Heading North   August 30th, 2013

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Today I drove up the M1 and M6 and arrived in Glenrothes in Fife, for the Jaycee Open Day tomorrow. The traffic was the typical for a Friday but with a bonus of a 90 minute delay on the M6. I don’t operate quite so much HF mobile as I used to, but I had the Elecraft KX3 with me and whilst my wife was driving I managed a couple of CW QSOs on 40m and 20m. I just had a simple whip mounted on the rear hatch of the car.

The speaker in the KX3 struggles a bit if the car noise is high as on a motorway, so I used my Apple iPhone earpiece. That gave me a bit more focus on the CW. I managed to use the matching paddle for the Elecraft, and found the best position to use it in the car. It always gives me pleasure to operate from just simple batteries such as a set of AA cells. It is quite cheap to buy a set of AA 2Ah cells and in the KX3 you can get a useful day’s operation from one charge.

I generally throttle the output power back to 3W or less as this is the most efficient power level which is a design feature. On AA cells you are normally limited to 5W maximum output, again a design limit which makes sense. I do like the built in audio filter. A lot of owners miss this for the first few weeks of ownership and only discover it when they read the owner manual. My KX3 has the auto ATU built in and this is a real plus if you are going to opera portable with wire antennas. My KX3 is the very first that we brought into the UK and is well over a year old. However, it is fully up to the latest specification because of the readily available firmware updates.

So we arrive in Scotland and get ready for tomorrow’s Open day up here in Glenrothes. If you are able to, then I would encourage you to drive up (or down) to join us. You will be made very welcome. Peter G3OJV

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Talk About Getting Stiched Up   August 29th, 2013

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It is amazing how phrases and words take on different mean as time goes by. Take the word “stitch.” The picture of an elderly lady doing needle work might have been appropriate forty years ago – I hope that does not offend elderly ladies who might read this! More recently it has been a phrase familiar with photographers. Once upon a time, panoramic cameras were very expensive and you got about four shots on a length of film. Today my Sony camera can take a Panoramic picture of quite amazing width and does not seem to worry how accurate I am as I pan around. It achieves this remarkable feat by using software stitching within the camera.

Today I had a phone call from Justin, G0KSC, who owns one of the new Apache Labs transceivers. It seems that in the software, there is provision for stitching 2 x 192kHz sample together in order to obtain a panoramic screen display of 384kHz. That means that you can display the whole of each HF band on the screen apart from 21MHz and 28MHz. That’s a pretty smart piece of software engineering.

But Justin has gone one better than this. Within the menu system there is a box to tick if you are only using one receiver. (I should explain that Justin is using the top range ANAN-100D that has dual receivers.) He unticked this box and suddenly everything is multiplied by a factor of 4. This results in a panoramic display of around 1.5MHz. That means that you can not only display the whole of every HF band on the screen, you can also see the entire DX and beacon portion of 6m. And just think what that would do for VHF and UHF transverting.

There is no obvious downside to all this apart from a heavier demand on CPU, It does all sound very exciting, and certainly those that are at the cutting edge of software design can offer performance and features that we could never have dreamt of a few years ago. What is more, a lot of this is being done in open source software, with some of the best brains in the world working on things that would cost a fortune if done for profit. I remember my early days when I was giving club talks promoting FlexRadio and the associated open source software. Today that seems so basic, but it provided the basic foundations for what we are now seeing emerging. Its all exciting news and helps ham radio to continue to break new ground.

Oh, and for those who have emailed me asking, have I really got such a simple station, the photo above shows my current 15W “DX” station located on a coffee table in my conservatory. Yes it really is that basic! An ANAN10. But I get a lot of fun from it. Tomorrow I am off to Scotland with my little KX3 – 5W from 8 AA cells! Hopefully I will see some of you at Glenrothes on Saturday at Jaycee’s Open Day. Peter G3OJV

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The Great Flood   August 28th, 2013

Flood

Hockley was mentioned on BBC national TV last night. It doesn’t happen very often! But it was a very unusual event. We had a major flood.

