Author Archive

SOTA launch in VK2

News is just in that SOTA – Summits on the Air – starts in a number of new call areas tomorrow including my home state New South Wales, VK2. I understand that Queensland VK4 and Hawaii KH6 may also be launched tomorrow, 1st September.


SOTA logo

The new VK2 association adds over a thousand summits to the SOTA database. I was part of the team that surveyed the 16 regions. Hats off to Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH who coordinated the widely dispersed team of surveyors. I should publish a post here soon about the things I learnt along the way, about the resources available for SOTA summit surveying and cracking the mystery of identifying the all-important saddle to ascertain the required prominence. Flooding Google Maps is the clue.

The news of the scheduled start has taken us a little by surprise. I’m not sure how many activators will have had time to properly plan activations for the first day. The other issue is that tomorrow, Sunday 1st September is Father’s Day.

For more news about the accelerating SOTA activity in Australia – it’s already active in VK1, VK3, VK5 and VK9 – you should follow the conversation on the SOTA-Australia Yahoo group and visit VK1NAM’s blog for a list of SOTA blogs from VK activators.

The WIA’s Amateur Radio magazine for September which arrived in letterboxes yesterday features a report on the mass activations on 11 August celebrating six months of SOTA in VK1 as well as three pages of regular SOTA news. It’s brilliant for SOTA that editor Peter VK3PF is also one of the top SOTA activators in VK.

CW Academy FB

Yesterday I had my final CW Academy session. As an indication of how good it was and how much we valued it, not one of the five of us ever missed a single session! There were sixteen hour-long sessions over two months. And it was all free!

Late last year I noticed a couple of messages from Jack W0UCE inviting hams keen to improve their CW skills to join in and pointing them to this page detailing the thinking behind CW Academy’s approach.

What was on offer was a series of online sessions in a small online group re-learning the code. The hour-long sessions are designed to get you to read in your head and to break or avoid habits (like writing everything down) that will prevent you from increasing speed later.

HK-705

The target for our beginner group was around 20wpm. The sessions took place using Oovoo which is like Skype for groups. (Apparently it’s important that the instructor can see who is having difficulties.) We logged on twice a week. In between times we were expected to practice daily using a nifty online tool, Morse Translator. This neat web app lets you practice listening to code and adjust both character speed and Farnsworth spacing. Our default setting from day one was 20wpm character speed with gaps to yield an effective speed of 10wpm. Morse translator is a great model to help practice sending as well. I found including sending practice helped lock in recognition of words.

Our teacher or Elmer was Rob K6RB. He shared his intense enthusiasm for CW with us as well as his experience on air. After a few weeks of walking us through the alphabet, numbers and prosigns and practising new letters and words, Rob gradually upped the speed. Then the rubber hit the road about week five when we were QSOing back and forth. Rob patiently introduced us to the format of the typical QSO, contesting and even handling a DXpedition. His aim was to prepare us for these so that we’d know what to expect and what was expected of us when we joined in. We got the benefits of decades of operating experience in these sessions.

cwops

The CW Academy is an initiative of the CW Operators Club. CWops is international in focus and it was great to be accommodated as the token DX in the group.  As they say on the webpage “available to anyone, anywhere”.

The training has got me confident to get back on the air with a practical code speed and as a bonus, interested for the first time in having a go at contesting, initially the CWops fortnightly Mini-CWT contest which we spent a couple of sessions rehearsing.

A big TU to CWops and Rob K6RB for all their efforts running the CW Academy.

New KD1JV ultralight rig for 80/160

There’s been a higher than usual level of activity on the AT-Sprint email list over the last few days as  hints have emerged of a possible new offering of the popular MTR (Mountain Topper Radio) the latest of Steve Weber KD1JV’s radios that define the possibilities of ‘trail friendly’. To get a view of one in action check out this video from G4ISJ shot on a SOTA activation.

Steve KD1JV's popular MTR 'a very small, very efficient, two band rig'

Steve KD1JV’s popular MTR ‘a very small, very efficient, two band rig’ is set for another future offering

Steve KD1JV is the designer behind the PFR-3 and a number of other radios offered by Doug Hendricks’ QRP Kits along with the new Tri-bander Transceiver kit. But he also enjoys a passionate following for his high performance but tiny (Altoids tin size) radios in the ATS series where ATS stands for Appalachian Trail Sprint. These radios (especially the ATS-3B and the MTR) are prized by ham hikers and walkers who watch the ounces and milliamps. They are also an example of masterful interface design using small push buttons and minimal LED display. As Steve mentioned recently in a post reflecting his deep field operating experience “Little tiny rigs and knobs don’t work well together”.

