Alban Elfed

Autumnal Equinox

The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light. It is also the time of the second harvest, usually of the fruit which has stayed on the trees and plants that have ripened under the summer sun. It is this final harvest which can take the central theme of the Alban Elfed ceremony – thanking the Earth, in her full abundance as Mother and Giver, for the great harvest, as Autumn begins.

Geochron Digital Update

I’ve wanted a Geochron in the shack since forever, but it seemed a pricey luxury especially since everything about it (except for the stunning visual display) could be derived from the shack computer. Still, it remained on my bucket-list of things wanted until the digital version of the same was made available and I bought one when Amazon had 42-inch 4K TV’s for sale for under two-hundred bucks one Black Friday.

The Geochron Digital Atlas 4K displays a full-featured Geochron World Clock on any 4K TV, with every mapset and lighting option available in our famous mechanical clock but at a fraction of the cost.  Now in the digital format, users can customize markers on the map, and receive (with internet) real time updates. The hardware is a sturdy, fanless mini computer specifically designed for commercial digital displays found in restaurants and airports.

With the new TV stuck on the wall in the shack I’ve been completely happy with this combination that’s both useful and pleasing to look at as it dresses up the shack nicely.

But when summer rolled around this year I started spending a lot less time in the shack and didn’t always leave the thing running. I powered it up again a few weeks ago and while checking for any missed system updates I noticed a ham radio premium bundle was available that included new options specifically for amateur radio enthusiasts.

A vast real-time workspace specifically for Ham Radio, showing DX cluster and beacon activity, solar and ionospheric conditions, MUF, your uploaded ADIF call logs, and AMSAT satellites. Of course, your callsign is prominently displayed on the Geochron and over our detailed mapsets.

This bundle is a paid upgrade that will set you back $6.99 a month or $69.99 per year. There was a five-day free trial that I took and was able to test-drive the new features. While I found some of them more useful than others, in the end I opted to forego this premium bundle. Some of the more useful features (to me) were too small to easily see on the display while some other features made the interface too busy.

While it’s not for me right now, I’ll keep an eye on the evolution of this premium service and others (there’s already an Earthquake premium layer available) as I like having useful information available on the wall in the shack, especially if I don’t have to go hunt it down on the Web.

Good Luck

I’ve long collected old books written and published during the first few decades of the 20th century. I often find these at antique stores and malls where they can usually be had for less than five bucks. Having done this for a long time, my collection now includes hundreds of books. My hunt has been primarily for radio related tomes, especially juvenile fiction from the 20s and 30s, but it’s not a singular focus and a few other genres have found their way into my home.

For instance, I have more than twenty titles by Zane Grey, a popular American author and dentist best known for his popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre in literature and the arts.

My Dad, who is now well into his 90s, had never read anything by Grey until a month or so ago when he told me he wanted something to read and I took him a couple of the more popular Westerns. These struck his fancy and he proceeded to quickly burn through all that I have saying that once he started to read them, he just “couldn’t put them down”.

One of the charms of these old books is that they were often originally purchased as gifts and it’s fairly common to see something like “From Grandma to Tommy - Christmas 1933” handwritten inside the front cover. I’ve also found notes on scraps of paper tucked into the pages. These bits and bobs of history always stir my imagination about the people who first owned the book and how it ended up in a bargain bin at an antique store so many decades later…

Yesterday I took Dad the final Zane Grey book I have that he hasn’t already read. And as usual, I quickly thumbed through the pages to make sure there weren’t any scraps of paper in it before I handed it to my Dad.

When I did, a four-leaf clover fluttered out and onto the floor.

There’s no telling how long that has been pressed between the pages of that book. No doubt someone found it and decided to preserve it for “good luck”. I hope whoever did that received some measure of luck way back whenever, and I hope there’s a little of it left to rub off on me.

Oris Brandt Comes Home

Today I drove to the other side of the state to attend a funeral for a young man who I don’t know and never met. In fact, he’s been dead for 80 years and would be a hundred if he were still alive.

Oris V. Brandt graduated from J. Kent High School in Kentland, Indiana with the Class of 1939. In March 1940, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and completed basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station, then was assigned to duty on the Pacific Ocean. On September 18, 1941 Brandt was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) as a member of the anti-aircraft fire control team.

On December 7, 1941, while moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Brandt who was 20.

From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries. In September 1947, members of the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks. In 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Brandt.

Then in 2015 advances in forensic techniques prompted the reexamination of unknown remains associated with the Oklahoma, and Seaman First Class Brandt’s remains were eventually identified on February 20, 2019.

Brandt is returned home to Newton County (Indiana) nearly 80 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His remains were laid to rest next to his parents in Oakland Cemetery.

For some reason I felt compelled to attend that service today. I was concerned that few would show up given his death occurred so long ago, but I needn’t have worried about that. Local veterans groups, law enforcement, firefighters, and a large crowd showed up for a final goodbye. The Military did an amazing job all around, not just identifying his remains, but orchestrating a funeral with full military honors.

