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June 2006

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

Welcome to the June 2006 edition of Beechlog.

Well, here's another issue of BeechLog, a little late as usual, and probably not much radio inside. As you may have heard, suddenly it all happened and contracts were exchanged on my house. So with less than 14 days left, I had to find somewhere else to live. I took the next day off work, and spent many happy hours looking at as many properties that I could manage.

I started with three bedroom houses, but soon found that the ones I could afford were pretty shabby. That would have been OK if I knew I'd be staying a long time, but all I knew was that there was a good possibility of me having to move again the same time in 2007. Anyway, the same (or less) money brought accomodation in an almost new two bedroom flat, so that where I have ended up for the next year.

As I predicted in the last issue, I have no garden, so the prospect for radio is pretty slim. One side of my flat opens out on the road, not much help, but the other side faces my small car park, with a wooded area behind. So it might be possible to extend a wire out from my window, or perhaps a concealed low dipole could be hidden in the woods? This might mean operating as /M or /P, depending how you interpret the regulations.

My Garden
A rather poor panorama of the view from my kitchen window

So far I've spent my time trying to get tidy. I still have years of collected junk to dispose of, I'll need a table at the rally. I've been buying vaccuum cleaners, ironing boards, pots and pans, bed linen, etc., and the radio stuff is hidden in a cupboard somewhere. But perhaps one day I'll be modulating the waves again, who knows?

Roger GØHZK, Editor


Don't move if you can avoid it
Radio without aerials
Portable Operations
Windows Vista

Don't move if you can avoid it

I thought I might continue with the theme above, after all I haven't a clue about what's happened in the amateur radio world these last few months (apart from the disappearance of Airy Bean). Before I moved, I bored everyone at work by compiling lists of things that needed to be done. I discovered about forty people/organisations who needed to know my new address. I tried to contact as many as possible in the last few days before I moved out, but it was a hopeless task. Call centres, voice activated services, support staff thousands of miles away, I've had my fill.

The quickest to catch on were those nice folk at the Department of Work and Pensions. They wrote to me the day after I moved, to my new address. I hadn't yet told anyone about my new address, so goodness knows how they knew! Others were slow to respond. Some have ignored what I told them, and still use my old address. I have no confidence in those who used voice recognition machines, as they got most of what I said wrong. One resorted to recording my voice! The Radio Licencing Centre phone number goes to some other department, but they responded pretty quickly, as did the RSGB. My new passport arrived at the correct address, and I think I've paid all the final bills. But there are still some people to inform, and now at last I have a phone perhaps I can do that during the next week.

Despite their ads suggesting that I could be connected in 5 days, it took BT five weeks. My order was mysteriously cancelled which meant I took a day off work waiting for their engineer, who of course didn't come! So I had to wait another 2+ weeks. He came this time, and took about 10 minutes to make the right connection in the roadside box. Now I am waiting for some internet, which is predicted to be activated on 3rd May. Let's see if I have to edit that line of text!

Well of course nothing happened on the 3rd! A phone call revealed that BT had to upgrade something in the main Slough exchange, and I was connected four days later.

Writing this a few days later, a few 'final' bills are coming in. After paying Telewest they have sent me a second final bill, this one is for 7 pence. Of course the second-class postage was more than double this, but machines are not programmed to understand this. There are still some things going to my old address, which the Post Office are managing to divert to the correct one. At least I assume so, as I am getting diverted mail. But it is a pain, something which I may have to go through every year, unless I can find a way of getting somewhere to live on a more long-term basis.

In the meantime I still have to thin down my belongings. Some people carry very little baggage and can fit everything in the back of their car, and in a way I envy them. I suppose if you have friends and relatives with spare rooms and garages, your stuff gets scattered about in various fixed locations. If I was younger, and my life consisted of going to work by day, and clubbing (whatever that is) in the evenings, all I'd need is a few changes of clothes. I know some people like this. But I have baggage going back decades, like boxes of dead beetles and moths, tools, books, magazines and papers that just seem to be part of my life. But I must dispose of such things. Come the McMichael Rally there will be a few bargains of all sorts (thought - I've chucked out my tables and things, so I'm not sure what I'll put it all on). Hopefully it will be a dry day and I can lay it out on the grass.

Radio without aerials

I've been licenced now for 25 years. Originally G6AMN, I sat the exam at Slough College in the days when the first CB influx was starting to happen. My reason was that I had an interest in electronics, and built things out of valves and transistors. I used to spend hours listening to the short waves on my Dad's valve radio and later on a McMichael transistor radio. During the sixties there were also many pop pirate radio stations around the coast of Britain and at the time I built a receiver made with Denco coils specifically for these stations.

