09 July 2015

Friedrichshafen Ham Radio 2015 (I) - the road, the city and the campsite

Friedrichshafen Ham Radio (yes, the name is not particularly creative) is the largest amateur radio convention in Europe and the second-largest in the world, marginally surpassed by the Dayton Hamfest as far as attendance goes. In 2014 it attracted about 17.000 people and even if the figures aren't out for this year yet, to the regulars it looked to be a just bit smaller. This year's (2015) edition of the Friedrichshafen Ham Radio was the 40th and was held from 26th to the 28th of June in the same place it has always been, the Messe (expo area) of Friedrichshafen, a small university city in the south of Germany, right on the North coast of Lake Constance (Bodensee).

Friedrichshafen is the home for some of Germany's iconic aviation / automotive companies, Zeppelin, Maybach, ZF (second largest automotive parts concern worldwide) and Dornier (manufacturer of bomber and fighter planes in WW II, now defunct) being based here. And thanks to the absolutely scenic geographical placement (you can easily see the majestic Alps in Switzerland and Lichtenstein on the other side of the lake), Friedrichshafen served as a resort for the german Nazi.

26 May 2015

SOTA activation: YO/EC-090 Malaia and YO/EC-093 Siriu

Oh boy, long time I didn't post anything on the blog. There have been some subjects I would've loved to write about, there is another SOTA activation report I need to get out there as well, but the work volume lately was terrible so no more blogging/ham radio/twitter. Nevertheless, this story needs to get out there fast and while it's still fresh, because it was really good.

YO/EC-090 Malaia Peak (1662m, 8 points) and YO/EC-093 Siriu Peak (1657m, 8 points) are two nearby peaks in the Siriu massif, located about halfway between the cities of Brasov and Buzau. Almost between the two peaks there is a periglacial lake called "Eagles' Lake" or "The Bottomless Lake", wich makes for a touristic attraction point in itself.

Eagles Lake seen from Malaia peak
The two names for the lake have their own associated legends; it's called "Eagles' Lake" because in the spring the eagles come down to the lake to drink it's water and get younger, also bringing their cubs by the lake to teach them how to fly. What I can tell you is that i've seen countless eagles circling the air above the lake, probably attracted by the (small) fish, snakes or frogs.

The legend associated with the "Bottomless Lake" name is even more interesting - a shepherd tired by his life decided to give it up and seek a better future for himself, throwing his crook into the lake and leaving the sheep and the places behind. One year later, while travelling the country, he saw his unmistakable hand-carved crook floating on the Danube river, instantly getting homesick and returning to his sheep.

Florin YO9IPF proposed this trip almost 4 weeks before on the SOTA ROMANIA Facebook group and it was because of me that it got delayed so much - all my weekends were full up until May 23rd. It proved to be a great choice in the end, Csaba YO6PIB had the weekend available as well (and he took a few friends with him) and Florin managed to pick up a few more local hams - veteran operators but not too familiar with the SOTA program yet: YO9GSB - Dan and YO9RAO - Mihai.

18 March 2015

SOTA activation: YO/EC-480 and YO/EC-312

YO/EC-480 (Dealul Frumos, 1048m, 6 points) and YO/EC-312 (Secaria, 1149m, 6 points) were some of the many summits I've been planning to activate for some time now, and when I told Florin YO9IPF they're part of my upcoming weekend plan he immediately agreed to come with me. The weather forecast didn't look too good but hey, we were two men on a mission and didn't plan to be stopped by a few drops of rain.

Finding Florin was fortunate, as it's pretty hard for a SOTA activator to have an activation partner: friends or girlfriends may come with you for a hike now and then, but not many have the patience to wait until you do your radio thing. Romania is not a very big country but there aren't that many activators yet (SOTA is growing very fast here though), so we definetely jump on any chance we get to do team activations.

We met near Ploiesti and in 30 minutes we were already at the base of the first summit (YO/EC-480) after passing trough the city of Comarnic. There are basically two choices if you want to get to YO/EC-480: either you choose the easier but longer route that starts from the DJ101S road, or a steeper but shorter one from DC2C. We chose the first option, the hike ahead of us looked easy and it actually was.

11 March 2015

SOTA Spotter Android app

The name basically speaks for itself, we're talking about an app that sends spots to the SOTA cluster; it runs on Android and takes very few resources (about 4.2MB of space when installed). SOTA Spotter was released back in October 2014 by fellow romanian SOTA afficionado Bogdan Lazanu (YO8SAW) and now it went up to version 0.4.56, wich includes spot filtering and visual/audible/vibrating alerts.

22 February 2015

SOTA: gathered season bonus points this weekend

It's the middle of February, sunny outside and I'm in an outdoors mood - of course some SOTA will happen. As in this time of year the mountains are covered in snow, I decided to go for two low-effort high-reward 6 point summits I've visited before - only this time I will also collect the seasonal bonuses. These are YO/EC-252 Piatra Arsa and YO/EC-241 Fitifoiul and more details about them you can find in the previous activation article.

First in line is YO/EC-252 Piatra Arsa and this time the 10-minute walk from where I could park the car to the lodge at the base of  the mountain turned into a 30-minute one, since because of the snow I couldn't park on the side of the road, let alone enter the road leading to the lodge. So I had to park further away - in a small motel's parking lot, plus once I entered the woods the snow wasn't exactly making things easier.

09 February 2015

Raspberry Pi 2 freezes when photographed

The all new Raspberry Pi 2 is the new maker's sensation, sporting 6 times more performance and 2 times more memory than the previous model, keeping the same affordable US$35 price label. And this is not everything, Microsoft is also offering a free version of ARM-compatible Windows 10 for it (yes, you just read a sentence that includes "Windows" and "free"). These are great times if you like fiddling around with hardware, software and electronics.

There is however some sort of a funny issue with the Raspberry Foundation's new creation: when exposed to strong infrared light (such as that from a Xenon photocamera flash or a small red laser pointer) it just freezes and crashes. The source of this problem has been identified as a small PWM voltage regulator that powers the processor and the memory - NCP6343 made by OnSemi, wich is dubbed U16 on the small Raspberry Pi 2 board - I dare you to find it in under 1 minute in the image above (click to enlarge).

14 January 2015

About the Elecraft K3 vs Kenwood TS-590 debate

I was just reading earlier Simone IW5EDI's article about a short overview on the K3 and the TS-590. This is an interesting debate as they are some of the popular high-performance transceivers on the market today, and I would like to share my views.