Mostly I just wanted to pay respect to a fellow Hoosier who was one of the very first American’s to be killed in World War Two. Being there today to watch him being finally laid to rest at home was the least I could do for one who gave his life in service to his country.

In the words of Belloq, “we are simply passing through history. This, this is history…”

Findlay Hamfest

I was up this morning before the sun headed to the Findlay Hamfest.

It’s a 2.5 hour drive from here, a journey that’s equal parts north and east. The first leg of that drive is thru farming communities in Indiana and Ohio. It was a beautiful trip with blue skies and sunshine with the windows rolled down. Along the way I passed at least a dozen Amish families headed to church in horse drawn buggies.

They were expecting 2,000 attendees for the 79th annual hamfest this year and I would guess they got close to that. The Hancock County Fairgrounds have always been a good venue for this event and it got even better with a large, new, main building.

I ran into a couple of friends while there. Dan, KB6NU was down from Ann Arbor and Bill, W9VC was up from Richmond, Indiana. Virtual events can’t compare with a chance to press the flesh and catch-up with old friends.

I didn’t bring much home, a few old radio books written early in the 20th century (juvenile fiction) and a small panel meter.

The first thing I looked at was an incredibly nice Heathkit HG-10B VFO that was so clean I decided to buy it ($65) to hopefully one day pair with an equally clean HW-16 transceiver re-creating my Novice station. But if you snooze you lose and by the time I was ready to carry it to the car - it was gone!

I got back home about 2:30pm ready for a nap! I expected a good time and got it and I suspect I’ll be back again for Findlay 2022.

Yard Work and Radio

The weather was good today though it was a lot warmer than the last few days. I think we got up to about 84F with lots of sunshine and it was breezy enough to be quite comfortable. I had ordered a pole-saw about a week ago and it arrived yesterday. It’s a lightweight battery powered chain saw on the end of a long pole that permits tree limbs as high as fourteen feet off the ground to be cut. The branches from the trees in the backyard have been making a bee-line for the house this year and it was getting a little claustrophobic back there.

It took less than an hour to assemble the saw and chop off the offending branches. That left me with an impressive pile of branches to be dealt with and that took another three hours to cut them up small enough to be burned in the fire pit.

All’s well that ends well and the backyard looks a whole lot better now.

Earlier this morning a buddy from across town had pinged me to ask if I could take some S-meter readings as he was experimenting with an antenna and wanted some comparative readings. I setup the KX3 with a battery on the patio with the 31-foot pole supporting a wire and we took some test readings.

That done, I figured there was no reason to take that all back inside at that point so while taking a few short breaks from the burn pile I managed to “hunt” a few POTA stations. This is always a special treat for me when I’m working from the backyard. I imagine these operators working from some interesting park using portable antennas and batteries and maybe even low-power gear in the great outdoors.

And here I am in my backyard hundreds of miles away doing the same thing. I think these operators are a little more motivated to listen for weak signals. The POTA spotting network is amazing and I don’t think I’ve yet been skunked when trying to find at least one activator.

This afternoon it was these four in the log:

I was running 10 watts CW with the KX3 and the Elecraft attached paddle. No headphones, just the internal speaker cranked up which permitted me to read the mail while cutting branches. I was finished with the yard work and back in the house by 5pm. Exhausted, hungry, and ready for a shower.

And that’s when I noticed the mailman had dropped this off:

I’m not sure when I’ll get to this little kit. I’m toast tonight and headed a hundred miles to a hamfest at 6:00am tomorrow.

I guess there really is no rest for the wicked…

Another TX-500 Firmware Update

Before I even had a chance to update the firmware on my Lab599 TX-500 transceiver another firmware version dropped. Some of the audio changes made in the previous update lowered the overall volume output and many users complained. Another update was quickly whipped up that made this modification a menu selectable option:

v1.10.04 (09.09.2021)

  • Added function: Antenna SWR monitor - determine the characteristics of the antenna (SWR) in the range of the selected band
  • Added audio output modes: 1. NORMAL (1W) 2. OUTDOOR (3W)
  • I downloaded the latest and greatest and did the update this morning. This was the first time I have updated the firmware since receiving the unit. Following the directions made the process a piece of cake though I did have to turn off one security measure in order to have the driver loaded from the FTDI FT232 plug-in device with cable that comes with the TX-500.

    The laptop I used for updating was running Windows 11 and the setting I changed was found under:

    Settings –> Core Isolation –> Memory Integrity

    A reboot was required after this change. (I turned this security feature back on when I was done). Once the laptop was running again I plugged in the USB device and Windows loaded the driver. Next step was to start the installation software that can be downloaded from the same place as the update drivers on the Lab599 Web site.

    With the cable connected to the transceiver, it’s just a matter of holding down one button while powering the radio on. Read the fine manual for this detail. The TX-500 came to life with a new loader screen. Assuming you’ve already downloaded the firmware update file to your computer, it’s just a matter of launching the installation software, another free download from the same Lab599 Web page where the firmware updates are downloaded.

