Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Troll is Back!

Over the past few weeks, a HB-based operator has been causing some difficulty for me when firing-up on OLIVIA mode at around 14.106MHz.

This operator first complained that 14.106 was a "calling frequency".

A calling frequency is, of course, where you call CQ and, once contact is made, you move off to another frq, leaving the calling frequency clear for others.

I then captured a lovely video where the same HB-operator  spent a very long time on this supposed "calling frequency", having a full QSO with an OH station (who was acting perfectly normally.)

Oh dear.  Hypocrisy 1, HB operator 0.

There was also a complaint, made repeatedly and, like the first, without transmitting a callsign, that OLIVIA mode had "channels", and that these were spaced by "500Hz".  He later changed his mind to claim the spacing was "1000Hz".

Well, most times on OLIVIA, you get folks transmitting within each others' bandwidth; it's kind of inevitable when, at 32/1000, the mode takes up a lot of space.  OLIVIA copes with it perfectly well, even when two signals are almost directly on top of one another.  There's very little room for complaint about inadequate spacing, and I've never heard anyone else make such.

The HB operator also claimed he had been using this frequency for ten years, which is never a good sign.  In short, he was obviously (and later confirmed to be) quite elderly, and had become stuck in his ways to the point of viewing certain spots as 'his' and his alone.  It's not uncommon amongst older folk, but it isn't right.

Grumpy old HB-land troll.

This troll was so persistent that I took the unprecedented step of reporting this person, who went on to transmit his callsign in anger, and then issuing mildly abusive messages, which were captured on screen, to the HB authorities.  I received prompt responses, and that it would be dealt with "in the manner customary."

The operator hasn't been heard on OLIVIA for a while.  Then, this morning, at 14.203 USB, I came across an OH station angrily asking someone who had a very, shall we say, HB-like accent, for his callsign.  He refused to give it at least twice, claiming a ZL station was speaking to him.  He also claimed he'd been using the frequency for - wait for it - ten years.  The OH station told him, then, to get on with his QSO, at which point we both listened to see what happened.

Silence.

For three minutes, nothing.  I called to see if the frq was clear, at which point the OH station made contact and told me in more detail about what had happened.

So, the HB troll seems to have moved on from OLIVIA to SSB for a while, but still using the same old rubbish to annoy and interrupt others.

Of course, I am mindful that elderly folk often are lonely, or may be unwell.  Indeed, I make a point of trying to lighten such people's days quite often, and have even a number of such people who appreciate this and call in every day.  Indeed, I think radio must be a huge relief to some, who may never see other people for days, or weeks.

But others just want to be nasty, which is a terrible shame when our lives are so short, and that aggression is utterly futile.  Perhaps it's dementia, and the faculties are lost.  In which case, someone should be caring more closely for this person.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

An American Take...

N0UN runs a regularly-updated and often very interesting blog

The other Day, N0UN, who is an avid DX-chaser with a station to match, issued his latest post.

In this, he dwells on the 'instant gratification' that DX chasers now expect, the role of the DX cluster, and the need to build a big station with lots of power over DECADES, to use his emphasis.  It's an interesting post.

Now, with the greatest of respect to my north American and, indeed, European colleagues, the desire to build big, expensive, complex and time-consuming stations (that can quickly become your only activity) is an attitude driven by relative wealth.  In other words, it's an attitude born of an affluent consumer society.

Now, I have no bones to pick with N0UN, other than the overall impression of 'one must have a big station built up over decades' to achieve anything notable in terms of DX is simply misguided.  That, and a fundamental clash over the use of kW-range output.

First of all, whilst N0UN's post is about pile ups and DXpeditions, not everyone gains excitement from shouting down a microphone, figuring out the current split RX frequency, and doing it for hours, perhaps days, to get a QSO logged.  Many do, but I certainly find myself tuning away from pile ups pretty much as soon as I realise there's one there. 

No, it isn't resignation to not getting the DX.  Whilst I put no store at all in it, my current confirmed DXCC is 146, with an as-yet unconfirmed 206 total.  Much of that has been achieved with a delta loop.  No, my approach is simply a realisation that, over time, my turn at that rare DX will come without the need for joining a baying crowd of people who haven't stopped to think 'why am I doing this?'  I will catch someone some other day, when I least expect it.  Indeed, if I pick a quiet day and call DX, someone very far away will probably call me!

And there is the point: not being heard in a pile up does not equate to an underlying inability to be heard.  


The other overall impression that someone might get from reading N0UN's latest missive is that big stations, big power and a whole lifetime are necessary factors to enjoy good DX and build up a score, either under your own or someone else's programme.

I wholly disagree.  This kind of thinking also damages the hobby.

Why?

