Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Frustrating...

Well, about the new antenna tower. I have it up and it holds a emergency inverted-V with 2x20m wire fed through a 30m long open line. But it doesn't work that well mainly because I think it is too low and sloping to about 2m above the ground. I want to put it up higher a few meters but that means I need to install the rotor + alu top tube and extend the open line a bit. Unfortenately the weather is not really that good, freezing cold, high winds and a lot of rain. Everything on and around the tower is soaking wet and muddy (good for reflections). Besides that it seems I have no time, or actually time is consumed by other things. When I leave the house in the morning it is still dark en when I come home it is already dark, that's the time of the year and it frustrates me.

I can't remember if I showed some photos from the installation of the tower so this is a good time. I haven't got photos from the day we actually managed to put the mast itself on the buck as it was done with 3 men in soaking rain. So far I drilled some holes in the garage wall as coax and other wires will be passing through it. I also digged a 60mm tube in the soil to accommodate the cables from the garage to the mast. And I installed the cabinet that will accommodate the lightning arrestors and galvanic divider. So far, I guess, I did a whole lot. But it doesn't go fast enough. Most of it should be ready before the PACC and hopefully to work the 3Y0Z DXpedition on Bouvet Island. Time will tell if I manage to do all the things I want...

As seen on the left the tower buck is standing (I hope buck is the right word?) and it is exactly levelled. But though unfortunately the mast isn't, it is just a fraction and if have to look at it how to get it levelled as well. I can't remember if I had this problem on my previous location?
If only the weather would be better....

Some more photo's from the tower when it was just installed below







Well, I also did some maintenance on the winches. Actually I thought it would need more maintenance but they only needed some paint and grease. Cables are high quality stainless and didn't have any sign of wear. Shown on the right is also a "refurbished" top bearing. Now if only the weather would be better and if I had some more time I could install everything. Frustrating!

I listened at the 40m, 60m and 80m band this evening, other bands were closed. On 40m there was a lot of noise, S7 with attenuation on. I only managed to hear one station which was 4U13FEB as SES from Italy. Working him was no problem on the vertical, I could barely hear him on the inverted-V. 80m was better but not many stations on the band so I switched off the radio to write this blogpost. Through writing this I hope I can get rid of my frustration....

Friday, 19 January 2018

The dividing line...automation in the future

Contacts made with a robot!
After my post, the video from SV5DKL and the blogpost from AE5X I did a bit of creative thinking. From the comments I read here and there I see a dividing line drawing slowly. On one side of the line you find the radiohobbyists who did their best to earn DXCC for years on CW/SSB, it was a struggle and every new DXCC felt like a huge accomplishment. On the other side you find radiohobbyists that were thinking about a solution to make everything a lot easier, they adopted digital modes, RTTY in a early stage PSK31/64 and now FT8 or JT65/9. Revealing that a FT8 can be made completely automatic is something that make the other side very angry like this is a kind of DXCC blasphemy. Something that's going over the big red line, something that should never be revealed. But though they forget that automatic QSOs are already possible for years with SIM31 a alternative PSK mode. It still is a big questionmark for me why SIM31 never had more popularity as it is sensitive and working very well.

 However in 2018 it seems to be hot to work with FT8 and even the Bouvet DXpedition (nr. 2 on the most wanted DXCC) will be on air in that mode. Something radiohobbyists really look forward to and I think as soon as 3Y0Z is spotted DX hell breaks loose. It might not be the truth but I can imagine the Bouvet DXpedition team has been thinking about a automated station for FT8. Stathis SV5DKL has been doing it with a macro automation program but anyone with programmer skills can modify the open source WSJT-X in my opinion and make a special version for DXpedition use only. In FT8 mode the software is already 90% automated and the 10% only involves clicking the "enable transmit" button after a QSO and looking out for QSOs that get lost in the noise (program will keep trying till the operator ends it). As a matter of fact, if 3Y0Z is not using automated software future DXpeditions will.

It will even be possible to drop a full automated station on a Island or in a most wanted country that can work stations automatically without a operator being there. And not only in FT8 mode but in every digimode you want. Think about that...
And then....I discovered some Hawaiian radioamateurs did already in 2014 and have been experimenting with a fully autonomous marine robot called waveglider. They already have a version 3 ongoing at the moment and it makes and logs contacts in PSK31 and FT8. The callsign is KG6JF and you might already made a contact with it without knowing it is a fully automated robot.

Find more info on their clubsite: http://www.jrfarc.org/

Is this going to be the future? Or is the future already here and are there more automated stations? We probabely will not know as in most countries a automated system with a robot is not legal yet, But I guess it will not take long before it will be legal and in that case you will not be able to tell if you make contact with a robot or with a operator?

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A paradigm shift within the radiohobby


Actually started to write this article at the end of 2017. But things are changing fast in this subject and so is my vision on this all.

