Eleven Things I’ve Learned From Amateur Radio

This from Al Gruenke, KB3JPP:

  1. You will be considered a nerd. Accept it, and move on.
  2. When assembling any electronic device, don’t vacuum the floor until you are finished.
  3. Make sure you know exactly where the coax is before trimming the bushes.
  4. Spray paint the antenna feed lines white to make them less obvious. If you have a tower and beam, don’t bother.
  5. People will assume that you can fix anything with wires. Resist the temptation to prove them right.
  6. A swivel with a magnifying glass and a light will prevent you from being humiliated by asking someone else to read IC’s.
  7. Have a young man available to climb ladders and trees. Sons and son-in-laws are good, but don’t be bashful asking others. That’s why God made such people. Furthermore, you may become an Elmer.
  8. Drinking and operating don’t mix. Especially operating CW.
  9. It’s probably not a good idea to explain CTCSS or the relationship between sunspot cycles and F2 skip to anyone except another ham.
  10. Patience and tolerance are learned virtues. Especially to our Northern and Southern neighbors operating SSB in the middle of the 40 meter QRP band.
  11. Amateur radio keeps your mind active, and an active mind wards off Alzheimer Disease. As long as you can spell it, you don’t have it.

Dayton 2006: Day Two

One of the problems of staying in Fairborn, is that it’s not really convenient to Hara Arena. You have to drive about ten miles through town, and on Friday morning, much of that stretch has quite a bit of traffic. I left the the hotel at 7:35, expecting to easily get to the arena by 8:00, but after a couple of wrong turns and having to deal with the traffic, I didn’t get there until 8:15. And because I still needed to purchase my ticket, I didn’t hit the Flea Market until 8:30.

That was OK with me, though; I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular. What I did find right off was a little package of plastic alignment tools–10 for $1. These are just what I need to get my KX-1 adjusted on 20m.

At 9:00 am, I headed over to the first forum of the day–Clubs and Mentoring, led by Norm W3IZ. Norm didn’t really have a program, so we all just sat around and talked. The one good thing about this forum is that I got to meet Dan N9LVS, the Affiliated Club Coordinator for Wisconsin. I was kind of embarassed later because I didn’t recognize him right off, even though we’d swapped e-mails. I know it’s irrational, but he didn’t look how I expected him to look.

After the forum, I spent the next couple of hours wandering the flea market. There seemed to be fewer sellers this year. Someone said that this was because bad weather was forecast earlier in the week, but aside from some heavy rains on Thursday, and some showers very early Friday, the weather was very pleasant.

One thing I did pick up right away was the tripod adapter for the fiberglass masts I purchased a couple of years ago. Although it’s kind of expensive ($40), it does make the masts more versatile. I wanted to get mine right away so that they wouldn’t run out of them.

About 11:30, I wandered inside for lunch and ran into Dan N9LVS again and convinced him to go to have some lunch with me. We had the famous Dayton pizza. As we were sitting there, a guy joined us who said that he had gone to the session on lightning protection earlier, and when the speaker failed to show up, he got up and did the talk. That was kind of amusing.

After lunch, I attended the Teacher’s Workshop. The first presenter was Bruce KQ6TQ (how’s that for a call?). He talked about the Boulder (CO) ARC Juniors program. Although it’s been in existence for a while, this was the first that I’d heard of it.

This is a wonderful program. While the numbers fluctuate, they have about 40 kids in the program and a little more than half that number of adults/mentors. The kids range in age from 9 to 18, and they are an incredibly active group, holding regular meetings once a week and special events, such as Field Day. There’s an article on the BARC Juniors program from the September 1997 QST available on the ARRL website.

After the program, I got to speak a little with KQ6TQ, as well as Rip NV0M and Ellie N0QCX. Rip and Ellie are two of the big wheels behind the program–the Juniors meet in their basement! These three were very gracious in sharing their time with me.