Because, if you insist on formal contesting, there is ample reward for working the world (and off it!) using 5W or less - entering the QRP categories.  If you want to compete with yourself, simply to find out 'how far can it go?', then you need only a ground plane antenna on a beach and similar low powers - more if you want - to work any DX location you like.

Sure, operating relatively cheap, simple stations like this does demand more patience, time and good operating, as well as informed location and time of operation selection.  It invariably won't get you the kind of instant pile-up busting response of which N0UN has many recorded examples upon his blog.  But those foregoing factors are all interesting aspects of the hobby.  In many cases, you'll find they are aspects the consumerist DXer will have ignored over those decades.

Let's not portray ham radio, as it already so often is, as a hobby only for the retired rich in the west.  This is symptomatic of almost every hobby I can think of.  Amateur astronomy, for example, portrays itself in the hobby magazines as something that demands £10,000 before you can begin.  But then, magazines would, wouldn't they, because they owe their very existence to advertising for those very same, very expensive products.  Ham radio is exactly the same.  Consumers in the west are just sheep dancing to some salesman's vision of nirvana.

Nirvana, of course, is for those who attain it through the calmness and wisdom that rejects temptation and egotism.

What I came to the conclusion was that, whilst N0UN was bemoaning the instant DX gratification expected nowadays, brought about by the internet, it seems he might have been pursuing that very same gratification in a different way - through the deployment of a big station! 

One might suspect that the argument arising there is that you can only join the big guns if you are affluent.  And so we seem to have come full circle...








Lighting Tower Section Rotation.

Lighting towers are often found for good prices on internet auction sites, and make for very good towers for single HF antennas or lighter VHF arrays.

I bought one of these for just £300 many years ago, and all in all, it must be about 30 years old.  Apart from a few minor crash dents on a couple of braces, it's perfectly serviceable and has withstood ferocious winter gales, over and over.

The only problem with these types of mast is that the sections, especially the inner (top) most one can rotate a few degrees when the wind is stronger than a breeze.  The problem this then gives rise to is an antenna, that has a reasonable amount of mass, that gains momentum.

This puts repeated pulses of high torque stress ('banging stops') on the rotator, which needs to arrest the attempt to turn it.  Whilst most medium to strong rotators can do this comfortably, ultimately, millions of banging stops over years of use will weaken something to the point of failure.

The answer to tower section rotation!


For many years, I've simply used timber wedges, which can be hammered lightly into position.  These work fairly well, but do fall out regularly as the small amount of residual rotation slowly but surely eases them out, or they shrink between wet and dry weather.

I scratched my head for all this time, wondering what kind of adjustable 'wedge' I could come up with that would allow both robust prevention of the rotation and quick removal if needed (such as when a huge gale comes from nowhere, and the tower really has to tilt over.)

A spreader with two runner bars reduces the amount the jaws spread apart under load.


The answer was as simple as it was, thankfully, cheap (£10): a brake pad spreader.  There are very many types of these, and most will probably do, except, perhaps, for the 'silicone gun trigger' type that you operate by squeezing the trigger, rather than a screw thread.  Try to get the ones with two runner bars rather than one, as this helps keep the spreader pads running in parallel.  Use only the 'heel' (the bit nearest the thread) to push the tower sections apart.


Having installed one of these, liberally coated in grease, to push the innermost section against the next one, the very annoying and ultimately damaging rotation has completely been stopped.  Remember to tie a rope and secure the rope to the outside of the tower such that, if it comes off, it doesn't fall on someone's head!




Tuesday, 27 January 2015

New Day, Same RTTY QRM

The latest pico balloon, launched on Australia Day, is drifting nicely out over the Pacific at the moment.

The mylar party balloon carries a 30m and 20m 20mW transmitter on board.  Whilst 20m is getting spots down under, the 30m spots are coming in from as far afield as the eastern US.

...and also responsible for endless interference with weak signal modes.


Trying to listen for that little balloon on 30m this morning, I found myself, yet again, listening to a WSPR spot frequency totally obliterated by RTTY.

The QRM is distressing and unnecessary enough.  But what seems even more annoying is the inability of operators to do simple maths - or to realise that maths is needed at all.   Ops simply aren't allowing for the fact their signal extends 3kHz (at least!) down from the dial frequency, and run into other transmissions as a result.

Not that this is problem limited to RTTY.  Every day, I listen to people who operate at the numerical frequency limit for the band in use, which puts their USB transmissions purely and simply out of band.  This means they are operating illegally.  Once again, the bandwidth and mode of the signal simply isn't being considered by the supposedly qualified operators.

And if you thought operators with decades of experience are immune - they're not!  On 60m the other day, I heard a long 'net' take place, with very old callsigns busy pontificating away, yet not one of them realised they were well out of band.

