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.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Cobar to Broken Hill

I had to wait a few days in Cobar for a new brake drum to come in and be fitted. There's not a lot to see and I saw it all. Picked up the van and the brakes are still not right so I decided to push on to Wilcannia.

An end fed for 40m was set up but storm activity made it not worth while. The van's solar system and the fridge create a lot of HF noise so in Cobar I purchased an SLA battery so that the radio can be run completely isolated from the van and this seems to work.

The road is pretty good but coming out of Cobar it was mostly goats which was better than kangaroos which have a nasty habit of jumping in front of cars. Plenty of them lie dead on the road being eaten by crows.

The van is very comfortable. At Wilcannia the night was hot at first - I ran the fan for a while - but there was a cool change and it was even cold by morning.

It's Saturday now and I've arrived in Broken Hill. A major attraction for me was to visit the Mad Max 2 museum at Silverton.

They've got lots of artefacts from the production including some of the vehicles. Clearly the production left a bit of trash in the desert that people have been finding and bringing in for the display.

Tonight I'm going star gazing again, it's one of the most amazing things about the outback.

The brakes in the van are very soft and I'm going to stick around in Broken Hill to get this issue fixed before heading further west.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Heading west in the van

Now that the weather has cooled a little, I've hit the road from Sydney in the van and am heading west. (I emailed old friends George and Harry and told them to put the kettle on).

I'm taking it considerably slower than Google's navigation suggests.

First stop was a visit to the wonderful QTH of Brian VK2AAF and Susi in Linden. We've spoken via Twitter, email and 80m but never met face to face and it was a real pleasure.

Next a quick stop at the stunning Govetts Leap.

First night was spent at Lithgow in a very nice camp ground over looking a farm with ducks.

An attraction here is the small arms factory.

I'm not really interested in guns but the history of the manufacturing was interesting and particularly how they struggled with the second world war ended. They made everything and anything including prototypes and sewing machines.

Next day on to Dubbo where I camped in a vineyard right next to the observatory.

The observatory show begins at 8pm led by the appropriately named Peter Starr who has an amazing knowledge of the night sky.

There were three telescopes set up and Peter used a powerful green laser to point things out in the sky. After a few cloudy nights we were in luck and my little Sony camera captured this with about a 10 second exposure. (Click to enlarge).

As I drove to Cobar, a squeaking in the rear left wheel started getting worse so I dropped in to a local mechanic who took a look and diagnosed that the brake pad is sticking to the drum and a new drum is needed. This part won't be here for two days so I'm enjoying a bit more of Cobar than originally planned.

The town is the site of a rich copper deposit and has some wonderful buildings. The local historical display is fantastic.

Cobar has three pubs and two IGA supermarkets. I'm doing a load of washing at the laundromat and when it gets too hot for walking this afternoon I'll head for the library.

Next stop is planned to be Broken Hill either Friday or Saturday depending on the van repair. Keep that kettle on gentlemen, I'm on my way.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

New features in WSPR Watch iOS app

A few years ago I wrote a simple iOS app called WSPR Watch that lets me quickly check the WSPRnet site for reports of my WSPR spots. It's on the App Store as a free app - I get the data free from WSPRnet so I don't think it's fair to then ask for money to view that data.

While I don't make any money from the app, I do get nice emails from time to time from users. Some users report that this is their most used app!

Recently I've had a string of great feature suggestions from John, AA7US. The app has some new features which you may not find, so I'll show them here.

Tapping a spot in the spot list now more quickly shows information about that spot and also requests more detail from the XML API.

There's a button to show the call on the QRZ website (which unfortunately doesn't look too good on a phone).

Finally there's a button, with a search icon and the call sign, which searches the loaded spots for just that callsign.

This also works if you tap a spot on the map. The first tap shows the basic info. If you tap the Info icon you get the same detailed info.

In settings there's a button to let you use your QRZ login and if you have a paid account you'll get some extra information in the info display.

In the callsign search fields the little book icon is a button that takes you to a list of recently used callsigns.

The callsigns list is built automatically based on what you've searched. You can simply tap a callsign to put that call into the search field. The list itself is editable, swipe left to delete an entry, tap the edit button to allow you to re-order the list. This feature is nice if you like to watch a few different calls.

Finally, in Settings, if you have the Apple email client set up on your device there's a little email button that creates an email to me for feedback about the app.

The bad news is that the WSPRnet seems very slow recently and often I see requests timeout even though I have set a 30 second timeout. There's not much I can do about this, I don't want to hammer the site with more requests.

I wish there was an answer to this issue. The database of WSPR reports is a very valuable research tool.

Friday, March 15, 2019

CubicSDR working well on MacOS

Some previous versions of CubicSDR have given me some grief on macOS. Today I found that the current release, version 0.2.5, seems to work really well.

Here you see it working with an Airspy HF+ but RTL-SDR also works very nicely.

I like CubicSDR because it has some keyboard and mouse actions that are really handy.

  • Arrow up and down zooms
  • Arrow left and right moves the visible spectrum
  • Dragging with the mouse moves the visible spectrum
  • Like others, clicking on the spectrum tunes to that frequency
  • Spacebar brings up a box where you can type the frequency
  • Shortcuts are shown in the window footer
Great work, I wonder when they'll get to version 1.0?

One bug I see is that if you click in the audio waveform panel it crashes.