From what they told me, it looks like there are three key things which make the program so successful:

  1. A low kid/mentor ratio. Typically, a mentor works with only one or two kids. This allows the mentor to give the kids all of the attention they need to succeed.
  2. Properly matching mentors to kids. Bruce, for example, admitted that he didn’t feel comfortable working with the really young kids, but Nellie said that he was really great with the older ones. Nellie is the one responsible for pairing kids with mentors, and she must have a real talent for it for the program to continue to be so successful.
  3. Keeping the kids active. This is really a key for any club, but I think it may be more important with kids as it helps keep them focused. As I mentioned, they meet every week and work on projects, be it operating or an antenna project or whatever. Activities keep the juices flowing.

How does this relate to my situation? Well, for one thing, there are only two mentors for 12 or 13 kids. Not good. I’m going to have to find more mentors to work with me. I’m thinking of not only appealing to the guys in our club, but to hams in our area who are not members of our club. Maybe this kind of activity will appeal to them even if other ARROW activities do not.

Another thing is that summer vacation is coming up real soon now, and there are currently no plans to continue throughout the summer. The middle school teachers say this is no problem, and that the kids will come back in the fall. I’m not so sure about this. I’ve emailed them asking if somehow we could do something over the summer, even if it’s with a smaller group. Now that I’ve tasted a little bit of success, I want more. :)

Mark Spencer WA8SME, the ARRL’s Educational Project Coordinator also gave a demonstration of some of the demonstration boards he’s developed for use in the classroom. One of them that looked really interesting to me is a board that can be used to demonstrate the concept of the mixer. There are supposed to be descriptions of these boards somewhere on the ARRL website, but I wasn’t very successful in finding them. I have e-mails WA8SME, and I’ll link to them here when I do find out.

I spent the rest of the day perusing the flea market, again not buying much of anything. One thing I did pick up was another Bencher BY-1 for $40. It’s not in the best of shape, but it’s serviceable–I’ve been using it for the last week. As with the last one I bought, the plan is to re-sell it to a budding CW operator.

That evening, QRP ARCI held their Vendor Night and Construction competition. There were quite a few interesting things. I almost bought a K8RA paddle, for example, but he didn’t have any to sell, just a demo unit. That’s a shame, too, as I’m sure he could have sold a dozen or more that evening.

The construction projects were nothing short of fabulous. One that caught my eye was a rotary bug. I don’t remember all the construction details, but basically activating the lever caused a fly wheel to rotate. Spring tension allowed it to rotate only so far and then back to make contact with the dit or dah terminal.

I was hoping that there would be pictures of the construction projects the QRP ARCI website, but no luck. Again, if I do find links to some pictures, I’ll post them here.

I dragged myself to my room about 11 pm that night, very tired from a full day of ham radio.

Amps is Amps. Right?

Here’s an interesting news item from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that discusses a proposal for changing the way we define several basic quantities, including the Ampere.

According to this article, the Ampere is

now defined in terms of a current that, if maintained in two straight parallel conductors of specific sizes and positions, would produce a certain amount of [magnetic] force between the conductors.

As you can imagine, this would be difficult to do accurately, as the accuracy of the measurement would depend on how accurately you could measure the position of the conductors, how accurately you could maintain a constant current, and how accurately you could measure the force between the two conductors.

Instead, researchers propose

linking the ampere to a specific value for the elementary charge, which is the electric charge carried by a single proton, a particle with a positive charge in an atomic nucleus. The ampere might be defined, for example, as the electric current in the direction of the flow of a certain number of elementary charges per second.

It seems to me that there would still be plenty of room for error in measuring an Ampere accurately. One would have to be able to accurately count the number of protons flowing in the conductor over a period of time, although that might be easier than measuring a small magnetic force.

Fortunately, for most radio amateur radio applications, hooking up that $10 multimeter to our gear will give us a reading that’s accurate enough for our purposes.

