Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Crossed the country - but waiting for parts

It's official, well from the WSPR Watch map, I've reached pretty much the western edge of Australia.

I was able to receive Kevin, VK2KB's WSPR beacon. We tried for an SSB contact but while I could hear John, VK2ASU, calling he couldn't hear me. We'll try again when I'm a bit closer.

As I mentioned in a Tech Head spot on RN Drive, it's quite a drive.

A few days were spent with old friends looking around Perth, which is a lovely place. I took the opportunity to drop in on the local GovHack folks.

On the way to Margaret River I heard a noise under the van that sounded rather like I'd run over a branch or something. Later I noticed it was rather difficult to steer, particularly while parking. Bridgetown has a few car service places and it was rather obvious (in retrospect) that a belt is missing.

It's the belt that drives the power steering. So, I'm checked in to the Hotel on the main street waiting for a replacement and I'm going to have the vehicle serviced on Friday.

Quite a nice little town with lots of local art on display and for sale. How about a miniature shed for the van?

While enjoying a cider at the bar downstairs I chatted with a bloke who works at the local Lithium mine which he tells me is the largest in the country and going really well presumably due to big demand for the metal for batteries. He said it's half owned by Chinese investors.

Responding to user feedback, I've done some updates to the WSPR Watch iOS app. In particular there were problems using the settings view on the smallest phones and iPads. I'm now looking in to decoding WSPR on an iOS device (you can transmit in WSPR Watch as of a few months ago).

Friday, April 05, 2019

Ultra low noise HF radio in the outback

One thing I've been particularly looking forward to is listening to HF radio devoid of all the interference we get in the cities.

My favourite free camp site so far is the one at Fraser Range. There’s a waterhole here in the rock and you can park overlooking a gorge. I chose a spot with some small trees so a dipole for 40m could be set up.

The noise level was astonishingly low. The only sounds were distant lightning crashes.

I carry a 6m squid pole to hold up a light weight balun seen here. The ends of the dipole are strung up on trees.

Tuning around I heard mostly Japanese hams but also europeans and a few east coast Australians. I brought a complete setup for WSPR reception and transmission.

The HP Stream laptop is handy in that it has very long battery life, 7 hours or so, and I've built a voltage boost charger circuit to give it the 19V it wants from my 12V supply.

I decoded up to 11 unique stations in a 2 minute WSPR slot. Here's a sample:

Transmit also worked well and I was spotted around the globe. At first I ran 5W but turned it down to 1W with almost the same result. Here's a display in WSPR Watch.

There are some noise sources in the van. The fridge creates a racket when it's running, the solar charge controller makes noise and the LED lighting that's built in is terrible. My little laptop charge booster unsurprisingly is terrible. I'm running the radio from an SLA battery but even so the fridge needs to be off for best results.

Crossing the Nullabor

It’s a long stretch of paved road through country devoid of trees. There is scrub and sometimes quite large bushes but never any shade. When I crossed it was hot and when stopped the flies are very persistent.

My anxiety about petrol was not warranted. The van’s range is about 500km and generally there is fuel every 200km. There are signs letting you know how far it is to the next fuel. A tail wind certainly helped with fuel consumption but I topped up at every opportunity.

The views of the great Australian bite are spectacular and well worth stopping for. It's an amazing contrast to the desert just next to it.

Often there was no mobile reception. I scanned the FM, AM and Shortwave bands and the only station I could hear was a Chinese shortwave station.

Australia is a big country and it’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to drive across it.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Broken Hill to Ceduna

Broken Hill is not a bad place to get car repairs done. There's lots to see although sometimes I felt like I was paying an entry fee to go in to a shop.

The place has both wind and solar power to quite a big extent. Here's a tiny bit of the 43MW solar collector.

After Broken Hill I visited Peterborough, which is a nice town, passed through Port Augusta.

The van is going well and I'm gradually adjusting the layout and improving my van cooking. Signature dish here:

Stayed a night at Kimba.

I set up the ham radio gear but regrettably there was a very high noise level from a power line running through the camp site.

Now I'm at Ceduna, which is a lovely place. Here's the main beach.

The caravan park in the town is super crowded so I'm further south at Shelly Beach which is lovely.

Once again, the 40m dipole is up and here the noise level is very low. It's mid-afternoon and I'm receiving WSPR well and am being heard. I'm going to have a better shot at it closer to dusk.

As you can see from the WSPR map, I'm half way to Perth.