Category Archives: Musings

2015..the radio and other bits

Radio stuff…

Ill start first with my SOTA activations which were less than I would have liked but due to circumstances, I enjoyed the ones I did, well almost!

It took me to June, first activation was Beinn Dubh, my first hill accompanied by my oldest daughter, Lora. I chose Dubh as a easy tracked hill and I knew with the WX forecast, plus a hill to let her see what excellent views were to be seen with a little effort, I could take my radio gear as well, bonus. The WX stayed excellent the whole trip, I first bagged two contacts in the Mourne mountains of Northern Ireland to start the log, 5 contacts in all which can be the norm in midweek. I didn’t want to spend long on radio but after 30 mins I had my contacts and I tried a few calls over the next 30 mins, nothing. Time to head home, a good day and quality time with Lora.

Lora

Lora

As is now a yearly event, Beinn a’Mhanaich was my second activation, I used the tried and trusted (and easiest) route starting from the A817 Haul Rd, a stiff ascent to start and a steady ridge walk followed by a couple of short rises. A cairn marks the summit on a large plateau. The WX was ideal, a good day with contacts as far afield as Northern Island and a group activating Ailsa Craig, Robin PKT had come down to active the other Luss Hills to the NE and E of me..

It was off to the Lake District on the annual short trip.

The WX was not looking good even though we’d hung off to choose our days.

I’d chosen my hills but as the last trip, it went all up in the air.

We arrived to steady unsettled weather but I decided to go to standby(and fave summit) Dale Head, I’d planned a round trip there and on to Hindscarth (a WOTA hill) then the short walk to Robinson and drop into Newlands Hause to get picked up. It never turned out that way as the walk up from the top of Honister Pass was to say the least, interesting and windy, very windy.

I arrived at the summit and it was blowing a hooley. It was a handheld activation as the beam had no chance of being erected. I snuck into the side of the large cairn and called on both 4m and 2m. One contact to North Wales on 4 and the other three on 2m, I was ever so glad when John TDM replied so I could bale off the hill, I worked two other lads descending off Blakes Fell, I think according to what they said, I’d the best of the weather but off down and a welcome drive back to Keswick.

Bob about to start descent

Helvellyn…

I’d been planning this hill since a long time and finally reached the summit in what can only be called a pea-souper..

Katie had dropped me off at Scales car park and off up into the cloud I headed, there is no missing this path as it is a well built stone staircase to the last slow rise to the summit, for once I appreciated the not seeing where I was going but soon I was on the way along the slow gradual rise to the summit, a trip to bag the trig and the geocache which required info off the plate on the trig. Due to a strong breeze at times, I did a handheld activation yet again and the same fella on 4m, I got the other contacts 0n 2m and the last contact was a 216 km contact to John on Stiperstones in Shropshire. More than happy with that! If only I’d used the beam, next time?

As I descended the cloud slowly was being burnt off and as I started down the stone path, views cleared to the W and N..

Another one of the higher Lakes fells ticked off.

That was my SOTA activity for the year, sad really as I now have the time but other circumstances have come into play. I did acheive my 300th ponit.

I’ll be back in ’16.

HF...

Carrying on the year as I left off ’14, I was active most early evenings on 12 and 10m when open, I’d arrive home head to the radio and try see what I could work, WAS is now sitting at 47 with three states to get, 2 to verify, I’ll send QSL cards for those, 45 LoTW verified. The cycle is dropping back down with activity over the latter months of the year falling back on those bands, there is always the next peak in about 10 years time.

The rest of the year spent on JT65, JT9 and various PSK modes mostly 31 and 63, a steady stream of new contacts with a drop off late Oct into ’16 as I was now playing with other radio stuff. I did keep my hand in by occasionally having a CQ..

I now achieved 8,000 logged contacts by the end of the year since my return in 2009 (I’ve just worked a German station on 30m to give me the total)

VHF..

