Saturday, 20 August 2016

Thoughts on installing the ham radio gear into the Maroon Monster...

OK... geeky posting, so if this bores the crap out of you, keep on scrolling down the page ;)

Right; I have a rough handle on how I'm going to be fitting my amateur radio gear into the Maroon Monster; there are two main avenues, and a couple of minor ones;

Major Method #1

Mount within the leaf-hand load space storage compartment in the 'boot' area, running the power from the connectors to the accessory socket mounted in the trim panel. The antenna cable would then run around the top of the tail door to the right side of the vehicle.

Major Method 2.

As per #1, but in the right-side , the power running from the fusebox forward of the drivers seat, the cables running along the lower trim into the storage compartment. The antenna cable would run from the radio to its mounting point (see below)

Minor Point #1

The antenna would be mounted via a through-body New Motorola mounting system and a connector converter to the pl-259 VHF connector on the base of the antenna, preserving watertight integrity of the body of the vehicle. A hole would have to be drilled in the bodywork to facilitate the NMO mounting to be fitted.

Minor Point #2

Utilise my existing boot mount, the cable running from the load space storage compartment between the trim and the body panel, to the tail door, onto which the boot mounting would be fitted. Special care would have to be exercised to ensure as water-tight a fitting as possible, given that the antenna cable would be running on top of the door seal strip, presenting a possible ingress point for water leakage.

Minor Point #3

I also have to decide how I'm going to run the remote head extension cable from the radio to the remote head that houses the radio controls; it's a limited length cable (19.7 feet, or 6m), so some intelligent thought has to go into the issue. That might sound a lot, but it's likely got to negotiate some rather odd paths to get to the front of the wagon; in addition, I've already got cable for the dashcam running along the headlining to the top of the left of the windscreen, so that's got to be considered as well. Like I said, I've got some thinking to do!


I'm in two minds about MM 1&2; they both have strong points in favour of either method, so the jury's still out.

However, MP#2 will be the way I go for the antenna mounting. While I do like the idea of a water-tight seal as envisaged with the Motorola mounting system, it is not designed with the loading that would be imparted to it by the mass of the Comet CR-8900 quad-band antenna under wind or impact loadings; it is designed with smaller, sleeker, and infinitely more flexible PMR radio antennas (typically single whips with a small or no loading coils in the base).

The boot lip mounting system from Comet (their K-405 boot-lip mount, one of the units recommended for the CR-8900 antenna) is designed to take the loading that the antenna will exert on it; further, I don't need to drill holes in the body of the Discovery. It has the capability of accepting impact loading from two axes (X- and Y-), thus hopefully helping to preserve the antenna under tree strike conditions. SO, all things considered, it's going to be Minor Point #2 for mounting the antenna.

Now I have to make my mind up about which side of the wagon I mount the radio.

More on this sooner than later...

New wagon... :)

Having been asked what my new wagon looks like by a few folks, here it is Behold: The Maroon Monster

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Time for a replacement car...

Well, it's that time again...

The Ford Mondeo I got a little under a year ago was a stop-gap measure to give me breathing room to keep me on the road; it's been a champ, and done exactly that. It's the second of these cars I've owned, and while some curse them, it is, to me, one of the few wagons that Ford got right, straight out of the gate. It's not let me down once, and I put cars to hard use, trust me.

So, time to get a replacement wagon as, sadly, this one's now on it's last legs.

I also own, as some of you might know, a Series 3 (Siii) Land Rover, a former military one, no less. Unfortunately, I haven't really got the skill set to keep that one on the road, so that's going too. It's already sparked interest from a couple of enthusiasts (both known to me), so it'll get a new lease of life with either of them, whoever makes the best offer ;)

To replace both of these wagons, I need a bit of a combination. It's got to have four-wheel drive (4WD) capability, it's got to have the load-carrying capability of the Siii, the ease of use of the Ford, be able to take a few additions/modifications, and above all, be comfortable for long drives (say, to France and back).

After a lot of chat with friends and those much more knowledgeable in mechanical issues than I am (remember: I'm an electronics nut, not a mechanical nut), the conclusion is that I need a Land Rover Discovery Mk 2.

Yes, there are more reliable off-road-capable cars from other manufacturers, but I like the Land Rover marque, so there ;)

But why a "Disco" Mk 2? It is, basically, the same as a Mark 1, but with a little bit of refinement; most of the issues of the Mk 1 were already ironed out, and the Mk 2 took all of these improvements, and added a few more features here and there. The result is a slightly better wagon in many respects, not the least of which of the TD5 engine, a five-cylinder 2.5 Turbo Diesel, that's apparently miles more reliable than earlier engines in the Mk 1.

Add to this that it can be easily upgraded/modified for off-road use, and the parts and accessories for it are plentiful and, in the main, relatively cheap, when compared to similar products for other makes and marques.

So, what do I plan on doing to my new wagon, once I get my mitts on it? Well, here's a non-exhaustive list...

  • Phone mounting:
    (easy, not difficult at all, already have the suction mount for the windscreen)
  • Additional 12 Vdc accessory outlets cab and load space:
    Easy, socket extenders for both.
  • Additional Security:
    Thatcham Steering wheel lock (Disklok) (via
  • Radio Fit:
    Quad-band Amateur Radio transceiver + quad-band antenna, PBR set and antenna (VHF-UHF), poss CB as well (to be decided)
  • Dashcam:
    DDPai M6+ GPS, WiFi, Magnetic Mount (Techmoan recommended best cam)
  • New Tyres:
    To be all-terrain-capable, not yet specified/sourced
  • Light guards for front and rear:
    Not yet sourced
  • Snorkel (for deeper water wading):
    To be sourced
  • Front bumper and winch kit:
    One of the units from Extreme 4x4
  • Strobes/beacons (Yellow):
    To be decided/sourced
  • Tree guards:
    To be decided/sourced
  • Roll bars:
    To be decided/sourced
  • Sump, differential, tank, and other under-body shields/guards
    To be specified/sourced
And the chances are good that I'll add other bits and bobs to the mix, over time, too ;)

The great thing here is that most of these don't need to be added immediately; they can be added in piecemeal fashion, allowing me to spread the cost of obtaining and fitting them over time, which is nice.

In terms of additional specifications for the Disco, I'm looking at the five-seat version, the one without the extra fold-down seats in the load space, as the 5-seat ones come with two very handy light storage bins, which I've already got ideas for ;) Also, the five-seat versions omit the self-levelling air suspension system, which can, in some cases, cause problems. The less to go wrong, the better, after all ;)

I've already identified three Discos that I like the look of (one belongs to a mate, and is tentatively on the market), and I'm going to be looking at the others over the next week or two; there are others, of course, but not as nearby to me.

I'll keep you all posted on how the search progresses :)

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The benefits of future-proofing your phone...

For a while now, my phone has been acting up a little. I'd already addressed the two-year-old degrading battery (it wasn't able to hold a consistently long charge any more, which is fairly normal for regularly-charged batteries) by replacing it for a new one, but there were other problems to contend with; Some apps had been locking up, others falling over. It was all down to a lack of available space on the device storage, both onboard (32gb) and on the storage card (another 32gb).

There are only so many things you can do in these situations, and I'd done most of those by yesterday; those were, in no particular order:

  • Deleting unused or seldom-used apps;
  • Deleting old photos (I use Dropbox to back them up, so nothing's been lost);
  • Clearing out old data (pruning).

But it was clear yesterday that I had to do one last thing. I got a bigger storage card. The phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, running Android, is capable of addressing a maxim card size of 64gb. So, I went looking.

