Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Can this Really be the End?

It certainly looks that way for the most recent VE3KCL balloon experiment. The last report was at 1930Z today - long before dark when the battery runs down and it stops reporting. Also telling is the altitude at which the last report was observed - a mere 410 metres.

So after 10 hours it seems to have landed in the middle of Martha's Vineyard. I wonder if someone will find it? When zoomed in you can see its last report in Manuel F. Correllus State Forest but it may well have crossed or even landed in Martha's Vineyard Airport at it was still at 410m at its last report. The shorter of the two runways it was closest to at the time is only 3,328' long so the balloon would have only been 500' from the airport grounds where the track ends. So while its descent was probably mostly vertical it may well have continued to travel Eastward a little bit.

Nothing about it in the Martha's Vineyard news that I could find, though.

VE3KCL Balloon - part 2

I tracked the balloon until faded out. Here are the data recorded by WSJT-X in the JT9 mode.

Time dB DT Freq Call Grid Text
1137 -11 -0.8 2476 VE3KCL FN03NU
1144 -7 -1 2476 4353.0502157
1145 -11 -0.8 2476 07843.122815
1149 -9 -1 2475 VE3KCL FN03PV
1156 -9 -1 2473 4353.8461145
1157 -12 -1.2 2473 07831.133829
1201 -12 -0.7 2472 VE3KCL FN03RV
1208 -10 -1 2468 4353.6379135
1209 -10 -1 2468 07818.756850
1213 -15 -1.1 2473 VE3KCL RN03UV
1220 -14 -1 2471 4351.1441127
1221 -16 -1.1 2470 07804.920867
1225 -14 -1 2468 VE3KCL FN03XU
1232 -15 1 2454 4346.8269104
1233 -15 -0.8 2451 07751.767890
1237 -12 -1 2460 VE3KCL FN13BS
1244 -16 -1 2445 4340.67300084
1245 -16 -1 2440 07737.519883
1249 -18 -1 2461 VE3KCL FN13EP
1256 -21 -0.9 2441 4331.4491066
1257 -19 -1 2437 07721.483A23
1301 -22 -1.1 2455 VE3KCL FN13HL
1308 -23 -1 2452 4320.7750057
1309 -22 -1 2454 07707.400A23
1313 -24 -1 2482 VE3KCL FN13KH
1320 -25 -1 2542 4315.6263087
1321 -25 -0.9 2549 07653.209A15
1325 -25 -0.8 2503 VE3KCL FN13NF
1332 -26 -1 2523 4312.4709146
1333 -26 -0.8 2524 07639.208920
1337 -26 -0.9 2473 VE3KCL FN13QE
1344 -26 -0.9 2477 4310.1699168
1345 -26 -1 2478 07624.540907
1349 -27 -1 2474 VE3KCL FN13TD
1356 -28 -0.9 2476 4307.6818172
1357 -27 -1 2476 07610.158923

The last position report at 1349Z was from just Northwest of Syracuse, New York. I switched over to WSPR about 30 minutes later but didn't receive any reports even though there were signals decoded from over 1800 kilometres away. There are plenty of other WSPR receiving stations that will now be tracking the balloon so a later report will hopefully be able to show the position of the balloon as it makes it way toward the Atlantic.

Breaking News - VE3KCL - another balloon flight

Several flights have been reported here before. There was another that got as far as the mid-Atlantic a few weeks ago published on the QRP Labs web site. The site does not mention a flight happening right now, but I was monitoring JT9 on 30m a few minutes ago and received some transmissions which look suspiciously like a balloon flight,. Here's what I saw.

  • [1137] -11 VE3KCL FN03NU
  • [1144] -7   4353.0502157
  • [1145] -11 07843.122815
  • [1149] -9   VE3KCL FN03PV
  • [1156] -9   4353.8461145
  • [1157] -12 07831,133829
  • [1201] -12 VE3KCL FN03RV
  • [1208] -10 4353.6379135
  • [1209] -10 07818.756850
  • [1213] -15 VE3KCL FN03UV
There may have been other transmissions between 1137 and 1144 as I was transmitting in two of those 1-minute slots, although based on the pattern I think that unlikely. The above lists the time in UTC, the signal strength in dB and the content of the transmission. The frequency is 10.140468 MHz. The DT (delta time, which is the difference between the balloon's clock and mine) is not shown but has varied between -0.8 and -1.2 so far.

FN03NU is centred over Lakefront Park in Oshawa, while 12 minutes later it was ENE of the former position in the Bowmanville area. The transmission at 1201 show it in FN03RV which is still on the lake shore East of Wilmot Creek over Lovekin (an easy grid square locator with map is on the So it appears to have been released not that long ago. The last reading shown above is over Lake Ontario directly South of Port Hope. Click the map for a larger view.

