Our cat died today. He was a stray taken in by my mother-in-law who then came to live with us when she moved into a nursing home. We have no idea how old he was, but he spent fourteen years with us and is already sadly missed. Cats can be mysterious and in his case he just got old and stopped eating. We tried everything, the vet did too. No cancer. No kidney problems. Nothing wrong with his mouth or teeth. He just suddenly and inexplicably refused to eat. We watched him starve to death surrounded by food. RIP Hector.
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing” – E.B. White
Real Radios Don't Boot Up
It was a good day for mail at KE9V today. The postman dropped off the latest edition of SPRAT Magazine, the AMSAT-DL magazine, a generous bonus check from an employer where I retired more than a year ago (I have no idea why), and one of my envelopes from the SKCC QSL Bureau. Inside the envelope was the QSL card commemorating the 2023 K3Y celebration that ended in January.
The front of the card shows off the QSL design that was chosen to represent the event this year, and the back of the card show those stations that I worked. While I didn’t sweep through the event I was pleased with my results from only sporadic effort over the last few days of January. Band conditions obviously have been good this year…
Though I stopped exchanging paper QSL cards via postal mail in 2015, I still keep envelopes on hand with the SKCC bureau and I exchange paper cards with other members via that method. I find it efficient and a money saver. The only problem with QSL bureaus is it requires volunteer labor that can dry up quickly. So far that hasn’t been the case for the SKCC bureau and I hope it continues for a long time.
Beginning on January 2nd each year SKCC members around the world operate special event CW stations using only straight key, bug and cootie keys. These three key types are the original instruments of early radiotelegraphy, which this event celebrates. 2023 was our 17th Straight Key Month event and the 17th anniversary of SKCC.
Official event stations in US jurisdictions operate from 13 regional call areas using call signs K3Y/0 through K3Y/9, plus K3Y/KH6, K3Y/KL7 and K3Y/KP4. Additionally, SKCC members from various countries in six IARU continental regions participate as special event stations using their own call signs and sending “CQ SKM”.
Callers (members and non-members) can try to complete the following goals:
- BASIC SWEEP: Contacts with K3Y/0 through K3Y/9 stations.
- FULL SWEEP: The above plus KH6, KL7 and KP4.
- GRAND SWEEP : The above plus the six IARU Continent regions; AF, AS, EU, NA, OC and SA.
The SKCC is the most active group of mechanical-key Morse code radiotelegraph operators in the world with over 27,300 members around the globe. Founded in January 2006, membership remains free for life. Join us today!
A massive eruption of solar material, known as a coronal mass ejection or CME, was detected escaping from the Sun at 11:36 p.m. EDT on March 12, 2023. The CME erupted from the side of the Sun opposite Earth. Fortunately, it wasn’t a replay of the Carrington event of 1859. The eruption was on the opposite side on the Sun, facing away from the earth.
Estimates suggest it was ten to one hundred times more powerful than the 1859 event. Had it been an earth-facing, direct, head-on kill-shot, well, you wouldn’t be reading this.
I keep seeing commercials on television for smart phone apps that supposedly help with relaxation or falling to sleep. I’ve no clue if these are useful, but I have noticed that a few are touting the use of white, green, and now brown noise. I wouldn’t be able to pick any one of those out of a line-up though I am a believer in low-level noise as a sleep aid.
Traveling a lot during my career and staying in far more hotels than anyone should, my “secret” for falling asleep against the backdrop of hotel noise was to always run the air-conditioning unit. The constant drone of the blower motor allowed me to ignore other noises and quickly fall to sleep. On the downside, when I finally quit traveling and slept in my own bedroom every night, I couldn’t get to sleep without the noise of a fan blowing…
I’ve gotten around that audio oddity by making use of another sound, Gregorian chanting. I’m not a religious person so specific chants are meaningless to me, but the monotonous tones and sounds are soothing and induce quick sleep on me.
Wikipedia: Gregorian chant is the central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song in Latin (and occasionally Greek) of the Roman Catholic Church. Gregorian chant developed mainly in western and central Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries, with later additions and redactions. Although popular legend credits Pope Gregory I with inventing Gregorian chant, scholars believe that it arose from a later Carolingian synthesis of the Old Roman chant and Gallican chant.
While assembling a collection of these chants I noticed a few try to highlight 432 Hz as a “healing” or otherwise mystic frequency that happens to coincide with some of these and is also mentioned in a few adverts for the smartphone apps intended to calm and soothe frayed nerves.
