Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Scott, N1VG recently posted this update about the new Tracker4:

“The Tracker4 is getting close to release!  I’m expecting to have it ready at the end of May or start of June - there’s one more board revision expected, adding a DB9 serial connector to the front for the sake of interfacing with weather stations and Garmin devices and such, though with the internal GPS receiver most users won’t need to touch it”.

“Your pre-orders will help me make some decisions on how big a first production run of PCBs to make, and whether we’ll be doing all of the enclosure machining in house or outsourcing that”.

“The link below has some information about the new features, in case you missed my previous post.  It’s a tracker, TNC, and digi like its predecessors, but it’s also a standalone IGate and a multi-function gadget that gives you easy BASIC scripting access to external sensors and relays, parsed APRS packets, DTMF encoding and decoding, WAV file recording and playback, and (still in progress) networking features for interacting with web services”.

“The T4 is also very closely related to the new ADS-SR2 repeater controller, and currently it’ll work as a simplex repeater for voice or SSTV.  That feature might get made into an optional upgrade, but if you pre-order we’ll make sure that you still have access to the repeater features in future updates”.

“The pre-order price is $139, and that includes a magnetic mount GPS antenna and a WiFi antenna”.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I’ve often thought about adding a large AGM battery (or three) to the shack to provide for power in the event that all else fails. And then a few days ago I happened across this message from Dave, K9DC about the Progressive Dynamics PD9270 70 ampere power supply.

Basically it’s a filtered, regulated, 13.6V power supply capable of 70 amps continuous.  It automatically scans 13.2, 13.6 and 14.4 volts and determines if there is a battery present. If there is, it starts out at 14.4V (boost mode) until the battery is 90% charged, then drops to 13.6V (standard) for 30 hours, then drops to 13.2V (float mode).  While in float mode, every 20 hours, it switches to 14.4v for 15 minutes. This prevents battery sulfating, without overcharging.  If there is no battery, it simply stays at 13.6 volts.

Because of the automatic voltage switching, you can charge nearly any battery you have for standby power. At my UHF site, I have a 100AmpHour and a 55 AmpHour AGM battery simply connected in parallel. This gives me several hours of full power operation of the repeater.  At the VHF site, where I have an automatic backup generator, just a single 55AH AGM battery is present.

Progressive Dynamics sells these power supplies primarily into the RV and marine industries. Cost is roughly $220 from Amazon (compare to a 70 amp Astron for ~$475).

Monday, April 16, 2018

I played a little in the Georgia QSO Party this weekend. The usual setup here; KX3 at five watts, CW-only, into a dipole at thirty-feet. Managed to work fourteen stations in eleven different counties in Georgia. I uploaded those contacts to LoTW but I don’t plan to submit a log. The GAQP folks require a Cabrillo formatted submission and I don’t have a way to generate that format.

On the other hand, I also worked N7IV in the Idaho QSO Party and while it was my lone contact in that QP, they accept logs in ADIF so I did submit my log there.

There’s a lesson in that for QSO Party organizers, but few will be willing to make life easier for participants, especially for little pistols with paltry scores like mine.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Having spent this entire week recapping the OzarkCon QRP Conference, I wanted to wrap things up with one more kit that was introduced last week, the Cricket 30 (it’s not yet available for purchase online but coming soon).

The Cricket 80 first appeared at last year’s conference. The single-band 80-meter CW transceiver is powered by a 9-volt battery and works on a single frequency. The kit ships with a 3579 KHz color burst crystal though others (not FT-243) may be used. The transmitter produces about one watt of output and a snap-off section of the circuit board is used as an attached and onboard straight key.

There are only 36 total electrical components in this kit and no toroids to wind as all inductors are etched on board spiral coils. At just thirty bucks it’s a perfect one-night kit project for beginners or as a club build project. Group discounts were available for just such application. It’s been a successful kit and comes as no surprise that a 30-meter version of it appeared this year.

I haven’t had time to unbox my 30-meter Cricket yet but I’m anxious to get it on the air. In addition to being downright cool, there’s a “Cricket Society”. You make 10 QSO’s with your Cricket and you can get a special certificate along with a coveted “Cricketeer” number.

Yet another way to build something with your own hands and have fun with ham radio.

