RaDAR – Building alliances

ADIF Downloads

I’ve just finished watching the latest South African Survivor series on Showmax hence the heading and “Building alliances”. I’d also transferred my logs from the Online Community Logbook to other Internet based logs using the ADIF download facility. It works like clockwork and yet another facility built into the online logbook.

One doesn’t have to look very much further than the Mode column to see where our alliances lie. Certainly the growing CW community has taken to this facility and using it on a regular basis, yet sadly not ALL CW operators do. Maybe those belong to another alliance much like the SSB alliance and maybe the FT8 alliance too. I say that with “tongue in cheek” but that really appears to be the case.

Certainly as far as RaDAR is concerned the online logbook is a prerequisite for any participation within future challenges. How else would evaluations be done if the data is not readily available? It should be regularly used in order to practice for those upcoming challenges. Tom G0SBW certainly does that. He has found it an easy to use facility for logging his pedestrian mobile activities. Many, like Frank ZS6FN, have commented on how streamlined the sharing of logs are using the system.

We are nearing the end of 2021 and how I wish the world could once again return to normal……

RaDAR – Taking orders

Mike ZS6MSW came up with a brilliant idea that kind of falls in line with the requirements of accurate logging much like RaDAR.

His idea was to make CW QSO’s fun and to expand on the standard exchanges a little into short purposeful QSO’s. We placed an order for food with each other, logging the ordered foods in the comments column on the RaDAR Sport Online logbook. Grids were exchanged as well which could be seen as a delivery address and falls in line with what the world is experiencing through Covid-19 that we “accept deliveries”.

Arthur ZS5DUV introduced some unexpected responses when Eddie ZS6BNE ordered Chicken hearts saying he does not have them on the menu and Eddie had to change his order. This was incredible fun. enjoyed by none other than the CW fraternity in ZS. It gave CW and accurate exchanges a purpose.

The “Evaluator” was used to evaluate the exercise and the accuracy of taking orders. Mike ZS6MSW was called by Frank ZS6FN while Mike was entering his log which may be seen too as passing the order to the kitchen. Mike kindly asked Frank to wait. When all was clear they exchanged their orders!

This was close to real world information exchange and done entirely using Morse Code!

RaDAR – Testing for NVIS

I had built a QRP Labs U3S and run it on 40m and 20m. My main interest is in NVIS communications (Near Vertical Incindence Skywave). Many years back I visited a facility in Hermanus, South Africa where they test for various HF propagation conditions. The term Ionosonde comes to mind.

Well I made my own system that seems to work very well using WSPR as the source on the U3S and WSJT-X together with a SDR-IQ as the receiver. Allow me to present some further detail.

In KG34ac (Lichtenburg) I run the U3S using a 40m / 20m trap inverted vee. I built the simple traps myself on tiny pieces of PCB using a 30 turn winding on a red toroid with a parallel 47 pF capacitor. On 40m the U3S puts out 200 mW and on 20m, 50 mW approximately. The WSPR sequence is repeated every six minutes.

In KG34ac (Molopo), 29 km away as the crow flies I run WSJT-X in WSPR mode talking indirectly via virtual audio (Software) and Spectravue (RF Space’s SDR software) to the SDR-IQ SDR HF receiver usually used as a CW monitor for the RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) when appropriate..

These two options allow some pretty interesting observations. I use WSPRD at http://wsprd.vk7jj.com/ to accumulate the data and create an appropriate graph from that data using LIBRE Calc (Freeware office software).

The results coincide with real world propagation opportunities for NVIS communications. I drew this graph from recent data.

Now that’s using WSPR for a purpose! The SNR values are usually well into negative values for example -27 or nothing at all. Anything above the zero line is a very good indicator that suitable conditions exist.

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR – WSPR our propagation tool

I had built the QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter and expanded it for two bands namely 40m and 20m. My interest is 40m as most of my RaDAR operaions take place locally although during the challenges it’s always good to cross the oceans and access other continents and make contact with other RaDAR operators around the world.

