31 December 2014

Happy new year !

Thank you all for visiting my blog in 2014, may all your wishes come true in 2015 !

25 December 2014

SOTA activation: YO/EC-520 Seciu peak

After more than 2 months of ugly weather - wich included a full consecutive 30 days of overcast sky, the days around Christmas are finally taking a turn on this side of the world. The Christmas Eve morning caught me in my hometown of Ploiesti, with a long list of chores ahead; luckily, outside was the clearest and bluest sky I've seen in months, and I immediately thought of the SOTA bag I was carrying in the car and the new antenna I had to test. So after helping my father with a few things around town, I took off for the closest and most accessible SOTA peak: YO/EC-520, Seciu peak.

This little guy is only 406m tall (1 point, no season bonus) and is one of the smallest I've ever activated, the only one below it being YO/MM-005. It is known thanks to the famous wine maker and touristic complex right on top of it "Casa Seciu", usually reserved for the high-ranking members of the communist party before the 1989 revolution. Now it's open for everyone and I had the chance to visit it about 3 years ago, take a tour of the wine cellars, taste their excuisite cooking and purchase a few unique bottles "for closer examination".

22 December 2014

Icom's new flagship: IC-7851

Icom just posted their new flagship product on the japanese website: IC-7851. It doesn't seem to be a completely new product - as the front panel is almost identical to the IC-7800, but appearences can be misleading.

Icom claims redesigned insides for the IC-7851, aimed at improving performance "no matter what cost". They targeted the LO (much lower phase noise local oscillator), the DSP (we might finally have a working bandscope), the exciter BPF block is now relay-switched (as the PIN diodes bring some distorsions into the mix) and they added few more bells and whistles such as USB mouse support, DVI display output and SP-DIF audio I/O. There is also a new 1.2kHz "OPTIMUM ROOFING FILTER" on the 1st IF (64MHz).

19 November 2014

Yaesu FT-991 - full details and pricing

Some time ago I was posting about the replacement for the FT-897 from Yaesu, the FT-991. It is an all-band, all-mode radio with integrated tuner, 3.5" TFT touch display and 32-bit IF DSP.

Recently the Yaesu FT-991 has been listed on various sites and so the pricing has been revealed:

- Gigaparts (USA): US$ 1800 (discounted to 1699)
- Universal Radio (USA): US$ 1800 (discounted to 1699.95)
- Ham Radio Outlet (USA): US$ 1699.95
- Nevada Radio (UK): £ 999.00 (equivalent of US$ 1563)
- Hamshop.nl (Netherlands):  € 1469.00 (equivalent of US$ 1842)

12 November 2014

About the Rosetta comet landing mission

The Rosetta mission to study Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is getting ready to land the Philae probe on the comet surface, and it will be webcasted live:


The comet's magntic field oscillates at about 40-50miliHerz, and somebody translated the signal into audible spectrum, you can listen to it here:


The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Platige Image studios made a short movie / trailer to honor the event. It's called AMBITION and can be viewed here:

07 November 2014

VHF/UHF transceiver module for US$12 - Dorji DRA818

Dorji 808/818 are a series of FM transceiver modules based on RDA Micro's RDA1845/6 chipsets (yes, the ones in the Baofeng / Pofung handhelds). They offer either VHF (134-174MHz) or UHF (400-470MHz) coverage, 0.5-1W RF power output, CTCSS/DCS and -122dBm sensitivity in a a package about the size of a coin (19mm*36mm).

27 October 2014

CQWW SSB 2014 fail

I wanted to take part in CQWW SSB this year, as usual in the SOSB QRP category. This year I chose the 10m band as propagation was looking good, and I was planning to install another antenna especially for this purpose.

