Thursday, September 22, 2016

Big back yard loop antenna gives low noise and excellent transmission

In Amateur Radio experimenting with antennas provides some of the most interesting results for the least amount of money, particularly if you mess around with wire antennas. Improvements to the antenna provide much greater benefits than money spent on transmitters or amplifiers.

In recent months I've been using a doublet hung from a gum tree fed with open wire feed line. To make it work on 80m I extended the ends in a "dog legs" back along the side fence lines. This arrangement works on 80m, 40m and 20m. While there are good reports of my transmission, reception has been very noisy, particularly on 80m.

This week I turned it in to a big loop by closing the ends and hanging them from the house.

It tunes up easily on 80m and 20m and with a little difficulty on 40m. Yesterday I did a lot of tuning around and listening and experienced very low noise with big signals. Today, I had a test QSO with Patrick, VK2PN who reported excellent signals from me, especially on 40m.

More detail: The loop is simple figure eight lamp flex (half) roughly joined with knots and screw terminals - this can be improved. 450 ohm slotted feeder runs down to the shed and is terminated with a 4:1 balun before the rig's auto-tuner.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Generate morse code followed by spoken letter audio files

I've had several shots at learning morse code. In episode 108 of the excellent QSO Today podcast, there was a great suggestion that the guest learned morse code by listening over and over to a recording of morse code characters followed by the spoken letter.

Despite hunting the internet I could only find other people looking for similar drill tapes but no actual audio files.

macOS has an excellent text to speech synthesiser so I found some software to convert text to morse in a wav file and combined it with the macOS "say" command and now have a system that can generate random sequences.

You can hear a short sample here.

I've forked the original repo and put my version here. The bulk of the work is by Thomas Horsten but hasn't been touched for years.

I've done the following:

  • Made it build on macOS, note it needs libsndfile (brew install libsndfile)
  • generates wav files for the morse and spoken character
  • makes a wav file with random sequences of letters

The silence between the morse character and the spoken character can be tuned as can the silence between groups.

I've put a full length drill recording up here. This one repeats each letter three times.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Malcolm Sinclair, VK2BMS, has died.

Sad news. Mal was found this morning at home. He was active even yesterday on 20m talking with old friends but clearly very frail.

Mal was a regular on 20m talking with ZL and he had a big signal on 80m where we talked every Sunday.

A kind man, very concerned for the welfare of animals and nature. His cat Rosco is being looked after. We will miss him very much.


I recorded a chat with Mal in May 2014, here are some notes.

“In town you see a hobo lying on a park bench a few years ago he was a little boy playing in a school yard”

Mum had an Irish grandfather and a British grandmother and they came to Australia first but didn’t like it. They moved to a place on the South Island called Little River, Akaroa, tour ships pop in there now. Then they moved to a place called Southbridge about thirty miles out of Christchurch. 

My grandfather was marvellous, he was a shoe maker, he would just reach down and put his hand on a person’s foot and go away and make a shoe. He had a horse and cart and when he’d go up the driveway with a gravel path and it would make a noise and the Maoris would turn the lights off and pull down the blinds like there was no one home - he used to laugh. He had a shop “Tom Taylor”.

Dad was involved in installing and servicing theatre projectors. At one stage work was done to install a 35mm projector outside at home, holes were cut in the wall, a big concrete block house it was, there was a tin lined projection box, but in the end it never eventuated. He was always away somewhere, sometime he took me with him, but I never got to know him very well. He died at about 54, but he lived a life. He worked hard and played very hard. He’d think nothing of working, installing projectors, twenty hours a day. Everything had to be perfect, he had all these test records, one was “The donkey serenade” he knew all the notes to that and how it sounded on the speakers. 

He was installing some gear in Napier, up in the operating box, and an earthquake came along (in 1932). Everyone panicked and he said “stay here” but they rushed down below and the whole thing collapsed. Fortunately he was in the small tin lined fire proof box. When it crashed to the ground he stepped out, the only person to survive.

