Sunday, May 16, 2021

Low cost loop antenna for 40m from VK2BLQ

Stephen, VK2BLQ, and I test the Sydney - Melbourne path using WSPR and we have been comparing our noisy external antennas with loops in various positions. 

Today he sent details of his latest loop made mostly with bits of Bunnings.

He writes: "The loop is approx. 900 mm diameter as it was a 3m coil of copper from Bunnings, when it was cheap.

I let it run on 40 m wspr yesterday and this morning and pretty much was only received along the east coast but not by Peter. Only the wire antenna which is 3 m above the loop reached USA Canada and all over other places.

WSPR is ok but the only real test is for two way communications; I could hear VK3XU at good  level this morning and VK2ARZ a bit later. I need a small changeover switch between keyer and key.

The tuning capacitance is the double sided pcb, the actual value of capacitance depends on the thickness and type of the fibreglass, so it was a case of measuring a piece and cutting off small pieces until I can see the minimum swr on a Nano VNA. The PCB has a coat of lacquer and soldered to the loop, it probably is not too resilient outside.

The Coupling loop is a 1 m length of RG 11 75 ohm TV cable with only the braid and foil shield being used. It is longer than the customary 20 %, and perhaps that is why the Q is low.

Some heat shrink to cover the joints and definitely only temporary.

Next version will be a 6 m perimeter octagon as I have four 1.5 m lengths of copper. I read somewhere that the capacitor should be at the bottom with the feedpoint at the top for a better angle of radiation. This is possible if I re-solder the PCB capacitor".

Stephen is certainly covering Australia on 40m WSPR but oddly missing the bit of Melbourne where I am located.

We are travelling to MayHam at the end of the month and if it fits in the car we'll bring it along for the Home Brew display.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Attended a rally in support of the ABC

Josh Frydenberg, Federal Treasurer, did not attend the meeting at Hawthorn Town Hall - despite a respectful invitation - but about 450 people did. A letter from Mr Frydenberg was read in full to the assembled audience prompting some laughter and astonishment as he repeated the Coalition’s position that there have been no cuts to the ABC while also arguing that all media hurting and so should the ABC.

Speakers at the evening included ABC Friends’ President Michael Henry; past Chair of the ABC Advisory Council and Director of the Victorian College of the Arts, Professor Andrea Hull; Professor Ed Davis AM; Vice President of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, former ABC journalist, Karen Percy; and Former ABC journalist and ABC Alumni member Jim Middleton.

Tosca Lloyd showed a film produced by GetUp titled “Murdoch and Morrison vs the ABC” which drew together the broad community support for the ABC and illustrated the concerted campaign by Murdoch media and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) to weaken or even privatise the ABC.

The panel discussed the impact of cuts to the ABC experienced so far including cuts to key programs and staff levels during the government’s time in office. More subtle attacks on the ABC including efficiency reviews and frequent criticism of program makers in Murdoch media were also discussed.

A video of the event is available.

It was a very professional, focussed and well-run event. It was my pleasure to work in a small way with Michael Henry and in particular key organiser Marcus May in the preparation of the event. My thanks to Jim Middleton for stepping up to speak and be on the panel.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Talking crypto on the Vertical Hold podcast

It was my pleasure to be a guest again on the Vertical Hold podcast this week. 

In this week's episode: "What’s the tech behind BitCoin’s booming rivals like Ethereum? What are ‘smart contracts’? Why would you build an AI bot and give it dementia? Guests Access Informatics’ Peter Marks and Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe".

Hosts Adam Turner and Alex Kidman run a tight ship and it was fun for me to experience Zencastr for the recording which records each guest locally in high fidelity and then uploads their audio. 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Got the first AstraZeneca Vaccine at Melbourne Exhibition Centre

Today I became eligible for a COVID vaccine so I was keen to get it done. The web site indicated that my closes mass vaccination centre is the Melbourne Exhibition centre. The site said I could book an appointment or just turn up and there was a 15 minute wait. I decided to be a "walk-in".

Arriving at the address, I could see the building but no visible signs or people. There are some signs but they are on the ground.

It turned out that the entrance was on the side opposite the Museum.

The queue was short but slow moving. There was no sign to confirm what the queue actually was. A bloke in the queue before me joked that he was here for the beer festival (which was on the last time he was here). After a while staff came out and asked for people who had booked to come out and go straight in, even if their appointment was hours in the future. 