I don't know what the telemetry means and was unable to find it on the web site. It appears to have changed from the previous flight. 

That's all for now. I'll see how long I can track it today and report back here.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Notes from the Shack - March 2016

It's been a while since I wrote one of these (and I'm sure I've written those same words before). However, it is time to improve the antenna situation at the VE3NRT QTH which will prompt many investigations and conversations about all things antenna. Brad VE3HII stated once that the budget for antennas should be at least 3 times that of the transceiver, and now that I've started budgeting it may turn out to be an understatement.

Up to now there are 4 antennas in rotation at the QTH:
  1. A Butternut HF6V. This is been my mainstay antenna for over 30 years (including 20 years where it sat on the ground beside the driveway at the old QTH in London while I was getting established in the Greater Toronto Area. It is now quite unreliable despite several attempts to refurbish it.
  2. A G5RV at about 35'. Well the middle is about 35'. One end is almost as high. With the recent ice storm, the other end is at about 20'. It still works pretty well and has yielded me quite a number of new DX contacts. The biggest problem with the G5RV is the 150' of not very good coax that feeds it. On 6 metres it's absorbing at least 40% of my output power.
  3. A 40m dipole. I used this at home on 40 and 15 (and sometimes 6) before I had the G5RV. I originally built it on vacation in Florida to run as an inverted V. Consequently it is a bit short to use as a dipole, as inch for inch, an inverted V tunes lower.
  4. A home-made 6m loop. This antenna worked well (Venezuela was my best contact on it) even though it was hung in a tree at less than 20'. It had a tendency to fall out of the tree in a strong wind.
Usually at least one antenna was working at any given moment. But it's time to do something better. The first step in my study has been to look at transmission lines, and the book "Low Band DXing" by ON4UN has been one of the main references. In the chapter on transmission lines, it mentions calculating the loss in coax by measuring the SWR. Now with new coax, you can just look up the loss. Each brand usually has a chart, table, and/or formula for calculating the loss at various frequencies.

However, it might be the case that you have existing coax (whether it be in storage or actual operation) that you want to test. I happened to have a nice 50' piece of RG-213 lying around that I could experiment with, and ON4UN's book had a formula for loss based on measuring VWSR with one end of the cable unterminated. The idea is that you measure VWSR (with an SWR meter or an analyzer - I used the latter) and use the formula to derive the loss.

The formula given in the book is:
$$Loss(dB) = log_{10}\bigg[{SWR+1 \over SWR-1}\bigg]$$
Armed with this formula I measured the cable from 50 to 600 MHz. There were peaks and valleys in the reading (the book never mentioned those) so I used the peaks and came up with an answer of about .4 dB at 570MHz. I realized there must be a mistake as my piece of RG213 had not taken on magical low-loss properties.

In addition, most formulas involving decibels (except ones with ratios of decibels) have the number 10 in them someone, and my result seemed about 1/10th of what it should have been.
Sure enough, on checking some other references I found that the formula should have been expressed as:
$$Loss(dB) = 10 \times log_{10}\bigg[{SWR+1 \over SWR-1}\bigg]$$
Increasing the resolution of the analyzer and reducing the sweep to 550MHz±50MHz showed an undulating pattern of VSWR rising and falling across the range of frequencies. The gap between peaks was about 6.2MHz. An Anritsu web page recommended averaging the SWR in the peaks and valleys. Here's what a 10Mhz segment looks like on the analyzer.

Frequency is on the x-axis and VSWR on the y-axis.

In the 550±50Mhz range the maximum VSWR was 3.525 and the minimum 1.762, yielding an average VSWR of 2.643 and a calculated loss of 3.459 dB. The chart says reads about 6.8 dB so this tells me that the measurements and calculations are likely correct and that the cable is in good condition. A 2005 QEX article by AI1H recommends combining this measurement with the same method applied to a shorted, rather than unterminated, coax. I haven't tried this yet.

The label says that it is JSC Wire & Cable RG213/U part #3780 with a velocity factor of .66. Loss at 400MHz is supposed to be only 4.8dB per 100' at 400Mhz and 8.2dB per 100' at 900 MHz so either the manufacturer is a bit optimistic (say it ain't so), the cable is longer than I think it is, or something else is wrong. So it appears the numbers work well but I want to try a few more examples before declaring that I really understand it.

