still the PCB stand looks good. That should make it easier at least.

Available here

Sainsonic AVRT7 iGate

For the past few months I have been having a love hate relationship with a Raspberry Pi Model B and Direwolf. The software runs perfectly well on my Pi3 but makes my other Pi fall over relatively easily. When this is at home it is no problem at all. I just reset and it will restart the software but the trouble is it has been at the clubs QTH. Ok I can log in remotely and deal with it but when it refuses to connect to the internet it becomes a pain. So I was looking for alternative solutions.

I came across the Dorji DRA818v module a little while ago and though that would work. It is a simple module that just needs a PCB and some connections to the Pi. But hang on, there are PCB’s you can already buy. But they don’t have filtering. Now hang on again there are those with filtering too. Now that looks good. Then hanging on for a third time the Sainsonic AVRT7 does it all simply!

avrt7

So, now there are a bunch of choices for the same module. I’ve ordered a AVRT7 and around 30+ working days later I should receive the new toy.

There are a few warnings about counterfeit Prolific chips and trouble programming. I can see some frustrating times ahead but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge. I just hope it’ll be one that can be beaten. I will also get myself a SV1AFN pcb when I get around to it for home / experimental use. Just don’t tell Mrs g7kse!

Whilst we are on the subject I am really impressed with Direwolf. WB2OSZ has produced a really great bit f software that is easy to install on that Raspberry Pi and RTL Dongle you bought that you’re not using. The world can only get better with loads of iGates 🙂

A simple approach to VHF contesting

The UK Activity Contests (UKAC) are a series of VHF contests that happen every Tuesday night. There is a different band each week. The general set up is a signal report (genuine, not a 59 default), serial number and locator. The locator is used for multipliers. The calendar is as follows:

Every 1st Tuesday 2000-2230 (Local) 144MHz
Every 2nd Tuesday 2000-2230 (Local) 432MHz
Every 3rd Tuesday 2000-2230 (Local) 1.3GHz
Every 4th Tuesday 2000-2230 (Local) 50MHz & SHF
Every 5th Tuesday 2000-2230 (Local) 70MHz

So, its a pretty full calendar. I participate in the low power section, which is <10w but I actually run 5w from my FT817nd. Almost always portable and at most the 6m, 2m and 70cms sections. Antenna’s have been a mixture with some pretty substantial beam’s (for /p anyway) but my preference is for the now defunct Sotabeams SB270 for 2m and 70cm’s and a Nuxcom lightweight 6m yagi. I have moved away from heavy telescopic poles to a Harris 5m telescopic decorators pole.

The theme is to simplify some things but with a view to focus my spending on lightweight improvements. I find that this keeps my interest in building up as well as operating. Lets make this very clear, I’m not in it to win in, but to make use of the normally quiet VHF spectrum for some fun. DX is unusually no further than the south coast or the north of Scotland and the occasional trip a little bit further but conditions need to be exceptional.

So the latest addition is a more appropriate support for the pole. I was sick of using a drive on plate that was frankly destroying my £16 investment in a decorating pole. My car has a tow bar. I bought a ball attachment several years ago as it was right in front of me and very cheap. I now have a use for it.

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The tow bar mount is made from a few off cuts of 47mm x 100mm (or 2″ by 4″ if you prefer) and a piece of rough sawn timber that was being used for shuttering for the summer house foundations. I used a 38mm hole saw so that the base is snug, but the upper support needs some kind of removable wedge.

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It has been painted with Wilko’s timber paint left over from some other work (which is very good). I’ve yet to try it out but I’m impressed how quick it was to make. Let’s see how it performs, its certainly a lot simpler than buying an expensive drive on plate.

It remains to be seen if this is a worthwhile addition but it only has to deal with a little over a 1Kg in static mass so chances are even the most severe winds. In which case I won’t be out /p anyway. Next stop the antennas. To increase gain or not to increase gain, that is the question. I kind of know the answer really.