Please Write to Your Congressional Representatives About BPL

On April 26, President Bush said, “There needs to be technical standards to make possible new broadband technologies, such as the use of high-speed communication directly over power lines. Power lines were for electricity; power lines can be used for broadband technology. So the technical standards need to be changed to encourage that.”

This should concern every amateur radio operator, no matter what political party you belong to. I would urge you to contact your Congressman or Congresswoman, both of your state’s senators, and the President himself, and tell him that he’s wrong about this. You can do this quickly and easily by going to CongressMerge. At this site, you’ll be able to e-mail all of them in one fell swoop.

The ARRL has a BPL information page if you need more information on this topic. It also has links to sample letters to send on the BPL – Call to Arms page. Here’s my version of the sample letter:

Dear Mr. Dingell,

On April 26, President Bush told the American Association of Community Colleges Annual Convention in Minneapolis: “There needs to be technical standards to make possible new broadband technologies, such as the use of high-speed communication directly over power lines. Power lines were for electricity; power lines can be used for broadband technology. So the technical standards need to be changed to encourage that.”

Mr. Bush is wrong. Using power lines to distribute broadband services (called Broadband over Power Lines, or BPL) is a bad idea that should not be encouraged. As a federally licensed Amateur Radio operator who has passed a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) examination in radio communication technology, I can tell you why.

Power lines were designed to transmit electrical energy. They were not designed to transmit broadband signals, which are, in fact, radio-frequency (RF) signals. When a broadband signal is put on a power line, much of the RF energy radiates into space, interfering with other licensed radio communications, rendering them, in some cases, unusable. Interference has been documented at test sites throughout the country and overseas where BPL is in operation. Recordings of actual interference at several test sites are available at www.arrl.org/bpl.

The nation’s 680,000 radio amateurs are especially concerned about this interference because it affects the short wave radio spectrum — a unique portion of the radio spectrum that supports long-distance, intercontinental radio communication. Licensed radio amateurs use these frequencies for hurricane reporting, disaster and emergency relief, and many other purposes in accordance with FCC regulations. The Amateur Radio Service is the only 100% failsafe emergency communications capability in the world. No matter what happens, radio amateurs will be able to communicate with one another without having to rely on the expensive and vulnerable infrastructure — but we cannot maintain our emergency networks if BPL is deployed and interferes with the weak radio signals we are trying to hear.

In addition to amateur operation, short wave radio is used for international broadcasting, aeronautical, maritime, and other services including the military. Depending on the frequencies in use, BPL interference also could wipe out radio communication for many of our nation’s First Responders — police, fire, and emergency medical personnel — who use low-band VHF radios operating in the 30-50 megahertz (MHz) range.

Radio amateurs support expanded broadband services to consumers at lower cost. Indeed, they tend to be early adopters of new technology. However, there are ways to deliver broadband that do not pollute the radio spectrum as BPL does. These include fiber-to-the-home, cable, DSL, and Broadband Wireless Access. None of these technologies causes interference to short wave radio.

BPL is sometimes touted as a solution for rural areas. It is not. A BPL signal only carries a few thousand feet down a power line and then must be repeated. This requires a lot of hardware and will not be economic in areas with low population densities.

The FCC recognizes the interference potential of BPL and is in the midst of a rulemaking proceeding, ET Docket No. 04-37, that proposes new requirements and measurement guidelines for BPL systems. However, the FCC proposals do not go nearly far enough to protect over-the-air radiocommunication services.

In short, BPL has a major disadvantage that is not shared by other broadband technologies and that outweighs whatever benefit it may offer. National broadband telecommunications policy should not include support for BPL, but should focus on other, more appropriate technologies.

By encouraging broadband over power lines, the administration is heading in the wrong direction. Please do what you can to change its course. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Daniel M. Romanchik

Do it today…..please.

AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!

A friend of mine recently got me interested in building the C-Pole antenna as described in the April 2004 QST. It’s a variation on the vertical dipole, and needs no radials, even though the vertical length is less than a quarter wavelength. One drawback, though, is that it needs a balun.

The author experiemented with two different types of baluns. The first type–33 feet of RG-58 coax on a 2-in diameter PVC pipe–seems cumbersome and lossy (14%). The second option–14 turns of RG-174 coax–on a ferrite core seems the better choice, except that I don’t have any RG-174. Nor do I have the ferrite cores the author suggests–an FT-240-61 for the 20m antenna and an FT-240-67 for the 17, 15, 12, and 10 m antennas.

No problem, I think, I’ll just buy a couple of them. Well, for whatever reason, neither Universal Radio or alltronics.com carries the FT-240-67, although they have a great selection of other types. They do have the FT-240-61, but it costs ten bucks.