For quite some time (A few weeks) I have been WSPR’ing from my RaDAR playground in KG34ac but I started to get irritated by the slight QRM I was experiencing on my CCTV cameras which I use as “The poor man’s trail camera”. Seeing my grandson was returning to school after almost a year attending on line schooling due to Covid-19 my wife and Eduan had to go back to town in Lichtenburg and only join me on weekends again. I had to do a few chores there yesterday and took the U3S into town and set it up there. I had built a trap dipole for the purpose and got it up at about five meters above ground in an inverted vee format. The antenna was fed with a length of RG215, better than it was here at home.

I had to update my 6 character TX grid to KG33bu on the WSPR database after I found it was only registering 4 characters on the WSPR database. I had conflicts with duplicate call signs in different locations so the RX side I renamed to ZS6BNE/p which is what it is actually. I use a RF Space SDR-IQ SDR running on its software typically Spectravue. I use a virtual audio cable (Software) to channel the audio to WSJT-X running in WSPR mode. Here too I have an inverted vee on 40m for reception. My main concern obviously is 40m.

This opened up some interesting facilities. ZS6BNE TX in KG33bu and around 30 km away as the crow flies the ZS6BNE/p RX in KG34ac. This is my own NVIS alert / testing facility and has already shown some interesting results!

As suggested by a friend on our local WSPR WhatsApp group I use http://wsprd.vk7jj.com/ to do queries on the WSPR data. From this data I intend pulling it into Libre-Calc and drawing graphs from the results. Here you can clearly see a NVIS opening and to prove it I made contact with Andy ZS6ADY who is usually skip to me!

I’m looking forward to those graphs and seeing the interesting results!

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

RaDAR News – The end of 2020

Andre ZS6CO was the first to submit a log for the November 2020 RaDAR Challenge. Andre worked from home as a fixed station and filled an important role. He worked three moving RaDAR stations, ZS5AYC, ZS6BNE and ZS6MSW. This support is what RaDAR operator like to see.

Tjaart ZS3DR ran a mobile station from his Landcruiser. Tjaart enjoyed the RaDAR movements. He managed to activate seven individual grid locations.

Christi ZS4CGR a supporter of many ham radio activities also joined in on the RaDAR Challenge. His plan was to travel using his bicycle but I believe the wind was excessive so he travelled using his bakkie. Christi activated eight different grid locations.

Andy DL2DVE joined in the RaDAR Challenge again. Andy wrote, “For the 7th Nov 2020 challenge I decided to walk, and selected a few places beforehand close to my QTH. Main target was to contact other RaDAR operators and to try R2R DX, so I took with me not only the IC-706 (100W) and the 2m long (high) Vertical, but also the 10m long vertical EFHW for 20m with a 12m mast. Spent quite some time to figure out how to contact M0NOM after I left house without e-mail…   Finally we got a very nice R2R QSO on 20m SSB.  Could hear N4KGL on 14.062 with 229…339 with the short antenna – this motivated me to assemble the large one. It was my priority so I gave up to walk to the 3rd site.  But could not copy Greg at his 2nd stop on 20m SSB as there was European QRM.  Have two sites activated (less than my plan), but the main target R2R was achieved, with Mark M0NOM/P.  Temp was 5 deg C, no rain. Two deployments, one EU-R2R and one DX-Contact to US, resulting in 60 Points. 3x (2 x 5 +5 +5). 73 Andy DL2DVE”

Hoping 2021 will see the dark clouds of 2020 disappearing. 73 and hope to hear you all on the bands soon.

Sid’s RaDAR Challenge – November 2020

Sid ZS5AYC and his wife Adele ZS5APT are regular SOTA activators and take part in all the RaDAR Challenges too. This is Sid’s report ……

Saturday morning for Adele and I started at 04:45, the summit we had decide to activate was between Kokstad and Underberg, we had deciding to first activate the summit ZS/KN-145 Belfast and then start the RaDAR challenge to coincide with the other RaDAR operators, this was the first time in South Africa that there would be so many RaDAR ops and we were excited to be part of the challenge.

