Posts Tagged ‘days o’ yore’

Dayton 2013 Recap

dayton_big_dish

Some good planning on Sarah’s part yielded a bridal shower for her sister scheduled on the same weekend as the Hamvention.  Huge win.

  1. Speaking of huge wins, there was no sewer back up this year.
  2. Like the last time I attended in 2011, I’m pleased to see more younger (than me) hams in attendance.  A high-ranking ARRL official noted to me the “energy and enthusiasm” present in this generation of young hams that was not present 15 years ago (this year marks my 20th year as a ham, but I didn’t mention that).  Attendance was still thin compared to my first visit in the mid 1990s.
  3. Deals.  I stimulated the economy by purchasing a small CDE rotor for my VHF activities, an HP server power supply for a future solid state amplifier project (>55 amps at 50 volts), a couple of 900-MHz antennas, and some miscellaneous small parts.  I sold some junk to partially cover that expense.
  4. People.  Ran into a lot of old friends and made some new ones.  This is really why I go to Dayton, well, that and the junk.  K8MFO tells me there are Bureau cards coming.  W8AV has 930s for me to work on.  W2NAF had people for me to meet.  AD8P was able to win himself a pizza from an unnamed W5 in the “SB-200 challenge” of correctly differentiating an SB-200 from an SB-220 at a distance of 20 feet—a tribute to the W5′s failure to distinguish the two until after the sale last year.
  5. W2NAF has written an article about our trip to Adak (NA-039) that was published in the June 2013 issue of CQ.  It has a lot more background detail than what I wrote on the blog.  Check it out.  I picked up a copy of that and the May 2013 issue which has the 2012 CQ WW CW results in it.
  6. Products.  I just don’t care that much about new products.  The Ten-Tec Rebel that several people have already discussed is a cool idea.  I know that Ten-Tec took some flak for not opening up the Orion SDR core when they produced it.  But, let’s be realistic, people.  Hams would have bricked those suckers in a heartbeat.  A sandbox “open source” radio is a step in the right direction, but I question what a ham can really customize that matters without screwing it up.  Maybe I’m just not visionary enough.  Almost 10 years ago now, I interned in the R&D lab at a large consumer appliance manufacturer as an undergraduate my supervisor was always saying, “How can we make this attractive to the [hardware] hackers?”
  7. Guns.  The Hamvention web site was very specific that the Trotwood Police Department would be actively enforcing Hara Arena as a non-gun zone.  Seriously?  It’s a ham radio convention.  Bill Goodman is there at least once a month the rest of the year.  Do hams bring their go-kits to gun shows?  They must.  Inquiring minds want to know…
  8. Suites.  I did not do the contester suite thing.  Was thinking of going on Friday night but fell asleep in my in-laws’ living room.  This is a recurring problem when I visit so no one bothered to awaken me.

Was the trip worthwhile?  I think so.

(No?) Nonsense Radio

The November 2011 issue of QST contains an Op-Ed that really left me shaking my head more than normal.  The author bemoans the complexity and feature sets of newer handheld radios and pines for the days of his IC-02AT.  He goes on at length about the “unnecessary” receive capabilities (NOAA weather broadcasts, AM/FM radio, etc) and how he has to search for the manual every time he wants to program a repeater offset.

Well, as someone who recently upgraded from a radio just slightly newer than the IC-02AT to a “modern” HT, he’s wrong on nearly every account (except the micro-/mini-USB port, which I would wholeheartedly support for charging purposes).

  • Eliminate extraneous features.  Too bad we all have different definitions of this.  I think scanning is a worthless feature, but like NOAA/NWS weather broadcasts.  In fact, my wife is delighted that we now have a battery-powered AM/FM+NOAA/NWS radio again that I will always be able to find and will guarantee that it works.  Did you hear that, guys?  My non-ham wife actually likes my HT and uses it to listen to FM radio!
  • Eliminate multilevel menu trees.   I’m just dying to replace my cell-phone-sized VX-3r with a knob-covered brick.  I’m sure you are too.  It’ll look great in my shirt pocket.
  • Eliminate the proprietary programming cables.  Maybe I’m not a typical ham, but I only have about ten memory channels programmed into my VHF/UHF FM radios and they took about 10 minutes to program through the front panel (my bad, menus).  The mini-/micro-USB port is a good idea for charging, though.
  • Allow for a battery pack that uses disposable batteries.  Last time I checked, most radios have this option.  Did I miss something?
  • Create an inter-vendor standard for user interface.  What if they standardize on Icom?!?!  The last Icom VHF/UHF FM radio I used received a “grade of S, for ‘stupid’” from its owner.  That was in 1993.  All of the Japanese manufacturers will be put out of business by the factory owned by the Chinese military that produces their products before this happens.

