Saturday, 29 May 2021

GW/MW-012 Carnedd Wen 29 May 2021

I took a day out from a family visit in Cardiff to try to activate the last two of forty Marilyn Summits in Mid-Wales that I need for Summits On The Air (SOTA). Only one summit was completed, due to injury leaving GW/MW-020 Esgair Ddu for another day in 2-3 weeks time, when I am resident for a longer period near to Dolgellau.

I left Cardiff at 0715 a.m. on an almost three hour, 125 mile drive that took me along the now familiar and excellent roads through the Brecon Beacons, Builth Wells, Rhayader and Llanidloes. Then from Mallwyd roundabout (A470) I drove six miles eastwards on the A458 to the parking place, a wide gateway which leads to the summit of GW/MW-012 Carnedd Wen (523m, 2 points). 

The locked metal gate at the parking spot, was one of three or four climbed that day, taking the walker on to a 3.5 mile track to the summit activation zone. The first real and immediate obstacle being a concreted sill ford - water depth was about half way up the tongues of my Scarpa's, so the feet remained dry. After a rainy spell this torrent could well overtop your boots I reckon:
The graded track took me up across open fell and then into the forest. The navigation was straightforward, and the climb gradual and as easy as you could imagine. Within 90 minutes after 3.5 miles I was within the activation zone where a caravan had been parked:
Some environmental land management was taking place as I came across packs of plantings stored on the track containing moss and suchlike, so I can only surmise that the caravan is there to act as either a crewroom or sleeping accommodation for the workers. It was a Bank Holiday weekend and I never saw a soul all day... By the time I reached the summit area my left leg achilles tendon was very sore and the final 200m spent locating the deliberately hidden trig point, involved dragging my hungry body and sore ankle over a peat bog making it worse. Rule for the future: "DON'T SKIP BREAKFAST".
The dull grey trig point had been masked by ploughing back the land - to create an ad-hoc quarry with pond, for forest roadstone within 6 feet of the trig and at least 10 feet higher. This higher terrain became the tieing off point for one end of my link dipole:

After climbing up and tieing off on top of the spoil heap I felt decidedly dizzy, so I sat down for 5 minutes to regain full conciousness (Don't tell the XYL!). I put this down to the pain from my achilles and lack of breakfast... The small pork pie and water I had at the start was insufficient to nourish the effort needed to reach the "summit" I thought. I knew at this point that one summit was all I could manage that day.... Completion of the GW/MW with MW-020 activated and chased would have to come on another day...

Time for some Radio then... 

With time to spare having decided on this being a one summit day I switched on my recently purchased (Chinese made) Yaesu FT-65E. I bought this relatively cheap radio as it has a bigger battery pack than my other FT-4X (Also Chinese made). Both radio's also operate on 70cm which is a band I am unaccustomed to using. As I was setting up on HF I used the handheld with long dual band RH771 whip to work Dylan M7DST/P on Long Mynd G/WB-005. Then I heard Vicky MW6BWA/P and Rod MW0JLA/P call CQ from Great Rhos GW/MW-002 also on 2m. Two more lovely S2S QSOs with the added bonus of 59 reports both ways on 70cms as well!

Time for HF action now and Victor, GI4ONL (Bushmills) was waiting at home for me to come on 60m CW, followed by another good mate, Nick G4OOE (Scarborough). A move to SSB and I worked another mate, Terry G0VWP (York) and continued to work my way through the bands on CW and SSB working UK and EU stations, avoiding 20m CW due to the CQ WPX Contest congestion. I finished with a good handful of welcome S2S QSOs. As I was packing up and monitoring S20 Jordan MW3TMX/P came on the air from nearby Garreg Llwyd GW/MW-014 to finish off my nice spell of SOTA activity with 45 QSOs. Jordan being on his 3rd summit of the day with another one to go later. 

The way back down was painful walking with a limp and stiff leg and then when nearing the car I made matters worse, by slipping off a metal gate and slamming my sore left leg hard down on the ground. This meant the air turned blue with profanity but there was only I to hear it!  A golfing friend has suggested some exercises to repair and strengthen my achilles as well as rest and ice packs. I am hoping that this will be enough to allow me to resume activating in Wales when we return in June.

My drive back with a meal stop at the recently refurbished and much improved Burger King in Builth Wells was enjoyed, and I was back in Cardiff by around 7.45pm.

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Review - The Bresser / National Geographic WIFI Weather Center 7in1

Bresser / National Geographic 7in1 monitoring the weather in Pickering

Following on from my previous blog reporting on my experiences with the unreliability of budget weather stations, this is a review of my latest unit, the National Geographic WIFI Weather Center 7in1 by Bresser UK. This unit replaced a more expensive Youshiko YC9391 unit - which lasted less than six months before failing under warranty. 