The above equation means that as the cable loss goes up, the VSWR at the radio end goes down. So cheap cable, especially a long run of cheap cable, will make your VSWR look good but not achieve any real value in terms of communications. Quite the opposite in fact.

A final thought is that the equation for "Return Loss", which is a term I'm starting to notice quite often, is:
$$Return loss(dB) = 20 \times log_{10}\bigg[{SWR+1 \over SWR-1}\bigg]$$
This is just double the value of the cable loss, and represents the "there and back" loss, not just the one-way loss from antenna to transceiver, or vice-versa.

Next steps: measure the cable physically and electrically.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Minutes - YRARC Board of Directors Meeting 2015-12-15

Meeting held in the Magna Centre, multi purpose room 1.
Called to Order at 19:00 by Chris VE3NRT

Board members attending: Chris VE3NRT, Steve VE3UT, John VA3JI, Geoff VA3GS, Eric VE3EB, Barry VA3LLT, David VA3DCY, Rob VE3RQB, Doug VE3ATP and Alf VA3BLE.
Others attending: none
  1. Agenda: Chris VE3NRT. Agenda adopted without changes.
  2. Minutes: David VA3DCY. Moved by Steve VE3UT, seconded by Barry VA3LLT to accept the minutes of the 2015/10/20 BoD meeting. Noted by Alf VA3BLE that item 7b Membership, should be changed to read “60 voting members and 64 paid members” (not 64 paid members). Amendment moved by Rob VE3RQB, seconded by Eric VE3EB. Carried
  3. Treasurer's Report: John VA3JI.
    • Opening balance 2015/12/01
    • Income: Refund Markham Fair $502.51 (Hamfest overpayment)
    • Expenditures: Hamfest facilities $4,901.35
    • Food for Dec. meeting $209.82
    • Trailer maintenance: $28.28
    • Balance 2015/10/20 [Available to club members on request to secretary]
    • Moved by John VA3JI seconded by Eric VE3EB to adopt the treasurer's report. Carried.
  4. Web site: Chris VE3NRT reported that the club web site has been hacked due to a Joomla problem and has been temporarily shut down.
  5. Repeaters: Steve VE3UT.
    • Note that VE3YRK has failed (today). Steve will investigate.
    • Steve proposed that we purchase two Low Loss PWRGates at $49.95 US each for the repeaters at Bloomington and Richmond Hill.
    • Motion 2015-12-15-5 moved by Steve VE3UT, seconded by Barry VA3LLT that we allocate $200 for the purchase of two Low Loss PWRGates to include shipping, exchange, duty and cables. Carried.
  6. Go Kits: Barry VA3LLT is trying to locate all of the D-STAR go kits and confirm the accuracy of the equipment list. Plans are to recall all kits for the January general meeting. Members will be asked to bring kits in their possession or arrange to have the kits bought to the January meeting.
  7. EmComm:
    • Rob VE3RQB expressed concern that Russell VA3WTR is not a paid member and may be involved with EmComm activities.
    • Chris VE3NRT noted that the club bylaws do not allow non-members to operate club equipment.
    • Steve VE3UT enquired could non-Canadian amateurs be club members [Ed: Yes - but according to the club by-laws to be a voting member the member must hold a Canadian amateur radio licence]
  8. Membership: Alf VA3BLE reported on paid memberships to date. We now have 63 voting members and 67 paid members.
  9. Hamfest: Geoff VA3GS proposed 2016-11-05 as the date for next year's hamfest at the Markham Fair grounds. This is the same date as the Markham Fair's banquet which will be in hall #1, avoiding the problems from this year with 2 events happening at the same time.
  10. Winter Field Day: Steve VE3UT asked how much interest there was in holding Winter Field Day this coming January – there was little board interest. It was noted that last year's site was noisy (RF, not acoustic) and we had very few contacts. The membership will be asked to comment at the January meeting. It was suggested that we not repeat Winter Field Day until we find a better site. We might possibly try to participate in the Canada Winter Contest in December 2016, perhaps at the Bales Rd location.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Minutes - YRARC Board of Directors Meeting 2015/11/17

