Mountain Xpress: Your cellphone can’t do this

One of the many hams profiled in Max Cooper’s article: Carl Smith (N4AA), publisher of The DX Magazine (Photo: Mountain Xpress)

I’m very proud of our local free community newspaper, the Mountain Xpress for its article on ham radio. Not only does the article give readership a short primer in the hobby, but it also profiles a variety of local hams–even an 18 year old YL.

This one is worth a read and goes beyond the boiler-plate local articles that usually follow on the heals of Field Day. I’ve included a few clips below:

(Source: Mountain Xpress)

On a stifling late-June day, a tangle of wires snakes through the open door of the Buncombe County Firefighters’ Training Center. Outside, the sun beats down and the roar of big generators fills the air; indoors, the atmosphere is even thicker, dense with a jarring concoction of radio static, Morse code and urgent voices.

[…]At first glance, the whole endeavor seems anachronistic. In an age of global communication, pervasive cell coverage and hundred-million-member social networks, what’s the attraction of basic, point-to-point radio communication? Who are these people who call each other not by name but by arcane strings of characters? What exactly are they doing?

[…]That fear may be unfounded: Today’s ubiquitous tech appears to be re-energizing the long-standing hobby. Pioneering operators have merged radio (an analog medium) with digital communication, and the Internet gives beginners a broad base of support.
“Amateur radio is very much alive and well,” says Bill Morine (N2COP), North Carolina section manager for the Relay League. “An awful lot of young people are coming out and seeing the merger of technologies between computers and wireless applications.”

Nationwide, there are 700,000 licensed hams — an all-time high, he reports. The licensing process is easy, Morine maintains, and ham radio’s staid image is no longer accurate.

[…]Carl Smith (N4AA) represents the old guard. Licensed in 1954 at age 14, the Air Force veteran and retired electronics salesman has logged more than 70,000 radio contacts, many from his home in Leicester. In ham circles, he’s a big deal: For the past 15 years, he’s published The DX Magazine, a bimonthly journal for serious hams with long-range ambitions.

[…]For some operators, service is ham radio’s primary purpose, and dropping the code requirement has unquestionably attracted many younger licensees. Eighteen-year-old Virginia Todd (KK4BRE), for example, got involved due to radio’s community-service opportunities and usefulness in emergencies.

“We volunteer a lot,” she says. “We did the bike race for Meals on Wheels and the Shut-In Trail Ridge Run.”

Paul Tilley (KK4BRD) says ham radio is just another communications tool he uses as a SKYWARN spotter. In foul weather, Tilley takes to the road in a truck equipped with a rooftop weather station, using his radio to report conditions to the National Weather Service. In remote areas lacking cell coverage, Tilley’s radio has enabled him to give people in the path of a storm time to prepare.

“There are storms that make it past the mountains that don’t appear on the radar at all,” Tilley explains. He’s had some close calls, including a lightning strike that destroyed his radio, but he stresses that he’s not a storm chaser. “Storm chasing in the mountains is extremely dangerous: You can’t see the weather coming.”

Even the most obsessed hams make time for community-service work. When Smith isn’t chasing DX, he heads the Buncombe County Amateur Radio Emergency Service, whose roughly 25 volunteers assist emergency-response agencies when normal communications fail. Because radio requires no infrastructure, it’s often vital in large-scale emergencies.

[…]That’s why emergency power is paramount on Field Day. But though the underlying purpose is serious, the event is also a chance for these operators to have some fun.

Watching Smith work CW is a jaw-dropping experience, and he quickly draws a crowd. Even while talking to those around him, he transmits so fast that the individual dits and dahs are barely discernible. Outside, other hams set up antennas in preparation for an all-nighter.

“This is my favorite day of the year,” says Tonya Campbell (WB0VDK) in between transmissions.

And as night falls, Marc Huennekens (KG4OPM) sets up a station in a tent in the bed of his truck. Using an old, tube-driven radio, he plans to log as many contacts as he can before falling asleep.

