Thursday, June 21, 2018

Happy Summer Solstice! Summer officially kicks-off today even though the heat and humidity has been unbearable for most of our Spring. From this point forward the days will be getting shorter and we’re finally on our way to Autumn, driving the air-conditioning hard every step of the way.

This E-season has not disappointed radio fans who are taking advantage of the higher frequency openings. Reports of increased activity on 50MHz and up has got our propagation-starved fraternity fired-up. I got an email just last night from a buddy who lives on the western slopes of Colorado telling me that he finally worked Rhode Island via 6m last night on a double-hop.

Fingers crossed that Field Day operations with 6 and 2 meter stations will be pleasantly surprised this weekend!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I was on top of the Amazon Echo revolution from the moment it was announced. We had the original Echo and now the 2nd generation model along with an Echo Spot. The Echo takes its place in the main part of the house and we use it a lot, usually for asking the age of some actor in a movie we’re watching, or to find out when they died.

It’s also a handy way to re-order Amazon goods. For instance, I can tell it to “order more coffee” and it will respond by reciting to me my last coffee order and then ask, “do you want to re-order that?” A simple “yes” response and another package of Tim Horton’s is on its way.

The Echo Spot is smaller and sits on the night stand beside my bed. I thought it would be handy to have another Echo in that part of the house but it doesn’t get much use, at least not like the primary unit.

But it does get used once nightly. When I hit the rack I say to it, “Alexa, play the sound of thunderstorms” and for the next hour it plays a loop of rain and gentle thunder sounds. I’m usually asleep in five minutes. It’s brilliant.

When it comes to automation via voice using Echo devices, I’ve always drawn a blank on how I could best make use of it. Right after I got the original unit I copied the plans a friend had made to open his garage door by telling Alexa to open it. I don’t have a garage but thought remotely turning on and off a relay by voice command would be cool.

It’s the way these devices are used to turn on lights by voice command except I find that pretty useless too. If we leave the house in the evening we always leave a light on. And even if we forget, the light switch is just inside the door. It’s more effort to say “Alexa, turn on the lights” than it is to just flip the switch.

Then yesterday as I was walking out the door mid-day there was a sudden clap of thunder and the feedline was still connected to the equipment in the shack. In that moment I thought how handy it would be to simply say “Alexa, disconnect the shack antennas” and wondered if I might have finally found a use for voice control in the shack.

Until it occurred to me that if I was going to add relays to the feedline switches, why not just wire the relays so whenever the equipment was switched off the feedline was disconnected?

Automation without the need for a spoken word.

I had a good chuckle at that and then went back to my premise that while there are many good uses for the Amazon Echo and its voice technology, none of them are applicable to the way I practice our hobby. At least not yet..

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Paul, N6PSE recently reviewed the new Geochron 4K Digital UHD Map. It’s an interesting electronic derivation of the mechanical version of the same. The device takes the form of a small box that requires power and WiFi connectivity and provides an HDMI output that permits connection of a 4K television/monitor

Couple of interesting notes in addition to the primary grey line display:

  • presents continuous location of the International Space Station
  • demonstration mode permits a year to be depicted in 15 seconds
  • lifetime updates for five mapsets are promised
  • overlays for Earth at night, shipping routes, flight routes

The mechanical version will set you back about $1,895 US while the new electronic version is being offered for $399 US.

It’s interesting but I think it’s too expensive. I want a lot more.

Given that it’s doubtless built on a small single board computer, perhaps even a Raspberry Pi, I want something similar that will drive a large 4K flat screen on the wall of the shack that runs like a stadium jumbotron. I want to see current band conditions, DX spots, upcoming net schedules, W1AW bulletins, satellite pass times, space weather alerts, scrolling QSL card images, etc.

I want that kind of ham radio information center on the wall in my shack and see no reason why this couldn’t be the next hot ham radio thing jumping off the shelves at $299 a pop.

Standing by with my credit card, ready to order…

Monday, June 18, 2018

A recently posted tidbit on the VHF-Contesting reflector suggests the ICOM IC-9700 I pre-ordered months ago might appear soon in the Japanese market. Maybe. Price guess $1,900 US with the 1.2 GHz module. Fingers crossed.

While rooting around those reflector archives I found plenty of grousing about how FT8 has destroyed the universe. This in the wake of the recently concluded ARRL VHF Contest. Most were general complaints and hopes that the new mode would soon pass into oblivion. But one guy said if FT8 continues to be popular then he’s done with contesting…

Grumbling about the impact of the new digital mode on the hobby are reminiscent of other technologies that have significantly disrupted the status quo. For instance, imagine how tough it would have been to accept the horseless carriage more than a century ago.

In 1908 retired Supreme Court Associate Justice H.B. Brown wrote about the impending automobile revolution after a very similar fashion:

“The invention of the automobile has introduced upon the public roads of the country a novel and not altogether welcome guest. Although barely ten years since it first made its appearance, it has already conquered an important position in the domain of travel. Indeed, its great power, speed and weight have made it a veritable king of the highway, before whom we are all invited to prostrate ourselves.”

“To those who occupy or drive them, they are undoubtedly a fascinating amusement. The speed of which they are capable intoxicates and bewilders the senses, and deadens them to the dangers which surround the machine, and by a sudden mishap may turn in the twinkling of an eye into a terrible engine of destruction.”

“Whatever the outcome may be, every true admirer of the horse will pray that it may not be the extinction or dethronement of the noblest of all domestic animals.”

Friday, June 15, 2018

Based on the weather forecast, yesterday was the last nice day for awhile. Another heat wave is moving into the area that’s supposed to run the temps up into the mid-90s with high humidity, a depressing combination.