Sensing a boatload of malarkey (sorry for use of the “M” word) I did a little digging and found that 432 Hz is a popular chunk of counter-culture thriving on the fringes of reality. It’s touted not just as a sleep aid, but also one that can cure cancer and other human frailties. Debunking that nonsense isn’t difficult and I enjoyed this treatise on the matter though I remain shocked by those selling it as a balm for whatever ails.
Bottom Line: For those looking for new ways to relax or who need a little help falling asleep I can recommend Gregorian chants, like this one. But those looking for relief from actual physical ailments would do well to seek professional medical attention.
Taiwan is a major manufacturing hub for satellite equipment, which could give the region an important leg up over other countries trying to build satellite internet networks. Companies on the island already produce base stations, circuit boards, solar cells, and other tech for firms like SpaceX, according to local media reports.
An ongoing internet disruption on one of Taiwan’s islands is accelerating the self-governed territory’s plans to launch an independent satellite network like SpaceX’s Starlink, which would help ensure it remains connected in a potential Chinese invasion.
Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang said last week that the territory would prioritize testing its satellite internet capabilities in outlying islands such as Matsu. She first announced in September that Taiwan was aiming to build a satellite system similar to the Starlink network run by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has become instrumental to Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Related: Amateur radio could be another communication alternative in the event of an internet outage in Taiwan, according to The Los Angeles Times, which profiled the island’s ham radio enthusiasts.
Sable Island CY0S
A nice evening hanging out on the bands waiting for the Sable Island, CY0S operation to get underway. Things there were delayed a bit so I spent time once again exploiting opportunities using FT4. Nothing new to be found, though I was able to add a few DXCC band-points for the Challenge.
It was another case of calling one JA station and then being called by a half-dozen more of them. I obviously had a good path into that region and it never gets old to be piled upon, however gently, by the DX for a change. The night also included visits with Hawaii, Chile, and Australia. (I heard this morning that Sable came up a little after midnight last night.)
Before sunrise, and while the coffee was still brewing this morning, I saw that the CY0S operation on Sable Island was up and running. I tried them for about 45 minutes on 12 meters using FT8 with no luck. But it’s early in the operation and signals were quite strong giving me some confidence that I will get them in the log eventually though they will get spread pretty thin with the expected EME and other activities.
Wikipedia: Sable Island is a small Canadian island situated 300 km (190 mi) southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and about 175 km (109 mi) southeast of the closest point of mainland Nova Scotia in the North Atlantic Ocean. The island is staffed year round by three federal government staff, rising during summer months when research projects and tourism increase.
The pileups have been sizable and there’s some DQRM, to the point that I believe DXpeditions will eventually go all digital, but overall its been nothing like the dogpile for Bouvet.
The latest news from the island was updated last night and included some photos. See you in the pile-up!
The name for the festival of the Spring Equinox in Druidry is Alban Eilir, which means ‘The Light of the Earth’
As the Sun grows warmer, so life begins to show through the soil. Small signs at first – the daffodils and crocuses – then more green as the bluebells and wood anemones spread through the woodland. Plants are seen by some as inanimate greenery with no actual feelings and life force. But Druids see life in all living things, from rocks and stones, to rivers and springs, plants and trees – all life is sacred. Have you ever thought about how you recognise the beginning of Spring? Is it the plant life? The weather? How does a plant know when it is time to grow? The Spring Equinox falls on the 19th, 20th, or 21st of March each year. But a plant cannot tell the time or see a calendar. Yet it knows. If it has senses, then it has consciousness, if it has consciousness then it is more than an inanimate life form. So it is the return of life to the Earth that is celebrated at Alban Eilir, the time of balance.
One of the inner mysteries of Druidry is the Druid’s egg. Life-giving, it is the egg protected by the hare, which is the symbol of Alban Eilir – still celebrated by the giving of Easter eggs by the Easter bunny.
Passing on the IC-905
I decided to take a pass on the opportunity to order the new ICOM IC-905 VHF/UHF/SHF All-Mode Transceiver.
Almost a year ago HRO was taking small deposits for the right to order the new IC-905 transceiver long before knowing the final price or even when it would become available. I put my $35 down and proceeded to speculate on what the price would be.
Microwave equipment isn’t cheap and there has never been an amateur radio package with all those bands, modes and features rolled up into one package so for all I knew it might sell for five or even ten thousand dollars though I expected it to come in below that. I was willing to pony up $3k for the 905, but when the actual US price was announced, it was considerably more than that – especially given that they busted the 10 GHz option out of the base package.
