The Quickening

When Kenwood showed off the new TH-D74A tri-band handheld at Dayton earlier this year, many satellite enthusiasts (myself included) were persuaded to hold off on other purchases in the hope that the new handheld would be “all that” with a side of Bluetooth and D-STAR to boot.

IMG_0352

The transceiver is not yet ready for sale and complete details are lacking, but there are rumors this week that suggest the new Wunderkind might not support full-duplex operation.

Huh? This functionality was assumed since previous iterations of the TH-72x included it.

Without full-duplex, it would be practically useless for proper LEO satellite operation unless you purchased two of them, so let’s hope these rumors turn out to be false.

IMG_0368

Still, satellite enthusiasts have suffered through a couple decades of inattention by most ham radio equipment manufacturers and they’ve gotten by with duct tape and baling wire for so long as to declare it the new normal. Entire Web pages are devoted to explanations of how to interface two 30 year-old transceivers in order to work the birds.

So be it.

The future of amateur radio in space will come in the form of custom SDR solutions that allow enthusiasts to bypass the usual cadre of amateur radio manufacturers altogether and move forward without them. This isn’t news to anyone paying attention. The sands of time continually alter the landscape and the amateur radio marketplace has always been dynamic — with plenty of opportunity for nimble new contributors.

But here’s the difference, the future is quickening.

Players that don’t even exist today will come to dominate our market with unique new products and then quickly exit. Their lifecycle will be measured in months, not decades. Interest in highly specialized niches of our radio hobby will be driven by the Modern Maunder and inexpensive hardware. Look no further than what we’ve accomplished with the Raspberry Pi to see what I mean.

Traditional manufacturers will never keep pace with the rapidly changing interests of those who can “invent” brand new radio toys overnight using only software.

80 Meter Nights

It’s taken exactly two beautiful nights of low humidity and cool temperatures to get me thinking about 80 meters. I don’t have room for a decent TopBand antenna so that’s out, but 80 is definitely workable.

My HF antenna for the last decade has been a center-fed zepp at thirty feet that performed well on 40 thru 10 meters. Using the auto-tuner (and a little patience) I could get the transmitter happy on 80, but it wasn’t efficient and my results there have always been meager.

I have a K1JEK Cobra UltraLite for 80 thru 10 meters still in the unopened bag and could easily put it into service for the upcoming low-band season. I could even get the center support up higher, but the end supports would remain at 30 feet so raising the apex would only serve to make more of an NVIS cloud warmer out of it.

Checking the log, I still need a dozen confirmations for WAS 80 CW via LoTW and any DX worked would be an added bonus. But mostly, my imagination is stoked by Novice memories of long, cold winter nights spent cozy in the shack while trolling 80 for solid-copy rag chews and regular weekly net check-ins.

Besides, a potent station on 80 meters is one way of flipping the bird to the extended solar minimum that has slowly and permanently settled over the HF bands and ruined much of the fun we’ve taken for granted since the dawn of the radio age.

Get ready. 80 meter nights are coming.

Poke Sallet

Woke to much cooler air and lower humidity this morning. The sun is shining brightly, the windows and doors are all open, and all seems well with the world. This is the kind of summer weather I appreciate. Though it’s still August, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if the season of hot and sticky would surrender to autumn’s glory sooner, rather than later.

Interesting post from Rich, KY6R on the recent VK0EK operation from Heard Island: The Deserving and The Critic is a good read and not without a lesson for the DX-afflicted. Watch his blog for additional “back stories”.

“Bob, KK6EK presented the VK0EK DX-pedition at the NCDXC monthly meeting last night, and it was excellent. It was more travelogue and more science than DX-ing, but the crowd seemed to really like that. Bob also mentioned that he is working on “VK0EK, The Book” – and will make it available FREE”.

Speaking of DX – YX0V Aves Island is preparing to be QRV. New dates, August 27 to September 10. Or something like that. I’ve seen a dozen different start dates. Satellite operators might get some love on this one.

More Good Reads

The Greatest Generation continues its fade. Southgate Amateur Radio News reports that radio amateur Brian Rix, G2DQU passed away on the morning of Saturday, August 20, 2016. While known to the general public as an actor, Brian Rix had been a licensed radio amateur since his early teens and used his position to further the hobby.

Solar Topics – Where We’re Headed is the topic of an upcoming (August 23) Webinar hosted by Carl, K9LA who will give a brief update on Cycle 24, and then discuss the implication of the number of days with zero sunspots, the trend of the strength of the magnetic fields around sunspots, the correlation of the duration of solar minimum to the maximum of the next solar cycle, and several other issues. He will also explain why we have a revised data set of new sunspot numbers.

A couple of videos worth a look: The ARRL 2016 Hurricane Preparedness Webinar is available for viewing now. Also, don’t miss this review of the miniVNA TINY vector network analyzer.