At the door we were temperature checked and given masks.

Once inside, there are more queues. We were advised to have our Medicare card handy.

At the desk we were also asked for photo ID so people had to dig through their purses and wallets.

After the interview we were then directed to a mysterious system of rows of spaced chairs, then on to a single row of chairs and finally to a booth with a person to give the "jab". 

The injection was completely painless for me. Next jab is due in 12 weeks, you can go as early as 4 weeks but 12 weeks is better.

After the jab you sit for 15 minutes before leaving. All staff I interacted with were efficient and professional.

Lessons for consumers:

  • Booking is a fast track to the door
  • Bring your Medicare card and photo ID
  • Bring information on any medications you might be on such as blood thinners
Suggestions for the vaccination centre:
  • Put up a big sign at the address you give directing people to the queues
  • Have signs on the queues saying what they are: "walk-in" vs "appointment"
  • Tell people they need to have Medicare and photo ID ready
Side effects

My arm started feeling warm almost immediately. A few hours later it's a little sore and I have soreness under my arm. One day after the first jab I felt general muscle soreness. Took paracetamol. Felt very tired and had a sleep for a few hours in the afternoon. Day two, arm still sore but no other discomfort.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Forced to wait over four hours to get through to Qantas to use a credit

A flight I booked last year with Qantas was cancelled by them due to pandemic lock-down and so I have a credit. Now that things are open again I wish to use that credit. It's not easy... The web site told me I had to ring them.

I've rung a few times in recent months and been informed that the wait time was over two hours so I gave up. Today I decided to stick it out as it didn't give any information about the wait time. I interpreted this lack of estimate as a sign that it was going to be quick.

After more than two hours I started trying to contact them via Twitter as this seems to have worked for some other people in my situation.

Facebook looked like it might be a more efficient way to contact them as they say this:

Alas, "7 days" doesn't seem to include today.

I tweeted a thread of comments but didn't get a response. 

This is what you have to listen to:

Finally, after more than four hours I got to Eric. A very nice operator who was able to fix me up.

I value my time and this punched a big hole in my day. My guess is that many people are not able to invest this much time in redeeming their flight credit so Qantas gets to keep it. This reeks of being a "dark pattern".

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Talked about monetising Podcasts on ABC Download This Show

Great to get back to a studio for these shows at last.. Although I look like I'm coming from a black void compared to my co-guest Meg Coffee.

On the TV bit we talk about Apple's announcement of support for Podcast subscriptions.

The podcast version is out (and it's free!) The radio version is available here. I had a question from someone asking why my video quality was better than the others. This episode was the first time I've appeared from the ABC Melbourne radio studio where they have a Sony AX53 camera in HD mode.

Here's the view from my perspective.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Appeared as a guest on ABC Sydney Focus talking about 5G and the 6G controversy

This week it was my pleasure to be a guest again on Cassie McCullagh's ABC Sydney show called Focus. It's always easy to work with these folks.

The discussion ranged over a variety of topics including my skepticism about the consumer benefits of 5G, the controversy about the early specifications of 6G (don't panic, it's not due until 2030). We also talked about how much we all value a fast and reliable NBN after our shared experience over the past year.

You can hear the program here.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Monitor multiple digital modes simultaneously with Hermes-Lite and SparkSDR

The Hermes-Lite 2 continues to impress. I've now been turned on to the wonders of the cross platform SparkSDR software which open up multiple receivers, running different modes, and (if you have WSJT-X installed in the normal place), it decodes. Here is my setup under Ubuntu with receivers for WSPR, FT8 and JT9.

My thanks to Robin, G7VKQ, for bringing this to my attention! 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Farewell to the van

The van has been an entertaining project over the last few years. A 2000 Toyota Hiace with 411,000km on the clock.

We have travelled up and down NSW many times and made the big trip across Australia to Perth.

Despite a few mechanical problems it has never let me down. 

Now though, each time I register it expensive repairs are needed. The time has come.

Highlights for me have been listening to ham radio in remote, and quiet, locations and just sleeping in the van - particularly when it's raining.

