How I got started in amateur radio

31 08 2015

Yaesu FT-60R

I’ve been into radio since I was knee-high, listening to pirate stations like Kiss 103.7 FM in Northern Ireland (when all my favourite stations were shut down I was a very sad 7 year old indeed) and dabbling in Short Wave Listening (I got some “QSL” postcards, e.g., from Russia and the Czech Republic, confirming signal reports). I first transmitted when I was a teenager using CB radio and there’s still the base of a 5/8 wave antenna rusted onto the side of my parents’ house. I also worked for a bit on an FM broadcast student radio station.

CB radio licences only allow transmitting on low power and on frequencies where relatively short range line-of-sight communication is the norm. Amateur (or “ham”) radio operators can use a broader range of frequencies, some of which allow radio waves to be reflected by the ionosphere and so travel long distances. They’re also allowed to use higher power and much more flexible operating modes (examples below). I’d wanted to get a ham licence when I was a teenager, but this requires sitting exams, and I was already doing enough of those!

I forgot all about ham radio until last year, when a friend of a friend featured on a blog by someone “photographing oddballs whom he found eccentrically wandering around London”. Here’s Oliver (M6ODP), radio ham — he’d been walking along the Thames with a handheld radio.


Oliver (M6ODP)

Ham radio still sounded like fun and I’d overcome my hatred of exams, so I Googled around and found that Loughton & Epping Forest Amateur Radio Society (LEFARS) were running weekend courses. I ordered the books, practised a spot of soldering and sums, and passed the Foundation exam on 21 Sept 2014, the Intermediate on 25 Oct 2014, and the Advanced on 8 Dec 2014. Since December, I’ve had a full licence, callsign MØINF.


Before I got my first radio I played with Echolink which is a bit like Skype for radio hams, with the additional feature of allowing remote connections to radio transceivers (combined transmitters and receivers) over the Internet. For example you can connect to a transceiver in the US, listen on whatever radio frequency it’s listening to and also transmit, so anyone using a radio nearby can chat with you. Commonly these are repeaters, transceivers on hilltops and high buildings which listen to signals on one frequency and re-transmit them on another, allowing conversations over longer distances.

My first ham connect was with OE1OMA on 4 Oct 2014. She was in Vienna, using the local OE1XUU repeater on a handheld radio. I dropped in via Echolink on my PC in London.

Very/Ultra High Frequency (VHF/UHF)

I got a handheld radio, the Yaesu FT-60R, which covers the 70cm and 2m bands used for local chat between hams (and lots of other things, such as talking to the International Space Station, but I haven’t got there yet…). I started using the GB3HR (Harrow) and GB3NS (Caterham) repeaters; more recently, GB3LW (London Sound Bank) has come (back) online, and gives great coverage around central London. Conversations vary from geeky talk about… wait for it… ham radio… to general chat with people in and around London who are, e.g., walking their dog across a hill, on a smoking break from a night shift, or driving home from the shops.

HF radio

Yaesu FT-450D with a WonderLoop

High Frequency (HF)

Radio hams tend to be most interested in international communication, for example on the 20m HF band. Done well, this requires large antennas and high power. I rent a flat in London and haven’t yet found a way to install an outdoor antenna which wouldn’t result in me being evicted. However, I discovered the WonderLoop range of antennas which work indoors on low power. There are several YouTube videos of people using them to make long-distance contacts so I thought I’d give one a go. I got a Yaesu FT-450D to transmit through it.

Surprisingly, the loop works — when conditions are good and when the other end has a decent antenna! My first contact was on 11 January to EC7WA in Spain on SSB. Since then I have spoken to people as far away as Russia and, thanks to particularly good conditions, even the US. I’m mentioned briefly in an American Radio Rely League (ARRL) update:

“Andy Fugard, M0INF, hadn’t heard anything on 10 meters before March 7-8 and using an indoor magnetic loop antenna he worked KI1G, W3LPL, 9A1P, YU1EW, N1UR, AA1K, NC1I and LZ4TX from his apartment in London. You can see the antenna hanging in his window on his page.”

