Approaching the Foundation Licence – Amatuer Radio

When I first began the trail to Amatuer Radio it all felt rather daunting. Gagantuan antennas, radios with more buttons that a 747 and a price list even Bill Gates would balk at…

So where do you begin?

Remember one fact: Amateur radio needent be complex, nor expensive. The beauty of this hobby is you can start humbly,  and go in any direction you and your ambition wants. Literally to the moon and back, or further…

If you’ve never experienced Amateur Radio first hand before, your very first port of call should be the many WebSDRs around the world. There are thousands of radios dotted all over the world that you can monitor via the internet. This will give you a taste of what it sounds like to be on-air.

WebSDR2

As you’ve no doubt spotted, the graph is a sort of reverse waterfall. This is a spectrum scope – a measure of activity on the radio. It wont surprise you to know the bright white spots are transmissions, whilst the dark purple & black is silence and natural noise. As you first start to play around, click on the longest lines – chances as that’s a transmission.

What you ought to know is 2 Meters & 70 Centimers (2m/7cm) more often than not is the frequency where most people enter the hobby. This sits within the the Very High Frequence (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) bands. When you experiment with WebSDRs such as Hackgreen in the picture above, it’s useful to stick to frequencies which are fairly short range*. The 2 Meter band is  a frequency range typically between 144-148Mhz (144000.00 kHz – 148000.00), and similiarly, 7cm is 430Mhz-440Mhz (430000.00-440000.00 kHz). You’ll want to start with FM mode – the same used on a car radio

I mention this as it’ll be quite helpful if you start to understand the eqiquette on the air. With a bit of luck, you’ve selected 144 on the WebSDR and found a chatty frequency. You’ll hear them converse with their callsigns and Q-Codes. We’ll learn more about those later.

Now you’ve got a taste of what’s around, we should discuss how to get your very own radio.

…Oh, but before you do. Don’t be shy, check out the other frequencies such as 20M (14Mhz-14.350mMhz or 14000kHz-14350kHz) – this reaches much further than 2m/70cm, all around the world infact!

My First Radio

Psst… Can you keep a secret? Radios are cheap! One of the best HF antennas can be made out of a couple of bits of long wire.

Your first foray into Amatuer Radio will give you an opportunity to discover your local amateurs, funnily enough I discovered a main repeater just up the road!

Just like the WebSDR, we want to get a feel for the activity in our local area – oh and by local, that could be anything from 1 mile to 30 miles, and if a “lift” is on, much further.

The Beofeng UV-5R costs between £18-22 from Amazon, or you can borrow one from your local club. This little radio, the result of decades of miniaturisation and mass-production is nothing short of amazing. The UV-5R will immediate allow you to listen and [once licenced] trasmit on 2m/70cm with a modest range.

2016-05-30 18.52.43

 

While Beofeng carries a somewhat bitter-sweet sentiment with the Amatuer Radio community, the price alone blows away any competitor.

Now here’s the interesting part. The UV-5R can be easily, and cheaply upgraded. Furthermore, there is nothing stopping you using a full complement of professional equipment if you wanted. Actually, let’s start now.

Combined with a SMA-Female to SO239 Female (£2.50) adapter you are now able to use almost enable 2m and/or 70cm antenna on the market. Personally I own a Diamond Comet X50 (around £50) antenna which works perfectly with the UV-5R. Despite my distance from Danbury I was able to open and communicate GB3DA- a repeater in north Essex – just fine.

Now you’ll need some cable. There’s no need to spend a fortune, Rocket Radio will happily sell you a 20M cable for £12. That’s plenty of length for most homes. SO239 is the female variant of the PL239 and thankfully most antennas use PL259, however, if like the Diamond X50 above it uses a different connector, you can buy a cheap adapter for a few pounds.

Mounting that antenna can be as simple as you’d like. The fastest approach is to use a cheap lighting tripod. You can setup the tripod very quickly on most terriain, and clamp the antenna – which usually comes with a pole bracket – easily.

Interesting isn’t it? For less than £65 you can have a station which can hold it’s own. We could happily chop another £20-30 off that price if you’re in high ground.

Amateur radio is not expensive🙂

…But how do I get my licence?

Straight to the point. I like that!

In my experience there are two methods of getting your licence, a training course, or self taught. Personally I’d recommend self taught – if you’ve managed to get this far in the blog I suspect you’ll persevere – good work.

Depending on your location there will likely be a amatuer radio club which will either offer a course that is carried out over a few weekends, or a self taught A practical and written exam will be required in either case, make sure you get reading🙂

Most of not all exams are carried out by volunteers. They want to see how eager you are to get on the air, so make sure you show them your best.

Lets find your local club…

First up, let’s find your local club. Amatuer Radio is all about connecting people (excuse my BT cliché). There are Amatuer Radio clubs all over the UK, and it is quite literally in their interest to bring new licencees onboard.

Reading time

Who does’t like a pamphlet *cough*? There are two exceptionally short books you should buy, Foundation Licence Now (about £5) and Amateur Radio Exam Secrets (roughly £10).

These two “books” cover everything you need to know for the Foundation License. You could quite happily read these, nothing else and gain a solid pass. Mind you those clever Ladies & Gentlemen of Essex Ham have been busy creating Ham Tests.

Whilst the books are fantastic, Ham Tests will challenge you inside and outside of the syllabus. It also offers you the opportunity to study for the exam on your phone or laptop, no books required – actually, it’s a great place to start.

The RSBG have also been kind enough to publish several mock exams, these are also a great way to gauge your progress towards the licence

The rest is up to you

I’ve intentionally* left a few naughty gaps, this is the very beginning of amatuer radio – I look forward to hearing you on the air.

