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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hamvention: The Fairgrounds

The Greene County Fairgrounds, new home of the Hamvention is a 45 minute drive from where I happen to be working in Cincinnati today. So after work I ran up the road to tour the facilities. As it turns out, the annual county fair is going on this week and it cost me six bucks to take the grand tour — and four dollars more for a corndog.

Given the broiling heat (96F) and my lack of interest in riding the zipper or tilt-a-whirl, I spent exactly one hour walking the grounds, snapping photos, and trying to imagine how this space is going to be best used.

First and foremost, if you had worries about parking space, relax. It’s on grass but that’s no different than the big lot across the road from Hara where thousands of us have trudged back and forth for decades. And there are seemingly endless acres of it. We won’t runout of parking space. Besides, on-site parking could be a bonus since there are no 3rd-parties renting their land for parking — maybe Hamvention will offer parking free for attendees?

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There is a reasonable amount of parking available inside the gates near the buildings. I assume this will be mostly reserved for vendor and handicap parking. There is a paved circular drive near the entrance, perhaps suitable for pick-up and drop-offs but it could create long queues.

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Inside there is a relatively large midway with a paved road around it. Since the fair was going on, you can see how these vendors lined up and I can imagine a lot of the flea-market taking place around the midway.

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There’s a horse track with a grandstand where Bob Heil or Gordo could coax us into rollicking tunes like ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ after leading us all in a solemn recitation of The Radio Amateurs Code.

Seriously, how about we get the Spurious Emissions Band up there for a few sets?

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There are several buildings, more than just the four that were mentioned by others in previous discussions. Three of the main exhibition buildings are large and roomy. These buildings were not air-conditioned but large wall and ceiling fans kept air moving nicely through the large open doors. We’re going to have to get used to walking between buildings, but it reminds me a lot of the fairgrounds used for the Orlando Hamcation.

There were bathrooms, but I didn’t see enough of them — I surely just missed seeing all of them since the annual fair regularly attracts 80,000 people over four days and that many bladders are bound to spring leaks.

There were a lot of campers and motorhomes setup there, but I have no idea how many of those to expect at Hamvention so it’s hard to say if there will be sufficient space for all who want to camp on site.

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If I had to sum up the site in a single word that would be “rustic”. It’s a county fairground. A place where livestock is shown and judged, bought and sold. And as you might expect, it’s located on the edges of town, a small town at that. 

The large buildings are well-kept with smooth, concrete floors. Parking won’t be a problem. Flea-market vendors are going to be happy, and I think “inside” exhibitors will get happy too — once they figure out a pecking order and where the most advantageous (and expensive) spots will be located.

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My only real concern is the lack of meeting rooms. These are popular, attracting over a hundred people for some of the sessions and at Hara Arena, there were three such rooms in use constantly. And that doesn’t include the testing sessions. I did notice a private school building across the road, perhaps that could be employed for the weekend?

Bottom line, I think this is going to work and probably work well. With a little imagination we’re likely to see creative new ways to conduct a show like Hamvention with large crowds and rave reviews in a new configuration. 

It seems like a great hangout for ham!

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