Nothing new planned or tried, I kept up my SOTA chasing and finished the year within reach of 4,000 VHF chasing points (I’ve just made it, 4,001 and counting).

I didn’t do as much portable work in the local hills but that was more down to lack of activity on my part, I’ve still to fully organise the bike for carrying everything. One trip to Scroggy Bank was successful so maybe more planned, it will depend on my reckoning the best LOS for working some of the further N SOTA activations. I’ve a wee thought to trying some of the VHF 2m and 70cm RSGB but it’ll be down to WX and mostly, midge status.

Other..

Another foray back into the SDR dongle with the newer R 8202T/2 chip, this is ongoing as I find new ways of using..

I’m doing more listening between VHF and HF and as you may have seen in one of my last blog posts my foray into AIS which is still toodling away on an old laptop, I’ve now hooked my WX station to the APRS and live weather from GAX towers, more plans to go further with this.

I’ve a box with more stuff to get round to but I never do anything in a hurry, I first looked at AIS over seven-year ago and look how long it took me to get round to it, can anyone let me borrow one of the USB AIS rx units to try to see how it performs against dAISy…

I’ve also been playing with PSK on Android tablets, AIS, SDR on Windows Tablet….2016 could be interesting

I think that is it…

If not I’d add as I remember..

 

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2015, a momentous year

 

2015..

It started slowly and gathered momentum.

A year in which I retired from the daily grind, plans to do anything else?, mibbes aye, mibbes naw.

A year in which I spread my wings further out on the cycling trail, a year in which radio latterly took a back seat, a year one small ambition realised – a climb of Helvellyn, a year in which my youngest graduated with a B.A., the oldest gaining his Ph.D…A year in which I realised that I must pack in as much time doing what I want (after housework, of course.)

The cycling bit first, folks..

I’m a nerd who logs everything, radio contacts, mileage either walked, cycled, hiked etc.

I look constantly at my Polar v650 placed on the stem, I see time out, mileage was done, speed, ave speed, Heart Rate, ave HR, ascent and descent, obsession? maybe.

2015 cycling highlight?

Looking down Loch Fyne

Looking down Loch Fyne

Too many to choose.

I rarely plan a route, I decide how I feel and some days I do hills, on others the local track does me.

There obviously are high points and I’ll note these as I go.

Making my way up the A82 Rest and Be Thankful taking it easy in the small ring knowing each bend and foot ascended was getting me near the top, I had approached Ardgarten with much trepidation. I punched the air as I topped and promptly got cheered by a large group of middle-aged bikers who had cruised by me at a far greater pace on their motorised machines. I bowed as I came off the bike. I could have gone up a gear or two higher on the lower part but better saving the legs, just in case. I later looked at Strava segment times and I wasn’t the slowest but there were many much more quicker at the ascent, I was happy. Me in my 60s, a hybrid, 700×40 tyres and a body not made for speed.

Parts of that trip was on roads never cycled, I took the Barbour Rd out of Kilcreggan and when I reached Peaton Rd, I gulped and had a go but not for long. I got off and milked it.

It’s the thought of the return home from the west. Sea level to just under 500 ft ASL, local knowledge then comes into play.

I returned again to Bute to catch the roads I missed first time round, a magical island to cycle (as long as you check the wind direction first), the ferry journey was a highlight, Gourock to Rothesay due to pier works at Wemyss Bay, memories of being 5 or 6 going ‘doon the watter’.

Best view.

Later that day I’d cycled high above Loch Fyne as I headed to where I’d turn south at Strachur, I decided on a late break to have what originally was my lunch, I parked Polly and sat down on a bench on the shore side, it wasn’t sunny but with the solitary noise of small waves breaking on a rocky shore, I sat back and soaked in the view.

Ettrick Bay

Looking down Loch Fyne

Other views, sitting at the café at Ettrick Bay on Bute looking across to Arran, looking west and south-west from the Haylie Brae above Largs are among too many to mention. It makes all the pedalling worthwhile.