Back in the training center, the room is thick with Smith’s rapid-fire code, open-band static and low voices swapping stories. One old-timer recalls how it feels to be hit by lightning — twice.

After 24 grueling hours, the club has logged nearly 1,000 contacts. Smith alone worked 300 stations, transmitting all night and into the next morning. The allure of ham radio, he explains, is equal parts technical endeavor, community service and fellowship.

“Through ham radio,” notes Smith, “I can go anywhere in the world and know somebody and have a friend. I daresay your cellphone can’t do that.”

Read the full article in the Mountain Xpress online.

Curiosity making tracks…with morse code?

Today, I watched a fascinating eleven-minute NASA animation depicting key events of NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, in action.

Does this pattern remind you of something? Yep, the letter “L”. The other tires produce a “J” and “P” on the Martian surface. (Photo: NASA/JPL)

As I watched, I noticed something very peculiar about the tires–right around mark 5:15, one can see a pattern imprinted on them. At first I thought nothing of it, assuming NASA scientists had pondered the perfect pattern for traction and also shedding any trapped rocks or debris.

But–as my curiosity was piqued– a little research on the rover tires revealed this article from TyrePress.com: “Curiosity’s tyres ‘tagging’ Mars” in which the pattern is explained:

Yesterday the Mars Curiosity rover successfully went into action on the surface of the red planet, and the vehicle’s tyre tracks have gained a measure of notoriety. It turns out that Curiosity is ‘tagging’ the surface of Mars as it drives about.

A series of notches included in the track tyre tread is not just a pretty pattern – the notches are in fact Morse Code and spell out the letters ‘JPL’, short for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Curiosity is now busy leaving the laboratory’s initials all over Mars[;] however [this] is not just wanton interplanetary vandalism – the dots and dashes are part of the rover’s visual odometry system, used to estimate changes in position over time.

Brilliant!  Not to mention, practical…NASA has just put morse code on the Mars surface!

Perhaps it proves that it’ll be very difficult to do away with morse code. At least, until NASA sends a sweeper or Zen garden raker-rover to Mars.

Advances in Software Defined Radios could (will) change our wireless world

(Photo Source: New Geography)

Note that I’m not speaking strictly of the HF spectrum here. But mark this:  a radio revolution is, right now, in the making. ARS Technica just last week published an article entitled, “How software-defined radio could revolutionize wireless” in which the authors argue that software defined radios (SDRs) might not only open the door to new uses for our radio spectrum–uses we can’t currently fathom!–but also open the door to unlimited free innovation.  Innovation in the form of experimental hacking, much of which could simply fall below or outside of the FCC and other spectrum governing bodies, could become the province of literally anyone who wants to give it a go.

The article takes the reader through the evolution of SDRs and introduces a company manufacturing a product that could be to the radio spectrum and wireless communications what Apple became to personal computing.

I typically quote my favorite parts of an article, but this one is so very well-written and comprehensive, you really will want to read it in its entirety.  Click here to read, “How software-defined radio could revolutionize wireless“–and let your imagination take flight.

[Note that this is a cross-post from my shortwave radio blog, The SWLing Post]

FITSAT-1 will write messages in the sky with CW

(Photo: Space.com)

At first, I thought this news item was sience fiction, then I realized, “no, it’s just the coolest thing ever.”

Thanks for sharing, Eric!

(Source: Space.com)

The robotic Japanese cargo vessel now en route to the International Space Station is loaded with food, clothes, equipment — and a set of tiny amateur radio satellites, including one that will write Morse code messages in the sky.

[…]One of the [satellites], FITSAT-1, will write messages in the night sky with Morse code, helping researchers test out optical communication techniques for satellites, researchers said.

[…]One of FITSAT-1’s experimental duties is to twinkle as an artificial star, said project leader Takushi Tanaka, an FIT professor of computer science and engineering. Tanaka’s research interests include artificial intelligence, language processing, logic programming and robot soccer, in addition to cubesats.

Tipping the scales at just under 3 pounds (1.33 kilograms), FITSAT-1 carries high power light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that will produce extremely bright flashes.