So, I start thinking about alternatives. Well, it just so happens that a long time ago I bought an Amidon balun kit (which consists of a T-200-2 core and 12 feet of #14 enamel wire). “Perfect, I think,”this thing’s been languishing in my junk box for at least 15 years. Now I can use it.”

The balun is just a 1:1 balun, I reason, so why don’t I just wind it up and see how it works? I’m actually getting a little excited about this, thinking to myself that this will be a pretty cool learning experience. I go down to the shack, cut the wires, and then reach for the core on the workbench. Unfortunately, it slips from my fingers, and when it hits the cold, concrete floor, it snaps in two. AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!

It was certainly a learning experience, although not the one I wanted to learn. I learned that ferrite cores are very brittle, and to be more careful next time.

Tomorrow, I’ll have wander down to local radio shop and see if they happen to have another core. I think I’ve seen the balun kits in there, but am not sure if he will have just the core. In the meantime, I’ve e-mailed the author of the antenna article to see what he thinks about using this balun kit instead of one of his designs. In the article, he hints that he thinks using closely-spaced 14-ga. wire on a ferrite core should be less lossy than the coax version, but that he hadn’t tried it.

Yet Another Example of How a Computer in the Shack Can Enhance a QSO

I’m always yammering about how it’s a good thing to have a computer in the shack and am constantly encouraging hams to enter some information about themselves on QRZ.Com. When available, this information can make your QSOs much more interesting. Eariler this evening, I worked two guys where this was certainly the case.

The first contact was with Dave KD2OY. When I looked him up on QRZ.Com, his bio consisted of a single line of text:

search RADIO ROOM MITCHEL FIELD on web, Click on UNTITLED

I thought, “What the heck is that”? Instead, I typed his call into Google, and was pointed to this photo.

In the photo, we see Dave in an Army uniform, circa 1947, at the controls of the amateur radio station at the 52nd AACS Group HQ at Mitchel Fields, Long Island, NY. With him is a member of his unit to whom he was giving a ham radio demo. It looks like one heck of a station, and Dave commented that it was a lot of fun to operate.

Dave’s son, Mark, is now W2UFO, which was also the call of the Mitchel Fields ham station. Coincidentally, Dave said, Mark’s wife is also a ham. Her call is W2XYL. What a couple of great calls, eh?

The point of all this is that If I hadn’t had a computer in my shack, I couldn’t have looked up this photo, and the QSO would have not been so interesting.

Who Says Solid State Receivers Don’t Glow?

My second contact this evening was with WN5Y, a high school teacher in Pampa, TX. Looking him up on QRZ.Com yielded the URL to his website. Take a look and you’ll see that solid state receivers can indeed glow.

Dave, you see, sells what he calls The Electroluminescent Receiver Kit. His receiver uses low noise dual gate MOSFETs in which all the drain/source current travels through an LED. If a circuit is working properly, its LED will glow brightly. If the circuit is not working, the LED is dark, just as dead tubes were dark in the old days.

The kit is only $90, but if you really wanted to, you could build the thing yourself from the excellent circuit diagrams and description that Dave provides. Chances are, though, that you’ll end up spending a lot of time and probably close to $90 rustling up the parts yourself. In addition to the basic kit, you could easily spend another $90 on accessories, including an S-meter and digital frequency display. When all is said and done, though, you get a receiver that not only works well, but also looks pretty cool.

Dave also has several pages describing a transmitter to be used with his receiver. There’s no kit available for the transmitter, though.

Another cool feature of Dave’s website is his links page. On the page, you’ll find links to a bunch of sites that cover basic electronic construction techniques, including soldering basics, and QRP projects.

ARROW President Featured in 4/23 ARRL “Surfin’” Column

Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU, writes the “Surfin’” column for the ARRL website. This week’s column is on web logs, or “blogs” for short. He includes a link to Dan KB6NU’s weblog and a picture of our president.

Here’s what he has to say about the blog:

No matter what your interest, there is a lot of interesting reading to be found in ham blogs. Take the blog of KB6NU, for example: Dan Romanchik’s Blurty Entries discusses a variety of ham radio topics that interest KB6NU, but it is so well written that it is interesting and entertaining reading even if your interests are different than KB6NU’s.

Thanks, Stan!

Ferromagnetic Inductors

Like most hams, I’m kind of a pack rat. I’ve got boxes of resistors, capacitors, and even vacuum tubes that I’ll probably never use. But you never know….

