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April 2002

The on-line magazine of the Burnham Beeches Radio Club.

April 2002 Edition


Welcome to the February BeechLog.
All change, the RA's new licence structure.
The Shrinking World of Handhelds.
eQSL, What's all this then?
Disgo, At last, a replacement to the floppy disk.
This months Useful Links.

Welcome to the April edition.

The last issue was a bit heavyweight as BeechLogs go, so this issue is a little slimmer. After some discussion, I have modified the code a bit so that BeechLog will fit well into any screen size, within reason. The page width is no longer fixed, and the larger pictures are now auto-resizeable. A side-effect of the latter is that pictures with text on them will look a bit iffy at some resolutions - if this bothers you, just stretch the browser width out to around 800 pixels, where the pictured text should appear OK. The text may jump about a bit as the page loads, but thats just the penalty for not fixing picture sizes in the html code.

The next issue may appear a bit late, for this I apologise. At the end of May I should be going to Italy for a welcome holiday. I have thought of taking some radio equipment (maybe I should have bought an FT817), but I believe in travelling light, so I probably won't. Wife and youngest son are coming with me, which probably puts the kibosh on anything radio anyway! The teenagers are staying at home, I'd rather not think about what they will get up to.

Although my trip is largely 'educational', I hope to get around a bit. Once again I will be flying from Heathrow, with a change at Milan to get the flight to Naples. Last year the plane to Milan was so late that the connecting flight had long gone, so this time I shall start out at the crack of dawn. I don't fancy a middle-of-the-night bus trip from Milan to Sorrento.

Anyway, as ever I invite you to send me some stuff I can put in the June issue. Please write something, or send me some photos I can publish, BeechLog is supposed to be your magazine!

Roger GØHZK, Editor

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The new licence structure

As I write, the RA has just published a press release which gives some more information on its new licence structure. As expected, all new radio amateurs will be required to start at foundation level, and progress as they desire to intermediate and then full levels.

This has sparked off some discussion, in particular it introduces two new problems which we may wish to address. The first is that the standalone nature of the current Intermediate and presumably Full licences will be removed, the second being that the option of purely home study followed by the RAE will also go.

Both of these changes will cause problems to those who are unable to attend the courses necessary for the new licences. They probably affects those in rural areas most of all, where the nearest course may be a long distance from home, and where public transport is not up to much. Also affected are those who are tied to their home, for example those who are disabled so as to prevent this, and their carers. Those who normally work at weekends and evenings will also have difficulties.

I think it will be possible to run all three courses concurrently, or at least as a combined course. The RA press release says only that the foundation level pass is required before taking the intermediate exam - there is no requirement to hold a foundation licence. If this idea also applies to the full licence, then an integrated course should be possible. For those unable to travel easily, I hope the new system will be flexible enough to allow accelerated courses. I am thinking of home study culminating in, say, a weekend session to cover the practical aspects and the examinations. After all, the RAE has been like this since its inception, and tens of thousands of people have obtained batchelors and masters degrees the same way.

Whatever happens, a great deal is being expected of clubs. Large clubs like the Cray Valley should have enough members amongst which to find teachers, and enough finances to cover the costs. Small clubs with perhaps a dozen or less members will find it less easy to cope, although clubs could combine forces to run the courses. In both cases, I bet it's down to a small core of perhaps a few members who are able to put in the time and effort to organise and run courses (This is no criticism of any BBRC members, most of whom played an important part).

In order to reduce the burden on clubs, we need more higher level support. Lecture notes, overheads, presentations etc. could be made available to course teachers, to reduce the time they need to spend on preparation. I personally spent ages trying to decide how to explain basic electrical theory to candidates who were expected to know little or nothing. If I had been able to obtain pre-prepared material, I could have saved time, and probably would have taught more coherently. It could also reduce costs.

When I stood in front of our first foundation class, I felt a great responsibility. It was my job (and Daves) to teach the students well enough for them to pass the exam. Having had access to properly prepared guidance notes, targeted handouts and overheads would have given me more confidence that I could do a good job. As I see it, it is probably up to the RSGB to prepare and publish this material. Clubs and individuals could get together to do this, but this hasn't happened much in the past. Even a proper training section on the RSGB web site might help. If more clubs are to teach intermediate courses, (and full licence courses) this needs to happen as soon as the syllabus is announced.