I've written a lot about interference with WSPR recently, and I'll only reinforce previous posts by saying something really needs to be done.  Beyond a few initial emails with committee bums on seats at the RSGB, they've gone entirely quiet on the issue.  It's hardly surprising there's a considerable cabal of people out there who wonder what the RSGB is doing.


Monday, 26 January 2015

'Dog X-ray'?

Has amateur radio become so rubbish that it is now little better than the 'radio-ese' that beset CB?

I think it has.  Every day, I listen to people using the term 'Dog X-Ray'.  It seems to be uttered by the usual cohort of over-machoistic DX hunters, often simultaneously causing 'splatter' 15kHz either side of their QRG.

There are occasions when departure from the standard phonetic alphabet is warranted.  The letter 'M', for example, is very often misheard as '5', leading to some rather amusing and, indeed, overwhelming situations when a UK station is believed, thanks to the cluster, of being a station in Western Samoa!  So, the phonetic 'Mexico', with two hard letters, is often much better than 'Mike'.

So, I guess it's a case of cutting-out the needless, CB-like radioese, and bringing in that which makes a genuine improvement to intelligibility.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

RSGB: Did they really say "QSY"?

Recently, I and a load of other WSPR users have become very fed-up with the constant interference of that mode by, principally, RTTY operators, and then principally for contesting.

Putting it mildly, these test operators don't give a flying *uck for other users, and see their stupid search for points as justification enough to interfere with other users.  There hardly seems to be a weekend these days when RTTY tests are not underway.

So, a few e-mails have been flying back and forth between myself and the RSGB.  It crash barriered from one committee to another, until it ended up with the band committee (or something.) 

The thinking from the RSGB was that if there's interference with WSPR - which uses single spot frequencies on each band, then users should QSY.  It doesn't favour mode-specific allocations.

Eh?

Given WSPR is a beacon-like mode, where hundreds of stations are listening out for one another, QSYing is as utterly impractical as it is a stupid suggestion.

It's an interesting question to ask as to what makes 'traditional' beacons warrant particular protection, whilst WSPR does not, more especially as WSPR is much more accessible to the average Joe.  It's a question the RSGB seems disinclined to answer.

Yet again, I find myself asking who the hell the RSGB is actually representing.  It's certainly not the WSPR community.  Then again, I suspect a lot of the committee bums on seats are avid contesters themselves...




Thursday, 22 January 2015

One Short...

This week's seen a lot of activity on the new QRZ.com awards programme.  I've already spotted a number of operators with award badges on the header of their QRZ page, and successfully applied for some of my own.

Unfortunately, QRZ.com has run for many years with no awards programme.  As a result, spending valuable time entering QSOs into the QRZ.com system was a merely cosmetic and 'showing off' exercise.  Consequently, the confirmation rate is very low - about 50% in my case at the moment.

Looking through the awards I haven't yet got, I found I was one short of the DXCC.  Now, this really is very frustrating because the actual DXCC count is 184.  I'm not the sort to enter partial QSOs or QSOs that never took place!

Usefully, the QRZ.com awards page draws a lovely table of bands against each DXCC where you have had QSOs.  Yellow indicates 'unconfirmed'.  Looking at each one in turn, I found that the sole reason why QSOs aren't being confirmed by so many is that they themselves have not linked their callsign, which may well appear on QRZ.com as a listing, to the awards programme.  They have to elect to do so, and clearly many aren't.

This does seem to mean that the vast majority of QSOs unconfirmed to date are never going to be confirmed.  You can request a confirmation for any given QSO, but it's hit and miss as to whether that op will ever respond.  The other problem is that those stations, especially but not exclusively rarer DX, who haven't yet linked-up to the awards and then do so, will probably find themselves with a vast list of QSO confirmation requests going back many years.  Inevitably, most will feel overwhelmed and not bother.

But at least there is now an awards programme, at last, on QRZ.com!

UPDATE: Thanks to PE4BAS, I now know you can download LoTW QSOs into QRZ's system.  This works very smoothly (see instructions here.)  It took me about 2 minutes from registering to having 1923 new QSOs in QRZ, and my so-far confirmed DXCC shot up from 99 to 143, with my unconfirmed DXCC total now 206!  I now have several new awards pending, including the WAS award, which is always particularly pleasing. Thanks, Bas!

UPDATE (2): I ordered a certificate from QRZ.com, to see what it's like.  It arrived less than a week after ordering, and is of very good quality, protected adequately such that is just about survived without any damage (the envelope had a few dog ears that were close to making it across to the certificate.)  I think a somewhat stouter cardboard protector would be advisable for the future.  I won't be buying any more, because I'm not really interested in certs and such 'showing off' as may be necessary is more than adequately achieved via the QRZ.com badges online.