April 2023 Entries

Thursday, 27th April, 2023

I’ve booked my exam for the next level of radio licence, but now I’m panicking that I don’t have enough time to learn it all. I’m still torn between playing on the radio and reading the manual/writing notes each evening.

I’ve generally been good and been reading the manual and writing handwritten paper notes 😅 although I’m not covering as much as I’d thought I would each evening. Plus we have things on and my wife is away this weekend, and I want time to do some mock exams.

The content isn’t hard but there’s so much “remember this widget is needed for AM, and points that way, and the factor is 11.7. Except when it’s night and then it’s 10 but only on Thursdays”. Also, whilst the questions aren’t trick they have a certain way of writing it such that there can technically be multiple right answers but one is more right than others, because that’s the focus of the licence terms.

I’m just hoping for lots of calculation questions 😅

Monday, 24th April, 2023

I was reading about FT8, and it turns out I can claim a QSO for my contacts with Australia and Japan! It’s just normal convention to automatically log it when you send 73s (code for best regards). We exchanged signal strength and that means we communicated with each other.

I’ll log it, but until I physically speak to someone in Australia I’m not that excited. It’s great but the real excitement is to come.

Doing a ft4 digital contest tonight. First 15 minutes I had no contacts and thought it was going to be terrible, but it started picking up.

Sunday, 23rd April, 2023

I setup digital modes (FT8 and friends via WSJT-X if you want to know) and played around with it. It’s interesting but not as fun as actually speaking to people.

The good thing with it is that you get a lot of data to see how far you can be heard and on which band. The best is pskreporter website which is the default one WSJT-X uploads to. This allows you to see who has heard you, even if they haven’t responded directly.

I was pretty much heard all over the world, although very weakly in most places outside of Europe. I did nearly get a contact with Japan and Australia. They responded to me but we didn’t get to do the full FT8 handshake message sequence before they lost me. That would’ve been exciting, although not as exciting as a voice contact.

The U.K. radio society is running a FT4 contest tomorrow, so I’ll give that a go.

The next thing is figuring out how to get the antenna higher. Poles and wires no doubt, much to my wife’s disgust. I am seriously considering finding a fallen tree in the woods near us and dragging that back. On the pretence that I can test the performance first, before I buy more things. Would be good to get the antenna up to about 10m. It’s currently 4m at one end and 2.5m at the other. So quite a step up… 📡

Friday, 21st April, 2023

I’ve literally been spending all evening from when the kids go to bed to 11pm+ on the radio. Listening, chatting, chasing unique stations and continually being amazed that this bit of wire in the garden can get me around the world.

I made contact with Canada the other night. He lives near St. John’s but still all away across the ocean!

I can hear folks in Florida and Texas, but my licence doesn’t give me quite enough power to reach them. Or the sun is not in a super solar activity mode just yet.

I’m torn between learning for the next level and being on the radio!

Last night I got the Aland Islands, which are between Sweden and Finland in the Baltic Sea. As they’re a special island on the air (IOTA) so many people were calling. So when he replied with my callsign it was super exciting!

Tonight I’m going to try out some digital modes. They only need a tiny fraction of power to work so potentially I could get into the US or Asia etc.

I’ve so much material for blog posts but don’t know when I’m going to write them!

I also like not being on the computer. I am on the laptop looking up callsigns and adding to my log but I’m sat on a bean bag in the kitchen and it’s nice to be in a different environment. I’m going to run a cable around the house to the office but thinking about making the kitchen more permanent that it is. We’ll see.

Tuesday, 18th April, 2023

Excuse me whilst I spend all my free time on the radio listening to Brazil, Jakarta, America, Canada, Europe, Russia and South Africa.

Can’t quite get them to hear me yet, nevertheless it’s still fun. Might try some digital modes and see if that gets me further.

Sunday, 16th April, 2023

Lots of fun today with the radio. Made some nice contacts across Europe, Germany, Italy, Portugal and into Ukraine and Croatia. Plus some more in the UK. I heard lots more in Greece, Spain, Italy, France and even Brazil. However, these were on 10m and it seems no-one could hear me. Not perfect propagation for my low 10W of power. I made contact with someone just down the road on 10m and then I heard them make contact with Brazil, so clearly if you have 100W or more then you can overcome the weaker transmission.

Spent a while listening to a 97 year old in Ireland talking to a “young” 75 year old in England. Made me smile. I waited to speak with them but 40m on a Sunday afternoon is soooo very busy. No sooner than they had stopped about about 10 other people started calling on the same frequency. The little waterfall on my radio shows the whole band is super active, which is great but hard to get a word in!

I found 15m and 17m worked quite well this afternoon, quieter than 40m but people could hear me, vs. 10 and 12m that couldn’t.

Need to sort out my logging arrangements. So far it’s notepad on the computer and then into QRZ.com but would like to pick and use one of the other programs. It’s nice looking up callsigns on QRZ when I hear them.