Related Links:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Friday night banquet speaker at OzarkCon was Tom Vinson, NY0V. Tom and his wife live in a small town in a log home he built after retiring in 2010 following more than 30 years working for Rockwell Collins (Collins Radio) in Cedar Rapids.

He’s been a lifelong ham radio enthusiast having gotten into the hobby as a youngster. Along the way he has enjoyed chasing DX (#1 Honor Roll Mixed, Phone)and being chased as DX when he operated from Tarawa, West Kiribati (T30CXX) in 2002 and Christmas Island (T32CXX) during the Oct 2008 CQWW SSB.

Tom shared briefly about his ham radio life, but the topic of his dissertation this night centered on his involvement with the Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition.

Rockwell Collins contributed to the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart by offering up a few hours time from a couple of its employees to assist the discovery team in answering some technical questions they had about radio transmissions between the Coast Guard ship and Earhart’s plane. At the time, the company expected their total involvement to be about “three hours”.

Three-thousand hours and two expeditions later, Vinson had become the radio expert for the Nauticos discovery mission.

You can learn much more about NY0V and the search for Amelia Earhart by listening to his 2016 QSO Today interview here and from links at the bottom of this post.

But here are a few of my thoughts…

First, I was impressed and inspired to know that the technical acumen of ham radio enthusiasts is being employed around the globe in matters of scientific discovery every day.

In the early years hams were on the leading edge of radio technology because there was no one else to do it and we quickly became subject matter experts. I find it amazing to discover that we’re still the experts when it comes to radio, even in this new century.

Tom mentioned several other scientists that he worked with on this project who were also hams and this should serve to inspire us and to make us proud of our hobby.

And besides all that, I found it incredibly cool that hams are working to solve one of the last great mysteries of the 20th century - what really happened to Amelia Earhart.

Related Links:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

One of the new QRP kits that arrived at OzarkCon was the highly anticipated HillTopper 20, the first new design from Dave Benson, K1SWL since closing the door on his Small Wonder Labs.

It’s being kitted by the 4SQRP group with help from David Cripe, NM0S.

It hasn’t yet appeared on the group’s Web page, but I believe the regular price will be $80 when it becomes available again. I picked one up for the special show price of $70.

Here are a few details from the manual:

  • Frequency coverage: 14.000 to 14.350 MHz
  • Tuning: 100 Hz /20 Hz steps
  • TX power output: 5W nominal. Receive current draw: approx..60 mA
  • Size: 4.35” x 3.95” x 1.07”, weight 8 oz
  • ‘On-the-fly’ CW speed control. Iambic mode A, 8-35 wpm
  • Adjustments: BFO trim cap, one-time Frequency Calibration
  • Frequency readout: Audio Morse
  • SMT Parts (2): Pre-installed

The receiver is adapted from K1SWL’s ‘SW+’ Series with minor modifications. The front-end circuitry was revised to replace the now-vanished 10.7 MHz IF transformers. The output of 1st mixer U1 is transformed to a 220 ohm value by L3/C8. The following crystal filter has a -3dB bandwidth of approximately 400 Hz. L4 and C12 step the impedance back up into the 2nd mixer U2. Trimmer capacitor C53 provides adjustment of the BFO frequency during the alignment process. The two op-amp stages following provide approximately 60 dB of audio gain. The final audio stage is configured as a bandpass filter centered on 800 Hz with a Q of 2. The receiver output is suitable for headphone use. An 800 Hz sidetone is injected into this final stage.

The transmitter strip closely resembles Steve Weber’s – KD1JV- fine work. The frequency source for both transmitting and receiving is an Adafruit Si5351 board.

The controller IC is a 28-pin DIP- the Atmel ATmega328P used in the Arduino UNO. It relies on an external 16 MHz crystal for its timing. The application firmware was written in the Arduino environment. An on-board rotary encoder outputting 24 pulses-per-revolution provides a tuning function.

The variable DC voltage provided by Speed pot R16 is read by an A/D converter and scaled for Morse code timing. A pair of inputs are used for dot/dash paddles, and Straight-key mode is also available. The remainder of the I/O provides various control signals and sidetone for a variety of operations.

The Hilltopper firmware was written in Arduino’s (mostly) C language and supported by its own compiler. The firmware is open-source and can be downloaded.

In a letter to the 4SQRP mailing list, K1SWL said “I’ve built 3 of them so far, including a one-of-a-kind for another band. Mine put out 5-6 watts”.