“These, we hope, will be observable by the unaided eye or with small binoculars,” Tanaka says on a FITSAT-1 website.

After its deployment from the orbiting lab, the cubesat’s high-output LEDs will blink in flash mode, generating a Morse code beacon signal.

Read the full article on Space.com.

Field Day on Holiday

Field Day 2012 with VY2CRS

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been on vacation in Prince Edward Island Canada.

This year, our vacation coincided with my favorite annual event, Field Day.
Sadly, I missed an opportunity to experience Field Day QRP-style with the NC-based QRP club, the Knightlites, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, along with my buddy, Vlado (N3CZ).

Ron Morris, VY2RM, working 20 meters

Before I left my trip up north, I contacted the Charlottetown, PEI, Amateur Radio Club (VY2CRS) and was glad to learn that they had planned a Field Day event on the farm of their club President, Andy Speelman (VA2AS). Better yet, the location was just forty minutes from the cabin where we were staying on PEI.

Perhaps one of the benefits we enjoy as amateur radio operators is that we’re all part of one enormous event, an all-inclusive fraternity of like-minded individuals. When I arrived on site at the Charlottetown Field Day location, I was greeted as if I was expected. The large sign at the end of Andy’s driveway was a great advertisement for the FD location.

(Left to Right) Chris Vessey VY2CRV, Richard Burke VY2RB and Andy Speelman VY2AS

They instantly put me to work…eating a hamburger. After all, you can’t work a radio rig without a little something in your fuel tank, right?

“Islander” hospitality is legendary, and frankly, reminds me of the way it was when I was growing up in rural North Carolina where “no one’s a stranger,” and you’re free to accept invitations (and meals) without hesitation. This local club went a step further, and from the moment I arrived, included me in their jokes, making sure to laugh not just at but with me. I felt utterly at home.

The club had a wide array of antennas up by the time I arrived. All of them had been constructed just prior to the beginning of the contest, and all were field-deployable. Andy’s farm is a wide-open space and with no limitations to big antlers, thus they even fit a 160M “V” doublet out in front of the barn where we operated.

My view as I worked station after station on 20 meters

Though I had only a few hours to play radio before heading back to my family at the cabin, they put me on the 20M almost immediately. In perhaps an hour, I chalked up 100+ contacts on that band. The guys got a kick out of hearing me call “CQ Field Day, CQ Field Day, this is VY2CSR” and then offering up our “3 Alpha Maritime” in my North Carolina accent.

Though not great for identifying dupes, paper logs will work even if the power goes out

 

It was also fun to get a quick word in with those NC stations I worked from the island, many of whom were set up only a few miles from my home QTH.

I made sure I saved plenty of time for chatting with the club members, too. After all, this Field Day event– like many others I’ve attended–was more about comraderie and fun rather than about raking in the scores and multipliers (not that taking it to a contest level is objectionable, of course).

Darin Gay VY2GAY (left) and Andy Speelman VY2AS (right)

Fellows in Charlottetown: if you’re reading this post, I surely thank you for including me in FD 2012, Charlottetown-style.

Readers, if you happen to be on vacation during Field Day, search for a local event. There’s sure to be one and you’ll most likely make some new friends and create some notable radio memories.

2012 Fort Tuthill QRP Conference July 26-28

(Source: John Stevens, K5JS, via QRP-L)

It’s time once again to join the Arizona ScQRPions at the annual Fort Tuthill QRP Conference in mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona!! Spend the weekend camping with us at a cool 7500′ playing radio and listening to our outstanding speakers present topics on using Microchip micro-controllers, troubleshooting, Software Defined Radios, and
batteries.

Thursday afternoon, July 26, is for the early bird campers to arrive and get set up. Stake out your territory at our reserved campground site. Water is available, but no electricity. There are fire rings / grills for your outdoor cooking and no known fire restrictions inside
the campground at this time. Daytime temperatures should range from mid-70s to low 80s during the day and 50’s at night. Brief (usually) mountain thunderstorms with gusty winds are possible at all times especially during the afternoons.

