Stew Perry (Big Stew) Topband Distance Challenge

I go through phases of not sleeping very well and I’m in the middle of one of those right now.  Yesterday evening after a very bad night previously, I went to bed relatively early in the hope that because I was so exhausted, I might actually drop off quickly.  No such luck, two hours later I was still wide awake.  I decided to get up, pour myself a large G&T (more on this later) and switch the wireless on for an hour or so. I’d seen someone on Twitter mention the Stew Perry contest and was keen to see what that was all about.

The website describes it as “the friendly 160 meter contest” and that’s exactly what I experienced.  Speeds weren’t stupidly high and apart from the usual 5NN reports, there were no cut characters in the exchange which I always have to think about when operating CW.  The actual exchange itself is the first four characters of the station Maidenhead Grid Square.  Mine is JO01 which is quite long winded to send in Morse code with lots of dashes.  You can hear it by clicking the play button below – This is at 20wpm which is the speed I was operating during the contest.

I simply tuned from the bottom of the band up to past the FT8 section, working everyone I heard and made 33 QSOs in 49 minutes which I appreciate isn’t a lot but it was still one of the most enjoyable contests I’ve worked this year.  The rules (especially rule 6) are worth a read and made me laugh.

I left the shack with two drinks inside me and with a big smile on my face.

QSOs made during the 2018 Stew Perry (Big Stew) contest

QSOs made during the 2018 Stew Perry (Big Stew) contest

I mentioned that I’d poured myself a G&T.  For those interested, it was Berliner Brandstifter (Berlin dry gin) that I picked up in the Duty Free at Berlin airport earlier this year.  I really like this gin and as they only produce 9,999 bottles a year, it’s quite difficult to find in the UK and is relatively expensive.  The fact that I bought it in Berlin at the duty free price made it very reasonable though and if I get back there next year, I’ll certainly buy another bottle.  While operating the contest I had two double measure G&Ts using Fever-Tree Indian tonic water with lots of ice and a scrape of lime zest.

Berliner Brandstifter gin

Berliner Brandstifter gin

I’ll see if I can remember this contest next year and perhaps spend more time operating.

Posted in Amateur radio, Contesting, CW, HF | Leave a comment

An updated internal and external ADS-B comparison

It’s been well over a year since I moved my external ADS-B receiver to the top of my Alimast and it’s been performing very well, regularly sitting in the top five of the UK receivers according to the FlightAware statistics page and in the top ten world wide on the PlaneFinder sharers list.  A good location is paramount when it comes to tracking aircraft and I am ideally situated, being very near to major airways into the UK and also having good reception from aircraft in north west Europe.

Earlier this year I also made a slight modification to my internal tracker.  The aerial is the same, a two element homebrew J-Pole collinear but I’ve raised it up by about three feet by cable tying it to a rifle cleaning rod.  As well as increasing the height, this is a metal rod so would have effectively improved the ground plane as well.  Doing this has significantly increased the number of reports that the system receives each day.

Both receivers see approximately the same number of aircraft per day which is what I’d expect but the external system receives around 20% more position reports.  I put this down to the fact that the aerial is higher and in the clear but the internal receiver still works really well.

This fancy display (which you can drag from side to side) will show you the heatmap of the two receivers.  The main difference is that the internal system has a big gap in coverage in the direction of the chimney stack.  Apart from that, they’re fairly similar.

ADS-B statistics, December 2018 (averages at bottom)

ADS-B statistics, December 2018 (averages at bottom)

The two installations are very different from each other and I think this demonstrates that an internal receiver can work well,  If you get get a decent aerial mounted on a good ground plane with no coaxial cable, you can make a useful aircraft tracker.  Building your own aerial is cheap and effective.

ADS-B receiver mounted on a rifle cleaning rod

ADS-B receiver mounted on a rifle cleaning rod

ADS-B receiver mounted at the top of my mast, just below the Hexbeam

ADS-B receiver mounted at the top of my mast, just below the Hexbeam

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If you use WSJT-X for FT8/WSPR/JTx etc, you should upgrade to V2.0.0 as soon as possible

WSJT-X version 2.0.0 has been released and everyone who uses this software for any data modes should update as soon as possible.  This new version is NOT compatible with previous versions so everyone is encouraged to upgrade to 2.0.0 as soon as possible.

