RaDAR – A practical approach

I was going through a little nostalgia tonight. The family went into town and will only be back tomorrow so I could choose the content I wanted to watch on TV and that is usually something on You Tube.

I’m an “all rounder” a “Jack of all trades” but certainly not a master at anything. I base a lot of my decisions in life on gut feel and common sense. I have a wide range of interests but ham radio has always been the center of everything. In my nostalgic mood tonight I was browsing for something to remind me of early army days. I was a signaler, a radio operator but never took part in the war. After many years of national service, citizen force and commandos I found myself at the Heidelburg Army Gymnasium, a basics training camp for signalers. I passed my training as a signals troop sergeant.

That discipline in the use of radios and communication via radio is what I regard highly among RaDAR operators. A different breed to your usual radio ham. One that can move quickly, deploy quickly and provide an efficient means of communications for whatever reason. An all rounder, able to handle any situation that may be encountered.

I wasn’t the best at mathematics, well until I learned Trigonometry because I could see it’s uses within amateur radio. My last thirty working years were spent in an IT environment of which thirteen were as technology manager and after that a contract programmer doing front and back end programming. The younger guys were better at it having grown up with the technology. Of course there is always someone more knowledgeable on any subject. I learnt a lot from those younger chaps!

During interviews with prospective candidates throughout the years I always regarded engineering drawing highly. Those doing well in it can usually see things from a different angle. I see a lot of value in that.

Now that I’m retired and being an “all rounder” I can usually take on any problem with a reasonable outcome. I can help myself but am I worth anything to anyone else, a company? Probably not and no one is interested in anyone over sixty so I’m basically on my own and need to survive and provide during the last years on earth, How many is not in our hands!

The world is facing COVID-19 and is affecting everyone of us. We can’t make dangerous choices or take too many chances and opportunities are less than they have ever been. What happens when the kitty dries up? The kitty has already felt the famine from the last three months of lock down! So, we’ve got to play our cards carefully.

My XYL already believes I have a new hobby and I think she feels safe in thinking so. That hobby was initially my RaDAR playground which was my dream ten years ago. That has become reality. Although the family enjoy walking there I’m left to do all the landscaping and maintenance by myself. I regard it as exercise and it certainly is a great RaDAR playground. Whatever I do there, the RaDAR playground idea is always at the back of my mind.

My RaDAR playground, alias the “E-Trail” (All our family’s first names start with an E), can be seen via this URL, a simple static website, http://www.radarops.co.za/FriendsOfTheETrail/index.html That is what keeps me busy and active most days. I’m still very young at heart.

I need to rethink how I do my movements and deployments now as I’m exclusively only active on the FM satellites and cubesats. I’ve always believed in the sats for reliable communications. Much more predictable than shortwave.

July 11th sees the winter RaDAR Challenge. Have fun and challenge yourself, compare results if you may.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

Ham radio – My final rant

MFJ 9440

Well after two weeks the seller returned my mail but requested I send a WhatsApp message to him to get the rig photos, no number given. Then I cancelled the whole thing – been going on for too long.

He PROMPTLY replied via E-Mail with the pics and I thought maybe I was too harsh and gave him a second chance to continue with negotiations giving my PostNet address and requesting his bank details for payment …. well close on two days later he replied saying the rig was sold and collected by the second customer on the list! Well I’m glad for the other guy!

So, I’m finished dealing with radio hams in the second hand market / swops.

I have met so many good people over the years and many are my very good friends, good, caring, passionate radio amateurs – These guys and gals are my true friends even if we’ve never met. Through interaction, participation and sharing of their private worlds I know they are good people.

Luckily, we can choose our friends.

So, that’s the last, the old ZS6BNE is back having learnt a lot about human nature over the past year or two. Tomorrow marks twelve weeks of COVID-19 quaratine and I truly am concerned for my friends worldwide and their well being.

Many of my good friends have been made through RaDAR. I really miss the old Google plus RaDAR group where there was a lot of really good interaction, sharing of ideas, knowledge and experience.

I’m quite active on Facebook, it works for me and many of my local and international ham radio friends are there. It’s a good place to be and has certainly helped relieve the loneliness during the lock down period of which we see no end …….