These days there are still loads of short wave stations around, although times have changed and it's not like it used to be! It was always fun to listen the the News from Moscow or Prague during major 'incidents', and get a completely different version of what was going on in the world. No so these days. The short waves are also somewhat out of favour, as satellite transmissions of varying kinds provide a much more reliable signal. In the UK there are also numerous radio stations to be found via DAB and Freeview receivers, although these are rather parochial. However a new source of 'radio' is the internet, where thousands of stations 'broadcast' to the world without the expense of transmitters and big electricity and equipment bills.

These have never been that accessible to me, but now having a greater bandwidth available, quite reliable 'reception' is possible. So as I write this, I am listening to XLNC from Tijuana, Mexico, currently playing Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony. Their schedule for today can be found here. The bitrate is 32kbps, which I suppose seems to be a bit slow compared with the 128kbps commonly used for pop mp3 tracks. On my laptop speakers it sounds fine, probably comparable to that received by a small transistor radio. But compared to the short waves, it's quite free of phase disortion, fading, etc (If you like that sort of thing, some stations use a much lower bitrate, which gives them an almost real 'shortwave sound').

There are three main types of 'transmission' used, i.e. you need to have three different players installed to receive the greatest range of 'broadcasts'. XLNC uses the Real Audio system, which requires the dreaded Realplayer. This item I have mentioned before, infamous due to the data it 'sends home' and often branded as spyware. You can avoid most of these side effects by using the version provided on the BBC web site, download here. Actually it's quite a good player, and makes the most of the 32k stream I'm receiving. The next player you might already have is the Windows Media Player, also available from the BBC hyperlink above. This seems not so good as Real at low bitrates, but is used by thousands of 'stations'. Both these players tend to open up windows all over the place as you find stuff to play, but you can close them once your stream is playing. Finally there is Shoutcast which uses the Winamp player. This is quite nicely integrated, as you can browse for 'stations' within its interface without extra windows opening or demands for you to buy something, which is often the case with the other two players.

So where do you find these stations? With Winamp Shoutcast stations, you can search within the Winamp Media Library window, shown above. Clicking on a letter in the alphabet at the top of the window, you get a list of perhaps 20 genres, and clicking on one of these will give a list of the stations, often with 'now playing' details. For the other players, there are web pages that list stations, such as Radio-Directory which lists stations for all three formats. The BBC website has links to the BBC stations, and if you are looking for a particular station, maybe that stations website has a link. There was a time I would listen to Radio Australia just above the 15m amateur band, but it's easier now on the web

Portable Operations

As I've already written, it doesn't seem possible that I will be able to play with my radio when indoors, due to the aerial difficulty. So the alternative is some sort of portable operation, either from the car park, or elsewhere. In the past I've managed to connect my radio to the battery in my car, which was fine for mobile use and an hour of so while parked up. My present car doesn't really lend itself to this sort of thing, unless I use an extra battery, which could be kept secured somewhere in the back of the car.

This poses a number of questions. Firstly, what sort of battery? A normal car battery is able to supply plenty of current, after all, starters are hungry beasts. But while the capacity might seem large enough, they are designed for a regular discharge of about a quarter of their capacity. So a 40Ah battery can supply 10Ah before it really needs charging again. That's not really enough for the operation of a 100W HF transceiver, providing perhaps an hour of use on a 40% transmit, 60% receive cycle. There are other types that are more suitable for the job, usually known a deep-cycle or leisure batteries. These can supply three quarters of their capacity before a recharge is necessary, so a 40Ah battery should be good for three hours use at the same rate.

Alas of course it's not that simple. While the exact details are rarely published, the capacity depents on the discharge rate. So that 40Ah rating probably only applies when under a 2A load. As the load gets greater, the capacity drops, possibly to just half of the rating published. So what rating do I need? If I assume that I will be running my radio for 2 hours at most, that's about 20Ah required. A car battery of 80Ah to 100Ah might do the job, or a deep-cycle type of perhaps 40Ah to 50Ah might be OK.

In practice, I can probably get away with choosing a rating a bit less than the calculations suggest. While this may stress the battery and reduce its life, I probably won't be operating that often, so it's not as though I'd need to buy a new battery very often.

The next problem will be charging the thing. This process will generate some hydrogen, so lead-acid batteries are best charged outside, which is exactly what I cannot do, living in a top floor flat! There is the option of keeping it charged in the car, although I don't really want my car filling with this inflammable gas either. My only real option is to charge it somewhere with good ventilation. Some leisure types are sealed and have a vent pipe, which could be dangled out of a window. Alternatively the cooker hood might draw the gas away (as long as the hood doesn't have a motor that produces sparks). There is always the question of charge rate. These things like a constant voltage, with some sort of current limit when the battery is in a discharged condition. This might give me an opportunity of building something electronic!