My parents were married on Remembrance Day, which in those days was taken very seriously, the whole town stopped and dad thought all the traffic was stopping for him. In those days it was pretty “big time” having a car, dad always had a spare steering wheel and when all these cars stopped very suddenly at 11am dad drove straight through waving the steering wheel. If anyone did anything stupid on the road he’d wave the steering wheel at them and they’d just about faint.

I was born on the 17th December, 1932 in Wellington, New Zealand. No brothers or sisters.

School was first at a private school called Inahow, there was a Miss Dunning, a very prude lady who used to get all the children together in the kitchen washing up area and wash my mouth out with soap for swearing, I probably said “damn” or something like that. 

Then I went to Ridgeway Primary School but that’s where things were difficult, I could never catch up with the mathematics. Mum and Dad meant well, sending me to the private school, but I could never catch up. From there I went to the Wellington Technical college, and studied general engineering.

We used to go on school holidays down to a place called Radio Corporation of New Zealand there was a guy there named Marks (might have been Marx), he was a good cobber, you never paid for anything, it was always “mates rates”, he’d fix amplifiers and get things. 

First job was with civil aviation. I wanted to become a radio engineer but the mathematics “unzipped” me. I lasted there for a while but decided it wasn’t for me and I became a bit footloose in various jobs, but then for some reason I got a second job, working for an alarm firm, initially outside,  then they brought me inside looking after the general office there. I used to open the place up in the mornings and one day the phone rang and I said good morning and the woman said “oh it’s very early, are you a recording” and I said “yes” and she said “I’ll phone back”. 

I got my Ham Radio license about 50 years ago. I had sat the license before that, it was in the days of Morse code, but I didn’t feel I was up to the morse test, which was in the morning so skipped it and when I walked in to the second exam this bombastic person yells and screams at me in front of everybody, which I’ve never liked. If you’re going to yell at someone you should do it in private. Eventually he ran out of steam and so I replied in kind. I passed the paper but hadn’t got the morse and so wasn’t licensed.

I was friends with Noel Mullis, ZL2APZ who eventually became a radio inspector, he said you’ve got a ZC1 - an ex New Zealand army transmitter receiver in a metal box, he asked if I could get it going as he wanted someone to check his signals. So I dragged it out, I could see where the mice had been so I cleaned it out and it leapt in to action and I could receive. So that re-kindled my interest. That was about six weeks before the exam so I immediately applied for the exam so I had to get cracking on the morse. In those days they had volunteers at the VK2BWI (in Sydney) who ran morse practice every weeknight which was great.  Oh, the static crashes were horrendous but after a while you got used to that. 

So I went and sat the morse exam and blokes were swearing and throwing their pens down but to me that was just a bit of static. They were putting other people off as well you see, so there was only a professional operator and me that got through the exam. I was pretty pleased about that.

I was licensed as ZL2BAA which was the first of the B calls, (Noel might have had a hand in that). So I got on with the ZC1 running five watts of AM. Then I got on to higher power CW and that increased the range of course.

In the job at the alarm firm, I saved up and had enough to either go to the U.S. or see all of Asia, I thought well Asia’s pretty different so chose that. I’d annoy the boss by sending telegrams and he’d put a pin on the map, and when he saw the “U-turn” he knew I was coming back.

I met Caroline in the South China Sea. She did the manuscripts at the Australian Museum. I’ve always been a museum fan, so we struck up a conversation and became, well um, do you want to come to New Zealand or do you want to come to Australia? At that time Britain was about to join the European Economic community and New Zealand’s trade would be hit. So I came to Australia and stayed with her parents for a while but then got a pokey little boarding house room in Sydney. 

Caroline lived at Epping and I’d catch the train and walk out out there every Sunday. We used to watch The Two Ronnies on television. Eventually we bought a house in Willoughby East.

Looking around for a job I saw an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald for a sales position at Ferguson Transformers. I’d never been in sales before but they recognised that I could pick up knowledge of the products and they’d help me with sales. I worked there for about twenty years. After a couple of changes of management, I “decamped” thinking it would be easy to find another job aged in my 40s. 