Here in the far south east corner of the UK we have one of the driest weather systems and this summer we have had hardly any rain since the middle of May. But then on Saturday 24th of August, we had the heaviest rain fall I have ever seen. It was not only heavy, but it was also constant. The national TV said that we had 7cm in a few hours. Well I would not argue with that figure.

By mid afternoon it was getting serious with man hole covers being pushed up and water pouring out. Neighbours were asking for help to clear drains and avoid the water coming into their homes. This was not the kind of thing we are used to here, We are not near any rivers or on particularly low ground. But when the rain comes down at this rate, there is no where for it go other than to spread out across roads and fields and into houses. The top surface locally is clay and this had been baked hard by the sunny weather, so that reduced absorption

Our business premises were virtually unaffected, other than some minor leaks from our flat roof. The warehouse was not affected at all. But down the road, just a few hundred yards away where the road dips down to pass under Hockley Station railway bridge, there was over 8ft of water with a large car trapped and its roof just showing.. Fortunately the fire brigade were able to rescue the occupants before it sank in the water, And of course there were a few houses and shops where the water came inside, Yes this was Hockley in the summer.

Two days later we were outside in our gardens enjoying one of the most glorious days you could imagine with not a cloud in the sky. It perhaps underlines the fact that in life on earth you can never know what is around the corner!

G4ILO Blog Suspended
I have been a long time reader of Julian’s blog. It has been one of the most prolific ham radio blogs. Julian has been suffering from a brain tumor for several years and and his determination and stamina in pursuing his hobby has been an example to us all.

I was particularly sorry to see Julian;s latest entry where he says that for the moment his health has declined and he will be unable to continue with his blog covering amateur radio. Our prayers are that he will regain strength and be able to continue with a hobby in which he has personally not only been very active, but an inspiration to us all, how even under extreme adversity, he has been able to soldier on. God be with you Julian and may He bless you with renewed strength. Peter G3OJV..

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Time Waits for No Man   August 27th, 2013

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In the past fifty three years that I have been licensed, and more particularly over the past forty years that I have been involved in the industry, I have seen lots of names come and go. But the three names that have been present all the way through my involvement in selling ham radio are Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood. The latter formerly known as Trio.
So I think we should be very glad that those three names have kept us going over all these years. I think that we have all been privileged to have such loyal suppliers. But make no mistake, they are really only there for the profit. So I guess all those that buy gear can pat themselves on the back for having kept them in business. So what of the next forty years?

Well i really have no idea and can only make some vague guesses. What is indisputable is that the internet will be playing a bigger and bigger part in the sale of equipment. Most of us now have a much greater trust in buying at a distance and there is certainly a lot more protection for customers. But one thing is for sure and that is that there will be changes and nothing is for ever. In fact the life of product trends and changes can be quite short. The big three have certainly kept up with technology and demonstrate that competition can be a healthy thing. Any company that fears competition will fail because the very fear that they show means that they do not have a competitive product base; one that is strong enough to compete on a like for like level.

There are niche products that are often small enough not to come within the radar of the big three. That gives them a measure of safety and there are some very good examples in the USA and indeed in many countries around the the world, often existing as one-man businesses. So what of the future?

I really don’t see any company getting into the inner circle of the big three in the short term. But I do see some strong contenders to come up with products that can make their name in the market and become well established. There are a few names that I have in mind, but future is far less certain than the past!

The one thing I am confident about is that ham radio will continue to be a strong hobby with a strong commercial base. And that is really essential. But there will be some big changes in the next few years at all levels, both retailing and manufacturing. The simple fact is that the strongest will survive, whilst the others will need to change, in some cases radically. Perhaps that all sounds a bit obvious, but sometimes the obvious is missed! Peter G3OJV

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A Great Day Out 31st August   August 26th, 2013

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It is now less than a week to go to the big open Day at our shop in Scotland run by Bill, Betty and Scott. This is always a big day in the ham radio diary, and is well attended by hams from all over Scotland and the North of England. Held at Glenrothes in Fife, it is an easy location to get to because it is fed by a good road system, There is no problem with parking. For those that have not been before, let me give you some details of the usual format,