New features in WSJT-X 2.0.0

  • Compound and nonstandard callsigns are automatically recognized and handled using new FT8 and MSK144 message formats.
  • The new FT8 protocol provides optimized message formats for North American VHF contests, European VHF contests, ARRL Field Day, and ARRL RTTY Roundup.  Similarly, the new MSK144 protocol provides optimized message formats for North American VHF and European VHF contests.  Full support is provided for “/R” and “/P” calls in the relevant contests.
  • The new protocols provide nearly equal (or better) sensitivity compared to the old ones, and lower false decode rates.
  • New logging features are provided for contesting and for “Fox” (DXpedition) mode.  Logging is optionally integrated with N1MM Logger+ and WriteLog.
  • Color highlighting of decoded messages provides worked-before status for callsigns, grid locators, DXCC entities, continents, CQ Zones, and ITU zones on a “by band” and “by mode” basis, and for stations that have uploaded their logs to Logbook of the World (LoTW) within a specified time interval.
  • The WSPR decoder now achieves decodes down to S/N = -31 dB.  For the particular benefit of LF/MF users, an option “No own call decodes” has been added.
  • The UDP messages sent to companion programs have been expanded and improved.

For the full release notes, see here.

Upgrading from earlier versions is seamless and there is no need to uninstall your previous version or move any files around.  You can download the installation packages for Windows, Mac and Linux here.

I’ve been using the release candidate versions of WSJT-X for some months and have been following the progress via the developers support list.  A lot of work has gone into this version and it really is important that everyone upgrades as soon as possible. If you’re not sure what version you are using then look at the top bar of the main activity (not the waterfall) where the version number is shown.  It will most likely be v1.9.1 but could quite well be v1.8 if you simply installed it a long time ago and haven’t upgraded.

Of special interest to me is the fact that it’s now possible to operate contests using FT8 and the inaugural FTU-Round Up contest was a couple of weekends ago. I spent a few hours operating in the contest and really quite enjoyed it.  It’s very different from other types of contesting but was very satisfying. You can see a full analysis of my entry with graphs, maps and statistics by clicking here.

The bottom line is that you really need to upgrade WSJT-X as soon as possible to maintain forward compatibility.  If you don’t upgrade then you will notice you are decoding and working fewer and fewer people.

Posted in Amateur radio, Data, FT8, JT65, JT9, WSPR | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

CQ World Wide DX CW 2018

This last weekend was the CQ World Wide DX CW Contest and I decided at short notice that I’d spend some time operating.  I was planning on being out for most of the day on Saturday but had nothing arranged for Sunday which would give me a few hours.

I actually managed half an hour or so on Saturday morning before going out and then another hour in the evening when we got home before tea and then after watching Strictly (yes, I know) as well as a good few hours on Sunday.

I’m not a big CW operator so this isn’t a serious entry.  I have worked well over 200 DXCC entities using Morse code but I’ve always treated it as just another data mode.  I use software to transmit and have a couple of software decoders running.  They’re far from perfect though so the mark one earball does get used regularly.  By operating purely in search and pounce mode, it’s relatively straightforward as I have time to make sure I’ve successfully read what’s been transmitted.

My technique was simple, start at the bottom of each band and tune through, working everything I can hear.  I wasn’t chasing multipliers in any form, either DXCC entities or CQ zones and that’s very obvious when I look at my totals.  I worked just 14 zones but did manage to work 56 entities and made a total of 323 QSOs with one duplicate.  My average rate over the time I spent operating was 34 QSOs/hour which I appreciate is poor compared to many others.  It’s good enough for me though.

As to be expected at this point in the solar cycle, the majority of my Qs were to European stations but perhaps surprisingly, the single country where I worked the most people was the USA with 61 contacts. This is largely down to 20m on Sunday afternoon where I seemed to tune the band and just work one after another.

I was also very pleased to work two new countries on 40m – US Virgin Islands and Bonaire which take my total on 40m up to 98 worked.  I will get DXCC on that band and then that’ll just leave me 80m before I can claim 5BDXCC.  I suspect that’s a good few years away though.

Most of my QSOs were on 20m which is hardly surprising considering the times of day I was operating and the fact that my aerial for 20m is significantly better than for the lower bands and I can run more power on the HF bands than the LF ones because my smartuner is rated at relatively low power for CW.

This was the first CW contest where I’ve used my special contest callsign for any more than a few minutes and I have to say that I’m impressed as to how well it seems to cut through pileups.  There were a few times I was calling along with a whole bunch of other stations and a quick blast of the callsign really did seem to get through quickly.  I didn’t struggle to work anyone at all.

It was a fun contest.  I won’t win anything but it was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a dull weekend in November.  My full log and analysis can be seen on my Contest Results page.

Posted in Amateur radio, Contesting, CW, HF | Tagged | Leave a comment

Accurate time keeping on an Apple Mac running macOS Mojave

When running data modes such as the very popular FT8, it’s important to keep your computer clock accurate because if it’s more than a couple of seconds out then you won’t be able to decode anyone, they won’t be able to decode you and you won’t make any QSOs.  There are a number of utilities for Windows to keep the clock accurate and it’s fairly essential you use one of them.