Eventually I got a job at AMP as a “desk jockey”. There’s a difference between technical people and non-technical people. My humour was sometimes not appreciated but I stuck it out and retired at age 67.

Caroline worked for the Australian Museum, in touch with the scientists all the time, and she spoke to them and asked if we have children, when they grow up what’s the population situation going to be? Well Caroline, we predict that (by about now) the population of the world will be about ten billion - oh no! So, we didn’t have any children. We were worried about the outcome. In my opinion, a lot of human beings are not very nice people. So, ten billion of them, to bring a child in to that, ah no, not guilty. 

It may be that being a single child and not playing games and such I was more interested in nature, the ants in the ground, the birds, I developed quite an affinity with them and I’ve been interested in animal welfare ever since.  

After a talk by ethicist Peter Singer, I told him he was starting to put him off eating meat. Singer said “oh good” and signed a book for me with “Malcolm, eat well”.

I’ve only been a vegetarian for four or five years, although I’ve been thinking about it for years, but one night, I got the piece of meat on the fork and put it in the mouth and said “right, that’s it, bang”. I feel a bit better for doing that. 

I’ve always had a left wing leaning. It probably gets back to the “fair go” style with animals. I think you’ll find, from my experience, it may just be the people I mix with, that most animal activists, if that’s what you want to call them, are of left wing tendency. It’s compassion and fairness for all. 

A couple of Saturdays ago we had a “park day” and a bloke phoned me in the morning and said that he’d like his boy to come along as part of the Duke of Edinburgh award. So that was OK, but he brought a long of big packet of McDonalds biscuits as mum worked at McDonalds. At five o’clock, mum arrives in a brand new big Audi sports car and I thought, gee she must be short changing some people at the counter. But no, she was an executive.

Morrie used to live just down the street from me (in New Zealand). We used to live in a suburb called Brooklyn  about 400 feet up, a pretty good location, overlooking the harbour. Matter of fact on my QSL card, ZL2BAA, I’ve got a photograph of the Southern Cross (ship) off Wellington with Brooklyn in the background.

There’s a bit of a story about The Southern Cross too… I was talking to a bloke who was on the Southern Cross, a beautiful ship, and I was on holidays, aged about 21, something about radio came up and he said “I’m the radio officer” and he offered to show me the radio gear, so we got on board, very palatial surroundings, and he said “I’m not really the radio officer” but I just wanted to have a yarn with you. I spend plenty of time at sea and get pretty lonely.  

Next thing, the ship’s vibrating and I said what’s going on here? I’d better get on deck for some fresh air but there’s no wharf there. What to do? If I present myself to the captain I’d be a stow away. He said let’s go down to the mess and have a meal and a drink. There was a vacant cabin next to his. He seemed genuinely lonely but he seemed harmless but perhaps I was a bit naive. So I’m in this cabin and next minute over the speakers comes “close all watertight doors”, they had to go upstairs for lifeboat drills and I’m down all by myself. All I could hear is the sea swishing past. Then clunk, clunk, clunk, “open all watertight doors and a ships inspection”. So I got under the bed. I felt like some poor animal being hunted. 

The next minute bang! the door opens and there’s two highly polished shoes about two inches away from my nose.  I’m there almost not breathing, anyway they go away. I get out from under the bed and we finished up in Auckland fortunately. I had to get a bus back. Beautiful smooth trip.

I knew Peter Hughes, N3PH who worked as Radio Officer on the QEII. He was married to a New Zealand girl Alison, he worked in Wellington for some time which is how I knew him but he got a job with the Cunard line and I’d visit him whenever they were in town. People would say they’d love to go on the QEII and I would say that I’ve been on the QEII many times! 

Caroline died about eight years ago, I don’t remember the date, I only remember two dates, my birthday and my mother’s birthday - she was the 21st of June, she’d say “the shortest day and for you young blokes, the longest night”. 

My mother was a bit religious, mainly for social reasons. I used to go to Sunday school but they’d start putting all sorts of rhubarb across about a boy trying to steal a lolly out of a jar on the counter and the alarm going off and I thought “this is ridiculous” and went home but mum said “go back, go back” - worried about the social aspect of it you see. But dad said, whatever he wants to do he should do. So that’s where it first started. 