Hamming after forty five years

My link dipole in the bush – No noise but no power either

I’m all for supporting the CW, SOTA and RaDAR initiatives but I no longer have a HF radio – for a while now. My 817 does however receive well but the finals have blown for the second time and that’s all I have. I miss the reliable radios I once had but that’s a story I’d rather forget.

I had a good deal for a 40m MFJ QRP radio but during lockdown PostNet courier services were closed. I made contact again with a ZS1 ham now that it’s possible to courier but the guy just forgot about replying to my mail! He’d probably forget to send the radio after payment too. I’m fed up with this kind of nonsense!

I made the decision last night that HF is a thing of the past for me. Well I tried to get back but hams are either holding on to their equipment or selling them for ridiculous prices! Buying new is now out of my league and it’s getting even worse especially now that the world is in turmoil since COVID-19.

But, I still have my TH-D7A and it’s a great radio for the FM sats. The 817 I can use for shortwave listening or tracking weather satellites or even listening to the linear sats. So I’m still an active ham in that regard.

I got tired of spending too much valuable time trying to break through and making a CW contact at 200 milliwatts. I used the driver section fed directly into the filter section of the 817. It works. I did have a few QSO to prove it’s possible!

So that’s it, no more HF communications for ZS6BNE but space communications, yes! I’m happy with my decision. I’ll base my RaDAR escapades on the sats like I did during the April challenge and if the SOTA guys use the FM sats I’ll support them too!

“My Project” – Obstacles along the way

The whole idea using an infrared movement detector to trigger a smartphone camera is a good one.

As mentioned in my previous Blog, I intended using my old cracked screen Nokia 3 smartphone as the camera. I had fitted it nicely into the box with an opening for the lens. When it came to testing, the phone simply did not react to the 450 ohm resistor across the mic connector like my Samsung did, no matter what App I used and I tried a few. This was quite disappointing!

I refined the timing in the Arduino NANO program and added switching for the infrared “flash”. It worked reasonably well and then I discovered something about cell phone cameras. They don’t see infrared light and so need a “white flash” for night time photography. Those bright flashes will certainly frighten the animals I so want to photograph!

I used my CCTV monitoring cameras to prove the infrared flash was working. You see the flash very clearly on replay. The eye however only sees a dim glow on the LED’s. This is definitely the right flash for the task!

I have a Rasberry Pi and also a Pi camera which I’ve used in the past. I got that going again using MotionEyeOS, a perfect solution for movement detection, snapshots and video’s although the camera is no where near the quality of a smartphone camera. BUT, as soon as I removed the Pi from the network MotionEyeOS became non operational. Now that’s useless if I want to take it to the field!

Then I tried using Python to talk to the camera and I was in control of the software which I like. BUT, the Pi is so slow, the animals would pass by long before any capturing could be done. This added to my frustrations …..

Sure, buying a dedicated trail camera is cheap enough and brings a lot of fun and excitement but I still want to get this dinosaur walking (In comparison to a dedicated, compact trail camera!)

An important point worth mentioning is that the Pi draws way more current than an Arduino. The 12v to 5v converter I use just cannot deliver the current required by the Pi which is important powering the system from a 12v 7 A/Hr SLAB in the field. The converter however appears to deliver enough current to keep a smartphone charged ….

This is the latest Arduino program. The next version will make use of interrupts, a more intelligent way of reaction to the infrared motion detector signal. Watch this space …..

A
B
C

“My Project” – A cell phone / Arduino based trail camera

A good friend had loaned me his trail camera during the COVID-19 lock down period of eight weeks. We’re still on level four with no end in sight. I returned his camera to him yesterday. I had learnt a lot using it and got some really great footage of animals roaming on my 1.6 hectare RaDAR playground.

In the meantime I’ve been experimenting using a cell phone activated through an infrared movement detector using the principle of a selfie stick. The signalling from the detector isn’t that intelligent though only having a NC (Normally closed) contact. The cell phone requires a decent timed signal.

So I introduced an Arduino NANO into the picture to handle all the critical processing and to make my camera a little more intelligent other than just using an infrared movement detector.

One of my CCTV cameras had failed so I replaced it with a spare I had. I dismantled the old camera removing the video section but keeping it’s infrared nighttime LED’s. I noticed they were controlled internally by a light sensor so that made the complexity of detecting night or day obsolete. I’ll simply turn the LED’s on, on movement detection switched through the Arduino like I do the camera.