Field Day is just around the corner and the only plans I have are to operate using battery power from the backyard. But I don’t plan to sit out there in 90 degree weather and roast so it could become a climate-controlled event for me.

Same goal this year as in previous years, a hundred CW contacts and one satellite contact. That’s enough to test/demonstrate that I can get on the air and communicate in the event of a widespread emergency. More than that, and is just contest points.

A week after Field Day is the 4th of July, the traditional mid-point of summer. Six weeks later it’s Labor Day and autumn will begin its advance. I want to have all the antenna and station grounding work done by then. Time is marching quickly ahead.

On the Straight Key

Last night I stopped by the SKCC watering hole frequencies on 40 meters and got caught up in a micro-burst of activity. I worked one station then another called right after that. Then another and several more. Ended up working seven consecutive in short order and decided to call it quits while I was ahead.

All told, I think I’ve had about 20 SKCC QSO’s so far this month. Having missed the WES last weekend I expected a pitiful showing for the monthly brag but there’s still time to manage a decent report for June if I can have a few more nights like the last one.

Plus, I’m only two unique contacts shy of Tx6 on the long road to SKCC Senator. It’s not an exclusive group anymore, there are nearly 300 members who already sport the “S” suffix. But if I can nail it down this summer, I’ll consider it a happy achievement.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

It’s funny how certain smells can trigger memories. I used to have a Great Aunt and Uncle who lived a few miles out in the country. We used to visit them every three or four weeks and in the summer the road to their house would get a new application of black-top. I caught a whiff of that while out walking yesterday and instantly thought of them again.

I also caught whiff of a rumor about K1SWL working on a 40 meter version of the HillTopper. His HillTopper 20 is kitted by the 4SQRP group and has been crazy popular. I can only imagine a 40 meter version would also be highly prized. Dilly Dilly!

The Milford (Ohio) hamfest is on Saturday and Monroe (Michigan) is on Sunday. I was thinking about going to one or the other until I realized this is Father’s Day weekend and plans have already been made. Plus, I have a wedding to attend on Saturday evening that I nearly forgot about.

I’ve been spending early mornings on the air, usually on 40 meters and often as not, there isn’t much CW activity. After a few minutes of fruitless tuning I switch to FT8 where it’s common to put 20 an hour in the log.

Last night I popped back into the shack intending to check-in on the weekly forty meter 4SQRP net but while I could hear them, they couldn’t hear me. So I switched to the straight key and worked one lone SKCC station. I’m just not finding much CW activity on the bands these days.

I hope that’s a temporary situation and not an epitaph.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Elecraft Equation

When I took the dive into the world of the Elecraft I knew up front that it would be spendy. The KX3 loaded with all options and factory assembled and tested was nearly $1,700. The PX3 and an assortment of cables and connectors was another $700.

That leaves me $2,400 invested in a low-power station.

The matching 100 watt amplifier and auto-tuner is another $1,250 and at that point, I’d have more in the KX3 than if I had bought the new ICOM IC-7610.

Kinda shocking, huh?

Of course, the KX3 with all the accessories and amplifier is like a Swiss Army knife with multiple uses. It’s an excellent performer in the shack and I can pick it up and carry it into the field with nothing else except the antenna. It’s a portable dream machine and with or without the amplifier, it’s still a world-class transceiver.

While I’ve been successful with low-power, Autumn is coming and I’m going to want at least a hundred watts to push up the pipe. I’ve almost pulled the trigger on the KXPA100 a few times but have hesitated to become so deeply invested in this platform.

If having a hundred watts is the only goal I could just buy another IC-7300 and save $300 versus the cost of the Elecraft amp and tuner and have two transceivers instead of one.

This Elecraft equation has me frozen with analysis paralysis and I’m beginning to think there may not be a “smartest” solution.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Joe Spier, K6WAO is the current President of AMSAT North America. Randy, K7AGE recently caught him talking about CubeSats at the beach during SEA-PAC in Seaside, Oregon earlier this month.

Monday, June 11, 2018

We’re nearly half a year into the ARRL International Grid Chase event and I’m still not certain that I totally grok what it’s all about. I assume it’s mostly aimed at getting more hams to use LoTW as the scores are automatically determined.

For certain it’s yet another ham radio event where those scoring in the top five percent are so far ahead of the rest of the pack that it’s ridiculous. I find most radio contests to be that way. I’ll sometimes have a very productive radio weekend and be surprised and delighted to discover that I earned 330,000 points. Later, when the complete results are announced, I see that the top station had 57 million points…

I really don’t want to congratulate these top scorers so much as I want to ask them if they actually have a life because, I’m highly skeptical.

The Grid Chase is like that. I’m enjoying an above average year in terms of logged HF contacts. I typically put about 1,000 contacts in the log each year. At my current pace, I expect to work 1,500 over this entire year, a significant increase. Meanwhile, the top station in the Grid Chase already has well over 28,000 confirmed QSL’s.

Overwhelming odds and the fact that I can’t make every station I work use LoTW are why I have so little interest in this event. My score will be whatever it will be and I won’t finish in the top 5,000.

Still, I find the leaderboard useful to spy on the activity of others. The LoTW angle makes it non-definitive, but I can get a pretty good idea about how active you are simply by checking your score.

For instance, it’s interesting to discover that many of the top-shelf DXers are inactive. I suppose these are only looking for one or two more elusive stations which aren’t on the air at the moment. But if those near the top of the Honor Roll only get on the air when someone goes to Heard Island, or if they’re just waiting for North Korea, should we even consider these elite operators to be “active” radio amateurs?

Same goes for many ham radio bloggers, podcasters, and video producers who talk a good game, but apparently don’t actually spend much time on the bands.

This is disappointing, not because so many of those we assumed to be active aren’t, but because it convinces me that we will never be able to create an accurate definition of an “active” radio amateur and without it, how will we ever measure if activity on the bands is rising or falling?