Keep an eye on the 4SQRP Web site for availability.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

We attended the OzarkCon QRP Conference in Branson, Missouri this weekend. The event was held at the Stone Castle Hotel and Conference Center. Nearly 200 attended, a record for the event. The facilities were first-rate but I could imagine this conference outgrowing these accommodations over the next few years.

This was a first time visit for me and because it was in Branson, my wife joined me in the radio adventure. The 550 mile, nine-hour, one-way drive was at the limit for how far I’m willing to drive anywhere until after I retire.

The conference officially opened on Friday evening with registration, vendor swap (tables available), and the banquet dinner. This year’s speaker was Tom Vinson, NY0V who spoke about his role in the Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition. His talk held both mine and my wife’s attention for several hours as he stuck around patiently answering questions from the audience for a long time.

Later that first evening was the kit-building session with everyone who signed up for it assembling the brand new 30 meter Cricket transceiver kit.

Saturday was an all-day session of individual speakers kicked-off by Bob Heil, K9EID and his Pine Board Project. Other morning speakers continued to drive home the central theme which was to BUILD something.

After lunch came still more speakers including WD5AGO and NM0S who announced several new kits. When the track of speakers had ended the event moved directly into announcing winners of the HomeBrew Contest by category and then the main prize drawings. Over three hundred prizes had been donated with the grand prize being an Elecraft KX2.

Following dinner “on your own” on Saturday evening, there was still more revelry around the vendor and swap areas and then finally, a hidden transmitter hunt in the hotel.

The conference officially ended at 9:00am on Sunday morning though we were on the road and headed back to Indiana two hours earlier.

Having attended the Four Days in May event in Dayton more than a dozen times it’s difficult not to compare the two. While FDIM draws a larger crowd, OzarkCon was on par by every other measure. It’s all well organized and has been finely tuned by the 4SQRP group who has been at this for more than a decade.

My wife says “we will be back” which is as solid an endorsement as I can offer. If you’re a QRPer and can get to Branson, I’d recommend you not miss the opportunity to join the fun next time it rolls around.

Monday, April 9, 2018

We got back home from our weekend at OzarkCon last evening. Then it was a mad scramble to get things ready for me to hit the road again today. I had commented to Brenda how nice these kinds of weekends will be when we are retired and don’t have to rush back home in time to get back to work…

Absolutely wonderful time at the QRP Conference and I’ll have plenty more to say about it as this week unfolds. If you were following along via Twitter then you already got the details and photos. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account you can take a look at the photos here.

I understand that the new kits announced and available for sale at the conference will begin appearing on the 4SQRP Web site this week so keep an eye out if you’re interested, most sold out at the conference as they are kitted in batches and I’m guessing the next few batches will come and go quickly.

Friday, April 6, 2018

More than 30,000 New Ham Licensees

For the fourth year in a row, more than 30,000 new licensees joined the Amateur Radio ranks, and the ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) conducted more than 7,000 Amateur Radio exam sessions, serving some 35,350 candidates for a new or upgraded license. At the end of December 2017, the US Amateur Radio population stood at 748,136.

Sounds too good to be true. So where’s the problem?

Despite the optimistic influx of 32,196 newcomers last year, the net growth of 5,349 — about 0.72% over December 2016 — reflects some 27,000 expired or cancelled licenses in the FCC database over the past year.

Oh. Now I get it…

Thursday, April 5, 2018

I spent some time fiddling with the openSPOT last night. The goal was to test the ability to call another station directly, DMR ID to DMR ID. The test was performed with N9AVG in Illinois. It didn’t require any changes to the openSPOT configuration, just the addition of his ID to my transceiver configuration.

This was based on a comment in the SharkRF support forums:

“Create a channel with your friend’s ID as the TX contact instead of a talkgroup, and then have your friend do the exact same with your ID. Disconnect your openSPOT from any connected talkgroups (group call 4000), and then switch over to the new channel that’s just your friend’s ID. Key up & you will come out of his radio only”.

It worked as described though we still want to continue the test to see if a direct connection made will interrupt an ongoing connection to a talkgroup or reflector or if the direct “channel” can be continuously monitored via scanning, etc.

With a little more hacking it’s apparently even possible to create a similar private connection between more than two users.