A LOT of high street tech shops were asking silly money for both branded and unbranded kit, so I began looking online instead. However, I wasn't about to go to e-bay for this, being mission-critical kit (some things, yeah, I'll use e-bay, but not vital electronics like this, as there are too many knock-offs). Amazon, however, stepped up nicely.

With Amazon, you can generally be safe in the knowledge that even their third-party 'marketplace' concession retailers have an assured supply chain to the brand-name kit. In this case, I found a 64gb microSD card from Samsung listed for under FIFTEEN QUID?! Wow. I snapped that one up for same-day delivery faster than you could say "Cool!"

Amazingly, it arrived by 6.30 p.m.! Good Job, Amazon Logistics! :D

It's a Samsung-branded 64gb class 10 microSD card, and was in the proper packaging, WITH hologram. It had Japanese printing on the packaging, nothing surprising there, it was likely a grey import, hence the price. I have no problem with that for simple tech like this.

So, I set-to immediately and backed up the old card (I'd done this a couple of days ago already, but it's a good habit to get into when swapping around storage media.

I then de-mounted the old 32Gb card, installed the new 64gb one, mounted it, formatted it just like you're supposed to using the phone, and that's when I hit a hiccup. The phone did not now want to talk to my computer. So, I tried putting the card directly into the card slot on the laptop (via a card adaptor). No dice, it couldn't read it. So, back into the phone, and try again. No joy.

Time to check the old internet. And came up successful in my search for a solution. Seems that occasionally, when changing cards, the interface settings get upset. So, I confirmed it to be set to 'USB Mass Storage Device' instead of 'MTP Device', and we were back on the rails again. Nice :)

So, I copied the backup of the 32 gig cad onto the new card, did some more general data pruning, moved a few on-board apps to the card, and whoopee - I've got back close to 15 gigs of space on the on-board storage on the phone, and still have over 40 gigs of space on the new card :) I call that a win, folks :D

As a result, this phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 3), which was 3G (4G-capable) when I got it, and which three months later was software-enabled to 4G (UK Three network), has probably another year to two years of practical life left in it (by which time, chances are some form of 4.5G or 5G will be on the horizon, if not in service already) :)

This is another reason why I buy phones with card slots and removable batteries :) It's called Future-proofing a phone ;)

Also, a hint - take regular back-ups of your data, whether it be a phone or a computer; you NEVER know when you might need to access those backups!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Normandy 2016: Postscripts and notes...

OK, a couple of things I forgot to mention.

Roy, the RMP veteran who took a tumble at the 46 RM memorial, got back to England alright, and as at the last information I had on him, was recovering at home. We're looking forward to seeing him next year, if he can make it.

Lessons learned:
  • Sunburn's a right royal pain in the wherevers!
    Remember the damned sunscreen cream!
  • Kids and early starts tend not to mix.
    It's been agreed that the kids are staying home next year!
  • Péage works from the left of the wagon - they drive on the WRONG side of the road over there!
    Consider using a Sanef electronic tag payment method for next year - there are five - possibly more - Péage stations to negotiate next year, and the less hassle and fiddling for change, the more relaxed the trip, thus more enjoyment!
  • Sundays are generally closed in France.
    If not in a hotel or B&B accommodations bring, or buy in-country, food for decent English-style breakfasts (and the facilities to prepare/cook it, too)!
Aside from the above, it was all good - and I'm looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 4 (Last day)...

The start of Day Four was pretty-much the usual thing: Roll out of bed on hearing an alarm clock. Check the time. Realise it's 05:30 and you're not due to be up for another HOUR AND A SODDING HALF. Mutter dark imprecations, and fail to get back to sleep. So, I grabbed a shower, and got up in slow time manner.

There then followed an episode that I'm not particularly happy or proud about, but which was, in hindsight, probably inevitable. A drama with one of our teams kids came along. The increasingly sulky teenager, who had decided to be an irritating little twit from pretty-much day two, and who had been causing frayed tempers a lot, had been refusing to move out of bed (a sleeping bag on a folding camp bed, both of which had to be packed away before we could make a move towards Bayeux and breakfast). So as we all chuckled about the laziness of youth, I played reveille to her (it's one of the alarm clock themes on my phone!). Everyone but her was amused by this. Not her. She made a VERY ill-judged comment towards me, and got my temper on Dial Setting Five (see with sixty seconds-worth of parade ground-level roar of non-repeated non-sweary English Language from me as a result.

Regrettable or not, it had the desired result, however, as she vanished at high speed to the ablutions immediately thereafter.

And yeah, I apologised to her Dad* once I'd taken a short walk to get a grip again (said kid hardly said a word to me for the rest of the day: Bliss!). Anyhow, that aside, we were packed and ready to go by 08:30, half an hour ahead of schedule!

The CMP Memorial
Close-up of the
CMP memorial
Our first port of call was for breakfast at the café in Bayeux again (Ham and eggs, of course), and we then made our way to the Museum of the Battle For Normandy, where the Liberators service for the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, 2nd Battalion the Essex Regiment, and the Corps of Military Police was to take place.

Staff Sergeant Redpost!
Note that it was still the CMP in 1944; the Corps only received the Royal prefix after the war, in 1946, then becoming the Corps of Royal Military Police (RMP).

It was while we were waiting for everything to get set up for the service, that we ran into our old mate, Staff Sergeant Redpost. Still having his beetroot-red complexion (from all the shouting, while being a 'drill pig', we were led to believe), it seems he's taken up a post-army career as a fire hydrant!

The Essex Regiment
The Sherwood Rangers
Yeomanry memorial

The service, attended by the RBL, the Mayor of Bayeux, and various local dignitaries, was a small affair by comparison to the previous days event.

It was at this service that we laid a wreath on behalf of those who have served, and those still serving, in the CMP and RMP. Notably, given that three regiments have memorials here, we were the only former members of regiments present to lay wreaths: there were no representatives for the Yeomanry or the now-amalgamated Essex Regiment (the Essex Regiment is continued, following several amalgamations, by 'C' Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment), which I thought rather poor show.

Maybe they'll fix that next year. One lives in hope, anyhow.

Hottot CWGC Cemetery
The RBL and local standard
bearers at the Tilly
CWGC Cemetery
After a sort drive into the French countryside, the next service was at the Hottot CWGC Cemetery (many of the fallen from the Bocage lie here), assisting the locals by request.

As you can see from the photo, the sun was really cracking down here, and, as it had been for the last couple of days, it really left an impression. I'd forgotten to pack my sun cream, and boy, were my face and arms starting to burn!

This service was followed by another short drive to Tilly sur Seulles, at the Place d'Essex Regiment, for another similar service by the museum there.

During the war, Tilly came under sustained and repeated attack from both sides, it changing hands over forty times in a matter of days. Little was left of the town by the end of its liberation. In one tragic incident, during one of the many counter attacks, an artillery shell, misdirected by an observer attached to the Essex Regiment, sadly landed amongst sheltering civilians, and the memorial is to both those victims, and the forces (including the Essex Regiment) who liberated the town from the Germans.

Flt Lt
Peter Roper
Flt Lt Roper's Plaque
There's also a memorial to a certain Flight Lieutenant Peter Roper, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was shot down over Tilly, in a 'borrowed' Hawker Typhoon - we had the absolute honour and pleasure of meeting this fine gentleman, who remembers everything about that day, and retains one heck of a sense of humour about it too - and mentioned in passing that he hoped no-one sent him the bill for the - ahem - 'borrowed' aircraft!

Then, it was off to Dieppe for dinner, and the ferry home again.