Almost all camera apps react to a volume up or down signal and this is the principle on which selfie sticks work. Various resistor values across the mic connection are recognized by the app as commands. A 450 ohm resistor switched across the mic connections will be seen as a “Volume down” event and the camera activated.

Some apps react to short and “long press” events so the Arduino timing becomes critical. Having control of the source code makes that an easy task.

I’m in the process of building the “work in progress” into a heavy duty plastic container which includes a 7 A/Hr SLAB for long term battery supply to power the Arduino, detectors, infrared LED’s and to keep the cell phoned charged too. I intend to use my old Nokia 3 whose screen was cracked after a fall. The camera is still perfect!

Once everything is working and nicely tested I may paint it using camo colours. It’s simply a box you can place in the field somewhere strategic and enjoy looking at captured photos later.

It can even be used to capture trail runners as they pass specific points.

A work in progress – a “lock down” project 🙂

The initial code as a basic starting point ….. (Indentation removed by the WordPress editor)

// Intelligent cell camera
// by Eddie Leighton
// 20th May 2020

// ————————————-

int PIRSensor = 12; // NC Signal from PIR Sensor
int CAMERATrigger = 13; // Signal to relay board to trigger camera

int sense; // PIR Sensor sense variable

// ————————————-

void setup() {

//Serial.begin(9600);

pinMode(PIRSensor, INPUT);
pinMode(CAMERATrigger, OUTPUT);

//Serial.println(“Cell camera interface inititalised”);

digitalWrite(CAMERATrigger, HIGH); // Initialise trigger relay

}

// ————————————-

void triggerCAMERA() {

//Serial.println(“Camera has been triggered”);

digitalWrite(CAMERATrigger, LOW);

delay(500); // 470 ohm from ground to mic for 500 milliseconds

digitalWrite(CAMERATrigger, HIGH);

}

// ————————————-

void loop() {

sense = digitalRead(PIRSensor); // Test for PIR Sensor movement detection

if (sense == HIGH) {
triggerCAMERA();
}

delay(2000); // Allow two seconds for PIR reset
}

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR News – May 2020

Chris VA3ECO

Feedback from the April 2020 RaDAR Challenge.

Not everyone sends in a log but that’s okay as long as everyone had fun. There are no winners or losers in the RaDAR Challenge, you challenge yourself and your abilities giving what you have at your disposal.

Theunis ZS2EC was quite professional in his approach to sending in a log sending both ADIF and CABRILLO formats. Theunis is a regular contester and glad to see him being there in the RaDAR Challenge. The CABRILLO format was easier to read in a text editor. Theunis was abviously working as a fixed station. He was active for longer than the four hour period but he was there for others, mostly DX stations on 21 and 18 MHz in the morning and 7 MHz in the evening. Some stations sent a grid locator, hopefully some of them were also RaDAR stations.

My friend Greg Lane N4KGL always takes part in every challenge and makes regular You Tube videos of his activities. Greg always documents his outings on his blog and I encourage you to go and read his blogs and wath his videos. The URL to his latest report https://www.n4kgl.info/2020/04/april-2020-radar-challenge-report.html

Greg sent me his log via email and he wrote, “Eddie, Here is a file with the logsheets for the April 2020 RaDAR Challenge. I was assisted by Dennis WA6QKN. Lots of fun!”. Greg sent in a hand written log in the standard RaDAR Log format.

I received an email from Chris VA3ECO, “Hi Eddie, Here’s my log and pictures from my first solo RaDAR challenge. I was walking on the ice on Lake of the Woods, Ontario Canada.

You can post these pictures if you wish. Great fun!”. Chris sent in a hand written log in the standard RaDAR Log format. He was an “on foot” RaDAR station.

Sid ZS5AYC and Adele ZS5APT always take part in the RaDAR Challenges. South Africa’s biggest supporters. I did see Kobus ZS6BOS’s call sign mentioned in Theunis’s log but I’m not sure if he was active during the challenge.

Eddie ZS6BNE used the satellites during the challenge and the support from the satellite community in ZS was very good. His blog on his outing can be accessed on the URL https://zs6bne.wordpress.com/2020/04/05/april-2020-radar-challenge-done-and-dusted/ and well worth reading.