There’s much to learn about the emerging world of amateur radio networking.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Big storms rumbled thru here yesterday and last night. 40 degree temperature swing in just a few hours triggered tornados and related mayhem. I guess Spring has arrived and needed to make an entrance.

Looks like the popular Zumspot is a dead project.

The Spring 2018 NCDXF Newsletter is ready for download.

Jim, W1PID and Tim, W3ATB visited Livermore Falls in Plymouth, NH. The Pemigewasset River was raging with spring runoff - and the DX was pretty good too.

The second public test of FT8 DXpedition Mode will take place on April 7, and all radio amateurs are invited to participate.

A new version of the Trusted QSL (TQSL) application — version 2.4 — has been released. The major new feature in this release is the ability to pre-set state, county, and grid values for a station location and verify that gridsquares are correct for the given QTH. Please see the release notes.

QRPGuys Portable 80/60m Vertical Antenna – $20 (In Development)

Expanding on our experience of using the readily available eBay telescoping 17′ fiberglass fishing poles for a vertical support in the Tri-band Vertical Antenna, we are offering a portable 80/60m, center loaded, 15′ long vertical antenna. It has an easy changeable coil clip that allows for selecting a 40-50KHz portion of the upper and lower part of the 80m band or all of the 60m band.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

LoTW Support for CQ Worked All Zones (WAZ) Award

ARRL and CQ magazine have announced the launch, effective immediately, of Logbook of The World (LoTW) support for CQ’s Worked All Zones (WAZ) Award program. The goal of the project, under way since last year, has been to create the proper technical support system to enable radio amateurs to submit LoTW confirmations for WAZ credit, and that has been accomplished, CQ and ARRL said in a joint statement. LoTW already supports CQ’s WPX Award program.

Nice. Convenient. Handy. Kudos. But is there more to it?

Everyone knows CQ Magazine has been having a tough time keeping the presses running lately. The glass half-empty part of me wonders if this isn’t a strategic move by the current publisher to transition these popular awards to the ARRL for long-term curation just in case…

Monday, April 2, 2018

April Fool’s and Easter on the same day we got a few inches of new snow. It’s a brave new world…

My log shows forty-six contacts were added during the month of March. Not particularly a productive span at the key but I nearly reached my target of fifty QSO’s a month for this year.

I’ll need to work a little harder in April to get ahead of the average.

I turned in my brag report for March. Thirty unique SKCC contacts and I missed picking up the bonus station.

I used the KX3 at five watts the entire month and continue to be pleased with the results. When I ordered the transceiver I thought about picking up the 100 watt amplifier and while I still haven’t ruled that out, I’m in no hurry to add that hardware.

It’s a short work-week, we’re headed to OzarkCon on Thursday.

Friday, March 30, 2018

DMR has been the topic of the last two Ham Radio Workbench podcasts.

They’ve taken a fairly deep dive into the subject which I found very interesting since I’m a DMR user who has managed to fumble my way to some success despite it remaining mostly a mystery to me.

Most of my technical questions were covered by these two programs.

It took me more than a week to get thru them both as they run over two hours each. Worth the time if you’re interested in more than just a casual introduction to this digital mode of communication.

The links they’ve collected in the show notes (click Read More) of both programs cover the entire DMR galaxy and it would be worth your time to click over and have a look just for the high-value linkage.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Sasquatch Stomp

The Sasquatch Stomp is an amateur radio contest sponsored by the Pacific North West QRP Group designed to get QRP operators on the air for a fun event similar to the Zombie Shuffle.

Hours of operation: From 21:00 UTC Friday until 03:00 UTC Saturday

Unlike “real” contests, there is no point to this event other than simply getting on the air and having fun. The event is scored, but unlike other contests the final score for each participant will be a negative number with the object being to get the lowest number below zero.

Why do Sasquatches Stomp? Because we can, and we’re good at it!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Space Station’s Slow-Scan Television System to be Active

The Amateur Radio Slow-Scan Television (SSTV) system on the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to be active in April on 145.800 MHz (FM). The Russian segment’s Inter-MAI 75 SSTV has announced transmissions on Monday, April 2, 1505 – 1830 UTC, and on Tuesday, April 3, 1415 – 1840 UTC. The SSTV system, which uses the call sign RS0ISS, is also expected to be active from April 11 – 14 worldwide to mark Cosmonautics Day in Russia on April 12. Specific transmission times are not yet available. Images will be related to the Soviet Union’s Interkosmos cooperative space ventures project.