Dinner was taken in a restaurant that had opened that very day, Le Petit Bouchon, at 4 Rue Vauquelin, 76200 Dieppe, France
Menu du Jour,
Le Petit Bouchon,

The meal consisted (as best I could translate and taste):

  • Starter:
    Miniature melon with thinly sliced ham
  • Main Course:
    Chicken in mushroom and onion sauce with green beans and fries
  • Dessert:
    An apple tart with vanilla sauce

I've shown a photo of the menu (menu du jour), in case there are any French speakers amongst you who can translate this for me properly!

The staff were helpful, friendly, and we had a whale of a time. We'll definitely be back there again next year!

The ferry, however, was a rather mixed affair, and put an unfortunate dent in the week. We aimed for the midnight ferry, the idea being that it'd be fairly quiet, and less busy, thus easier to find a decent seat upon-which to crash out and get some much needed sleep.

The situation regarding illegal migrants from France to the UK has been in the headlines a lot over the last couple of years. It's finally hitting Dieppe, and while they've boosted the physical defences for the port (good quality security fencing and razor wire), the security manning at the entrance to the parking/waiting columns and the HGV entrance, is down to one unarmed, unarmoured youngster in a uniform, with a torch made of plastic. So much for either the British or French governments "doing all they can to prevent illegal migration".

We counted perhaps fifty or so of these "illegals", most of whom tried for the heavy Goods Vehicles (easy targets), but a couple made worrying approaches to cars and camper vans in the queues for the check point gates.

The single guard just couldn't cope, and we had to strongly discourage these couple of illegals from making any approach to our vehicles, which in the event was us standing outside the wagons, and suggesting to them that it would be a bloody bad idea to present any kind of perception of menace or threat, given that we had women and kids in the wagons. It seemed to work, as then didn't bother us afterwards, and we got through ticket and passport checks easily enough.

Departing La France - Au revoir, Dieppe!
Once on the ferry, the idea regarding the seating was taken up, and in my case, discounted immediately. Padded? Check. Comfortable to sit in? Check. Good enough to sleep in? BZZ, nope.

I eventually found a pair of chairs against a wall in the lounge, and managed to get a couple of hours of kip in those, but I had a crick in the small of my back, darnit. Those seats just aren't designed to be slept in (it's not an airliner or an overnight train, after all!).

Anyhow, while the trip there was four hours long, the trip back was five hours duration - seems the ferries travel a bit slower for safety reasons after dark. Makes sense.

Rolling off the ferry at 04:00 UK time (Europe is an hour ahead of the UK, remember), we got through the 'UK Border' - a.k.a. passport control, and headed off to Eastbourne, where upon coffee and a rest was had, before the rest of us headed back to points London and north, and home.

We found out, while catching up on the television news, once we got back to Eastbourne, that the EU Court has decided, in their infinite stupidity, that said illegal migrants cannot now be arrested for breaking the laws on border controls between France and the UK. What utter and complete rot and nonsense.

Anyhow, discounting the problems with irritable brats and garretty migrants, the week was a resounding success, we achieved everything we set out to do and more besides, and we're going again next year!

* Given that I have yet to receive an apology from the teenager for the comment she made, I don't feel in the slightest inclined to apologise to her for the parade-ground-level roar in response.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 3...

Normally on days off, or on holiday, I tend to sleep late. So much for that idea. At 05:30, I was woken by one of the lads (I’ll mention no names, Dave!) alarm clock. Ugh. So, realising that I wasn’t likely to get much more sleep at all, got up, and grabbed a shower. By 08:00, we were on the road, heading for Bayeux.

The Monday saw more traffic on the Péage motorway, but nowhere near the levels that I’d been expecting, even considering that HGV traffic was once again using the road. It was quite an eye ­opener, and made me wonder just how much of the freight that travels to all parts of France gets there ­ - do they use their railway that much more than we do? Guess that’s a topic for another time, anyway.

By 9 a.m. we were in Bayeux, and found a little café that the lads visited last year, which served a very nice ham and eggs - ­ no damned McDonald today! We also met the dogs that apparently tried to be *very* friendly with Dave’s leg last year... apparently, the poor mutt had learned his lesson from last year, to much amusement from the rest of us!

Still a bit misty, but the
gothic impressiveness
of the place takes your
breath away!
The Cathedral at Bayeux was the reason we were present, and was the focus for the Royal British Legion (RBL) service of remembrance for D­-Day.

There was one major spoilage to the event, however. The Air Cadets, who we met previously, had been asked to attend, and did so in their best uniforms, with flag bearers.

As they understood it, they were to take part in the parade within the cathedral.

Either this was wrong, someone got crossed wires, or someone changed their mind, as a completely and utterly disgusting insult to the Air Training Corps followed: The cadets, in entirety, were told to leave. In full view of the local media’s cameras.

Inside, before the
service started. Minus
the Air Cadets.
So, rather than cause a massive scene, they did as asked, with dignity; the cadets out of the side doors, their flag party smartly marching out the front doors. They were understandably upset, angry, and very hurt over this slap in the face.

Whoever told them to leave needs to be held to account, as it was a completely unnecessary insult to the Air Cadets and Her Majesty, as the cadets obviously bore a Colours flag bearing the Crown insignia (the ATC was formed on the command of a Royal Warrant, unlike the other Cadet services).

This is an argument for another place, by people with scrambled egg on the visors of their caps, but someone in the RBL needs to be brought to account over this disgusting incident. It cast a pall over the rest of the proceedings.

After the service, the remaining flag bearers and band marched up to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at the top of the hill (with one vastly entertaining hiccup ­ the band, leading the parade, took left turn downhill followed by a right turn uphill, smack dab into a cul-de-sac, and had to perform a swift about turn on the march to get back onto line of route!).

Normally, I’d expect the RBL to provide a marshalling team to prevent this sort of foul­-up, but apparently, they either didn’t feel it was necessary, or they didn’t turn up. Either way, it was the only amusing feature of the day.

Once at the cemetery, we kept a weather eye on both the veterans and the cadets again, as the day had turned out to be very hot indeed.

By the end of the service at the cemetery, several veterans and a few cadets had needed to be treated for heat exhaustion; the medics on­-site were excellent, and did what was needed, but the sheer volume of patients they had to work with was somewhat larger than they’d been expecting, so once again, we ended up providing immediate first aid to the cadets, to reduce the paramedics workload.

I’m glad to say that none of those treated required anything more than shade, cooling down, and water, and they all recovered swiftly.

After this, we made our way to Arromanches on the coast. Apparently, last year, the lads had made such a good impression with someone of some import at Rots, that we’d been asked to attend the Arromanches commemorations with a view to lending help with the marshalling of the event.

To cut a long story short, we liaised with the organisers, the Royal Marines (there to provide the Veterans escorts in the parade), the First Aid team provided by the QARANCs (Queen Anne’s Royal Army Nursing Corps), and the local security and Police Municipale. Quite a tall order, but we pulled it off nicely, with no bent noses, and quite a bit of fun along the way. I was too busy to take photos this time, but I’ll try again next year :­)

Dinner that evening was a burger and fries on the sea front (miles better than the McDonald’s stuff over here!)

And yes, we made a fair few new friends along the way :­)

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Normandy 2016: Day 2...

This was written following our return to England...

Day two was supposed to start at 07:00.

However, for some strange reason, I woke up at 06:00.

Still, it let me move in a slower manner than I otherwise would have needed to, and this set the routine for me, for the remainder of the visit.

We were hoping to take breakfast in a little café in Rots, but they were closed on Sundays. That wasn't really too much of a surprise, as unlike England, Sundays in France are fairly quiet, and very few places open for business. McDonalds was open, though.

