All posts by andrew

Testing a Mountain Topper Radio (MTR) model 3B

Having seen the Steve Weber designed compact transceivers on the web and having seen an MTR owned by VK1FB, I was delighted to find one for sale on vkclassifieds.net.au recently.  After duly receiving it and waiting for my birthday to pass (due to my wife’s insistence on waiting for the actual day to receive gifts), I wanted to test it from home and learn the menu system, which like the radio itself, is very compact.

Using my home antenna, a fan dipole with elements for 80, 40, 20 and 10m, I connected the radio to power (a 3S Lifepo4), headphones and the antenna and turned it on.  It sent the number 4 in morse, saying it was on 40m.  I tuned it around the CW end of the band for a while and tried a few of the control functions.  Then I returned it to the default 7030 frequency by switching it off and on again (where have I heard that before?)

Then in the headphones I heard “cq sota de vk5cz” which was Ian at summit vk5/ne-095 in the north east of South Australia.  I listened to his contact with VK3PF and then heard him ask QRZ? (“who is calling”, or “is there anyone else there?”) to which I responded with my callsign.  He replied immediately with a good signal report.  I gave him a report and then told him this was my first contact with the MTR3B.  He acknowledged that and wished me good luck.  I returned the greetings and signed off.

Yes the new radio works despite being smaller than my morse paddle. It’s the blue box in this pic. Produces about 3-5 watts on 7, 10 and 14 MHz amateur bands. The Mountain Topper Radio 3B.

Ian/Buhd vk5cz posted to facebook a comment that this contact was the highlight of the activation, which was great to read.  And later he also published a video clip in which the contact can be heard taking place.

A day later I had the MTR connected again, this time on 14060.  I tuned it up to 14062 and there was a familiar callsign, VK5CZ, in contact with someone.  Looking at SOTAWATCH.ORG I saw that Ian had recently called CQ from another SOTA summit.  I waited until the contact was finished, then heard him send QRZ? and again sent my callsign.  Back he came with a 559 with QSB (fading) report, which was pretty good.  I told him it was the MTR again, which he was pleased to hear about.

Now I need a contact on the remaining band provided by the MTR, 10 MHz, for which I need to make some alternative arrangements as my home antenna does not have a suitable impedance on that band.  The MTR is designed for a 50 ohm non-reactive load.  I will route it through an antenna matchbox which can be adjusted to present a 50 ohm impedance to the transmitter.

So far so good.  I am very impressed by the MTR and look forward to many lightweight activations with it.

Restoring memory settings in FT817

After getting my FT817 final stage replaced, and all power settings reset to meet spec, I started to use the radio again and quickly realised that all the memory settings (frequency and mode) had been wiped.

This made it necessary to change bands using the band switch (!) and manually change between SSB and CW mode, or occasionally FM, dialing up and down the band as necessary.  With the frequency settings in memories, I only needed to move between memory channels to go from SSB on 7090 to CW on 7032, for example.  And on higher bands, I had several beacon frequencies stored in some memories, allowing me to quickly move between the various 10m and 6m beacon frequencies to get a quick impression of band conditions.

So today I dug out the details of the FT817 memory manager software, retrieved the file of frequency settings stored on the computer, added a few new ones and saved the lot in the 817.   Then repeated the process for  my second FT817.  So they now have an identical set of frequencies in their memories.  Makes them somewhat interchangeable.

All the second radio is missing is a cw filter.  I have plans to sort that out soon.

The details of the memory manager and how to interface it with the radio from a windows box are all in a previous post to this blog.  I actually read the post to remind myself of how it worked!

The previous post on this topic is here.

The blog documents it all.