    The installer application will ask you where the new firmware file is located on your computer and for the COM port (COM3 in my case) and with those set, choose UPDATE and you should begin to see the status of the update on your laptop. When it has finished you power down the transceiver, remove the serial cable, and turn the TX-500 back on. The opening splash screen displays the current firmware version loaded and it should be the latest and greatest version.

    Nice! You’re done.

    I can’t say this enough but read the manual before attempting to update the firmware. The TX-500 is built like a brick but it’s no fun when you turn it into an actual brick so be safe, not sorry. And by the way, the new firmware features are detailed in the latest and greatest manual so be sure to snag that too while you’re visiting the download site.

    TX-500 Firmware Update

    A new firmware update for the Lab599 TX-500 transceiver materialized yesterday and is currently available for download.

    From the release notes:

    v1.10.03 (06.09.2021)

  • Added function: Antenna SWR monitor - determine the characteristics of the antenna (SWR) in the range of the selected band
  • Audio Amplifier path adjustments
  • And about that Antenna SWR monitor function, the English and Russian was also updated to include a description of that function on page 22 in the English manual.

    More about this update once I’ve had a chance to fiddle with it, but the early chatter is that the new antenna SWR monitor function may obviate the need to carry a VNA to the field…

    The SWR monitor is used to determine the characteristics (SWR) of the antenna in the range of the selected band. When measuring, a graph is displayed on the screen, where the Y-axis indicates the SWR value (1-6), the X-axis shows the frequency range (MHz).

    Scrambled Eggs

    Launch Failure: The first-ever test flight of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket experienced an anomaly more than two-minutes in its launch resulting in an early termination of the mission. The 203 pounds (92 kilograms) of payload included a collection of memorabilia submitted by schools and other educational institutions, as well as a number of tiny satellites. The digital GENESIS satellites with amateur radio capabilites were also lost in the failure.

    Network in the Ham Shack: With a growing collection of SDRs and associated hardware, I’ve been noodling over an optimized local network design isolated from the home Internet network. While I know how to setup that kind of network for computers it seemed to me there should be copious details on how-to best do that in a rich RF environment like the ham shack. My quick search revealed no results. If there was an article on the subject in QST I missed it. I even asked the “crowd” on Twitter. I’m looking for detailed information and a bill of materials for network hardware (switches, routers, USB hubs, etc.) and preferred cables (USB and Ethernet) for a robust ham radio network. Got the scoop? Contact me.

    Around the Horn:

    • When Tropical Storm Ida made it's way into the northeast it created some havoc for Larry, W2LJ and his family. Thankfully, all are okay.
    • On Saturday, Sept. 11, dozens of Ohio amateur radio clubs and individuals will head to a nearby Ohio State Park to participate in the annual Ohio State Parks on the Air operating event.

    ARRL Board Firing Blanks

    If you have followed me for long you know my support for the ARRL is nearly without limit. I’m a Life Member and firmly convinced that as the ARRL goes so goes all of amateur radio. But my undying support doesn’t mean the Board is incapable of making bone-headed decisions on occasion.

    Today I’m talking about the vapid decision to establish a program to cover the initial FCC license fee for young applicants. This is the ARRL response to the FCC decision to levy a thirty-five dollar fee for amateur radio licenses in the US beginning in 2022:

    The ARRL Board of Directors has formally endorsed a proposed program calling on ARRL to cover the $35 application fee for license candidates younger than 18 years old. The FCC is not expected to implement the $35 application fee schedule until sometime in 2022. The Board approved the “Youth Licensing Grant Program” at its July meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. The program concept, first raised at the Board’s annual meeting in January, was reviewed by an ad-hoc committee, which expanded the scope of the original motion by ARRL Southeastern Division Director Mickey Baker, N4MB.

    Call me dubious that this isn’t really a self-serving action intended to “prove” that the ARRL is doing something about the lack of youth in the hobby as well as laying some smack on the FCC in the process.

    I’d be interested to learn how many amateur radio licenses are issued to those under the age of 18 each year right now, and more importantly, how many of that number should we assume would opt-out of amateur radio if they had to pay out of their own pocket?

    I think that’s probably an incredibly small number though the Board is more optimistic having initially capped the number of annual grants at one thousand.

    It’s also notable that this action isn’t purely goodwill, the ARRL is looking to get something out of it too:

    Tests would have to be administered by a Volunteer Examiner (VE) team working under the auspices of the ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC). The new program also would “enhance ARRL’s position as the leader in volunteer testing,” the Board motion said.

    This action might be beneficial for a handful of new potential licensees, but it won’t budge the meter reflecting the total number of new US radio amateurs. It feels like it was custom designed for feel good press releases and to afford the Board of Directors an opportunity to pretend they are adding value while making them feel good about themselves:

    The motion carried with applause from Board members.