Their breakfast menu was completely different to the English one, though. We wound up having Bacon McMuffins and coffee. Note that their McMuffins are about a THIRD smaller than ours, if you visit. Forewarned is forearmed, of course.

By 08:30, we were outside the Rots Church, and ready to do our bit for their commemorations. Being the only former RMP there, we were asked to assist by providing an honour guard to their memorial monument, which we were more than honoured and happy to do (there are no photos of this, I'm afraid, as I was not in a position to take them!).

Then, it was off to the 46 Royal Marines Commando memorial.

Rots was a bloody battle; the members of 'A', 'B', 'X', and 'Z' Troops, 46 RM, faced the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, and it was apparently a meat grinder of an encounter.

Supported by artillery, the RM moved in, and it went house to house, with the RM eventually dislodging the SS, who withdrew. An expected counter attack never happened, thankfully, but the RM suffered nasty losses in the battle. 22 of their number fell, never to return home. The monument and plaques remember their ultimate sacrifices to freedom.

On a more close to home note, one of the audience for this service was a former redcap, Roy, who suffered a dizzy spell, fell over, and had to be carted off to the local hospital for checks. I was one of those who rushed to his side as he fell over, and aside from some grazes to his leg (he caught a chair as he went down, but his head never hit anything, which was a relief), he appeared fine, if slightly irritated and surprised. We followed this up on Monday, and he was kept in for observation through Sunday and Monday. Our hopes and best wishes went with him, and we hope he returned home, safely (we'll be following this up privately, as we weren't able to check on him on Tuesday as we were running around like mad things).

The afternoon found us taking a detour to Pegasus Bridge, which was busy with traffic, and Merville Battery, which was hosting a memorial to 9 Para.

Merville was one of the first combat parachute drops of the war, and the mission for 9 Para was to destroy the armoured and bunkered artillery pieces there, that were threatening the allied armada in the English Channel. There's a good accounting of this on Wikipedia:

Three former members of 9 Para were inducted to the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur at this remembrance service, which is one the highest French military honours, for their roles in this action.

There were also some Air Cadets present, and they were there to show the flag; their colour party was alongside the other flag bearers there, which I found to be a nice touch.

Unfortunately for them, it was a rather cold evening, and when they'd disembarked from their coach, it was apparently blazingly hot, so their parade party was in ATC Tee Shirts. With all the prolonged oratory from the many distinguished visitors there (read: Politicians), they were shivering rather worryingly.

So, not for the first time this visit, we were helping to provide immediate first aid to those needing it. Three of their number, the first being their Flag bearer, the poor lad, had to be taken to the warmth of our car to prevent exposure injuries (warmth from a car vent blowing at high speed, a blanket around them, and a hot cup of sweet tea down the throat works wonders). I'm happy to report that they were fine again within half an hour. Their OC was present, and was not at all amused by the long period of standing around they had to endure; I can't say I disagree.

After Merville, it was back to our accommodations, and dinner. Which in the event turned out to be McDonalds again.

And that was Day two... day three to follow...!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Normandy 2016, Day 1...

Well, been a while, so I suppose I better get writing on here again!

Note that this entry has been updated on my return from France, with photos and added notes, as the original entry was written on my phone!

Having been volunteered (read: roped in) to assisting a couple of friends, I'm on the way to Normandy in France, to provide low-profile escorts to veterans at a few commemorative events leading up to, and perform a wreaths laying, over the D-day commemorations there this year.

An early wake-up (05:30, bloody hell!), and we got to Newhaven ferry port for 07:30.

Getting through passport control and the ticketing booth was easy enough, and then the inevitable waiting started.

We got to wait for 45 minutes, until they began loading the ferry.

It's not as large a ferry as I remember from the crossings at Calais back in my school years, but it left promptly enough at just gone 9 a.m. I'm actually rather impressed with DFDS Ferries; the staff were friendly, polite, approachable, and spoke good English - it's their business to be like this, but their professional attitudes certainly showed, and spoke well of the company.

About half an hour after we left dock, the restaurant opened for business, and one full English ("un petit déjeuner anglais"), two coffees, and a mild walk around the weather decks later, it was just over a third the way through the crossing (four hours, Newhaven to Dieppe).

Views from the two weather decks were alright, but given the weather (damp with sea mist) nothing brilliant; to the aft, our wake, there were good views of the sea mist port and starboard, and the view to the front was obscured by the bridge superstructure and the radio antenna farm there.

Cues to sing "We are sailing"
were loudly shouted down!
Even with the sea mist, it was remarkably less humid outside, than inside - this, despite the air conditioning within the ferry.

I found this slightly odd, but as it wasn't that cold, (not warm either), we spent a lot of time on the upper weather deck, just relaxing (the others could also smoke there, which was handy for them!).

Before long, we had our first sight of the French coastline, and their version of the White Cliffs of Dieppe. With some landslides apparent. Still, it was a nice sight :)

Once docked at Dieppe, offloading was of the hurry up and wait form; never the less, we were off in about half an hour, and were shortly thereafter on the road down to the Normandy area. A couple of hours later found us on the A29 toll (Péage) road towards Caen.

The péage roads are a feature of roads in France; the money made from the tolls are used exclusively to maintain them, and apparently to help to fund the building of new ones. However you cook it, though, they do the job.

For the most part, you enter the motorway, pay a fee, and that's that; in some stretches, where there are multiple entrances and exits, you receive a ticket, and that ticket is used to calculate your toll when you leave the motorway. It's a good system.

I'll also note that their roads, outside the rush hour, have an incredibly lighter usage loading than ours do, especially at weekends; I was told that this is even more noticeable at weekends, as heavy goods vehicles (except for perishable goods loads) are prohibited from using these roads at weekends.

I'll make one more bleeding obvious observation here: say what you will about the French (and we British often do!), but they could teach the ministry of transport back home about how to maintain roads -  these are some of the best roads I've travelled on in years! Even their road repairs were excellent; the asphalt may have been cracked and had holes in it, but their repairs were top-notch: You could have rested a glass of water on the dashboard, and it wouldn't have spilled a drop!

First sight of the
Pont du Normandie
suspension bridge
There is also one of the most picturesque bits of bridge architecture that I've ever seen - the Pont de Normandie suspension bridge, which spans over the River Seine; it's quite a sight as you first see it, and driving over it is a sight as well.

It's like driving under a
massive capital "A"!
Surprisingly for a slightly windy day, there wasn't much - if any - wind buffeting as you might expect on similar bridges - certainly, the QE2 bridge over the Dartford crossing is much more blustery than this one.

Remembering the flooding to the north of France, it wasn't very surprising to see how high the river was along its' banks. It was one heck of a sight, though, very, very impressive.

A couple of hours later, we arrived in Rots, to our accommodations for the next few days, and spent a few hours setting up, before it was off to McDonalds for dinner.

I'm not entirely enthused with Le Premium Royale, which is their version of the Big Mac, there weren't pickles, there was a massive slice of tomato, and what passed for onion was strange and somewhat spongy. I suppose the French like them, but I guess it was the surprise of the new to me. My overall reaction to the burger was a resounding 'Meh'. Pulp Fiction will never be the same ;-)

The coffee, though, was interesting. It was nice, but they have one size. Medium. Be warned: If you like large McD coffees, you won't get one - you'll have to go back and buy another!

So, that's the end of day one. More to follow...

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The cessation of unlimited tethered mobile broadband, Three, and EE...

For the last couple of years, I've been enjoying the benefits of having  unlimited tethering through my mobile phone; this has enabled me to have a very reliable broadband connection to the internet on my notebook, in my rented accommodations (no access to unlimited landline broadband, sadly).