Final pricing ended up like this:
- IC-905 transceiver $3499.95
- 10 GHZ transverter $1099.95
- 2.4 GHz antenna $399.95
- 5.6 GHz antenna $399.95
- 10 GHz antenna $399.95
- Parabolic 10-10.5 GHz $1099.95
Unwilling to invest that much in what is a narrow facet of the hobby, I passed on the opportunity to order the hardware. I don’t know that it’s overpriced, it’s just more than I’m willing to pay. I’m sure many microwave enthusiasts will line-up to pick up the entire 905 suite, and perhaps there will be a better “deal” to be had at Hamvention.
But having just picked up an ADALM-Pluto SDR that covers 440 thru 6 GHz (with modification) for two hundred bucks, that seems the most reasonable path to the microwaves for me.
A new version of VarAC (v7) just dropped with Auto-QSY, 4X faster ping, rapid profile switching, one-button mute all sounds, and several other tweaks and turns that continue the rapid evolution of this Swiss Army Knife for HF digital work. That seems a proper analogy given that it does a lot of things like keyboard chatting, message broadcasting, file exchange, and even some email like function among other things.
+ See the official VarAC V7 announcement
The broadcast function permits a URL to be sent via the radio that, when clicked in the user interface, opens the address in a Web browser. That feature alone makes it incredibly useful for “getting the word out” about anything ham radio related.
But as much as I enjoy VarAC I don’t use it nearly enough.
It feels like a platform intended to be used exclusively. Full-time HF digital operators surely rejoice at such excellent software and I imagine them opening it on Monday morning and not closing it for weeks at a time. The ideal deployment would of course include an HF transceiver and antenna dedicated to its sole usage. I tend to fire it up for an hour or so and then close it down to do other things with my station.
Another problem (opportunity?) for me is that I’m not as good as I once thought I was at making chit-chat via the keyboard.
My own thoughts on this are that it stems from a larger problem, some form of an attention deficit disorder. I become bored quickly with radio conversations be they via Morse, SSB, or digital modes. Once a contact is made and the pertinent QSO details are exchanged, I’m ready to move on to the next one.
Almost all facets of amateur radio reinforce that behavior be it contesting, chasing DX, QSO parties, Field Day exchanges, FT modes, etc. I belong to a handful of specialty clubs like SKCC where exchanging member numbers is the goal and primary reason for every contact as well as incentive for more of the same.
Trouble focusing on a single task is not just a problem for radio amateurs and it’s not just the result of a warped desire for endless contacts. It’s life in this century, the 30 second news cycle and social media. This problem isn’t mine (or yours) alone, it’s endemic among everyone with an internet connection…
Some say that time travel isn’t possible, but I disagree. Turning the pages of ELECTRIC RADIO, one of my favorite publications, I’m instantly transported back to the days when radio was still pure magic and spinning the tuning dial was as good as any journey around the globe. And I got to take that trip every night after school from the comfort of my bedroom…
ELECTRIC RADIO (tm) is all about the restoration, maintenance, and continued use of vinatge radio equipment. Founded in 1989 by Barry Wiseman (N6CSW, SK), the magazine continues publication for those who appreciate the value and excitement of operating vintage equipment and the rich history of radio. It is hoped that the magazine will provide inspiration and encouragement to collectors, restorers, and builders. It is dedicated to the generations of radio amateurs, experimenters, and engineers who have preceded us, without whom many features of life, now taken for granted, would not be possible.
+ Welcome to Electric Radio Magazine
Here you can subscribe to the popular Electric Radio magazine, now in in circulation over 30 years. Electric Radio is published bi-monthly primarily for those who appreciate and continue to use vintage radio communications equipment and also for those who are interested in the rich history of radio.
Randy, K7AGE dropped a couple of videos over the weekend following his receipt of the KM3KM amplifier and automatic antenna tuner. He ordered these just over a year ago. I followed his lead a few months later and placed my order in May. After such a protracted time his news has buoyed my hope that the long wait may soon be over. I already have the auto-tuner and have upgraded the feed lines to safely handle higher power. I won’t have 240 VAC in the shack until July so will throttle the amp to 500 watts while it’s fed from 120 VAC.
One of the Idaho stations worked in the IDQP this weekend confirmed our phone QSO via LoTW. That moves me just one step away from the WAS-Phone award. I still need a similar contact with Utah — and the 7QP event is only six weeks off. I hope to nail this one down soon as it’s been hanging out there for quite some time. Over the last twenty years fewer than five percent of my HF activities have been on phone. It’s a mode I don’t use much which is evident from my lack of WAS-Phone and DXCC-Phone.