Farewell Morrison.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

RAAF 100 year flypast in Canberra

I'm not a plane geek but Kevin, VK2KB, talked me in to a trip to Canberra to watch a spectacular flypast by the RAAF to celebrate 100 years. Here's what I saw:

Apologies for some wobbly framing. I think I got better as it went along.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Officially an "old timer"

Old friend Nigel, VK3DZ, kindly invited me along to a meeting of the Radio Amateurs Old Timers Club. To be eligible for membership one must have held a license for 25 years. As I got my license in 1978 I'm well within the range so I applied to join and, after careful reference checks, was accepted.

Bill Roper, VK3BR, efficiently processed my membership and sent a nice welcome letter, an impressive certificate and a recent copy of "Old Timers' News" which is a very professionally produced magazine.

Today's meeting was a catered lunch at the Bentleigh Club followed by an excellent talk about Summits on the Air (SOTA) presented by Peter, VK3PF. 

I was surprised by the number of attendees that I already knew from the past and we had a wonderful chat over a hearty lunch. Chatting with Dave, VK3ASE, about being "old timers" he commented that inside he feels about 17 years old.

Also in attendance was prolific home brew author Drew, VK3XU, who I had the pleasure of visiting recently. He called me out on the picture of his home repaired glasses - I explained that it's one of my favourite photos from that day.

Great to catch up with Peter, VK3YPG and John, VK3EGG. Thanks to the organisers and all involved.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Hermes Lite 2 direct connect to macOS

A Hermes-Lite 2 SDR transceiver arrived a few days ago. For about $300 it's an amazing piece of equipment. A 0-38MHz direct sampling SDR that can transmit up to 5W.

Sliding the boards in to the box is quite simple except that I ran in to trouble fitting the supplied heatsink below the output transistors on the board. It took a bit of filing and grinding to get it to fit in the space below the board.

The radio connects via ethernet and that's how I initially used it with Windows. The SDR software I like the best is SDR Console. By magic it finds the radio on the network - very clever and handy if you need to operate with the radio somewhere else in the house. Direct connection ethernet to ethernet also works with SDR Console under Windows too.

My main computer is a Mac and I don't have ethernet to my office so I was pleased to find that if I simply plugged an ethernet cable from the radio to the Mac it was given an IP address of There's not much decent SDR software for macOS but I found that SparkSDR worked quite well and found the radio without any configuration.

I should add that this is running just fine under Intel emulation on an M1 processor.

Hermes-Lite looks good so far and I'm happy that it was easy to get going on Windows, Linux and even macOS.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Arduino pro micro password typer dongle

This has to be the simplest Arduino project. I have been improving my password security by letting some software choose random strings that meet the criteria. The problem is that I can't remember them and often they are even hard to type accurately with the text in front of me.

The project is a little USB device that you plug in and on boot it types the password. I ordered an Arduino Pro Micro.

This device, like the Leonardo, can emulate a USB HID device, including a keyboard. My program is extremely simple:

When you need the password, just plug it in. This works smoothly on Linux and Chromebooks, macOS tried to identify the keyboard type the first few times and Windows worked but carried on about setting up the device for a while.

Ideally, this board would be mounted in a USB key drive case.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Comparing noise level with WSPR

The noise floor at home is S9. Happily it's a broadband noise rather than the terrible switch mode power supply hash I had at one point. Inspired by Dallas, VK3EB, today I headed for the local park and threw a wire into one of the three largest trees there.

Like Dallas, I used a hand caster for the roll of wire and added a few sinkers to the end.

It was quite windy and after a few attempts I got the wire about 3m up into the tree - not great, but a start. Here's the portable setup:

The laptop is running Linux and is tethered to my phone for time synchronisation and spot upload. I have WSJT-X running at home and also ran in the park as VK3TPM/1 so I could compare Signal to Noise ratio. Here's home:

Here's the same period received at the park.

SNR is between 4dB and 11dB better in the park compared to home. Also one station, VK1DPB, was received at the park at -23 and not heard at home.

This is an encouraging start and I'm sure reception can be further improved in the park.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

A final trip in the van (#vanlife)

Just back from a few weeks touring north in the van. When the latest quick pandemic lockdown in Victoria ended I took the opportunity to drive north from Melbourne, up through country Victoria, through NSW and ending at an old friend's place at Dorrigo.

