Dayton 2004

Even though I’ve been a ham almost 33 years, I had never been to the Dayton Hamvention. Here are some random thoughts on Dayton 2004:

Dayton 2004 Group Shot
Wet, tired, and happy, we all pose for a group picture before our return from Dayton.
Hey! Where’s Larry Reese?

  • The bus trip was a lot of fun even though leaving at 4:30 am is VERY early. My thanks to Sam KC8QCZ, Mark W8FSA, and Dik KC8UXT who did most of the work.
  • The continental breakfast was a big hit and a great idea.
  • I was very disappointed in the flea market. Of course, a lot of that had to do with the weather. There was a steady rain that lasted until nearly 4:00 pm. As a result, many of the vendors didn’t set up, and some of those that did kept their stuff covered under plastic and were thus not selling.
  • Even so, some good buys were to be had. One company was selling 44-in. fiberglass mast sections for $3. I bought ten of them, plus to guy rings for $40, total.
  • I also found a battery pack and desk charger for my ancient Icom IC-2AT for $10. Of course, the batteries in the pack need replacing, but I’ve located an insert for $26. So, I’ll finally have a second battery pack for the 2AT.
  • I was hoping to buy a bug or perhaps another set of paddles, but I could find only one vendor who had any selection, and all they had were high-priced antiques and low-priced junk. Vibroplex was exhibiting, but they weren’t offering any show discounts, so I wasn’t really motivated to buy anything from them. Guess I’ll have to scout EBay and see what I can find. On the bus on the way home, I did speak with a guy who said he’d loan me his bug as he hadn’t used it for many years. I think I’ll take him up on that offer just to see how I like using it before I spend any money.
  • At our meeting Wednesday, Dave WB4SBE told us about a vendor who sold Icom refurbs out of a trailer in the flea market. Unfortunately, it looks as though that vendor has either decided not to do Dayton anymore or didn’t set up because of the weather. Several ARROW members were looking for the guy, but none of us found him.
  • After reading all the criticism of Dayton 2003 on eHam, I was expecting very long lines at the concessions and absolutely filthy restrooms. Fortunately, neither was the case. That may be because attendance was down, but it was nice nonetheless.
  • Even though the flea market was kind of disappointing, the vendor exhibits were not. I wish I’d had more time to take in all the vendor exhibits. For example, it would have been cool to spend a little more time twiddling the knobs on the new Icom rig. I basically just plowed through the inside halls without spending much time at any one booth. From that point of view, I didn’t get as much out of the Hamvention as I would have liked.
  • That being the case, I’m seriously considering going down for the entire weekend next year.
  • I spent an hour working the Fists booth. That was fun–I got to meet a few guys face-to-face that I’d worked on the air as well as support the use of CW.
  • One guy I met at the booth was W0UFO. He told me about his scheme to gather up all the hams with the suffix UFO and have a “Searching for UFOs” contest. How’s that for a great idea?
  • After getting the booth set up, I wandered around with Zoltan, who is currently not licensed. We had some an interesting discussion about ham radio in general and how one finds one niche in ham radio. He said he had been waffling about jumping into it because he wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted to do. I advised him to buy some used equipment and just jump right in and get his feet wet. I mean how else are you going to figure out what you like to do if you don’t do it?
  • That must have struck a chord as late in the day I found a guy selling an Icom IC735. He’d listed it at $350, but about 2:30, marked it down to $300. I told Zoltan he could probably offer the guy $250 and he’d take it, but he didn’t seem like he wanted to bargain that hard. To get the cash, he went to the ATM machine, but the ATM machine would only give him $280. So, he offered the guy $280 and is now the proud owner of an Icom IC-735.
  • Overall, it was great fun, and I want to thank Sam, Mark, and Dik again for doing a great job.

Here are some comments from other ARROW members:

Jeff W8SGZ: Overall impression can be summed up in three words: wet, wetter, wettest. Second impression is that about a third of the booths had little if anything to do with ham radio.

This was my first time. I may be enticed to go again in four or five years, but I don’t see what there is to get excited about. At least the bathrooms were a lot cleaner than the discussions on e-ham said they’d be.

Mark W8FSA: The first impressions from the non-member riders was how great the accommodations were during the ride down and back. All of the first time attendees said they would not hesitate to do it again next year. There were 45 riders going down–two of them were walk-ons. The interesting event before the return trip home was one of the walk-ons did not show up for departure. He was never located. A great mystery to be resolved.

The weather could be simply described as “horrible”. There was a persistent light shower all day and it severely impacted the flea market.

I personally made the “great leap” into the purchase of a new Yaesu FT-857D with two factory installed SSB and CW filters. It will be shipped to me this week.

Ralph KB8ZOY: Weather could have been worse. Drizzled all day until 2:30, sometimes came down pretty heavy. There were rivers going through some spaces in the back of the flea market.

Flea market stalls were perhaps half what they have been, and then a third or more of those who were there had their merchandise all covered up. This was disappointing.