Unfotunately, the weather defeated me in a big way. The vertical  was already damaged for some time and I didn't get around to fix it as the 41m long OCFD was working just as good. My plan was to fix the vertical and to install a 10m tuned horizontal dipole aimed at Europe and NA in the evening before the contest, but it was cold and it was still raining. So, I decided to do it during the contest when Asia propagation starts to fade away and NA doesn't kick in yet; after all, the weather forecast was better, I will need a break anyway at a certain point, and I had the OCFD that was enough to work the stronger stations.

Well, I can definetely say now that I won't ever trust again the weather forecast. On Saturday morning the wind was really strong, so strong in fact that it broke one arm of my OCFD, an antenna that was holding in all kinds of weather for 3 years. This happened about 30 minutes into the contest, I tried to use the vertical but no luck, I could hear fine but my 5W wasn't making it through. Got up on the building trying to fix it, but the wind was so strong it almost sent me flying off the roof (and I'm a BIG guy). Still hoping, I decided to take a break until the wind settles, and now it comes the big "screw you" from Mother Nature: not only the wind doesn't stop, but it starts raining and that quickly turns into SNOWING ! Imagine that, less than a week before it was clear sky and 21C outside, and it's below-zero and it's snowing exactly when I needed to do antenna work the most. Sad thing is, one day before the forecast said 8C and 10% chance of rain for Saturday, and when I write this, 2 days later, the sky is clear and there are 6C outside

I guess this was a real lesson, but hopefully until CQWPX SSB 2015 comes I'll have the triband Yagi up and I won't need to worry about these issues anymore. Anyway, timely preparations are very important.

21 October 2014

Portable SDR transceiver with integrated VNA and GPS

The field of amateur Software Defined Radio is moving quickly nowadays and the latest spawn is something really interesting: a portable SDR transceiver that integrates a Vector Network Analyzer and a GPS module. This thing covers up to 30MHz (plus 144Mhz band) and is open source, so basically it can do whatever you want it to as long as you're good with software and can hack the hardware a bit.

The brain is a STM32F429 microcontroller running at 168MHz; while it's integrated ADC's are really modest (12-bit, 7.2Msps) compared to other SDR equipment out there, they can offer good receive performance in this application. It also comes with a nice color TFT LCD and everything you will ever need to know about it can be found on it's Hackaday page.

15 October 2014

An amateur radio beacon will fly to the moon and back

Also called the 4M, Manfred Memorial Moon Mission will travel to the Moon and hopefully back to Earth aboard the Chinese Long March 3C rocket. Its payload will include a JT65 beacon that will transmit shortly after departure on the 2m amateur radio band. Transmission will include the callsign LX0OHB as well as various info: elapsed time from launch, power supply parameters, temperature and dosimeter readings etc. Transmitter is 1W output into L/4 monopole.

For those that want to monitor the beacon, here's the required info:

- TX freq: 145.980MHz, +/- 2.9KHz variation depending on temperature, +1KHz/-2.2KHz Doppler shift
- departure time: October 23 2014, 17:59 UTC, expected on air at 19:17 UTC
- special JT65 software version from here.
- extra info here.

More details about the project, on the AMSAT-UK website.

08 October 2014

Noble NR4SC - monoband QRP TRX for 70MHz band

Noble NR4SC is a new transceiver for the 70MHz ham-radio band, supporting SSB and CW and offering an output of 10W. It's a simple design with good usability, easy to learn and to use.

24 September 2014

SOTA activity again, near Predeal

I was planning for about a month to go for a SOTA trip to the Retezat Natural Preserve with YO2BP and activate some nice 10-point summits; the nature is really beautiful there and I wanted to see it for some time now, plus the weather predictions looked awesome. Unfortunately, something came up that made the trip not possible, and as I already had my bags packed and got into the SOTA mood, I decided to at least do a short trip to some acessible peaks I haven't activated yet.

So, in the morning of September 18 2014 I got in the car with a friend of mine and drove to the small touristic town of Predeal (about 140Km North of Bucharest), looking to activate something in the surroundings. The initial plan was to make this a 2-day trip so I could get 4 summits, but due to various reasons it ended up as a one-day trip so I could only activate two of them.

