All posts by andrew

Repairing RJ45 plugs on Icom mike leads

I have had problems with my Icom HM103 mike leads, caused by breaking the locking tab off the RJ45 plug.  This happens usually because the mike and lead are slightly tangled with other gear in my SOTA backpack, even though I use a plastic box to carry the small pieces like headphones, morse paddle, microphone and adaptors.

It also happened once before when I had the microphone of the IC706 stored in the central console of the car.  Pulling it out of where it was carried without due care for the plug  eventually damages it.

And without that little bit of plastic, the mike does not stay in the plug for very long.

Having broken the plugs on my IC703 mike and on the IC706 mike recently I decided to replace the plugs but add the shrouds or covers that protect the crucial locking tab.

The unprotected plug looks like this:

The plug with the protective shroud looks like this:

As a small issue found when re-terminating these plugs, I found that the shield connection was originally made using very small diameter heat-shrink or some other method of making the shield connection look like one of the other wires.  These plugs connect to the wires using connections that cut through the insulation.

I looked for heatshrink tubing that could be used for this purpose, but the smallest I had was labelled 1.5/0.8mm.  A shopping trip to my local computer/electronics parts agent in Yass produced no thinner option.  When compared with the existing wire, the diameter when shrunk was too large to fit into the slot of the connector.  So another method had to be found.

For the first mike I had cut the lead right at the point where the wire enters the plug body.  This created a problem with the shield connection and I had to try to form the shield into a narrow form so that it could slide into the appropriate slot.  After twisting it to create a spiral of multiple strands, it worked but I wished I had found a way to preserve the original insulation.   So when installing the second plug I didn’t cut the wire at the back of the connector, instead I cut the entire connector just behind the crimp point for the conductors.  That way I preserved as much as possible of the original shield wire assembly inside its insulation.

Cutting through the plastic plug body was simple enough but I did that in about 6 sections, ensuring that the wires were not damaged.

Result: a robust plug assembly on both my Icom microphone cables.

I am hoping this surgery will provide longer life for the plugs.

Footnote: I know blue shrouds don’t look right on these black cables and black radios.  But that does not worry me one bit.  And the mike is safe for children.

QRP challenge for 2017

My SOTA friend and collaborator Andrew Moseley VK1AD has proposed a QRP challenge for 2017.  He is going to aim to use 2.5w when activating summits during 2017.  

I have started to do the same and my activation at Mt Ginini on 27th December was made at 2.5w for SSB and 0.5w on CW.  I made about 20 contacts and although some chasers found lower signals a problem, I not only qualified the summit on several bands, I also qualified with CW at 0.5w.  One contact was with Steve VK7CW who also used an FT817 at 0.5w, the lowest power setting of the radio. 

The radio used was an FT817, powered by an internal LIPO 3S battery (windcamp).  I had a spare battery but it was not needed.  The 817 will not be as efficient in terms of output power/DC power consumed, as the bias current on the final amplifier stage will remain the same as it would be at 5w.  

A fringe benefit from using lower transmitted power is that battery life will be improved.  I had previously used the 817 with the internal battery at Mt Mundoonen on 26th December for a short activation.  I did not recharge the battery after that activation as it was only used for 5 contacts plus some listening.  After the Mt Ginini operation, the battery voltage according to the meter on the 817 was above 11v.  It can go down to 10v without any problem for the 817. 

Although we were on the downward slope of sunspot activity, making HF communications less certain, there are still sunspots and occasional sporadic E openings on HF bands.   

It will be interesting to see how the QRP challenge goes during 2017.  Progress reports will be made by both Andrew VK1AD and me.  

Mt Tantangera VK2/SM-024 activated on 10th December 2016

I was invited to join in an activation of Mt Tantangera by Andrew Moseley VK1AD, and was very pleased to be able to join him in this expedition.

Andrew collected me from my weekday accommodation in south Canberra at 7:30am on a brilliant summer’s day that Saturday morning.   We decided to take both our packs to give us the option of working on several bands simultaneously.

The route taken was through Tharwa, south of Canberra, along Boboyan road until it meets the Snowy Mountains Highway between Cooma and Adaminaby, but only a few km short of Adminaby.  The trip through the mountains took us past familiar scenery, Mount Tennant just after Tharwa, the Clear Range to our east, the turnoffs for the old Orroral Valley and Honeysuckle Creek tracking stations, including various SOTA summits like Booroomba Rocks, then past Boboyan Range and Pheasant Hill.

After 2 hours we arrived at the Rocky Plains camping ground.  We prepared for the walk to Mt Tantangera, adding sunscreen, hats, packs with water and food, antenna poles and navigation details.

