Water Fall – Dipping Your Toe In It!   September 30th, 2013

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One of the interesting things about attending the RSGB National Hamfest, is the chance to meet and talk with both customers and suppliers. Looking back on it, all the comments that you receive combine to form a kind of market research. And that is very good and useful to have. One of the things that surprised me somewhat were the number of people that read this blog. That is also a good piece of market research.

I spent most of my time surrounded by Elecraft, Apache-Labs and FlexRadio products. These are all cutting edge products and it was for that reason we had decided to make a dedicated display with the opportunity for customers to get hands on operating experience. And this proved very popular. During this time, something that repeatedly was tested out was the waterfall display.

I come from the days of analogue gear and my first experience of a waterfall display was around ten years ago when I set up a PSK31 system. At that time I viewed the waterfall display as an essential part of PSK31, and it worked very well. In fact it seemed to me the obvious way to display signals. But what I did not appreciated back in those days was that the waterfall display had a lot more to offer.

The traditional panoramic display as seen on SDR systems is very useful and you soon begin to recognize what an SSB signal looks like and the fact that you can spot signals without having to tune back and forth across the band. But when it comes to the weaker signals, these get lost in the general display of spikes caused by a mixture of noise and weaker signals. It is here that the waterfall display becomes so important.

A weak signal shows up as a continuous trace, whereas noise just shows up as part of the background display and even large spikes become insignificant compared to a weak but continuos signal. So if you are monitoring a quiet band such as 10m, 6m or one of the VHF/UHF bands, you can switch on the waterfall display and just glance at it occasionally to see if there are any signals or beacons coming out of the noise. It is fundamentally different in that the waterfall display produces a trace that stays on the screen for up to a minute or so, whereas the panoramic display is just there for an instant.

Time after time, visitors came to our stand and wanted to see the waterfall display and we had to keep the Elecraft P3 switched to the waterfall display for this reason. It is a new way of working for many, but once you become accustomed to it and recognize how signals look on, it becomes an instrument that you cannot afford to do without. Indeed in some modes, it is is absolutely essential. Dip your toes in the water and try it for yourself. Peter G3OJV

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Elecraft and Apache Labs top the Sales!   September 29th, 2013

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Left WA6HHQ Right G3OJV

The RSGB NAtional Hamfest proved to be a great success and we registered record sales during two vet busy days with lovely weather. Elecraft sales were amazing and the sales of Apache labs SDR was very brisk, with a number of customers taking the opportunity to take one home. FlexRadio announced that they will shortly launch the first batch of radios for general sale and the greatly needed waterfall feature will be switched on sometime during then second quarter of 2014. It might be sooner!

The Show was the best yet and Eric Swartz, WA6HHQ, signed many QSL cards as well as giving two very compelling lectures.

We arrived back at Hockley and completed the unloading just before midnight. It was a long day indeed. Now we need to order new supplies of Elecraft and Apache Labs gear. Peter G3OJV

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A Great First Day   September 27th, 2013

The first day of the National Hamfest proved very popular indeed with record breaking visitor attendance. The Show was opened by Eric Swartz WA6HHQ from Elecraft who made a short speech to the long queue of waiting visitors.

There were lots of equipment to see and I would encourage those thinking whether they should consider coming tomorrow. You won’t be disappointed. SDR radio was prominent on our stand and there were some very good sales. Elecraft was the star the Show for us, with crowds wanting to see and learn more. Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood also enjoyed very good sales and accessories went in large volumes.

I was personally pleased to see and speak with many visitors and time passed very quickly. Always a good sign. The weather was great and is set to be the same tomorrow. So hopefully we will see you there. Otherwise you will have to wait another year! Peter G3OJV

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Newark Here we Come   September 25th, 2013

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Certainly a busy day today. The truck is loaded and we are ready to go to Newark Show, the scene of the RSGB’s National Hamfest. I had a text from Eric, WA6HHQ who was just about to get on a British Airways flight from California to London Heathrow. It’s a long flight and I think that we all appreciate his making the long trip. But it really is a great chance to meet up with somebody who has made such a change to the commercial market. He will be giving a talk on both days and I am sure that the event will be very crowded. So don’t miss the Show.

We will en on the road at 6am and would expect to have finished building the stand at around 7pm. It’s a long day with a lot of physical work. There will be some great prices and some interesting new products. The newest arrival is the Elecraft KXPA100, Yes we really do have one that you can come and see. But don;t expect to take one home with you as Elecraft have still not officially released it yet. But you can place a forward order. Peter G3OJV.

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It’s All Go Today   September 24th, 2013

Well today it has been hard work in getting ready for the RSGB NAtional Hamfest. It looks like being a great event. We have had a shipment from Elecraft, MFJ and Apache Labs, so we are well stocked on those brands. Eric WA6HHQ will fly in on Thursday from California for a three day visit and will give an illustrated talk on both Friday and Saturday.