Friday, June 08, 2018

RFShark has announced that its popular openSPOT, a standalone digital radio IP gateway / hotspot has been discontinued. This was not unexpected and though the replacement isn’t yet available, most are betting on the new device being WiFi capable.

That will be handy for those who carry the device mobile and portable. The original unit required a wired Ethernet connection which worked well enough by plugging it into a home router, but the ability to connect to WiFi networks would make it much more versatile.

Yet to be seen is how the user would connect it to networks requiring manual input, like a hotel WiFi requiring entry of a user name and password, for a connection. Perhaps a phone app or some similar method will be made available for that purpose. Maybe even a small touch screen on the device itself.

We’ll have to wait and see, but given that the original openSPOT is no longer available, I suspect the replacement device will appear very soon.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

The Magic Band opened for several hours yesterday causing a feeding frenzy on FT8. I got in on some of that but was even happier when I noticed someone calling CQ on CW that turned out to be W3EP.

Emil Pocock wrote the “World Above 50 MHz” column in QST from 1992 until 2002. He was operating from his home QTH in FN31. When I first began calling him he was a weak S1 or S2 but once he detected my peanut whistle and spun his beam in my direction, he popped up to above S8 and we made an easy contact.

Operating on the margin between HF and VHF is what makes 6M so interesting. Openings are rare and silence reigns until suddenly there’s a brief opening and bedlam ensues as operators know this won’t last for long. The thrill of making contacts on what seems a perpetually dead band is what makes the “magic”.

As we approach the solstices (June and December) Sporadic-E provides the propagation for this band every year without regard for the solar cycle.

Sporadic-E was first discovered by hams almost 90 years ago when the old 5-meter band (56 MHz) produced contacts covering “impossible” distances. The “E-skip season” runs from May to July, with another, shorter, peak in December and early January.

Oddly enough, I learned that from the writings of Emil Pocock, W3EP.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

We did get a momentary rain shower yesterday but it was over about the time it started and served mostly to crank up the humidity level to just above uncomfortable. There were storms in the area though and the resulting static crashes were enough to warrant unhooking the antennas.

Just past dinner time I gave a listen on 40 meters and heard N4QR calling CQ in between the bursts of noise. I called him back and we chatted briefly. Bob is in North Carolina, about 40 miles north of Charlotte. He was using a homebrew, three-tube transmitter that develops about 40 watts along with a Realistic DX-160 receiver.

Take a good look at that clean-looking station on his QRZ page.

Contacts like this one are precious enough you want them to last as long as possible. We pounded back and forth several times until the static crashes reached a crescendo and I thought it best to pull all the plugs on this end.

The number of operators you bump into these days using homebrew, tube-type gear is getting smaller with each passing year. But if you’re going to bump into them at all, it will most likely be on CW. I don’t suppose this kind of gear will ever completely disappear, but the TX combo with a DX-160 receiver moves the station into even more rarified air.

I remember lusting after the DX-160 back in the early 70’s and eventually buying one to replace a Hallicrafter’s SX-140 that had anchored my SWL’ing post for most of my teen years. The new solid-state Radio Shack receiver was a thing of beauty and got all my attention until I got a Novice ticket and traded just listening for two-way radio.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

If this is “light rain” then we need a new definition for it. There were a few drops on my windshield but looking out the window of this coffee shop, I see no evidence of any rain making it to the ground. I mowed the lawn yesterday and commented to someone that it was my “last grass cutting of the season” - unless we get some rain.

This is the fifth or sixth day where I’ve played on the radio in the pre-dawn twilight then gone for a long walk before ending up in a coffee shop to put down a few words for the blog. It’s a routine I could easily fall into…

Feeling a little guilty for ignoring my SKCC friends these last few weeks, I stopped by the sked page last night and saw my buddy Jim, W4QO. He’s a past president of QRP-ARCI and was one of the best. In addition to being a fellow Hoosier, I’ve always enjoyed his company during the annual FDIM shindig.

Yes, that’s a real word. Look it up.

We chatted briefly on 40 CW and then I worked another Jim, this one was ND9M/7 operating in Wyoming. I was using the KX3 running five watts into a dipole and signals were better than tolerable, a nice surprise.

Membership in the Straight Key Century Club has grown to nearly 19,000. With no dues you may not think that too surprising but look at it this way, it’s a very specialized club that boasts more than 10% of the total ARRL membership. You can blame that on “free” but I think it’s more about “fun”.

And speaking of SKCC fun, this weekend is the monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) and the annual Boat Anchor Regatta. If your rig has tubes, you’re worth bonus points. Tubes, as in the sum of the tubes in your transceiver or transmitter-receiver pair, and power supply. And if your transmitter’s frequency is set by a crystal instead of a VFO, you could be a hero without running into a burning building…

Find out more here and if you’re not already a member, join us today and get in on this event and many more. It’s easy, it’s free, it’s fun.

Monday, June 04, 2018

The project I’ve been working on for the last two years came to a close last week. It’s not particularly sad, and in my line of work they all eventually end. The successful conclusion means another job well-done. Still, leaving behind friends and moving along to the next thing always creates some turbulence and this time it feels more pronounced.

For the last twenty-five years whenever one project ended I would enjoy a month or two of downtime before going back to work on another project.

But now, nearly sixty-years on, I’ve started wondering if this might be the best time to simply retire? Or if not quit working entirely, perhaps it’s time to look for a new opportunity - something completely different - a career change.

The kids are thru college and out of the house and at this point access to health insurance is more important than income meaning I can afford to take a substantial pay cut to move into some more interesting realm of employment.