My new PiRLP3 arrived about a week ago but it has received no attention. Nothing has happened around here since my eye surgery. My sight is slowly getting back to normal and I plan to go back to work tomorrow. Still, not much time for hobby projects as surgery on my other eye is scheduled for just two weeks after the first and I expect more downtime ahead. I’m anxious for September and hope things return to normal around here.

And yes, poke sallet is a real thing.

Weekend Update

Just a short note to explain my recent absence. I had eye surgery on Wednesday morning. Routine cataract surgery on my right eye. The left is scheduled for two weeks later, but a minor complication has left me unable to see properly for a few extra days.

I’m on the mend now, but staring at a computer screen remains painful so there won’t be much more to report here until that has healed.

Full recovery expected — it’s just going to take a little longer than usual.

73, Jeff

Still Soylent

It’s been a year since I first tried Soylent, the specially crafted meal substitute drink, and I remain a regular customer of the 2.0 version. The powdered mix is still available, but I prefer the convenience of premixed bottles.

“I don’t use it to replace delicious food, I use it to replace bad food” is a popular sentiment among Soylent fans and I agree. I travel a lot and frequently wake up in hotels. Grabbing a bottle as I head out the door is easy, convenient, and much healthier than whatever is being kept warm on the “breakfast bar” in the lobby.

It’s also measurable, 400 kcals per bottle.

And now there’s a new offering — Coffiest a balanced breakfast and your morning coffee, all in one convenient bottle. Each bottle contains 400 calories of complete plant-based nutrition and the same caffeine as a strong cup of coffee.

coffiest_gallery1.bb02355898bd

Might as well get them together since I usually chase a bottle for breakfast with a Cup of Joe anyway. I’ve ordered a case and will soon see how the coffee flavored drink tastes and whether it will become a regular part of my monthly re-order.

Soylent is the brainchild of Rob Rhinehart, an electrical engineer who was working a crazy number of hours on an entrepreneurial start-up a few years ago when he got tired of buying, cooking, and eating bad food. Looking for a simple, inexpensive way to meet his nutritional needs, he approached food as an engineering problem.

“You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself,” he said. “You need carbohydrates, not bread.” Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they’re “mostly water.” He began to think that food was an inefficient way of getting what he needed to survive.

Beginning my second year of Soylent, I think he was right.

Broken Trust

cheat

While I enjoy spinning the dial across the bands and working a new one on rare occasions, I can count on two (or maybe three) hands the number of big DX operations that I’ve actually “chased”.

I enjoy DX but am not afflicted with the dengue it inspires in so many radio enthusiasts.

That’s easy for me right now because I’m currently on hiatus from HF activities. Band conditions are abysmal and I really don’t think I’m missing a thing. But I do try to stay up to date on the latest operations and where the big boys are going next as the appeal for me is radio adventure and not just verifiable confirmations and numbers.

But having read this recent treatise from Paul, N6PSE — I’m not sure whatever interest I had in DXing will ever be re-kindled. From here to eternity, whenever I see a call sign on the Honor Roll, I won’t think about the hours in the chair or the radio prowess required for its achievement.

I will instead wonder how many of those calls are legitimate and how many are just cheats and liars who have for all purposes, broken trust with the game of DX and ruined it forever in the process.

Changes

According to the ARRL, the amateur radio service continues to enjoy brisk growth in the United States:

The ARRL VEC Department reports that 20,447 new US Amateur radio licenses have been issued since January 1. That’s nearly 1500 ahead of the number that had been issued by this time last year. At the present pace, the US is on track to exceed 30,000 new radio amateurs for the third straight year by the end of the year.

But there are those who never seem happy with any success.

  • The FCC has proposed to revise the Amateur Service Part 97 rules in response to the ARRL’s so-called “Symbol Rate” Petition for Rule Making (RM-11708), filed in late 2013, and it has invited comments on its recommended changes.

And then there’s this from the recent ARRL Board Meeting:

  • THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that an ad hoc committee be established to examine the current license exam requirements for the Technician Class license and make recommendations for change, including consideration of a new entry license class, to the Board for possible changes that might be recommended to create a more targeted examination with a more limited set of privileges that would attract a new generation of amateurs.”

A new license class that’s EASIER to obtain with FEWER privileges?

How much easier can it be to obtain an amateur radio license? The current entry-level test is simple, requires only a C+ grade to successfully pass, and is administered in your own home town by local volunteers. The results (30,000 new hams again this year) of the current license structure are self-evident.

coke-ad-sml

I remember when a few business geniuses had this idea to tinker with a very popular and successful recipe — and the result was New Coke

Wobbly Oscillator

The Wobbly Oscillator is a monthly publication of the Cuyahoga Amateur Radio Society, located in northeast Ohio.

