Monday, October 08, 2018

Enhanced Frog Sounds low cost transceiver

The ultra-low cost CW HF transceivers you see on eBay such as the Pixie and Frog Sounds kits are great fun and certainly value for money. You couldn’t buy the components for the price.

Local ham Stephen, VK2BLQ, and I have played with these in the past (we had a Feld Hellschreiber contact once), but he’s gone on to enhance a Frog Sounds transceiver by adding a CDV VFO from OzQRP, a Rockmite iambic keyer and a variable CW filter and speaker amplifier.

Here’s how it looks.

As you see it's even "Juliano" blue.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Van trip north and an awning tent

On the latest trip north in the van I took along an awning tent that was on sale at Aldi recently for $190. It's quite good quality but takes a bit of effort to put up and wouldn't be worth it unless I'm staying in the one place for several days.

An awning tent is nice for giving a bit of privacy and protection from moderately wet weather. It wouldn't stand up to strong wind though.

On the way back I drove down the highway until about 4:30pm and then started to look for somewhere to camp before it got dark. Scanning around on Google maps, and using the satellite view, I looked for a track that ended without any houses near by. I found the place you see top right here which turned out to be a lovely quiet (free) spot for the night.

I did add the location to WikiCamps as it's clear people had camped here before and didn't seem to disturb anyone. While there's no signs relating to camping, there's also no signs saying that camping isn't allowed. There are probably many locations like this that can be slept at without causing any problems and modern mobile mapping is a great way to find them.

Here's the inside of the awning tent. It's big and airy enough to let me make breakfast without too much concern.

There is a sturdy ground sheet that can be zipped on to the walls to enclose the space.

I'm not planning to take the tent on every trip but will keep it for longer stays.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Centenary of first direct wireless contact from UK to Australia

Today marks one hundred years since Ernest Fisk in Wahroonga received the first direct wireless message from Prime Minister "Billy" Hughes in the UK. The transmitter was running 600KW of spark power!

There is a monument at the corner of Cleveland and Stuart Streets marking the location of Fisk's house.

Hundreds of people turned out for the reenactment which included a humorous town crier, and a choir who performed the Welsh and Australian anthem (of the time, ie: God Save The King).

In the nearby St Andrew's Church Hall there was an extensive display of old and new radio gear, and local radio 2HHH had installed studio to cover the day.

Here's a few photos from the event.

All credit to the Hornsby and Districts Amateur Radio Club and Ku-ring-gai Historical Society for a fantastic event.

A visit to the USA

It's a weird time to visit America. The election of a compulsively lying property developer as president has much of the world mystified, let alone the progressives in the US population.

The trip was triggered by the wedding of a dear friend from school who got married for the first time in New York. My daughter is studying at Harvard in Boston near by so we decided to visit her as well.

Watching evening TV by flipping between channels like CNN and Fox News presents the viewer with two strikingly alternative realities both accusing each other of speaking un-truths. It's hard to believe that they are reporting on the same basic events.

Looking out over New York (shown here from the Empire State Building) it's easy to understand the deep shock of the attack on September 11, 2001 caused and how that continues to resonate.

Radio is a superior medium in the US and it was great to listen locally to Podcast favourites WNYC and various PBS affiliates. I listened generally on FM but they talk about HD radio which I couldn't receive.

Often stations suggested asking your smart speaker to play the program and it seems clear that smart speakers are rapidly becoming an important part of people's homes and audio listening habits.

Uber is dramatically cheaper and better than taxis. In Boston, Ubers would turn up within two minutes sometimes and they make it clear they'll start the meter after two minutes if you keep them waiting.

Highlights for me include the Science Museum of Boston which has a Space exhibit on at the moment featuring some moon rock and Neil Armstrong's gloves.

America is truely bilingual with Spanish heard and seen everywhere.

