RaDAR – RBN Skimmer tests

Reverse Beacon Network Results

And so two evenings ago I had a little success – well after a battle.

The computer was built in 2009 – I could still do a Windows XP update! It was necessary 

Internet Explorer – How I hate that browser!!! I could get a version of Chrome that still works on this old operating system.

I battled to get the RBN’s “Aggregator” software to install – it just CRASHED. Then I remembered reading about Dot Net 4 and downloaded and installed that first. Aggregator could work after that 

Oh, I had to install drivers for a plug in wireless USB adapter to get a connection to the Internet.

Skimmer was very jerky before the Windows XP update but better after the 130 odd updates that were installed.

I monitored 40m and 20m throughout the night while I slept ….

I sent RBN spots for a few stations that were heard on CW in the forty meter band 

OH the RAM on this old PC is a little over 200MB 

I had to reseat it (Old engineering first line maintenance procedure) and replace the BIOS backup battery.

Last night saw it’s own challenges. My temporary long wire came loose in the wind so a few spots were possibly missed in the process. Then this morning I discovered Windows rebooted due to an update so the computer ran for hours – for nothing.

I don’t like Windows!!!


RaDAR – Preparing the trail

Soon it will be the first RaDAR Challenge for 2019. The have heard of and seen a few large snakes sailing around the area, some pretty dangerous too, like the BOOMSLANG!

So I decided it’s time to clear the RaDAR training ground a little to make it a little safer to walk around and at least have room to deploy an antenna quickly without the wire getting tangled in some thick bush.

I started on Friday afternoon …..

140cc four stroke engine

I started by making a new road …..

I’m pretty impressed with the power of this motor!

So I started cutting the path …. It didn’t take too long considering.

The wild fowls liked to scratch around here afterwards.

Where possible I want to clear the grass around the natural trees. Most trees are of the thorny kind, the worst being the “Haak en steek” but a beautiful tree nevertheless and the bees love them!

A prime example

I used a nearby overgrown gravel road to make up the last few meters of a full kilometer loop but needed some cutting too.

The gravel road

My grandson did some trail running on the route.

A sharp turn it seems
A brief piece of shade

Tomorrow I’ll need to take a half days leave to clear an area next to the fence my immediate neighbour thinks needs cutting. I can’t agree more. The previous owner of this area never, ever bothered ….

Just being naighbourly ….. the task that faces me.
The RaDAR Playground – Alias E-Trail

RaDAR News – SDR’s and the RBN

RF Space’s SDR-IQ in action using Spectravue software

It wasn’t a bad idea to start up a QRP CW beacon here in South Africa.

I might add that it is Region 1 policy, β€œIt is recommended that HF Beacons may be established on the 1,8, 3,5 and 7 MHz band in the regions of Africa south of the Equator. (REC/99/LH/C4.1 – Lillehammer 1999)” 

I had discussed the matter with the Region 1 HF Beacon Coordinator, Dennis Green ZS4BS. The SARL also suggests the following frequencies for beacons on 40 metres : 7 039.000; 7 039.200, 7 039.400, 7 039.600, 7 039.800

During a discussion with Raoul ZS1C and Roger M0ORD (Ex ZS6RJ) on our local SARL Forum, suggestions were made to rather set up a reverse beacon network as none were pesently running in South Africa or AFRICA for that matter! Roger ran one before moving to the UK a few years ago.

Roger had just what was needed, an unused RF Space SDR-IQ receiver. He donated the SDR for the cause and even paid the courier costs too! It arrived on my doorstep within a week. I will do my part to make ZS part of the RBN now too.

Trying to figure out the software was initially running around in circles starting on Windows 10. I wasn’t sure what was the norm. I tried Spectravue and the lED’s on the SDR showed “something”. I couldn’t resolve any stations though with a simple wire antenna plugged in. My XYL is using my laptop since I still need to replace the internal battery of her ASUS 555 so could not have too much access to my computer!

I had an old XP tower machine in the back room and fired it up. There were a few hiccups, almost like an engine that had not been started in years. This was similar but it seemed to settle down after a while. Fortunately it has working USB ports so I copied what I found on the Net to it’s hard drive via a USB stick.

Somehow, when plugging in, the SDR’s lights would momentarily flash and then “die”. I imagined maybe the SDR was drawing more current than these old USB ports could deliver so I put a powered USB hub in line. The result was the same.

Then I tried on my grandson Eduan’s old windows 7 laptop and did the Spectravue installation according to the instructions and eventually got the LED’s to light up and it appears that this happens only when the PC and SDR start talking to each other – via a driver no doubt!