The view from Scroggy Bank above Greenock has to be one of my favourites and I never tire of being there, an uphill cycle on a rough track then an obscure tarmac single track road to the mast area.

I can leave home and have a 20 mile plus run and be back home in under 2 hours, some days it takes 3, 3½ maybe 4.

I’ve got to know folk along the routes I travel and we spend time, talking about this and that. I do a weekly check on all the geocaches I have placed along Route 75 and other areas…

New places visited.

I headed one day with Balloch in mind but nagging for a few months in the back of my mind was the thought of heading further among 7 to Drymen. A case of ‘I’m here, lets go’, a cycle designated route but no level tarmac path, just the up and down of country roads. I sat in the square in Drymen and spoke to a passing cyclist, he asked where I had left my car..’My car? I’ve cycled’..a look of shock as I explained I just point the front wheel and go.

Locally…..

I try and vary my runs so I never get that feeling of ‘not this stretch again’, I have ran out of side roads to explore and meet all sorts of happenings, I occasionally meet the river watchers who check samples of river life, the replacement bridge builders, the taking a trip along ‘paths’ I took the Mill Lade path between Crosslee and Bridge of Weir and cycled around 60% but I’ll walk the next time, the bike and myself were a bit muddy to say the least. I’ve still a geocache to find midway.

Recently?

A drudge it could have been but December has been a month of heavy rain and constant high winds, I’d headed out more as an escape of the house, it looked okay but as I got to the end of the avenue, it rained BIG rain blown horizontally into my face as I pedalled towards the cycle track , I wished lads I knew a ‘Good morning’, a ‘WTF are you doing out in this?’ came back but off down the track where 5 miles out, I decided to turn back.

I stood sodden at the back door, every item of clothing straight into the washing machine, the bike? ironically got a natural ‘jet’ wash..It’s been a ‘weather window’ hunt. as I write this, I’m 5 mile short of 3,500 miles or 5,632 Kms. I’ve still time to break this total.

Next year?.

I spent last winter making all sorts of plans and never achieved many of them, I’m not making plans this winter as I’m going to dig in to what is already stored by.

I’m writing this in the dog days (alternative world) of December, gales have been constant, rain? more than normal and I’ve been grounded..a light dusting of snow lies outside.

Over 3,300 miles logged, surprisingly not much more than 2014.

Earlier Jan, Feb and March weather restricted my ‘oots’, top month saw over 550 miles logged.

I’ll take that…..

Part 2?

Radio and others, sometimes.

I used the full image of Scroggy Bank as this is one view which continues to astound me no matter how often I stand there. Please click on image for a fuller image and appreciation of the view.

dAISy

You read it correct..

dAISy.

Explain?

dAISY is an AIS receiver.

What is AIS?

HERE

I’ve meant to give AIS monitoring a try for years but being honest, the cost of the USB receivers put me off if I found the coverage would be poor.

I was just googling this and that one evening when I came across a forum and read through all pages on the development stages of the dAISy. I thought this sounds a way of entering the dedicated RX market although I already have the facilities to use a data cable and 9600 rates on a radio needed to decode AIS but as I use that radio for my HF data work, a separate wee box would do nicely.

I read all I could about her and decided to bite the bullet and get one sent over from the US.

dAISy

dAISy

I knew the capabilities of reception, knowing that it would not be as sensitive as a dedicated box. It allowed me into the world of AIS rx’ing at very reasonable price.

I bought the little beauty at the Tindie store and I exchanged emails with Adrian who is the developer, excellent quick helpful replies!!

I tracked the package and it soon arrived, I’d downloaded a trial copy of Shipplotter so I could run dAISY and see whether I would keep or possibly upgrade at some point.

The unit was ‘plug and play’ on Windows 10, support is there for other versions, and after a short set-up, I fired up the programme, one or two settings later, I clicked on the green circle. Instantly I was seeing ‘messages’ being logged, I could see the positions of each ship on the map (you do have to calibrate a map when first running Shipplotter but there is ‘How to do this’ online.