When you die, “I think you’re gone”. A lot of people want to believe. It’s something to cling to. These religions, they work on fear, sin and guilt. If you go and do so-and-so, you’ll go to hell. These people are genuinely terrified. Anyway, when they come to the door I always ask them about the father of Jesus. There’s a book called “The bible fraud”. 

My influences? Well, I don’t know that anyone influenced me. A barrister friend of mine once said, you know Malcolm, ninety percent of people don’t think. They watch all the glamour people on Channel 9, listen to Alan Jones, see the football and that’s it. It’s a great diversion is football, the politicians love that, it gets them off the minor things. He said, without that ten or even five percent we’d be jiggered. When a dictator takes over the first thing he gets to is the intellectuals. They get rid of them. 

After Caroline died, I used to go to Jazz at a pub called the “Vanity Fair”. It’s funny how when you go to a place regularly you tend to go to the same place and I’d stand near the band. I’d see this lady over the other side and she was quite an intelligent lady. I get the brilliant idea, quite romantic, of getting her a schooner of Kahlua and milk. So I’m just about to approach her, someone inadvertently turns and nudged me and I spill it all down her cleavage - how romantic. That’s how we met. 

I like traditional Jazz. In younger days I would go to Jazz three or four times a week. Now and then Dave comes down and we go and see something.

At home with Robert VK2ZNZ

At home during the interview written up above.

Inspecting some radio gear with Robert VK2ZNZ

At the bowling club with Dave Russell VK2DKE

Happy days soon after moving to Sydney. (From Noel)

Thanks Bob Stewart ZL2AMI for some other photos of Mal.

Here's Mal with Barney Barnhill ZL2JDB on Mal's last visit to Wellington.

Kaye Stewart & Mal at a Jazz Club picnic.

Bob Stewart & Mal at a Jazz Club Picnic.

Kaye Stewart David Russell (ex ZL2ANF now VK2DKE) and Mal Jazz Club Picnic

Bob Stewart & Mal.

Update 23-Oct-2016

Today a group of about 20 friends met in Butt Park which Mal had cared for every month for 17 years. We shared stories and had a laugh about what we'd gained from knowing Mal.

Here is one of the letters from New Zealand which was read out.


Greetings to all Mal’s friends from Bob Stewart.  I am sad to part with a good friend.

I met Mal in late 1951, when as eighteen year olds we served our Compulsory Military Training at the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Taieri aerodrome near Dunedin. David Russell and Ivan Saville are friends from that time.

 The Malcolm we all know came to the fore as he set about taming “The Blue Orchids”. Wednesday afternoons we had compulsory sports. Mal observed that the Harriers ran out the main gate to return at the end of the afternoon. Yes Mal soon had his group of Harriers running out the gate and when out of sight relaxing, even walking to the nearby Outram Pub!  A year or two latter Mal and I served our annual camps at the RNZAF Ohakea base near Palmerston North, a similar arrangement involving RNZAF facilities off base provided release!
You are all here today to celebrate the life of friend and rogue known to many as the Lurcher, we were all given pet names by Mal. 

Mal’s Mother June was a fine Lady. She visited me regularly, when I was laid up in Hospital from a motorcycle crash.

I treasure happy memories of Mal and respect his conservation values.

Farewell good Friend 


A note from Peter Grove:


Thanks a great deal for the picture of the assembled multitude at Mal’s remembrance ceremony. You all did him proud. Circumstances prevented my presence at Butt Park, as much as I might have liked to be there. Mal and I were friends right from Secondary School days, 70 years and I was present during a number of his more infamous exploits, certainly the Taranaki Street Men’s toilet bombing! You must have heard about that! Malcolm was the principal instigator and justifiably gloated about his pyrotechnic success for the rest of his life. I passed the scene of the crime several years ago on a bus trip in Wellington and uncontrollably burst into laughter at the thought of that night nearly seventy years later. The victim of the prank no doubt carried memories of his absolute horror with him to his grave!