In the case of the BBRC, we shall be publicising amateur radio courses at Windsor Castle. As a result of this, we may end up with a goodly batch of students who wish to be trained by us! It will be important that we are able to train these folk efficiently and effectively. This is something we need to think about now.

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The Shrinking World of Handhelds

On Easter Monday I found myself sitting on a hillside at Bledlow, listening to CW on a handheld radio which was not much bigger than my mobile phone. Well, I couldn't go back to the CQ call as the handheld transmits only FM, but my Morse isn't up to much!

TH-F7E Portable radios have changed a bit since G6AMN appeared early in 1981. My first was an IC4E 70cm job, with thumbwheel tuning and 1 Watt output. Back then there were some interesting portable radios about, mostly FM, but including the IC202 and IC402 SSB/CW crystal tuned portable models. Later on came a selection of single band HF portables, and then the FT290 range of CW/SSB/FM portables.

These were culminated in 2001 by the FT-817, perhaps the first of a new breed of all-band, all-mode portables.

Handhelds have shrunk, and their facilities have changed. We have multiband FM radios, like the Icom which covers four bands, and several three band and two band models.

I used to have a TH-77E. By opening it up, and cutting the green wire, I found it had quite a wide receive range, although spoilt by the tendancy for the PLL to unlock at some frequencies. At that time, many radios had a 'green wire' which expanded the receive range when cut.

A few years ago, the manufacturers realised that buyers were more interested in radios with a good 'green wire', and introduced models with advertised wideband reception. Initially FM, then AM for airband reception. The latest is the TH-F6/F7, which have a receiver covering 100kHz to 1300MHz, with CW/SSB/AM/FM over most of the range.

Having a receiver like this brings its own problems. Just try tuning across the HF bands and you see why - you hear very little. The problem is the aerial! As you can imagine, it is not easy to build a 'rubber duck' a few inches long, and expect it to transmit on the VHF and UHF amateur bands, and receive effectively on HF. I put my TH-F7E on a sig gen at work, and made a few rough measurements. Sensitivity at, say 14MHz, is similar to that on 145MHz. The aerial input impedance is nominally 50 ohms across all the bandwidth, but the 'rubber duck' most certainly is not. In fact I bet it approaches infinity at some frequencies! In simple terms, the receiver shorts out the aerial!

THF7E and T68 What these radios need is a little active aerial, or one with a built-in wideband ATU. The transmitter would need to be disabled with this aerial in use, or there could be expensive results! However even without this, the coverage is still useful. Every amateur needs a separate receiver which will cover all the bands she/he transmits on, for checking the main transmitter output audio or CW tone, etc.

Another thing these new handhelds bring is a decent rechargeable battery at long last. The TH-F7E battery has a capacity of 1550mAH, more than twice that of anything else I have owned. Also the radio can produce more output power from this battery than my earlier radios. This comes about because the older NiCd batteries have been replaced by modern Li-Ion cells. These are more efficient,smaller, and lighter than NiCds. Hopefully they will last longer too.

So what's next for portables? The FT-817 is a unique radio, surely Icom will come up with a competitor? There is little missing from the 817, but there is room for improvent in both the controls and the LCD readout. For handhelds, the displays are now excellent, and the usability is improving all the time. I can actually work my TH-F7E without going for the manual! One area which could be improved for all amateur radios is computer connection. Most use a serial port, but do not include RS232 levels - an extra cable with a level-shifter is usually required. The control documentation needs improving too, to make it easier for amateurs to design their own facilities. USB would also be nice. This would make the new digital modes a lot easier and tidier - all digital and audio signals, and Tx/Rx switching could go down the same USB cable. The transceivers control circuits could even be powered by the USB port. No messing with levels either.

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Do you eSQL?

Many issues of BeechLog ago, I wrote about some of my thoughts on an internet based QSL card system. Well, various amateur radio organisations have also thought about this, but nothing has emerged.

However there is one independent system running: eQSL. Just for interest I went to their website the other day, and entered my callsign. Surprise! There were about 20 eQSL 'cards' waiting for me! To see what is there, you do not need to register, just enter your callsign.