-ARRL News

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I strolled thru the history of solar cycles since I became a radio amateur in 1977. That was near the beginning of Cycle 21. I gleaned just a few tidbits that lead me to believe we are headed into the HF abyss…

  • Cycle 21 - March 1976 to September 1986 - 10.5 years
    • Maximum sunspot count 232.9
    • Spotless days 273
  • Cycle 22 - September 1986 to August 1996 - 9.9 years
    • Maximum sunspot count 212.5
    • Spotless days 309
  • Cycle 23 - August 1996 to December 2008 - 12.3 years
    • Maximum sunspot count 180.3
    • Spotless days 817
  • Cycle 24 - December 2008 - to present
    • Maximum sunspot count 81.8
    • Spotless days 489

What’s clear is that the last few solar cycles have been weak and are apparently getting weaker. This current cycle (24) is probably at least 18-24 months from handing off to Cycle 25 which means a lot more poor propagation in the days to come.

Gird your loins and ready yourself for what could be historically bad conditions at HF for the foreseeable future.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The need for a good 80 meter antenna in order to survive the dregs of Cycle 24 becomes more obvious with each passing week. I’ve flipped a lot of pages and kicked around a stack of ideas and still haven’t settled on exactly what I’m going to deploy.

One thing is certain, my main support has got to be higher no matter what I decide to hang from it. As soon as the weather permits I plan to purchase and install a 40-foot push up mast. It will have to be guyed and I intend to install a base for it that will permit me to easily take it down and push it back up.

I want to get this up as soon as possible because I figure that will give me time to try more than one antenna design before settling in on what will be my HF antenna when Fall/Winter comes round again.

I want to try a delta loop first. The addition of two more masts (30-foot) would permit me to get sufficient wire in the air and feeding it with ladder-line would permit my tuner to make use of it on all bands and should be a much better configuration on 3.5Mhz than my current “short” dipole.

Pounding Brass

It was a light weekend on the straight key. I managed to put another dozen or so QSO’s in the log. With SKCCLogger now running on OS X I’ve managed to catch up on some bookkeeping.

Found that I was only one short of SKCC Worked All States and that was Iowa. So when I worked KD0DK in Waterloo this weekend, I applied for and received that wallpaper.

I also sent the logs that took me to Tx5 in the hunt for the Senator award. I had more than needed for that level and was close enough to Tx6 that with a little luck, I should hit that level next weekend.

Friday, March 23, 2018

KF7IJZ tweeted this morning that he was taking a long drive to a weekend tech conference and would be monitoring the Bay-Net talk group during his journey. Jeremy is the host of the popular Ham Radio Workbench podcast and produces interesting videos. We chatted a few times during his trip and as he was a captive audience, it was nice to catch up with him.

Site News: New posts now appear daily, Monday thru Friday.

The lead story in the latest edition of THE GRAY LINE REPORT is ‘Implementing a High Performance, Low Cost SDR Into Your Station’ by Kirk Pengelly, NØKK.

LoTW has been struggling the last 24 hours. Maintenance is scheduled for Monday but that might have to happen before then.

Everyone else is doing it so I did it too.

From a box of radio parts, Digi-Key grew into a $2.3 billion anchor of northwest Minnesota

“Now 74, Ron Stordahl, a ham radio operator (AE5E), created a digital key that improved the transmission of Morse code. After successfully selling his “Digi-Keyer Kit” to other ham operators, he branched off into the electronic components business in 1972. His brainstorm was selling parts in any quantity, no matter how small. Other suppliers sold only in bulk. But if you needed a single transistor or capacitor, Stordahl would ship it”.

How Low Can We Go?

Since I was home last night, I popped on 40 meters hoping for a single contact with another SKCC operator in Iowa as I recently discovered I only need that for SKCC WAS. That wasn’t to be last night though I did make several contacts. All of them except one on 80 meters.

More proof, as if any more were needed, that this solar cycle is driving us to lower and lower frequencies.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Handling QSL cards has always required some cost and a lot of effort. And for what, so that you and I can “prove” to a third party that we did what we said we did?