He should buy another IC-02AT if he liked them so much.  I bet for a Jackson or two, you could have a nice one…complete with the 6x AA battery holder.  Heck, buy two or three for spare parts.  I think I have the Service Manual around here somewhere if I didn’t already sell it.

On a more serious note, there are lots of no-frills radios available out there, even brand new ones with factory warranties.  Until recently, at least, the money in VHF FM radios was in two-way, government, and public safety, not amateur.  There are a lot of amateur rigs at the “low end” of the market that share a lot in common with their commercial counterparts.  And, of course, you can always buy used Motorola gear on eBay if you desire ultimate performance and ruggedness.

DXpedition QSLing

This post might better be titled “supporting things that you value.”  A recent large-scale DXpedition to a “new one” just started sending out QSL cards in the past few weeks.  I have seen a bit of traffic leaking onto the regional contest club’s e-mail reflector about QSLing this operation and today someone complained that QSL requests that included donations were being processed rapidly and that he had not yet seen his. He was thoroughly chastised by a number of people on the reflector (including one of the DXpedition operators who went on at some length about the cost of the DXpedition) before the thread was (wisely) quashed by the moderator.

I composed a short reply very early in the melee, but decided (also wisely) not to contribute it because it really had little to do with contesting.  So, I’m writing here in hopes that someone finds it interesting.

When I was a new ham, I won a copy of the ARRL Operating Manual at a hamfest.  It sounds inane now, but I read the thing cover to cover.  In the chapter on DXpeditions, the author writes, “A donation should never be a condition for receiving a QSL card.”  That has stuck with me through the years.  The fundamental question is: why spend tens of thousands of dollars on the effort only to hold the operators who worked you hostage for a donation that might cover your QSLing costs if you’re lucky?

But, life is rarely black and white and most DXpeditions understand the futility of that question, so the situation outlined above rarely happens.  In the present scenario, the DXpedition stepped into the gray by prioritizing donors ahead of non-donors.  I have no problem with this.  In fact, as I began to write in my reply, it is a matter of supporting things that are important to you.  If having a card for the “new one” is important so you get on the Honor Roll for this year’s DXCC Yearbook, how much is that worth?

This falls into the same category as people who used to complain about the results of contests sponsored by CQ magazine being unavailable for free online.  Well, if you want the results, buy the magazine!

Enough ranting…did somebody mention that CW Sweepstakes is this weekend?  SWEEPSTAKES!

K8GU Field Day 2011

I had not been a big fan of Field Day for many years until last year.  Although ARRL technically terms it “an operating event,” it has most of the features and flavor of a contest.  But, the bands are crowded, there are a few more drunks and lids than your standard contest.  Your local club thinks it’s a great idea to put up a tower and an ancient tribander, but they only do a half-witted job of it making a lot of work for something that could have been smoked by a doublet in the trees. Or, you show up at a random Field Day site, introduce yourself, and offer to operate CW—only to be handed a J-38 or a blank stare.

Last year was different.  Sarah’s branch chief at work is a ham and she’s married to a ham.  Somehow, it came up that I was a ham and soon we had an invitation to Field Day at her mother’s place near the water of the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  I was reluctant, but they assured me it would be OK.  They have a tower trailer for a triband Yagi and trees for dipoles on the low bands and they operate 1A.  It was fun.  Sarah enjoyed herself, too, which is a welcome change for a ham radio event!

For a variety of reasons (namely the impending birth of our first child), we elected not to go to the Eastern Shore this year.  After talking to a few guys at the PVRC/W3LPL open house last weekend who implored me to come to their operation (W3AO, the FD of epic proportions) instead, I decided I needed to do something.  Since W3AO was making a run on the all-time Field Day high score record this year, I opted to make a game of running 1D and working W3AO (and their GOTA station, KE3Q) on every band and mode available.  The goal was to not disrupt our weekend too much and to have fun, possibly contending for a plaque offered by PVRC for the most band/mode QSOs with W3AO/KE3Q.