I’m kind of like that with e-mail, too. When I receive an interesting e-mail, I save it to a folder or to a file on disk where it will sit until I junk the computer. You never know, though. Every once in a while I’ll come across one that’s actually useful.

This afternoon, I was searching through my voluminous saved e-mail looking for something I sent to a business associate, when I happened upon an e-mail from a local ham. The message included a URL to a web page that described an interesting QRP antenna, the RockLoop. The RockLoop is a small, square loop antenna measuring 33-in. on each side, tuned with a 100 pF variable cap and a 4:1 toroidal transformer. (Heres’ another URL describing the RockLoop.)

It looked easy enough, and I thought I might actually try to put one together, except that I didn’t have any of the T-50-2 cores on which to wind the transformer. So, I called up my local radio store to see if they had any. Of course, they didn’t have any T-50-2s, but they did have a bunch of T-50-6s. That got me to wondering aboutthe difference between the two cores. So, I did a Google search.

One of the first URLs I came up with is a great tutorial on ferromagnetic core inductors. It talks about the different types of core materials and how to choose the right core for your application. There’s also a chapter on winding tips. This is a very cool site.

Next, I found the Amidon website. This website has a product selector online that describes the properties for all the various. ferromagnetic cores they sell.

Finally, it struck me that I sell a book that talks about all this stuff, namely Ferromagnetic Core Design and Application Handbook by Doug DeMaw W1FB. This book talks about all the different applications of ferromagnetic cores, rods, bars, and beads, as well as give technical data on the various materials and commercially-available products. It’s cool because it not only delves into the theory, but also gives you some circuits to build, if you’re so inclined.

Using these three resources, I was able to determine that the T-50-6 would indeed work for the RockLoop antenna. Its frequency range of 10 MHz – 50 MHz, while the T-50-2 has a frequency range of 2-30 MHz. Since the RockLoop is designed to operate on the 30m, 20m, and 15m bands, the T-50-6 should work OK, although I’m a little concerned that I may be pushing it on 30m. So, while it may work just fine, I think I’ll ask them to actually order some T-50-2s. They look to be a lot more versatile, anyway.

Update 4/26/04: Since writing this, I’ve been searching for sources for these cores. I’ve come up with three:

The first two sell Amidon cores, but the selection is limited. For example, in one article, the author used an FT-240-67 core for a balun, but neither of the first two sources seem to carry them. CWS Bytemark does carry them, though, and you can order right from their website. They also carry all the wire and tape you need to build your baluns.

My First Vibroplex

The latest addition to my arsenal of CW-sending implements is a Vibroplex VibroKeyer. It’s used, but it works like a champ. Mine is somewhat different from the current production model. Instead of a shiny chrome base, mine is painted beige. Also, the nameplate is mounted so that it faces the right side of the base instead of being mounted in the middle.

The guy who sold me the VibroKeyer did not know how old it was, but by going to the Dating Your Vibroplex page, it appears that the VibroKeyer was first made in 1960, and my unit–s/n 260,385–was made in 1969. It’s still in pretty good shape for a 35 year old paddle. Aside from some scratches on the base, it looks almost brand new. The deluxe version has a jewelled movement and the action of the paddle is still quite smooth.

The VibroKeyer is not a bug, as you might think, but instead a single-lever paddle to be used with a keyer. That’s one of the reasons it wasn’t made until 1960. This is when electronic keyers were starting to become more popular.

The single-lever paddle differs from the iambic paddle in that only one contact can be closed at any one time. That’s kind of a negative if you’re used to operating in iambic mode, but since I’ve only been able to master the iambic mode when sending Q and Y, it’s not that big a deal.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my purchase. I paid $60 for a paddle that currently costs about $150 new, and it works really well. You can’t beat that.

My New KX1

I am now the proud owner of an Elecraft KX1, serial #577 or #575. (The serial number kit envelope is stamped “00577,” but the label inside says “00575.”)

From a kit point of view, it’s pretty impressive. The components appear to be quality components, and the instructions are clearly written and well illustrated. What I really like, though, is that the parts lists has photos of all the components. Several times, I looked up the photo of a part before installing it just to make sure that I had the right part.

I’m just two hours into building the thing and have just completed the Part I assembly, alignment and test. So far, so good. It passed all of the initial tests without letting any of the smoke out. At this rate, it’s should take me less than ten hours total to build the thing, including the 30m board and the antenna tuner, as I’d estimate that I’m about 30% done with the base unit.

I will really be interested to see how well the antenna tuner works. From all reports–from guys on the mailling list and from a guy I actually worked on the air–it works really well. I once worked a guy who said he was operating a KX1 sitting on his dining room table with a wire stretched out on his deck for an antenna.