Unfortunately, that's coming to an end, as Three, having halted new unlimited tethering contracts just after I signed up for my one, is now withdrawing the remainder of these contracts. :(

So, I've had to go looking for a high-throughput data contract. Three didn't offer anything close to what I needed, and there being no other providers offering contracts with similar services to the one I've had up until now, I've had to compromise. As a result, with both a mobile phone service contract, as well as a mobile data service contract, I'll be paying close to twice what I've been paying, for a fairly thick slice less of the data that I've been using, sadly. Never the less, I consider the new contract I just signed with EE for mobile Broadband services to be the best of a bad situation, and collected a MyFi router from Carphone Warehouse on the Purley Way in Croydon, today.

It's a Huawei e5573s-320. The benefit of this model, over others, is that you CAN plug in an external antenna, as there are jacks for this in the side of the unit - and I've got such an antenna inbound from Amazon UK, which should be here tomorrow.

Footprint-wise, it's remarkably small - length and width are slightly bigger than a credit card, although it's thicker of course: 84mm L x 58mm W x 15mm D.

Performance-wise, even indoors, in a notably difficult place to find a signal, is good - I got full strength 3G, and one bar of 4G, right on top of the printer on my desk. With the external antenna I have on the way, I should get an even better 4G signal - and the benefit is that I can stick both into my laptop bag, and get a decent chance at getting good signals wherever there's an EE service. I count that as an advantage, as for the last couple of years, I've only had access to Three services, and there are places where you cannot get a decent Three signal, where EE have good presence, and vice verse.

One nice surprise was that when I plugged it into my USB hub to charge it, it took less than an hour to top up to full charge, meaning that I could get to grips with using it in very short order. Imagine my pleasant surprise to find, that when I turned on my notebook, it connected via USB immediately to the MyFi router - as far as I can tell, that's apparently an undocumented feature, and a very nice surprise, meaning that I can switch off the WLAN WiFi service on the unit, in favour of a wired connection to it instead - there are situations where this would be a definite advantage, such as in high-density wireless environments, etc., where a stronger signal (and thus less battery time) would be needed to reliably connect with the device - having the capability to hard-connect to it is therefore a good thing.

I'll be looking to convert my existing Three contract to a rolling SIM-Only deal in the next few days, which should be somewhat cheaper than the alternative they have tried to offer me (not an all-you-can-eat plan, with a remarkably small amount of data allotment). If I can't get the plan I want, then I'll jump the Three ship, and go elsewhere. I'm very happy with the phone I have, and as it's now at end-of-contract, this opens up a fair few options for me.

More on this in due course :)

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Installation completion! YAY! (ahem)

Right, it's been a long drawn-out saga, this, but it's finally done.

There was no rain this yesterday, so I nipped out to take a few photos of the completed installation of my FT-8900R Amateur Radio transceiver in my Mk2 Ford Mondeo.

Let's start from the power cables, and work back...

Using yellow (up to 30 Amps capacity) terminal crimped rings, I used 20-amp cable (the thicker red and black twin cable that runs around the front of the battery in the photo) to run from both battery terminals (as recommended in the manual) to the boot (trunk) of the car. I ran the cable through a gap in the bodywork forward of the passenger door and bonnet (hood, to our transatlantic friends), into the passenger compartment (cabin), and under the internal plastic trim, along the left side of the car (here in England, that's the nearside), to the boot. I also used yellow crimped bullet connectors to join the 30-amp cable to the supplied power cable for the radio; it's just easier to disconnect and reconnect that way, and saves cutting cable ad infinitum later on, when I change cars or radios (or both!).

I then ran the remote head control cable and speaker extension cable from the boot, underneath the internal plastic trim, along the right (offside), to the dashboard, and tucked it finger-tight into the crevices running along the joint between top of the instrument cluster and dash top surface. This was a nice tight fit for the control cable, and secured it nicely without the use of cable ties.

The head unit is then clipped into the separation kit mounting bracket, which is in turn bolted to a Brodit mounting bracket (their "Item no 652348 - ProClip - Ford Mondeo 97-00"), which secures over the right central air vent in the top part of the centre of the dash. There was enough room on the bracket to drill holes for both the head unit bracket, and the microphone clip. When you do this yourself, remember to use a vice to securely fix the Brodit bracket in place, as it's made of a slightly flexible plastic. It's easy to drill though once secured, though. The photo shows the head unit installed, with the mike on its clip below; the phone mounting above is my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in it's Otterbox Defender case, running the excellent RepeaterBook application. As you can see, they're all very easily accessible from the drivers' position.

It's also vitally important to make sure that when both the head unit and mike are in place, all controls can still be on both the car, and the radio, can be safely operated, even in the dark, so the positioning of the bracket - and consideration to head unit overhang on both sides - is really important; in this case, it was a doddle to ensure. I heartily recommend Brodit ProCLip brackets to anyone fitting remote head units for whatever brand of radio you might use, they really ARE that good, and easy to both fit, and utilise for the purpose.

It's also vitally important to make sure that when both the head unit and mike are in place, all controls can still be on both the car, and the radio, can be safely operated, even in the dark, so the positioning of the bracket - and consideration to head unit overhang on both sides - is really important; in this case, it was a doddle to ensure. I heartily recommend Brodit ProCLip brackets to anyone fitting remote head units for whatever brand of radio you might use, they really ARE that good, and easy to both fit, and utilise for the purpose.

As previously mentioned, the speaker extension cable (well, about a third of the total length of it, the rest is coiled neatly in a velcro cable-tie and fixed in place in the boot) runs from the boot, to halfway along the trim, and reappears alongside the central door pillar, where it is then plugged into the cable from the Moonraker speaker I'm using; this cable then disappears under the trim again, to reappear alongside the front of the drivers door, where it runs to where I've sited the speaker, adjacent to the offside front corner of the dash, where the speaker is secured by means of one of the double-sided sticky pads from the YSK-8900 separation kit, as the dash is a cast-iron female hound to secure things to in any other way (Yaesu supply really VERY good adhesive pads in that separation kit!).

Back in the boot (trunk, for our transatlantic friends!), lacking safe knowledge of what might be behind the felt-like fabric material lining of the boot spaces (electrical cables, fuel lines, etc), I opted to use a more predictable surface to mount the radio, one where I could easily access it to reprogram it from my notebook computer if necessary (by folding down the nearside seat back and accessing it from the offside back seat, while sitting down in a civilised manner), rather than conduct public exhibitions of tactical trunk yoga for the entertainment of all - especially as I'm not qualified in that somewhat undignified and unmartial art ;) I therefore secured the main body mounting bracket to the rear of the nearside rear passenger seat, using short self-tapping screws. Since I don't generally carry passengers in the car, it's a safe enough place to mount the radio.

It's worth while noting that the back of these seats are made of an aluminium alloy that requires pilot holes to be drilled - make sure your drill, if battery-powered, has a full charge: It utterly drained the partially charged batteries on my Bosch PSR18 portable unit, requiring a fast recharge, before I could complete the job!

In the photo, you can see the cables all tidily fixed in place by those velcro/fabric cable ties you can get from Poundshop and Maplin; they're invaluable, reusable, and well worth laying your mitts on; they also have the invaluable property of sticking to the felt-like material that Ford lined the boot with, making the job of keeping this fairly neat a LOT easier! As you might also notice from the photo below, the lining is missing from the back of the nearside passenger seat back; it was like that when I got the car (second-hand several times removed!), so opting to put the main body mounting there was something of a no-brainer, as the Americans like to say! (you’ll have to excuse the rust stains in the boot carpeting, that was from a previous owner putting something ultra-rusty there!)