YO/EC-252 Piatra Arsa (1258m, 6 points) was my first target: we took the car on DN73A for about 5Km, until a small road goes to the left (and on to a lodge, not sure about it's name). Even if there's paved road there is a sign that says something along "Natural Preserve Area, motor vehicles forbidden", so we leave the car and start the hike. Sure enough, 10 minutes later we are near the lodge and behind it starts a path uphill towards the peak, so we take it. We already can see some surroundings from there:

22 September 2014

Ciucas X3 - a good EmComm exercise

Ciucas X3 is a once-a-year trail running event that takes place in Romania's beautiful Ciucas mountains - you might have read about them in my previous stories, as i've made two SOTA activations from the region: YO/EC-049 and YO/EC-057. There are 3 circuits (21, 42 and 105km long) across mountains, hills, forests, a village and the outskirts of a small town, some passing trough wild areas (there were even two brown bear spottings !). Over 600 runners take part in this event, plus almost another hundred staff members, volunteers, mountain rescue, gendarms - mountain division, etc.

04 September 2014

CQWPX 2014 - official results came in

As I was expecting after the claimed scores, I ranked #5 in 21Mhz single-op QRP category. This was my second time participating in CQ WPX SSB, the first one was in 2013 where I worked just for 4 hours to get the feeling for it.

This time I wanted to be on the air for the full contest, but I was really sloppy: for some reason I thought the contest starts in the afternoon and I planned to do some antenna work in the morning. When I wake up Saturday morning and turn the radio on I hear the band full of contesters so I decide there's no time to waste, I get on air and work the first 4 hours with the damaged antenna - a 42m long OCFD with a broken arm. I take a break, eat, get on top of the building, fix the OCFD and install a 7.5m fishpole vertical, take a shower and get back on the air. The break took about 3 hours but it was needed, for the rest of the contest I worked with the vertical wich proved slightly better.

I managed a total of 260 QSO's (but 252 validated), 3.1% error rate, 207 multipliers and a final score of 76797. The winner of 21MHz single-op QRP (YT1CS) had 403 QSO's and 338 multipliers for a total of 225108 points; he is less than 400Km away from me and just a few degrees to the South, so no big geographical advantage.

For next year I plan to really be on the air for the full contest and hopefully I will have a better antenna. Still aiming at single-op QRP monoband, but still not sure if I will go for 15m or another band.

23 August 2014

Yaesu FT-991 - replacement for the FT-897

Update: pricing and user manuals can be found here.

Yaesu FT-991 is the next upcoming model from Yaesu, as the replacement for the recently discontinued FT-897. Highlights include 3.5" TFT touch display, a spectrum scope, 32-bit IF DSP, internal antenna tuner and C4FM.

21 August 2014

SOTA Tour YO 2014 - part III

<< Go to part II of the story

The morning at 2500+m altitude is not your regular morning: winds tend to be strong and the clouds were flying really low - even lower than us.

We had to wait until almost 11:00 local time for the sky to clear so we could depart towards our next target: YO/MC-008 Bucsoiu, 2493m - 10 points.

20 August 2014

SOTA Tour YO 2014 - part II

<< Go to Part I of the story

On the second day we woke up early as we had a long road ahead of us, so at 7 AM we were already on the way. The Transalpina road, crossing the mountains at 2000m altitude, looks beautiful in the morning sun.

18 August 2014

SOTA tour YO 2014 - part I

Hint: visit the YO SOTA Marathon page for current info.

A team of romanian ham amateur radio operators travelling around the country on beautiful twisting roads, backpacking with their bags full of equipment and installing antennas on mountain peaks for their pure enjoyment; this is how i'd sum up this tour in just a few words. But a few words are not enough, not even alot of them wouldn't suffice; actually, you know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words ? Well, it would take about a thousand pictures to describe what an adventure like this really is, and still the feeling wouldn't be the same unless you experience it yourself.