Bill’s shop is on a small shopping precinct, and some 59 yds, cross the precinct is a community hall that Bill hires for the event. In here are the trade exhibits, bring and buy, clubs and the all important refreshments. Oh amd there is a raffle as well. Myself and my wife Sue, always attend and Mark and John from our Hockley shop will also be there. So we all look forward to meeting you,

Last year we introduced a lecture stream, and we shall be running that again this year, There will be a talk on Elecraft and another on Apache Labs SDR radios. We will have some demo Elecraft and there will also be the very first public demonstration of Apache Labs ANAN transceiver. I have talked a bit about these radius in this blog and have been running one for about two weeks now. I must say I am very impressed with it.

Some of you will know that I do a bit of QRP work and my lovely KX3 that I take about with me has been supplemented with the ANAN-10 as a base station. This delivers a similar power out to the KX3, that is, about 12 watts. They both have great receivers and I find no problem in moving from one to the other.

So on Saturday, the 31st August, from 10am onwards, I invite you to make the trip to Bill’s shop and enjoy an interesting day our where you can see new equipment and meet old and new friends. I look forward to seeing you there. Peter g3OJV

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Apache Labs – Not an Inside Job!   August 25th, 2013

Angelia Board

There is one decision that is most important from the SDR perspective and that is where should all the main processing be carried out? Traditional thinking behind SDR is that the PC should carry the work load and this makes a lot of sense. The other school of thought is to put the processor inside the radio and let the PC act simply as a control surface and a graphic display.

But this does present a big problem, particularly further down the line. PCs are continually evolving devices and the cost of upgrading a PC or even buying a new one every few years is not nearly as costly as it once was. So as devices get more powerful and faster, your SDR radio gets better and better. BUT, if you stick all the processing inside the radio, you are stuck with it until you buy a new radio. Simple question: which is the cheapest and most sensible option? Answer: Keep all the processing inside the PC. That way, you are free to update your PC with immediate benefit to the performance of your radio. And you are also free to swap PCs around to test the difference in resulting radio performance. That’s the way Apache Labs aproach their designs! Peter G3OJV

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Apache Labs ANAN10 First Few Days   August 24th, 2013

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I have now spent a while with my Apache Labs radio and am finding my way around it. Tuning SDR radios is always a topic of conversation, primarily because there are no knobs to twiddle. I know the feeling, but as time goes by and we use the PC more and more, so we start to adapt to new technology and new ways to work. The PC mouse is a prime example of this, Today few will question its use and in any case what is the alternative?

With Apache Labs, the tuning can be done in several ways, but my preference is to use key combinations. There are several keys mapped out for tuning in various steps right down to very fine steps for CW. Another two keys act as RIT, and yet another two can shift the IF pass band. It is almost like touch typing, and it starts to become intuitive.

I personally like to use my laptop as the interface because I can move it around. With the Ethernet cable I can easily move my “radio” to another part of the room. Indeed I can connect the radio to my WiFi system and connect any PC to it. The downside here is that whilst I can use a microphone into the laptop, there is no way that I know of to use a CW key into the laptop. However, there is a facility for sending via the keyboard of the PC so this might be the answer. Something I have yet to investigate.

Talking of CW, I have found the CW aspect to be very good. I know that FlexRadio struggled for years to try and get that part working right and it took unitl the 6000 series to sort it out. But at the moment that series is still mot available. On the Apache Labs radio, there are no such issues. I have been operating up to 30WPM and notice no problems. That is about my limit anyway! At the moment my setup is to plug the CW key directly into the ANAN-10 that I am using. I can move around the band very easily using the laptop keys as just described and work semi break-in with ease.

I have also been testing out a Heil headset with the ANA-10 and this seems promising. The implementation is very easy and it looks as if we can produce a simple option to modify one of the Heil headsets with boom mic, to work very well with the ANAN series of radios.

