Monday, November 20, 2017

Low RF noise location - near Dorrigo

This week I'm spending a few days at a very low noise location in northern New South Wales near Dorrigo.

Yesterday I tuned around 40m and experienced S0 noise. There were some stations in Victoria and Tasmania coming through well. Tonight I will try to join the Home Brew Group's net. Here is my squid pole hanging off a stake. (I'm told there are much better stakes, normally used for electric fence supports, available for about $4 - will investigate).

The local paper, the Don Dorrigo Gazette, here is printed with the old letterpress system and looks amazing.

Internet here is pretty slow so I won't be posting much.

These posts, seen below with the orange loop at the top, are widely used to hold up electric fences. They have a convenient foot hook for pushing them in to the ground.

It's lovely here, audio and electrically quiet. The only sound on radio is the clicking of electric fences - how ironic.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Blog hits a million page views

A milestone today, the page views on this little blog has just hit one million. This blog is really a personal notebook where I write little posts that I can find again later to remind me how to do various things.

The first post was on October 12, 2006 back in the days when email spam was still a problem. Before this blog I had another, rather too serious blog. I found that I'd set the bar too high. Posts were essays and I couldn't keep it up. I was foolishly thinking too much about the audience. Giving that up and just posting notes to myself has done the trick.

The blog is never a chore and many times I've searched for how to do something and found my own blog post from the past. I fear that social platforms like Facebook are becoming the owners of our writing and much like GeoCities will some day disappear with all of that content. Arguably a blog on Google's Blogger suffers the same drawback but I hope that Google is more likely to keep it up.

Thanks everyone for visiting, for comments and for getting in touch.



Friday, November 10, 2017

Comparing antennas with WSPR

The new end fed antenna has obviously higher signals but also higher noise. The question is.. which antenna is better?

I now have three antennas that work on 40m (7MHz). The real test of an antenna, at least on receive, is the signal to noise ratio, and WSPR is a great way to measure this. I've set up three receivers, with three computers, all running wspr with the following call signs.
  • VK2TPM/1 is a half G5RV into an FT817
  • VK2TPM/2 is the new end fed into an IC7300
  • VK2TPM/3 is my old dipole fed with open wire feeder into a KX3
At the time of this first post, I'm surprised to report that my half G5RV is significantly better than the dipole or end fed for most reception.

Reception of VK2RG who is 48km away.

Reception of VK3AFE, who is 718km south of me.

Reception of ON7KO who is 16,732km away.

Comparing antennas is not simple. Each antenna is directional so performs better for stations in certain directions. Local stations are received quite differently to remote stations where signals come in from above. Some antennas pick up more local noise than others.

WSPR is a great tool for antenna comparison. Is there a better way to plot the data?

Update: I'm wrong

I think my analysis above is incorrect. Looking at all data over a 24 hour period it's clear that the big dipole receives more spots overall, which is a good measure of overall receive performance.

For what it's worth, here's the average received signal to noise ratio, spot counts and total distance of all spots received. (I don't actually think adding all S/N db figures makes any sense).

So in the end the dipole I think performs better even though signals (and noise) are higher on the end fed. John, VK2ASU, correctly points out that I haven't attempted to tune the end fed for 40m properly and that may well improve it.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Built an end fed match box

At QRP by the harbour I put up a dipole for 40m and John VK2ASU put up an end fed antenna which seemed to work better. My dipole was held up in the centre on a 6m squid pole and the ends drooping down to ground stakes at each end.

John's end fed went straight up to a squid pole and then over to a nearby tree. He cleverly used a bottle filled with water to throw the end up there (to save weight {although he also carried a lead mallet for the ground stake}). In the end John's antenna was more in the air than my inverted V.

Inspired by David, VK3IL's build of a matchbox for an end fed half wave which was inspired by PA3HHO's end fed half wave article I reproduced their work today.

Like David, I used 150pF on the input.

Connected to my end fed inverted L it shows decent SWR on 40 and 20m. My transceiver's built-in ATU easily matched on both those bands. Compared to the 40m dipole signals are stronger but so is noise so perhaps the best way to compare is to run WSPR on each for a while.

Like John, I used an FT240-43 toroid and wound 0.8mm wire on it. Cable ties hold the core in place. The plastic box has a snap on base.

Thanks to all who went before. This is a very easy project to build and could be very handy in the field.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Active on 6m with new J-Pole antenna

My thanks to Peter, VK2EMU, who manufactured a few J-Pole antennas for 6m. A beautiful addition to the shed.

Thanks also to Stephen, VK2BLQ, who kindly gave me a length of water pipe to mount the antenna on.

The antenna is manufactured from square aluminium tube, welded and with a perspex spacer at the top of the J.

I found that mine was a bit short and have added a sliding section of right angle stock to the end to get it to tune up.

The 6m band is quite wide and it's hard to choose where to tune as I'm interested in both 52.525MHz for FM all the way down to 50.293MHz for WSPR and below for digital modes.

The taps for the stub are attached with U-bolts at the moment for easy adjustment. I'm not confident that the connection will be good after a while in the weather but so far seems fine. Peter also supplied some stainless steel long bolts and nuts that I'll switch to in time.

