Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The decreasing cost of Amateur Radio equipment.

The cost of amateur radio equipment, in real terms, has fallen by three quarters since the early eighties.

When I started in Amateur Radio in 1981 the cheapest 2m handheld transceiver available was the Trio (Kenwood) TR-2300 at £166. The Icom IC-2E had just come onto the market and cost £199. These were synthesized radios. There were still a few cheaper crystal controlled radios like the FDK Multi Palm IV, which sold for £99, but these incurred the additional cost of crystals.

Prices have got progressively lower over the intervening years. If we put the TR-2300 price of £166 into the historic  inflation calculator it is equivalent to £561 in today's money.

If we ignore the cheap Chinese handhelds, which are really broad band PMR radios and of dubious quality, then the big four manufacturers of amateur radio equipment have 144MHz hand helds starting at £99 from Alinco and £120 from Yaesu, Kenwood or Icom. There are also budget models from Intek and Midland selling for £69. Moonraker sell one based on the cheap chinese designs, but more closely tailored for amateur use for £59.

Today's Kenwood handheld at £120 is the equivalent of £35 in 1981, less than a quarter of the price of a TR-2300 back then. The Moonraker handheld is the equivalent of £18 or about one ninth the cost of a TR-2300 in 1981.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Considering a return to active amateur radio operation

I am currently considering getting my amateur radio station back on the air. I have been totally silent for the past eight months and prior to that only sporadically on the air for the previous two or three.

One of the things that has spurred me on is testing my morse code speed with a morse tutor app on my iPad. I am still reading 30wpm with no errors. At my peak I was reading 45wpm, but lets face it, there aren't many people who can so it has limited usefulness.

I got put off amateur radio by the changes in the licensing procedures. Once B class licensees were given access to HF they tended to lose interest in VHF and 2m became a wasteland. There were none of the usual local FM nets to take part in and activity on SSB died off too. The newer novice and intermediate licensees seemed to have little interest in progressing or learning and everything became a bit money related, with people spending quite large sums on very complex radios rather than making bits and pieces or adapting older equipment.

This was always part of the fun for me. My first HF radio was a general Electric BRT400D receiver from the BBC and a Heathkit DX40 transmitter - which was crystal controlled until I managed to track down a VFO. Then later I had a mobile set up consisting of a Trio (not Kenwood) TS-520 with a built in inverter and a full size quarter wave whip for 20m mounted on ladder bars on the roof of my Leyland Mini. Sadly, the photos have long gone, but that set up worked into New Zealand while I was driving through a town centre.

I gradually sold all my equipment and was down to a Yaesu FT-817, but i found the controls to be quite small. I sold it with the intentin of getting something better when I moved. Now that I am in that position I am not sure if its worthwhile getting anything for 2m or if it is entirely dead. Part of me wants to get a 2m hand held, but this is of limited use as my current car (BMW mini) has some difficulties feeding an antenna cable into the car. I always prefer a proper mobile transceiver, but getting a high current supply from the fuse box is not easy and its no longer possible to pull a cable through a bulkhead grommet as there is much more fireproofing. Neither is it easy to find somewhere to put it under the dashboard. If I decide to do this I will need to be clever.

This leaves HF. My gut feeling is to go for something simple but large so I can use it. Icom and Alinco make radios that might be suitable. Second hand is possible, but I would need to know where it came from as the reduction in technical expertise amongst radio amateurs means that anything could have been done to it by a previous owner.

This of course is a moot point, as there is only one amateur radio shop in Scotland and it is closed on a Monday. As a Monday is the only day I would be likely to be free it means I am reliant on mail order. This raises the tantalizing possibilities of some of the cheap Chinese handheld radios that are being sold under their native brands and under the Moonraker and CTE names. There are also Intek and Midland/Alan models. These are about 30% cheaper than the cheapest Alinco, Icom, Yaesu or Kenwood models. I still think the extra is worth paying for ease of use and to get an antenna thats truly tuined to 144MHz instead of just being
a general high band one.

I will report back in a month or so on where I got with this.

Update 1st October 2013
Well, I decided to splash out and buy a slightly more upmarket Alinco 2m handheld for which I purchased a quarter wave antenna. Although I can hear stations as far away as Loanhead and into Fife nobody seem to be interested in speaking to me. The more local hams all seem top be take away delivery drivers. I suspect that my nostalgia for amateur radio is for some of the people who used to be around rather than the medium itself.