On the other hand, I’ve grown accustomed to having as much time off-work as I wanted every year and it would be tough to take a job that offers only minimal vacation time. I’m not really sure what I will do moving forward but the downtime won’t be wasted.

I’ve suddenly acquired more potential hobby time and I plan to take advantage of it. More time on the air, more time for projects, and more time for writing about it. The log and the blog will continue to grow…

Friday, June 01, 2018

When I pointed out recently that FT8 had become the most popular mode of ham radio communications you would have thought I had personally stuck a dagger in the hearts of all operators not smitten with the telemetry-based mode. Let’s be clear, I merely reported on the fact that FT8 is, to quote John Lennon, “more popular than Jesus.”

That I pointed it out doesn’t mean I’m having my “CW Forever” tattoo removed to make room for an “FT8 Rocks” ink spot. It’s simply a fact. And while we now live in a world where alternative facts are often preferred, I’d rather not argue with the data. That’s a job for politicians and related slimeballs.

FYIPortable Operating for Amateur Radio in Paperback and Kindle

The Weekend

The Kentucky QSO Party (KYQP) takes place this weekend from 14:00 UTC on June 2nd and runs until 02:00 UTC on June 3rd. That’s twelve hours if you’re counting. It’s a slightly modified schedule from previous years. Amateur radio operators around the world are invited to participate. Learn more by going to the Getting Started page.

I’ll be standing in the backyard this weekend, aiming a handheld Arrow antenna at the heavens looking for amateur satellites. It’s been nearly a year since I last logged a sat contact and I’m long overdue. I’ll be looking for WD9EWK who will have an AMSAT booth at the Prescott Hamfest on Friday and Saturday (1-2 June 2018). Patrick will be operating during the hamfest and then plans to venture out into the surrounding countryside for additional work and I plan to get him in the log sometime this weekend.

If your weekend weather forces indoor activities, you could catch up on some of the Hamvention 2018 forums that are beginning to appear on YouTube. So far there’s the TAPR Forum, the SDR Forum, and the HamSCI Forum. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The latest edition of TXFactor (TXF021) is now available for viewing. In this early summer episode the guys cover programming your DMR handie and running a SharkRF openSPOT digital radio IP gateway. They review the new Icom IC-7610 transceiver, and Mike visits Bob’s shack in Cornwall to learn more about operating through linear satellites.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Over a half-billion QSO’s have been uploaded to ClubLog and I’d argue that the data contained in all those hundreds of millions of contacts represent a fair sampling of the HF activity in our hobby. Here’s a look at the contacts uploaded by mode on a monthly basis so far in 2018 - courtesy of Andreas, LA8AJA:

FT8 is so far out in front that other digital modes are a foregone conclusion. CW only remains relevant because of its popularity in contests. Even phone, the Holy Grail of wannabe HF operators everywhere, is a nearly forgotten mode compared to FT8.

We’ve never seen this kind of new mode adoption in the history of the hobby. We’re witnesses to a paradigm shift in amateur radio communication that happened so quickly and so completely that it’s wake has forever changed the hobby.

You may consider it a passing fad, but something HUGE is happening and the only thing that’s going to unseat FT8 is whatever newer digital mode happens to be lurking around the corner.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The long, hot, Memorial Day weekend is over and the return to work and other bits of normalcy have resumed. While the summer season may not be officially underway until next month, school is out and and all the local swimming holes have opened. It was 97F here yesterday; how is this not summer?

The HF bands cooperated nicely during the recent WPX contest. Then as soon as that ended, the bands went “dead” again. We see this often enough that we really should declare propagation forecasts unnecessary cruft. You get enough people on the air and soon everyone discovers that the bands are magically “open”. Go figure.

I maintain it’s the high interest and activity that’s elevated FT8 to ham radio’s favorite mode. I was up and in the shack early on Monday morning and found plenty of DX on 40 meters using FT8. With five watts and a wire I worked New Zealand, Australia, Guam, Hawaii, Japan, stations in the Caribbean and Europe.

After 30 minutes I got tired of working that fishing hole and switched to CW. Several sweeps of the band from 7.000 to 7.125 yielded exactly one QSO in progress. One. Otherwise, crickets… Am I to believe that a magic DX window was open at 7.074 while the entire rest of 7MHz was dead due to our present position in the solar cycle?

Something weird is going on, but it has little to do with HF propagation…

Monday, May 28, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

My plan to build a digipeater accelerated today when I ordered a TNC-Pi 2:

The TNC-Pi 2 is designed to perfectly match the form factor of the Raspberry Pi B+, Pi2 and Pi 3 models. All 40 header pins are communicated to the top of the TNC-Pi 2 board. The standoff has been repositioned to the bottom left corner to add greater stability. The TNC-Pi 2 no longer needs any jumpers to be configured. Otherwise the TNC-Pi 2 is functionally identical to the original TNC-Pi and there have been no changes in the firmware.

I placed the order with Coastal Chipworks about 9am this morning and received shipping notification 30 minutes later. Now that’s fast!

I’ve ordered a new transceiver to anchor the digi and just need to get an antenna in the air and pull it all together.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

I use a SharkRF openSPOT for both D-STAR and DMR. In recent weeks I’ve been plagued with a packet loss problem when using DMR that has rendered the mode impossible for me to use. It’s a weird problem given there’s no problem when using it for D-STAR.

I’ve confirmed that the transceiver is working properly and am now thinking there may be some problem with a recent firmware update though I don’t see others complaining about this issue. I might just have to get a new hotspot. In the interim, I’ll be inactive on DMR.

Radiogram Received

Handling traffic certainly qualifies as an old school form of communication but there’s something magical and charming about receiving a radiogram. One arrived here this week from the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) thanking me for my membership in that organization.

We need to find more ways to generate traffic so as not to lose this long-standing ham radio tradition in the sands of time.