Track up from Rocky Plains camp ground
Bush view to the side of the track
Track easy to follow
View to the south west while en route to Tantangera
bushland
Andrew VK1AD stops to take a photo too, sometimes!
A track marker showing 1km to the summit – a welcome sign

Many of the horse riders camp at Rocky plains and some even set up temporary areas for their horses to roam in, with temporary electric fencing.  The initial climb up to the saddle is steady and follows a bridle trail.  Some hoof marks are apparent in the soil as you climb upwards.  The condition of the soil was damp but firm.

On arrival at the summit, a very wide flat area, we found the trig point was ideal for attaching a pole to.  Initially we set up our equipment and antennas expecting we would be able to operate the two stations on different bands.  However I received wideband noise whenever Andrew’s FT857 was transmitting.  I decided to move my equipment about 30m away, assuming it was a proximity problem and a bit of spacing would help.

That did work ok, so it was then time to get onto the bands and hand out some reports.  The bands did not appear to be in good condition.  I made relatively few contacts considering the exotic nature of the summit and its SOTA value of 10 points for anyone making a contact.   I decided to use CW mainly so as to give the CW operators a contact, and I knew we would swap bands later so Andrew would be operating on 40m ssb.

I made one contact on 20m CW, then 6 on 40m CW.  One S2S contact was also made with Ian VK1DI at Booroomba Rocks on 2m.  One of the photos taken was of a March Fly (aka Horse Fly) of which there were many.

March Fly
Station setup (photo: Andrew VK1AD)
Lake Eucumbene in the distance

Thanks to Andrew for offering to share this activation.  While band conditions were less than ideal, we had a great day out in the snowy mountains region and enjoyed our walking and radio operation.

WWFF activations in the Canberra suburbs

Canberra is known to many as “the bush capital” and this means there are a lot of nature parks interspersed among the suburbs and hills.  The only National Park in the Australian Capital Territory is Namadgi, which is southwest of the city area, but there are several dozen other nature reserves.  Once they had been given VKFF numbers by the WWFF coordinator for Australia, it became a natural extension of my portable operations around Canberra to add the VKFF number of a park I was in while activating SOTA summits.

After activating Majura, Ainslie, Taylor, Isaacs Ridge and Tuggeranong as well as Namadgi NP many times due to the number of SOTA summits located in registered parks,  it seemed like a good idea to continue to activate parks in the spring weather we are now enjoying (November) between rain showers (it has been a very wet year).

In October and November to date I have activated Urambi Hills, McQuoids Hill, Cooleman Ridge, Farrer Ridge and Wanniassa Hills Nature Reserves, all in the Tuggeranong Valley or adjacent to it.  The next reserve activated was Mt Painter nature reserve.

All were easy to access, and for the hills you have the option of setting up anywhere within the reserve, not necessarily on the hilltop, though in several cases I was curious to look at the view from the top and did walk up anyway.   I was also using these activations as training exercises as I was acutely conscious of losing some of my fitness for SOTA walking due to various injuries during the year.

The operating position at Urambi Hills.  Photo taken by camera attached to the antenna pole at about 1.2m.

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At Tuggeranong Hill

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The nature park sign at McQuids Hill.

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Looking back down the hill from half way up.  Loose stones, take care here, especially downhill.

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Almost at the top, McQuoid’s Hillimgp2041s

Operating at Farrer Ridge Nature Reserve

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Lashing the pole to a fairly dead tree.  Using the branch to prevent the rope from slipping downwards, just as F1BLL calls me.

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Plenty of wildlife like this mother carrying a baby at Farrer Ridge

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I particularly enjoyed the walk up to Mt Wanniassa, which qualifies as a nature reserve but is not a SOTA Summit.  Nearby Isaacs Ridge is slightly higher.  But this is a nice mountain and has a great view.

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After these southside nature reserves I looked at the map and decided that a northside reserve was next.  Mt Painter is a hill to the south of the suburb of Cook in the Belconnen area.  It was many years since I visited this hill and it was an easy walk up from a roadside park, past the water reservoirs and to this bench with a view of Black Mountain and the lake.imgp2106s imgp2107s

 

On most of these activations I made at least 10 contacts in about an hour, using 40 and 20m bands on SSB and CW.  I was hoping for more dx contacts on 20m CW but conditions have been depressed, so it is even more difficult than usual for a 10 watt signal to get all the way around the earth.

Gerard, F1BLL did call me on most of these activations and even when very few others seemed to hear me in Europe, he heard and called me. Thanks Gerard, very nice to have your consistent signal on nearly all of my recent activations.

Another Gerard, VK2IO, attempted contacts with me from Sydney on many of these activations but the radio conditions simply didn’t give us a chance of making a contact via the very high ionosphere.

Equipment used on activations: Icom IC703 at 10w output.

Antennas:

  • linked dipole capable of operating on any band from 40m to 10m
  • vertical antenna for 20m, 5m vertical and three 5m radials, tuned to 14.200
  • antennas supported on a 7m telescopic fibreglass pole.

As all the nature reserves are intended for public use, there is no requirement to get permission to enter and use them.