Here’s how things shook out (yellow = QSO, blue = no QSO, red = no QSO possible with W3AO/KE3Q, hashed = no QSO possible with K8GU, but possible with W3AO):

So, I did pretty well with W3AO, all things considered.  I was not QRV on RTTY until Sunday morning (forgot that I did not set that up on the “new” PC yet).  By that time, I missed the really good opportunities to work them on 20 and 80.  I don’t know if I ever would have on 15 and 10.  I did see them spotted on PSK31 (a mode I will never enjoy—one QSO was enough) on 15, but could not hear (erm, see) them here.

It was a bummer not to have 6 meters here and despite 3-4 requests, the 2-meter phone operator(s) refused to QSY to CW with me, even though one told me I was his first QSO in an hour!  It did take almost 10 minutes for them to find a key to work me on 222 and 432 CW!  Thanks for going the extra mile!  I believe my total of 17 QSOs ties K3DI’s record, plus one more with KE3Q, for 18 total.

I worked KE3Q right away on 75 meters, but never heard them again.  I did see QRS Skimmer spots for them on 40 and 20 CW in the middle of the night and at the very end of event, respectively.  But, I do not believe they were QRV on CW on any other bands.

Having 6 meters and digital from the start probably could have increased my totals a bit.  A satellite QSO or two would also have been good.  But, I did not have it in me to get that set up in addition to building microwave gear and getting the baby’s room ready.  Plus the 432-MHz amp I bought recently has been held hostage by the deadlock between Canada Post and their workers.  So, I only have 10 watts on that band until that arrives, making the annual Field Day “Battle for Bandwidth on the Birds” that much more exciting with a small antenna oriented for terrestrial work.

It was a good time, although I think I’ll be itching to go out into the “field” again next year…thanks for the QSOs and the QSYs!

The Rupture 2011

Thanks to some quick thinking on Sarah’s part, I was able to attend the Hamvention (Saturday only—the day that the sewer backed-up and “ruptured”…spewing nasty water down through the fleamarket) for the first time in a few years.  This is a recap from my perspective.

  1. Attendance was down.  The fleamarket was shrinking.
  2. There were a lot of lookers but few buyers in the fleamarket.  Predict that the fleamarket will shrink further next year.
  3. There were still good deals to be found in the fleamarket—I picked up some LMR-600, a WA2AAU 2304-MHz amp (unmodified 1900-MHz PCS amp), a Rohn 45G rotator plate, some 20-GHz rated SMA relays, and some miscellaneous parts.  And, I passed on a few good deals as well.
  4. I saw a lot more young people than I remember from past years.  Or maybe I’m just getting older and the population of hams younger than me is growing on account of that.
  5. Hamabouts (and their drivers) were not so obnoxious as prior years.
  6. Hara Arena may be a dump (K1LT told me the story—don’t know if it’s true—that during the Rolling Stones first U.S. tour, they had been booked at Hara, but refused to play when they saw the facility); but, it’s perfect for the riff-raff who show up for the Hamvention.
  7. In the end, the Hamvention (like ham radio itself) is about the people you know and meet.  I had fabulous eyeball QSOs  with guys from almost all phases of my ham career (except the early years from 1993-2000).  The VHF/UHF weak signal crowd is a pretty amazing bunch of hams.  I had a great time getting to know some of them in the fleamarket.

The Joy of Homebrew

This is about building electronics, not making beer, at home; although, I am sure there are parallels.  Three things brought me to writing this:  1. an eHam forum thread I responded to a few weeks ago;  2. the June 2011 issue of IEEE Microwave magazine (has articles by K2UYH, N2UO, and KK7B, perhaps others? thanks to W3KL via the PVRC reflector for bringing it to my attention since I let my IEEE/MTT membership lapse); and 3. a few minutes spent last night resuming a partially-completed Softrock kit gifted to me by a friend who decided to buy a FLEX-3000 instead.

Every once in a while, a thread appears on an amateur radio forum that goes a little bit like this, “Hi, I’m a new ham and I don’t have a lot of money to spend so I want to build an HF SSB station from scratch” or something similar. Somehow, somewhere, somebody has given the impression that it is less expensive to build your own amateur radio equipment than to buy it.  That’s true in some circumstances, but certainly rarely for anything that is mature, mass-produced, and readily-available on the second-hand market.  After all, there is nothing novel about a 100-watt superheterodyne HF SSB transceiver these days. The principal uncounted cost is the “engineering cost” associated with getting your first few projects working and keeping them working.