The Bresser range of weather stations are supplied by Bresser GmbH Germany, however the units can be ordered from Bresser's UK Office and website based in Kent. The Bresser Company has been trading now for over sixty years. 

No duty was payable for my unit on delivery (Post Brexit April 2021). The range of stations available is extensive, currently starting at £35 and going up to £433. The units are branded as either Bresser, Explore Scientific or National Geographic. This review is for the mid-range 7in1 National Geographic model. This review was written after the unit had been in service for just 3 weeks. 

This model and similar units in the Bresser range do not rely on a computer to transfer data to the internet. Data is uploaded from the control panel directly to publicly available websites via the users own router, which becomes an "Access Point".  A comprehensively written 22 page English Quickstart printed manual is included for set up and maintenance and this is also supplied in German.

An adaptable mounting kit for fixing the 7in1 unit to a circular pole is supplied, or the mounting bar with shoe can be fixed permanently to a flat surface. The supplied clamp was used with stainless steel hardware to fix the mounting bar to a 30mm length of tubing attached via u-bolts to a small mounting bracket on the gable end of my home.

The 7 in 1 unit fixed to its mounting bar and fixing shoe prior to erection

The 7in1 Unit

The moulded plastics used are of good quality. The unit weighs 673 grams. Incorporated in the unit is a rain chamber, which operates using a conventional tipper, outdoor temperature gauge, anenometer for wind speed measurement and weather vane for measuring wind direction. In addition humidity and UV / light intensity index is also measured. In use, the effect of sunlight on the temperature sensor does not influence the readings.  A spirit level is incorporated in the top of the unit to ensure level mounting, so that in theory at least, the rain gauge remains accurate.  To power the 7in1 unit I used three Duracell Ultra AA batteries. It will be interesting to see over time how long the batteries will last...

The 7in1 unit mounted in proximity to the writers Amateur Radio antennae

The unit passes weather data at a power level of >25mW on a frequency of 868 Mhz to the control panel inside my home. A range of 150m is claimed - in my installation the signal passes through two masonry walls and two wooden floors to the panel 11m distant from the 7in1 unit. The panel indicates that the signal strength is 4 bars, which is the maximum indication.  

The Control Panel

The control panel is smaller and brighter in colour than my previous unit. It is small enough not to look out of place on top of a worktop, window sill or piece of furniture. The unit is powered by the supplied 5 VDC plug-in mains power supply. Backup is via a CR2032 button cell. No batteries for either unit are supplied by Bresser. 

The panel has internal sensors for indoor temperature and barometric pressure. The display is highly configurable for various parameters of each weather characteristic. I prefer to observe wind gusts in mph, temperature in centigrade, absolute pressure in millibars hPa and rainfall in millimetres.  The unit also displays the "feels like" temperature which I can vouch as being accurate when we have a "nithering northerly" or a "beast from the east" cold wind! In terms of accuracy all measured units can be calibrated electronically during setup. The barometer was actually reading six units high compared to the local airfields, so the panel was recalibrated to match the accurate air pressure. Several weeks later the reading has remained accurate. 

National Geographic / Bresser Monitoring Panel

In addition to monitoring the 7in1 weather data the smart device picks up and displays date, time, and moon state data which it obtains from the internet.

During installation and calibration the control panel becomes an Access Point, allowing set up using WiFi via a tablet, phone, laptop or personal computer. The set up interface can be displayed on Android or iOS devices. The frequency used for the purpose of access is in the commonly used 2.4 Ghz band. I had no problems in accessing the panel settings using an Android tablet or smartphone and a Windows 10 laptop, which all allowed me to save the settings.  The panel was set up to provide viewable current and historical data to three publicly available websites - see below.

Internet Connectivity

These latest Smart Devices no longer need a direct connection to a computer to upload data to external websites, as earlier models and many current units still require. This is a positive advantage, to provide 24/7 day monitoring without the need to rely on a computer to be left on continuously, yet still sharing the weather data via the users router to a website. In the case of my installation the data is uploaded to Weathercloud, Weather Underground and AWEKAS.  All three websites provide a free service to registered users.  You can see the results at: Weathercloud, Weather Underground and AWEKAS. One last important point to note - this unit is covered by the Bresser five year warranty

The NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC WIFI Colour Weather Center with 7in1 Sensor is available at £189 plus £5.95 carriage from Bresser UK 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

My experiences with Weather Stations from 2009-2021

I've been running amateur weather stations at the two homes I have lived in at Pickering North Yorkshire, for more than ten years. Since I started with the first cheap Watson unit the technology and web content which can be viewed via the internet by the general public, has changed considerably. After spending more than £500 on five stations in the low to mid budget category over the years, it seems that the stations susceptibility to the very thing they are measuring, the weather itself, is their "achilles heel" of the outdoor sensors. So I thought I would catalogue my experiences of the different units I have used over the years in my blog...