The 3Y0J Bouvet Island DXpedition has concluded. Now comes the telling of the tale. Adrian Ciuperca (KO8SCA) provided the Northern Illinois DX Association with the first presentation on what life was like for the 3Y0J Bouvet Island DXpedition. Join NIDXA members in hearing the adventure from someone who was there via this YouTube video.
Friday Afternoon: Once again I arrived late to the K1USN SST on Friday afternoon. 4-5pm local is simply seared into my brain on this one and I keep showing up just before this thing ends. That problem will soon be resolved as we spring ahead to daylight savings time tomorrow. I did manage 13 contacts and 10 multipliers in just under thirty minutes. All on 20 meters, search & pounce. Not a great showing to be certain, but I did take a short sprint and made it even shorter and lived to tell the story.
Saturday: The plan for this day has been to participate in the Idaho QSO Party in hopes of adding at least one confirmed phone contact. An hour into the event I had worked six ID phone stations, but on further review, none used LoTW. It suddenly dawned on me that the reason I don’t have this state confirmed on phone might be because so few Idaho amateurs use LoTW? I finally did work a few more who have uploaded their logs in recent history so fingers crossed I might finally check this one off the Triple-Play list.
While fiddling around in the IDQP I also worked a few stations in the South America 10 Meter Contest. I also managed to add a few more POTA stations to the weekend cache.
Bottom line: It’s been a productive weekend (so far) on the bands, especially with 15-12-10 meters really popping. And hey, I listened to a beautiful one-sided QSO at 29.600 MHz FM that I don’t think was via a repeater. What’s up with that? I remember long ago frequently working thru a 10 meter FM repeater located somewhere in the Caribbean, but I haven’t heard anything about this for a long time. Probably due to poor band conditions over the last decade. This deserves additional investigation…
The Other White Meat
I took the VFO for a spin yesterday afternoon and noticed a lot more FT4 activity than I’m used to seeing. Of the fifty or so total FT4 contacts in my log all were at 20 meters. But yesterday there was considerable FT4 activity on all bands from 20-10 meters and it wasn’t contest related. It seemed like a missed opportunity for me to ignore it so I jumped in.
FT4 is a faster protocol than FT8 designed especially for radio contests and introduced in 2019. Transmit-receive sequences are six seconds, making it 2.5 times faster than FT8 and about the same speed as regular RTTY for radio contesting. The transmitted data lasts for 4.48 seconds compared to 12.64 seconds for FT8.
Tuning on ten meters I quickly worked one JA. There was obviously a good path between us because that one contact turned into six JA’s all calling me. Worked those and had them in the log and before I moved on I also worked stations in Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, Suriname, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad & Tobago.
It was more of the same on 12 and 15 meters and finally back on 20 meters there was Europe again (Belgium, France, Serbia, and Portugal). I ended up putting 35 contacts in the log zippy-quick using FT4 with 100 watts into the vertical.
And while I enjoyed being the pile-up for a tiny handful of JA’s, I think my favorite FT4 contact of the day was with WH6EY on 12 meters who was operating POTA from Hawaii.
No ATNOs today, but it was an unexpected blast of fun activity on an otherwise cloudy afternoon.
State QSO Partying
The Idaho QSO Party takes place this weekend. I need confirmed phone contacts with Idaho and Utah to complete the Worked All States Phone award. I hope to work a handful of stations in the QP with even more hope that at least one of them will confirm our contact via LoTW. I already have WAS CW and Digital and wrapping up Phone would result in obtaining the Triple Play Award.
A similar opportunity to check Utah off the list occurs in May during the 7th Area QSO Party if I haven’t completed the task before then. Confirming a contact with Utah via phone during the 7QP event might be a little tougher given that it won’t just be Utah calling as this one rolls multiple western states into a single weekend QSO party, but I like my chances!
Lab599 TX-500 Update
I just sent my Lab599 TX-500 transceiver to the US service center in Nevada for necessary repairs. The LCD screen had gone into some frozen hieroglyphics mode and after a few email exchanges with support giving me instructions for replacing the internal battery, updating the firmware, and resetting the system, the problem persisted. I don’t have any idea how long this will take but I’m hopeful it will return soon given that outdoor weather is just around the corner.
The transceiver is an excellent performer with few shortcomings. Though it has been difficult to obtain in the past, global supplies have eased considerably and they are now available on the shelf at HRO for US customers. The Russian-based creators of the transceiver now have them assembled in the United Arab Emirates and this move seems to have stabilized the export supply chain.