The science museum also has the largest and original Van De Graaff generator. It's the actual one built by Van De Graaff at MIT. We attended an impressive, if rather cheesy, performance that featured large Tesla coils being modulated with sound as part of the show.

An unexpected highlight was the Isabella Sewart Gardner Museum in Boston. This place has an eclectic collection of fine art arranged in a quirky grouping.

The museum suffered a major robbery in 1990 where 13 works were stolen and have never been returned or even been offered for sale. They've left the empty frames in place on the walls.

At Harvard I attended a lecture with my daughter who told me it was "bring you dad to class" day. The class was Data Science and was an introduction to the Python Pandas module. I also went to a "brown bag" talk by a PhD on applications of the block chain for management of the Commons.

Television is packed with ads for medical drugs (complete with alarming lists of possible side effects) and there are many ads from lawyers offering to help you get compensation for side effects. It's no wonder the health system there is so expensive. I value Australia's system very much.

Travelling from Australia to the east coast of the US is a very long journey and it makes me even keener to spend time noodling around in the van rather than undertaking these sorts of trips.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Another review of interest to followers of the Broadcasting to Asia Pacific Review

I've previously posted here about the Australian Government's Review of Australian Broadcasting in the Asia Pacific (now closed for consideration). There is another review coming up by the Department of Foreign Affairs looking for submissions on Soft Power.

These two reviews overlap (in my opinion) in that sharing Australia's view of the world and our values can in large part be done by broadcasting to the world possibly in part over shortwave. Not everyone has Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

It turns out that the new review will not automatically receive all the submissions put in to the Broadcasting review so if you, like me, put a submission in to that review it would be worth while making a version for the new enquiry and submitting it there.

The Soft Power Review closes on Friday 28 September 2018.

The Facebook group set up by supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific is a good place to get more information and make contact with other interested people.

Before ending her time as Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop stated that the government did not support the decision to shut down shortwave. After the re-shuffle it might be a good time to lobby both the new ministers and the opposition on this topic.

You can read about Australia's soft power in a recent article by Caitlin Byrne in The Strategist.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review of $30 rechargeable voice recorder from Banggood

Recently I've been recording phone interviews which are turned in to stories for the GovHack website. The dictation recorder I've been using is an old Sanyo one that takes annoying AAA batteries. I've just bought a low cost, A$30, rechargeable recorder from Banggood.

There's no brand name mentioned anywhere.

It's described as follows:

1. One-Button recording by press REC
2. Three recording modes
3. VAR/VOR system (Voice Activated/operated recording)
4. Recording via high grade built-in microphone
5. Playing back via high quality speaker
6. Recording via external microphone
7. LCD screen with backlight
8. Working as drive free USB flash disk
9. Built-in rechargeable lithium battery
10. Low battery indicating function
11. Display hours and minute (24-hour format)
12. High Quality Recording for 48 Hours / Normal Recording for 60 Hours

Usage is a little cryptic. Here's my notes...

The sliding "power" switch on the side is also a kind of button lock in that the unit can go to sleep while on and then to wake it you press the play button.

The display is very clear and bright. The tiny speaker is amazingly loud.

To start a recording you long press the Rec button until the display says "init". After a few seconds the red record light comes on and recording starts. Yes, it's a bit slow to start recording.

To pause recording you press the pause button. To stop recording you short press the record button again.

Note that the default is HQ recording which is a stereo 48kHz 16 bit WAV recording - so quite large. Via the menu you can switch to record MP3 which they call SP. The audio sounds the same to me but the MP3 file is much smaller.

The microphones are very sensitive and it often clips when recording speech.

Having said that, it's very good at picking up anything said in the room. While recording you can monitor the audio by plugging in headphones.

The device is very light weight and very sensitive to picking up noise from touches to the case.

It has an A and B folder plus a folder for MP3 music. When connected to a computer via USB it mounts as a drive with a Chinese character name that doesn't render well on this mac. I couldn't get it to re-name.

