Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Stuff

So the festive season is just about over for another year and 2016 is almost upon us.
I've been using the time off work to get my shack in some kind of order and catch up on some jobs that really needed doing.
As you can see from the picture above I've installed a new mast which supports a home made J-Pole antenna and a new long wire. The J-Pole is a bit experimental but it can hit the local 2m repeater so not a bad start. It's yet to be tested on simplex so that's the next thing on the todo list. The new long wire is higher and has a better signal to noise ratio because of the height. The old long wire is still in place but now feeds my Tecsun PL-660 so I'm happily back SWLing when I'm not playing with CW and digital modes.
I still have to re-program my Realistic scanners, once I've decided what I'm going to use each one for. The trusty Uniden UBC3500XLT is still doing the business so that's about the only thing that doesn't need touching.
So there we have it. The shack is set up for the new year and I'll be listening as must as transmitting.
All that is left to say for this year is have a very good 2016 and I'll catch you on the air.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Original Data Mode

After falling for data modes on HF I'm now fully into the original data mode.
That's Morse code in plain English.

I have a wonderful teacher called Sandra who has many years of Morse experience and is wonderfully patient with a beginner like myself. Tonight we had our first QSO on 40m. It was all a bit broken for me but I got the gist of the conversation so not bad for a first go. I've been told to listen more so that's what I'm going to do. It's the only way to get up to speed.
We'll be on the air tomorrow too because practise makes perfect.

The contact was only made possible by me upping the power of my radio to 50W. In turn this was made possible by me passing my Intermediate exam with a 41/46 score. My new callsign is 2E0OTP.

I wonder where those last three letters came from!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Data Radio

I've been trying to learn Morse Code (CW) for a while.
I'm still trying to learn.

After I fell out of love with Ham radio it's the thing that has got me interested again. I always saw Ham radio as a challenge and after getting my Foundation license it failed to be that. All the dull chat about what radios people had just wasn't what I considered communication. I went back to SWLing and after a while got FLDigi running and started listening to data modes. It was then that I decided that being able to listen to Morse without FLDigi would be good so I started learning.

All work and no play etc etc meant that I needed a distraction when not immersing myself in dits and dahs. I started listening to PSK31 and decoding with FLDigi and it was good fun. Long distance contacts were being made with low power and even with my dodgy split long wire I could still pick up distant stations. The thing was that without a data interface I couldn't transmit.

Anyway, last week someone told me that keying my mic while pressing it against a speaker would work and indeed there was plenty of testimonies on the web saying it had worked for them. Challenge on!

With a bit of audio re-routing I got together a small set-up and gave it a go last night. Nothing.
This morning though it did work and the building in the picture above in Italy was where my signal got through to, some 806 miles away.
So there we go, some down and dirty fun with data. It certainly has me interested again and I like the Heath Robinson approach I'm using at the moment.

Ham radio for me is once again a challenge.
As it should be.

Friday, November 06, 2015

In Need Of A Boost

I enjoy listening to my scanner but lately I haven't found many new channels.
I had a bit of a long shot idea to rectify this situation.

I've had a TV aerial booster lying around in a cupboard for a while. The frequency range it covers is quite wide so I thought why not try it between my discone antenna and the scanner. As I've said, it was a long shot but it was worth a go.

One newly soldered BNC cable later and I've got a 30-50% boost in existing signals and my next step is to scan for new frequencies to see what weak signals I can find, those that have eluded me before now.

I have another radio project to play with over the weekend and hopefully with some success I'll post here about that too.

In the meantime, back to the scanner.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

It Doesn't Add Up

On the rare occasions that I get out of the house to do some browsing of this world I like to go book shopping.
Any book shop will do but second-hand bookshops are the best. A few charities have decided that second-hand bookshops are the way to go. Indeed, I for one applaud the idea of a shop filled with second-hand books where the money goes to charity. For me it's a win win situation. It certainly trumps me having to tell charity canvassers that knock on my door, right in the middle of me eating supper, that their beaming faces are not welcome.

Recently though I've noticed that the price of the used books in said bookshops has been rising. Not that I'm against giving more money to charity but sometimes it just doesn't add up. I imagine that some bright spark has suggested that "the internet" is a great place to gauge prices. This is a good idea in one sense, imagine a charity shop selling a rare first edition for 99p! That just wouldn't do. The adverse side of this practise is that the lazy bright sparks just price everything on an internet average, or at least that's my theory.

Take for example today. I was in a local charity bookshop and a certain volume was £15. For what it was and its condition it seemed a little steep. I scanned the barcode and found that I could purchase a better copy online for half the price including postage. Guess who won that round?