Meeting held in the Magna Centre, multi purpose room 1. Called to Order at 19:00 by Chris VE3NRT. Board members attending: Chris VE3NRT, Steve VE3UT, Geoff VA3GS, Eric VE3EB, Barry VA3LLT, David VA3DCY, Rob VE3RQB, Doug VE3ATP and Alf VA3BLE. Absent: John VA3JI. Others attending: none
  1. Agenda: Chris VE3NRT. Amendment to remove item 4a since it was covered in the Oct meeting. Adopted as amended, moved by Geoff VA3GS, seconded by Barry VA3LLT. Carried.
  2. Minutes: David VA3DCY. Moved by Geoff VA3GS, seconded by Alf VA3BLE to accept the minutes of the 2015/10/20 BoD meeting. Carried
  3. Treasurer's Report: None since John VA3JI was away.
  4. By-laws: Chris VE3NRT reported updates are continuing. Alf VA3BLE provided an updated list of members.
  5. Meeting Rooms: Chris VE3NRT has booked the multi purpose room #1 at the Magna Centre for board meetings for 2016. January 19, February 16, March 15, April 19, May 17, June 21, July 19, August 16, September 20, October18, November15 and December20.
  6. Property
    • Rob VE3RQB reported that the cost of a 20 ft x 12 ft (approx) canopy from Cameron Canopies, would cost approximately $750 to $800. Web site 905-772-5901 2808 Haldimand Rd. 9, RR #1 York, Ontario, N0A 1R0
    • Motions 2015-10-20-1 moved by Barry VA3LLT, seconded by Eric VE3EB to approve $200.00 for ongoing general repairs to the trailer. Carried
  7. Repeaters
    • Steve VE3UT. Suggested the purchase of 2 West Mountain PWRgate PG40 to be installed at the VE3YRC VHF site at Yonge/Bloomington. The cost is $139.95 USD or available at Radio World for $180 Cdn each ($360 for a pair). Chris mentioned there is a less expensive Low Loss PWRgate with reduced current capabilities.
      We also need 4 batteries for the VE3YRC UHF site in Richmond Hill.
    • It is possible the the VE3PIC site 146.670 may be available. The current site operator has approached the club through Steve VE3EZ and has suggested that the site may be available for a Yaesu System Fusion repeater. The repeater is located in Uxbridge at an elevation higher than VE3RPT and has excellent coverage. There is however a co-channel repeater in New York State that can also be heard in the GTA. In a show of hands, the majority of the board agreed to investigate further, to see if the offer to use the site is valid and to take the matter to the club membership for further discussion. The call VE3YRF (Fusion) is available.
    • IRLP/Echolink: Chris VE3NRT has ordered an audio dongle for the Raspberry Pi. Motion 2015-11-17-5b moved by Barry VA3LLT, seconded by Steve VE3UT to spend $17 for an audio dongle for the Raspberry Pi. Carried.
    • There was a discussion on the cost of electricity to the site owner, with the D-STAR radios running with reflector traffic all day. One suggestion was to writing code to turn off the transmitter, and another suggestion was to change to switching power supplies.
    • Repeater maintenance. Motion 2015-11-17-5c moved by Geoff VA3GS, seconded by Rob VE3RQB to allocate $200 for ongoing repeater maintenance. Carried.
  8. Events and public Service
    • Eric VE3EB reported on the meeting following the SET. The EmComm group was enquiring how to obtain funds for APRS for sending messages. It was explained that they just need to ask, with an explanation of why funding is needed.
      It was also suggested that we publish our frequency list for other ARES groups to use.
    • Meeting Rooms: Chris VE3NRT has booked hall #4 at the Newmarket Community Centre for EmComm meetings for 2016. January 14, February 11, March 10, April 14, May 12, June 9, September 8, October 13, November 10 and December 8.
    • Public Service and awards: Eric VE3EB reported that we did not participate in any Santa Claus parades, and there are no events planned until April 2016.
      Motions 2015-10-20-2 moved by Geoff VA3GS, seconded by Rob VE3RQB to approve $325.00 for food at the December meeting. Carried.
  9. Membership
    • Meetings: Geoff VA3GS reported that the January meeting will be 'junk-in-the-trunk', February will be a travelogue, March will be Mike VE3MKX speaking on fraud, and April and May are still undetermined.
    • Alf VA3BLE reported on paid memberships to October 12. We now have 60 voting members and 64 paid members.
    • Hamfest: Geoff VA3GS reported it will cost approximately $5000 to rent the site, leaving us with approximately $2500 in profit.
  10. Other business
    • Eric VE3EB noted the club D-STAR radios are programmed with the club call signs, and should be the user's call sign when loaned to club members. 5 memories are avialable. Eric will distribute instructions on how to change call signs in the radios.
    • Doug VE3ATP asked if there is any further use for, or plans to proceed with a MESH network, in response to an inquiry from Bob VE3WY

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Compendium of old links

My hobby: Reading old editions of the Splatter... However, I started this post some time ago intending to republish old links that are still interesting and that still work but couldn't find a whole lot (not that I have a complete collection of Splatters). So instead I'm publishing a lot of more recent links sent out on the Yahoo reflector. Apologies to those I neglected to credit.