Inside exhibits were crowded, but you could generally move around slowly during the worst of the rain. This means, attendance was way down. On the other hand, access to vendors was much better than normal. I had some very informative one-on-one’s with IRLP, West Mountain Radio, Yaesu, W5YI, W4RT, Davis Instruments, and
others. Hobby Antenna (Barry Hobby WA9KKN & Tim Hobby N7KY) had some very intetesting small-space HF antenna prototypes in the flea market.

I finally met Des Preston KB8UYJ. Have been talking to him on the ARROW for years. Didn’t find out he was on the bus until they called roll to go home. Listened to him chat about his adventures living in Latin America while we were waiting to leave.

Here are a couple more pictures:

On the bus on the way home.

Clay, W8JNZ, and Dik, KC8UXT, discuss a purchase on the arena’s main floor.

A Little Thinking Goes a Long Way

As I reported last Saturday, after adding a set of 40m elements to the fan dipole in my backyard, I found I was actuating one of my garage door openers when transmitting on 40m. Not wanting to take the time to play with it, though, I’d just go into the garage and unplug the thing before getting on the air. Well, this afternoon, I decided to look into it further.

The first thing I tried was clamping a split ferrite core around the leads from the control unit and the leads from the wall switch to the motor unit. That seemed to help a little; the thing didn’t turn on every time I keyed down, but it still did it every third or fourth time. Next, I put a ferrite core around the AC cord. That seemed to help a little bit more, but the garage door would still occasionally open while transmitting.

Instead of just shotgunning the problem, like I was doing, I decided to step back and think about this a little. I have two identical garage door openers in the garage, one for each door, but only one of them was opening on its own. What, I asked myself, was the difference between the two? The answer was that the lead from the wall-mounted switch to the opener that was being actuated is longer than the lead to the opener that’s not opening.

Theorizing that the RF was getting into the unit that way, I disconnected the switch leads from the motor unit and wound a few turns through the ferrite core, snapped it together and reconnected the leads. Success! I no longer open the garage door when operating 40m.

The moral of the story is that a little thinking goes a long way when troubleshooting. Shotgunning has its place, but you should only use that technique if you’ve exhausted all other possibilities. And should you happen to fix a problem by shotgunning, it’s a good idea to think about what you did just before the problem went away so that you can determine what actually worked.

Dayton Strategies Covered at May Meeting

At last night’s ARROW meeting, we discussed strategies for getting a good deal at Dayton. Dave WB4SBE and Tom N8AMX had many good recommendations, both for getting deals and for dealing with the weather. One tip that I appreciated was to look for Doc’s Electronics. According to Dave, they are a reseller of Icom refurbs, and have really great prices on Icom radios and accessories. While I’m not really in the market for a new radio, I might just pick one up if the price is right.

In preparation for the meeting, I had prepared the following presentation. Although I didn’t present this material, most of it was covered in the discussion.

The first set of tips is from an article on the ARRL website, “Flea Market Madness! A Beginner’s Guide to Buying and Selling”

  • Budget your money. If you’re at all typical, you don’t have an unlimited budget for ham radio acquisitions. Perhaps you can bring along a few pieces of gear to sell or swap–just in case you find a big-ticket item you just have to have.
  • Negotiating skills are helpful. Haggling over the price of used gear or components in a friendly and generally reasonable manner—is appropriate and expected. Don’t take the negotiating stage too far, however.
  • Arrive early or stay late. The best hamfest deals are usually made in the first and last hours of each event. Getting to the hamfest early will allow you to snap up some of the best merchandise. If you wait too long, your favorite stuff may be all gone. Alternately, if you play the waiting game, sellers will be quick to discount stuff that did not sell previously.
  • Always test expensive gear. If you&’re buying a major item such as a transceiver or receiver, make sure you’re able to plug the thing in somewhere to see if it works. While most sellers represent their merchandise accurately, but it never hurts to power up a potential acquisition.
  • Returns? In a similar vein, make sure you get the seller’s name, address and phone number–just in case. Although you don’t expect to have major problems with a piece of gear you’ve thoroughly inspected and casually tested, it never hurts to be prepared. If the seller is truly compassionate, you may be able to negotiate a return policy. It never hurts to try!

This next set of tips is from Tom N8AMX, our technical coordinator:

  • If you find something that you might want to come back and buy later, be sure to write down the booth number. There are thousands of booths and after awhile they all look the same. You will find that the outside venders booth number painted on the pavement at the front of the booth.
  • Cash is the most reliable way to pay for stuff. Most but not all of the inside vendors also take credit cards. Outside its basically cash and carry.
  • There are electrical outlets inside the main building at Dayton you can find outlets in the main hallways and the loading dock. This allows you to bring stuff inside from the outside dealers to plug in and test.
  • Do not wait for lunch time to get food, the lines get very long.
  • Eat and drink often. It will help keep you going.
  • Expect the worst in terms of weather. Be ready for snow and rain. Layering your clothing is a good idea as it lets you adjust as the weather changes during the day.
  • Before you go make up a list of what you need to buy and what you would like to buy. Helps to cut done on the impulse buying.
  • Figure out how you are going to carry your purchases and bring a container with you. Bring a small cart if you are going to buy modulation transformers. I usually use a shoulder bag or backpack.
  • Make sure what ever you buy will fit into the vehicle that you are going home in.
  • Take the bus. It will keep you out of the mud fields they use for parking. One year I got covered from head to feet with mud before I was half way to the gate.