If these charity bookshops continue to overprice books they're going to lose sales, as they did today with me. It doesn't add up! I don't give to charity, the charity loses money and they're left with dead stock.

The joy of charity shop book shopping is that great finds can be had for a few pounds. Over the years I've spent hundreds of pounds buying books from charity shops. But if they're going to price me out of their market we both lose.

A common sense rethink of pricing is needed to keep these valuable resources going.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Firstly apologies for not being online so much.
I'm pretty much done with the whole social media thing. Twitter, Instagram et al were all doing my head in. It's like so much noise. I can do without it. I also know where to find friends if I need to and they know where to find me.

Anyway, I was involved in an RTA a week ago. I've been signed off for three weeks in total at the moment and although nothing is broken, getting around is a bit of a problem. I can't walk too far and the medication stops me from driving when I need to take it.

This means I'm spending a lot of time sitting down looking at my TV, books and my PC screen. I decided to have another go at getting Fl Studio into Linux. I installed Linux Mint on my desktop PC and after a lot of reading managed to get it working. The reg key is installed so it's out of demo mode too. This means I can get back to writing a few tunes while I'm recovering.

It's good to have FL Studio back.
It'll be good to recover fully too.
Fingers crossed.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Learning Applied

I bought a copy of this book last week and although I'm only a few pages in I've learned a lot already.
The only thing with learning is that unless one can apply that knowledge then it's a bit of a waste of time. The one thing that has stuck in my head is that Linux doesn't care about file extensions. At first (being an old Windoze user) I thought there wasn't much point in this, how does Linux know how to open certain files? I'm using Ubuntu and indeed it does use file extensions as a recognizable way of opening files.
But there is an advantage of using this facility in Linux. Here's a quick method that I've been playing with.
  1. Open gedit and write a message.
  2. Save the file as a .mp3. Gedit will happily do that.
  3. Use AES Crypt to encrypt the .mp3 you just made.
  4. Rename the .aes file by removing the .aes extension.
  5. You now have an .mp3 file which is an encrypted text file.
  6. Share your file.
While I wouldn't send my bank details by this method it is at least reasonably secure for sending simple messages. It's also reasonably quick and if you reverse the process it works to decrypt your message.
As I work my way through the book I'm hoping to find more useful nuggets that let me play with encryption processes.

That's all for now. Back to the book which I highly recommend.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

On A Mission

My mission for a while now has been to get FL Studio working on Ubuntu.

After many weeks of researching how this can be done I've decided that it would be best to run FLS on my Ubuntu Studio desktop. It has everything I need to get FLS to work minus WineASIO but I've worked out how to get that installed.
I'm going to try and get it running this weekend if I have time.

I really do miss FL Studio. I've been using it for years and I know my way around it. I've also bought a few very decent Image Line plugins which I'd like to use again.

I'll let you know if I'm successful.
Ubuntu Studio and I are certainly ready to roll.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Automatic Fishing

While I like listening to the soap opera that is radio life on my scanner I do have other commitments and therefore can't dedicate too much time to it.
What I needed was something to monitor the scanner and only keep the interesting bits, then when I have time I can listen to the compact version and not have to sit through the silent parts.
Step up to the plate Audacity.
I really do like this audio editor. I'll admit to missing Cool Edit Pro but Audacity is a great second and not only because it's free. Since I first used it many moons ago it has come on in leaps and bounds. With this in mind I thought I'd see if it was capable of sound activated recording. You'll be pleased to know that it is very capable of the above task. Just set your activation db level and it'll start when sound goes above that level and stop when it drops below. All very simple and all wonderfully effective.
As you can see above in the screen grab it has captured just the audio I want to listen to and none that I don't. There are probably a few more features in Audacity that I have yet to discover and I look forward to finding those.
In the meantime I have a lot of useful audio that can be repurposed another time.
I wonder what I'll produce.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Just Jamming

I hadn't played with ChordPulse since I switched over to Ubuntu from Windows.
I'd had one failed attempt at getting it to work on Ubuntu before but I was new to Linux and I really hadn't a clue so I gave up. This time around with a handful of knowledge and a determined approach I managed to get ChordPulse working. It's a fun program. Pick a style, a tempo and some chords and one has the perfect backing band. I've already been jamming with my baritone ukulele and I'm off to the loft as soon as to grab my Honer melodica.
While I realise now that instead of buying a radio I should have bought an arranger keyboard my despair at a lack of music making gear is diminishing fast. I have the Jack audio connection kit installed along with a few bits of music software and I'm enjoying playing after about a year in the musical wilderness.
Of course the holy grail for me is to have FL Studio running and I'll probably attempt that on my Ubuntu Studio machine.
In the meantime I have enough to keep me occupied.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Research And Patience