Whilst all this preparation was going on I had a visit from an 84 year old lady ham operator who operates CW only. She was interested in the Elecraft K3 and she was obviously a very experienced CW operator. I would like to have talked to her longer but I was called away.

We certainly meet some interesting characters in the shop and one has to admire some of the visitors who have overcome all kinds of physical difficulties to continue their hobby of amateur radio.

Right now I am looking around at a pile of equipment and display material that has to somehow be loaded onto a lorry and taken to Newark. I am not confident it will all get done in time. But as always, on thee occasions, somehow we will make it. Peter G3OJV.

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New Antenna Designs   September 23rd, 2013

It is always interesting ti learn about new products, and particularly antennas designs. Back in the days of the G5RV, the design work was done with some mathematical calculations based on theory and some practical on the air tests. The antenna worked and the rest as they say is history. It is still going string.

What we can now do is to model antennas using software, and this enables some very advanced designs to be achieved. It also enables much greater accuracy in the final design. affecting element lengths and spacing etc. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the software programs are their ability to create new designs. Much of this work would have been impossible using simple calculations and practical tests. The amount of wire cutting, tubing used and hack saw cutting, would have consumed hundreds of hours of work, most of it wasted. In contrast, the use of a PC means that this work can be achieved in a matter of hours and in the comfort of a warm dry room in the middle of winter.

One of the most productive of workers in this field is Justin, G0KSC, who has created his own company known as Innovantennas. All of his designs have been the result of some pretty serious and powerful PC number crunching. His VHF and UHF designs are very well known. Perhaps some of his more recent HF designs are less well known. I recently saw the prototype of his 4-band HF Yagi that used close coupled driven elements to produce a trapless beam of very clean lines. And even more recently I was shown a new design that has a very short boom. This is the subject of a patent application, so the photo cannot be published. But I did see it in action driven by no more than a KX3, which produced some amazing DX results on 20m using just 100W. If somebody had told me a few years ago that anybody in the UK could start an antenna production company and enjoy world exports, I would have doubted it. I am glad that i would have been probed wrong. Peter G3OJV.

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New SDR Progress   September 22nd, 2013

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Justin, G0KSC and myself have been working hard on the Apache-Labs new SDR transceivers and getting some experience on their quite amazing performance. SDR has long been recognized as a significant way forward for many ham operators. Not everybody sees their PC as the centre of their station, but many do, and some want to have the choice of using both in their station.

It is now far easier to set up an SDR station than ever before, and there are a number of choices available for anybody wishing to give it a go. Those that like experimenting and have some construction skills can purchase various boards to make their own radio. Others want an off the shelf answer. The latter category of potential customers have been living in somewhat of a vacuum for the past eighteen months, and this is not good for an area of the hobby that promises so much but fails to be readily available in commercial form.

It is for this reason that we have been focusing on the Apache-Labs ready built transceivers. Our business is to provide what is wanted and what we believe in. We believe in SDR and have done so for a number of years. In fact we were in there right at the beginning. And to give customers the opportunity of purchasing commercial examples, we have been hunting around for current options. Our prime task was to find something that we could deliver as a finished product and one that had been extensively tested by users around the world.

As I said before . there are many examples of SDR at various levels. Many of these are quite good, but to really make the final choice it is to check both the integrity of the design and the planned development and perpetuity. On top of this we also need to make sure that both FCC and CE approval has been received. These requirements tend to immediately reduce the number of possibilities to just a very few choices.

Tests have proved that Apache Labs have indeed succeeded in producing some very high level designs which are right at the top of the ladder in terms of performance and specification. We will have the first units available this coming week. Peter G3OJV.

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The coming of the Newark Show next weekend, it coincides with a change of editorship of Practical Wills, one of the oldest publications purchased by Hams for many years. It has certainly changed over the years and some would say it lacks articles that are aimed primarily at amateur radio. But one then has to ask, who is it targeted at? Certainly those interested in radio but in its prime, this magazine was catering for something that was very much in its infancy, namely radio. Today most take radio for granted and so the magazine can’t but help taking a different slant on the topic.

The departing editor and the new editor are both ham radio operators, although I think their areas of interest and styles will be far different. But hopefully we will see a more focused editorship on ham radio, in much the same way as we have within RadCom. Of course the PW publishers may see the future of the magazine in a different way. Certainly an amateur radio magazine on W H Smith;s shelves would be a welcome sight for many.

RadCom is still, to my mind, the leading ham radio magazine in Europe. It strikes a pretty good balance and the technical articles are of excellent quality with several of the regular reviewers commanding worldwide respect. As the magazine of the RSGB it is only available to members, so despite its quality, it hardly reaches fifty percent of the ham radio community in the UK. I still have a few differences with the RSGB, but I believe that under the new managership and some excellent board member chafes, some of the problems will dissolve into history. The latest edition of RadCom with a picture of a bull’s backside and associated message seems at odds with a magazine intended to be the voice of ham radio and whose patron is the Duke of Edinburgh. It says much about the company that paid money for this advert and no doubt each reader will have his or her own opinion on this “advert.”