Along the way, it was great to see VK3EB, VK2BLQ, VK2ASU, VK2KB, VK2NWB, VK2KYP plus Debbie, John (2), Peter, Sue, Hansen, Merv, Charlie, Bronwyn, Rosie, Tony, and Paul, (the latter who oddly don't have amateur radio callsigns).

This time I turned off and saw the dog on the tucker box at Gundagai for the first time.

I enjoyed sleeping in the van and in particular it's nice when it rains.

On this trip I did avail myself of quality local accommodation along the way. It used to be that the feature on the sign was "Colour TV" now it's "free WIFI".

One motel had these wonderful chairs outside some rooms. I had just listened to an ABC RN program about Jimmy Possum chairs but I don't think this is one of them.

Mobile operation, mostly just digital, was good with the new IC-705. (I did find that there was RF feedback over the USB cable). Here's my travel case.

The van has now done 411,000km and it is showing its age. (The moon is closer than this! - 384,000km). Rust is spreading and apart from using oil and coolant the gearbox is wearing out. I plan to get the coolant leak fixed and sell the van cheaply or even for scrap soon. I've enjoyed the van over the past few years - it's taken me right across the country. I feel a little sad and nostalgic, but it's time to move on.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Dallas, VK3EB, demonstrates a bush antenna for low noise

Now that the brief pandemic lockdown in Melbourne has ended, I've hit the road in the van again and first stop was Shepparton to see Dallas, VK3EB and check out how he puts up antennas in the bush to get wonderful low noise reception.

Great to see you Dallas and thanks also for the tour of your home brew end fed tuner.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Built the QRPKits BLT+ Z-match antenna tuner

Locked down here in Melbourne it seemed like a good time to build a little antenna tuner. This is the Balanced Line Tuner Plus (BLT+) from Pacific Antenna or QRPKits.

As the radios I'll be using this have built-in SWR measurement I chose not to build the LED SWR indicator that's included.

The kit went together easily and the case is really excellent.

The manual, with circuit diagram, is available here

I tested it by throwing some wire out over the clothes line and running a counterpoise on the ground. The two controls interact a lot and you must adjust one and then the other and then the first.... but in the end it gets there and I'm happy with the result.

One minor note is that my kit came with version 2 of the SWR indicator but the link to the construction notes re-directs to version 3 which is a different circuit. This was enough discouragement for me to skip it.


After a gentle prod from veteran home brewer, John, VK2ASU, I went back and completed the built-in SWR indicator.

Tuning for a dimming or extinguishing of the LED does work but the meter on the radio is much easier to work with. The LED SWR indicator is worth having for simple QRP gear so I'm glad I've now put it in. It can be switched out of circuit of course.

China's BBC ban reminds us of the value of shortwave

China's announcement this week that the BBC World News TV channel will be blocked is another reminder that modern content distribution technologies, those that use the internet, have made censorship easier rather than harder.

When I worked in Hong Kong for CNN we knew that the satellite downlink for distribution of the TV signal in China went through a party controlled facility and that if the image of the Tiananmen Square "tank man" was used in any way, the signal would go dead for a time. 

International newspapers would sometimes arrive a little late with stories blacked out.

Shortwave stations with content the party didn't approve of would be masked by high power jamming signals. It was sometimes possible to receive the original signal by moving the antenna or off-tuning to some extent.

In those days readers, listeners and viewers at least knew something was being hidden from them.

As the Internet spread around the world it was thought that it would bring unfettered access to all of the worlds knowledge and opinion. It turns out that rather than decentralising network access, the modern internet has done the reverse and centralised monitoring and controlling of all of our communications.

A software developer who had migrated from China told me of the amazing experience of working for a US company that had the US version of the internet available in the office. This person was astonished to read Wikipedia articles that presented a far different view of modern Chinese history than had been available to them. 

In recent years, many countries, including Australia have shut down shortwave broadcasting as the audience is small and hard to measure. Radio Australia used to have good coverage of our region including China.

I recently visited the decommissioned Radio Australia transmission site in Shepparton. It was an impressive facility.

Low earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet has the potential to provide internet services all over the world but I expect it will be regulated by each country and the penalty for not complying will be that customer billing will be blocked or perhaps the uplink signals will be jammed in some way.