One of the problems with all such electronic systems is proving who you are. You can sign up for free, without having to prove that you really hold the callsign that you claim to possess. But on the eQSL system you are encouraged to submit a scanned image of your licence, and once this is checked by a human being, all the cards you send are flagged as authenticated.

Obviously your licence can be forged, and eQSL are aware of this. But there has always been a market for forged DX QSL cards, and it seems fair to say that an eQSL with licence authentication is perhaps more trustworthy than some paper cards. Although I probably won't use this service much, I joined up and submitted my licence - this should stop anyone impersonating my callsign, after all, there are enough fake calls used as email addresses. I've not yet checked - for all I know there may be a gØ spreading abuse over amateur radio newsgroups.

An eQSL card eQSL cards can easily be printed out, and they claim that they are acceptible for ARRL awards. Cards you have read can remain on the system in an archive, so that you (and others) can read them at any time. This also allows awarding bodies to check that your eQSLs are not forged.

The system is quite well thought out. You can upload your logbooks (there are cards there for me which go back to the eighties) or enter details per contact. Any received QSL can be confirmed or rejected by the click of the mouse. You can send emails to others, without anyone having to reveal addresses (to avoid spamming).

Some of the old school are already denigrating such services, and I suppose that a card printed on your own printer is not as exciting as one sent by an amateur in Libya. But if you find email is as acceptible as a written letter, then maybe an eQSL is just what you need, and saves the bother of messing with envelopes, green stamps, etc. You can print them out and stick them on your wall, download them to your own PC, or leave them on the eQSL server. Of course, there's no guarantee that the eQSL web site will be there tomorrow, but that's the e-life!

In any case, here's a couple of screen dumps.

eQSL Home page
The eQSL Home Page, showing some of the facitities available. You can type your callsign into the box on the left, even if you're not registered, to see if any cards are waiting for you.

eQSL Home page
The Inbox, showing a few cards for me, dating back quite a few years!

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Are you ready to Disgo?

In my cupboard I have several boxes of floppy disks. Probably by now I have copied everything useful onto CDs, but until recently the disks have been used for transferring files between computers.

I don't know how many times I've put the floppy into a machine and found out that it can't be read! But now I have an alternative, it is a small device that looks something like a highlighter pen. Enter the Disgo.

The Disgo The Disgo is a solid state storage device, designed to be worn like a pen, or attached to a key-ring. Pull off the cap, and a USB connector is revealed. This device is immediately recognised by Windows 2000 and XP, by Macs 9.0 and above, and by Linux. There is a small driver supplied for Windows 98. It appears as a removable drive, and can be used like any other drive.

I've got one of the low capacity models- 16 Mb. But this has 12 times the capacity of a floppy disk, so fulfills most tasks. Current models go up to 128 Mb, and 256 and 512 meg versions are expected soon.

The Disgo is fuss-free, quicker than floppies or writing a CD. It just works. Magic.

The Disgo

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Useful links

Here are some links pertaining to the articles above. Well, maybe.

Infamous GB50 web site.

The RSGB web site.

Does your job suck?

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Org2 web site for some info, and found it had been closed. However, in these cases, it's always worth checking The Wayback Machine for archived versions of any web site. There's even some old BeechLogs filed away in there!

The amazing Disgo.

The British Amateur Radio Lighthouse Society . About 10 years ago Steve Bryan hitched a lift on a Trinity House lighthouse service vessel, and operated from most of the lighthouses in the Orkneys. Now he lives on 7.068MHz discussing lighthouses with anyone who will talk to him! This site contains many pictures of the most unlikely looking lighthouses.

On the 14th August 2000, the Russian Nuclear Submarine Kursk suffered a mystery explosion and sunk in the Barents Sea. Salvaged mainly by two Dutch companies, with the help of a team of mostly British divers, the Kursk is now back in Russia, in dry dock. Read all about it at the official salvage site, or the Russian Government web site.

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Copyright and Technical Stuff.

This issue is Copyright Burnham Beeches Radio Club 2002.

Any opinions inside this issue of BeechLog are those of the authors, and must not be assumed to be also of the BBRC.

BeechLog is written in XHTML version 1.0 and contains a few differences from the last issues. However different browsers handle XMTML and the associated style sheets in different ways, so there is the possibility that you may not see BeechLog as I intended! If there is anything that seems amiss, please let me know: Roger GØHZK, Editor