HamHandy 0.1.1 Now Available

My blog entry from a couple of days ago laid out the description of a Palm computer program I proposed to write. Well, I now have the very first version ready. Download it here. After you unzip, install both the NSBasic Runtime (NSBRuntime.prc) and the HamHandy program (HamHandy.prc). I know that’s a little kludgey, but in future versions, I’ll combine it all into one file.

Any and all feedback would be appreciated.

Another ham in the family?

Yesterday, my brother-in-law and his family came over for a visit. They don’t visit that often as they have lived in Tokyo for the last three years, so they’ve never seen my ham equipment before. When they arrived, I happened to be in the shack, so before we all went upstairs, they got a quickie demo of ham radio.

The demo must have struck a chord because after dinner, my ten-year-old nephew Nicholas asked if he could go downstairs and look at the radios. I said sure and went down into the basement with him. Since it was nearly time for our club net on 2m, I fired up the 2m rig, and asked if anyone was on frequency a bit early. Mike, WA3THT, came right back to me.

After exchanging a few words with Mike, I gave the microphone to Nicholas. Nicholas is not shy when it comes to talking, so unlike most kids, he was not hesitant at all about talking on the radio. He peppered Mike with a bunch of questions about amateur radio before the net actually got under way. Mike was great, patiently answering all of Nicholas’s questions.

After the net started, I showed Nicholas some of the other stuff I had in the shack. We listened to some CW contacts as well as some SSB contacts. After listening to some CW, I demonstrated how my keyer works and let him play around a little with it.

After that, I showed him some of my QSL cards and discussed how call signs are assigned. I also showed him on my world map where some of the stations whose QSLs I had were located.

Overall, I think he was quite interested in the whole deal. He asked me how he could listen to amateurs on his shortwave radio at home, so I wrote down the frequencies for the 40, 20, and 15 meter bands on my QSL card and gave that to him. I also gave him and his father a few tips on how to get better shortwave reception once they get home.

Who knows? We may have another ham in the family before long.

HamHandy, v0.1

There are already many good ham radio applications for the Palm. Probably the most comprehensive list is the VA3PKH Palm Ham Page. It looks like there are quite a few good logging programs, and even several good Morse code training programs. There’s certainly no need to reinvent those wheels.

Even so, I wanted to develop some kind of ham radio application for my Palm, so I began casting about for what I could do. It hit me that one of the things that the Palm is well suited for is supplying reference materials. Doctors, for example, use Palms to give them information about drugs before prescribing them.

So, that’s what my application–HamHandy–is going to do: supply reference information and perform simple calculations. Here’s the list of functions and information that I’ve targeted for version 0.1:

  • Dipole Length Calculator
  • Ohm’s Law Calculator
  • Calculate resistance value from resistor markings
  • Q Signals
  • Phonetic Alphabet
  • License Class Frequency Allocations
  • DX Callsigns
  • Local hams
  • Coax cable characteristics

If you can think of other information that you’d like me to include, please let me know.

What Did Santa Bring You?

I got an Elecraft K1 for Christmas! I’m getting the four-band version. This looks like a seriously fun kit to build.

What did you get?

Giving a Good Presentation

OK, I can see all of you out there saying, what the heck does giving presentations have to do with amateur radio? Well, I happen to be of the opinion that giving a good presentation is one of those basic skills that apply to every aspect of one’s life. In this case, I’m writing about it here because I am in the process of trying to plan out this year’s list of presentations at our monthly meetings..

Generating a list of topics is the easy part. In fact, here’s my list:

  • PSK31 and other digital modes
  • Emergency Communications
  • 60m
  • Working satellites
  • Shortwave listening
  • Antenna Experimentation
  • License class results
  • Show and tell night
  • Construction Night
  • ARRL Videos
  • Power line safety
  • Other Ham Radio Clubs – QCWA, Fists, TAPR, NJ QRP Club, etc.
  • NTS
  • APRS
  • Public Service Events
  • Choosing and Using an digital multimeter (DMM) or oscilloscope

The hard part is finding someone to give the presentation. First, it’s a fair amount of work to give a presentation. You have to research the topic, prepare the slides, etc. Then, you have to actually give the presentation. This is what gets a lot of people. They get so nervous about it, that they just freeze up when they get in front of a group.

That being the case, I wanted to be able to point people to some Web resources on how to give a presentation. I did a Google search and came up with the following websites:

Perhaps more important than pointing people at resources is to offer your own personal support. Offer to help the presenter prepare the presentation. That makes the task easier for them and helps ensure that you get a better presentation.