New England QSO Party

Got an email today requesting my log submission for the NEQP that took place a few weekends ago:

“Just wanted to ask you to send in your log from the recent New England QSO Party. We hoping to receive your log to help with the log checking. Your callsign is in many of those already received”.

The email indicated that while they preferred Cabrillo format, they would accept it in any format. So I sent along my log for the event in ADI format and we’ll see if it’s accepted. The Cabrillo logging requirement remains a burr under my saddle that’s reducing my enjoyment and interest in State QSO Party’s.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I carried the Kenwood TH-D74 handheld to Dayton thinking there might be some interesting D-STAR traffic. But on the trip over and back I found the APRS traffic to be more entertaining. The number of mobile stations descending on Xenia, Ohio was stunning. I’ve seen this before from the Web but this was the first packet storm I ever sailed into.

On the return journey the frenzy continued, for awhile, but soon I was back in the hinterlands where few digipeaters exist. There are none in my own home town so far as I can tell and that’s just a shame. The APRS network is practically the only packet system that remains from that Jurassic period when all of us still had terminal node controllers.

Since no one else seems to be doing it, I’ve decided my next radio project will be the addition of a digipeater at my house that hopefully will help fill in the giant network gap surrounding my own QTH. If you’ve done this recently, drop me a note and let me know what hardware you used. It seems reasonable to assume that the Raspberry Pi would be handy for a task like this one. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Winnie and the Jets

Our Winnipeg Jets played their last game of the 2017-2018 season a few days ago when they lost in the Western Conference Finals. Despite the setback, it was a magical season for the team - and for my wife and I - and we can’t wait for next season!

Completely fed up with the NFL, NBA, and MLB, we had been shunning professional sports for the last few years.

Then when this new NHL season got underway, I suggested we pick a team at random to root for and spend a season getting to know professional hockey. We’ve seen games on television but never really understood the rules or cheered for any one team.

In order to make it interesting I suggested that we pick a team from Canada and one about which we knew nothing. We picked the Winnipeg Jets, ordered a couple of team jerseys, and hung on for a wild ride into the Stanley Cup playoffs!

Having purchased the Center Ice package from our cable provider, we didn’t miss a single game and looked forward to the action night after night. By the time January rolled around we wanted to go see a game live and bought tickets to see the Jets play the Predators in Nashville. We lost that game but became completely gobsmacked by “our” team.

So much so that NEXT season we hope to see them play three or four games in the United States and we’re also planning a week long trip to Winnipeg so we can cheer with our adopted hometown fans at Bell MTS Place for two games on home ice!

Now we’re a couple of Hoosiers proclaming “We Are Winnipeg!”

Monday, May 21, 2018

Hamvention 2018 is done and over. The second time the event was conducted at the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, Ohio was almost as muddy and miserable as the first time. Improvements had been made to alleviate some of the problems in the flea market, but rainfall before and during the big event made things uncomfortable. Again.

I posted about a hundred photos via Twitter. You can see those here, no account is required.

Yaesu showed us their FTdx101D under glass (front - back) and as usual, handed out a lot of nice hats.

Kenwood teased with the TS-890S transceiver, also under glass.

Elecraft was showing a very portable two-band antenna, the AX1. Intended for pedestrian mobile or operation from a picnic table using 20 and 17. It’s not yet available.

There were many other new things but few really stuck out to me. The number of new DMR handheld transceivers might finally be slowing while the number of digital hotspot options continues to grow.

Bumping into old and new friends remains the highlight of Hamvention for me. Finding a dry spot to sit and enjoy fellowship was next to impossible. Once again, the food was much better than we ever had at Hara Arena. But a coffee truck that was there on Friday went missing on Saturday and finding a cup of coffee was harder than hell. That probably put me in as sour a mood as the rain.

The crowd seemed smaller to me than last year but that’s really tough to measure over so many acres. I noticed there were no traffic snarls this time. Plenty of parking was available on Friday and Saturday and there was no long line to get into the fairgrounds. It was either a smaller crowd or the logistics have improved considerably. Maybe both?

Here’s something else new; I’m done with Hamvention

This was my 37th visit in the last 42 years. Living only a hundred miles away, it became an annual tradition I never wanted to miss. But as the years have passed, I’ve become much less tolerant of the facilities.

Hara Arena had slowly become a full-on dumpster fire without a future and the move to a new location was necessary, but it seems clear to me now that the Greene County Fairgrounds isn’t suitable for Hamvention.

If you could get 72F with blue skies, low humidity, and one week without rain, then the fairgrounds could be ideal. But even the best event organizers in the world can’t control the weather and unless DARA is willing to move Hamvention into early autumn where the weather is more predictable, May in Ohio will remain a crapshoot that the house can’t win.

Besides the venue, I find no compelling reason for me to visit Hamvention again. I haven’t brought anything home from the massive flea market there in decades. As for new gear, I’d gladly pass on any “show discount” to have it delivered directly to my door. The last thing I want to do is lug a heavy new transceiver through rain and mud to my car parked a mile away.

I certainly plan to return to Dayton next year, but I’ll stay in town. Attend FDIM or Contest University. The DX banquet. The Contest dinner, the RTTY dinner, the TopBand dinner, the FlexRadio dinner, etc.

Maybe host a beer-bash with my friends. All inside a climate controlled hotel conference room, pub or local restaurant. I’m done with the mud, improvised toilets, humidity and smelly crowds.

I was 17 years old when I first visited Hamvention. I’ll be 60 years old when the gates open in 2019. I’m happy to hand this tradition over to a another generation as I’m just getting too old to enjoy this one anymore.

