Thursday 2 April 2009

Prague, Spring 1990

I've been busy spring cleaning and finally found my ham license issued to me in the spring of 1990 while I was stationed in Slovakia. My call at that time was OK8AIO and I got to use it a few times from the Technical University of Kosice ham station. A few of the student hams helped me obtain a license to operate there. The photos are from Wenceslaus Square in Prague, during the final days leading to the election. I did manage to make a few contacts back to Ottawa with a list of ham gear to be sent to me. A packet tnc and an all mode 2 meter transceiver, a Kenwood TR-9000 and a 5/8 mag mount whip antenna and 100 feet of coax. I had a floppy disk based Tandy (Radio Shack) black and white laptop and some terminal software and was able to connect to a node in Budapest Hungary. It's hard to believe all of this happened 19 years ago now.

Sunday 29 March 2009

WorldRadio Online now Free

WorldRadio Online is published monthly by CQ Communications, Inc. It is now free for downloading and it is a mini magazine about the current state of amateur radio and contains lots of great DIY articles. The decision by WorldRadio Publisher Armond Noble, N6WR, to retire and sell the magazine. CQ bought the magazine WorldRadio and are now publishing WorldRadio Online as a 21st century manifestation of the popular old print magazine.

Hams can subcribe to the magazine via email notification or download the current issue at the WorldRadio Online web site. Highly recommended reading and it's all free. Let CQ know what you think of their new publication.

WorldRadio Online Web Site

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Antennas Survive Ottawa Winter

My antenna farm survived the brutal, windy, snowy, freezing rain type weather known in this neck of the woods. Some good planning, engineering and blind luck allowed my PAR EndFedz and my Cushcraft R6000 to survive unscathed through the arctic like conditions up here. A 3-point guy system protected my R6000 from self-destruction. The PAR EndFedz were securely anchored with enough slack to survive the windy conditions south of Ottawa. We do get some extreme winds out here. A couple of years ago, during a micro-burst type summer storm I lost some siding on the upper story of my home. Anything not anchored down gets blown to the next county.

DX has been hit and miss but throughout the season there's been some good conditions favourable for long haul communications. D44TXF on Cape Verde - 17m, NH6I Hawaii on 40 meters, ES3RM - Estonia on 17m, 5D0IPY - Morrocco on 17m, ZS6GAV - South Africa on 17m, and many more. The 17 meter band has been open during the very early morning hours during dawn and stays open for at least a couple of hours. Despite the low sunspot numbers there's a lot of DX to be had. I'm working these stations with a multi-band vertical and low power and on digital modes. Power reaching my R6000 vertical can't be more than 10-15 watts. I'm feeding it with 100 feet of RG59 75 ohm coax. At the transmit end I have my FT-950 set for 20 watts output.

The new Yaesu PEP FT-950 enhancements have made the FT-950 a superb DX rig. The receiver is quieter, the noise reduction settings now work great, and the AGC and Contour functions have been improved 100%. Check out the ratings for the FT-950 with the PEP enhancements. Satisfaction all around, and Yaesu is continuing to enhance the FT-9000, FT-2000 and FT-950 family of transceivers with regular firmware and DSP updates and features. The latest update to the FT-950 required a new operating manual to be released by Yaesu, such were the number of changes to the radio.

In conclusion the PAR EndFedz 40 and 30 meter antennas survived quite nicely through the rigours of an Ottawa winter, as did the recently refurbished Cushcraft R6000. Proper installation and guying were the key points that kept everything running with zero maintenance.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

K5D - Desecheo Island Expedition - Worked!

Desecheo Island off the coast of Puerto Rico was activated and will be on the air from February 12 - 26, 2009. The ops at K5D are covering most of the HF bands for the duration. Check your DX cluster of choice to discover their operating band and mode. They also have a very detailed website and also an online logbook that's updated at least twice a day. I've just worked them this afternoon on 17m SSB and they have an excellent signal to the Ottawa area. They've been on most days and I had a few spare minutes so I decided to work them. The ops work split and announce the listening frequency on the cluster and occasionally while transmitting. Still, you hear many ops trying to work the expedition on their transmit frequency.

I've been using the FT-950 and my re-furbished Cushcraft R6000 vertical. It's a nice combo and K5D came back on my second call. I'm running 100 watts and a wee bit of processing (20%) - seems to be working well. His signal was S5 - S9 and the ops are very very good in working all the stations. Not rapid fire fast, but a nice easy pace.

The FT-950 is very easy to set up on split and with the latest "PEP950" updates the receiver is very quiet - signals jump out. The "PEP950" updates include processor and dsp fixes and new features added to an already great transceiver.

K5D is the 6th most-needed DXCC entity world-wide, the 3rd most-needed DXCC entity in Europe and the 2nd most-needed DXCC entity in Asia.