Just Plain Cool

My colleague, Martin Rowe, forwarded a link to this National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) news item about printable transistors. As he says in his e-mail, “This is just plain cool.”

The news item describes a research project at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a Xerox subsidiary, that has successfully created a transistor array of the type used to control a flat-panel display using a modified ink-jet printer and semiconductor “ink.” Using a semiconducting polymer ink they sucessfully built a prototype flat-panel display.

While the first application will be to manufacture cheaper displays, think of what we will be able to do with this technology once it gets cheap enough for hobbyists to use. We’ll be able to design circuits on the computer, simulate them, and then print them and test them. Want to experiment with DSP circuits? Just print one out! It didn’t work quite as expected? No, problem, just toss it into the recycle bin and try something else.

I think this is going to be an incredible boon for hobbyists.

My Antenna Tuner, Reconsidered

For many years–17 to be exact–I’ve owned an MFJ 941D VersaTuner II antenna tuner. I never really had any success using it, though, and for most of those years it’s simply sat on a shelf. Not being an antenna genius, I could never figure out whether my lack of success was due to my poor antenna skills or the less-than-rugged construction of the device.

Well, about a week and a half ago, I decided to give it another whack. Connecting my Autek VA1 antenna analyzer to the transmitter connector and a precision 150-ohm resistor that came with the analyzer to the antenna input, I first set the selector switch so that the resistor was connected directly to the analyzer. I measured an SWR of approximately 3:1. So far, so good.

I then switched in the tuner circuit and fiddled with the controls. Voila! I was able to set it so that the SWR I measure was close to 1:1. Setting the antenna analyzer to frequencies in the various ham bands, I was able to get a good match on all bands except one. (I forget which one, exactly). So, I’m guessing that the tuner does indeed work as advertised.

Last weekend, I put up a 30m dipole. Unfortunately, due to my fear of getting up on the roof and the odd shape of my backyard (the land slopes upward such that when you’re at the back of the yard, you can almost see over the two-story house), the highest point of the dipole is only about 20 feet off the ground and one leg is only about 15 feet off the ground. That being the case, the lowest SWR I could obtain is 1.35:1.

That’s not too bad, and I did make some nice contacts with it, but I always feel better when that SWR meter on the rig barely budges off the peg than when it swings up further. Having a little more confidence in my antenna tuner, I thought I’d hook the thing up and see if I could drop that SWR. So, I connected the antenna and analyzer and again fiddled with the knobs. Well, what do you know? I was able to adjust the tuner to that I measured an SWR of almost 1:1.

I then connected the tuner to the rig, and sure enough, the SWR meter barely moved when I transmitted. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, though, so I tuned around trying to find a QSO. As luck would have it, the band conditions were quite poor, and the band was very quiet. I did hear a W7 calling, but he didn’t come back to me. It was getting late, so I called it a night.

I wasn’t able to get back to the shack until last night. I fired up the rig again, and tuned around the band. Again, conditions seemed kind of poor and the band was very quiet. I sent out a couple of test transmissions and verified that the SWR reading was still low. I then set the meter to read forward power, just to make sure I was putting out a signal, and sent out another test transmission. Everything seemed to be working fine.

Tuning around some more, I happened upon J8DX on 10.107, operating from St. Vincent in the Caribbean. After a couple of tries, he came back to me. Cool! My first QSO using the tuner was DX. I’ve since made several more contacts all with good reports.

While the tuner section seems to be working, it looks like the meter circuit is shot. No matter how I set the switches, I can’t get the meter to move. I’ll be contacting MFJ to see if there’s a simple way to test and adjust the SWR/power meter.

I’m also going to try to get the antenna to tune up on other bands. It would be nice to work some 20 meters, or maybe 15 meters, and the ARRL 10-meter contest is this weekend. If I can get the antenna to tune up on 10, I could do a little contesting.

Websites I Found While Searching for Something Else

Sidney Harris was a newspaper columnist columnist and cartoonist whose work appeared in the 1970s and 1980s. If you were reading at all during those years, I’m sure you’ve seen his work. He was a keen observer and a wry wit.