A few years ago I owned a Zoom H4 audio recorder. I spent a lot of money buying it and even though I looked after it it eventually developed a fault which couldn't be fixed and like so much modern technology it went into the bin. I didn't replace it because although the H4 is great when it worked I didn't think that a few years use was good value for money.
Since the H4 died I've been looking for a replacement. It certainly wouldn't need all the bells and whistles that I'd had before. What I require for an audio recorder is firstly that it's cheap and secondly that it's portable. I've looked at a lot of bits of gear and nothing appealed to me so I put the idea on the back burner.
Moving on a bit, I recently joined a gym and wanted an mp3 player. Like just about everyone else I wanted some distraction from doing anything physical that was out of my comfort zone, I think that's the correct parlance.
After doing a lot of research I decided on and bought a Sandisk Sansa Clip Plus. It ticks all the boxes and a few more too. It also incorporates an audio recorder. I've found a couple of recorded samples and it's perfectly OK for my needs. But as the title of this post suggests it doesn't end there. There's one big surprise to add to this tale that'll make you rethink spending big on your next mp3 player.
Whilst doing my research on the Sandisk Clip Plus I found that there is an open source alternative OS for the player called Rockbox. Not only does it add countless options to the player but it dual boots alongside the existing OS so you lose nothing and gain everything.
Even on my Ubuntu PC it's simplicity itself to install with it's GUI. It took me all of ten minutes to get it up and running. It'd take me hours to list all the extras that Rockbox adds to the Sandisk so I won't bother. Suffice to say that a trip to will give you all the details. You may have an old mp3 player that's in their list of supported devices.
I suppose I should finish by telling you what it sounds like, after all I'm talking about an mp3 player here. My evaluation for what it's worth is that it sounds as good as any mp3 player I've ever owned. In fact it sounds better not least because I can tweak the audio settings to my liking and not have to rely on naff presets which are never quite right. It's also loud if that's how you like your audio with no restrictions on volume up to 24db.
Personally I'm very happy with my Sandisk Clip Plus and the Rockbox OS and I've finally got my replacement audio recorder.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Doing Something Useful

After the disappointment of Ham Radio I thought that I'd do something that I would get some benefit from. I joined a gym.

Apart from the fact that I probably need to do something in regard to my general health and fitness I wanted a challenge that would pay dividends. Health is any easy choice in that respect. Do more exercise, get fit and lose weight in the process. Driving a truck isn't a physical job theses days. In the past there was a lot of manual handling that went with the driving but now bulk loads have machinery to move them about and other materials are getting lighter. The solution is to join a gym.

Moving on...
I now realise that I should have stuck with my first decision about what to do with my annual bonus which was to buy an arranger keyboard. I can rectify the subsequent decision which was to get into ham radio by selling all the radio gear. I'll do that soon and go back to what I know while becoming both physically and mentally more content with my world.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Goodbye Ham Radio

I've decided to revise this post because I thought it needed to be a little more rational and to also better explain my reasons for not participating in amateur radio operating.

Rather than write a long blog post I've created a text file that you can read should you want to.

Just click on this link.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Postcard From Space

I'm not going to win any prizes for quality but this is my first SSTV picture from the International Space Station.

There are a few pictures to download this weekend and the transmissions didn't start until this evening but my patience has paid off and I grabbed a picture. The pictures are celebrating Cosmonautics Day.
Hopefully I'll get some more tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

98 Per Cent Station

So here is my HF radio in place in the shack.
It's an Alinco DX-70 and it has yet to be used. That is why my M6IKI station is only at 98%. The reason is that I don't have a power supply for it yet, there's a specific one that I want so I'll have to wait.

The power supply is 1% closer to operation, the other 1% is my RF earth bus bar which I'm in the process of making. Once that's built and everything is connected I'll be able to power up.

ETA to my HF station being on air is about 2 weeks.
As ever I'll keep you informed.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


I had a great day out in Leicester yesterday.

The city has been celebrating all week. In case you hadn't noticed we had King Richard III to reinter in the cathedral. I was lucky enough to be picked in the public ballot and got my seat at the Service of Reveal yesterday. It was a really good service. I really did enjoy it.

Afterwards I hooked up with my GF and another friend and we spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening drinking a few toasts to RIII. We were also celebrating my shiny new callsign and generally not being in work. It's fair to say that a good time was had by all.

There'll never be another day like it but that's what memories are for.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Am Ham

So here it is. My callsign.