I’ve always believed that meme about the “final courtesy of a QSO is a QSL card” was concocted by some ham, who was probably also a postal worker, attempting to guilt the rest of us into funding his retirement.

When LoTW came along the process became so much easier that I got fully onboard. A few years later, I decided the time had come to terminate my use of printed cards and announced as much on my QRZ bio. I confirm all contacts via LoTW - no other electronic service, and no printed cards.

I still believe that’s the common sense approach even though LoTW adoption remains relatively low. The only thing certain about postal rates is that they will continue to rise. Will you still exchange postal QSL’s when it costs five dollars per card? Ten dollars? Where do you draw the line?

And beyond the cost and the effort, what am I to do with the thousands of cards that have arrived here over the last forty-two years? They currently occupy space in several large plastic bins but only until I get the gumption to take them to the landfill.

That’s been my thoughts about the chore of QSLing until a few days ago…

I was trolling around the old 40 meter Novice portion of the bands a few nights ago when I replied to a CQ from WD4NKA. Gary was in Florida and after our chat I looked him up online. Interesting fellow with some very interesting old hardware.

And something else. Gary runs a small artisan Letterpress Print Shop. Invitations, announcements, that sort of thing. Oh, and he designs and prints 1920’s era QSL cards too.

I watched his short video detailing the laborious process of handcrafting QSL cards the old-fashioned way and I was hooked.

Suddenly, I have an appreciation for the value of quality printing work. And while I still have no interest in exchanging “cheap” post cards for mass contacts, I understand the value in sharing handmade memorabilia from a personal radio contact.

I’ve rescinded my policy and will resume exchanging printed QSL cards. And I’m ordering custom cards from Gary. They aren’t cheap, but I wouldn’t buy them if they were. I value quality craftsmanship and am willing to pay for it.

I’ll still use LoTW for each and every contact and I won’t send paper for low-value contacts like sprints and contests.

But I’ll be happy to commemorate a good CW QSO with a high quality, handcrafted, printed QSL card. No SASE required.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

An update from Scott Miller, N1VG on the Argent Tracker4:

It’s close to being ready for production. It’s been on the back burner for a while with the ADS-SR2 repeater taking up so much development time but the T3 has been unavailable for a while since we ran out of enclosures and the T4 is far enough along that I’m moving it up rather than ordering more parts for the aging T3.

The most obvious change with the T4 is WiFi support.  It still has USB and the command shell has been improved, but the easiest way to configure it is with a web browser.  It has a responsive web interface that works well on a desktop, tablet, or smart phone. It’ll also act as a standalone IGate, and the shell is accessible via telnet.

Instead of the T3’s primitive scripting system, it has a complete BASIC interpreter with some APRS-specific functions to make it easy to automate actions.  This part’s still under development, but it’s already a whole lot more flexible and easier to use than the T3’s scripting.

It’ll still support Dallas 1-wire for sensors, but it adds Modbus RTU over RS-485. 1-wire has never done well for long cable runs and doesn’t tolerate noise very well, but RS-485 is reliable over thousands of feet and in noisy environments. Modbus RTU has been around for decades and is supported by all sorts of sensors and I/O devices.  I’ve been testing everything from < $10 quad relay boards from China to $400 intrinsically safe industrial I/O modules and assorted temperature, pressure, and humidity sensors.  The BASIC interpreter has access to Modbus and does floating point math so transforming sensor data is easy.

I’m planning to add the ability to upload weather data to Weather Underground directly, but that’s not done yet.  It’ll also have a basic weather display in the web interface.

It has only one external RS-232 port versus two on the T3, but it adds an internal GPS receiver with SMA antenna connector and includes a GPS antenna so most users won’t need to connect any serial devices.  It has 32 MB of internal flash memory that can be used for local data logging, and a battery-backed real-time clock that can be automatically synced to the GPS time and/or NTP.

Physically it’s about 1/4” larger than the OT3m in all dimensions, with a flanged aluminum case that’s easier to mount to a surface. I expect we’ll have more compact versions to replace the T3-Mini and T3-Micro eventually but those are going to have to wait until late in the year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ham radio podcasts suffer the same attrition as all other podcasts. Almost all of them close shop after only a few episodes. You can count on one hand those ham radio programs that survived their first year with regular production.

I think podcasting is over-hyped and that some producers make it seem so easy that a lot of people assume they are up to the task.