Once I'd secured the main body of the radio into the mount, and plugged in the majority of the wires, it was time to connect the antenna. I'd chosen the quad-band CR-8900 from Diamond, by the way, it appearing to me to look more robust than the Comet quad band offering.

I used the K-405 heavy-duty boot-lip mount for this antenna, it being somewhat more chunky than your average dual-band antenna, and bought the standard Diamond cable kit to go with the combination (RG-58 cable all the way from both ends). I mounted the K-405 antenna bracket on the lower part of the hatchback, since this model of Mondeo has a side-to-side glass upper half, where the upper part of the frame of the hatchback is hidden. It's a real pain to mount anything other than 'bumper stickers' to those things, let me tell you. Now, I would have used the 'ledge' half-way down the hatchback, but for the plastic glued-on 'aerofoil' running to the edges of the ledge on both sides, that prevented me from doing this. So, the lower right side of the hatchback it was.

In the photo of the underside of the hatchback door, you can see the run of the coax - standard thickness RG58 cable; I used cable ties and self-adhesive mounting plates to secure the coax in place, and keep things tidy (remember when you do this to clean the surfaces with degreasing wipes, it'll let the cable base plates stick that much better). There's a very small amount of cable crush (hardly worth a mention, actually), but it's not that important in the grand scheme of things - I've seen much worse in my 30-plus years of operating mobile transceivers. It might look like the nearest cable tie mount one to the antenna mounting is loose, bit that's just an optical illusion.

The photo from outside the car shows the CR-8900 antenna, mounted on the K-405 boot-lip mount (right side, level with the number plate, as you look at it). Really and truly, it should be mounted considerably higher on the car, but as it's the only place that's feasible, there it'll stay.

It was at this point that my troubles began to manifest, the toys departed the pram at the speed of sound, and the dummy achieved low earth orbit along the way...

I had read the English-language version of the antenna manual, and a few reviews of the antenna, before this, and knew from these than a good grounding was necessary to ensure good matching for this particular model of antenna. I therefore used my rotary drill (similar to a Dremmel) with it's wire bell brush, to get to the metal for the mounting's grub screws to bite into, rather than the paint that Ford spray everywhere.

I was therefore utterly dumbfounded when my VSWR meter reported, repeatedly, that I has full scale deflection levels of high VSWR - and then reduced levels of power from the radio. I honestly thought that there were a mere three options where that either I had insufficient grounding, that the coax cable was somehow pinched or shorted, or that I'd somehow blown the PA stage in trying to adjust the VSWR on the antenna. No matter what I did to try and fix this problem, the same results recurred. It was soul-destroying.

Now, I'd bought all this nice shiny new kit from Martin Lynch & Sons (I've been using them for a couple of decades now, and they've been very helpful in all this time), at their new office and shop in Staines, and it's these excellent folks who came to my rescue. They suggested I drive over and see them, and they'd see if I'd done what I suspected that I'd done. They'd even stick the kettle on for me. So, Friday last, I did just that.

One of their engineers nipped down from their workshop, took a glance, checked the antenna at first, then the K-405 mounting and cable, sucked his teeth (always a bad sign for the customer when an Engineer does that, you can almost hear the cash register digits spinning when they do that!), then brought along his multimeter and another VSWR meter, and poked around for a few minutes as I hovered, like some expectant father. I'm very happy to report that none of my concerns were valid. It was my (broken, lying, hypocritical) VSWR meter at fault, and a more effective replacement VSWR meter is shortly to be procured to replace it.

The new installation seemed now to be working so, after the promised coffee, and a chat with the engineer, it was time to check the proof of the pudding. Having quickly reprogrammed the radio from my notebook (using CHIRP, which I highly recommend), I drove down the M4 to Berkshire, for a weekend with my better half. Along the way, I worked GB3BN, the Bracknell 2-meters repeater, and received excellent signals and reports through it.

I checked again today, and successfully opened GB3FX on 6 metres, some 25 or so miles away with roughly an R5/S3 response, but haven't yet had a chance to try out 10 metres with it yet; I'm a tad outside the coverage area of the nearest 10m box, unfortunately.

Anyhow, as a result of all of the above, I have a working, fully functional installation of a nice new ham radio and antenna on my ageing car, and I couldn't be happier

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Enough al-bloody-ready >:(

I've now had this up to my ears.

So enough already.

I give the hell up. I'm paying a professional to bleeding well install the damn thing.

Latest straw that broke the camels back: Radio went into SWR protection mode and WOULD NOT PLAY.

So **** it.

Toys out of pram, Dummy in high Earth orbit.

And I'm sulking for a month.

Bollocks to it all.

Comments disabled on this one, as I'm not even CLOSE to being in the right frame of mind to be polite.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Installation day update

Ran out of light, ran out of patience, cold causing ****ing cramp in my sodding toes, backache from bending over to reach things in the boot that keep ****ing MOVING for no bloody reason, I sodding swear if I NEVER see another fucking crimp connector in the ****ing dark it'll be too sodding soon.

Things that went right:

  • FINALLY fixed the radio inside the boot, having quick charged another drill battery, and drilled pilot holes for self-tapping screws that fixed the mounting bracket to the seat back.
  • Ran cables from battery to boot.
  • Ran control and speaker cables from head unit position on dash to boot.

  • Positioned extension speaker on top of dash. Connected cable to it.
  • Positioned Head unit bracket, and fixed it in place. Ran cable to it. Head unit fits in allocated slot on mounting bracket, and cable connects properly.
  • Hand mike fits in allocated slot on mounting bracket, and cable to head unit connects properly.
  • Antenna bracket had to be positioned in a different place than intended due to full-width coverage of rear windscreen on hatchback, and curves of Mondeo Mk2 hatchback lid, coupled with the fitting of the 'aerofoil' on the 'ledge' of the hatchback lid. Bracket therefore mounted lower than desired.
  • Coax successfully run from antenna bracket, along inside of hatchback lid, to the radio.
  • Connected control and speaker leads to radio body.

Things that went wrong:

  • Ran out of light
  • Temperature dropped like a stone after dark, causing agonising cramp in my toes.
  • Crimping in the dark is well-night IMPOSSIBLE. Power cable NOT complete.
  • SWR adjusting of antenna not conducted due to the above.
All in all? I'm paying someone to fit a radio to my next bloody car. I now have to get up even  earlier tomorrow, in order to complete the fitting of the radio, before I go to work.

How and why the hell was it easier to fit the 7800 to my last Mondeo?!


The New Radio, part Six (Installation day, interim update #1)

OK, interim installation update #1

Things were going fine...

I'd trimmed, stripped, and crimped 30 amp (yellow) rings to the battery end of the power cable, I'd threaded it carefully (read: Uttering new and interesting profanities as I scraped and crushed my fingers while hauling the bloody cable with all my might through microscopic gaps in the bodywork and interior trim) through to the boot, and then, I tried to drill holes in the boot area for the mounting bracket for the radio.

I decided, since I didn't want to drill though something electrical (cables) or flammable (filler pipe from filling cap to fuel tank - yeah, OK, it's diesel, but why take the chance?), to mount the radio on the back of the rear seats, behind the offside passenger seat; I'm not at all likely to carry passengers in this car in the time I'll be owning it (getting rid of it before the next MoT examination in September), so it makes sense to put holes in an easy-to-get-at place, after all (aids in removal when I get rid of the car, too). This, then, is where I encountered problem the first (and hopefully the last one today)...