Digital modes

Recently I got a SignaLink interface, a device for connecting my radio to my PC so I can send and receive data. There are many different ways to encode data so that a ham, similarly equipped with radio and PC, can decode it at the other end (hear example recordings of how they sound). So far, I’ve experimented with PSK31 and WSPR (pronounced “whisper”). PSK31 looks a bit like text messaging, with recognised abbreviations of common expressions related to calling and acknowledging message receipt. The furthest I’ve reached is Russia. WSPR is essentially lots of computers saying “Hello there!” to each other via the radio waves in a very robust way, so the signals tend to be detectable even using low power over long distances. If someone receives your message then it’s logged automatically on a central server so you can leave WSPR running overnight and see in the morning how far you reached. My furthest report was from New Zealand. Given my indoor antenna I was very surprised!


Map showing WSRP contacts for one (particularly good!) 24 hour period

What next…?

I’m only getting started. On the to-do list:

  • Experiment with outdoor “stealth” antennas, which won’t annoy the neighbours but are likely to work better than an indoor loop.
  • Analyse public data from WSPR. Can I predict how far my signal will reach based on reports from those around me? How does solar activity correlate with how far my signal reaches?
  • Relay signals using one of the amateur radio satellites
  • Moon bounce: reflecting radio waves off the moon!



Poetical science

16 04 2015

The interdisciplinary struggle experienced by Ada Lovelace, world’s first computer programmer, described by Betty Toole (1996):

Her mother, Lady Byron, had the reputation of being a fine mathematician; her father was the famous poet. Ada’s struggle to unite the conflicting strains in her background was especially difficult, since her parents separated when she was only five weeks old. Yet her father’s heritage could not be ignored. In frustration Ada described this struggle when she wrote in an undated fragment to Lady Byron: “You will not concede me philosophical poetry. Invert the order! Will you give me poetical philosophy, poetical science?”

Thinking about you…

23 03 2015

I often think about you Sven
Or is it Anders, Björn or Christer?
Packing parachute in Gothenburg laundry room
Your face so very flustered

I returned to remove wet clothes
To get the drier going
There you were still packing
Looking worried and startled

So I wonder – hope! – if one day
When the time to jump was near
You opted to stay in the aeroplane
Paralysed with faulty-chute fear

Another open letter to Treasury

18 03 2015

Dear Glenda Jackson,

Thank you very much for writing to Treasury on my behalf and forwarding on the reply from Mr Danny Alexander.

I specifically asked who, at Treasury level and above, is responsible for budget decisions in relation to mental health. The reply, Ministers and Civil Servants, though true, does not answer my question. Is Mr Alexander claiming (by omission) that Sir Nicholas Macpherson, Sharon White, John Kingman, Mark Bowman, Dave Ramsden, Charles Roxburgh, and Indra Morris are not involved. Does Mr Alexander take any responsibility for the budget decisions? Can he not name the senior Civil Servants (and others?) responsible for the analyses?

I also asked for documentation on the rationale behind decisions – any decisions. Let me be more specific in this letter: how was the figure of £1.25bn, recently identified for child mental health, calculated?

Yours sincerely,

Andy Fugard

Comment on Peter Kinderman’s blog post

11 02 2015

(Peter’s blog post.)

Peter Kinderman seems to be arguing that it doesn’t matter if an experience is classified as resulting from disease, illness, disorder, or a response to circumstance (genetically mediated or otherwise). People who have “obvious and quantifiable needs” should get the help they need with social challenges which may have led to the difficulties in the first place. They should have someone to talk to so they can make sense of what has happened. Removing the category of illness doesn’t remove distress, doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be helped. This makes a lot of sense.

Much has been said about the problems with diagnostic categories and with naïve reification to biological entities. You have disease D if and only if you have symptoms S1, S2, … Sn. Why do you have those symptoms? Why of course it’s because you have disease D. I think we can safely conclude, along with many others, that this is circular. An argument that we “need” diagnoses to care for people is unconvincing.

Should we completely throw away what has been collected in diagnostic tomes? I don’t think we should.

One complaint about DSM and ICD is that they cover all aspects of human experience. Most of us can find a diagnosis in there, especially if interpreting the descriptions broadly. But in many ways this is a strength — when naïve reification is eliminated. Denny Borsboom, Angelique Cramer and others have done important work extracting the individual complaints (e.g., loss of interest, thinking about suicide, fatigue, muscle tension) which make up diagnoses and modelling how they relate to each other (Borsboom, Cramer, Schmittmann, Epskamp, & Waldorp, 2011; Borsboom & Cramer, 2013). The individual descriptions and their interrelationships might gain in meaning when stripped of their diagnostic group.