Most are not.

It can be grueling work with little or no financial pay-off. All podcasts begin with a load of enthusiasm that quickly runs out when it’s realized that listeners are staying away by the billions and the six hours a week it usually takes to crank out something decent begins to feel like hard work.

One ham radio podcast that has defied those odds is SolderSmoke, produced by Bill Meara, M0HBR (N2CQR) along with Pete Juliano, N6QW. Unlike the others, this one just keeps going and going. I began listening when it first launched in 2004 or 2005.

In the beginning, Meara was in London and his co-host, Mike, KL7R was in Alaska and the program was pitched as “tech talk between two radio amateurs”.

Tragedy struck early in 2008 when KL7R was killed in an accident. I stuck around for many episodes after that to see how Mike would make the transition from tech-talk between two buddies to a single host. He did a good job and has continued to crank out programs ever since.

For some reason, the program fell off my podcast radar at some point and I quit listening. I knew that it had continued to be produced despite my absence, but I managed to avoid it. Then I subscribed again last week and listened to the latest SolderSmoke program.

It was the same show, same Bill, and still very good.

There are obvious reasons why this program has avoided fading. First, Bill is a good communicator who is obviously passionate about sharing his unique spin on the hobby. He’s also diligent about publishing show notes and maintaining his Web site and feeds.

But perhaps most of all, he never fell into the trap of publishing too often. He claims the program is produced “once or twice a month” but in reality it’s more like once every five or six weeks. And that seems about right for a one-hour podcast. It gives me a chance to fit listening to it into my schedule. Too often two-hour (or longer!) programs are produced weekly and I fall so far behind that I can’t catch up and end up unsubscribing.

Once a month just feels right. I can keep up with the latest programs and I actually end up missing it while waiting for the next one to hit the Web.

Keeping listeners wanting more should be the golden rule of podcasting.

Monday, March 19, 2018

It was an exceptionally nice week off work. We took a short trip down south early in the week and was back home by Friday. If you’re curious about our road trip, here are a few clues about what we did.

The weather on Saturday included freezing rain which made it perfect weather to spend time in the shack. And this weekend, the bands didn’t completely disappoint. Mind you, the bands are not at all in “good” shape, but they were tolerable and that was enough to keep me occupied.

POTA, SOTA, and the Virginia QSO Party all helped fill my log. Then later on Saturday evening I plugged in the straight key and spent time with my SKCC friends.

Sunday morning was more SKCC fun, including working F5UQE and F6HKA back-to-back on 20 CW. All with five watts to the wire antenna.

After that, I cooked dinner and enjoyed the company of our daughter and three-week old granddaughter before we settled down to watch a Winnipeg Jets hockey game Sunday evening.

A very nice week and weekend and despite the fact that I’ll be back to work by the time you read this, I’m sure the memories will last until at least our next break from work and a road trip to Branson, Missouri for the OzarkCon QRP Convention in April.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A lot of words were expended in this week’s ARRL Letter defending their decision to petition the FCC to add privileges the Technician Class license.

“ARRL has asked the FCC to expand HF privileges for the entry-level Technician license to include limited phone privileges on 75, 40, and 15 meters, plus RTTY and digital mode privileges on 80, 40, and 15 meters, where Technicians already have CW privileges. ARRL believes the additional digital privileges will attract younger people to Amateur Radio.”

I’m not sure I follow the logic. Technicians already have some HF privileges but are still finding the hobby uninteresting. Somehow adding certain HF phone and digital privileges will cause them to take a deeper interest? I haven’t taken a test in decades but is there a significant degree of difficulty difference between the current General and Technician class license tests?

This seems a lot more likely to kill the General class license than to enhance the Technician license if it works like the ARRL suggests. Tech’s who have become bored with amateur radio will get new privileges with even less reason to upgrade. But apparently, Tech’s don’t often upgrade anyway:

“The 378,000 Technician licensees comprise more than half of the US Amateur Radio population, yet the Technician-class license no longer serves its original purpose from 18 years ago. Many Technicians do not participate actively, pursue on-air and public service opportunities, renew their licenses, or upgrade. An uncomfortably large attrition rate exists among Technician licensees. Technician licenses are not upgrading, because they don’t find their operating privileges interesting enough to keep them in the hobby.”