Friday, March 8, 2013

European airline carry on bag weight and dimension rules

I took this photo last week at London City Airport and am sharing it here so that others can have this information. Especially musicians looking to take instruments in the cabin rather than in the hold. I am not convinced that the British Airways figure is correct as 23Kg is their hold baggage allowance. In any case you are not going to be taking a trumpet case on any of these airlines as they will always be  too long.

Click on image for larger version

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What is the difference between faith and blind faith?

I had an interesting discussion with someone on Facebook bout whether religion requires blind faith. I thought I would post it here as it brought out a distinction between reasonable and unreasonable "blind" faith.

Isn't it true that a belief in ANY religion only requires a kind of 'blind faith' of which proof and scientific evidence play little or no part?

Religion is normally a belief in things that are un-testable. For example, the divinity of Jesus or his resurrection. Its only when religions require belief in things which ARE testable that they require a faith which is blind to the evidence.

God (sorry about the pun) you're good Gordon H! Where does Christianity fit into the 'scheme-of-things' then, do you think?

It all depends how you define Christianity. If you mean the Apostles creed then that doesn't require blind faith. If you mean the statement of faith of many modern evangelical churches then they often do.

In the new testament faith does not exist in isolation as some kind of virtue - in the way many modern Christians depict it. Faith is closely linked to hope and to love. Faith in the resurrection leads to a hope for the future and a desire to love others as Christ has loved us. Which is why Christians seek to serve others who are less fortunate.

Interjection into the discussion by a young earth creationist:
Very good Graham see your talking about the faith of evolution.

Believing in young earth creationism requires blind faith, because you have to be blind to the observable evidence against it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

My simple pasta carbonara recipe

This is not a true carbonara, but its easier to make with simpler ingredients (i.e. bacon rather than pancetta). You can use any pasta, but tagliatelle or spaghetti is probably best.

Serves two. Just double the ingredients for four.


4 rashers thick cut unsmoked bacon.
One pack fresh tagliatelle
3 medium eggs
150ml cream
40g Grated parmesan cheese
Olive oil for frying


Put a large pan of water on to boil.
Put two bowls or plates in the oven to warm.
Cut the fat off the bacon and cut the remaining meat it into small squares.
Fry in a frying pan with the olive oil until it is just getting crispy on the edges.
Drain and set aside to cool.
When the water is boiled add half to two thirds of the tagliatelle to the boiling water and allow to simmer for three to five minutes or until cooked.
Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the cream.
Add the grated parmesan and whisk into the mix.
When cooled add the bacon and mix through.
When the pasta is ready drain in a collander and put back in the pan.
Stir in the egg, cream, bacon and parmesan mixture until it coats all of the pasta.
Serve in the previously warmed bowls or plates.


The heat in the pasta and the pan will be enough to cook the sauce. If you put the pan on the heat there is a good chance the egg in the sauce will turn to scrambled egg. If you do need to heat it up then use a low heat. However, you can reduce the risk of needing to do this by ensuring that the cream and eggs are at room temperature before you start cooking. The plates need to warm or the pasta will be cold when served.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sparx Cornet Mouthpiece Review

My cornet mouthpiece history is very short. For many years I played on a Wick 2, followed by a year or so on a Monette 1-5FL, then a brief attempt at playing on a Wick 4 and a McCann before returning to the 2. Then when I joined my current band I decided I needed some help with stamina and changed to a Curry 1.5BBC. Although its a very good mouthpiece, and I would still recommend it, it isn't quite deep enough to give the richness of tone I need in the lower register on my Sovereign cornet.

I did some research and came across the Sparx mouthpieces. I went ahead and ordered a "2" which has a similar size rim to my 1.5C trumpet mouthpiece. It arrived surprisingly quickly from Canada and I have started using it. I had originally intended switching in a month or so, but the feel and blow was so similar to the Curry that I found switching too difficult.

Some of the things I have noticed so far:

  • Very supportive in the upper register without feeling too tight.
  • The effort required between intervals is very even across the range.
  • My cornet is more in tune with itself across the range and at different dynamics.
  • A general improvement in intonation.
  • Able to back off more and use less effort to make the instrument speak resulting in a bit more stamina.

Its a big mouthpiece so it it's never going to do screamy high notes, but top C entries are still solid.

The Sparx is expensive to import to the UK, but it seems worth it for the benefits . Does anyone else use one and have any comments?

Here are a couple of home recordings:

Ye Servants of God (hymn tune: Laudate Dominum)


Bring Him Home