Describing the sorts of situations people find themselves in and how they feel is crucial for conducting research and helping build up evidence for what works. When is talking therapy helpful? When might it make more sense for people to work four days a week rather than five? When should a focus be on interpersonal problems and who should be involved in sessions?

DSM-5 includes a chapter on “Other conditions that may be a focus of clinical attention” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, pp. 715–727). It’s brief, making up only about 2% of the book, and should be expanded, however, it seems relevant to a psychosocial approach and could perhaps be combined with other descriptions of predicaments and problems. Example problems include:

  • High expressed emotion level within family
  • Spouse or partner violence
  • Inadequate housing
  • Discord with neighbour, lodger, or landlord
  • Problem related to current military deployment status
  • Academic or education problem
  • Social exclusion or rejection
  • Insufficient social insurance or welfare support

So, “DSM” is not synonymous with “biological”. There is again plenty to be built upon, despite its problems.

Kinderman argues that practitioners “can offer practical help, negotiate social benefits (which could be financial support, negotiated time off work, or deferred studies, for example), or offer psychological or emotional support.” It was great to see specific examples. Medication also likely has a place, especially when the mechanisms of action are conceptualized in a drug-centred way rather than keeping up the pretense that they cure a disease (Moncrieff & Cohen, 2005). I think we all should be doing more to elaborate how a meaningful psychosocial approach can work in practice.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

Borsboom, D., & Cramer, A. O. J. (2013). Network analysis: an integrative approach to the structure of psychopathology. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9, 91–121. doi:10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185608

Borsboom, D., Cramer, A. O. J., Schmittmann, V. D., Epskamp, S., & Waldorp, L. J. (2011). The small world of psychopathology. PloS ONE, 6(11), e27407. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027407

Moncrieff, J., & Cohen, D. (2005). Rethinking models of psychotropic drug action. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 74, 145–153. doi:10.1159/000083999

Big White Wall “Evaluative Review”

29 01 2015

Big White Wall has been marketing its service using this graphic:


Sounded too good to be true, so I had a look to see if I could find out more.

Their website states, “A copy of the independent review is available on request”. When I asked for a copy (May 2014), they replied that “there is some potentially commercially sensitive data in this review, so we’re not able to share it directly.” I continued asking and even had a meeting with one of their psychiatrists, explaining how important it is that they are transparent about their evidence, especially since they are marketing to CCGs and competing for NHS funding – still nothing.

I accidentally discovered today (Jan 2015!) that the report is online over here, linked to a post on the Mental Health Innovation Network forum. (I have also mirrored it here in case it disappears.)

Now the 95% claim makes sense. The report explains that this is the percentage of users who “reported one or more improvements in mental wellbeing”. There are problems with this kind of evaluation, the most obvious of which is the absence of any comparison group. This means we don’t know what percentage of non-users “feel better” too, so it is difficult to attribute any improvement to Big White Wall.

Additionally, the “one or more” obscures important detail provided in the report. As the tables below show, the improvement rates are often very much lower than 95%.



Mental healthcare funding in England

6 01 2015

Probability of a useful reply low — but let’s see what comes back…

Sent: 04 January 2015 14:22
Subject: Mental heath budget decision responsibility and advisors


Blame for insufficient mental healthcare budgets has been passed around between DH, NHSE, and CCGs, however, the source of funding is the Treasury. Could you please send a summary of the people responsible for decisions made in relation to mental health budgets and who advises them (I’m interested in substantive causal responsibility rather than bureaucratic responsibility). For example, are any of these members of the management team responsible for mental health budgetary advice?

Sir Nicholas Macpherson
Sharon White
John Kingman
Mark Bowman
Dave Ramsden
Charles Roxburgh
Indra Morris

Also what documentation exists on decisions made (at Treasury level or above) in relation to mental healthcare, for instance concerning Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, inpatient beds, Payment by Results/Payment Systems, and questions around the involvement of the “third sector”.

I’d be grateful for any information.

Best wishes,



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