73s

If you are interested in Amateur radio, do take a moment to check out the Thurrock Acorns and our friendly rivals, Essex Ham

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Scrolling Performance

Scrolling doesn’t immediately seem like something you’d think about from a performance perspective.

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Web Application Security Testing Cheat Sheet

This cheat sheet provides a checklist of tasks to be performed during blackbox security testing of a web application. This checklist is intended to be used as an aide memoire for experienced pentesters and should be used in conjunction with the OWASP Testing Guide.

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React.js pure render performance anti-pattern — Medium

Pure render optimized React components can be extremely performant but it requires users to treat their data as immutable for it to work properly. Unfortunately due to nature of Javascript it can be quite challenging sometimes. tl;dr.

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Building an array – Solar Deep Dive Part 5

The Winter solstice maybe baring down, yet what a great opportunity to give you a run-down on my build and how the darker days will impact your yield.

My first foray into solar started with a humble 120W/12V panel, coupled with a rather dodgy PWM charge controller. With any new hobby, start humbly and cheap🙂. The initial plan was can a security camera be powered purely from Solar?

On paper the camera drew around .6amp at 220 volts. Significantly lower than the 10amps the 120 watt panel could, at least in theory, produce. Funnily enough, it did rather well. All I needed was a new shed – ideally without Asbestos.

Buying a shed isn’t exactly lifes most exciting task that said, if you are interested in Solar – get a Pent roof. And with that in mind I bought a nice 8×6🙂.

With my new man-cave build, I was able to setup a dedicated area for Solar. My new plan, if a touch ambitious, was to go entirely off-grid. I’d take 6 security cameras coupled with a NAS and run them off the array.

Clearly my dodgy Chinese charge controller simply wasn’t up to the job. It was time to have a think how I could build a salable grid.

Time to go on a shopping trip.

  • Victron BlueSolar MPPT 30/100
  • Victron 750/1500 Inverter
  • 120Ah Leisure battery – a total PoS from autocarpartrus (who’s customer service runs out faster than his battery)
  • Lots and lots of 16MM cable
  • A handful of 30 and 100amp DC RCDs
  • Thick chipboard!

This was quite a jump from my 300 watt modified sine-wave inverter, coupled with a 11Ah knackered AGM battery and the worlds most dodgy PWM controller.

Here’s how it stands today:

2015-07-31 17.24.53 2015-07-31 17.24.48

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180 days later and your MSDN key is worthless – Rumbling in the cloud

Five or six years ago I was in the perfect position to pick up an several copies of Visual Studio with MSDN. I gave a couple to my friend, and I decided to pack away the remaining pair for a rainy day.

Just recently I was asked to migrate several desktop applications to the web. Normally would be a standard affair, but these tools were developed in .Net – a bit of a tangent for a Scala developer like myself. What a good opportunity to break out a copy of VS and see what Microsoft have been up to.

C# has significantly matured since the early days. They’ve embraced functional programming to a point where Java looks downright archaic. The generics alone is a real pleasure to use (no type erasure, thank god). Now to enjoy a weekend of hacking some code!

Let’s drop in that retail MSDN key…

pasted1

Huh, the key doesn’t work? Okay fair enough, this copy of Visual Studio is about five years old. They probably need to regenerate those GUIDS, they may well run out. Let’s drop a mail to Microsoft support:

dav

dav

Joy. After several back and forths with their support team, and that’s that. Two brand new sealed copies of Visual Studio with two worthless copies of MSDN.

Money...spent

Thanks Microsoft🙂

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Victron BlueSolar & the Raspberry Pi – Having fun with solar

It’s been a lot of fun playing with my cheapo Chinese PWM controller, but it was time to scale up.regulador-de-voltage-para-panel-solar-30-amp-12-24v_MLU-F-3231525082_102012

Victron, based in Germany, have gained a significant amount of respect within the hobbyist and professional circles over the last few years. After poking around a number of MPPT charge controllers, my heart was set on the BlueSolar 100/30.

What frustrated me a1407316419_upload_documents_1600_640-BlueSolar-MPPT-100-30_leftbout the 100/30 was the absence of any feedback. Unlike my crappy PWM controller, which gave you a rough-and-ready readout, you plug the BlueSolar in and that’s it. There’s no indication of the charge rate or PV output other than three humble LEDs.416694933_894

My cunning plan was to use watt-meters, They are pretty good and plentiful on eBay, but – and yes there’s a but – they don’t particularly appreciate the PV fluctuations. After two displays blowing up, I called it a day. That said, as good as they were, they lacked one major benefit, remote metrics; You have no idea how your array is doing unless you are sitting with the readouts.

What a great opportunity to dig out the Raspberry Pi? It turns out the BlueSolar provides a standard TTL level serial port, that means it’s trivial to hook up an MCU. I cheated a bit and bought the VE.Direct USB cable.

Following a bit more poking around I spotted the VE.Direct protocol. Victron clearly have keen developers working for them and they’ve appreciated how useful a simple protocol is. Despite how closed the industry can be Victron have provided a protocol which is easy to understand, and more importantly, parse!

If you’re not aware, RXTX is an excellent library which let’s a JVM communicate with an Serial device. As a Scala developer. I felt Akka would be a
great companion to RXTX and it would appear I’m not the only one.

ThinkSpeak is pretty handy. They provide a simple tool which lets you graph any sort of IoT metrics. While not quite what I was after, it didn’t take long before I saw the numbers roll in

Take a look at my Victron-Adapter (Github) and let me know what you think

2015-09-05 11.58.17

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