Instead of being aluminium, which I could have drilled through dead easy, it appears that some clever bastard over at Ford decided to use an alloy of aluminium and something else, to form a hardened alloy that killed the battery on my Bosch 18 volt variable speed drill stone bloody dead. That's currently (no pun intended) charging up, as I (1) take a much needed break for the small room (it being a tad nippy outside), (2) get more coffee, and (3) type this up.

More to come, watch this space!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The new radio, part five... a little more pre-installation prep work...

Oh, I'm less than impressed, writ large. Tried updating this project over on Google Plus, and found that you cannot add photos to follow-up postings on your own threads. What a bloody cockup.

Anyhow, what I was TRYING to say was this:

I did a little pre work for tomorrows installation, and modded the Brodit mounting bracket that I got for the purpose. Here it is, unmodded, lying on its side...

Now, it's made of a plastic or polymer material, so it's easy enough to drill fixing holes into it, for screws, nut and/or bolts. So I did just that. Here's the modded mounting, standing on its base section...

The head unit mounting from the YSK-8900 separation kit is at the top, the fist microphone clip below; I had an inspiration that both could be mounted on this bracket, so I did just that. Seems to do the job well enough, but the acid test will be once I stick it all in the wagon tomorrow ;)

The new radio, part four... Installation preparation...

OK, yet another geeky update...

Nipped out today to get a couple of much needed tools, and some replacements for some bits and bobs that I somehow mislaid in my home move a year and a bit ago.

Amongst the tools bought, a ratchet crimping tool, and a 'smart' wire stripper.

I also dug out my Stanley bench hobby vice, and a few other bits and bobs from storage.

All will come into play tomorrow, when I install the Yaesu FT-8900R into my car.

I can hear some of you wondering why the stripper and the crimper, when ordinary wire cutters and pliers can do the job? Well, yes, you can do it with those tools, but they're not designed to do the job properly; I've used cheaper non-ratchet crimpers in the past as well, and frankly, like pliers and other non-dedicated tools, they're not really much good for lasting or reliable joints.

In addition, the 'smart' stripper gives me an almost effortless right-first-time result, and I can also tailor the tool to repeatedly produce exactly the same length of bare wire on each cable stripping job, which helps give the job that much more of a professional result at the end.

Now, you CAN make do, sometimes, with tools that weren't designed for the job you use them for, but in tasks that deal with electricity and highly flammable fuels in close proximity, I prefer to use the right tools for the job.

Thus, having the right tools for the job means that you have a better than even chance of doing the job properly (you do, of course, need to know what you're doing), makes the job that much more easy, and often helps make the job take less time as well!

Oh, and before one of my very mechanically competent mates reads this, and comments with something similar to a very wet and loud raspberry, yes, I may not know one end of a spanner from the other, or even vehicle mechanics to anything more than a very basic level, but I DO know radio electronics and electrics (and have the 'sustifikate' to prove it!)

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The new radio search, part three...

Right, saga complete (-ish) :)

Saved myself some money by double checking to see if I had an HF-70cm SWR meter - for those who haven't a clue what that is, a
SWR meter or VSWR (voltage standing wave ratio) meter measures the standing wave ratio in a transmission line. The meter can be used to indicate the degree of mismatch between a transmission line and its load (usually a radio antenna), or evaluate the effectiveness of impedance matching efforts. Put even more simply, it measures how effective a match between the radio and the antenna actually is (OK< that's not an accurate description, but it'll do for here) Anyhow, I found my old meter it in storage, so that's saved me close to a ton (88 quid, to be accurate) :)

I went over to ML&S on Friday, and chatted with one of their lads; after some in-depth discussion, and looking over both radios, I decided the build quality of the Yaesu was MUCH better than the Wouxun, which despite it's weight, felt 'plasticy' to the touch on the head unit; the buttons also seemed wobbly, somehow, as opposed to the Yaesu, whose controls felt like good quality switches and buttons should feel. My worst case scenario on costs was for the Yaesu to reach just shy of six hundred quid, including all bits and bobs. I spent just over four hundred, on this case, although I did forget something, which I'll have to order online: Coax cable and fittings to connect the radio to the antenna. D'OH.

The good news is that as it's the Yaesu, CHIRP will support it, and I don't have to much about with WINE and it's odd ways with USB/COM ports if I don't want to.

One of the main issues for me was the lack of power from the Wouxun radio on 10 metres and 6 metres, compared to the Yaesu FT-8900; the Yaesu is consistent with 50 watts on 10, 6, and 2 metres, and pushes out 35 on 70cm, while the Wouxun seems to offer inconsistent and differing results to every reviewer who measured it, which is a little worrying, when you think about it.

So, given all the information, and having had an opportunity to see the two radios in person (so to speak), I decided to go with a brand I trust, and pay the extra, rather than go for the new kid on the block, and possibly regretting it further down the line.

Now, don't get me wrong. I WOULD have spent even less, had I gone with the Wouxun. However, having compared the two radios practically side by side, and examined the pluses and minuses of both, I'm left with the opinion that the Wouxun, while quite probably being a good entry radio for a newly-licenced Ham, won't last that long, compared to a radio from one of the 'Big Three'. In addition, programming it could be a veritable nightmare if you don't use a computer running some flavour of the Windows Operating System; Yaesu doesn't have that problem, being very well-supported by third -party applications for other operating systems.

So, I got the Yaesu FT-8900R, and had it wide-banded in case I either get an NOV (Notice Of Variation, a way for licenced radio amateurs in the UK to gain access to areas of the radio spectrum not normally permitted to them under the terms and conditions of their normal licence) for 146 MHz, or go abroad with the radio at some point in the future.

Anyhow, I'm at my better half's this weekend, and while we enjoy each others company immensely, there are occasional times we like to do our own things (even while we're in the same room), so I did some work on the memory settings for the new radio earlier.

I used the Chirp CSV generator to compile a list of all amateur radio repeaters (put simply, these are dedicated rebroadcasting stations, to allow mobile and portable stations to increase the range at which they can talk to each other) in the UK, from 10m (28MHz)  through 70cm (432MHz). The list came to 294 or so entries!

However, I found that CHIRP baulked at uploading the list; seems there were problems with the list - three entries were blank for CTCSS tones, and it appears that one repeater in Wales doesn’t use either tone burst OR CTCSS, just, by all appearances, a valid carrier (a radio transmission) is enough to 'open' that particular box! So, I bunged generic tones for the three missing ones into the csv spreadsheet file, and the list uploaded after that; went into CHIRP and fixed the entries - job done!

All I have to do now is order that darned coaxial cable and connectors, and then I'll be able to install the radio in the car - I still can't believe I bloody forgot that oh-so elementary item

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The new radio search, part two...

Well, it's been an interesting couple of weeks. I've been doing some research into radios, and had decided that I wanted a quad-band radio. I also wanted to buy it in person, not online: There are two reasons for this;

  1.  It's my version of shopping therapy and instant shopping gratification.
    (Women do shoes, I do radio kit!)
  2. It ensures that I can ask the questions I want answered at the time, by someone knowledgeable on the topic close to where I live (well, relatively close, the other side of London from me, in this case), and not someone cribbing off a cheat sheet at a customer service desk in, potentially, a far off land. I do prefer to shop for my stuff in this country, where possible. Helps the economy, and so on ;)
So. I'd finally short-listed three radios: The Yaesu FT-8900 and FT-857D radios, and the Wouxun KG-UV950P.  The first and last of these are both quad-band FM radios, able to operate on 10m, 6m, 2m, and 70cm; the FT-857 is an all bands HF (160m) through to VHF and UHF (70cm) (not VHF 4m though), and multi-mode as well.