Every now and then, he’d write a column entitled “Things I Learned While Looking Up Something Else.” If I recall correctly, there were seven or eight little tidbits in each column. If he were still writing today, I’m sure he’d write columns with the title, “Websites I Found While Searching for Something Else.” So, with apologies to Mr. Harris, here’s my first installment…

  • Phil’s Old Radios. Many hams are also collectors of antique radios. There are many reasons for this, the first being that we just like radio, in all its forms. And if you’ve been around for any length of time, you’ve probably formed a sentimental attachment to a particular brand or model of antique radio. It may have been the first shortwave radio you bought or used, or you may just like the design of a particular set.
       you’re into old radios, then you’ll want to check out this website. Phil has an extensive photo gallery of his own collection, including not only shots of the front panel, but shots of the chassis, and sometimes, manual pages. There are also articles on antique radio collecting, including good ones how to start a collection and how to restore old radios. All told, there are 34 articles on Phil’s restoration projects. There is also a big list of links to other old radio sites.
       Another cool feature of this website is the free classified ads. There are hundreds of listings from readers offering radios for sale and looking for particular antique models. There are also a number of postings just looking for information. The ads are not organized in any particular fashion, but they’re all fairly recent. The oldest is from May 1, 2003, so it looks like Phil deletes anything older than six months.
  • Discover Circuits. This site is the work of David A. Johnson, P.E., an electronics engineering consultant. According to Johnson, this site has links to more than 7,000 electronic circuits, including some that Johnson designed himself. Johnson has categorized the circuits into more than 500 categories to make the circuits easy to find.
       If you do visit this site, also check out the stuff Johnson is selling on EBay. When I visited, I noted that he was selling a foot switch with 1/4-in. phone plug for $7. That’s not a bad deal.
  • The Homebrew HFpacker-Amp Project. A while back I wrote about how it would be nice if QRPers would have an amp they could switch on when conditions were marginal. You could make the contact with low power, then switch on the amp to make the QSO easier and more enjoyable.
       Well, I found one today. It’s called the Homebrew HFpacker-Amp Project and is the baby of Virgil K5OOR. For only $122, you can get a kit of parts that will allow you to build a solid-state, wideband, 35W amplifier. Also available are power supply and filter modules. Not only does this look like a nice design, but in the QRP spirit, it’s being sold by the HF Projects Group at or near cost.

(No) Fun With Antennas

At the Findlay, OH hamfest, back in September, I bought a used Gap Titan antenna. At the time, it looked like I got a pretty good deal on the thing. I payed only $100 for an antenna that cost about $340 new. Even so, I put off building it and setting it up as everything I read about it said that the instructions were difficult to follow, and since mine was half-built, I figured it would be even harder to build.

That turned out to be the case. All the pieces were there, but figuring out where to put them was a bear. And one of the hose clamps used to attach some spacers to the main mast was broken.

Finally, when I did get it all together, I had to decide where to mount it. Having had some success with ground-mounted verticals, I decided to stick the pipe I’d mounted it on into one of the flower beds and guy it down with three ropes. I figured that would do at least temporarily.

Unfortunately, when I connect my antenna analyzer to it, the readings were all over the place and nowhere near resonant on any of the bands. My guess is that it was just too close to the house and that I’m going to have to get it farther away, or ideally, up on the roof. The problem with putting it up on the roof is that my house has a fairly steep roof, and I’m pretty much chicken about climbing up there.

The real pain about all this is that to put the Titan up I had to take down my Slinky dipole, pretty much putting me off the air. After failing to get the Titan to work, I decided I might as well put the Slinky dipole back up on 30m, which is quickly becoming my favorite band.

Unfortunately, I’d unstrung the rope that supports the antenna, so that I could use that piece for one of the guy ropes. Replacing it wasn’t too difficult, but when I started to hoist the thing into the air, I discovered that I had somehow missed stringing it through one of the coil turns. When this happens, the coil gets all twisted up. This is bad because you can’t then easily adjust the number of turns in the antenna.

It’s not that hard usually to get the coil back into its original form, but somehow in trying to do so, I screwed it up even more. Pretty soon, I had at least two twists in the helical coil. It took me more than two hours to untwist the coil, and by the time I’d finished it was 5:30 pm and dark outside. So much for getting on the air that day.

That evening, I took another look at the antenna, only to find even more bad news. Some of the turns were beginning to rust. On top of that, one of the solder joints had come loose, probably because of all the handling.

So much for the Slinky. I put it into a box and put it on the shelf. I still think it will make a good portable/temporary antenna (with a little reconditioning and maybe a little mechanical redesign), but for now I think I’ll play with some other designs.