Dayton 2006: Day One

Dayton has lost some of its luster over the years, but it’s still the coolest gathering of amateur radio operators in the world. For the second year in a row, I took some time off so I could be down in Dayton for more than just a single day.

My Dayton started at 5 am Thursday morning, when I pulled out of my driveway, hoping to get to the Fairborn Holiday Inn by 8:30 am. Why so early? Well, that’s when QRP Amateur Radio Club International‘s Four Days in May (FDIM) started.

I drove it in on swell foop and actually made it just in time. I pulled into the parking lot right about 8:15 am, and by the time I got out of my truck, stretched, and got myself registered, it was 8:30 am. How’s that for timing!

The sessions were all really great, and I came away with a lot of good advice and great ideas:

  1. Antennas – the Practical Aspects, Bill Kelsey, N8ET. “Don’t think too much. Throw up some wire and make contacts.”
  2. High-Density Design and the KX-1 Transceiver, Wayne Burdick, N6KR. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” (I’m referring, of course to how they shoehorned yet another band into the extremely small box of the KX-1.)
  3. A Regenerative Receiver Primer: A Little History and Some Practical Ideas, George Dobbs G3RJV. “Non multa sed multum” or “Not quantity, but quality.” This was a wonderful talk on how to build regen receivers, and George included a bunch of circuits to play with. I’m going to get my middle school kids to try some of these.
  4. K7QO’s Mark IV Transceiver, Chuck Adams K7QO. I don’t think I came away with any specific idea from this particular session, but certainly a lot of little ones as they relate to homebrewing your own radios.
  5. Making Antennas With Fiberglass Poles, Gary Breed K9AY. “It’s more fun to use these things to make antennas than it is to go fishing with them.”

I’m probably the most geeked about building the regenerative receivers. The circuits are relatively simple, and George showed one project that bore a striking resemblance to the no-solder code practice oscillator that I had the kids build. You first print out the circuit diagram and then paste it to a chunk of wood. Then, you pound in some copper finishing nails at all the circuit nodes and solder the components to them. No circuit board required!

In fact, George advised against doing a printed circuit board for these projects. I can see why. Doing so would add a level of complexity that isn’t really needed. These circuits are simple enough that using copper nails–or perhaps terminal strips–is the way to go. These construction techniques would certainly make experimentation easier.

That evening, there was a “Meet the Authors” gathering, and I got to meet both G3RJV and K9AY. Both are great guys, and it was a very enjoyable time. George was selling a CD with all of the circuits he described in his talk, and I bought that from him for $10. In fact, I was advised to buy one of everything that George was selling, but I only bit on the one item.

In the hallway outside the meeting room, Lloyd K3ESE had set up a small station consisting of his KX-1 and a Buddipole (or some such antenna) just outside the door. They were using the callsign K6JSS, the QRP ARCI club call. For some reason, just as I approached, Lloyd had to step away.

Since none of the other guys were familiar with operating a KX-1, I got pressed into service, and over the next half hour or so, I made about ten contacts with other QRPers operating their QRP rigs in the Holiday Inn and adjoining hotels. That was a blast.

Perhaps the coolest QSO was with AB1AV, who I found out afterwards, was standing right behind me. He was operating a little rig in an Altoid tin feeding a dummy load! We had to quit when he reported that the dummy load was getting too hot to hold on to. :)

Well, that’s all for Day One. Stay tuned for my report on Day Two at Dayton 2006.

Still No Action on Morse Code Requirement

I just noticed on QRZ.Com that there is an article dated May 18, 2006 entitled, “FCC Won’t Say Publicly When It Will Act On Morse Code Issue.” Here’s an excerpt:

“They should probably start learning code,” one staffer advised those waiting for the FCC to drop the Morse requirement before upgrading, noting that a Certificate of Successful Completion of Exam (CSCE) for a written exam element is only good for a year. Even after the FCC goes public with its decision on Morse code, still more time is likely to pass before any new rules go into effect, the staff member pointed out.