Firmware updates have continued to be made regularly available since the TX-500 first hit the market and customer support has remained strong despite the situation. The aftermarket continues to move at a snails pace, perhaps waiting for assurance that the TX-500 will continue to be a viable offering in the amateur radio market during and after war in Ukraine.
Despite having a KX3, IC-705, TR-35, and several other portable transceivers in my collection, the TX-500 remains my favorite field radio and I hope to have it it back and in operation soon.
- Desert Wireless - Lab599 announces a new distributor
- CW-500 Paddles Arrived - the Russian made CW-500 paddles
Fish Fry Friday
After several days of nice sunny weather we woke up this morning to a chilly rain. The forecast is for it to remain like this all day with up to two inches of rain possible. That makes it a good day to stay indoors and catch up on other things, like maybe our taxes. I think we have received all the needed paperwork to pile it up and dump it off on our tax preparer. The process has become simple enough, but I always seem to wait until the last minute to get it done. Another bad habit.
Price increase ahead. I’m a long time customer of Linode, it hosts this web server. About a year ago the company was purchased by Akamai, one of those events that rarely makes current customers happy. And now I’ve received notice that prices will be going up:
As we expand our cloud product portfolio and work to improve the resiliency and reach of our network, we face the same challenges as many of our customers: a tough financial climate with growing costs for data center space, energy usage, and newer hardware. We have resisted making changes to our offerings for as long as possible, and we understand this may not be the news you wish to hear from us, but we are announcing price changes for certain compute services effective April 1, 2023.
No more social media. I had intended to drop an article in the blog this week about my use of ChatGPT to create one tweet per day about amateur radio. That worked well and its impressive technology, but before this week ended I deleted all my social media accounts including Twitter. It’s no big deal as my participation has been waning for a long time. It might seem cheesy, but what compelled me to finally pull the plug was this video from a late night television program. It was too much truth packed inside one comedic video to continue.
Out of power. I received a surprising bit of feedback from this recent post. Lots of good suggestions and ideas in addition to the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing others contemplating this same issue so I’m not alone. I’m strongly leaning toward installing a multi-fuel stove in time for next winter season. This seems to make the most sense for staying warm when the power goes out and to provide supplemental heat if it doesn’t. I’ll be writing much more on this subject as the project progresses. Thanks so much for your continued feedback.
Fish Fry Friday. Congratulations! We’ve arrived on the doorstep of another weekend, this time in another month. We’ve been scouting the local parishes and look forward to enjoying a fish fry dinner this evening. Just an FYI, I noticed most won’t be cooking on Friday, March 17 - St. Patrick’s Day. Go early and go often - but check the calendar!
Odds and Ends
Busy weekend ahead including the ARRL International DX Contest (SSB). Until then, a few odds and ends…
- EI7GL calculates the cost for the recent Bouvet operation at $38 per QSO. Was it worth it? I would say an emphatic “YES” for those that made it into the log and a big old “MEH” for those of us who did not. I doubt I’ll ever have the chance to work Bouvet again but I can live with that.
- The latest edition of The Beacon newsletter from West Mountain Radio includes an article with details on using an Elecraft K2 with RIGblaster Blue on Linux and Windows.
- Stop making payments on your future Ford vehicle and it might just repossess itself and drive off to the impound lot.
- Ham Radio and the Cult was a short piece with a behind the scene look at ham radio and the Jonestown incident. A few days ago I added this link to that post - an article from the August 1979 CQ Magazine on the same.
- A whiskey fungus is growing near the hometown of Jack Daniel’s. There's bound to be a good country song hiding in that news...
- I still enjoy Dilbert.
Out of Power
Recent winter storms that raked the northeast also inflicted misery a little closer to home. I had no idea that the ice storm that passed through southeastern Michigan left hundreds of thousands without power there until I happened to see a message from Dan, KB6NU that his power had been off three days. This immediately brought back dreadful memories of a 2005 ice storm that left us without power here for eight days.
In situations like this it’s normal to think about ways to mitigate, or at least minimize the impact from such events, however, there are really few ideal solutions. Having a generator might be helpful though when we went through the long ordeal of ’05 there was no gasoline or kerosene to be purchased because fueling stations were also without power and couldn’t pump the liquid gold. And those that had some alternate means of pumping would only take cash payments because all the credit card support systems were down too.