Tap the menu button to roll through the settings:

  • A or B folder selection
  • Record mode SP or HQ (displayed H9) SP is MP3.
  • Voice activated recording on or off
  • Record via internal Mic or Line
  • Playback repeat cycle 
On a menu page, use the fast forward and rewind button to roll through the options and then press Play to select the item.

To delete a recording, move through recordings with the fast forward button until the one you want is displayed. Long press the side Mode button until a trash can is displayed. Press Play to confirm the delete.

Here's the internal view and as you can see the twin microphones on the top are bogus.


For the price, it's excellent value. It seems capable of very good recordings except that the mic sensitivity is too high and it frequently clips for me. The recordings are very intelligible and suitable for transcribing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

New keyboard chat digital mode FT8Call

The incredible popularity of FT8 has come at the cost of other digital modes. I like chatting keyboard to keyboard with PSK31 or RTTY but at the moment there is almost no activity. Thankfully a new mode that brings the weak signal properties of FT8 together with a more interesting QSO capability has been created by clever KN4CRD and friends. It's called FT8Call.

The software is based on the WSJT-X software, re-jigged for QSOs. There is a discussion group. A Facebook group.

Full documentation is here. Download links for Linux and Windows here. I'm on 20m and beaconing here in Sydney.

There's a little bit of activity visible. It will be interesting to see if this takes off.

Monday, August 13, 2018

New 10W 40m QSX40 from QRP-Labs

I very much enjoyed building the QCX CW transceiver and there have been rumours that QRP-Labs was working on a sideband version. It seems the rumours are true and the kit is being built at a "Youngsters on the air" meeting in South Africa at the moment.

It seems that it's a 10W output kit for 40m (and presumably other bands too) but nothing formally announced or available for sale at this time.

All of this post is now redundant as Hans has posted info here. Can't wait to order one!

-- older comments below --

There's a few comments in the QRP-Labs forum, a tweet, and some clues in the Facebook page of YOTA. I'm very much looking forward to learning more about this kit.

Great that they're testing the build process on a group before launching it. I can wait and would rather build a debugged kit with accurate manual rather than rushing in too soon.

Just spotted this interview with Hans:

There's a lot of information in the video, I've taken notes to make it easier to take in. The new rig features:

  • 10W SSB, AM & FM
  • USB CAT control and Audio
  • USB host for keyboard to use with no-PC PSK31, RTTY & CW (decodes to the display)
  • Iambic CW keyer
  • 40m initially and later 10 band
  • Real time clock (with provision for battery backup)
Hans has worked on this for over 6 months.

Designed a 40m 10W SSB transceiver kit. It will also do AM and FM.

It's an all software defined radio, with no PC necessary. Internally it uses a powerful 32 bit ARM processor. The user interface is quite minimal, just two rotary encoders and four buttons. It’s designed to be used with a standard iPhone/Samsung headphone with mic. There’s an RJ45 mic socket on the back for a Yaesu/Kenwood standard mic.

There’s two USB sockets, one A and one B. You can plug in a USB keyboard which you’ll be able to use with PSK31, RTTY and CW. Decoding will be displayed on screen standalone - again no PC needed for those modes.

If you plug a computer into the USB B socket the rig will appear as a 24 bit sound card so you can use it with a PC for digital modes such as FT8.

Like last year’s QCX, it has built in test and alignment hardware and software.

It’s a high performance radio using a 24 bit A/D converter chip for high dynamic range and a 24 bit D/A on the output of the SDR. The large heatsink is designed to handle continuous digital modes without overheating.

In the next couple of months a plug-in filter board will be designed which will let the rig cover 10 bands from 160m to 10m. (This will include the 60m band).

There will also be an optional extruded aluminium enclosure.

The exact price hasn’t been decided but it’s hoped that the 40m single band version will be about US$75 and the whole thing including the 10 band filter board and enclosure will be about US$150.

There's a thread discussing this enthusiastically on Reddit.