So, folks, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year, for sure.

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

I had a great time on the radio this last weekend here at KB6NU.

First off, was the Fists Spring Sprint. The Fists Sprint is a relatively low-key contest, and it’s a lot of fun.

One reason I like it is that it’s pretty short, It’s called a “sprint” because it only lasts four hours from 1300Z to 1700Z. So, right about the time I’m getting tired of operating, it’s over. :)

This time, I scored 10,556 points (74 QSOs, 364 QSO points, 29 multipliers). While not as good as my score of 11,500 in the Winter Sprint, I’m hoping that it will be good enough for a top ten finish.

Later that evening, I was kind of burned out on CW, so I actually tuned around the 40m phone band for a while and heard K3LBQ calling CQ. We got to talking about how very few people seem to call CQ on 75m anymore. In the middle of our chat, K3DOS broke in and joined us. He agreed that 75m operators seemed to be a cliquish lot.

Somehow–probably because I mentioned that I had just passed the Extra Class test–we got talking about the licensing process. That, of course, led to my rant on how we don’t do a very good job of Elmering Technicians up the ladder, and that my Op-Ed piece on this topic is due to be published in the July QST. We ranted and raved on this topic for about an hour before I pulled the plug, and it was a heckuva QSO.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

If you’ve ever posted a comment here and wondered why it didn’t appear right away–or maybe not at all–you can blame it on spam. I get a ton of spam comments here, so I have set up this blog to require that I must personally approve comments before they appear.

Take this weekend, for example. I hadn’t moderated comments all weekend, so when I logged on to do it just now, there were more than 1,700 comments in the moderation queue! Of that, only four were not spam. How’s that for a low signal-to-noise ratio?

Not only that, but in the short time (less than a half hour) that it took me to moderate the comments, 44 new ones arrived! You can see that if I didn’t require approval, this blog would quickly be useless.

So, I apologize for the delay, but I hope you’ll stick with me and excuse me if I accidentally delete a comment. If your comment doesn’t appear in a couple of days, please e-mail me, and I’ll either go approve it or insert it manually. I really do appreciate your comments.



Despite my joking around that I wanted to be the last living Advanced Class licensee in the U.S., I finally broke down and took the Amateur Extra Class license exam today. I passed, missing only three questions.

I used HamTestOnline to study for the test, taking the test over and over until I was confident I would pass. As far as I can see, taking the actual test was a lot easier than taking the online tests. Of course, at the end I was having HamTestOnline choose all the questions I was having the most trouble with, so that would make the online tests a lot harder.

One thing that kind of surprised me is that even though I must have taken the online test 30 or more times, there were still some questions on my test that I had not seen online. I guess even if you choose random questions, you have to take an awful lot of practice tests to see all 840 pool questions at least once.

So, you may ask, who was my first contact? PY6AN on 7.016. :)

My Op-Ed Piece to Finally Appear

It looks as though the Op-Ed piece I submitted more than a year ago, “No Ham Left Behind,” is finally going to appear in QST. Look for it in the July 2006 issue.

If you want a sneak preview, it’s here on the blog.

Shave and Haircut….

On Friday night, I hooked up with Don W2XB, near Buffalo. In the course of our ragchew, he mentioned that he’s a semi-retired barber. Well, I thought that was amusing, especially in light of the fact, that I recently met Bob WD8BNA, who is a local barber.

I mentioned this to Don and asked him if he’d ever worked another barber. He said that in all his years of hamming, he’d never worked another barber. After a nice, long QSO, we said our 73s, and I tuned around a bit more.

In short order, I heard Jack WA4EZY calling CQ. On Jack’s second transmission, he mentioned that he was a retired barber! Now, what’s the chances of working two barbers in a row? I gave him Don’s call and told him to be on the lookout for him. :)

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