In addition, the 857 can be operated via a BlueCAT bluetooth adaptor (which I already have for my FT-817 portable all-band, all-mode, low-power radio) to be operated through a couple of apps on my Android phone. However, costs are interesting.

All in, the Wouxun is cheapest, then the 8900, then the 857. So, cost alone suggests that the Wouxun would be ideal for my purposes; the reviews on the radio, especially the one here, suggest it's a good contender for the more expensive Yaesu FT-8900.

The problem was that my preferred option for programming such a radio, CHIRP, does not yet support this radio. Which means that I'd need to use the factory software, and somehow connect via a USB cable to the radio from the Linux computer from within WINE.

This was something of a show-stopper for the Wouxun, as I'd need to be able to program severs dozen - possibly a couple of hundred - memory channels before being able to effectively use the radio; without the ability to connect a computer to the radio, in order to perform this programming, meant that if I got the radio, I'd have to do it manually, though the radio itself, reportedly a saga-like task, and VERY time consuming.

Then I had an OHO moment...

Now, most people will tell you that connecting to a USB port from within WINE is a nightmare of migraine-inducing proportions. Well, I believed them too - until I checked. There's a very helpful article written by G8OGJ, which details how to get USB ports recognised under WINE. You can find the article noted here (it's a PDF download from his site, go there and click on his link!).

It transpires that all I had to do was check which port my FTDI cable was mirrored to: It seems that somehow (and I'm not look a gift-horse in the mouth here) the cable was automatically mapped to a com port under WINE - All I had to do was confirm which COM port it would map to, and I did this with the "ls -al /dev/ttyU*" command from within Terminal - I didn't need to do anything else at all.

For those interested to know, here's the Terminal blurb (non-pertinent details redacted, of course)...

roger@REDACTED:~$ cd ~/.wine/dosdevices
roger@REDACTED:~/.wine/dosdevices$ ls -al
total 8
lrwxrwxrwx 1 roger roger   12 Jan 14 01:55 com1 -> /dev/ttyUSB0
Somehow, and I don't know how or when precisely, I made a permanent mapping to the USB ports as COM1!

I was beginning to grin, here, I have to tell you.

However, there was still one itty-bitty problem.

Given a review I saw on the programming software from Wouxun elsewhere, which said that while it installed ok, it crashed on running under WINE (review), I was under the impression that what I'd read was pretty much the end of the story. This said, and still on a bit of a success high from the USB revelation, I decided to check this out as well.

It turns out that while his version, for 2.5k channel spacing, might be iffy under WINE, the British-specific version, with 5k channel spacing, does not have those issues,

It installed with no problems under WINE, and likewise ran up successfully, albeit with no radio connected).

So, it very much looks like the Wouxun KG-UV950P is back in the running!

I'm planning on visiting ML&S if I have the time tomorrow, so I'll keep you updated :)

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Another set of wheels, so time for another radio...!

About a month before Christmas, and with the acquisition of another car (my Land Rover being off the road due to a problem that I cannot nail down just yet), I decided it was high time I sought a new radio for my Amateur Radio hobby, to replace the one that vanished, along with a previously stolen car of mine. So, I began to save for one, calling it “Roger's Radio Fund”. I reckoned to myself that I should have enough squirrelled away to get a decent radio, within about two to three months (probably four at the outside). So imagine my shock on Christmas day when a certain member of my family gave me a cheque for a decidedly impressive enough amount to complete my funding exercise well ahead of schedule!

So, it was time to decide on WHAT radio to get.

Band-wise, at the very least, it had to be dual band 2m/70cm (VHF and UHV, the two most commonly-used bands for mobile amateur radio communications), although 4m (70 MHz) and/or 6m (50 MHz), and even 10m (28 MHz), would be nice. I'd obviously need a multi-band mobile antenna for it too.

Mode-wise, it would have to have, at the minimum, FM; ideally, it would also have some form of DV (digital voice) mode as well, such as D-Star (Icom's somewhat proprietory implementation of digital communications), System Fusion (Yaesu's somewhat proprietory implementation of digital communications), DMR (Digital Mobile Radio, the actual Open Standard that's ironically beginning to be used in commercial equipment, see, or similar.

My specification also called for the new radio to be able to be programmed using a computer using the Ubuntu Linux OS (I have CHIRP, and can also run some Windows applications under WINE on my laptop). For times when manual operation is required, it had also be able to be relatively intuitive to program, and have an easy to read display (no cluttering and/or small-print!). If it could be operated via bluetooth and/or an Android application as well, so much the better.

For security, it had to have a removable head unit, for when the radio wasn't being used.

Make-wise, I have predominantly used Yaesu in the past, and had an FT-7800 until that car got stolen from my garage one night, dammit (a few years back), so I'm used to their radios; I've also used Icom hand helds (I have an ID-51E, and find it irritatingly complex to use, although that's probably the compact menu system on it), and a very simple Baofeng UV-5R, which I find ridiculously easy to use. The FT-817 is a joy, and is used for QRP when I get the chance (not very often). The 817 can be operated from my Android phone as well, using Repeater Book and other applications via bluetooth, which is nice.

This then raised a very good point: Shold I include DV as a requirement, in the hope that my crystal ball would be right on the money a few years down the line (I already have the Icom ID-51E hand held), or should I save my money, and go analogue, which will still be there down the line?

As mentioned above, already there are three standards being used in DV boxes in the UK: Icom's D-Star, Yaesu's System Fusion, and DMR.

There were similar arguments, I recall, about the pros and cons of the 1750Hz toneburst versus CTCSS/DCS (this concerns an audible tone burst, versus subaudible coded tones, used to access repeaters – these are rebroadcasting stations on the amateur bands), which was eventually settled by the authorities over here making a preference for CTCSS, if I recall correctly. Only took maybe ten years to settle!

Anyhow, with all the choices and options, I came toa relatively easy decision:

Icom were going well, but were frankly too expensive, and as yet, as pointed out above, the DV aspect has not yet really settled down sufficiently well enough to decide on a full-size DV radio at this time. Also, my experience of DV has been less than impressive, with "underwater speech" a regular thing to hear (granted, it's been with my ID-51E hand held, but not any the less valid for that).

Kenwood don't have anything I'd call affordable within my budget with the capabilities I'd like (the dual band TM-G710GE came close, with the APRS/GPS, but was close to half a grand on its own), and most the other contenders don't measure up either.

So currently, and after much deliberation, the shortlist is down to the Yaesu brand. Specifically, the Yaesu FT-8900 Quad Bander (10m/6m/2m/70cm), with the YSK-8900 head separation kit, and a Diamond CR-8900 quad-band antenna. It also has the benefit of being a direct descendant of the FT-7800 that I owned a few years back, which should make operating it relatively straight-forward for me; in addition, being a Yaesu, it'll be very reliable, as are, of course, all the 'big three' makes.

The interesting thing here is that I can probably add APRS/GPS (a way of showing where you are, using GPS units relaying their data over the amateur bands) capability via the data socket in the back of the radio, with the use of a cable and either an Android phone or a Raspberry Pi-type computer later on. I'll have to look into that, but if it's a non-starter, it's not really a big deal, to be honest.

Now, it won't do Digital comms, nor can it be controlled by bluetooth with the Repeater Book package for Android by, but it's a decent compromise between affordability within budget, coverage, and ease of use; I'm going to mull on this a little while longer, but I suspect this is going to be the way I go.

So, in the next couple of weeks tops, I'll be heading off to Martin Lynch & Sons in west London, who I've used many times before, with very satisfying results, to buy the new radio, and then it'll be down to me, to install the stuff in my car!

More updates on this, at that time!