Thursday, September 29, 2011

A homebrew longwire antenna launcher!

I thoroughly enjoyed this video as much for its entertainment value as its practical advice on how to get longwires into trees. The "launcher" is made from a fishing reel and a catapult!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Early morning aurora borealis over Ireland

I have a confession to make. Something to own up to. Something I'm ashamed of. It's difficult for me to open up in front of the whole world (or more like the 50 people who will visit this sad blog today) and tell you my innermost secrets. But here goes . . .


An aurora I photographed from my QTH in 2003
Never have been. Always found it tough getting out of the old scratcher in the mornings. It can take me a good while to wake up too. And in that period between getting out of bed and waking up, there is one warning for all of those around me: "Don't kick the bear!"

So when my phone beeps (loudly) at 4.47am, with me entranced in some wild dream (probably about working a pile-up into Oceania on 10m HI!) I was startled beyond silly. I thought, "who the heck is texting me at this ungodly hour?" Mind you, the auld eyes were not exactly wide open and I had to squint like a geriatric monkey to see the numerals on the clock. Yes, 4:47. I was right, it was that hour between early morning and slightly later early morning. Otherwise known as the "Do Not Disturb" hour.

It turns out that the text message was from a well known insomniac at Astronomy Ireland. He was texting me to let me know that he was standing staring up at an aurora borealis display in Dublin. "Great, sounds lovely," says I to myself before turning over. The bed was nice and cosy and I was fit for a few more hours' sleep. It was about five minutes before the information actually sank in. "There's an aurora," I says to myself before leaping up in the bed.

An aurora means two things for someone like me. (1) There's some nice photos to be got and (2) there might be some skip on 2 metres. It was another ten minutes before I decided to brave the cold and actually get out of the bed. But rather than go to the trouble of getting dressed and going outside, I stumbled to the window, opened the blind, opened up the window and looked out. I could see some stars and some clouds but no aurora. So I closed the window and went over to shack B (yes, the "B"edroom shack) and turned on 2 metres and could hear nothing at all.

So the bed-loving animal in me decided that this whole aurora thing shouldn't disturb me any longer and went back to sleep. Not sure I regret it that much. I was too tired to sit at a radio and too comfortable to be getting dressed and looking for camera equipment to take out into the garden.

But it's a promising sign. It's six years since I last saw an aurora display. The sun was pretty dead in 2008 and 2009, and not much better in 2010. Now, in 2011, it's finally showing signs of awakening from its slumber. Maybe the sun, like me, is a bit fond of the bed . . .

Monday, September 26, 2011

CW with a computer mouse - I love this guy!

This is PY2MAJ CQing with an, aghem, home-brew CW key, made out of a computer mouse. I've seen all sorts of improvised CW keys and this is one of the novelty keys that I like best. It puts the idea into my head to make another CW key from something unusual. I once saw a video of Brendan EI1429, a short wave listener, who had made a straight CW key from a computer hard drive. Yes, you read right! 

I would gladly take ideas from my readers for a suggested CW key home-brew project. Comments below please or drop an email to hamradioireland (at) gmail (dot) com

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Timor-Leste, Atauro Island, finally in the log!

It has been a long and interesting week on the bands, with a high Solar Flux Index meaning the higher bands have been open, sometimes well after dark. 12 metres in particular has been excellent here, with a number of new ones put in the log since that great day last Saturday.

Timor-Leste is located between Malaysia and Papua New Guinea
However, during the past week, for one reason or another, I found myself busy and when I was on the radio I wasn't able to hear the 4W6A most of the time. One or two days I could hear them on 20m CW in the morning time but I wasn't able to spare the time to sit and try to work them.

So it came to today, Saturday, and with the Dxpedition drawing to a close, I was more anxious about working them. I sat for over an hour, perhaps two, trying to work them on 12m CW but just after they worked my friend Thos EI2JD, they said "QSY 20m". So I missed 12m. But in the meantime, they showed up on 15 metres. So I set the radio up with 21.023.5 as the VFO A frequency and started listening on VFO B to see if I could hear where they were listening. As is always the case with big pile-ups, it was wide enough, and he was working stations anything from 1 to 5 kc above his calling frequency. As usual I turned the beam 180 degrees to see which path he was stronger on and sure enough the long path seemed to be better, so that's the path I kept the antenna on.

But my consistent searching for his QSX frequency paid dividends and after about an hour, with his signal getting stronger, I finally heard my call coming through the noise. I gave him a 599 TU and punched the air cheering. After nearly two years on the air, I can say there's still nothing that beats the thrill of putting a new DXCC into the log!

For the record, that brings my total DXCC worked to 228, although five of these have been deleted so I can only claim 223. Of these I have 175 confirmed, mostly through ARRL's Logbook of the World, which is a brilliant ham facility.

By the way, congratulations to all the EIs who have got 4W into their log. It is difficult for EI to work because on the short path we are beaming across Europe and have all of EU to contend with! As of this moment, there are 24 EI callsigns in their log. Not bad at all. I should be the 25th!

Update: 17:38: Just put them into the log on 20m SSB after about 10 minutes calling. Yes!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A proper photo of the newly refurbished shack!

Here, as requested, is a better photograph of my refurbished shack. It should be a wee bit clearer than the previous one which was taken on my phone!  I've added the old CT 436 Oscilloscope onto the desk as well just for effect.

Monday, September 19, 2011

EI2KC's new look shack in progress

This is the new-look shack almost finished. I was fed up with the haphazard arrangement of radios so I went to a DIY store on Sunday and picked up some wood to build a shelf to act as a second tier for my computer, monitor, speakers, VHF radios etc. As you can see if is very neat. Compare it with old photos of the shack and you'll see what an improvement it is. It looks so much tidier.

The DIY did not prevent me from working a bit of DX on Sunday. I had very little time in front of the radio, but I did manage to bag T8XX, Palau, a brand new country for me. So I was thrilled.

Here is a quick guide to what's on the desk: Bottom row, from left: 2m amplifier (25w in 160w out) and Uniden Bearcat scanner, Watson 25a PSU, Yaesu FT-1000MP, my main rig, and on right the Icom IC-746 which I use for 6 metres and 10 metres and will soon be attached to an 8-element XY beam for 2 metres. Beyond that on the right are two external hard drives for my laptop.

Top shelf, from left: 4m radio with 2m radio on top and speaker for 4m, then IC-735 for listening on 80m, rotator for MA5B on top and above that speaker for 2m. Beside those is my Signalink USB interface for digimodes for the MP, then my monitor and then my laptop.

Sorry about the quality of the photo. It was taken on my Android phone.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A brief summary of an extraordinary day

Yesterday, Saturday, with the sunspot number at 173 and the solar flux index at 143, it was always likely to be a good day on the bands. 12 metres opened early in the day and was still open here to South America at 10.30pm local time. 10 metres gave me no less than eight new DXCCs on that band, and I managed to get some new ones on other bands too. Here is a brief summary of my efforts:

YS3CW in El Salvador gave me a brand new country today
New Zealand 20 CW
New Zealand 17m CW
Grenada J3 20m CW
Azerbaijan 10m CW
Kazahkstan 10m CW
Thailand 12m & 10m CW
Hong Kong 10m CW
Bahrain 10m SSB & CW
West Malaysia 10m SSB
Madagascar 10m SSB
West Malaysia 10m CW
Singapore 17m SSB
Trinidad 12m SSB
Brunei 17m CW
Guyana 12m SSB
El Salvador 12m CW
Panama 12m SSB
Isle of Man 10m CW
Guadeloupe 12m CW

Singapore and Guyana were both brand new countries for me. It really was a brilliant day to be on the bands. Lots of other EIs are reporting similar successes with new ones on various bands. Well done to all.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Look at those sunspot numbers - get on 10 metres now!

I have not seen the sunspot number this high in a long, long time. The sun is literally bursting with activity. Right now the sunspot number is 173, which is the highest I've seen it since I was licenced in 2009. Right now, I am listening to T88TO on Palau island in the Pacific on 10 metres CW. I suggest you QSY to 28 Mhz as soon as possible because there's sure to be some good DX and to be worked with the numbers that high . . .

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A rare one indeed - Lord Howe Island VK9L

Lord Howe Island, from where VK9OL is operatingLord Howe Island VK
Recently Lord Howe Island, located off the east of Australia, was activated by the VK9HR dxpedition. Because of its location, almost exactly opposite Ireland on the far side of the globe, it is a tough one to work from EI. Nevertheless, four EIs made it into their log. An exclusive club you could say! (Read more about the EIs who worked Lord Howe Island in the forthcoming issue of Echo Ireland, due out within the week).

Lord Howe is being activated again this week, this time by N6NO, Merv, who is not only celebrating being 75 years old this year, but he is also marking his 60th year in amateur radio. He is celebrating all this by activating Lord Howe and what a very special way to do it!

Earlier this evening, September 15th, I managed to work Merv, who is using the callsign VK9OL, with my homebrew inverted V for 30m and 100 watts from the Yaesu FT-1000MP. I had been trying for about ten minutes and found it very difficult to hear him in strong QSB and QRN at times. But I heard a strong OH station working him and called him on the same split frequency and within a moment I could hear "EI?" so I gave him my call twice and he came back with EI2KC and my report and I gave him 559 and thanks and 73. I'm thrilled to get this rare one into the log. It is a brand new DXCC for me, never worked before.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

She works! - an old oscilloscope kicks into life

An old CT 436 Oscilloscope by Hartley Electromotives Ltd, recently came into my possession. I had left it in the shack for a few days to make sure it was dry and warm and plugged it in to find it is still working. I believe from reading on the web that these were built for the British Military back in the early 1960s, but maybe earlier. Now all I have to do is figure out how to use it to make measurements! It's a beautiful looking machine in my opinion and perhaps those little "moving lights" on the screen will fascinate the kids. I was able to download a manual on the CT 436 so I will digest that and see how I can use it to make a proper measurement. The above video was shot on my Android phone.

I can tell you that after just a few minutes' use, the casing got quite hot on top. Perhaps that's a good thing. The shack can get quite cold in the winter - the oscilloscope will double as a heater! 73 for now.
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

6 metres, solar flare, Rugby World Cup

Sorry I haven't blogged for a while. We had a bereavement. My wife's father, John, passed away last Thursday. He had been sick for quite a long time. We remember him dearly. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis. 

6 Metres (50 Mhz) was open last night. I worked France, Austria, Germany and Italy, just four QSOs but enough to brighten up my evening. In 2010 my last QSO on 6 metres was in August so it was nice to hear it open again in September. 

Sunspot 1283 has been crackling with flares and on September 6th sent an M-class and X-class flare in the direction of earth. According to, "The flares produced waves of ionization in Earth's upper atmosphere, briefly altering the propagation of low-frequency radio signals around our planet." Sunspot numbers have been generally high for the past few weeks, with a Solar Flux Index over 100 for most of that time. The SFI currently stands at 112. There has been some interesting propagation on 12 metres in recent weeks, with P29 Papua New Guinea and VK6 West Australia both being worked at my station. Fingers crossed for some good openings on 10 metres before year's end!

Hams should keep an ear out for special callsigns for the Rugby World Cup which kicks off in New Zealand this weekend. ZL4RUGBY and ZL6RWC have both been worked from EI in recent days. Both calls are active until October 31st so keep an eye on the cluster and an ear on the bands.

My latest HF Happenings column has been sent to the Editor of Echo Ireland magazine, so hopefully you will have your copy in the next week or so. Look out for a special report on the handful of EIs who worked the recent VK9HR Lord Howe Dxpedition, and also congrats to Ireland's third 10-band DXCC award winner. Plus lots more.

Don't forget the North Cork Radio Group rally is on this Sunday, September 11th, in Blarney Golf Resort, Tower, Co. Cork. Doors open at 11.30am and admission is 5 euro. See the club's website for more details.