Having enjoyed all US amateur privileges for decades I don’t really have a dog in this hunt and I’m not against Technicians gaining more operating privileges but I doubt this will alter the trajectory of amateur radio licensing.

If I’m wrong and it does work as planned, it will reinforce the notion that the only thing that can be done to generate interest in the hobby is to continue giving away privileges until, eventually, everyone has the same privileges. Then what? What do you do to get people interested in our hobby once you’ve given everyone all the trump cards?

Because whatever that is, we should be doing that right now instead of kicking the can down the road for the next generation to figure out…

Thursday, March 15, 2018

According to QRP Labs, the number of QCX monoband 5W CW transceiver kits sold has passed the 4,000 mark.

The QCX transceiver is a single-band 5W CW transceiver kit, with WSPR beacon and built-in alignment/test equipment. Available for 80, 60, 40, 30, 20 or 17m bands. It has rotary encoder synthesised tuning, VFO A/B/Split, Iambic keyer, CW decoder, and more. $49 US but does not include an enclosure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

My 2018 Novice Rig Roundup (NRR) Highlights

“Well this year’s NRR has come and gone, providing a full nine days of CW fun for those of us that love old radios.”

Steve, VE7SL has compiled a blog post of classic stations that were active in the event and it’s a virtual journey down memory-lane. Enjoy the photos and station descriptions and try not to drool all over Steve’s site.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club Now Streaming Meetings Online

“Packrats who can’t attend a meeting at Ben Wilson Senior Center may now be able to view our meetings live. Phil K3TUF set up a Facebook group and configured a dedicated laptop for the club to use to broadcast meetings live. Search for “Mt Airy VHF Radio Club” on Facebook”.

Here’s another good use for social media. Live streaming a monthly club meeting. While I’m no fan of Facebook, I figure any port in a storm. And it’s a nice touch for members who can’t attend. The first couple of meetings experienced some technical difficulties, but the process is continually improving and this is something any local radio club could easily duplicate.

Monday, March 12, 2018

“I’ve been finding 40 meters to be terrible the past couple weeks” - was the email reply I received this morning from a friend in reply to my asking him how he was enjoying his new KX2.

Now, permit me to whine. My work takes me away from home frequently. That narrows my window of opportunity for HF activity mostly to Saturday and Sunday’s. I woke early on Saturday for this very purpose but tuning from one end of the 40 meter band to the other yielded zilch, nada.

Turned the radio off and got on with life. That might become my new motto. Given how much ham radio activity doesn’t take place on HF these days, I’m once again thinking about abandoning the short waves and moving on.

Good Reads

The Gray Line Report - March 2018 edition from the Twin Cities DX Association.

Cheese Bits - March 2018 newsletter from the Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club.

Orbiting astronaut talks life in space with San Bruno students via ham radio

And finally, this guy is my new messiah…

Friday, March 9, 2018

Finally. Friday. I’m going on vacation next week so of course this week dragged by slowly. But we made it and there’s a lot of radio happening this weekend.

The Oklahoma QSO Party, Idaho QSO Party, QCWA QSO Party, Wisconsin QSO Party, SKCC WES plus the Stew Perry Topband Challenge to name just a few.

And if your thing is satellites look for WD9EWK from the field:

“AMSAT will be assisting the University of Arizona Amateur Radio Club (K7UAZ) at their booth for the ScienceCity science fair, on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson on Saturday and Sunday (10-11March 2018). The science fair will be on the mall along University Blvd., west of Campbell Avenue, in conjunction with the Tucson Festival of Books which is also taking place on the UofA campus this weekend”.

Lots more about this operation here.

And here in most of the US, Daylight Saving Time will begin on March 11th. Change your clocks AND your smoke detector batteries, QSL?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Setting up a Raspberry Pi running Raspbian Stretch or Jessie

“This document is intended for new users to both Raspberry Pi SBC computers and the Raspbian based Linux operating system. This doc will help the user create a reliable device that operates as an AX.25 / APRS packet radio system with GPS support. This guide is focused around the Raspbian Linux distribution, specifically the “Stretch” or 9.0 version. This document also covers the previous Jessie version of Raspian which both of these versions use the new SystemD method of configuration. This document includes SD card hardening with a relatively secured configration for general connection to the Internet. It’s also directly manageable via Wifi via say a smartphone/tablet for off-Internet maintinace as well”.