Looking forward to when 10m does work for me and I make a contact outside the Europe continent.

It’s still amazing how good the long bit of wire is, even though it could be higher off the ground.

Saturday, 15th April, 2023

Was making up some coax to go from the antenna to the radio this morning. My wife asked “so what are you doing? Is this for the pole?”. I then explained the wire going across the garden 5m in the air and her reply wasn’t “that sounds great”. I said it was “temporary”. Haha! 😅

Ugh the mower won’t start and I think I need to clean the carburettor. Annoyingly I just filled it up with fuel. That’ll be a two hour ordeal and then I STILL have to mow the lawn. 🌾

Thursday, 13th April, 2023

I see two new monochrome cameras today! The astronomically priced Leica M11M and the more moderately priced Pentax K-3 DSLR. I’d like to have a monochrome camera but no way can I justify one, when 99% of the time, a B&W filter is good enough for me. I assume the M11M can resolve a million ISO and with 60 MP can see the atoms themselves.

My radio transceiver arrived yesterday, although yet to even take it out of the box. I need the power supply, which should be arriving tomorrow, and then I’ll have everything. Maybe this weekend I’ll get around to setting it all up. Need to make up some coax with connectors too. I do worry that I’ll set it all up, fiddle about for an afternoon/evening and then get bored and move onto something else!

I go back and forth between learning to take the higher level exams, and looking into contests and other such things. I guess I’ll set it up and see how it all goes. I think I have a reasonable plan to cable it into the office, which would make it more comfortable to use, rather than sat outside or an ad-hoc setup in the kitchen.

I envy people who get into a hobby and stick with it for ages. I will touch on things, get obsessed, buy lots of stuff, then after a short period of time stop and move onto something else. I tell myself if I didn’t have to work, I’d have more time to do all these things.

I’m not that excited about the local radio club either. Maybe I need to give it more time but chatting to people online is just as useful to me so far. Other than borrowing equipment or having someone come and do something, I’m not really sure how useful it is.

My sister is staying with us and showed me her bullet journal. My goodness. It’s like those ones you see on instagram. It looks lovely, and her writing is beautiful, with fun stickers and drawings and all sorts.

Found out someone at work is doing a data science masters over about 5 years. I’ve thought about that. Not sure why though. Doing real projects is probably more useful, but if I wanted to stay in the same industry but switch roles, then a degree is seen as more relevant as that’s how companies whose business is not software dev think. Maybe? I also want to do it for me, and having that pressure means I’d do something. However, it’ll be time and money.

I’m feeling the need to refresh personal annual goals and desires for this year. Mostly as I’ve not really been doing anything? Feels that way anyway. Although not sure what I want to do. With my sister staying I’ve not been on the computer in the evening. Other than some occasional admin thing, I’ve not really wanted to go on. She leaves tomorrow, and I feel like I should capitalise on this - either some reading, writing, or making coax.

Wife’s grandpa passed away a few weeks ago, both went in a short space of time (<2 months), and we were at their house with family for a celebration. Now the clear out and house selling starts. We don’t have to do anything but it’s a weird situation of flipping from sadness to talking about who wants what furniture etc. from the house. Wife has asked about a writing bureau, which I quietly would very much like for us to get. We’ll see.

Wednesday, 12th April, 2023

This is quite amusing.

Generative agents wake up, cook breakfast, and head to work; artists paint, while authors write; they form opinions, notice each other, and initiate conversations; they remember and reflect on days past as they plan the next day

Be good for NPCs in games, and then make each playthrough a unique experience or perhaps learn from past playthroughs.

Tried to get ChatGPT to write an excel formula to convert a date string from “Thursday, February 14, 2019” format to dd/mmm/yyyy. It wrote a big formula but the part that extracts the day didn’t work. I kept telling it that it’s not right and it kept writing more and more complex formula but still didn’t work. Part of me suspects the problem is excel and some weird auto type detection.

Tuesday, 11th April, 2023

I took the M2 and 4 rolls of film on our easter holiday trip last week. Didn’t take a single frame. However, I did enjoy using the X-E4 with the 27mm pancake. I used that pretty much 95% of the time, with an occasional usage of the 50-230mm telephoto.

Sunday, 9th April, 2023

Happy Easter! 🐣🐰

Saturday, 8th April, 2023

So much for sitting and reading by the window overlooking the sea. Busy busy with the kids doing things.

Tried reaching the repeater in Belfast and south on the mainland but couldn’t. Need a better antenna. A good one is a magnetic mount for the roof of the car and then you get to use the metal of the car, although ours has a big sunroof across most of it, so not sure how well that would work.

Sunday, 2nd April, 2023

The act of writing out what I’ve been thinking about with ham radios really helped me. Yesterday’s rant made me realise the bleeding obvious. Get the G90, and get doing something. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve also decided upon an end-fed half wave (EFHW) antenna, it can attach to the railings on the balcony and then to some pole or whatever I can cobble together at the bottom of the garden. There’s enough space for the 40m band, which seems to be a very popular one. I’ve made a list of all the things I need and will buy them…soon! Reason being is were away for a bit and I don’t want stuff to arrive when we’re not here.

