Another Fun Thing for Your Club to Do

Since Field Day is so much fun, why only have one per year?

Following the lead of Kalamazoo’s LOSTeam, our club has formed its own group to pursue “adventures in communications.” We call ourselves the ARROW Mobile and Portable Team (AMPTeam).

We had our first outing last Monday, April 24. The weather was beautiful, and eleven club members, plus my XYL, came out to enjoy the evening. In the photo below, you can see five of us enjoying the food. From left to right are yours truly (KB6NU), Rich KD6HWF, Tara, Karen KD8AOK, Pat N8PJR, and Reggie KD8AOM (who got a little cut off). Mark KD8AOM, took the photo.

At one point, we had five separate stations operating, including three HF stations and two VHF stations. I set up my KX-1 and made two contacts on 40m. My first QSO was with a guy in Minnesota, who was also running QRP. The second was with a guy in NJ, who gave me a 599 signal report!

We also ran the club Monday Night Net from the park. In the photo above, you see me running the net with a borrowed handie-talkie.

Just like Field Day, these kinds of events are good for public relations. We set up in a public park, very near a busy walkway, and got many people to stop by and ask what we were doing. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring our club banner and brochures this time. Even so, we did manage to talk to quite a few people.

This is something every club should try. It does serve a useful purpose in terms of emergency communications readiness, but mostly, though, it was just a lot of fun. The LOSTeam does something like this every week. This first year, we’re shooting for once a month.

A Lesson (Plan) Learned

As you may know if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been working with a group of middle school kids. Things were going along pretty well until three weeks ago. Then, as I was trying to teach them about frequency and frequency bands, I just lost them. They started talking amongst themselves and that was it for the day. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t regain their attention. It was all very frustrating.

At that point, I appealed to the teacher. She said, “What you need is a lesson plan!” Then, she asked what I was trying to cover, and proceeded to walk me through the process of creating a lesson plan. “Remember the five Es,” she told me, “engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.”

She then sketched out the plan and said that she’d work on it for the next class. Here’s what she came up with:

  • Engage (five minutes). For this portion of the class, we passed out a worksheet with the key terms being covered in the lesson. We had the kids read the words out loud, and then she asked, “OK, what do all these words have in common?” After the kids answered, she wrote it on the board.
  • Explore (ten minutes). Then, the teacher asked, “How can we find out what these words mean?” The students came up with about five different ways to find the definitions, and the the teacher instructed them to go look up the definitions and write them on the worksheet. Some looked up the words in the dictionary, some got on the Internet, and one collared me and asked me to define them for her.
  • Explain (ten minutes). This part of the lesson is the lecture. I explained the concepts of voltage, current, resistance, conductors and insulators, and Ohm’s Law.
  • Elaborate (ten minutes). In this part of the lesson, I gave practical examples. We talked about solar cells, light bulbs, and the kids came up with some interesting questions and observations.
  • Evaluate (ten minutes). The teacher created a little quiz from some questions that are on the Tech license exam. The quiz sheet also had spaces for students to write down what they learned that day and a spot for them to ask a question.

This lesson plan worked amazingly well. The kids did stay engaged for the most part throughout the entire class, and I think they actually learned something. I know that I walked away from that session a lot more enthusiastic than I did the previous class.

Now, I’m concerned that we won’t have enough time to cover all the material before the end of the year. This is something I’m going to have to go over with the teacher, and come up with a plan to fit it all in.

Home-Made Radio

Another interesting one from Ralph KB8ZOY on how to build simple radios.

This page shows you how to build a really bare-bones radio. You might even have the stuff around your shack already. If not, you might want to buy the stuff to have available should somone you know show some interest. That way you can wow them easily.

More Stations Whose Callsigns Spell Words

I just finished a QSO with N5YAK, and in the last batch of QSLs I received from the bureau, there was a card from F5CUD. Now, I’m wondering if yaks chew cud?

An EchoLink Perspective

Ralph KB8ZOY emailed me:

My EchoLink alarm went off. The connection was from [a high school student] in Camp Hill, PA. She said she got her ticket as a project in her Physics class at Trinity High School. Part of the assignment was to contact 10 hams. Looks like she is making all the contacts over the internet.

I think it’s very cool that she was able to get her license as part of her high school physics class. I also applaud her ingenuity in thinking of using EchoLink to fulfill the ten-contact requirement. I hope, though, that she’ll continue on and make some on-the-air contacts as well. I’m not one of those guys who doesn’t think EchoLink is ham radio, but it shouldn’t be all there is to one’s experience of ham radio.

Hams Aren’t the Only Ones Whose Spectrum is At Risk

Even the broadcast industry is up in arms about encroachment on their frequencies. The Media Daily News posted this story today:

Broadcasters See Red Over ‘White Space,’ Move To Block New Media Devices
by Erik Sass, Tuesday, Apr 18, 2006 8:15 AM EST

A NEW GENERATION OF PERSONAL media and communication devices operating in so-called “white space,” – a portion of the broadcast spectrum set aside for television station is as yet “unassigned” and thus unused – may interfere with both analog and digital television broadcasts, according to a David Rehr, CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), asserted in a letter sent to Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of Senate Commerce Committee. The NAB is urging Congress to delay opening up “white space” to unlicensed devices, including those being developed by companies such as Qualcomm, Intel, and Microsoft, until at least early 2009.

By then, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) is expected to finish hammering out standard 802.22, which should allow the devices to work alongside regular TV broadcasts with little or no interference.