In his secondary school years mal was extremely well known to the amateur radio fraternity here in Wellington and most Friday nights (late night shopping nights) he could be found sitting on a chair  in a corner, near the counter of Fear’s Radio Ltd which was the principal radio parts retailer in Wellington of the time. He would engage each and every ham coming into the shop in conversation.

He later graduated to a job with Civil Aviation at Shelley Bay near Wellington and worked there when an incident with a Catalina float plane occurred which saw it permanently at rest on the bottom of the bay. Mal had a lifelong aversion to swimming, but by means unknown to any of us he became the recipient of the radio gear from the sunken aeroplane! This was one of his lesser known exploits and one he remained quite reticent about for the remainder of his days. In an earlier email I may have related to you the Drama of his attempts at raising a steel tower at his home on the hills of Brooklyn. He lured a number of friends to help on the promise of free beer. There were a number of gatherings, at which the free beer was consumed amid much hilarity. As far as I’m aware the tower is still quite likely, lying rusting in the grass!.

He use to visit a friend who lived in Eastbourne on the Eastern side of Wellington’s harbour between them they had rigged up a headlamp bulb from a car fitted into the base of a Kerosene tin powered by a car battery and controlled by a Morse Key, which they would take to the beach at the time the Inter-Island ferry would be departing the harbour and send a number of meaningless flashes to it, to help it on its way!

Another time I was newly engaged to my lady and we visited the Winter Show buildings in Wellington where regular Trade exhibitions would be held. We walked in and Lo and Behold behind the Wellington Electricity Exhibit was Malcolm working away at his then job of testing and repairing Electricity meters. I strode up to him and addressed him in the most derogatory terms, to which he replied in kind, all the time without the merest glimpse of recognition. As you may imagine, my wife to be, was absolutely horrified and feared at any moment hostilities would break out between us. She was immeasurably relieved when we both dissolved into gales of laughter and leg pulling. I made the necessary introductions and after a few minutes of more chatter, we continued on our way to explore the exhibition. I more or less lost contact with Mal after that and I heard on the grapevine he had later taken up with a lady rumoured to be from a wine making family and had moved to Australia.

A few of the other people he knew spoke about the engagement in derogatory terms and suggested the match with the wine-maker’s daughter would suit Malcolm or the ‘Lurcher’ as he became to be known in those early years. He later moved to Sydney and married Caroline. It was at that time he swapped the callsign ZL2BAA for the better known callsign VK2BMS, which was remembered by most of his former ‘friends’ as VK2Boozy Malcolm Sinclair!

I can remember meeting him one time in a visit we made to Sydney. He was somewhat down in the dumps at the time and the reunion was not altogether a happy one. He grumbled about the distances he had to travel to and from his work and appeared to be not very happy about his situation. It has been only in recent times that we rekindled our former friendship and have been able to carry on a very satisfying conversation via email.

Most of his posts to me were written very late at night many times after midnight. We reminisced about all sorts of things and carried on a conversation with each other for a year or more. In our most recent contacts he made me aware of the difficulties with his health. the hernia, a prostate problem, and a suspected tumour on his bladder I knew he was due to go into hospital at some stage. He was worrying to a degree. I have had both a hernia repair and a prostate resection and tried to reassure him that both procedures were carried out with no fuss and ultimately to my complete satisfaction. I do believe the problem with his bladder was weighing quite heavily on his mind. His medical specialist had suggested it wouldn’t necessarily be a tumour and could easily be something much more benign such as a cyst. I don’t think Mal was altogether convinced and in a telephone conversation with him about the week before he seemed quite philosophical about Rosco being in good hands, and making noises that it could be the end for him.

The fateful day came and went. I waited a week. The regular emails dried up and I began to suspect the worst. I tried to telephone him, with no success. It was then I found Renee’s email address and was able to ask her about the outcome. It was then I heard the distressing news. Renee has been a good friend of Malcolm and the tenor of their emails had to be seen to be believed!

I can honestly say Mal’s passing has left a considerable gap in the lives of his may friends and acquaintances. It certainly has mine!