The August edition includes a story I wrote, ‘You’ve Been Warned’, and published on April 1st, 2011. If you read it, you will understand why that date was important to mention. I’ve written more than 60 short tales like that one, though I’ve taken them all offline. Occasionally, someone contacts me and requests permission to reprint one of them in their club newsletter — like the Wobbly Oscillator.

Later this year, I intend to compile the most popular of these stories and publish them, along with a few that haven’t yet been seen, in Kindle format.

In the meantime, if you find one of my stories and are interested in including it in your club newsletter, drop me a note. I’ve never said “no” to such a request from a legitimate organization.

ARRL’s Big Numbers

The ARRL 2015 Annual Report is full of facts and figures and narrative about the last year of operation. Among the many numbers provided, I found some to be particularly interesting. These stats were valid at the end of 2015 and most have will have grown since then.

  1. Membership Growth – at the end of 2015 there were 170,528 ARRL members. That’s up about 5,000 from the previous year. It also represents the ninth consecutive year of member growth. That 3% growth is twice the rate of new US amateur radio licensees (1.3%) during the same period.
  2. Social Media – At the end of 2015, the ARRL Facebook page had 61,000 likes. That’s up from 49,000 the previous year. 49% of visitors to the Facebook page use a mobile device and those most likely to visit the Facebook page are males aged 45-54. ARRL’s five Twitter feeds had 53,600 followers.
  3.  ARRL Website & Publications – the ARRL website received over 17 million unique page views in 2015. The Breaking/Current News crawler snags 500,000 unique visitors per month – almost three times more traffic than members. The ARRL Letter, published 50 times a year (email) free for members has 103,000 subscribers. The digital edition of QST magazine is downloaded by 20,000 readers a month. QEX has 6500 subscribers while NCJ has 1700.
  4. Organization Income – over the course of 2015, ARRL income was roughly $6 million from member dues, $3.8 million from publication sales, and $2.5 million from advertising. Total income for the year was $14.8 million.
  5. Logbook of the World – LoTW now has over 84,000 users, with a database of over 745 million QSOs. LoTW’s popularity is unprecedented, as many hams now use LoTW as the sole means of submitting their applications for DXCC, WAS, and VUCC. Due to a significant amount of applicants utilizing the Online DXCC program and Logbook of The World, data entry staffers have noticed a decrease in the average size of traditional paper applications, and as a result, applications are processed more rapidly.

W1AW-Summer-640w
Founded in 1914 by Hiram Percy Maxim and Clarence Tuska, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national association for Amateur Radio in the US. Today, ARRL is the largest organization of radio amateurs in the world. Our mission is simple:

“To promote and advance the art, science, and enjoyment of Amateur Radio.”

Hamvention: The Wrap

It’s been a week since news broke that Hara Arena was closing, and only five days since a new site for the event was announced. It seems longer than that. I didn’t intend for this story to dominate the entire week on the blog, but things spun up rather quickly.

Over five-thousand views of the Fairgrounds post tells me that folks are passionate about Hamvention. It doesn’t hurt that the post was linked in the ARRL Letter, but I think it’s mostly the event, and the intense interest it attracts.

Just a few final thoughts to wrap this up and move on.

There have been plenty of boo-birds chiming in with gloom and doom predictions about the move. I think it’s important to keep in mind that this was forced, it wasn’t optional. A better argument could be made that DARA should have fled Hara Arena a decade ago but didn’t. But with that decision having been made for them, they were forced into contingency mode.

I happen to think they made a solid decision in selecting the new site, others disagree. We’re going to find out next May who was right and who was wrong.

hamv

That’s not to say 25,000 need show-up for Hamvention 2017 to be a triumph, but it will be the primary metric for measuring success. 20,000 could attend and absolutely love the new venue and the headline would still be that the event is “doomed”.

Sorry to have to say it again, but I’m stunned by the general lack of understanding of what it takes to run Hamvention. Those who continue to opine that the event should move to “Las Vegas” or some other region of the country are simply clueless about how this all works, yet these seem the most vocal of the boo-birds.

In order for Hamvention to really succeed at the Greene County Fairgrounds, organizers are going to have to think outside the box and reset the show in an entirely new configuration. New activities will need to be added, and a few things may need to be left out. A lot will have to be altered.

Not everyone will be happy but ‘everyone’ has never been happy with Hamvention. It’s a challenge, mostly because they haven’t had to tweak the formula much for decades.

But DARA has a proven track record in pulling off the big event. They’ve actually done it. It’s not a hypothetical conversation in a pub. They turned it into the largest, most successful ham radio event in the United States. No other convention or hamfest comes close to its size in attendance or dollars generated.

And they’ve done it over the last ten years in sub-standard facilities.

So again, my challenge to those who want the event moved out of the region — launch your own ham radio convention in one of those wonderful places with first-class amenities and make it the largest such event in the USA — and I’ll be right there to congratulate your accomplishment.

Until then, just keep blowing smoke and leave the job to the professional amateurs in Dayton.