It was fairly easy to plan and plot for future outages while the power was off. There was little else to do. But once the power had been restored for a few days those plans began to fade. And when all the news sources started referring to it as a “once in a lifetime event” it became even easier to forget about the cost and effort required to provide some sort of workaround to temporary power outages due to freak storms.
The great fear has been that these things seem to happen most often during winter weather. After all, if the power goes off during mild weather it might be inconvenient and induce boredom. We might even lose everything in the freezer. Still, our survival seems likely. But when it’s seriously cold outside a power outage can become a deadly episode. It’s not just about cozy comfort or an internet connection. Without power we can’t heat our home and that’s bad news.
Given that, my first thought was the addition of an alternate heat source and stockpiling fuel for it. I looked at a lot of combination wood and grain burning stoves. Our home is small and almost any of them could keep the place warm. But like I said, the further removed from the power outage the less interested I became in solving the problem.
I never did install an alternate heat source or a generator.
Now, almost a quarter century later those old notions of doing something are stirring again. Not just because of recent events in Michigan, but because the reliability of our power system has been declining and these aren’t always weather related. More frequent outages, often for no apparent reason have left me a little unsettled. I’m losing faith in the system.
We experienced some bitterly cold weather over the Christmas holiday in 2022. The local power company had been sending a steady stream of text messages that weekend warning of possible outages and requested everyone use less electricity. In particular they wanted us to suspend using electric ovens for cooking. Their warnings made it abundantly clear that they weren’t only worried about the wind knocking trees into power lines, but that electric demand could exceed capacity.
This is worrisome on its own, but when you add to it the more frequent and intense storm activity that we have seen in recent years, it doesn’t inspire confidence about the future.
Assuming I could stay warm and fed I think I could learn to live without electricity. A small off-grid cabin in Michigan’s UP sounds pretty good to me, but that’s the sort of dream that’s better suited to a 30 year-old man than someone over sixty who likely would benefit from closer proximity to medical care.
Scratch that crazy notion off the list for me.
I would gladly invest in a natural gas generator system if we planned to stay here the rest of our lives, but that’s not the plan. On the other hand, maybe I should go that route anyway and hope it adds enough value when we sell this place in two years to recoup that investment?
However this plays out, I’m firmly convinced we will experience more frequent and longer power outages over the next 20 years and sitting in the dark and freezing to death isn’t the kind of future I ever dreamed about. I’m going to do something about it, if I can just figure out what that something should be.
Working PSK31 using the CW to Data feature on the Elecraft KX2/KX3 without a PC. Watch the video.
Last week Elecraft announced the long awaited internal battery charger for the KX2.
Chameleon Antenna now offers products from Paradan Radio Products including the Power Strip 4 Plus and the DC Gate 40 +.
READ: Inside the world of Australia’s high-altitude balloonists and why they’re not afraid of a missile
KE9AJ made his first EME contact last week using only the barest essentials providing inspiration for all of us seeking to join the elite few who bounce radio signals off the moon!
Ham radio operators headed out on White Bear Lake in Mahtomedi, MN for the annual “Hams On The Ice” meetup. Amateur radio ops from Minnesota and Wisconsin enjoyed operating portable on a gorgeous 40-degree February afternoon.
OzarkCon, the popular QRP conference that takes place in Branson, Missouri is just about a month away. Amateur Radio enthusiasts from around the US and outside the country gather there annually for two days of QRP related activities.
FlexRadio Systems Appoints GigaParts, Inc. as North American Distributor of Genius Line Products.
Austin, Texas—February 10, 2023: FlexRadio Systems, a global leader in software defined radio and HF communications, announced today that they have extended their distribution channel for Genius line products through a new agreement with GigaParts, Inc. for the North American market.
“GigaParts’ customer reach will allow FlexRadio to strengthen its presence in the high power, amateur amplifier market”, stated Lori Hicks, VP of Sales and Marketing for FlexRadio. “Their history in the electronics and computer industries makes them an ideal partner for selling our network-based solution offerings and we look forward to growing our business together.”
Seems surprising given that Flex has handled its own sales since its inception. Getting help with international sales of its amateur radio products would be understandable. But this deal is for North America, its own backyard. I know that the commercial side of the FlexRadio business is larger, more lucrative, and probably growing rapidly, but this move signals a fundamental shift in its approach to the amateur radio side of the business.
Ivory for Mastodon
Not long after the billionaire idiot bought Twitter and began to sabotage it, there was a significant migration to Mastodon. Best I can tell about ten percent of Twitter users became Mastodon users almost overnight. I signed up for an account too, but quickly decided it wasn’t my thing and deleted it.