 

Heart problems 2017

It began with some difficulties climbing Mt Taylor in January 2017.   I found after the first 500m of walking, about a quarter of the distance, that I became very tired and did not have the energy to continue.  At the time I put this down to general fitness having dropped during the last year, with an arm injury in February 2016 slowing me down considerably and plantar fasciitis developing when I did resume climbing hills and curtailing much of my usual summit activity.  As I am no longer what anyone will call “young” any more, extra care is required when doing anything challenging.  *

However what I should have realised is that what I was experiencing was one of this list of symptoms:

  • Pain areas: in the chest, jaw, or neck
  • Pain types: can be like a clenched fist in the chest or sudden in the chest
  • Whole body: dizziness, fatigue, inability to exercise, light-headedness, or sweating
  • Gastrointestinal: heartburn, indigestion, or nausea
  • Respiratory: rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Also common: anxiety, chest tightness, or fast heart rate

Some readers will recognise these symptoms as those of angina, a sign that the heart does to have enough oxygen from its blood supply to continue to work at the rate required by your current exertion level. 

The Mayo Clinic describes angina thus:

  • Angina is typically described as squeezing, pressure, heaviness, tightness or pain in your chest.

Notice there is no mention of a sharp pain you would associate immediately with your heart.  Why not?  The reason is apparently that the heart does not have its own nerves like other organs.  So when your brain registers there is something going wrong in your heart it tells you that some other organ is under stress. 

It is usually caused by blockages in the arteries servicing the heart (as distinct from the arteries the heart pumps blood into for circulation to the rest of your body).  These coronal arteries are crucial for continued operation of your heart.  

In my case, I experienced the tightness in my chest as I walked back to my accommodation in Canberra on 20th April.  I didn’t recognise the tightness as angina and all I did was stop walking and wait for the discomfort to dissipate, which it did. But on reaching my daughter’s place, I made an appointment with the doctor for later that morning, then went to work.  

What should I have done?  I should have stopped walking right then and called an ambulance.  If you ever get that tightness in the chest, or any of those symptoms listed above, go as quickly as possible to the nearest emergency department of a hospital.  Or the next best thing if you don’t have access to a hospital. 

The doctor diagnosed it as angina and prescribed a pain reduction spray (nitro glycerine) with instructions on what to do if the pain returned.  Basically, use the spray as temporary relief but get to a hospital. 

Within a half hour of seeing the doctor I had more discomfort and I went to the hospital for treatment.  After numerous tests an angiogram was carried out and I was told then that I would have to have a triple bypass operation.  

All of that happened as scheduled on 3rd May and I am now recuperating from the operation.  I am basically OK but a bit weak and have to steadily regain my strength.  It is a very invasive operation but fortunately it is performed quite often and is well proven.

The reason I am sharing all these details is to alert you to this problem. My blood pressure has been in an acceptable range (roughly 125/70) for the last 10 years.  My cholesterol readings have been just inside the “safe” range.  Yet neither of those indicators predicted this problem was looming for me.   If I had been out in th bush needing to walk an hour to even return to my car, who knows what the outcome could have been.  But it is quite possible I would not be here to tell you about it.  I want to achieve a lot of things in the next 20 years and I now have a chance to do that, thanks to modern medical science.  

*Age: mid 60s.  

VHF/UHF Field day/contest Jan 14/15 2017

The VHF/UHF field day in January is one of my favourite events.  I have had some great surprises on these weekends.  I had no idea what to expect this time, though the weather was forecast as damp on Saturday and dry on Sunday.

I arrived on site around 6pm Friday night.  Along the route from Yass via the Mountain Creek Road I had noticed a lot of debris on the road, including some tree branches that had been broken off by high winds.  I didn’t realise a storm had gone through Canberra while I was driving to Mt Ginini, breaking trees and strewing debris all over suburban streets and bringing trees down over some of the arterial roads, leaving damage that would be visible for weeks afterwards.

This is how far I got setting up on Friday night. After this, the wind came up and the rain and sleet started.