Additionally, Feb. 18, 2009 is the “hard date” agreed by broadcasters for the final switchover to digital TV, at which point broadcasters will relinquish a substantial portion of the TV spectrum for use by broadband devices.

While more bandwidth is scheduled to become available with the transition to digital TV, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton pointed out that interference with TV broadcasting before the transition is complete could imperil the whole process, setting back both TV broadcasters and manufacturers of the new unlicensed broadband devices.

“We’ve been in a very delicate transition from analog TV service to digital TV service, and we need to make sure we get this digital TV transition done before we start rearranging the bandwidth,” he said. “Our concern is that if there is a problem, people who can’t get access to their local television signals are going to be burning somebody, either their local broadcasters, or the unlicensed devices, or the legislature that allowed this to happen, or the FCC.”

The manufacturers of the new generation of unlicensed devices have pointed to FCC models, which project no interference with local TV broadcasts. But the NAB’s Wharton, says similar FCC forecasts have been wrong in the past. “A lot of the digital re-packing numbers and interference projections are based on computer models, but sometimes affairs don’t turn out how the FCC projected it,” he noted.

Bring Home the Bacon

The latest edition of the Flying Pigs QRP Club Bacon Bits Quarterly (BBQ is now online! This issue includes articles on the following topics:

  • phased verticals,
  • tinkering and experimenting, with a great list of resoures,
  • The Great Crystal Swap,
  • and more!

I’ll Have a Bud, Please

This from the Electronic Design (trade magazine) e-newsletter:

Enclosure Tips Handbook from Bud Industries

Bud Industries’ 28-page handbook is a handy reference for experienced engineers and a tutorial for engineers who are new to enclosures. It covers important issues of enclosure design and application: cooling, interconnects, finishes, typical dimensions, NEMA and seismic standards, and more. Request your free copy today. 440-946-3200 or http://news.electronicdesign.com/t?ctl=26B13:5E9E2F.

I’ve seen this catalog, and it’s got lots of good info on packaging, not just product data. It’s free, so why not get a copy?

This Weekend in Radio at KB6NU

This weekend, I spent a lot of time doing my taxes, but that, of course, is not radio-related. :)

What I did do on Saturday that was radio related is to help Colin KD8CCQ put up an HF antenna and get him on the air. We actually took a crack at this a couple months ago, but our efforts didn’t work out too well.

Colin had purchased an SG-239 automatic antenna tuner, and I had the bright idea to set up a doublet fed with ladder line. I had most of the the parts, and Colin had about 80 feet of antenna wire, so we gave it a go. I went over there one day, and we threw some rope up into a couple of trees he has at his place and hauled up the doublet.

Unfortunately, the thing never worked. The SGC-239 could just not tune the antenna. Colin’s guess is that something’s wrong with the antenna tuner. I now have it in my shack awaiting testing. A thought just occurred to me that perhaps I didn’t do such a great job connecting the ladder line to the antenna wire. I used the Emtech Ladder Grabber, and I don’t think I actually checked for continuity after putting it all together.

In the meantime, Colin’s been off the air. Also, in the meantime, he decided to upgrade his rig from an IC-706 to an IC-756PROIII. And, after our unsuccessful attempt with the doublet, he decided to purchas an Alpha-Delta multiband dipole antenna.

Now, all we needed to do was get this antenna up in the air. To help with this task, I called on Jack, AB8RK. He’d put together a homebrew EZ Hang, a device that combines a slingshot and fishing reel to more easily launch ropes into trees. The first line went pretty smoothly, but the second was a bit more problematic.

One reason for this is that the second tree was a spruce, and there wasn’t really a clear shot. We got the line over an outstretched branch, but it didn’t look all that secure. We tried pulling the line in closer to the trunk, and when we didn’t have much success with that, we decided to try another shot. That shot wasn’t much better than the first one, so Jack tried it again. Unfortunately, on this attempt, the plastic molding holding the slingshot together broke. So, in the end, we had to settle for the first line.

Overall, we goofed around with this for a couple of hours, but eventually, we got the antenna up about thirty-five feet. While the other two guys cleaned up outside, I went inside and put the antenna analyzer on the antenna. On 40m, the SWR was less than 2.0 across the whole band, on 10m, the SWR was pretty good, too. As expected, on 80m the SWR was less that 2.0 over about 100 kHz, centered on 3850. On 20m, the SWR seemed a bit high, but usable with the 756PRO’s internal antenna tuner.

After a little pizza and beer, we fired up the radio and worked a special event station in Florida. I had to take off at this point, but Colin reports that he’s made a bunch of QSOs in the last couple of days. Some of those contacts were Georgia QSO Party contacts.

I also worked the Georgia QSO Party. I made about 21 contacts total, with three of them being phone contacts. There certainly wasn’t as much activity as there was for the VA QSO Party last month. In the VA QSO Party, I made 51 contacts for just about the same amount of time operating.

A DDS Primer

One reason the KX-1 can pack in so much functionality is that it uses the Analog Devices AD9834 Direct Digital Synthesizer (DDS). On the Elecraft mailing list, Pete WD4LST pointed to this Analog Devices DDS primer. Here’s an excerpt:

A DDS chip, or direct digital synthesizer, produces an analog waveform—usually a sine wave, but triangular and square waves are inherent—by generating a time-varying signal in digital form and then performing a digital-to-analog (D/A) conversion. DDS devices are primarily digital, so they can offer fast switching between output frequencies, fine frequency resolution, and operation over a broad spectrum of frequencies.