Club Repeaters Get Backup Power

From Steve VE3UT - Club Vice-President and Repeater Committee Chair

I am pleased to report that we now have backup power on all our analog repeaters and links (except 6m). The last repeater to get backup, VE3YRC UHF, now has four batteries to keep it running for a short term power outage. The link radio connected to VE3YRC UHF, which links it to VE3YRA, also has back up power, currently one battery.

I did not plan for backup on the VE3YRC 6m repeater (at the same location) because it is a low use machine. If club members or EmComm desire it to also be backed up. we could look at this in the future. The power outage script which alerts users that the repeater is on battery power has not yet been implemented on YRC UHF. I need to purchase some hardware and install at the site...coming soon.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Minutes - YRARC General Meeting - 2016-03-01

Meeting held in the Sharon Temperance Hall. Called to Order at 19:30 by Chris VE3NRT. Total members and guests attending: 28 Guests attending: 2 (note: winter storm that evening)
  1. Welcome & Introductions – Chris VE3NRT. There were no reports or other announcements made, but we proceeded directly to our guest speaker.
  2. Guest Speaker – Mike VE3MKX from YRP, who spoke on fraud, how to recognize it and how to protect yourself from being a victim of fraud.
  3. Adoption of Minutes from 2016/01/05 general meeting, moved Barry VA3LLT, seconded John VE3IPS. Carried

Minutes - YRARC Board of Directors Meeting 2016-01-19

Meeting held in the Magna Centre, multi purpose room 1. Called to Order at 19:00 by Chris VE3NRT
Board members attending: Chris VE3NRT, Steve VE3UT, John VA3JI, Geoff VA3GS, Eric VE3EB, Barry VA3LLT, David VA3DCY, Rob VE3RQB, Doug VE3ATP and Alf VA3BLE. Others attending: none
  1. Agenda: Chris VE3NRT. Agenda adopted without changes. Moved by John VA3JI, seconded by Steve VE3UT to accept the agenda. Carried
  2. Minutes: David VA3DCY. Moved by Alf VA3BLE, seconded by Steve VE3UT to accept the minutes of the 2015/12/15 BoD meeting. Carried
  3. Treasurer's Report: John VA3JI.
    • Opening balance 2016/01/01 [Available to members on request to club secretary]
    • Revenue: None
    • Expenditures: None
    • Balance Unchanged
    • Moved by John VA3JI seconded by Geoff VA3GS to adopt the treasurer's report. Carried.
  4. Repeaters: Steve VE3UT. A work party was at the Hospital VE3YRC-U site on Monday Jan 18. 4 batteries were brought to the site for the repeater and 1 battery for the link radio. Old cabinets and junk were removed. A new repeater link map is ready and was shown to the board, copies to be emailed to the board members.
  5. IRLP/Echolink: Chris VE3NRT. Equipment is being build and scripts loaded (RaspberryPi). We will keep the same node number and the IRLP portion will be done first, since the IRLP project supports IRLP only, not IRLP/Echolink. When working, a backup will be made, and then progress to IRLP/Echolink. Next steps, install the software, modify the IRLP board, test with a radio and run an antenna cable.
  6. Membership: Alf VA3BLE reported we added 5 new members at the January general meeting: 3 regular and 2 family memberships. We now have 73 members total, 70 voting members.
  7. Meeting Schedule: Geoff VA3GS.
    • On February 2, Trevor VE3SLT will speak on his trip west.
    • In March Mike VE3MKX will speak on fraud (possibly at the beginning of the meeting).
    • Bob VE3WY will be the April speaker
    • Jeff VA3DOC is scheduled for May to talk about drones (possibly at the beginning of the meeting).
    • The January mini hamfest had little for sale or trade, and should we have something different next year?
    • The Makers Group will be holding a self-study course, led by John VE3IPS with help from Mike VA3MCT.
  8. Property: Rob VE3RQB will change the codes on both trailers (EmComm and tower), and possibly change the lock on the storage container. Rob will mention at the next general meeting, if anyone is planning to bring material to the storage container, or remove material from the container, to please contact him first. There are still D-STAR radio to be programmed. Rob will continue to request that they be returned at the next general meeting (and meetings to follow if required). Geoff VA3GS noted there may potentially be a new frequency list for GTA wide use with repeater and simplex frequencies, plus a block allocated for individual clubs and groups to use.
  9. Other business: None.
Meeting adjourned at 20:12. Moved by Geoff VA3GS and seconded by Barry VA3LLT. Carried.