International lock downs due to the COVID-19 outbreak would have certainly had an effect on outdoor activities. Hoping we are still safe and healthy.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

April 2020 RaDAR Challenge done and dusted

With the world in lock down over the COVID-19 virus outbreak it must have been difficult for most radio amateurs to take part in yesterday’s challenge. For me it was one of my most successful RaDAR Challenges to date!

I used Facebook to record my activities in real time. I was limited to the FM Satellites no longer having any working HF gear at my disposal. I do however still have a Kenwood TH-D7A(g) handheld and Arrow dual band antenna and they both work extremely well together.

My plan was simple and could be planned a few days ahead. I chose the suitable pass times of the AO-92 and AO-91 Cubesats. They are so easy to work and are popular with the locals.

To alert others for possible activity I posted on Facebook, “Satellite pass times today, I will be sharing an 8 character grid locator and my present SARAH code. I’d love to get yours too 👍😇 Presently 96% humidity here and everything is wet”.

The table and chair I have left in the field for my grandson to set up his telescope at night to look at the planets. It was an ideal place to do my first deployment.

First RaDAR SatComms deployment at KG34ac19fn. Worked Andre ZS2ZA, Sid ZS5AYC grid KF59ee36na, Barney Fourie ZS5TU grid KF59, ZS5APT grid KF59ee36na, heard Pravin ZS5LT and Christi ZS4CGR grid KG20kf75eg he also gave me a SARAH code 

I used HamGPS to determine my eight character grid square. A smartphone is a very handy device to carry with you on the RaDAR Challenge. For satellite predictions I use ISS detector with the amateur radio plugin. Both excellent software for Android!

Because the satellite times were far apart I walked back to base for the wait, doing my Facebook feedback during the quiet times. Facebook works well for me and I have many amateur radio friends there.

For the second deployment, I took my folding chair with me. The TH-D7A is mounted on the tripod and I use an external plug in mic and my headphones plug into that. There is a lot of quick writing to do during fast exchanges on a satellite pass, especially more than FIVE NINE !

RaDAR SatComms via the AO-91 Cubesat. Worked Tom ZS1TA grid JF95fx, Dave ZS2DH grid KF26sb plus SARAH code  , Andre ZS2ZA, Matthys ZS1TBP/m grid KF06cc and Alan ZS1LS grid JF96fd

So I managed to achieve five QSO’s on both passes via the satellites and that is a first for me. It just proves it can be done! Later in the afternoon I made contacts via SO-50 but that was outside the RaDAR Challenge four hour time frame. It also went well!

The SO-50 amateur radio satellite was in good condition, worked Woody ZS3WL and Alan ZS1LS.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR News – Lockdown

Our president in South Africa presented a plan of action to limit the effects of the Corona virus from spreading quickly. As from Thursday the 26th of March 2020, midnight, everyone is to stay at home for 21 days with the exception of medical, police, security and army personnel. This is serious stuff!

The whole world is affected but our symptoms are only starting to show. Registered infections seem to be doubling each day. Not everyone is taking this seriously, yet!

My family and I are voluntarily locked down out of town with only a small amount of permanent residents in the vicinity. On hearing the news we started calculating whether we’d be able to survive for three weeks. We will need to ration what we have. Hopefully things will look more positive in three weeks time and that the outbreak will be under control. It may not be! We’ll have to reevaluate the situation then.

I’m already thinking about doing some fault finding on my 817’s finals again for it’s really now I need to have a working radio. I’m OK for the FM satellites if I really need to have communications with someone at least in South Africa. I’m RaDAR ready in that regard.

Tomorrow it’s my 62nd birthday so no chores for me to do, not even washing the dishes! I’ll spend my precious birthday time delving into the insides of the 817 I think. It did blow my battery’s fuse while doing an ATU tuneup on 15m. Then there was a short to ground on the supply path to the finals which disappeared by itself! I never really took it further after the initial repair, totally disgusted with the situation but now this is part of RaDAR survival getting something operational because it’s needed! Maybe a good exercise under real conditions.

Many things will change socially and psychologically. The whole world will feel the financial pressures too but nothing can be worse than the loss of your loved ones.

Hoping that we all stay safe and healthy and that we emerge from this disaster relatively unscathed but it will take time we don’t know how long …..