My first weather station was made by Watson and cost less than £100. This Watson station which came as a christmas present, cost less than £100, and the unit has long been discontinued.  The Watson lasted less than three years before there were problems with two of the outdoor sensor units, so I decided to replace the whole thing. Over the next six years I ran two identical WMR88 weather stations made by Oregon Scientific:

I had problems with the first control panel after around three years, so I purchased another WMR88 set as the cost of that was close to the cost of a new panel. The seperate spare sensors for wind, temperature and rain later came in handy to replace the first set when they became unreliable. After six years operation I still had a servicable weather station from the two I originally bought, so I took it out of service, repacked it and sold it in 2020 as a servicable station for £80 on eBay.  

These early stations relied on software running on my own PC. I configured them to upload data to my own website and to the the public website Weather Underground.  This was achieved using the original Cumulus software which was written by a guy on Sanday in the Orkneys.  This software writer has now retired but an updated  version called Cumulus MX is available from another writer. If you try the updated version yourself - good luck, I could never get it to run on a Windows 10 PC.

In 2020 three of of us, all radio amateurs, decided to all purchase identical stations from a company called Youshiko that is trading in the UK now, selling weather stations and other items, such as radio clocks and battery chargers. The company is based in Romford Kent. We all decided to purchase their top of the range "professional" unit the Youshiko YC9391 at a cost then of £299.  The YC9391 has a 7in1 unit with all sensors contained within the roof mounted outdoor unit, which in my case was mounted on on a 30mm diameter pole on my house roof:
Now defunct Youshiko YC9391 Weather Monitoring Station on 29th January 2021
The only external sensor to the main external unit was the indoor thermometer which was seperate to the control panel. There was no internal thermometer within the panel itself:

With technology and internet connectivity of devices continuing at great pace over the last decade, these latest amateur weather stations operate in a different way to the earlier models I had which relied on a home PC 24/7 to perform the upload function every few minutes using software on a PC. The latest units such as this Youshiko and others by Bresser, National Geographic, Explore Scientific and other branded similar stations, utilise the users own WiFi router to upload weather data to the internet directly, so no longer does the user have to rely on connecting their panel to a PC to upload their data to the internet. The panel communicates directly to the router and the router then sends the data every few minutes to one or more publically viewable websites. 

Unfortunately it appears that the three of us were unlucky in purchasing the YC9391 unit, and only one out of the three of us are still using these. Within four months of installation one of my friends 7in1 units stopped functioning completely. The support provided by the Weather Shop where he purchased it was excellent. They told my friend that the units had been unreliable and that they weren't able to repair the unit. They also told him that they had stopped retailing the Youshiko YC9391 on account of its unreliability. He was asked to return the YC9391 to them. To their credit they supplied, at no cost, a similarly priced Davis unit. My other friend was also unlucky with his unit which stopped working after around 4 months - in his case he like me, had purchased direct from Youshiko, who replaced the 7in1 unit. Six months later I'm able to report that the second replacement unit is providing reliable service.

In my case problems with the 7in1 unit developed after 5 months when the UV sensor stopped working. Up to this point the unit had been reliable. At the same time as the UV sensor failed to read, the 3 x AA batteries in the 7in1 unit expired and these were replaced by lithium ones. These lasted just three weeks, so that meant another climb on the roof to replace them! This lithium set lasted less than two weeks so once again it was necessary to climb on the roof and replace the batteries again. This time Duracell Ultra AA were fitted, and yes, you guessed it - these lasted just three weeks! 

Standard Alkaline, Lithium and Duracell Ultra AA batteries

So after an awkward and protracted email discussion with the man at Youshiko about my faulty unit with no offer of replacement I lodged a Section 75 claim through my credit card company against the company. After five weeks Youshiko offered to refund my money and provided a forwarding address. The unit was returned to them boxed with all the original documentation. With the £299 back in my account I had now to decide to buy a replacement, my 5th weather station in twelve years.... so what did I buy? I got the National Geographic WIFI Weather Center 7in1 from Bresser UK costing £189 and I will write up a review in my next blog entry. Happy weather watching folks...