Campground activities Friday, July 27, could include such things as easy expeditions to local SOTA peaks, operating, trading, renewing old friendships and making new ones, experimenting with antennas, and many other activities. There are plenty of tall Ponderosa pines for those wire antennas. Friday evening is our traditional group supper at one of the local restaurants.

Saturday, July 28, is our day for the technical forums at a nearby facility. We’ll adjourn about 3pm and head back to the campgrounds for our Saturday afternoon picnic. We have a covered ramada that will accomodate 70 easily. Water and electricity is available. You might want to bring a chair and/or table just in case as we don’t have quite the number of picnic tables as we’ve had in the past.

No tickets to buy. Prizes. No tickets to buy. All are welcome.

Bring your own entree for the picnic and we’ll do the rest! Look for many more details on our website at http://www.azscqrpions.com which is being updated. Watch for updates at the website or from @azqrp at Twitter. Send me your cell phone number if you want text updates.

Select Ft Tuthill 2012 in the menu.

Pass the word and we hope to see you there!!

73 john k5js

A QRP Family Holiday on Prince Edward Island, Canada

K4SWL portable VY2!

This year, during our family’s summer holiday, I’m enjoying the hospitality of Prince Edward Island, Canada (hence, the lack of recent posts on QRPer).  This is our family’s second visit to the maritime island, and each time we’ve been  fortunate to stay at the same off-the-grid cabin on the eastern coast, less than twenty meters from the water.

Of course, staying in an off-grid cabin comes with its radio challenges—namely, supplying power—but also comes with one supreme advantage:  no noise from the typical electrical devices that plague most of our homes. What’s more, this cabin sits on 60 acres, so not even a neighbor’s home appliances disturb my RX ears.

On our previous visit, I brought my (then) Yaesu FT-817, a 9aH gel cell, Micro M+ charge controller, 10W Solarex PV panel, some 300 ohm window line, loads of 22 AWG wire and an LDG ATU.  Unfortunately, I found I had very little time for radio, and propagation was dismal. Indeed, it was during that trip that I discovered my FT-817’s finals had blown, so part of the time I was transmitting less than QRPpppp levels.

This year, since I knew the site well, I came better prepared.

My full 2012 setup consists of the following:

  • An Elecraft K2/10
  • An Elecraft KX1 (4 band w/built-in ATU)
  • Elecraft T1 ATU
  • LDG 4:1 Balun
  • One 35 aH gel cell
  • Two 9.5 aH gel cells
  • Two PowerFilm Solar foldable 5 W PV panels
  • My radio toolbox with various connectors, crimpers, cutters, wires, caps, multi-tester, etc.
  • Enough wire and 300 ohm antenna line to make a couple of wire antennas

So…how’s it all working out? Brilliantly!

In the past few years I’ve done a lot of QRP CW—mainly rag-chews with some buddies on the lower bands. I’ve done less QRP SSB phone. When I first arrived at the cabin and began the process of unpacking, I couldn’t find the jumper cable to attach to my Vibroplex single-lever paddle (the paddle being a Dayton 2012 find, by the way). So, I plugged in a microphone and tuned to the phone portion of the 17 meter band.

Talk about radio fun!

I’ve once again re-discovered the joy of operating QRP SSB. It’s challenging to make those DX contacts and to transmit a long call sign (“VY2 portable K4SWL”) across the ether,  but occasionally the propagation gods smile upon you, and you’re able to participate in a good rag-chew or quick DX with a 57 to 59 signal report.

Being 20 meters from the salt water is a bonus I don’t usually enjoy in my US hermitage. Due to its excellent propagation characteristics, despite my lower power set-up, I have easily worked stations from Russia to North Africa, from  the Caribbean to Japan.   I am thoroughly reveling in it, and the process has re-connected me with my ham radio roots.

As Gunter, VA3GA, told me in a recent Canadian rag-chew, “ham radio holidays give you a chance to explore areas of the hobby you don’t normally think to enjoy.”