What I'm Reading - "The Invisible War"

This isn't a ham radio entry today. While away on Barbados I took a couple of books with me to fill in time on the beach. The Invisible War by Gil Murray is a fascinating read on a little known top secret group of Royal Canadian Signal Corps operating in Australia, from 1944 to 1946. The group intercepted and deciphered Japanese military signal. Number One Canadian Special Wireless Group (1CSWG) was part of the Allied Special Wireless units that provided vital advance information about Japanese battle plans.

Gil Murray says, " Long after the war's end, the very existence of 1CSWG and its part in the Pacific victory has remained unknown to Canadians. Canada's contribution to the top-secret Allied operations known in the Pacific as "Magic" and in Europe as "Ultra" could not be told under the Official Secrets Act." Canada and other Allied countries had been monitoring Japanese military signals since before the outbreak of war in the Pacific in 1941.

The book details the lives of the 336 operators, their equipment and skills and their survival in the bleak hostile terrain of Australia during the Pacific war.

Highly recommended.

"The Invisible War" ISBN 1-55002-371-3

Wednesday 4 February 2009

8P9VE Barbados Expedition

Ahhhhhh, warm, sunny, clear blue waters outside the door of a rented villa. Monday January 26th saw me leaving Ottawa (-29C) for a short holiday in beautiful friendly Barbados (28C). Ron, 8P6JB did all the paperwork and running around getting my license to operate in Barbados. I settled on the call 8P9VE as this represented a little of Canada in it.

The villa was at Reeds House on the north west shore of Barbados. The back entrance and patio of the villa descended to a white sand beach and palm trees. Very much a heaven compared to icy frozen Canada. I traveled with my VX-170 and VX-3R handhelds and a small external window mounted antenna. I just happened to be in the shadow of the island repeaters so I couldn't qso with anyone from the villa unless I was in the rented van and up at a high point away from shore.

The Barbados Amateur Radio Society meets at their club station every Friday night for a social get together, and Ron 8P6JB invited me to attend. The club station is located at one of the highest points of land on the island just outside Bridgetown. It sits on a former sugar plantation and you can see the remnants of the old wind mill that powered the plantation machinery.

The Friday meetings are very informal and softdrinks and beer are available to all - which probably makes these meeting very popular. I got to operate the club station which is equipped with very modern up to date gear.

Peter, 8P9NX, a retired M.D. from the Mayo clinic in Minnesota was operating the station when I arrived. He quickly set up the club laptop for psk and I made a few stateside contacts on 40m psk that evening.

Peter's obsession is golf and ham radio since he retired to the island a few years ago. He plans to sail his 37 foot sailboat with his son, from the U.S. to Barbados later this year. Peter works about 50 stations a day on his K3 and CW - he does a bit of psk too.

Barbados currently has about 150 licensed ham radio operators. Barbados' population is 281,968 (July 2008 Est.). Peter was telling me that at these latitudes 80 meters and 160 meters are great in the evenings with very low noise levels. Getting a license to operate in Barbados cost $15USD and you have to send a copy of your Canadian license and a list of all the equipment you'll be bringing to the island. The license is good for one year and I plan to go back in a few months with my own equipment and a couple of my PAR EndFed antennas packed away in my suitcase. Using the 8P9 call created quite a stir on 40 meters but qrm was high due to the number of stations.

The club station also has emergency backup power via batteries and generators in case of natural or man made disasters. The stations included a Yaesu FT-1000 MkV, an FT-450, 2 meter handhelds and base radios along with older Kenwood and Icom radios - so a very well designed and equipped ham station. Antennas include wire dipoles, various beams and verticals.

I would like to thank again Ron Wilkinson 8P6JB for all of the legwork and keeping in contact with me while on Barbados and the great Friday evening club meeting of January 30, 2009. And a big thanks to Peter 8P9NX for showing me the ropes at the club station.

Area: 431 sq. km. (166 sq. mi.); 2.5 times the size of Washington, DC.
Cities: Capital--Bridgetown.
Terrain: Generally flat, hilly in the interior.
Climate: Tropical.

Friday 23 January 2009

International Space Station Ham Radio Repeater

This is from SolarCycle24's web site run by Kevin VE3EN.

Here's what Kevin has to say:
This weekend I will again be broadcasting LIVE the 2m downlink of the International Spacestation Ham Radio repeater. This is a fun way that Ham Radio ops make contacts on the VHF airwaves.

When the ISS is within our footprint, Amateur Radio operators transmit on the 70cm amateur radio band freq. 437.800 where the antenna and repeater system onboard the ISS will relay the signals back to earth and the downlink is received on 2m freq. 145.800.

Below is a link to an earlier ISS pass video.

(image courtesy NASA)