Friday, May 18, 2018

It’s 5am and time to hit the road for Xenia, Ohio. It’s less than a hundred miles as the crow flies, a little farther by automobile. Hopefully there will be no traffic snarls. 62F and mostly cloudy right now at the Greene County Fairgrounds. I’m bringing rain gear and hoping to see improvements in the mud situation that plagued the outdoor fleamarket last year.

See you there or back here on Monday for the wrap-up report. Watch the photos pile-up as the day wears on via my Twitter account, you don’t need an account to view it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Many of the Hamvention related activities get underway today. It’s become custom to make use of the day before the gates open at the fairgrounds for all manner of related activities given the high concentration of hams who have traveled to the area for the big show. Contest University, Four Days in May, Thursday night dinners and bull sessions and plenty more.

It’s a busy day before an even busier day!

I decided to skip the full-on weekend this year. I’ve done enough of it and living jus 100 miles from Dayton provides me the opportunity to commute back and forth on Friday and Saturday which is what I typically do every other year.

So here I sit, away from the action, watching the hams flocking to Dayton via APRS like the swallows to Capistrano. I’m also keeping an eye on the weather report for the weekend which now shows a 90 percent chance of rain all day tomorrow. My rain gear is ready to roll.

I’ll be there tomorrow morning. And as usual, photos and on-site commentary via my Twitter feed. You don’t need a Twitter account to follow along or to view my photos.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bootstrapping ham radio’s biggest event for a hundred bucks…

Since 1952 Hamvention® has been sponsored by Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA). For many years it has been the world’s largest amateur radio gathering, attracting hams from throughout the globe.

About 1950, John Willig, W8ACE, had asked the Dayton Amateur Radio Association to sponsor a Ham Convention but was turned down. John wanted to have a quality affair. Speakers and prizes would be a drawing point. John finally found a champion in Frank Schwab, W8YCP (W8OK), the newly elected president of the club.

A meeting was held and the DARA Board allocated $100 to get started. The first organizational meeting was held in January 1952. The Southwestern Ohio Hamvention was born.

The next year the name became “Dayton Hamvention®” and was registered as a trademark. April was determined to be the best time but the Biltmore Hotel, in downtown Dayton was booked. March 22 was the chosen date, causing a short lead time. How far did $100 go? Not far! A 12″ TV was raffled off to help raise funds.

The FCC agreed to give license exams and Phil Rand, W1BDM, a pioneer in TVI elimination was on the program. First prize, a Collins 75A2, was purchased locally. Hoping for 300 visitors, the committee was amazed that over 600 showed up!

There were 7 exhibitors and 6 forums. The ladies program was successful with a luncheon at the Biltmore and a trip to a local TV station. In 1955 the Awards Program began with the “Amateur of the Year.”

The Flea Market has grown from 200 to more than 2000 spaces. In 1964 the Hamvention® moved to Hara Arena. Shuttle buses and handicapped parking were added in 1969. In 1973 it became a 2-day event with Sundays added in 1974.

The event moved from Hara Arena to the Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, Ohio in 2017. The official attendance for the first show in Xenia was 29,296.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

AMSAT has BIG plans for Hamvention. First, there’s the booth (1007-1010 & 1107-1110) where on Friday 9am-6pm, Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 9am-1pm you’ll get a chance to meet board members, officers, and active satellite operators. Ask your questions and see demonstrations of AMSAT’s current and upcoming technologies.

Amateur Satellite operation demonstrations will be held every day outside the main Maxim Hall (Building 1 or E1) entrance. AMSAT will be be demonstrating contacts with operational amateur satellites. We especially invite youth to make a contact via an amateur satellite. All are invited to observe, participate and ask questions. Satellite pass times will be posted at the AMSAT booth and in the demo area.

If you plan to arrive a day early, join the “Dinner at Tickets” party held Thursday at 1800 EDT at Tickets Pub & Eatery at 7 W. Main St, Fairborn, Ohio where you can feast on a great selection of Greek and American food and great company. No program or speaker, just good conversation.

Then there’s the twelfth annual AMSAT/TAPR Banquet at the Kohler Presidential Center on Friday at 1830 EDT. This dinner is always a highlight of the AMSAT and TAPR activities during the Dayton Hamvention. We are pleased to announce that Jeri Ellsworth, AI6TK will be our speaker. Jeri will present her innovative ideas and adventures in Amateur Radio. (Banquet tickets are no longer available, hope you already have them).

The AMSAT Forum will take place on Saturday, May 19 in Forum room 4 at 2:45-3:45 PM. The speaker and topic line up includes:

  • Moderator: Keith Baker, KB1SF / VA3KSF
  • “AMSAT Status Report” by Joseph Spier, K6WAO, AMSAT-NA President
  • “AMSAT Engineering Program” by Jerry Buxton, N0JY, AMSAT-NA VP for Engineering
  • “ARISS Report 2018” by Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, AMSAT-NA VP for Human Spaceflight

In case it’s not obvious, AMSAT at Hamvention 2018 is going to be HUGE. Don’t miss it!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Given that many competing vendors show up for Hamvention, there’s a constant churn of people moving from one dealer to the other to find out the price on one or more items in an effort to get the lowest possible price. That’s certainly sensible but it creates long lines of people only interested in learning the price of the latest Nimbus 2000.

These long queues could be reduced considerably by the dealers displaying their price on at least the most popular equipment. I get that this might eliminate the chance for a little face time with potential customers, but patrons in this environment almost always buy on lowest price and no amount of glad-handing will change that.

At least one vendor did that last year and I thought it one of the most innovative bits of technology at the entire show.

Having a scrolling list of prices prominently displayed would move the long lines from the service counter area to the LCD area and make life easier for those trying to step up and unload some hard-earned cash. If you’re favorite dealer doesn’t do something like this, perhaps you should mention it to them – everyone benefits from this kind of improvement.