During the buzz earlier today about whether he would offer more of the MTR kits (he will), Steve also announced his latest project “An 80/160 dual band rig with direct conversion receiver and a DDS/PLL hybrid VFO using all through hole parts.” (The ATS series made extensive use of microscopic SMD components and lots of the assistance Steve offers via the AT Sprint Yahoo group is concerned with discovering and rectifying makers’ errors assembling these devices.)

His website carries a pretty detailed three-page description of the design thinking behind the new rig which he’s calling the Super Deluxe Direct Conversion Transceiver. Tantalisingly he’s suggested it may be able to work at 500kHz. The new rig also features an “LCD frequency read out, built-in keyer and rotary tuning”.

He’s planning to offer only 50 kits at about US$75 at the end of November. Expect to see them sell out in two minutes! I suspect if he offered 200, they might last an hour or two.

Hidden heroes

The BBC have just broadcast and put on YouTube an excellent hour long documentary about two people whose wartime work is credited with shortening the war and saving millions of lives. Yet because of the cold war and the climate of secrecy, credit came late or not at all.

Code-Breakers: Bletchley Park’s Lost Heroes‘ details the work of young mathematician Bill Tutte who broke the German’s top-secret Lorenz code and Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers who built the first electronic computer ever – to replace ‘Heath Robinson’, the mechanical device used to process the code-breaking.

Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers were both ‘scholarship boys’ who benefitted from the best educational and research opportunities available to their generation. Earlier conflicts may not have been able to discover and develop such talents. (And it’s questionable whether comparable educational opportunity is available today.)

It’s hinted towards the end of the program that the extended secrecy about their achievements is connected to the assumption that the Soviets continued to use the captured German Lorenz system into the 1950s. You can only imagine Tommy Flowers’ frustration, biting his tongue every time someone referred to ENIAC as the first computer!

You have to marvel at the beautiful minds of these two men – dealing with complex matrices and patterns and the logic associated with understanding them – without the tools we take for granted today. One of my favourite scenes is Bill Tutte at his desk with a hand drawn grid on a large sheet of paper tracking the pattern of the characters in the coded messages.

Solar news

Under the title “Earth braces for biggest space storm in five years” ABC Australia’s online news reports on the last 24 hours of solar activity.

A NOAA space scientist is quoted “Space weather has gotten very interesting over the past 24 hours”.

Further detail as usual from http://www.spaceweather.com and http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/today.html.

UPDATE: 24 hours later – “Space storm fizzle“!

Big Day Out at Wyong

Just back from a few hours spent at the annual field day at Wyong hosted by the Central Coast Amateur Radio Club. This has to be the big day out for Australian radio amateurs. People came from near and far. It’s a good barometer of the health of the hobby and the local industry supporting it.
I was delighted to see – as the first exhibit as you enter – a full display of the Elecraft K-line presented by Gary VK4FD. Only thing missing was a KX3. Gary of course is an enthusiast, not an employee of Elecraft. A pretty good indicator of the passionate support the company enjoys.

Gary VK4FD with a display of the K-Line at Wyong Field Day
The flea market became pretty busy as the morning progressed, but maybe not as many stalls as previous years. One stall that stood out for me at least was Stephen VK2SPS’s which included his offering of keys and bugs, surplus to his collection as he focuses on homegrown Australian manufactured keys. Eagle-eyed visitors will spot the McElroy bug (top, centre) and an interesting wooden based French military key towards bottom right.

One of the more interesting items in the flea market at Wyong
Brilliant sunny weather, but not too hot to spend some time wandering about looking for a bargain or three. Also saw an impressive display of homebrew gear from members of the ARNSW Homebrew group.

At last the wait is over

The final hours before the actual opening of orders for the new Elecraft KX3 saw a mix of bizarre behaviours on the KX3 email list from impatient petulance and other weirdly strange attention seeking. They were a tiny minority in a sea of patient fans happy with the frequent updates from the Elecraft team. In the end when they started taking orders it wasn’t really a surprise. And Elecraft met their December deadline and kept some holiday suspense to the end.


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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor