July Wrapup

August 1, 2017

We haven’t had excessive heat so far this summer but it’s been plenty warm. Things should start cooling off a bit as we head into August. Hard to believe that Ohio State’s first football game is less than one month away.

One of my projects recently has been to gather up old railroad videos I made starting in the early 1990s and putting them on YouTube. You can see these at the link below, and more will be added. These were shot with a VHS camcorder and sure look bad compared to today’s high definition video :-). https://www.youtube.com/user/ku4a

June Wrapup

July 2, 2017

June is the best month of the year for Sporadic-E propagation, which is the primary skip mode for the six-meter band (50 MHz). I’ve managed to catch a number of openings this month, and have worked new Maidenhead grid squares and even some new countries. Sporadic-E occurs when the E-layer of the ionosphere becomes highly ionized, and begins refracting signals at much higher frequencies than normal.

The biggest weekend of the year in amateur radio is the fourth weekend in June which is Field Day, which is both a national contest and emergency preparedness exercise. Again this year I operated from home, but restricted myself to battery operation (as might be the case in an emergency) and low power (5 watts). I made about 180 contacts before my antenna developed a problem.

There was an excellent article in the May issue of QST magazine about installing Ubuntu-MATE on old computers. I had a bunch of old laptops running Windows XP, and have converted them to Ubuntu-MATE. Although I used Linux extensively while working at IBM I have not done much with it at home. I plan to explore ham radio and other applications on Linux in the near future.

On Memorial Day, a couple of us went out and visited a bunch of other Little Free Libraries in Lexington. I finally got the video assembled, and it can be found here: https://youtu.be/s4Vw8cccWjQ

 

May Wrapup

June 5, 2017

May ended up being a big month for me and my Little Free Library. I assembled some “message boards” for the side walls which I can use for information or decorations. I also got the idea to put a micro-power FM transmitter on the air with a continuous loop of information about the library. It is on 90.5 if you happen to be close by. I have a Facebook page for the library at: https://www.facebook.com/LFL45857

For a long time I had been wanting to look at the other Little Free Libraries in town. A friend of mine and I did that on Memorial Day. I created a Flickr collection and will be adding to it as I visit other libraries. I am also working on a YouTube video. Here is a link to the Flickr collection: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ku4a/collections/72157682323593721/

I recently visited Rick Howard who operates the Antique Radio Warehouse in Berea. It is really a must-see if you are in the neighborhood. http://antiqueradiowhs.com/

Wrapping Up April

May 1, 2017

The Blue Jackets made a quick exit in the NHL playoffs, losing to defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh 4 games to 1. Columbus did manage to revive its offense, but goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky wasn’t as good as he was during the regular season, and gave up a lot of goals. It was a good season, and I’m hoping the boys hit the ground running in October when the 2017-2018 season starts.

I’ve always been intrigued by robotic vacuums, but decided to wait until prices came down a bit. I recently acquired a Eufy RoboVac 11 and have found it to work quite well. It’s an amazing piece of engineering. You can find more details here:

RoboVac 11

I added a new ultralight to my radio collection, the Tecsun PL-360. Google it for more information. The main point of interest about this radio is that it has a jack to allow connection of an external antenna for the AM broadcast band. This is unusual among modern portable radios. It’s a great unit to have for anyone who wants to experiment with Ferrite Sleeve Loop or other antennas.

So far this year, I have probably done less ham radio operating than I have in the recent past. A lot of this is due to the generally poor propagation we’ve had as the current sunspot cycle winds down, probably hitting a minimum in the year 2020.

I don’t follow baseball very closely but I understand Kentucky has a good team this year. Very highly rated by the RPI, and they currently lead the SEC East.

A Couple of Interesting Software Defined Radios

April 3, 2017

For several years I have had a Perseus Software Defined Radio (SDR) manufactured by Microtelecom in Italy. The Perseus is an excellent radio and I have used it extensively for medium wave and long wave DXing. But it is not inexpensive.

There are other SDRs on the market at lower price points. I had not owned any of them until just recently.

The SDRplay has been popular since its introduction. A new version has recently been made available called the RSP2. The unit (including the SDRuno software) can be purchased for less than $200. A USB cable is required (not included) and you may need adapters for the antenna connectors. Details about the RSP2 are here:

http://www.sdrplay.com/rsp2/

The RTL-SDR dongle has been around for quite awhile. It was originally manufactured as a TV tuner. It was found that the I/Q data can be accessed directly, so the dongle can be used as an SDR. An overview is here:

http://www.rtl-sdr.com/about-rtl-sdr/

Earlier versions were only capable of reception on frequencies above 24 MHz. There is a new version called the “RTL-SDR blog V3” that allows reception of much lower frequencies. This web page describes how this is done with a V3 dongle, using the SDRsharp software:

http://www.rtl-sdr.com/rtl-sdr-blog-v-3-dongles-user-guide/

The RTL-SDR dongle is available for about $20. It is very small, with a USB connector on one end, and an antenna connector on the other.

Installing software and getting either of these SDRs running is not trivial but it is not difficult either. Readers should take a look at the respective web sites to understand the process. Among the various SDRs on the market today, there are a lot of variations in features available, and hence some SDRs may not work for a particular application. One thing for sure, there are SDRs available that provide a lot of capability for much less money than traditional hardware-only solutions.

Differential GPS (DGPS)

April 3, 2017

Long-time readers might remember me discussing listening to Non-Directional Beacons (NDBs) on the longwave band (frequencies below the AM broadcast band). A fairly recent addition to the inhabitants of longwave are the Differential GPS stations, which can be found between about 283.5 and 325 KHz. The Wikipedia page with background information is here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differential_GPS

As a digital signal, decoding software is required to be able to DX and log these stations. As luck would have it, Chris Smolinski of Black Cat Systems has written an excellent program called “Amalgamated DGPS” for Windows and Mac. It can be downloaded here:

http://www.blackcatsystems.com/software/dgps_decoding_software_sdr.html

The software can be run using real-time audio from a suitable longwave receiver (or an audio recording). It also functions taking an I/Q recording from a Software Defined Receiver (SDR). This is the way I use the program. I set up my Perseus SDR to record the entire DGPS range (283.5-325) for some period of time. This is an “I/Q” file. The software is then run using the I/Q file as input. It then lists the various DGPS stations it was able to decode.

For each station listed, make note of the “count”. Chris warns that the DGPS error detection protocol is not very robust, and false decodes are common. If the count is just 1, I would say it is fairly likely that a false decode has occurred.

 

 

Playoff Bound

April 3, 2017

The Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth during March and were 10-6 during the month. But their offense has sputtered over the last couple weeks. So even with the beat goalie in the league, one wonders if they can make much of a run in the playoffs. A President’s Cup for the best record in the NHL regular season was not out of the question. But with last night’s 3-2 loss to the Capitals, Columbus has its first 3-game losing streak of the season. The Jackets are 6 points behind Washington with 4 games to go for both. But no matter what happens, this is the best season in franchise history for the Blue Jackets.

NCAA Women’s Tournament

April 3, 2017

Congratulations to South Carolina on their national championship. As a player, Dawn Staley went to three Final Fours but was never able to win it all. Now she has a championship as a coach. Mississippi State has a great team but I was not surprised at the outcome of last night’s game. With players like A’ja Wilson, Carolina is tall inside. Kentucky had absolutely no luck in three games against the Gamecocks, losing all three by wide margins. The Cats had a win in their meeting with MSU.

The UK women managed a #4 seed in the NCAA, so got to play their first and second round games at home in Memorial Coliseum. Ohio State, after losing early in the Big Ten Tournament, were a #5 seed. But the Bucks were placed in Lexington. In the first round, Kentucky edged Belmont and Ohio State beat Western Kentucky to get up a second round matchup between the Cats and the Bucks. OSU won 82-68 to move on to the regionals in Rupp Arena in Lexington. The Buckeyes were no match for #1 seed Notre Dame and lost in a rout.

I was as surprised as anybody at Mississippi State’s upset win over Connecticut in the national semifinals. Gino Auriema’s smile after the game reminded me of the Facebook meme: “Don’t cry because it ended, smile because it happened”. The Huskies will continue to be a dominant force in women’s college basketball for years to come.

Wrapping Up March

April 2, 2017

You would think with all the stuff that went on in March, I’d be able to keep up with this blog. But, nooooooooo. I guess I was too busy doing stuff to write about stuff. In any event, in the next few posts I’ll try to get caught up, probably only to get behind again. And so it goes :-).

It’s been a great NCAA Tournament as usual. Despite all the upsets, the championship game tomorrow night will feature two #1 seeds. I had been expecting that Mark Few and Gonzaga would eventually break through and make a Final Four. They have a good enough team to win it all. It would be funny if North Carolina finished runner up for two years in a row. But I really like their inside game, and they could easily win tomorrow.

Kentucky had a lot of momentum after winning the SEC Tournament, and managed to beat UCLA in a regional semifinal, avenging a regular season loss in Rupp Arena. The Cats gave North Carolina a good game in the regional finals, but came up short.

 

Big Ten Champions

February 28, 2017

The Ohio State women won their first Big Ten regular-season championship in several years by beating Rutgers Sunday afternoon. The Bucks and Maryland tied at the top of the league with identical 15-1 records. OSU has won more regular season titles than any other team in the league. They will be the #1 seed in the Big Ten tournament this weekend.

The Kentucky women were no match (again) for South Carolina in the last game of the regular season. But the Cats secured a #4 seed in the SEC tournament which begins tomorrow in Greenville, South Carolina.

The NCAA has started reporting tournament seedings in advance, subject to change of course. Both Ohio State and Kentucky were #4 seeds in the last reveal. If both can hold their positions they will be able to host first and second round games at home.

The Kentucky men beat Florida Saturday, avenging an earlier loss to the Gators. That broke the tie at the top of the conference standings. Tonight is Senior Night in Rupp Arena as the Cats play host to Vanderbilt.

After a five-day break, the Blue Jackets are undefeated with wins over the Islanders and Rangers by a combined score of 12-2.