 

Pheasant Hill, sota vk1/ac-021, south of Canberra

After activating Boboyan Range successfully the week before, I wanted to grab a few winter bonus points before they ended.  Pheasant Hill is located west of the Boboyan Road, almost at the southern border of the ACT(VK1) with NSW (VK2) in southeastern Australia.  It is in ecalytpus forest country and is 1455m above sea level.

So on this Saturday morning I drove along Boboyan road to the parking area of Brayshaw’s hut (dating back a hundred years or more) and hiked westward through the forest with the sounds of nature around me.
About 20 minutes in you pass this sign

Map and information about the area
Map and information about the area

After turning to the north and heading up the hill the forest is thicker in places.

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Forest views

 

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Path faintly visible

Finally I reached the summit area and found a suitable clearing with a handy tree stump for one of my poles.

I used one pole for the linked dipole which can be used on any of the 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12 or 10 metre bands.  The other pole supported the 6m vertical and a 2m dipole offset from the pole on a short length of 19mm PVC conduit.

Vhf antennas
Vhf antennas

Conditions on the bands were not bad. I made 4 contacts into New Zealand (ZL) on 20m, several “local” contacts on 2m FM back into Canberra using the dipole mounted at about 3m above ground.  Only one contact on 6m, with VK1MA.

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Radio and camera operator

Originally in our sota summit list this one was named Pleasant hill, but that was corrected later.  As Ian VK1DI remarked after first activating this summit, it is indeed a pleasant hill.
I was tempted to stay there longer but the wind was rising and I didn’t want to be caught in rain. So after about 2 hours I packed up and headed home.

Approaching Brayshaw's Hit from the west
Approaching Brayshaw’s Hit from the west
One of the direction markers close up
One of the direction markers close up


Summary:

Contacts:

Band Contacts
50 MHz 1
144 MHz 6
432 MHz 1
7 MHz 17
14 MHz 5
21 MHz 1

Walking distance: it took me about 45 mins to reach the summit from the car park.  The return trip was a bit faster.

Permissions: not required – it’s in the Namadgi National Park and day trips are automatically OK.

Round trip from southern Canberra – about 120 km.

Short activation at Mt Gillamatong vk2/st-034

A surprise invitation to a trip over to Braidwood with a bonus of “you can walk up that hill if you like” resulted in a short activation on Monday 24th October.

The climb up the eastern slope is always interesting, it presents a 3 dimensional challenge of not only climbing the bit in front of you, but also getting you to a place that will be easier to keep on climbing with a minimum of blockage by trees, rocks etc.  The rocks are big ones.

Eventually I arrived at the summit and found a clear area near one of the compounds containing an apparently disused dish staring pointlessly at a position in the sky.

I had enough time for a handful of contacts on 40m ssb and then packed up and headed down to where my patient wife was happily reading a book.

Sotagoat app on iOS – workaround for “alert” time error

The SOTAGOAT app is a well presented and popular app for iOS and works well on my iPhone 5s and the iPad.

Its features include displays for alerts and spots, just like the sotawatch.org website, configuration options allowing you to choose between UTC and local time for displays and posts, an option to produce a goat bleat when each new spot is received from sotawatch, a filter option to specify which modes you want to be informed about and the time periods in which you want the notifications and bleats to occur. It uses an internal list of summits which can be updated from a sotawatch site and can display a list of summits near to your current location, which it gets from the GPS info in the phone or tablet.

However, the current (2016) version of the app has an error in the time calculations for new alerts. Sotawatch uses UTC dates and times. I have sotagoat set to display and post in UTC.  But the times posted and seen on sotawatch were always incorrect and I observed that they were incorrect by the UTC offset. The app was adding my UTC offset to the UTC times I wanted and then posting the adjusted time to sotawatch.  I have found the error can be worked around by adjusting the alert time as follows.

When posting an alert I subtract my UTC offset from the alert time.

For example to post an alert for 2300 UTC I subtract 11 hours (in DST periods) or 10 hours (in standard time) and post the alert for the adjusted time, namely 1200 UTC.

This is easy for UTC times after 1100 but for earlier times, the date must be adjusted back too. It’s simple arithmetic you can do in your head. For say 0400, subtract 11 hours: I do that by one of these two methods:

  • First subtracting 4 hours to get back to 0000, then subtracting the remaining 7 hours (because 4+7=11) from 2400 to get 1700.
  • Add 24 hours to 0400 (2800) and subtract 11 hours from that (1700).

In each case, because the time is in the previous day, subtract one day from the date too.

What if I was in a time zone that is behind UTC instead of ahead?

I don’t know whether the software error treats both time offsets similarly. It is possible that it is correct for negative offsets.

The error has been notified to the author of the software but as it can take a while for new versions to be released via the iTunes Store, I will use this workaround until it is fixed. The utility of the application is too good in all other ways to stop using it.