08 August 2014

SOTA marathon in Romania (YO)

I will be joining Sorin YO2MSB in a YO SOTA Marathon across the Carpathian mountains in Romania, looking to activate about 10 peaks in 5 days, most of them being 10 points. We don't have a strict schedule because this still depends on good weather, but this is what you should be expecting:

August 11th: YO/MC-078 (10pts), YO/MC-052 (10pts), YO/MC-50 (10pts)
August 12th: YO/MC-007 (10pts), YO/MC-049 (10pts)
August 13th: YO/MC-086 (8pts), YO/MC-009 (10pts)
August 14th: YO/MC-006 (10pts), YO/MC-008 (10pts)
August 15th: YO/EC-252 (6pts), YO/EC-331 (6pts), YO/EC-428 (4pts)

We will be joined at some points by other operators and we plan on working multiple bands and multiple modes in order to offer these peaks to as many chasers as possible. Also, we will try a night time activation on YO/MC-006 on 100W to give the chance to DX stations to work this peak.

Please keep an eye on Sotawatch for alerts and spots.

04 August 2014

SOTA activation YO/MC-014

YO/MC-014 Papusa peak ("The Doll" - 2391m) was my first official SOTA activation attempt, almost one year ago. The hike to the peak is no easy task, about 4 hours of continous uphill effort that takes you from 1200m altitude to almost 2400m. Even though it was a very nice weekend and I had the chance to meet and spend some time with very nice people, the weather wasn't on our side and we had to get back when we were 15 minutes away from the peak. Here's the story in romanian.

The peak is in the Iezer mountains, about 20-25km north of Campulung, the home-city of the ARO all-terrain vehicles. These were famous for their excellent offroad capabilities and in the late years they got really good engines and upgrades, unfortunately the factory closed in 2006 and sold their license to a czech company, that (still?) makes only a limited series.

29 July 2014

SOTA activation YO/EC-049

After a busy month, I'm back again to hiking and outdoor radio activities. This time, I went for the Ciucas peak, near the Ciucas cabin in the Ciucas mountains; I know, the naming scheme is not too original but hey, the sights are awesome. This peak - SOTA designation YO/EC-049, is located about 110Km north of Bucharest and about 30Km away from Brasov, just a few kilometers away from the YO/EC-057 Gropsoarele peak wich I've activated about 3 months ago.

After leaving the DN1A main road at the "Keia" water bottling plant, there is a 5km forest road up to the Ciucas cabin; unfortunately, only 4x4 vehicles can tackle the steep slippery slopes on the last part of the road, so I had to leave my car parked about half way  - at 1350m altitude, and proceed by foot. On this road you can find the "Professor NICOLAE IOAN fountain", or simply called "Izvorul lui IOAN" (Jonah's spring), a 75 year old fountain that refreshed many generations of mountain hikers. I wish I had a bigger bottle when I passed it !

12 June 2014

Optibeam OB21-3 - largest 20-15-10m antenna

Optibeam just launched a set of 4 huge HF antennas, and the OB21-3 is definetely the one that caught my attention the most. It's a 21 element HF beam, covering the 20, 15 and 10m bands; as some of you may know, Optibeam makes proper (and expensive) antennas: no traps, no shortcuts, nothing compact, nothing lightweight.

11 June 2014

Yaesu FT-897D is discontinued

Yaesu FT-897/D is undoubtedly a bestseller, offering DC-to-daylight (actually 0.1 to 470 MHz) coverage, field day ready style and features and a rather affordable price. It's almost identical to the FT-857 (smaller, lighter, no battery compartment) and the FT-817 (even smaller and lighter, 5W output instead of 100W, no DSP) and their family is around since 2002. The 8x7 series were never aimed at high performance or even ease of use, nevertheless they are great all-round rigs, good for basic stuff and affordable, a great radio station in one rig for alot of people.