I knew dAISy had limits of 8 to 12 miles due to the internals used but that would be enough to me, I did mail Adrian who pointed me to a user who has coverage of up to 59 miles, this user is on the Columbia River which uses an AIS repeater system. My best so far is 16 miles N to Loch Goil, I’m located at just under 500 ft ASL but there is higher ground between me and parts of the river and lochs. My limit seems to 16 m N, 9 miles W and 8 miles E, local geography comes into play. I’m sure if are suitably placed with a clear view, much better distances could be achieved.

Clyde Estuary

dAISy

The 21 day trial period of Shipplotter was coming to an end, decision time.

I bought it although you can use other freebie progs such as AISMon, OpenCPN, AIS Decoder among others. I’ll be keeping an eye on the further development of these programmes.

Clyde Estuary

Clyde Estuary

I also did some experimenting with my SDR dongle which I can use straight audio to pnAIS which uses voice to report each message and shows you on a separate open window ships info.

I’ve stuck with dAISY..as it is KISS.

I run an old Toshiba laptop and watch the ship movements on the river and am presently ‘following’ a ship making its way down the river from just under the Erskine bridge, my limit to the E.

Update..

I’ve now begun uploading my AIS captures to the Shipplotter server and am receiving other sharers input, I have just expanded my map some to ‘catch’ the boats 15 to 20 miles away. It gives me much more info than before, my own RX’ed ships are still distinguishable from the others.

I also incorporated my AIS info into aprs.fi which I use when out and about, I have recently been uploading my weather station output 24/7 under my ham radio callsign, I’m weighing up running both the AIS and WX but will decide at a later date.

 

I’m not going to explain all the techy details, see below.

 

dAISy specs.

  • Single channel receiver
  • Receiving on channel A (161.975 MHz) and B (162.025 MHz)
  • Quickly alternates between both channels through frequency hopping (<10ms)
  • Sensitivity down to -100 dBm
  • Very low power consumption, less than 100mW in receive mode (<20mA at 5V)
  • No drivers required for Windows 10, Mac OS X and Linux (driver available for older versions of Windows)
  • 38400 baud serial over USB
  • Optional TTL serial output (3.3V, requires soldering)
  • Message output in industry standard NMEA format (AIVDM)
  • Small size: 63 x 44 x 23 mm
  • Sturdy aluminum enclosure
  • BNC connector for 50 Ohm VHF antenna (antenna not included)
  • Mini-USB connector for data and power (USB cable included)
  • Made in the USA

dAISy is © Adrian Studer…

Thanks go to Adrian for developing a cheap entry point into the world of AIS and you can buy one HERE

Further information on ongoing development HERE

Shipplotter HERE

All links and info are given in good faith.

© Google, Shipplotter, dAISy, Terrametrics.

 

It’s Official……..Retirement

After 18 months waiting it finally arrived, retirement. I’d decided many years ago that I would try to finish work early. I had initially thought as soon as possible as I turned 60 but other factors later came in to play. My employer was looking for efficiency savings so I applied to go and now 18 month after my 60th birthday, the day in April arrived. My feelings? non plussed actually. I’ve been told the first month is like an extended holiday but then the enormity of it will hit me. I’m looking to do many things, I have ideas constantly buzzing around in this big old empty head and we’ll see when I get there, I’m pretty spontaneous in what I do so…. I’ve a few things to get sorted before I finally get on with a new dawn in my life, I’ll get whatever done before the younger Mrs Mhor joins me in a few years time. I’ve done work inside the house and being honest, work would have been a rest compared to this.

Mhor on Corlic

Mhor on Corlic

My culinary skills to be utilised more (I’m told), my place now as a house-husband is assured (I’m told). Where is that dishcloth? No doubt, I will be writing about some of my adventures as life goes along…….