Dayton Week Commences

One week from today the gates will swing open in Xenia and the 2018 Dayton Hamvention will get underway. But before Friday, many other events will have already started as Thursday has become a popular “fourth” day addition for many groups.

I was in Cincinnati this week and stopped by R&L Electronics in Hamilton, Ohio to pick up tickets. You save five bucks purchasing them in advance but in addition to saving a little coin, it means not having to stand in line to purchase tickets at the gate, and it provides an opportunity to pre-fill out the part of the ticket that goes in the barrel for all the prizes.

I live about 100 miles from ground zero and have fallen into the routine of spending four days over there in a hotel one year, then commuting over on just Friday and Saturday the next year. It’s a little more cost effective that way and besides, it’s a bit much to do it all every year.

This happens to be a “commute” year so I will drive over and back on Friday and Saturday and skip the rest this year. I’ve been going to Hamvention since 1976 and have only missed a handful of years over that stretch. I really enjoy Hamvention, especially seeing old friends.

My list of things I want to see and bring home is a very short one. The UPS man has been dropping off enough ham radio stuff here this year that I wouldn’t know where to put any more of it.

Official attendance last year was 29,296 but I expect that to be a little lower this year. Not because of the mud or anything negative about the new venue. I just think last year was a bubble with people interested in attending the first Hamvention in Xenia. My guess for 2018 is about 26,000. We won’t know for sure until about a month after it’s all been said and done but I will be keeping an eye out for that detail.

If this will be your first time attending, good luck!

It’s a really BIG event and if you haven’t properly prepared for it there’s a good chance you won’t appreciate it all. But if you’ve done your homework, you will find that you made an excellent decision to come to Dayton and soak in all that ham radio has to offer over a 32-acre playground that for one weekend a year, is transformed into a radio paradise.

See you in Xenia!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Radio Active Weekend

It was an uncommonly radio-active weekend in the KE9V shack. The PX3 panadapter arrived from Elecraft while I was out of town last week so I had some unboxing joy when I arrived home. Included in the order were cables that permit me to connect the KX3 to a sound card for digital operation.

After playing with the panadapter Friday night, I decided to see if I could get the transceiver working with my Mac using the inexpensive USB sound adapter that I had purchased just for digital work. It all went together easily and within minutes I was using FT8 with the KX3.

In fact, I made nearly a hundred such contacts this weekend and would have had more except for some loud thunder that caused me to pull the plug earlier than I would have liked. These were the first FT8 contacts made with my KX3 and my first for this year. I made over a thousand FT8 contacts last year but then set it aside a few weeks before the end of the year and hadn’t looked back.

It was drop dead simple making contacts using just five watts. I even managed to work a few European stations. But I was soon reminded why I quit using it last year. Once you get over the excitement of seeing how easy it is to make contacts, it’s about as much fun as watching paint dry. But it certainly can fill your logbook quickly and in my case, pushed me to WAS Digital with the FT8 endorsement. So there’s that…

More Fun in the Park

I saw on the QRP-L mailing list that frequent park activator Joe Everhart, N2CX was going to be operating portable in a few different parks this weekend. I managed to work him from Tuscarora State Park in Pennsylvania (K-1429) on 40 and 30 meters. Chasing Joe around never gets old and in the coming weeks I’m looking forward to activating a couple of State Parks near here.

Speaking of field ops, the newest book from the ARRL, Portable Operating for Amateur Radio - Everything You Need to Get on the Air from the Great Outdoors - is now available.


I didn’t plan to work in any of the State QSO Party’s this weekend as there were other things to do. But I ended up knocking off twenty quick ones in the NEQP on Sunday. It’s easy to do when you’re cherry picking the loudest stations. I wasn’t in it for the score it was more about getting my head right with a little Morse after a few hours of FT8.

One of the stations worked was retired ARRL CEO Dave Sumner, K1ZZ. He’s an active contester and I have him in the log on multiple occasions, always in a contest or Sprint. Another was Mark Wilson, K1RO who is also an active contester that I’ve worked many times but his call stuck out because I remembered working him on Six Meters a few years ago and was my first NH on the Magic Band.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Monday, April 30, 2018

I worked tweny-four stations in the Florida QSO Party this weekend. All on 40 and 20 using five watts. Always lots of participation in this one and while the bands were predictably lousy, the activity kept it hopping and, as usual, it was an enjoyable operating event.

Over the weekend I heard news that the Icom IC-9700 that I pre-ordered is now not expected until 2019. This is not welcome news as I had hoped to be active on VHF/UHF for the Fall season. I’ll probably wait until after Hamvention to make sure this news was correct and if it is, I’ll cancel my order and look for an alternate solution.

REALLY NICE: I listened to a casual QSO on 40 meters Sunday morning between two guys at about fifteen words per minute. It’s refreshing to hear a real CW conversation at a comfortable rate. The 40 wpm machine gun staccato from the contests has become an annoying buzz in my cans. One of the guys in this conversation was K1OV. That call seemed familar so I checked my log and sure enough, I worked him in 2002 and my note in the log for that long ago contact: “REALLY NICE, LONG QSO”.

Friday, April 27, 2018

I was parked on 7.052 this morning copying the mail on a couple of QSO’s while working in the other room. After awhile it got quiet and I nearly forgot that the KX3 was still turned on. I was only reminded of that when a loud signal started calling CQ. It was Jim, N0UR on a POTA operation from KFF-2306. Even though the straight key was connected I called him using the new KXPD3 attached paddle and had him logged in a jiffy.

And that reminded me that we still needed to purchase our annual park pass for the State of Indiana. There are several nice State Parks within minutes of my QTH and I hope to operate from these many times this summer. So for lunch we packed a basket and visited nearby Mounds State Park where we purchased the annual pass and enjoyed a picnic in the comfy 65F weather.