Last year I wrote a piece about keeping your clock accurate in macOS which worked perfectly well in High Sierra but no longer works using macOS Mojave because the command I recommended has been removed from the operating system.

I’ve done some investigation and have found another command which works just as well.  I should note that macOS Mojave seems to do a really good job of keeping the clock accurate by itself and when I ran this new command, my clock was accurate to within 0.1 seconds.

The first thing to do is to test the command to make sure it works properly.  I’ve done this on two systems now and each time I had run an additional two commands just to get it running.

On your Mac, open a terminal window and type the following:

sntp -sS

You’ll almost certainly be prompted for your password – This is the main administrator account password for your Mac computer, enter it and press return.

There’s a very good chance you’ll get the following error message

If you do, you need to type the two following commands

sudo touch /var/db/ntp-kod
sudo chmod 666 /var/db/ntp-kod

Once you’ve entered those two commands, try again. If all is well, you’ll see something like this:

Now you need to schedule this so that it runs automatically.  The following instructions are pretty much identical to those posted in my original blog entry.

macOS has a built in task scheduler called cron and it’s relatively straightforward to add an entry to cron.

By default, macOS uses a very powerful text editor to edit system files but that can be a little daunting at first.  If you’re happy to use that then that’s fine, go ahead but I’m going to give you some instructions now on how to change your default system editor to nano.

In your terminal window, type the following:
nano .bash_profile

You will get an empty window just like this:

Copy (cmd-c) the following three lines of text and paste (cmd-v) them into the window:

# Set Default Editor (change ‘Nano’ to the editor of your choice)
# ————————————————————
export EDITOR=/usr/bin/nano

The window will look like this:

Press control-x, press y and then press enter to save the file.

Now either restart your Mac or simply log out and then back in.  If you don’t do this then it won’t use the editor we’ve just configured.

When you’ve logged back in, open a terminal window again and type:
sudo crontab -e

Enter your password as before.

Unless you’ve already added something into cron previously, this file will be empty.  You may have followed my instructions on cleaning a useless cache and if so, there will be a line there already.

It doesn’t matter whether the file is empty or not.
Using your cursor keys. scroll to the bottom and add a new line:
*/60 * * * * sntp -sS

This line is adding a task to automatically run the command we discussed above every sixty minutes. You could change the 60 to be any number you want and it will run at those intervals.  For more information about how to configure cron, please see here.

Press control-x, press y and then press enter to save the file. If you get the following prompt, click the OK button.

You’re done.  Your Mac will now keep very accurate time with no further intervention.

Posted in Amateur radio, Apple Mac, FT8, JT65, WSPR | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SCC RTTY Championship 2018 – The results

In 2017 I entered and won the 15m section of the SCC RTTY Championship and although I wasn’t available for the full 24 hours of the contest this year, I did make a token entry by operating for around four hours on the Sunday morning.

The problem was that on the Sunday, conditions had absolutely plummeted.  There were zero sunspots and both the A and the K indexes were quite high.

I persevered and called CQ for most of the time I was operating, interspersed with the occasional tune around the band to see what I could hear.  I heard nobody else on 15m and not one station replied to my CQ calls.

Because of the time I’d spent operating, I decided to put my entry in anyway.  To clarify, this was an entry with zero QSOs, zero points and zero multipliers!  Not surprisingly, I was last in the section and you can tell from the other entrants that conditions were significantly better on the Saturday.

There’s always a nice “Final Comments” section for the SCC contest and my zero point entry got a mention.  They said “Keith G6NHU operated 15m few hours as M7P and not a single QSO was logged 🙂 We really liked his SOAPBOX – take a look under Soapbox link.

My certificate has to be the best certificate in the history of contesting with zero QSOs, zero multipliers and zero points but still #1 England.

SCC RTTY 2018 15m results

SCC RTTY 2018 15m results

Posted in Amateur radio, Contesting, HF, RTTY | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Statistics for the third quarter of 2018

A gorgeously lovely summer means I spent less time on the wireless for these three months, making just over 600 QSOs and working only 80 DXCC entities.

My data / phone / CW ratio is still about the same as earlier in the year and I’ve picked up three new entities on 160m and two on 80m.  I’m a very long way away from DXCC on those bands so it’s nothing really to write home about.

I’d normally expect a high number of QSOs during the last weekend of September due to the CQ RTTY contest but unfortunately I was away for most of the weekend.  I did still manage a token entry though but nowhere near the size I’d normally like.

Unsurprisingly considering the summer doldrums and the point of the solar cycle, the majority of my QSOs have been to Europe and largely on 20m.

Breakdown of continents worked during Q3 2018

Posted in Amateur radio, Data, HF | Leave a comment