We misjudged the time it would take to reach the summit and after hiking up we were 19 minutes behind schedule. After the first few minutes we realized that this would have to be our first RaDAR station, because the temperature was already 26°, we needed to keep operating because the chasers were piling up, within an hour we had made 17 contacts, with Eddie ZS6BNE being our first RaDAR to RaDAR contact.

I set off for my kilometre walk, but once we had descended our friends asked if we were still up on the summit, we then went back into the activation zone and set up to make contact with them, unfortunately they couldn’t hear us, so we broke station, and I continued with my walk, with Adele making her way down in the Toyota.

We quickly set up station and started calling, making 4 contacts, one with Denise (ZS1DS) who was participating in the Day of the YL.

As we had spent so much time activating the summt, we decided to drive 6km, big mistake ……. the trip down on the farm rode took us nearly an hour to reach the 6km distance, I would have walked the 1km faster.

After the 5 contacts we drove the next 6 kilometres but by the time we had set up we only had 5 minutes to make 5 contacts. We managed 3 contacts before our time was up.

All in all we had so much fun, making contact with three of the other RaDAR stations.

Looking forward to the RaDAR Challenge in April 2021.

Rethinking RaDAR

IC-7200

My quest for “Minimalistic RaDAR” came to a dead end through bad decisions. I still believe it’s possible though but using radios like the KX2 or KX3. But, they come at a price.

I was very fortunate to find an Icom IC-7200 in absolute mint condition at a very good price and from a very trustworthy seller. In my 46th year as a radio amateur I feel quite fortunate to be able to continue my hobby again.

The radio came with the optional carry handles. Not a sign of dust or scratches. I’m almost afraid to take it for a walk! Tonight I applied power, it switched on nicely and the the speech facility worked too reading back the frequency and mode.

I gave my “RX Only” FT-817ND and Signalink USB to my grandson, together with a book on “First steps to amateur radio”. One of his school subjects soon will be electrical technology. With the COVID-19 outbreak we’ve enrolled him in online schooling. He was quite positive about the idea of learning electronics / electricity.

So, I’m no longer a minimalistic RaDAR operator unless I go satellite hunting using my TH-D7A duplex handheld but FM sats only.

The IC-7200 can be backpacked but will require bigger batteries and a bigger pack. I did try this with the FT-897d I once had but lost it to a Xiegu X5105 trying to go “Minimalistic RaDAR”. Although heavy, it was possible to backpack the 897d. At least I’m back to 100W capability! Sometimes higher power helps. QRP only with recent conditions were quite a challenge!

My friend Andries ZS6VL asked what was I to do with all the Watts? I’ve been mainly QRP only for well over a decade.

Looking forward to getting some calls back in the log, at 100W it will make my life a lot easier. At least I still have the RaDAR playground and it has been developed as a nature trail. I maintain it myself using standard garden machines like a bush cutter, petrol lawn mower (Modified to take on the dense bush) and a petrol chainsaw.

So my outlook on RaDAR has changed. The movements make it special and different to anything else and very challenging. Now that I’m on my way to 63 years of age, the physical challenge gets more difficult. I never thought it would happen so quickly.

Have fun!!!

73 de Eddie ZS6BNE

Python on the Pi – My trail camera

My old Pi – Too slow as a desktop PC

I’ve had this old Pi for quite a few years now. It’s so slow that it can’t be used for much other than playing around with it but it’s ideal for the purpose of being a trail camera. I fitted the PiCam module and also a WiFi adapter. This model, unlike the latest models, was pretty much a bare bones computer.

So I did a little Python programming to talk to the camera module and just recently included a facility to send me a mail whenever a photo was taken.

In this case too, I use an external infrared movement detector which has a normally closed contact. The contact is wired between ground and pin 17 on the GPIO port. Contact bounce has been handled within the Python program. A simple solution with exciting possibilities.