Fast-forward a few months and the brainless saboteur is still trying to kill Twitter, this time by banning third-party clients. My favorite of those was Tweetbot and now those same developers (TapBots) are hoping something can be salvaged with a new client application for Mastodon.
It’s called Ivory and is available in the iOS App Store. I wanted to give it a spin and support its developers so I created another Mastodon account and installed the new client.
It’s a slick bit of work though there is more that needs doing (see the roadmap), but given they were given no advanced warning that the rug would be yanked from under them, it’s probably already the best 3rd party application for Mastodon available and well worth a look.
The ADALM-Pluto SDR was launched as an experimental and evaluation platform. It provides RF coverage from 325 MHz to 3.8 GHz with up to 20 MHz of instantaneous bandwidth. Those capabilities have made it popular for use in many QO-100 satellite ground stations.
It can also be used for digital amateur television and can be an integral component in the popular Portsdown DATV system as one part of the RF generation and DATV modulator. And since that’s my current project, it was time to acquire one.
A quick online scan and I found that Mouser had the best price with more than 1000 of them available. I ordered one on Saturday and it has already been shipped and should arrive in a couple of days.
And serendipity, just a few days before I placed my order Daniel Estévez, EA4GPZ announced this:
Happy to release Maia SDR, an open-source FPGA-based SDR project focusing on the ADALM Pluto. This first release can display the waterfall on a web browser using WebGL2 and record in SigMF format, at up to 61.44 Msps. Here is a short demo, and some technical details.
Looks like there will be no shortage of things to learn, explore, and build!
Not really surprising considering the political pressure to do something about that Chinese spy balloon…
The US Air Force May Have Shot Down an Amateur Radio Pico Balloon Over Canada
Since the famous takedown of a suspected Chinese spy balloon, US jets have shot down a total of three more unidentified balloon objects, now suspected by officials to be ‘commercial or benign’. There is speculation that at least one these three objects may have been an amateur radio ‘pico’ balloon.
Related: Decision to shoot down balloons puts spotlight on hobbyists
My personal odometer flips over to 64 today. To be honest, it doesn’t feel much different than any other birthday except perhaps more appreciation to have made it this far. 1959 was a long time ago and obits of high school classmates have started appearing with some alarming regularity. No big plans for this day other than to spend it quietly, hopefully taking a deep dive into a new book that I’ve been waiting to crack open.
Skipping the Big Dance
I won’t be attending the Dayton Hamvention this year. I’ve already been to the big dance forty times over these last 46 years and figure enough is enough. My son and I have attended together for almost twenty of those years and since the event moved to Xenia we ask each other every year as we walk out the gate to the parking spot, “was that the last time?”
When I was a young man Hamvention was a destination, a place that you went to see what was new in the world of amateur radio and to obtain things that couldn’t be found elsewhere. The internet and online shopping long ago replaced the need to attend, but I kept going anyway, out of tradition I suppose. But now I’m old enough to get annoyed by all the machinations required to get in and out of a big fairgrounds. And why does it always rain?
If I should live to be 75 I think I’d like to go back for one final glimpse at Hamvention before making my grand exit, hopefully without my shoes covered in flea market mud…
Digital Amateur Television
Having an interest in Amateur Television (ATV), and now Digital Amateur Television (DATV), I joined the British Amateur Television Club (BATC) a few years ago. It’s one of the most active organizations of its kind and membership includes a subscription to its excellent quarterly publication, CQ-TV.
CQ-TV is largely technical in content, and includes many articles, circuits and projects dealing with all aspects of television at technical levels from the very simple to the advanced. Also included are equipment reviews and activity columns, overseas interest, in fact anything which is new and interesting to television amateurs. Each magazine also carries details of printed circuit boards, special components and sundries which are generally made available in the BATC shop at cost plus prices to members.
The BATC web site includes a number of resources for the television experimenter, including an active forum, links to streaming television repeaters, and a useful reference library.
And since Europeans enjoy access to the QO-100 satellite, use is made of its wide-band transponder to conduct the BATC QO100 net live every Thursday night at 8pm (London) and is also streamed via the internet. I’ve become a regular viewer of that net and recommend watching it at least once to get a feel for what can be accomplished with this impressive capability.
The (bucket list) goal for me is to assemble a DATV transceiver and possibly a repeater since there is currently no activity in my area. There is an active group with a DATV repeater in Dayton, Ohio (70 miles) so it would be handy if this equipment could also be used in the field.