10 June 2014

SunSDR-MB1 - finally a proper modern transceiver

Expert Electronics' SunSDR-MB1 is what I've been expecting from the amateur radio industry for some time: a transceiver using modern technology, with a proper user interface, good interconectivity and decent power output. Once again we can see the smaller manufacturers are way ahead of the curve compared to the big three (namely Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood), wich are beating it around the bush by trying to force useless commercial technologies to amateurs (yes I'm looking at you Icom ID-5100A).

The SunSDR-MB1 is a direct conversion SDR transceiver, fully standalone, offering 125W output, a huge (and more importantly, working - yes I'm looking at you Kenwood TS-990) spectrum display and a plethora of buttons that will make the most avid anti-menu-driven-equipment fanatic rejoyce. The screen is also touch-sensitive, I don't find that particularly useful but at least they're implementing modern stuff.

03 June 2014

Elecraft KX3 2m option is available

Elecraft KX3 is one of the most interesting transceivers on the market today: very high performance, very low current drain, very lightweight - all of these are possible thanks to SDR technology. When it came out Elecraft promised a VHF module will be available at some point, and after a long time and some delays, the KX3-2M add-on is finally listed on their website and available for order.

09 May 2014

FLEX-6300 - a more affordable 6000 series model from FlexRadio

FLEX-6300 Signature Series is the latest model from FlexRadio. A baby brother to the already established Flex-6500 and Flex-6700 SDR transceivers, the Flex-6300 is the more affordable one (if you can call US$2500 affordable), with a bit less options but still packing some punch.

07 May 2014

SOTA activation YO/MM-005

After reaching the Tutuiatu peak, the second part of my Macin Mountains adventure on May 3rd 2014 took me to the peak of Iacobdeal (Jacob's Hill, SOTA designation YO/MM-005, WWFF designation YOFF-161), only 341m tall, standing above the village of Turcoaia. This whole mountain is a big rock quarry and there is a road for the tracked excavators right up to a few meters from the very top.

06 May 2014

SOTA activation YO/MM-001

May 3rd 2014 was the international SOTA day, and it felt like a good idea to celebrate it by activating a few summits. This time, I tried exploring a part of my country i've never visited before, the Macin Mountains, not far from the Danube's Delta. These are some of the oldest mountains in Europe, appeared around 300 milion years ago in the Hercynian orogeny and were once over 3000 meters high; but Mother Nature being herself, constant winds and temperature differences slowly eroded the tall and proud rock giants down to only a few hundred meters. The area is the home of superb biodiversity wich would deserve a few days on it's own - not to mention the hystorical attractions in the area, but since I only had one day, SOTA was the main focus.

To get to Macin Mountains we had to cross the Danube by ferry at the city of Braila - near the Great Braila Island, and then drive alongside an almost poetic area of water flooded forest.

29 April 2014

Elad FDM-DUO standalone SDR HF+6m transceiver

Things seem to be going the right way for SDR technology. The latest spawn from Italy - called ELAD FDM-DUO - definetely got my interest; we are talking about a direct sampling full SDR transceiver for HF/6m, that can also run standalone. The closest thing to it might be the Elecraft KX-3, but that is considerably behind in technology and still manages to have one of the top recievers around.

27 April 2014

A good day for SOTA - YO/EC-057 activated

Finally some SOTA action ! After a few days of rain and cold weather, yesterday April 26th 2014 was perfect for outdoor activities - sunny, almost 20C and an overall tranquility that makes you want to get out of the house no matter what. So i decided to pick up my sister and two of her friends and put my new FT-897D trough its paces by activating a SOTA peak.

I've settled for the Gropsoarele Peak (loosely translated as "The Small Pits"), SOTA identifier YO/EC-057, a peak 1884m tall in the Ciucas mountains, about 120km north of capital city Bucharest. There is a rather bad road leading from the closest village Cheia to a cabin called Muntele Rosu ("The Red Mountain") at about 1400m altitude. Here's how the peak looks from this place, where we started the hike:

With over 10Kg in my backpack, even more extra on my belly and 3 girls stopping to take pictures, the hike took about 3 hours.