Peter Grove. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

EZ-Radio Databox interface for Yaesu FT-817 etc review

There's a new radio interface box on eBay out of China that looks interesting. It's about half the volume of a SignaLink USB and at AU$84, significantly cheaper (compared to about AU$160).

The extruded aluminium case is sturdy but has PCB front and back panels. The holes for the RJ45 and USB socket were not well aligned for me and I had to take off a panel and nibble them out a bit to be able to insert the USB plug.

Internal construction is very good.

It comes with a full set of cables but no documentation. The web address simply diverts to sales page which can be translated by Google as follows:

"This product is YAESU radio station connected to the computer, make use of digital communications, and other functions.

Use this connector, you can use the radio to do PSK, RTTY, SSTV, CW and other digital communications.

Products using the US company's Silicon Labs CP2102 USB2.0 interface chip, strong and stable performance, the replacement of the USB interface, the port number does not change, reducing the chance of error in the connection process.

Computer terminals and radio terminals Ground Ground product is completely isolated, and the housing and the end product is connected to a computer, and the computer to prevent Ground stations have pressure, there was a slight sense of shock by touching.

This adapter box can use to automatically reconcile CAT-day connected to the computer! Some HAM need to use automatic day reconcile CAT interface so that you can adjust the day connected to the fuselage behind the CAT interface connected to the computer interface from the microphone in hand drawn, original machine hand microphone connected to the adapter box, so you can hand microphone, computer, day tune while using independently of each other!
Because YAESU FT-857/897 and other models DATA interface only supports audio input DIG mode, the FM or other audio input mode can not be, this may not be supported in some applications, for example, do SSTV communication in UHF FM mode this product based on this defect, made ​​some changes, the audio signal can be through the microphone interface or interfaces into DATA, so that regardless of the kind of pattern that you can use this frequency for radio input audio cassette adapter! True all mode, full-featured!

Support Radio models are:
YAESU: FT-817 \ 857 \ 897 \ 7800 \ 8800 \ 8900 \ 100D \ 450, etc.
Packing List:
1. a transfer box
2. Akihabara 3.5MM audio line two
3. a high-quality USB cable
4.CAT line
5.DATA line
Driver and related software download link :( need to copy into your browser address bar to open)
Driver (must be installed):
Tutorials will be posted on the shop website, if necessary, you can click to see

Product net weight: 163g, incidental wire weight: 275g, 438g total"


This device does not include a USB sound card. I had assumed it did and was a little disappointed. It is not as functional as the SignaLink USB, which I guess is to be expected at half the price.

I plugged it in with the supplied cables to the data and cat ports on an FT-817 and into an Ubuntu Linux laptop and FL-Digi was able to talk to it without any problems. The serial port came up as /dev/USB0.

The front panel has little lights that show serial communication and PTT which is handy.

As I mentioned after poking around I realised that there's no USB sound device in there so the supplied 3.5mm cables were used to connect to the laptop's mic and headphone jack. I was quickly on air with CAT PTT and all seems well.

It's not clear what the RJ45 sockets are. Looking inside (see the picture above) it looks like one is a breakout, SignaLink style, for making up rig cables. Perhaps the other one is a microphone cable - they mention the microphone in the translated text above.


For the money it's a decent little interface box and is fine with a laptop that has mic and headphone sockets. The mis-alignment and size of the panel holes for the sockets was a pity but easily fixed.

I could not find any useful documentation so I hope this helps anyone else who purchased one. Please let me know if you figure out the RJ45 pinouts.

Selling Yaesu FT-101 and FT-7 transcievers

A wonderful feature of ham radio field days is the circulation of second hand radios. This means that you can buy an old radio, play with it for a year or two, and often sell it for the same price.

As a teenager I lusted after the Yaesu FT-7 and remember reading every ad and review with great interest. I'd also seen the classic FT-101 but it was way out of my price range. As an adult I was able to finally purchase both of these and have my (delayed) gratification.

The shack is too full and it's time to pass them on.

They are both up on eBay for the next seven days. FT-101 and FT-7.

Both rigs have sold.