Back to the Windows XP machine. I followed the instruction for the driver installation and after the while the SDR LED’s lit! I now know what the “Norm” is. I plugged in the same antenna.

After a while I started to figure out how the Spectravue software works and started browsing the HF spectrum. I could find no amateur radio activity but found two reasonably strong AM stations around 3 MHz. One was the BBC world service and the other a local broadcasting station.

The weekend has arrived and time to play (After the normal chores have been done). The next goal is to find some ham activity and then starts the real software setup challenges to get the SDR working with CW Skimmer, the RBN “Aggregator” and get some spots gated to the RBN via the Internet.

For a permanent solution, I have an idea to “fix” my old HP 210 netbook which runs three lightweight versions of Linux and return it to a windows 7 environment seeing the RBN software support exists only on Windows. I have an old hard disk that came from one of my damaged laptops from many years ago that has a Windows 7 image on it. Looking forward to seeing the history that was once stored on it too!

E-Trail my RaDAR training ground

I’ve been working on building this trail for a few weeks now going out for an hour or so each Saturday with the bush cutter. I’ve already used up a blade and a half but the trail has now been cut.

I have a link dipole out there about hundred meters from home where I occasionally go out and make a QRP contact or two with my Xiegu X5105 or YouKits HB1A.

Today my grandson and I took on the challenge of doing five laps each at his own pace. He lapped me at 2.25km and finished his 5k in a good time, way ahead of his granddad πŸ™‚ My time according to the Forerunner 305 was 43:51 an average pace of 8:53 minutes per kilometer. Very slow – It’s a rough route and so it must be.

Soon I’ll try a little on foot RaDAR here. The bush is quite dense in places which makes quick deployments of antennas rather challenging but hey we don’t get to choose the environments in an emergency or RaDAR Ops.

Now it’s just a matter of a little upkeep of the trail environment. Soon I’ll be able to use a petrol lawnmower in place of the bush cutter!!! At every opportunity I move those rocks that can be moved to the side and out of the way.

RaDAR POTA and SOTA news

Protecting the equipment from the rain

Conditions on HF have not been good for quite some time now. If you’ve ever played with WSPR your signals may be heard worldwide even with conditions as they are but WSPR is not a QSO and doubtfully would be quite as successful if a SSB or CW QSO was taken into account. I think of it much like that as heard during meteor scatter pings.

So I proposed a QRP beacon on 40m to alert human communicators to possible NVIS (Local communications) openings. Calling CQ for hours on end running QRP delivered few results even after alerting other operators to the fact via our WhatsApp groups. It becomes quite demoralising!

Let’s face it, QRP stands no chance when even a 100 Watts get’s you nowhere and on occasions even a few hundred Watts!

The proposal for “another” beacon on 40m was met with mixed results and I know the politics on this. The belief is that the beacons could, and probably do, interfere with rare DX opportunities even when the beacon uses a mere 200 Hz within a few tens of kilohertz bandwidth. There are also no official beacon frequencies that I know of for 40m?

Some found value with the proposal during the past weekend of tests where it was started on the Saturday morning and stopped on the Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, some time during the day on Sunday, one of the two 7A/Hr SLABS in parallel went short circuit limiting the voltage to 6.8 volts. On fault determination it was cut away and normal recharging of the second battery was successful. This was an eye opener, I’d never seen this happen before with a SLAB!

A YouKIts HB1A was used as a transmitter on 7.037 MHz pushing around 3W. The predefined keying sequence was done using a programmed Arduino NANO driving a relay board to generate morse code sending “ZS6BNE KG34AC PWR 3W” at around 16 w.p.m. It was just a matter of wiring the relay contacts to the key input of the HB1A through a 3.5mm jack. The Arduino performed pretty well and was still operational even at 6.8 v supply through a dedicated voltage regulator regulating a 5 v supply.

The antenna was a linked dipole in inverted vee form held at around 4.5 m at the apex by a dual back to back painters pole mast. The beacon performed relatively well but more human reports are required to prove it’s viability which was not quite as forthcoming as one would expect. Nothing was heard from the RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) proving DX conditions to be as bad!

The beacon was heard by Dennis ZS4BS in Bloemfontein but the signal was rather weak. Other reports received via WhatsApp were as follows:

Werner in Namibia – “Hearing CW”.

Andy ZS6ADY – “Sig about 449 with qrn…”

Jannie ZS3CM – “Morning Eddie. Can still hear beacon in De Aar. Same as yesterday. Clouds building again. Looks like more rain!!!!!!!!!”

