Should contest rules allow and act upon 599K QRM reports?

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Elecraft KX3 initial thoughts

I bought the KX3 on a whim, if I'm honest I lose patience with QRP as I have less spare time than I used to have. I like the idea of QRP,  but you have to wait for ideal band conditions and those rarely coincide with my free time.

I bought the kit version and found the build up to Elecraft's usual high standards, everything fitted together perfectly and the chassis has a quality, solid feel to it. The build took a few hours over a couple of nights and no problems were encountered.

Using the radio was slightly less rewarding, basically the radio does what it is designed to do and not what I wanted it to do. For instance:
1) The external speaker reveberates with a buzz sound when the volume is turned up to comfortable listening levels and a large signal is received. Even when external speakers are attached, the KX3 audio amplifer has distorted output on large signals. This is because the radio was designed with low current consumption in mind. Don't expect to fill your shack with booming audio as this isn't possible or desireable on a windy mountain top.
2) Want to connect a linear amplifer? Want your computer to be able to key the KX3? Well the KX3 has a crap minature 2.5mm stereo socket ACC2 to take care of that. Fiddling about with this I realised that this wasn't likely to stand the test of time. How many times would you require to connect a linear amplifier and a laptop to the KX3 on a windy mountain top?

Anyway you get my point, if you want a radio for a windy mountain top the KX3 is great. If like me you are more likely to use this radio the most in your shack, then this is the wrong radio for you.

On another thought train, there are some annoying "features":
1) The buttons are akin to poor quality telephone handset keypads. Sometimes you press and get nothing, sometimes you press and get a double press. I don't remember the same response from the K3 keypad which is similar in construction, so why is the KX3 different? Maybe the designers figure that you'll have shakey hands on that windy mountain top and they have configured the firmware button debounce logic to counter it appropriately.
2) Turning the VFO on bands above 20m emits a burrrrrrrrrrrrrp sound from the speaker (stretched out till you stop turning the VFO. It is at a very low signal level, but once you've heard it, it will annoy you senseless. Yes there are menu items you can select to lessen the effect, but trust me, the noise doesn't completely go away. Some of them also have side effects like disengaging the roofing filter. However I'm sure when you connect a decent antenna and you are on a windy mountain top you'd never notice it.
3) The manual is full of features that haven't been fully implemented yet like DVK, NR and NB. But who is likely to be examining  a manual for the finer features of the KX3 at 3000ft in the middle of a snow drift.

Again, you get what you pay for, which is not necessarily what you wanted. Reading eHam reviews and the Elecraft mailing lists makes sense when you try to figure out what the user has been using it for. A high score normally means the owner also has crampons and an ice axe.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

TYT TH-UV3R dual band VHF/UHF handheld

My latest purchase is a TYT TH-UV3R handset. It was bought from Ebay for £34 inc. postage from China. At this price I was prepared for the worst, but it really isn't that bad. In fact, I'm pleased with it. I like that it can be charged from a computer USB port (to mini usb on handset) and that it allows me to monitor 446MHz (that I use to keep track of my daughter when she's out playing) and my local 2m repeater at the same time (using the 'dual watch' or as the manual describes it 'dual wait' :-) feature). I have all the 2m S channels programmed in, complete with all the repeater offsets and CTCSS tones. It is really simple to operate, although the manual seems to be lacking a bit to the current firmware version, as some key sequences aren't as described. As long as you take the manual with a pinch of salt and experiment with key strokes, the correct function can be found very quickly. The build quality is excellent, the display is bright and clear and the rx audio is just like any other handset 5 times the price.

The TYT is shown here between the VX3 and VX7R handsets from Yaesu. Now to sell the Yaesu's!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

K1EL WKUSB lite WinKey

A new product from K1EL
These cw keyers are excellent to allow easy hook up between your favourite contest logger and your rig. The K3 doesn't really need this as it has PTT and CW key via the CAT RS232 RTS and DTR, but for all other rigs it's a must. I've just ordered one at $38 + $10 postage. I also have the WKUSB, but it's quite bulky and I've never used it standalone. The lite version also loses optical isolation and push button memories but the board is now only 2.5 x 1 3/4 inches. I always use mine in host mode with WinTest, so this should be just the ticket.

As you can see from the above picture, the finished result is much smaller than the original keyer and doesn't have those annoying buttons on the top that keep getting pressed in the rucksac. I have mounted the new keyer in a small enclosure from Maplin (£9.99). Just plug the key into the front 3.5mm stereo socket.

The USB connector goes to the computer and the CW and PTT lines (to the rig) now come from the tip and ring of the 3.5mm stereo jack located on the rear of the new keyer.

The kit kit arrived with a lot of components missing, but luckily I was able to source them from the spares box. There were too many many components missing for this to be an accident, so maybe K1EL is having difficulty meeting the initial order rush.