Here is my latest Python code.

from picamera import PiCamera
from pygame import *

screen = display.set_mode ((640, 128))
display.set_caption ('Eds trail camera INITILIZED  - Press q to Quit')

import smtplib
import time
import RPi.GPIO as GPIO

GPIO.setmode(GPIO.BCM)
GPIO.setup(17, GPIO.IN, GPIO.PUD_UP)

camera = PiCamera()

stop = False
counter = 0

def my_callback(channel):
    snaptime = time.strftime('%A %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S')

    smtpUser = 'yourmailaddress@gmail.com'
    smtpPass = 'yourpassword'

    toAdd = 'yourdestinationaddress@gmail.com'
    fromAdd = smtpUser

    subject = snaptime
    header = 'To: ' + toAdd + '\n' + 'From: ' + fromAdd + '\n'+ 'Subject: '  + subject
    body = 'Eds trail camera was triggered through movement detection. '

    print header + '\n' + body

    s = smtplib.SMTP('smtp.gmail.com', 587)

    s.ehlo()
    s.starttls()
    s.ehlo()

    s.login(smtpUser,smtpPass)
    s.sendmail(fromAdd, toAdd, header + '\n\n' + body)

    global counter

    # DEBOUNCE Code

    if (counter >= 10):
        counter = 0

        camera.annotate_text_size = 30
        camera.annotate_text = snaptime

        time.sleep(0.1)	    # Allow 100 ms for IR LED's to switch on (At night)
        camera.capture('/home/pi/snapshot_' + snaptime + '.jpg')

        print ('Camera was tiggered on ' + snaptime)

camera.rotation = 180

#camera.start_preview()

GPIO.add_event_detect(17, GPIO.RISING, callback = my_callback)

while (stop == False) :

   time.sleep(0.1)
   counter = counter + 1    # Allow for trigger contact bounce

   for e in event.get():
       if e.type == KEYDOWN:
           if (e.key == K_q):
               print ('Trail camera stopped')
               stop = True
           else:
               print('Press q to Quit')

#camera.stop_preview()

Python on the Pi – Sending mail

Set to ON

I’m busy experimenting with the Rasberry Pi and doing a little Python programming. One of the goals I had was to be able to send an email for status messages.

First things first, make sure your Pi is up to date and upgraded to the latest versions

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

When all is complete you need to do two installs

sudo apt-get ssmtp mailutils

Note the double s

Note on GMail you will need to open a new account and set it that non google applications be allowed to use it (Less secure). Note your privacy on this mail account shouldn’t be an issue.

Once your account is created and signed in on line, click on your profile icon, then click on “Manage your Google Account“. Click on “Security” and scroll down to “Less secure App access” and switch it ON. That’s it, now you’re ready to play!

Simple python code. Substitute your own mail addresses.

import smtplib

smtpUser = 'yourmail@gmail.com'
smtpPass = 'yourpassword'

toAdd = 'towho@gmail.com'
fromAdd = smtpUser

subject = 'Python mail send test'
header = 'To: ' + toAdd + '\n' + 'From: ' + fromAdd + '\n' + 'Subject: ' + subject
body = 'From within a Python script'

print header + '\n' + body

s = smtplib.SMTP('smtp.gmail.com',587)    

s.ehlo()
s.starttls()
s.ehlo()

s.login(smtpUser, smtpPass)
s.sendmail(fromAdd, toAdd, header + '\n\n' + body)

s.quit()

Works pretty well. Now to implement this facility in my home brew rasberry pi based trail camera!

ZS6BNE – My Morse Code (CW) Journey

My good friend Mike ZS6MSW, promoter for CW in South Africa, asked for stories like this. This is my story, a forty six year old story.

I was in high school and discovered ham radio through listening on a valve shortwave radio to the South African Radio League’s weekly bulletin transmitted on Sunday mornings using the AM mode.