Recently I read a couple of articles about the future of hamradio or the radiohobby overall. The article on FaradayRF did catch my eye. I'm interested in the future of our hobby and wrote some articles about it in the past. However it is nice to read other views as well to form your own vision on the future.

I notice there are many in our hobby that are against digital modes like JT65 and FT8 as it would be a computer to computer communication only. I even notice some amateurs that are not willing to confirm a JT65 or FT8 contact as they think everything is just a guess and the real communication is via the internet. Not that I completely disagree, I can emphatize with those people. But on the other hand there is a change going on right now. You can see it on the HF amateurradio bands and probabely also on UHF/VHF. More and more radioamateurs and especially the younger ones switch to digital and experimenting with all kind of software/digimodes/SDR/automation. You can hear it on the bands as there are evenings that I really hear only 2 or 3 stations on SSB and a same number on CW, even when there is propagation. At the same moment when you switch to digital mode the band or at least the digimode segment is crowded.

Personally I am involved in digital modes since the early ninetees of last century. I am one of the younger radioamateurs and partly grown up with computers. Under the influence of another radioamateur I started with packetradio on CB in the early 90s of last century and a little later I had my first experiences with RTTY, PSK31 and even CW with the computer. I like phone contacts but enjoy digimode contacts as well. I was a early user of JT65 and JT9 and some other less known modes. But with the FT8 mode that was introduced last year I have to admit that I make more digimode contacts compared to other digimodes. You have to remember I have limited time for the hobby and when I am in front of the radio I like to make contacts. When I compare that with the time we didn't have digimodes I can tell there were days that I didn't make a single contact in periods of bad propagation. Imagine hours of trying to make a contact and no one that replies to you, that doesn't feel much like a fun hobby! Those days are over now as even with very bad propagation other radioamateurs still see you in the waterfall, even on long distances.

But is FT8 (and JT9/JT65) a real communication mode. Well a post from OH8STN Julian opened my eyes. Julian loves FT8 for the part that it is fast and the ability to transmit a tiny signal over a large distance. But it is limited to 13 characters and actually the only thing you use it for is excanging a report. A so called "logbook filler" nothing more. However the idea is that it could be used for exchanging messages SMS style with software that codes/decodes in packages of 13 characters and use WSJT-X as the basic transmitting/receiving software. That would be a completely different view on communication, not only exchanging reports but short messages like in FSQ, extremely important in emergency situations. And suddenly this experimental programming from KN4CRD Jordan pops up! However there is a minor problem, FT8 depends on exact time keeping. This could be a problem in a emergency situation and/or in the field. When the world is on fire, there is no internet and sats and DCF signals are jammed how do you keep exact timing? In a emergency situation you need a mode that is fast and sensitive but is not depending on time keeping. I think there are other digimodes that are more capable but overall they are slow. Still best of all is CW coding/decoding with your own brain. That's why I still want to learn and practise CW in the near future.

Recently I received some blog comments from Stathis SV5DKL. He wrote he made a FT8 robot to completely automate WSJT-X so QSOs and logging is all done automatically. We exchanged some e-mails in which he wrote he used macro software but not exactly how. Recently he made a video which describes basically what he's doing. It's not really a difficult thing although Stathis is only giving the most basic parts of it. Stathis opninion is that the ARRL never should validate FT8, FT9 and JT65 like digimode contacts for DXCC or other certificates simply because all this can be done without the operator being in the shack. And by publishing this and using his robot he has made a point! However in most countries it is illigal to automatically make QSOs without the operator being in the shack. A while ago I wrote the dutch telecom authorities about the SIM31 software that can make automate contacts and log it as well. The answer was that at least in the Netherlands it is not illigal to use as long as the operator is in the shack (with sight on the radio). So my imaginary brains were thinking about this all. With the upcoming activation of Bouvet island and the known 3Y0Z call and the known FT8 frequencies it should not be that difficult to make a macro that calls 3Y0Z completely automatically as soon as the CQ of them appears in the screen....de rest of the QSO would be history.

But what is the fun of that? Besides it's fun to accomplish something like this to prove it can be done there is no fun of making any contact or working new DXCC using a robot. Is making a QSO and working new DXCC all what hamradio is about? No, there are so many subjects and luckely so many different operators. Personally I don't care if I made a QSO with a robot. Actually I think the operators at 3Y0Z should take a look at Stathis his work and automate a 24/7 FT8 station so the operator that would be otherwise involved can be used for other tasks or can take a rest. It could also be that 3Y0Z has a automated FT8 station and we don't know of it? A benefit for the whole DXpedition! But reading the comments on Stathis his work makes me laugh, there are operators that are not willing to validate a robot contact just like there are operators that are not willing to validate a digimode contact like FT/JT modes. If only those operators would know which station is a robot and which one is not!

But seriously, people can't stop the digital progress, not in real live and not in a hobby. It's the future and it will evolve. There is a paradigm shift going on but there are only a few that believe it...