The end of the line

Elrika, my XYL, and I were talking last night and the subject of ham radio came up. This year in October we will be married for forty years and in not one of those years did she ever have a love for ham radio, my “hobby”. I see her point.

Ham radio requires attention and does not fit in well with interruption. I too get very “mission driven” when practicing ham radio that it would almost come across as being irritable. I enjoy ham radio and the challenge but it’s always a battle really.

A little over a year ago I made a really bad decision to trade in all my equipment to go the Xeigu route, typically the X5105. If it was a KX3 or even close things may have been different but it wasn’t. Replacing the equipment I once had is really not worth the cost and the second hand market is very limited, hams holding onto what they have (I don’t blame them) or asking brand new prices for them!

I retired officially a year ago and invested in a 1.6 hectare piece of land next to a home I built a few years ago on which I am creating a nature trail and within that space the trail is a kilometer long. I also saw this area as my “RaDAR training ground” and also used for trail running (Even at age 62). I spend hours there practically every day working like a gardener but it gives me a lot of pleasure and a sense of achievement. Elrika refers it to be my new “hobby”.

Ham radio had served me well throughout my entire career. I celebrated my 45th year as a ham just last month on the 17th of February. Even during my service as technology manager with a large company in my home town I once suggested that the technicians reporting to me do the RAE (Radio Amateur’s Examination) and at least get a recognized qualification. I was told by my immediate superior to leave my “hobby” at home. It still saddens me but maybe many see ham radio as a hobby. I like to see it as a professional ability.

To be honest, the most fun I ever had was with a single frequency (7.023 MHz) 49er CW transceiver running 300 mW. To me ham radio must serve a purpose. That is why I developed RaDAR that through RaDAR ham radio could serve a purpose. I’d like to think I have made a difference throughout my ham radio career and will continue to do that where I can.

I’m still active on the FM satellites with my very old Kenwood TH-D7A(g) but I find the “Five nine” thing to be most boring. I’d love to see the RaDAR concept actively present within the satellite community. It would fit in extremely well there. On the 4th of April 2020 the first RaDAR Challenge for the year takes place. I’ll be RaDAR active using SatComms and moving on foot.

RaDAR News – February 2020

We are now well into a new decade coming closer to the end of January 2020. I think back to those who spread the ideas of RaDAR internationally through the sharing of You Tube video content showing the excitement of practicing the game of RaDAR. Lucy M6ECG, Tom G0SBW, Bob KK4DIV, Greg N4KGL and amongst many others, Julian OH8STN.

RaDAR itself is little more than a decade old now and has been recognised officially by the SARL and through very special awards. It is here to stay and it is time now to take it another step forward. Look out for SARAH the brainchild of Dave ZS2DH. There are some exciting times ahead!

The official RaDAR website administered and funded by Eddie ZS6BNE can be found at www.radarops.co.za It will be updated within a week together with all the relative links. New initiatives like SARAH will also be accessible here soon.

Many challenges face South Africans now. We rely very heavily on a constant supply of electricity. Are our backup systems in place and will you be able to communicate with anyone during the darker periods? Quite frightening too is our reliance on Internet facilities like Internet banking and being able to do transactions anywhere, any time. All too often lately I’ve seen these facilities becoming non operational which can only create chaos.

Are you taking your regular walks around the block or the local dam just to keep a basic level of fitness? Are you able to defend yourself and your family. What has this to do with RaDAR you may ask? Well you and your family may find yourselves providing a much needed service in times of emergency. Of course we hope the need never arises but we must be ready and we must have practised. That’s RaDAR, all about practising being communicators in difficult conditions. It’s not easy, it’s not supposed to be.

My friend Julian OH8STN made a very interesting statement in one of his numerous and very interesting You Tube videos, “We practice as we fight”. It may sound militaristic, maybe it is but it certainly knocks the point home. As we will handle situations that may arise, so must we practice being in those situations. While we practice these things we do it in a fun way. When it’s fun we see a lot more positivity in doing these things. The fun part may one day not be the major driving force but you will be ready!

While out playing RaDAR, be vigilant as it is too easy to land up in a dangerous life threatening situation. Always play safe and don’t take chances. Do regular kit checks that you know exactly where everything is and of course be forever ready. Keep those batteries charged! See you on the RaDAR!