I joined the SARL, did a nighttime RAE course and wrote the written technical and regulatory exam in November 1974. Morse code was compulsory then for a ZS licence. My younger brother helped me by drilling me constantly on the letters and numbers and their dot / dash equivalents. I bought a hand key but can’t recall what I used as a tone generator. I could send well and pretty fast too BUT the method of learning was not as it should be. I had no mentor. I took the 12 words per minute test at the post office in Johannesburg. I battled with the receiving side but passed. Having passed the RAE and the Morse code test I applied for my ZS licence and got it after swearing an oath of secrecy in February 1975. By then I was in standard nine.

My dad helped my buy my first transmitter, the Yaesu FL-DX400 and I had a second hand KW77 communications receiver. I actually lost my first CW QSO with a Rhodesian ham after he asked me to QSY to a different frequency, I wasn’t sure how to read the dial exactly! Working with a separate TX and RX made it even more difficult.

I had to complete a whole year on CW before being allowed to use SSB. That was a good thing of course. I had met up with a friend, John Smith ZS6BNS and we had regular QSO’s. John was at Wits university at the time. We became such good friends that we alternated having Sunday lunch at each other’s house most weekends.

I even had my station set up in the cupboard while in matric to make a hidden QSO now and then. I used my bedroom window frame as an antenna but of course the transmitter wasn’t happy with that and I destroyed the finals. I eventually gave the transmitter to Norman, ZS6ASL a technician that worked for the SABC if I recall correctly. Norman home brewed the most beautiful valve equipment. We lost touch over the years but John is still a good friend of mine and we still occasionally communicate via Facebook.

All school leavers in South Africa then had to do compulsory military training. I filled in the questionnaire and was glad to see questions like your ability to send and receive Morse code. I was convinced that my abilities would be used by the SADF when called up. I was called up to Kimberley One maintenance unit, nothing at all to do with radio or the Morse code. After basic training I was sent away to an ammunition depot and spent my days there packing ammunition boxes into storerooms the size of halls! Consignments to support the border war also needed to be packed regularly and sent off secretly.

Sometime I had purchased a FT101EE and was paying it off with my monthly army pay which wasn’t much at all. I took it with me to the depot and set up station there for weekends off time. I sometimes used the FT-101EE’s mic PTT button as a Morse code key and this impressed another soldier there who was a “doggy”. They stood guard at night walking with their dogs and R1 rifles. This soldier was Vincent who later became a ham and got the call sign ZS6BTY.

I happened to have a QSO with Brian Austin, ZS6BKW, famous for his BKW open wire fed antenna. Brian was a captain in the citizen force. Within a week he had me out of the ammunition depot and I became a signaler, a radio operator. Initially being called up for a year gave me six months being in signals, that six months became another eighteen months as legislation changed and everyone had to do two years national service.

After the army I went into the post office and trained as a telecom technician. I took my station to the Post Office college at Olifantsfontein where I stayed for three months at a time doing practical in between. I met up with a ham and his wife who lived close by and was often invited for supper. Hostel food was good but something different is always better.

In 1980 I met my wife and we were married later that year. I couldn’t get a transfer after qualifying as a technician so had to resign and in 1981 started work in Lichtenburg where I still stay now, with a cement company as an instrument technician. The workshop was well equipped for building PCB’s and it was here where I built an electronic keyer and a paddle using a hacksaw blade with perspex handle. I can’t recall whether I used a proven design or designed it myself. Logics (TTL / CMOS Gates) at tech was one of my main subjects. The keyer and paddle lasted me till way after 1995 – fifteen years later, together with the FT101EE I bought while in the army! I sold the keyer after buying an Icom IC-706mkiig which changed my ham radio world drastically. It of course had a built in keyer.

By the mid 1990’s I had done a career change away from a technical field and into computers doing systems programming and database administration on a mainframe system.

Many of our local ham radio club members wanted to upgrade to a ZS so I started giving Morse code lessons and after a few months many passed their morse code test. A few are my good friends Gert ZS6SMI, Dave ZS6DDU and Kobus ZS6RPJ. We lost some of our friends along the way R.I.P.

To be continued ……