Tag Archives: Radcom

Radio Waves: A Cryptologic Mystery, RSGB Opens Doors to Full Online License Exams, Secret War, and September Issue of RadCom Basics Availabe

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Ron, John (K5MO) and the Southgate ARC for the following tips:


A Cryptologic Mystery (Matt Blaze)

Did a broken random number generator in Cuba help expose a Russian espionage network?
I picked up the new book Compromised last week and was intrigued to discover that it may have shed some light on a small (and rather esoteric) cryptologic and espionage mystery that I’ve been puzzling over for about 15 years. Compromised is primarily a memoir of former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok’s investigation into Russian operations in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, but this post is not a review of the book or concerned with that aspect of it.

Early in the book, as an almost throwaway bit of background color, Strzok discusses his work in Boston investigating the famous Russian “illegals” espionage network from 2000 until their arrest (and subsequent exchange with Russia) in 2010. “Illegals” are foreign agents operating abroad under false identities and without official or diplomatic cover. In this case, ten Russian illegals were living and working in the US under false Canadian and American identities. (The case inspired the recent TV series The Americans.)

Strzok was the case agent responsible for two of the suspects, Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova (posing as a Canadian couple under the aliases Donald Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley). The author recounts watching from the street on Thursday evenings as Vavilova received encrypted shortwave “numbers” transmissions in their Cambridge, MA apartment.

Given that Bezrukov and Vaviloa were indeed, as the FBI suspected, Russian spies, it’s not surprising that they were sent messages from headquarters using this method; numbers stations are part of time-honored espionage tradecraft for communicating with covert agents. But their capture may have illustrated how subtle errors can cause these systems to fail badly in practice, even when the cryptography itself is sound.[]

Online Full ham radio exams now available (Southgate ARC)

From today, Thursday, Sept 24, the RSGB are allowing Full amateur radio online exams to be booked. All 3 levels of exam required to get a HAREC certificate can now be done completely online

Potentially this could mean amateurs in other countries could take the RSGB online exams, get their HAREC certificate and then apply for an amateur licence in their own country. This would be beneficial in those countries where provision of local exams is virtually non-existent.

Currently there is a 4-5 week backlog for amateur radio exams, the next available exam slots that can be booked are at the end of October.

You can book online UK amateur radio exams at
http://www.rsgb.org/exampay

Details of onlne amateur radio training courses are at
https://rsgb.org/main/clubs-training/for-students/online-training-resources-for-students/

The Secret War (BBC)

The wartime BBC was involved in a range of top secret activities, working closely with the intelligence agencies and military.

by Professor David Hendy

As well as making programmes for the public, the wartime BBC was involved in a range of top secret activity, working with closely with the intelligence agencies and military. Here, newly-released archives lift the veil on the broadcaster’s role in this clandestine world of signals, codes, and special operations.

It’s always been known that just before the war began in September 1939, the BBC’s fledgling television service was unceremoniously shut down for the entire period of the conflict.

What’s less well-known is that, far from being mothballed, the television facilities of Alexandra Palace were carefully kept ticking-over by a small team of engineers – and that the transmitter which had supposedly been silenced for reasons of national security was soon sending out its signals again.

From May 1940, Alexandra Palace’s ‘vision’ transmitter was being tested for its ability to jam any messages passing between tanks in an invading German force. The following year, its sound transmitter was being deployed for something called ‘bending the beam’. One of the BBC’s engineers who remained on site was Tony Bridgewater:[]

September RadCom Basics available (Southgate ARC)

Issue 18 September 2020 of the RSGB newcomers publication RadCom Basics is now available online for members

RadCom Basics is a bi-monthly digital publication for RSGB Members that explores key aspects of amateur radio in a straightforward and accessible way.

In this issue:
• Magnetic loop antennas
• Metal bashing
• Station maintenance

Read the latest issue at
https://rsgb.org/main/publications-archives/radcom-basics/


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Just pulled the trigger on the new QCX+ CW/WSPR QRP transceiver kit

I’m a real sucker for kits of any stripe.

A few days ago, my buddy, Pete (WB9FLW), sent me a tip about the new QCX+ CW/WSPR transceiver by QRP Labs. I posted an announcement on QRPer.com.