There are lots of adjustments on the ANAN radios and I have found that it makes sense to save your favorite settings into the database, so that if you go too far with changing things, you can go back to your own personal settings. And if all else fails, you can go back to the factory settings. So all things seem to be covered here. It is certainly a fun radio. Peter G3OJV

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CP4 Quad Band Compact Yagi   August 23rd, 2013

4-band

I paid a visit to Innovantennas yesterday and had a chat with Justin GOKSC who is responsible for the design of all the “Innov” antennas.

He is very well known for the design of his VHF and UHF antennas, but not everybody realises how many HF antennas he produces. Yesterday I was standing beside a 4 bay 9 element 6m system that was being built. Each boom length is 15m long. That is a real big antenna. So HF antenna manufacture for the kind of antennas that you or I would use, is a pretty simple affair!

The antenna in question that I saw as I approached the factory was an interlaced 4 band Yogi array and from its size I guessed that it included the 20m band. But what surprised me was the almost complete lack of any sag in the elements. They were almost perfectly horizontal. This was achieved because of the thicker tubing used and the thicker walls. There were also no traps. This all helped to give some remarkably clean lines to the array and it somehow looked far less obtrusive. It was a very tidy array.

The antenna known as CP4 has a boom of just 3.4m, weighs 25kg and can withstand winds of up to 100mph., The antenna has just one feed line and all the other driven elements are close coupled to the main driven element. It manages to cover 20-15-10-6m and is rated at 2kW.

I was very impressed with what I saw and although it is not a word normally used for describing an antenna, the word “pretty” came to mind! Peter G3OJV.

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Apache Labs Looking Good   August 22nd, 2013

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What do you Think of It So Far?

I have been running the Apache Labs SDR radio for a few days now using OpenHPSDR which is the recommended current software. The PC is coupled to the radio via ethernet. This makes a very simple, stable and versatile arrangement.

The installation was simplicity itself and went without a hitch. There is a bit of waiting whilst the installer writes files and this took quite a few minutes on my PC which is dual core 2.4GHz with 6GB of RAM. After a few opening entries to make, guided by questions, I was ready to go. It all fired up first time and has proved to be very stable.

The receive side is superb with excellent sensitivity and quite amazing IF filters. The dynamic range is claimed to be around 125dB. I have no way at home of measuring this, but from reports from other users, few are arguing with this figure.

In all the SDR software that I have used, tuning has been achieved by grabbing the screen and dragging it past a stationary cursor which represents the IF passband. This software operates in the same way, but has a feature that I have never seen before but which is extremely useful. You can lock this traveling screen and instead move the central “pointer” around as in a more conventional way. This is an excellent idea for keeping track of signals in certain positions across the dial. It means that everything stays in the same place when you’re tuning.

And the other good thing is that there does not seem to be any issues with CW. Many SDR users have struggled with CW because the software could not cope with fast CW. I tried sending at 30wpm and found no issues. Looking on the internet I could see no mention of CW problems.

I have enjoyed my first few days with this radio and have operated both the low power ANAN-10 model and the 100W version. Apart form the power levels, they both seemed to achieve similar performance. It all looks very good and I will report more about them at a later date.If you want to see them working in a live situation, we hope to have a couple of stations working at Newark at the end of September. Peter G3OJV.

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Yaesu FT-1DE Digital Radio   August 22nd, 2013

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FT-1DE

They are coming thick and fast from Yaesu at the moment. This new incarnation of a dual band handheld for 2m and 70cms is Yaesu’s first move into digital radio. We have already had D-Star for several years which has been the domain of Icom. Ironically, Yaesu were in at the beginning of D-Star but never followed it through.

So the FT-1DE is not only breaking new ground for Yaesu, it is also introducing a new digital system to ham radio. Yaesu claim that it permits the sending of messages and pictures at high speed with full error correction. Clearly a new digital mode requires a user base to be built up and to this end, the radio also functions as a normal FM handheld. It also has GPS and an AM bar antenna. Receive coverage is up to 1GHz.

The radio is available now at a price of £429. Peter G3OJV.

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