Monday, 7 May 2012

GB5SI Shiant Isles IOTA ref. EU112

After the successful activation of Lunga EU108 (Treshnish Isles) in 2011, our group (Consisting of GMDX group members) will be activating the Shiant Isles EU112 between 15/7/12 and 22/7/12. The Shiant Isles are located between the Isles of Lewis and Skye on Scotland's NW coastline. The Shiant Isles consist of 3 small uninhabited islands in very close proximity to each other (House, Rough and Mary Islands). We will be staying on the north west corner of House Island which should have a great take off from North west  through to South. A second station may be set up to cover the North east through to South east. Working condx are expected to be Elecraft K3 transceivers, Expert and THP linear amplifiers and predominantly vertical antennas. We expect to be active from 80m through 6m and on CW, SSB and RTTY modes. QSL route will be via MM0BQI.
Hope to work you all!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

KOSS SB45 Headset with Elecraft K3

Bought this headset on Amazon for £20 after reading some mail on the Elecraft reflector. I wanted an electret mic so this meant either the SB45 or SB49. The only difference is that the SB45 doesn't have a volume control on the lead (which I think is a pest for radio use anyway).

The good:
The headset is very comfortable. So far 8hrs continuous in CQWW WPX and no issues. Fits over my big lugs comfortably and gives a reasonable amount of sound isolation.
Rx and tx audio are superb with the K3 (flat tx equaliser settings).
The headset can fold up into a very neat ball allowing easier packing for dxpeditions etc.

The bad:
The lead is very thin and I suspect has not much in the way of a screen, but so far no RF issues with a small ferrite placed half way along the lead (just in case).

The microphone stalk is very flimsy and not very adjustable, but it seems to sit in the right position.

Overall it's a great purchase and makes me a bit embarrassed at spending a comparative fortune on a Heil headset.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

ERC (Easy Rotator Control) kit

One of my friends (MM0GPZ) put me onto this handy kit. It converts your old manual rotator controller to a PC driven one (retains manual capability). The photo above shows the new serial and power cables at the bottom right of the shot.

The advantage is that logging programs such as WinTest (wtRotators) can turn your antenna for you. If you enter a callsign and type (Ctrl-F12) for short path or (Alt-F12) for long path, the wtRotators program will automatically turn the antenna to the correct bearing for that station. The ERC uses the HyGain DRU-1 protocol so WinTest must be set up to expect this protocol and not Yaesu or whatever controller you are using. Once this is setup correctly, you get a nice on-screen digital bearing with manual adjustment icons all at the tip of your mouse.
I found a link on the internet describing GU0SUP's install in the same rotator controller case so I copied his installation location.

The kit arrived in 5 days from Germany. It had 1x 22pF capacitor missing which I replaced from my spares box, but apart from that all went together in around 3 hours (+2 hours installation into controller) and worked first time.
I squeezed the ERC into my G-600RC rotator control box and connected it up to the serial com port on my PC. I used a wallwart PSU to power the ERC.

Rene DF9GR very gratiously allowed me the DXCC 10 Euro discount for being the first GM claimant. The final bill was 66 Euro.

Calibration went without a hitch. I tried transmitting 400w through a 3 ele yagi on the 10m band (approximately 15m away) pointed directly at the controller and observed no effects. I'm very pleased with the results so far.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Maxon CM70 cb radio, 10m FM/AM (new for £60)

Maxon CM70 on 29.100MHz (shown here in frequency display mode rather than channel display mode). In researching it, I hadn't found a picture of it displaying frequency so wasn't sure until it arrived.

Step is 10KHz with readout ending in a 0KHz (PO) or 5KHz (RU). I'm using it in PO mode in the picture. It is bang on frequency.

This CB radio has an incredible coverage of 25MHz - 30.1MHz. As shown in the picture, the output is approximately 3w on 29.100 (the start of the new simplex FM allocation in the UK).

There are no conventional rotary controls on the front panel which is good for reliability and robustness for mobile life. Most of the important features can be controlled from the microphone.

Audio souds strong and clear on both FM and AM. Time will tell how the rx is but reports are that is plenty sensitive on CB frequencies.

Electronics are mostly surface mount and build quality looks good apart from a large blob of solder which was rattling about inside the case on arrival.

Bought for £60 (72 Euro) from Free post and packaging from Greece. It took 5 days to arrive, truely a modern miracle. My thanks goes to
Yiannis Kontarinis for providing this radio at £40 less than anyone in the UK.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Black Sea Cup RN3F and UW1M

I was going to play on 10m this morning but couldn't be bothered due to the Black Sea Cup contest in full swing. I am a contester myself, so it wasn't that the contest itself was unpleasant, it was the standard of transmissions that immediately turned me off. RN3F was on again with an interesting variation on his previous poor transmission. I'd like to think he's trying to do something about the QRM he causes every contest, as there is a noted difference as shown below.