I’ve yet to build a QRP Labs kit, but I’ve only heard positive reviews from readers and friends. QRP Labs’ president, Hans Summers (G0UPL), is an amazing kit designer and, indeed, won the 2019 Homebrew Heroes Award.

Hans kindly took a break so that I could snap his photo at Hamvention 2019.

Last year, at the 2019 Hamvention, QRP Labs had a table across from ours and, based on the amount of people huddled around his table all day long, I’m certain he was one of the busiest vendors at Hamvention.

His new QCX+ transceiver is an upgraded/updated version of the original QCX transceiver which has sold nearly 10,000 units. In the following video, Hans describes in detail how the QCX+ is designed and the differences between it and its predecessor:

Since I’ve quite a few things on my Social DX bucket list–including the recent addition of QRP EME (I mean, what am I thinking?)–and since I don’t really need yet another CW QRP transceiver, I required a good excuse to buy and build this kit. So I turned to my editor at RadCom who very much wanted review. Fantastic excuse! Thank you!

The amazing thing about the QCX+ is you getting a full-featured single band QRP transceiver for $55 US plus a modest shipping fee. This means pretty much anyone can afford to buy and build one.

I just placed an order for the transceiver ($55) with a 40M band module, the optional custom aluminum enclosure ($25), and the optional GPS receiver ($23). If I had a 3D printer, I might have skipped the enclosure because I’m willing to bet that shortly after the transceiver’s release, someone will share an enclosure design one can print at home. Then again, since I know I’ll take this little rig to the field, an aluminum enclose will provide excellent protection.

I purchased the optional GPS receiver because I plan to eventually put this rig into use as a dedicated WSPR beacon. The GPS module will calibrate the frequency, time, and Maidenhead Locator grid square in WSPR mode. It can also be used to precisely calibrate the transceiver’s synthesizer reference oscillator.

Kit anticipation time!

According to the QRP Labs website, they plan to start shipping the QCX+ in mid-June. I opted for FedEx delivery, so hopefully it’ll arrive sometime around my birthday (Happy Birthday to me!).

More than anything, I simply enjoy building kits and really look forward to building the QCX+, then putting it on the air! I’ll post updates and a few photos here, but look for my full review likely this fall in the pages of RadCom.

Post readers: Please comment if you’ve built a QRP Labs kit or have any other kits in the pipeline this summer!

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ALT-512 QRP transceiver review in RadCom

If you’re a member of the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) you may have seen my review of the ALT-512 QRP transceiver in the March 2020 issue of Radcom. This was my first review for Radcom after having been invited to submit a review at the 2018 Hamvention.

I love Radcom so was pretty chuffed to see my review in the March pages:

I had the ALT-512 here at SWLing Post HQ, on loan from the manufacturer, for the better part of six months. I got to know this little radio inside-out. I’ve operated it in the field, in the shack and covered ever mode including FT-8 contacts during portable operations and even in a high school classroom.

Operating FT-8 with my ham radio class high school students last year. The ALT-512 is a digi-mode champ. With a very modest indoor mag loop antenna we averaged about 110 miles per watt.

The ALT-512 is a versatile, sturdy little rig–designed and manufactured in Bulgaria. I really only had minor complaints about this transceiver. I saw a bright future for this little rig. It was well-designed and backed by a company and team of ham radio operators that had already successfully launched several other transceivers.

Then the unexpected happened…

Early last month, I learned that the ALT-512’s main engineer and designer, Dobri Hristov (LZ2TU), passed away.

If you own the Sky SDR or LD-11, you may have communicated with Dobri at some point when you needed technical support.  Dobri was a well-respected fellow and distinguished ham radio operator/DXer. I corresponded with him quite a few times in the past.

Sadly, when Dobri passed away, he took the ALT-512 with him.

Here’s the announcement from Aerial-51’s website.

I think the ALT-512 would have been very successful and competitive in the European market and beyond.

Dobri passed away as the March 2020 issue of Radcom was being printed. He never got to see it, but I’d like to think he would have been quite proud of his little transceiver. In the end, I think it was an overall positive review.

You can judge for yourself: Aerial-51 recently published a copy of the ALT-512 review with permission from the RSGB.

Radcom

If you’re into ham radio and are looking for a top-shelf publication, consider joining the RSGB and subscribing to Radcom. I highly recommend them even though their judgement was obviously impaired when they invited me to write a review–! 🙂

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