One way of reducing the load on the battery is to reduce the transmitter output power. I don't think I'd get the full 100W anyway, even my VHF radio in my old car gave noticeably less power when I turned the engine off. So should I go the whole way and get a 10W radio? An IC703 draws about 2A when transmitting its full 10W, so I would divide the battery Ah needed, and the hydrogen produced, by a factor of ten (possible a similar reduction in the number of contacts!). A small 12Ah battery would keep me going for much longer than two hours, and would be smaller and lighter, so I could operate further from the car. When I started this radio game, 10W was the norn for VHF and I made loads of contacts, even good DX, and my Howes transverters got me contacts on 80 and 20. But these days I have enough trouble with 100W, so would 10W really give me any contacts?

Actually, since I have so few contacts, 10W would probably be fine, and you can't get less than the zero QSO rate so far this year. I could think about buying a new radio I can't afford. Good fun. No they've fixed the duff PA problem in the IC703, it seems a good choice. This radio has a display that my aged eyes can see. The Yaesu FT817 also does VHF and UHF and is smaller, but doesn't have a built in ATU like the Icom. There's not much else, apart from rather expensive DIY radios, and as I've said, a battery charger is about the limit in home construction for me in my twilight years.

So I must spruce up my current radio collection for disposal at the Rally. Incidentally my Kenwood TR-751 has been playing up again. About four years ago, the volume control packed up, due to the wiper assembly have never been secured to the rotating bit. I glued it together with Tak-Pak, but the sound packed up again just before I moved here. This time it was the squelch pot, which has gone open circuit. This pot is concentric with the volume control, so I was reticent to take it apart again, so I just shorted it out. No squelch is better that permanent squelch, and you don't need squelch on SSB.

Windows Vista

I had a bad computer day last weekend, with no less than five computers having problems. Only one was mine, I might add, although have slimmed down the number I own to just six PCs. Four are sitting in my room, getting in the way, and it's a moot point whether I will ever find a use for them. I really ought to chuck them out! Anyway, I had decided that now my PC only had to support one user, it was time to wipe the hard disk and start again. And maybe in the process it would be able to 'rip' CDs again, as something went wrong with this process late last year.

I bought a nice new 250 Gig hard disk, since the old one was full of video files that I must do something with. However in the process of installing Windows, the b***** machine couldn't make up it mind whether I had a hard disk at all. To cut a long story short, it was the power supply that was acting up, as the buzzing transformers and bulging capacitors revealed. Anyway, a new power supply was procured from Maplins new store opposite the Three Tuns, and all was well again.

I put the old drive in a cheap USB case, also from Maplin. After moving the video files elsewhere, I decided to try out the Windows Vista Beta 2 on the drive, first in my PC, then my sons. All went well in mine, despite the lowly spec (1.5GHz P4, 1GB ram). I got the flash new glassy windows etc., and it found the right driver for my graphics card too. An audio driver from the web sorted that side out too. It was a bit slow on my machine, although that was expected. MS claim a minimum of an 800MHz CPU, but then they claim XP will run on a 320MHz CPU and 64MB ram! So after playing around for a day or so, a wiped the drive and gave it to my son.

Curiously he had problems too, although he has some super-fast 64bit CPU and 2GB ram. On the re-boot, Vista couldn't boot the hard drive. Eventually he did a good bit of fault-finding, and handed me back my hard drive with a pushed out pin on the IDA plug. I managed to repair the drive, so now it's back in the USB case.

Next I had calls from my ex-wife and also my sister. The latters' internet problem sorted itself out by the time I arrived there, and the other fault was due to a dodgy floppy disk (people still use these!). On my way out I was called in to her neighbour whose PC had lost all the sound. I cured this by removing the speaker plug from the modem card and plugged it back into it's correct hole on the sound card.

A view from Vista

Anyway, Windows Vista. For the uninitiated, Microsoft have released this beta as a downloadable image file, which when burned to a DVD, forms an install disk. The download is 3.3GB. I didn't download it, as someone at work had done the work for me! But once the DVD was booted, Vista installed in about 35 minutes on my lowly PC. Nearly 10 GBytes of files. The free licence obtained from the MS web site allows you to install it on up to 10 PCs, and will run for just over a year when you will have to buy the real thing if you want to continue using Vista.

MS have been quite smart. They have supplied the Ultimate version, which no doubt will be the most expensive to buy. There are going to be numerous lesser versions, presumably a little more affordable. Anyway, It runs fine on my sons PC. I say fine, because it's a beta, and some things don't work. Windows XP drivers don't always work, and it's the same with some applications. Even the new MSN Messenger replacement has problems, it crashes some systems, and doesn't work at all on ours. This also applies to all other IM programs that will run on Vista (not many), apparently there is a problem with many of the popular routers with SPI firewalls. So maybe there will be a fix soon. Windows Update is already feeding patches into Vista.

A view from Vista

Actually the whole thing seems to look a fair bit better that earlier Windows versions, although we will have to learn to find our way about, as things have moved! With any luck there are a few screen shots here in Beechlog, but as the mags late already, I won't promise.