One of the first construction projects I undertook as a new ham was to build a Ramsey Electronics HR-20 (NE602-based) 20-meter receiver—$20 at a hamfest.  It did actually work eventually—but this was a simple kit with maybe two dozen parts.  Next, I built a ONER transmitter kit from now defunct 624 Kits.  I think that was another $20.  I never made any QSOs with that combination because I was always afraid of blowing out the receiver with the transmitter.  The first thing that I built that I actually managed to make a QSO with was a Small Wonder Labs SW-40, which I still have.  That set me back $55 and it did not work immediately.  Suddenly, that’s over $100 by the time you include the money I spent on a soldering iron and solder.  That’s one-third to half-way to a “real” used HF transceiver and I had two bands at 1 watt on CW only.  Furthermore—these are all kits—they leverage economies of scale in purchasing parts from various vendors and they have instructions to help you along.  And, I’d like to think that I was a relatively representative example of a recently-minted ham who had more ambition than money or skills…

As I soldered down 1206-size (easy ones) SMT capacitors last night, I was thinking of times that I rushed through a homebrew or kit project just to get it on the air.  In those instances the process was often, as I have belabored above, about saving money, not about the act of creating something.  Last night was about creating, not saving, and that is the joy of homebrew.

Marrying the TI-85 and the DJ-580T

The May issue of QST arrived in the mail today and an article about building a “fox” for hidden-transmitter hunting was included.  That brought back memories of a teenage project of mine that I had once thought of writing up for QST, but now just makes a good story for the blog.

The first (and only) handheld radio I’ve owned is an Alinco DJ-580T.  Like most HTs of a certain age, it has provision for an external (“speaker”) microphone.  The microphone input is a sub-miniature (3/32-inch, “2.5 mm”) stereo phone plug.  As a high school student, one of my passions was tinkering with a graphing calculator—the venerable Texas Instruments TI-85—do kids these days even use this stuff or have they gone the way of slide rules and nomograms?  The TI-85 offered the provision to link to a computer or another calculator through a similar sub-miniature stereo phone plug.

Well, one afternoon in probably 1997, I was sitting with the DJ-580T in one hand and the TI-85 in the other…and it hit me…I wonder if I can use the the TI-85 to drive the DJ-580T microphone input?

A few preliminaries are now in order.  Thanks to a helpful (and still operational, albeit now with a CMS and the attendant spam) web site called ticalc.org, a few friends and I had learned to load our TI-85s with third-party binary machine code programs with considerably faster execution times than the built-in scripting language.  This allowed us to play relatively powerful video games surreptitiously on a school-sanctioned platform…a tactic that worked well until the English teacher wisened up to the fact that the five students with their calculators out were not typing essays on them.  Not satisfied to just play games—although I did set a very high score in Tetris during Spanish class—I sought to harness the power of the Z80 microprocessor in the TI-85 for myself.  Recall that this was before widely-available and inexpensive microcontroller development systems like the PIC, Arduino, and AVR.

I gathered the tools and eventually managed to write some fairly sophisticated (given my utter lack of formal training in computing) software in Z80 assembly language, including a crude clone of Space Invaders and a crude adventure game I called “Kashmir.”  Maybe some screenshots or stories about them will come later.

But, for the story at hand, I learned how to manipulate the link port.  Fortunately, the sleeve was ground on both the TI-85 and the DJ-580T.  So, it was just a matter of tip and ring—one was audio and the other was PTT on the radio, and both were settable on the TI-85 for some kind of two-wire communication link.  So, I reasoned that I could write up a bit of assembly code that would key the PTT by pulling it low, then toggle the audio line back and forth at 500 Hz or so to generate a rough audio tone.  It worked!

This was an expensive, although trivially so since I had the hardware, way to build a hidden transmitter.  So, I modified the software to send my callsign in Morse code (using a look-up table) and stuffed the whole thing in a cigar box.  It was good fun for a few of us teenage boys.

And, for the interested, I found the original source code, which is sadly not well commented or dated.  But, it does have my old callsign (AA8UP) listed by the lookup table.


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