He now has a 300Hz wide chirp which means he is no longer the worst offender. That title has now got to go to UW1M (top left, above RN3F). He was 594K (actually 59+30dB) and approx 2KHz wide.

I had a look at QRZ for UW1M and he is sitting next to what looks like an IC7700 so it must be the dreaded home-brew amplifier or operator error (ALC or overdriving). No wonder contesters get a bad name.

I normally argue against the non-contest fraternity, that contesters are striving to improve themselves by perfecting all the radio disciplines pertaining to their station before the contest, the contest itself being the result of that hard work. The above station clearly needs to spend more time doing this.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Cheap "Peli" type case for dxpeditioning

1) Case:
Part Num. Line Price. Description. Mfr Part. Mfr Name.
(not inc. tax and p&p)

Provides maximum shock protection to contents, Waterproof, Can be padlocked for additional security, Built in pressure valve, Corrosion proof, Colour - Black, Depth (external) - 225mm Length - 515mm Width (external) - 435mm

As you can see the case has 4 pressure locking tabs:

2) Packing material:Pick and pluck foam, 5+6 layers, 50mm thick
£36.19 inc. tax & p&p

"Each pack contains 5 pieces of Pick 'n' Pluck Foam size 560 x 350 x 50mm (22" x 13.8" x 2") and 6 pieces of lining foam size 560 x 350 x 12mm (22" x 13.8" x 1/2"). Each side of the removable squares in the grid is 25mm (1")."

The finished item with foam interior

Plenty of room for the K3, Small SMPS, laptop, headset and footswitch etc. Weight of case + fully packed foam is 4.5Kg (no equipment added yet). I will blog again when I have finished plucking and packing.

Total cost so far approx £65.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


Lowest score ever, 187Qs. Was it my imagination or was the turnout lower than usual?

I spent the morning taking down my doublet (suspect water ingress after 7 years in the air) and replaced with a dipole. I didn't have time to install it properly so ended up with an inverted V configuration.

Signals certainly were always strong from G throughout the contest but the number seemed down. My Q rate was very poor with occasional answers to my CQ calls. It's annoying to work a really inefficient run station doing all the usual unnecessary chat like CQ AFS, my call DE his call, CFM, GA, GL BK 73s etc only to find on the exchange that his serial is much higher than mine. Oh to have one less letter in the call and live in an area with several large clubs!

Enjoyed the contest but the score is less than helpful for the GMDX team.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Paper QSL cards are dead....long live eQSL and LOTW!

I was in the Apple shop buying a present for someone. The assistant asked if I would like a paper or electronic receipt which would be sent to my email address. It forced me to think about which one would be easier for me. The answer for me was most definately electronic due to the convenience factor. Which would you choose?

It's a very gradual process, but I now know I will live to see a day when paper cards are a thing of the past. The first positive sign of their demise is the absense of hand written contest logs and the benefits this brings to everyone (faster/easier adjudication and results).

Why does this matter to me?
1) I enjoy contesting and the IOTA contest causes me no end of hastle from card collectors whinging on about confirmation for a contact to this island or the other.
2) I have to pay for the QSL bureau as part of my RSGB membership. I'd rather this contribution was used for more pressing matters such as spectrum management.

What harm does paper QSLing do?

1) I believe card collectors are selfishly causing the demise of the hobby for rare and desirable stations. They don't think about the station that they are demanding a card from. If everyone hunts him for a QSLs card for every contact he makes, surely he will be forced to QRT. When last did you hear a rare station calling CQ on a regular basis?

2) The environment, just think of all the millions of unwanted QSL cards that have been dumped since the beginning. What a waste!

3) I have been present in meetings where a dxpedition has not been sponsored on the basis of not providing paper QSLs. I was angry with myself for not piping up and questioning this, but it probably wouldn't have made any difference as I was outnumbered by old fuddyduddies.

With a view to speeding this process, please can someone tell me what a paper card gives you that eQSL and LOTW combined doesn't already provide?

Also consider why the majority of card collectors/award hunters for the last 10-50 years wouldn't want progress to electronic means.

Please consider what this global cash wastage would be better spent on.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Reverse Beacon Network Aggregator 1.4 setup

Thought I'd blog some of my setup problems and their solutions here:

1) Problem : No connection from new aggregator to RBNserver.
Solution : In the setup menu in cw skimmer under the "Telnet" tab, "Allow SKIMMER commands" check box must be ticked.

2) Problem : No connection to local user on port 7550.
Solution : The aggregator application must be located in an unprotected area on the c: drive. I run Windows Vista and had the aggregator application in the same director as skimmer under the program files directory. It wasn't until I moved the aggregator application to a folder directly under the c: drive that I was able to connect as a local user on port 7550.

Hopefully these tips will help someone else trying to contribute to the RBN collective.