The Portsdown receiver seems an excellent place to begin:
- The Portsdown Digital ATV System
- The Portsdown DATV transceiver system
- The newer Portsdown 4 project
And for general reference, the video presentation Digital ATV - Opening New Horizons given by Dave Crump, G8GKQ at the RSGB 2022 Convention is time well-spent.
Waving at the Sky
In desperate need of a palate cleansing following the incredibly acerbic HF pile-ups for Bouvet (3Y0J is QRT now) I stood in the backyard waving my Arrow antenna at the morning sky. A few blissful moments chasing the ISS as it slipped silently overhead resulted in a cache of APRS messages using five watts and my Kenwood TH-D74A handheld.
I could easily fall back into the habit of chasing ham radio in space. Too much focused energy on HF has me burned out on that facet of the hobby right now. Besides, nearly everything on my bucket list takes place at VHF and above. Stepping away from HF for a season is the only way I can make any progress on a list with a hard stop and unknown deadline…
The 3Y0J DXpedition to Bouvet Island is probably half over. They have scaled back the operation due to poor weather on an island that’s well-known for incredibly bad weather and I haven’t worked them to this point - and never will.
The pile-up has been large (as expected) and incredibly unruly and spending any more time in that queue would result in my exit from amateur radio. Life is too short to loiter with the dickheads in that dog pile. If what I’ve heard are “DXers” then there’s no way in hell I would ever want anyone to mistake me for a DXer.
To be clear, I’m not upset with the 3Y0J team who are working hard against long odds. Things might have gone better had they stuck to the original band plan, but the miscreants poisoning the pile-up are the real culprits. False spots, pirates, DQRM and police on all their frequencies have turned my stomach and mind and I’ll never financially support another DXpedition.
I love working DX. Connecting with fellow amateur radio enthusiasts in faraway places is pure magic. But it’s so much better when it’s an organic experience. I spin the VFO and happen to bump into some exotic station. That’s still magic and I’ll continue to pursue that without reservation. But I’ll never donate another dime to a large DXpedition. I’m done. Done-done.
Like a Lion
It’s been stormy here the last day or two, I don’t know what the heck is going on. It’s early February and we’ve been above 50F several times over the last few days. Today there is a high wind warning for the area and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that information. Sometimes I think meteorologists have too much time on their hands and they make stuff up to stay on top of the news cycle…
But there is light rain and there have been a few heavy gusts so I decided the best course of action this morning was to put the KX3 on the kitchen table, near the coffee pot. It’s being powered by a 12v battery and is set to 10 watts output. The antenna is the Elecraft AX2, also deployed on the kitchen table. A single 10-foot radial is stretched across the floor and is connected to the KX3 chassis.
It all tunes to perfection on 20 meters where I call CQ a few times on 14.062. Nothing. I start tuning around my frequency and suddenly a strong, steady ‘CQ’ pops into my ear buds. It’s Tom, W3BYM over in Rockville, Maryland.
We have a short QSO, back and forth a few times, then he says the copy is getting a bit rough, not surprising considering my end of the lash-up, so he sends along his 73 and I return the same and go refill the coffee cup.
I’ve done this often enough that I believe I could log a contact from the kitchen table every single day without fail if I really wanted. I mean, I’m not crushing the dogpile for Bouvet with this indoor arrangement, but I learned a long time ago that there is great pleasure in exceeding expectations. And this easily does that for me.
I’ll keep listening around 14.060 today and probably snatch at least one more signal out of the aether. The wind is kicking up a bit outside making it a good day to stay indoors. 57F, high winds, maybe this is just the start of a very early “March” coming in like a lion?
Wires in Trees
Saw this anecdote from Samantha Perry, editor of the Daily Telegraph and it reminded me of the oh so many places we used to live - and all the wires I’ve left in the trees for future observation and contemplation…
I smiled as my mind reverted back to childhood. I recalled my dad’s ham radio setup — the dials, lighted screens and giant displays taking up the entire space on one of his workshop tables. I remembered him talking to folks “from everywhere,” and the technology that connected a rural family in West Virginia to people across the nation.
Some years ago, when the husband and I moved back into the house on the mountain, we walked the grounds and assessed the needs of the home place. What repairs and improvements needed to be made? What was relevant then, and now?
Walking through the yard, he spied a piece of wire seemingly growing out of a tree high above our heads.
“What the hell?” he asked.
“Ham radio from back in the day,” I said with a smile. No other explanation was needed.