Thanks, Tom!

A Good Day in Ham Radio

Today was just a fun day for playing with ham radio.

I got started about 10 am. The first thing I did was add some 40m elements to the 30m dipole antenna in my backyard. This turned out much better then I hoped. I lowered the antenna, soldered on the 40m elements, hoisted it back up. I stretched out and secured the 30 m elements at almost 90 degrees to the 40m elements. When I measured the SWR, it turned out to be about 1.15 at 7.040 MHz without any tuning. The SWR on 30m did jump, however to almost 2.0, but since I wanted to work the Fists Sprint and the Mid-Atlantic QSO Party (MAQP), I wasn’t too worried about that, not did I take the time to try to tune it.

Next, I put a little real RF to it. I found an open frequency and called QRL? This brought a howl from my wife who said I was triggering the garage door opener! This had happened to me before, but I thought it was because of the used balun that I was trying to use. Apparently, though, that’s not the case.

This situation is especially frustrating because I’ve operated on 40m before with a Slinky antenna in several different locations with no problems, and I’ve worked 30m with a dipole in exactly the same configuration with no problems. For some strange reason, the garage door opener just doesn’t like the full-length 40m dipole. Another confusing thing is that I actually have two garage door openers–exactly the same model–and only one is affected.

Oh, well. Figuring out what to do about that is a project for another day. I had contests to operate! I unplugged the garage door opener and sat down to do just that.

About 11:30, I tuned around and heard a station calling CQ. I called him back and got a nice 599 report from Luray, VA. At that point, happy that the antenna seemed to be working just fine, I went upstairs to have some lunch.

Just after noon, I went back down to the shack. I was under the impression that the Fists Sprint started at noon, but it actually didn’t start until 1 pm. The Sprints always start at 1700 UTC, meaning that the fall and winter Sprints do indeed start at noon, but the spring and summer Sprints start at 1 pm.

Having some time, I tuned around 7.050 looking for another QSO, and heard some stations calling “CQ MAQP.” It was the Mid-Atlantic QSO Party. I looked up the rules on the Web, and jumped right in. I made about a dozen QSOs before tuning up the band a little (the Fists frequency is 7.058) to join the Fists Sprint.

I pounced on a few stations calling CQ to warm up and then looked for a frequency to camp out. I set up shop on 7.060 and had really good luck for the first hour. Then, the activity tailed off a little bit. I just kept plugging away at it, though, and eventually the activity picked up just before 3 pm (1900 UTC) and stayed good for the next hour. At 4 pm (2000 UTC), after working only three hours of the four-hour Sprint, I called it quits. My score was just over 7,500, my highest score ever in a Sprint.

At one point during the Sprint, a station asked me how much power I was running. I replied, “80 W.” He said, “I don’t believe it.” When I said, “Well, it’s true,” he answered, “Well, you’r’e the loudest 80W I’ve ever heard.” I guess the antenna really is working well. :) I certainly had no trouble working guys and got a lot of 599 reports.

After dinner, I wandered down to the shack to make a few more MAQP QSOs. I worked a few stations, but then kind of lost interest when I worked most of the guys calling CQ, so I thought I’d turn on the 2m rig and see if any of the guys were on the repeater.

I struck up a conversation with Dik KC8UXT, and we were shortly joined by several other stations, including N8AMX and N8CBW. One of the things we discussed was our upcoming Dayton trip. Before we all signed, three people joined in the round-robin, expressing interest in the bus trip. We may have sold three more seats, which is very cool.

After clearing the repeater, I put on the headphones once again and worked a few more MAQP stations. When I hit 20, I quit. I’d had enough ham radio for one day…

Simple Keyers

After working Paul AA1LL recently, I e-mailed him to follow up on a couple of things we’d discussed in our QSO. It turns out that Paul is an afficionado of simple keyer circuits, i.e. ones that do not use a microprocessor. Without a processor, you don’t get any memory, but the circuits are very simple to build.

  • N1HFX Simple Electronic Keyer. This keyer uses just two ICs, but is not iambic. This may seem like a disadvantage, but that makes it ideal for use with a single lever paddle, such as my VibroKeyer or a homebrew sideswiper.
  • PA2OHH Simple Iambic Keyer. This iambic keyer uses two ICs and has built-in paddles made from PCB material. Each paddle is connected to a transistor circuit that is supposed to sense the change in capacitance when you touch the paddle. It should be easy enough to modify the circuit for use with conventional paddles, but you’ll have to add another IC.
  • Iambic Keyer Using 4000 Series CMOS. This circuit uses three ICs, but is more complicated than the PA2OHH. My first impression, formed by looking at the two circuits, is that the PA2OHH circuit is the way to go if you want iambic capability.

If you build one of these circuits, you might want to add a sidetone oscillator. That will add another IC to the circuit, but then you could use the keyer to send code practice. Thanks, Paul!