Here's the matching step connected to u-bolts:

I've wrapped the coax ends in self-annealing tape to keep the water out and used some hook and loop wrap to keep a loop of coax in place.

It's resonant at 52.28MHz although the impedance is a little low. My rig can tune it up without any problem.

As soon as I called CQ on 52.525, Ron, VK2GO immediately responded - it's great that there's people around responding to random CQ calls. Thanks Ron.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Run your own Web SDR with OpenWebRX on Raspberry Pi

There's quite a few excellent remote receivers running WebSDR but unfortunately the author has decided only to give the software to agree to make their server publicly available. I think it's a pity that this software is not available for people wanting to share their home receiver with, perhaps, a few friends. It's also a pity that this software isn't open source.

An alternative is the excellent OpenWebRX by AndrĂ¡s Retzler.

In the ARNSW home brew group we have a regular contact on 80 or 40m but often we can't hear each other due to local noise. It's been proposed that we place a remote receiver at a low noise location and all listen over the web. One idea is to have a fixed receiver simply stream the audio, another is to set up a web SDR. I'm investigating running this on a Raspberry Pi.

The software is available from GitHub here.

There's a few dependencies summarised here:

  • git clone
  • sudo apt install rtl-sdr
  • sudo apt install libfftw3-dev
  • sudo apt install libusb-1.0-0-dev
  • sudo apt install cmake

Everything is in the readme to build and install, I did little except follow the instructions and install missing things as they came up. Let me know if you're stuck.

Because I'm currently running an RTL-SDR in direct sampling mode I had to build a fork of rtl-sdr that supports this.

OpenWebRX is a terrific piece of software, easy to build and run, and I want to thank Andras for his contribution. If you do have a fast internet upload and a permanent receiver you can add yours to the list.


The RTL-SDR doesn't work very well on HF like this so I've now switched to using a HackRF One that's working quite nicely.

The AGC is rather savage but it's good to listen to overall.

QRP by the Harbour - Late 2017

Under threatening skies we had a second "QRP by the Harbour" event in Sydney today.

Facebook worked well to coordinate and publicise the event.

I set up a simple wire dipole fed with just the twin figure eight line and had contacts including local and one into VK4 which was about 800km away.

John, VK2ASU, ran up an end fed antenna high into a tree and had multiple contacts with a Bitx40.

Peter, VK2EMU, set up a magnificent flag pole mast that I think was mostly to mark our location.

Despite good weather at the start it soon turned dark and in the end we faced driving rain and then hail which led us to abandon our position and adjourn to a nearby cafe.

Some lessons were learned for next time:

  • Start earlier in the day - 3pm was late and so many came early
  • Nominate a 2m Simplex frequency for liaison - at least three people turned up but couldn't find us after we'd escaped the waterfront. (I'm very sorry about this).
  • It's tough having multiple stations on the same band, or even harmonically related bands. Maybe we should consider having one main station?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

iPhone to Pixel 2 - what's better, what's worse?

After a few days I'm well in to the new world, for me, of Android Oreo on a Pixel 2. I've kept a list of observations (in Google Keep) of what's better, worse, and what I miss.

What's better

  • Shows incoming call may be spam and lets you confirm or not
  • Launch camera by double tapping the power button (Pixel 2)
  • Ability to not lock when connected to trusted bluetooth devices
  • Front facing stereo speakers on the Pixel 2
  • Great that the Google Home Mini that comes with the Pixel 2 at the moment works as a Chromecast audio device.
  • Works better with Philips Hue lights than going via HomeKit which is a little unreliable for me
  • USB-C. I want this everywhere.

What's worse

  • Don't like some android apps have bumpy animation flashes, even native Google software like play store installs.
  • Front facing speakers on the Pixel 2 aren't so good when I listen to podcasts with the phone in a shirt pocket.
  • Don't like how some apps re-open rotated
  • Facebook chat heads appeared. Happily Apple doesn't allow that.

What I miss

  • Apple watch
  • Airdrop
  • Continuity (copy on computer, paste on phone)
  • Apple Reminders, am using Android Tasks
  • Apple Notes, using Google Keep and chrome extension on macOS
  • Reeder RSS reader, am using TTRSS client
  • Overcasts, using PocketCasts
  • Find my friends, could use Google Maps
  • Fitbit being able to use the step counter in the iPhone, using Google fit but I miss the competition with family
  • Safari not auto-playing videos with sound (coming in Chrome)
  • Spotlight search to launch apps by pulling down on any screen.


  • Deactivate iMessage association with my phone number  (Thanks Jason and Gavin for the tip)
  • I'm looking for a way to import notes into Keep
  • Why do apps in the Google Play store need to be verified with Play protect on device?
  • Android Studio looks nice but HAXM (required to emulate Android O) isn't compatible with macOS 10.13 yet, even in the Beta version.
  • Backup doesn't work. When I decided to switch to the other review phone, the XL, I found that App data, messages etc were all "waiting for backup" on the first phone. This seems to be a known issue that currently doesn't have a fix.
  • I was tricked by a fake Messenger app called "Messenger" with a very similar icon to the Facebook one that showed me full screen ads before bouncing over to the real app. No idea what other terrible things it might have done. I'm not alone.