Jannie sent a recording and the signal in my opinion was rather good!

Mike ZS6MSW/p (Natal) – “Moving camp on Wednesday to Northern Berg, hopefully RST noise will be less than 9 plus. THAT beacon was a tremendous assistance to guage our conditions. 73’s”

Eric ZS5EL – “Nothing on 7037 here this morning, I’ll keep monitoring”

The battery failure occured some time on the Sunday.

Eddie ZS6BNE – “Sunday 3rd Februrary 14:15 – Shutting down the beacon.

Thank you for your input …..”

RaDAR POTA and SOTA news

The view from Johnathan ZS1ARB’s “Shack”

Yesterday I made a little history.

I had a SOTA contact with Johnathan ZS1ARB operating from the Western Cape on 20m. All my SOTA chasing to date has been on 40m, mostly SSB.

I used my Xiegu X5105 running 5W into a 40m/20m delta loop set up in the field a few meters from home.

ZS6BNE’s “Shack”

The sked frequency was 14.300 but I had a carrier there. I could get the message through to go down five where we had a successful QSO on 14.295 MHz SSB.

This made my weekend and Johnathan easily made the required number of QSO’s for activation.

POTA / SOTA and RaDAR News

My grandson Eduan on Table mountain a few years back

Brian ZS6BV activated ZS/LP-083 just before Christmas. He’s one of the regular SOTA activators in ZS. What made this particular activation rather special is that he made contact with Eddie ZS6BNE using CW. It happened to be Brian’s second on air CW QSO and Eddie’s first CW QSO with a SOTA station during the past twelve months!

Two other activators for December just before the New Year were Graham ZR6GHK and Karin ZR6KAR who activated ZS/MP-061. Graham is also able to do CW and is looking forward to SOTA contacts using this mode.

I did some retail price enquiries on the really bare minimum amateur radio rigs, in particular the latest version of the very popular FT817ND, the FT-818ND. The VAT inclusive price – a cool sixteen and a half grand! Imagine the really cool top of the range smartphone you can get for this kind of money. I recall the comments from my grandson written in my last report on ham radio vs WhatsApp. Like the Americans would say, it’s a no brainer. An old die hard ham radio man like myself would be enticed to go that route too!

So, how could ham radio become affordable to younger hams and give equal satisfaction to that of the latest technologies at their fingertips. The answer I still believe is in simple home brewing and of course CW! This argument does not apply to those who wish to build a high power station with the best equipment available, the highest tower and the best beams not to mention a high end computing platform in order to work the world using FT8. Okay, said tongue in cheek with a little sarcasm for taste. Each one to his own but you can’t cart all that “stuff” up a steep hill braving the elements or walk a kilometer, ride a bicycle or paddle a canoe carrying everything including your linear!

The fun in POTA / SOTA and RaDAR is the minimalistic theme and already Jannie ZS3CM is being bitten by the bug. Johnathan ZS1ARB often climbs mountains at every opportunity, not necessarily SOTA. He was so surprised that he was heard so well the other day only pushing five Watts! Michael ZS6MSW, a CW enthusiast usually runs 100W in fear of not being heard. It’s only two S points difference between 100W and 5W. I’m sure we’ll be hearing Michael at QRP levels more often! I truly believe QRP radio’s have better receivers or the operator’s ears are more finely tuned expecting a weaker signal and listening more carefully than the QRO operator expecting a full quieting signal at S9 PLUS levels. I’m being purposefully “sarcastic” again – do I have your attention now?

That WhatsApp thingy – you need to be part of the SOTA / POTA and “CW a lifestyle” groups. There is an international RaDAR WhatsApp group too but mostly only active before the three annual RaDAR Challenges.

There is also a WhatsApp Hamsat group. I left the group because I no longer had the time to follow all the activity and unable to be too active on the sats, limited to the FM satellites where the most activity takes place anyway. I’ll be back again in a few weeks / months time. I’m still working on my morale!

Talking about morale. I get pretty happy knowing some guys are going out to do some SOTA activations and I start to prepare to support them. The rules have changed, a SOTA chaser only gets a point for the first QSO on a summit for the day. It’s about supporting multiple ACTIVATORS. They need four QSO’s EACH to get credit for their hard work. Propagation is sometimes our friend. Forty meters has been rather skippy the past few months, sometimes to our advantage for longer distance contacts throughout South Africa.

Take a walk on the “wild” side. Have fun!!!

SARL call book November 1975

My son Edwill over 37 years ago