21 April 2014

Nice day for portable activity

Being the day after Easter, most of the people didn't have to go to work this Monday around these parts. The weather was finally nice and sunny after more than a week of daily rain, so it felt like the perfect oportunity to go out with the family for a picnic and also taking the portable equipment for a spin.

We chose to go to Paltinu lake, a beautiful place about 90km north of Bucharest, near a town called Campina. This place was also situated in a Flora and Fauna region - YOFF-491, but as the propagation didn't seem to be helping alot and there wasn't GSM coverage to add a cluster spot, I decided not to take the high road of activation-style operation and just search and pounce what I could hear, while relaxing with the family and friends.

18 February 2014

Triband Delta Loop antenna - some theory

Looking for an improvement in my station's configuration, I evaluated a number of antenna designs; the most important thing, wether some like to admit it or not, is what possibilities you have for installation. What type of ground, how high can you put it, is the surrounding space opened enough towards the horizon, are there elevated points you can use for support, what kind of weather it will have to endure, how can you properly make the safety grounding etc.

All these factors are very important in the choice of an antenna, and i'll come up with a quick example: a ground mounted L/4 vertical above salt water (let's say, on the beach of a small oceanic island) for the 40m band will put out a DX signal similar to an horizontal dipole mounted at about 30m high (horizontal antennas need height to obtain better gain at lower takeoff angles), and the dipole will need to be rotated towards the direction you want to work while the vertical is omnidirectional. If you look at the costs of building a 30m tall tower, adding a rotator to it and the mechanical challenge of making it stable in saltwater-impregnated sand versus the costs of a few wires and a 20m tall lightweight fiberglass pole, the choice is a no-brainer. However, move the same setup above a poor, dry ground (let's say, Sahara desert) and the horizontal dipole will be a much better antenna - and while you have a tower and a rotator you might as well make the dipole a 3 or 4 element Yagi and get an ever better signal.

What i tried to get is a versatile 20m/15m/10m antenna that offers good gain and is easy to build, install and work with. I have used full wave loop antennas before and liked them alot, especially for the rewarding performance/complexity ratio. You just need a wire, cut it at about 105% of desired wavelength, spread it as you can and off you go. When properly installed (vertically, as spread as possible), a closed loop antenna has some advantages over a dipole:

- slightly higher gain (about 2dB)
- less noisy
- less sensitive to height
- less influenced by the surrounding objects and enviroment

05 January 2014

YO9IRF station updates

Giving the fact that I had enough spare time the last two weeks, inbetween the little Christmas trip I took back to my home town of Ploiesti and the New Year's Eve party, I had the change to propery get my station back up on the air. Since I moved to the new location in June I didn't really have a proper setup and the few times I got on the air was with some modest balcony antennas.

Click to enlarge

The image above is a Google Earth mock-up of my current antenna setup. The red one is the HF dipole, the blue one is the VHF/UHF vertical and the green lines are the two feedlines.

The HF antenna is a an off-center fed dipole (OCFD) 41.8 meters long; this makes it resonate - when properly installed - on 3.5MHz, but on all it's harmonics also (7MHz, 10.5MHz, 14MHz, 17.5MHz, 21Mhz, 24.5Mhz, 28MHz etc). We usually feed dipoles at the center but due to the current/voltage distribution across the resonant wire, it will present a low (close to 50ohm) impedance only at the uneven harmonics (3.5Mhz, 10.5Mhz, 17.5Mhz, 24.5Mhz etc), while at the even harmonics (7MHz, 14Mhz, 21Mhz, 28Mhz etc) it will present a very large (theoretically infinite, practically a few thousand ohms) feed impedance, wich is very far from out 50ohm feedlines making the antenna unusable due to high feed mismatch.