Advertising is a major expense for retailers, with no possible way of measuring the return on investment. My company has probably contributed more in advertising revenue to the RSGB than any other advertiser. My first advert was placed back in 1972, even before I had started Waters & Stanton. We have nevermissed an issue since then. My first product was a compact antenna from Mini Products in the USA, and the stock was kept in my bedroom. Sadly the owner of this company died many years ago and I never got to meet him. However, the design and concept keeps on, even today. Some things never change. Let us see how Practical Wireless looks over the next few months. Peter G3OJV.

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DYIng DIYing   September 20th, 2013

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The Destruction of Home Construction.

I recently found in my tool box some Q-cutters which I seem to remember were popular in the 50s and 60s. These were devices for cutting holes in chassis to mount valve holders. Before I purchased these I had to resort to drilling a series of circular holes and then nibbling out the centre. The Q-cutter made so much difference. Perfectly round holes rather than very rough ones smoothed out as best I could with a file.

In those days when home construction was very often the only way forward, it took quite a time to get a bit of gear up and running. That new transmitter could take several weeks to build. Most of my stuff relied on a chassis and a front panel. The outer case did nothing towards performance and was an expensive luxury.

Sadly, none of my home built gear survives today and I can honestly say that I have no idea what happened to it. But thinking back to those days, I now realise that construction was often a major attraction to the hobby for many, whilst the operational side was the culmination of the project. In fact if I remember rightly, these projects tended to become ongoing developments that evolved something quite different as time went by! There are still quite a few constructors about, but very few that can claim to have built the bulk of their station. I am exckuding kits in this observation. So is there much scope for this today?

Well the first thing to acknowledge is that there are not nearly so many component suppliers about and some components like variable capacitors, are both rare and expensive. In any case, technology has moved on so fast that anything beyond simple QRP equipment is not likely to satisfy the modern operating criteria. A digital display is kind of essential these days, but not so easy to implement at home construction level. And this is just one example. So is there any scope at all for home construction today, particularly as many new hams no longer come to the hobby from an engineering or electronics background? I believe there is.

I suppose the most obvious example is antennas. Wire antennas are very easy to assemble and the few bits necessary are readily available. These are critical parts of the station and spend their entire life outside. So follow good engineering practice, take your time and don’t skimp. And how about connecting leads? Why not make your own? Yes you need a decent soldering iron, but this investment will pay for itself in no time. Most antenna plugs are pretty easy to fit and there is ample DIY info on the Internet. Lots of hams say they cannot put plugs on, but in reality, a good few have never tried it. Give it a go and you may surprise yourself. Then coupled with this is is the general station layout. Give it some though, put a few shelves up. Rearrange the various leads, and generally tidy it up. Make it more professional so that it looks as if it all belongs together as one transmitting stations rather than a collection of bits and pieces.

To some, all this might seem like basic stuff, but that really is not the point! Ham Radio is a hobby that caters for a wide range of capabilities and knowledge levels. But I suppose the point I am trying to make is that sometimes there are occasions where we avoid making or building, because it can be purchased over r over he counter. or via mail order. Hold on a minute, perhaps I am talking myself ou of a job! Peter G3OJV.

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Things Are Changing   September 19th, 2013

Things are moving fast in ham radio at the moment with Elecraft introducing their new linear amplifier for the KX3 and still promising a 2m transverter next year for the same transceiver. FlexRadio are promising their new 6000 series of equipment will move forward from its rather lengthy testing phase into a serious production phase. No firm date on this yet. Apache Labs have now shipped their first batch of radios to Europe and we will have a few early next week. And Icom are promising to ramp up their supplies of the IC-7100 with 4m coverage.

With all this rapid progress, I have been very mindful that we need to update our web site which is showing its age. Gone are the days when you created something and you could measure its life in a good many years. Ah the days of the FT-101! So I am glad to be able to announce that our web site is about to be replaced by a new one. It is something we have been working on over the past six months. Hopefully it will be lunched within the next couple of weeks. I am sure there will be a few glitches, because that is the nature of software. I have seen the test site and it looks good. So keep checking our web address over the next couple of weeks.

We are also about to launch another web site that will be devoted to ApacheLabs radio equipment. The address will be www.apache-labs.co.ku. At present there is a holding page, but it should go live very shortly.

And while all this is going on, we are preparing the for the Newark Show which takes place next week end. It is a busy time indeed. Oh, and just to complicate matters, I spent the afternoon in Moorfields `Eye `Hospital to be assessed for a procedure in November, The result of which was to have my corneas dilated so that I canon see to type properly this evening! Peter G3OJV.

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