A low cost news distribution proposal

Digital communication over shortwave radio has improved massively in recent years. The combination of a low power shortwave transmitter and a personal computer can be detected around the globe. WSPR is just one example.

I propose a shortwave service that transmits respected world news and information programs using a variety of digital modulation systems. It should have periods of "old school" radio teletype, PSK, and more advanced modes such as MFSK that have been shown to get through despite weak signals and even deliberate jamming.

Software to decode the audio signals, such as fldigi is widely available for personal computers and phones and this would need to be explained and promoted around the world so that the audience could find out about it despite undoubted censorship.

The audience for this stream of uncensored text news would be very small but the content would be highly valued by those who found it. Stories could be shared through secure messaging within the country. Single use domains could be used as a way for readers to acknowledge reception.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Readly for digital magazines in Australia - a review

Readly in browser
Readly is a subscription service that gives you access to a large collection of magazines and some newspapers from around the world.

It works well in the browser and there are apps for iOS and Android (including Amazon Fire).

Magazine pages scroll sideways. In the browser arrow keys didn’t always work for me although they do work if you zoom to full screen.

Text and image quality is good. I have to say that retina screen iPads make magazines look fantastic. This is what the iPad is surely for.

The first magazine recommended to me, based on no usage, is Maxim which was a bit of an odd choice. You do get to choose a bunch of topics of interest to help the algorithm along.

Navigation in the app is logical and the hierarchy of content makes sense.

Content topics are: Aeroplanes & Transport, Animals & Equestrian, Art & Culture, Boats & Watersports, Business & Finance, Cars & Motoring, Celebrity & Entertainment, Comics, Craft & DIY, Crosswords & Sudoku, Education & Tutorials, Family & Parenting, Fashion & Beauty, Food & Drink, Gaming, Gardening, Health & Wellness, History, Hobbies & Collecting, Home & Renovation, Hunting & Fishing, Interior Design & Architecture, Kids, Lifestyle, Luxury, Music, News & Politics, Photography, Running,  Cycling & Fitness, Science, Sport, Tech, Teen & Young Adult, Travel & Regional, TV,  Film & Cinema, Wedding.

Readly remembers what you’ve read and you can “favourite” publications and bookmark pages.

I was excited to see a large number of Linux magazines but then noticed that many were not in English - I think it might be better to now show magazines in other languages unless the user asks. (There is a language selector that can do this but it defaults to all rather than detecting the browser language). Readly mingles magazines in different languages together which Apple News+ does not.

In Australia, Readly costs AU$10 a month.

Competitors include Apple News+ which is AU$15 a month but includes newspapers including The Australian and the Wall Street Journal. Apple News+ also includes some “higher end” magazines such as National Geographic, Scientific American which are missing from Readly.

Another major competitor, also more expensive, is Kindle Unlimited which is AU$14 a month but seems focussed on print and audio books with some magazines. It seems like the selection of magazines on Kindle Unlimited changes each month.

Readly is a great way to read a selection of popular magazines, it’s slightly cheaper than the competing options and worth a try as a first experience of consuming digital magazines.

My thanks to Readly for giving me a free trial to take a look. 

Friday, February 05, 2021

Appeared on ABC's Download This Show

It's always fun to be invited to be a talking head on a radio or TV show and this week I was again on Download this Show talking about small traders, communicating on Reddit who cost hedge funds a lot of money by buying when they were not expected to.

The full radio show, with more stories is here.

USB Microscope works well with macOS

Magnified headsets, magnifying glasses, a lamp with a big magnifier - I must be getting old, but trying to see surface mount components is getting harder. This week I purchased a USB Microscope via eBay. I didn't get the cheapest model, this one is AU$20.

This one came with a suction cup mount, which isn't great. The zoom feature has a side-effect that at high zooms the lens has to be very close to the subject which probably means it would get solder flux vapour depositing on it if used for soldering.

It came with a mini-CD with drivers but I found that when plugged in to macOS 11.2 it just worked and appears as a camera in apps that let you select cameras. I used the built-in Photo Booth app.

The photos come out at 640x426 for me.

Here's a picture of some tiny LEDs on an Arduino board.

I am impressed with the resolution and colour. Sometimes exposure can blow out highlights and there's no manual override that I can see. 

This will be useful for inspecting small solder joints. Recommended.