So true, Gunter. That’s what I love about ham radio in general– the hobby is so broad, you constantly discover and re-discover favorite elements about it.

John answers a few questions about the Ten-Tec Model 539 Argonaut VI

The Ten-Tec Model 539 Argonaut VI, on display at the Dayton Hamvention

John Henry, Software Engineer for Ten-Tec, wrote the following message in response to Argonaut VI comments and questions on the Model 539 group:

To help answer a few questions.

The electronics ARE based on the 599, [Ten-Tec Eagle] not exactly the same, but VERY similar.

Filters…. The 539 will have three filter slots for hardware receive filters. They will not be the same ones used in the 599, height limitation, but they will be designed in house and will match the characteristics / performance traits of the 599 closely. One will be filled with the default SSB filter, and the two others are for either CW or for AM if you so desire. Or two CW filters, up to you as a ham to see what you need and to fill them, or not. The filter slot module is based on the TX/RX board from the 599, it is not an option as some competitors are selling now. One less option to have to buy over the stock price. Then, of course, the same DSP bandwidth options controllable from 100Hz to the size of the largest hardware filter installed.

The CPU is the same CPU we use in the 599, so we are using almost the same code set as the 599, meaning we aren’t re-inventing the wheel, just massaging it to handle the different buttons/encoders/pot/voltage levels/10w vs 100w/etc. This also means that the command protocol interface is already done, same as the Eagle, well, almost. We have added a few things to the 539 so that you can define certain buttons to do what you want them to do. On the four buttons, their function is selected by the “tumbler” as I call it. the “tumbler” is a three position switch on front of the 539, that by it’s position identifies what the four buttons do. It is currently denoted with “T” for top, “M” for mid, and “B” for bottom. This may change, as we get closer to production though. So, don’t bank on it being TMB.

The DSP board is the same as we use in the 599, with “slightly” modified software due to the differences in gains and other “realities of hardware” differences.

Since it is the same CPU and the same DSP board/code base, you will have almost all of the features / functions that the Eagle already has. And, since it is based on the Eagle, the maturity is already proven. And, as a benefit, as items are resolved in either the 599 or 539, it is a quick fix for the other rig. Reuse, something we are trying to stress highly on this and future rigs. Why re-invent wheels when they run so smoothly. Of course, improve them over time as technologies get better, as we have time, as we find new parts/better parts, etc.

Why no 60 and 12?
Performance.
That’s basically it. We had a certain size in mind, and yes, we could have fit 160 through 6, however, you would have had receiver performance of a much inferior rig. One that we felt would not live up to TenTec standards. When queried, about 160, 60, and 12, MANY inputs went into the current state of the 539. 160 was added because of the amount of customer inputs, and unfortunately, 60 and 12 cannot be added due to size restrictions. Adding 60 and 12 would have meant redesigning the pre-selector with smaller parts that would have made the rig equal to most other QRP rigs in receiver performance.
If that was the wrong decision, then the market will definitely tell us via sales, but from the comments on “when it is ready, I’m ordering a 539 and a 418” “I never use 60 in QRP” “etc.” at Dayton and via hundreds of emails and conversations, etc., we feel we do have a winner on our hand with the feature set it will be built with. The market will tell of course.

There are a lot of rigs out there to choose from, and we do hope you give the 539 a chance to see if it meets your needs.

Hamvention Photos: Hendricks QRP Kits

Doug Hendricks holding a Ft. Tuthill transceiver

Another very active table at the Dayton Hamvention and Four Days in May is that of Hendricks QRP Kits.

Doug Hendricks (pictured right) and his team produce some amazing, affordable QRP kits that fill many a niche in the shack. Below, I have photos of a small selection of their offerings at the Hamvention.  Note that all of these kits are available on the Hendricks QRP Kits website.

Many of Hendrick’s kits are suitable for beginners. If you’re in doubt about your kit building skills, simply contact the folks at Hendricks and they’ll help guide you to the right kit.

QRP radios, product announcements, reviews, news and more. Low power amateur radio fun!