I'm really pleased that I only had to wait a week. By all accounts that isn't a long time so thank you to the RSGB and Ofcom.

If you're on the air and hear me calling CQ then stop for a chat. I got into amateur radio because I had exhausted my knowledge as a SWL so I'm always keen to learn from the more experienced members of the ham community.
I did call CQ a couple of times tonight without a reply so I'll be trying again tomorrow.
And forever more.

Friday, March 20, 2015


There has been a lot of science in my life over the past couple of days.

On Wednesday and Thursday I was studying for my Amateur Radio Foundation Licence. I did the exam last night and got an indicative score of 25/26. That's a pass but I still need confirmation which I should get in the next couple of weeks.

This morning was the solar eclipse which I watched and photographed from my garden. All very exciting. I probably won't get to see anything as spectacular again in my lifetime but never say never.

It got me thinking that if as a race of people, the human race that is, that if we spent as much time and money on scientific pursuits as we do on war and conflict then we could be amazed every day. It seems very odd that as a fragile race on a fragile planet that we're hell bent on burning bridges instead of building them. We, as a collective, should rethink our aims.

That's one thing I really enjoy about amateur radio. It's about contact without borders, without prejudice and with the aim of bringing all people whoever they are together. That's one of the reasons I'm so glad I passed my exam and once I get my callsign it'll be one of the reasons I'll be chatting to people the world over.

It's science and it's good science.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Finished Product

So here it is, my finished Morse key.
It started with the actual Morse key which was bought for me by my sister for my birthday this year. I was advised by a member of Leicester Radio Society to attach it to a heavy base to stop it moving around while keying. Once again my sister helped out a got hold of a decent piece of scrap from work which was luckily near perfect to the size I had asked for.
I then went to an engineering company I deliver to and asked for a favour which was for two holes to be drilled with larger holes underneath to accommodate a couple of nuts. This was done in return for a selection of biscuits that I was happy to hand over.
Today the sticky backed felt and rubber feet arrived. I finished the base so that it's now anti-scratch and anti-skid.
I'd like to thank everyone involved in getting this project finished. It's a solid bit of kit and will provide many hours of CW.
That's if I pass my Foundation Licence.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Life's A Buzz

I had my maker head on yesterday and made a small buzzer for my morse key.

It has to be the simplest circuit ever. Just a couple of AA cells running a 6v buzzer and both of the open ends terminating at a couple of banana plugs. The circuit is made by the morse key and it goes buzz. It's not quite a clean morse tone but it'll do as I get used to listening to the letters instead of decoding them in my head.
It's all housed in a little project box and is nicely portable so that I can practice anywhere that the mood takes me.

It's certainly not the best buzzer in the world but I made it so it's better than one I could have bought.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Make Me A Maker

Ahh, my lovely new Morse key.

I got it for my birthday last week but I can't use it yet because I have no buzzer. I saw one on the internet but it was pretty ugly and it made me want to make my own.

To be honest I don't know very much about electronic circuits but I thought that a buzzer box was about as simple as it gets and that I should have a go. So while I was out and about today I popped into Maplin and bought a few bits. It's going to be a quiet buzzer because I want to practice my Morse without driving my girlfriend mad.

I'm also waiting for a steel base for the key so that it doesn't move around. This is where I need ConcreteDog living around the corner because it'll need a couple of holes drilling in it.

I'm sure I'll work out a way.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Yet More Radio

It's been a while since I posted here and I've been fairly busy. Here's what I've been up to.

I've moved things around a bit to create a radio shack for myself. This is in preparation for me hopefully passing my Foundation Licence for Amateur Radio. I'm currently looking at a few radios, one of which I hope to add if and when I pass the licence exam. I have a small Baofeng GT-3 which I'm itching to broadcast on but all in good time. I'm into doing this properly and legally.

I've moved both my laptop and desktop PCs away from Windows. The laptop got virused and it was going to cost me to have Windows re-installed so I took the opportunity to try and install Ubuntu. It went so well that I did the same for my desktop which was running so slowly that it was almost unusable. I'm really happy with both of the Ubuntu Linux installations, I don't know why I didn't do it sooner.

I've also brought my Canon StarWriter 30 out of retirement. It's a lovely machine to work on, it's very tactile. I have a reasonably sensitive document to work on this year and I needed a word processor that is air-gapped from both of my Ubuntu machines. I'll do my final editing on one of them and disconnect it from the web until the document is ready for final release. By release time the document will be available to everyone on a Creative Commons licence.

I'll let you know how the exam goes and which radio I buy nearer the time. For now it's SWL only and a lot of revision for the exam.