Going to the Isle of Arran. Weather appears unfortunate mid-week but it often has a micro-climate so potential to avoid the rain.

I’m debating about how much technology I should bring with me. I do enjoy time with minimal tech, but it can be hard too. I was considering taking my laptop with me, but I’m bad enough wasting time on the iPad let alone the laptop.

Going to take the handheld radio with me, see if I can hit the Northern Ireland repeater whilst next to the sea. Which reminds me I need to program the repeaters in. I tried my local repeater and I can hear it and it pips when I send a message but I never hear anything back. Now either no-one is replying or something is up with my radio. Today there was a lot of static after I called. Which makes me think someone is replying but I can’t hear. No idea what to do about it though. I’ve heard people talking on my radio before, so it functions, and I hear the pips from the repeater. So we’ll see what I can find.

I’m tempted to take my typewriter with me, but it’s not really practical and I’m not sure what I’m writing on it. Think I mostly want to take it because no-one expects it. I never have time for doing things myself, always entertaining the kids and busy. Perhaps in years to come where we go away to some cottage by the sea I can sit and type on it.

Then there’s cameras. I took some photos yesterday as it was the boys’ birthday party and that’s warmed me up to taking pictures again. It was digital and none of the images where that great, we were inside the skatepark place so the lighting was all over the place. I think I’ll take the M2, 35mm and some HP5 or whatever B&W I have. I should take it. It did make remember that I sold the 60mm fuji macro but never replaced it with anything. This means I don’t have a method to scan my film. I was debating between another macro lens or a dedicated scanner. Still not sure what I’d like best.

Fell down the rabbit hole of portable shortwave radios. But stopped as it seemed so many stations have gone off-air and are internet streaming only.

Saturday, 1st April, 2023

April fools day. Doesn’t need to be the 1st of April for me to be a fool.

I spending too much time looking at radios. It’s very reminiscent of looking at cameras. Evening after evening of forums, YouTube, and blog posts going from one to another to another and still not making any progress. Even considering not bothering at all. I just need to pick something or stop and do something else.

The logical choice is the Xiegu G90. It’s £400, the cheapest by far of any of them, even used ones. The only exception is if I can find someone locally selling something for mates rates, but that’s pot luck. It’s a 20W HF transceiver, has an antenna tuning unit it in, and a reasonable colour screen. I’d need to get a power supply to go with it, which is probably another £100. I can only use 10 W on my licence, and the next level is 50 W. The ATU lets you match the antenna if it’s not quite right - I’m thinking of end fed one in the garden, so ATU is useful. So it does everything I need and not at a great cost. I’m worried I’ll get it all setup then immediately be bored of it.

I don’t like its form factor. It’s a like a ream of paper, and the screen, whilst nice, seems too small to actually make use of the spectrum or whatever it has. Although it’s still quite small even if a funny shape.

Next up is another Xiegu, the X6100. It’s a portable one with built in battery. Does 10 W with external power supply but only 5 W from the battery. Has a much bigger screen for the spectrum/waterfall. Other people even make a new interface for it which you can load from a SD card. Has ATU too. It is about £550-600. I like the style of it but only 5 W on battery means I’d want to use an external power supply anyway. This could be a battery pack, so not a huge deal but feels like it defeats the point of the internal battery.

Then Yaesu ft-891. It’s more “ream of paper” shape but often comes up as a very good radio. Simple screen and “complex” menu system, so no waterfall, but 100 W and good radio filtering etc. qualities. No ATU and needs external power supply. Ream of paper in shape but I think smaller, so quite portable. Maybe £600 used.

Portable for me means, carrying it into back garden as I’m not sure I’m running coax all through the house to get from the antenna in the back garden to the office at the front of the house. Maybe in time I might but not just now. So I don’t want it to be this huge setup and faff to get to use it, as then I wont. Also I’d consider taking it on trips away.

Now for the ones I want…the Elecraft KX2. Very portable, but feature packed, with ATU, internal battery that it runs at 12 W with, high quality components, all sorts. Just it’s probably £1000+, can only import from USA (more cost in duties) and they currently have a 4 month waiting list.

Similar to it is the labs599 Discovery TX-500. This is milled aluminium and looks amazing. 10W, and no internal battery or ATU, but a very thin profile. No speaker either as it’s waterproof/resistant. It’s available now but £1200, and have to buy a power supply/battery.

The KX2 an TX-500 would be fine just now for my everything radio but if I got more serious would be the portable unit and then I’d get a proper home base station. Whereas the G90 would probably end up getting sold as floating between not that portable and not that great for home base station. But equally nothing wrong with buying it now and then selling it and getting soemthing else, particularly as I’m not sure if I’m really going to get into it.

Logically, it’s the G90. So why am I still deciding 😅

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