Back to the normal stuff…

( February/March) Radio…

SOTA chasing.. I caught two ‘visitors’ who had three days planned on the hills around Tarbet (the Loch Lomond one). I was waiting and on time, I worked Geoff NON and Robin TQQ on Cruach Tairbairt at the head of Loch Long, a hill surrounded by higher hills, this was the only hill they did on 2m due to the lack of 2m activity. I listened the following day on the chance that Beinn Bhreac or Tullich Hill would be called from but nothing. If I was to do the former hill I’d choose HF due to the site and poor VHF take off, ces’t la vie. Next in the log was Duncan GOG on Goseland Hill, I’d been out for walk but had carried my handie as Iain WJZ was due on Ben Cruachan later that day(if I extended my wanders as I tend to do), A good contact as the hill was 85 kms from the part of the B788 I was at. I also had a quick word with fellow chaser Brian HMZ. I’d returned home and then worked Iain on Ben Cruachan which is almost LOS(line of sight) to the N of the home QTH, a hill which tempts me.

WTF?

WTF?

The following weekend, I’d a text pre-warning me that Neil NCM was activating an Ayrshire hill, Benbeoch. I could have just walked up to the trig point above the golf course but I took the bike and headed up the West Glen Rd out of Kilmacolm and looked for a point where I could have a good run into the hill Neil was on. I’d had a good look on the OS map so I knew roughly my destination but I just drew into a farm gate and called and first call Neil had heard me as he was just setting up, excellent and had a quick QSO before I left Neil on a windy summit and I would freewheel to join the Barochan Rd and head on to Houston and home. First in the log in March was Iain WJZ who was on Cairn Table in East Ayrshire, I’d nipped up to the local trig point, 15 mins away to catch him. Two weeks later,I caught Robin PKT on successive days, first hill was Ben Laga on the Saturday plus I’d caught Jack COX a few minutes earlier on Culter Fell, I’d cycled to Scroggy Bank high above Greenock where I had hoped to catch Robin on the handie and only when I arrived and checked the alerts page I found out Jack was out. Two good contacts distance wise, PKT at 107 and COX at 92 kms. Ben Laga is above Loch Sunart in the Ardnamurchan peninsula. I knew it would be a reach but we got there in the end. I must get a portable lightweight beam built that fits in my pannier bag. Robin PKT was out the following day on Morvern on Sidhean na Raplaich, this time I caught him after heading to old favourite hill, Corlic. I’d got dropped off with Euan and waited at the summit to make the contact, the summit littered with loads of cut cable ties and more strangely a 8 ft section of 4″ plastic down pipe(now removed), strange one.

NEWS FLASH..

Looks like SOTAEx may be back on for 2015, watch this space !!

HF..

Still working data modes, JT65, JT9, PSK plus a return to WSPR.

20m 22 2 15 1130 UTC

20m 22 2 15 1130 UTC

I made my first top band(160m) JT65 contact into EI land plus I’d spent more than a few evenings doing WSPR on this band. I did try some SSTV on 20m , I received the shown image from a Dutch SWL station with an ask for me to verify the reception, a QSL card was soon on its way.

Other

A wee health blip mid march but after a good rest, I was back out on the bike with nothing more than my usual routes and runs through the country roads to the east and south of home. I’m slowly working myself back up to hopefully regain the fitness I had last year. I’d enjoyed myself too much with the tasty, cidery wrong things over the winter months, how can they be wrong if they taste so good?

I got one of these as a farewell pressie from my employers(my choice)

WX station

WX station

I’m keeping an eye on the download data which runs on ‘Cumulus’ on my computer. I have started it on 1st April to log all the data, we’ll see how the first month goes.. I’m debating whether I should have it north facing or south-facing. I’m running it at the north side of the house.

As a funny.. I saw this when googling for info on the Kenwood TS590SG..

Note the sales description and the quick details…..hilarious or probably lost in translation?

As with all images, click on to embiggen.

Thanks go to Wikipedia, Peakbagger and other sites I have linked to.

TS 590SG advert

TS 590SG advert