Now I’m nearly set to get on the air from a nearby park – after an equipment checkout in the backyard.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

SKCC members in Central Wisconsin are invited to stop by the Morse Telegraph Club Milwaukee-Madison Chapter’s annual “Morse Day” event.

“Morse Day” is the official, annual meeting of the Morse Telegraph Club, an association of retired railroad and commercial telegraphers, telegraph industry employees, historians and others having an interest in the history of telegraphy and the telegraph industry. In addition to meeting individuals who were employed in the rail and telegraph industries, one will also have an opportunity to see American Morse Code and authentic telegraph instruments in use. The event will be linked via telegraph with other MTC chapters throughout the Untied States and Canada.

The event will take place on Saturday, April 28 from noon to approximately 3-PM. The location is:

Spring Brook Golf Course 242 Lake Shore Dr, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53965

Please feel free to drop in.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Join me on August 4-5 at the Linn County Fairgrounds in Central City, Iowa for the 2018 American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Midwest Division Convention - and First Annual Midwest STEM TechFest.

The grounds occupy a 39 acre site along with six acres of free parking, so there will be plenty of room for convention activities. The event is hosted by the Cedar Valley Amateur Radio Club in Cedar Rapids and a large attendance is expected from not only the Midwest Division states, but also neighboring Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois as well.

I’m especially intrigued by the innovative approach being taken for this event:

“Based on declining attendance at hamfests across the country in recent years, CVARC has chosen to modify the traditional hamfest / convention format and include other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) organizations in addition to amateur radio groups. It is our belief that this cross-pollination of STEM organizations will help strengthen each other with a win-win event for all involved”.

There will be traditional convention activities such as Forums, Organization Meetings, and Hands-on Activities for kids and adults alike. But other planned events are not the typical fare for hamfests and reflect some outside of the box thinking:

“We have enough space to include balloon launches, drone races, rocket launches, and radio control hobbyists in the track centerfield”.

There will be a banquet Saturday night with a Wouff Hong ceremony afterwards. There’s limited camping onsite and a large campground (Pinicon Ridge Park Campground) across the 4-lane highway for those wishing to camp at the event.

Hotels are 15 minutes away and they expect block-room pricing. VE Testing will be available Saturday and Sunday. Kids under 18 are FREE, adults $10 per person. $10 per indoor table ($15 after July 1), $10 per outdoor flea market site (car/truck/tent/table) ($15 after July 1). $20 per banquet ticket and $20 RV camping per night.

I’m anxious to see how well this new-concept is received and am making plans now to attend. Save the date and see you there!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The KXPD3 Attached Precision Keyer Paddle arrived last week and I was finally able to give it a good shakedown. I’m a big fan of my own keys but look at new and unproven keys and paddles like a dog looks at a new dish.

But with warmer days comes the desire to take my KX3 to the park and I want it to be as easy as picking it up and walking out the door.

The internal batteries will provide the power and the attached paddles mean I don’t have to carry another key. Just the transceiver and portable antenna and I should be good to go.

The paddles are designed well and include extra springs with varying degrees of stiffness and a hex tool for adjustments. Of course it mates perfectly with the transceiver and after making a half dozen contacts with it, I’m pretty sure this will work well for portable work and is a useful addition to my KX3 adventure.

The PX3 is likely to be the next accessory to join the party.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Yesterday was a nice radio day. 40 meters was quiet all morning with better propagation than we’ve been treated to lately. I worked ten stations in the Ontario QSO Party and enjoyed a handful of casual chats peppered around those using the KX3 at five watts.

I had read earlier in the week that K3WWP and KC2EGL would put the submarine USS Requin on the air from its permanent dock near the Buhl Science Center in downtown Pittsburgh. Their published schedule indicated they would be on 7039 KHz at 10AM EDT using NY3EC. I heard them calling at 10:15 and had them in the log four minutes later.

It was one of those days where contacts were easy to make and everyone seemed in a good mood. It was relaxing, fun and enjoyable. Nothing fancy. Just slapping a little brass and peppering the aether. CW remains the blue-collar, hardworking mode that made ham radio famous.

Friday, April 20, 2018

I pre-ordered an ICOM IC-9700 today. The new transceiver looks almost identical to the IC-7300 but covers only VHF, UHF, and 1.2Ghz. I intend for this to anchor my new VHF and up station that will also facilitate EME, meteor scatter, VHF Contesting, and satellite operation.

The price is unknown at this point and we don’t know when it will be available. This one has been dangling just out of reach since late last summer but I’m guessing it may be ready to ship in time for Hamvention.

Some of the features include:

  • Direct-Sampling SDR design
  • High definition, Real-Time TFT display
  • Connection for external display
  • Main and Sub RX
  • Dual Real-Time Spectrum and Waterfall displays
  • Dual Watch (with Spectrum/Waterfall displays)
  • Touchscreen interface (LCD touch-screen control)
  • 50 Watts RF 2m and 70cm; 10 Watts RF 1.2 GHz
  • Expected connectors: 2m SO-239, 70cm Type N, 1.2 GHz Type N

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Joe Taylor, W1JT recently spoke at the MicroHAMS Digital Conference in Redmond, Washington. A nicely edited version from Budd Churchward is now available via YouTube.

Both the HillTopper 20 and the Cricket 30 kits are now available from the Four State QRP Group.

The Wireman” Pressley W. “Press” Jones, N8UG, of Landrum, South Carolina, died on April 10. He was 89.

On the air this weekend - QSO Parties:

The Nano-Spot is hot, pricey, and in heavy demand.

An absorption profile centred at 78 megahertz in the sky-averaged spectrum

Dalton Holds Annual Georgia QSO Party for Amateur Radio Members

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.