The weather at the time was windy and when I tried to set up the tent it was clear that it would not survive that wind.  In the hope that it would clear away in a few hours, I decided to sit it out and stayed in the car.  By 9pm it was dark and I had to decide whether to  re-pack my tent and go back to Canberra for the night or hang on.  I decided to hang on.  It rained quite heavily for a while and the wind kept howling so once it was really dark, I felt there was no other option.

In the early morning it seemed to be better.  The wind was still there but didn’t seem so bad.  The rain had cleared.  But I hadn’t slept much.

I set about the job of assembling the antennas, the tent, the interconnections and generator.  By 12 noon, the contest start time, I was just about ready to roll.

432 MHz preamp cabling
144 MHz antenna
1296 MHz antenna – end mounted

 

The erected antennas looked very much like they have for the last 10 years so I didn’t take any new photos of them. The 2m, ;70cm and 23cm yagis on one mast and the 6m 3el yagi on another, both rotated from the base using KR400 rotators.  Feedlines: RG9B for 2m, CNT400 for 70cm and 23cm, RG213 or similar for 6m.

Here’s a pic of the antennas from a previous operation at Ginini.  A few configuration differences for the 70cm antenna but otherwise very similar this time.

VHF/UHF antennas on Mt Ginini

 

Once I got on the air, I found beacons from VK3 were very low, the Sydney beacons were almost undetectable and few portables outside the VK1 area.  Only VK2IO was heard initially, but one or two others did emerge later in the weekend.  VK1DSH, VK1RX, VK1RW, VK1MT and VK1AI were all out in the field, most of them on 50/144/432 and Dale was on 1296 as well.  We had a small number of home stations operating the bands too.

After working Gerard VK2IO (Mt Bindo near Oberon) I then worked Phil VK5AKK on both 144 and 432.  We tried 1296 too, but although I could hear a signal from his 100w, my 10w was too far down to make it a two way contact.  A digital mode would have worked.  hmm.  More power on my end would have helped too.  Double hmm.

The day progressed without any more surprising dx, and I found it hard to convince myself to stay awake after 9pm, having got very little sleep in the driver’s seat of the car on Friday night.

At 5:30 in the morning, there were good signals from the vk3 beacons, Sydney was a bit better too.  And I had a very good signal from the Mt Gambier beacon on 144.550 plus a weak signal from Mt Lofty on 144.450.  I hoped this indicated something of the contacts to be made in the following hours.

It did, partly.  VK5DK at Mt Gambier was worked, as was VK5PJ.  But conditions were not good enough to give us contacts on higher frequencies.

My surprise contact on Sunday morning was being called by Mike VK3BDL/7 at Flinders Island.  After working me on 144 and 432, Mike went on to work Chris VK2DO at Batemans Bay on 144, a contact which they were both very happy with.

Eventually the contest ended and I followed it up with a short period of activating Mt Ginini as a SOTA station, using the IC703 running from a LiFePO4 battery.  I had at 6am set up the 20m vertical in the hope of making an S2S with a US station who was looking for VK contacts.  I may have been a bit unlucky with conditions, or jut not spending enough time listening for the US signals.  No luck with S2S but did have a good contact with home station NS7P on CW.

The packing process took about 4 hours and I left the summit at 5pm.  A 2 hour trip back to Yass and a welcome shower and a cold drink when I got there.

The 6m beam seen in the foreground (in the shade, sorry) travels in a partially assembled state. The gamma match stays in place, but the extensions just come out of each element and it then is not much wider than the 2m beam and is narrow enough to be carried quite safely on the roof rack of the car.

Mostly packed up and ready to be loaded into the car and trailer. 2m and 70cm mast still to be disassembled.

 

Contacts made:  183 total.

Band totals:

  • 50 Mhz:  39
  • 144:   70
  • 432:  51
  • 1296: 22

Total points claimed under distance calculation rules: 55916

Points lost due to a wrong grid locator:  about 10.

Points lost due to not enough other portables:  500,000.

haha

 

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.