Ham Radio’s Rejuvenation??

In a recent column in Electronic Design magazine, editor Don Tuite, NR7X, said the following:

Hypothesis: Doing away with the code requirement last March has completed a rejuvenation of ham radio that was triggered by the World Trade Center attacks and Katrina. I’m looking for reader comments yea and nay.

He goes on to say how in the San Francisco Bay area, they are licensing 50 or more new hams ever month, and one of the biggest draws seems to be the ability to use ham radio for emergency communications. Furthermore, he says, dropping the Morse Code requirement for the General and Extra Class licenses is now encouraging those who have Tech licenses to upgrade and do things like HF DXing.

I’m not so sure that this is happening here in the Ann Arbor, MI area, but I do think that there has been a resurgence of interest in amateur radio. I attribute it to the convergence of a number of factors. Eliminating the code test requirement was one of them, as well as a renewed interest in emergency communications. (I think Katrina had more of an effect on those folks than did the 9/11 disaster, though.) Another factor is what I call the “MAKE movement,” that is those that find satisfaction in creating things with their own hands and minds. I also think that amateur radio itself is doing a much better job of drawing people in, or at least doing a better job of not turning them away.

Jim, W6RMK, commented that emergency communications is only one of the five “purposes” of amateur radio, and the other four should be given some consideration as well. I agree. When I speak to organizations about amateur radio, I try to emphasize all five of them, as they are all equally valid reasons for folk to get licensed and equally valid reasons for the continued existence of the amateur radio SERVICE.

Need Some Paper??

As we all know—or should since there are several questions on the tests about this—you are authorized to transmit when your name and call sign appears in the FCC’s Universal Licensing System database, NOT when your license arrives in the mail. Even so, it’s sometimes nice to have a piece of paper attesting to your accomplishment in passing the test. That is perhaps one reason that someone on the Ham Radio Help Group mailing list asked how long he should wait before becoming concerned about when his license would arrive in the mail.

While others were quick to point out that he didn’t really need the piece of paper, Terry, WA7PML, pointed out that you can print out a “reference copy” right from the FCC website. Here’s how:

Terry also pointed out that the AE7Q website has a page that allows you to print out an even fancier version. Check it out. It lets you specify different fonts and the color of the FCC watermark.

Wired Marks NASA’s 50th Anniversary

Unlike a lot of amateurs, I’ve never been all that excited about space shots. It is notable, however, that today marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s birth. Wired.com has created a series of articles to commemorate this event, including this gallery of classic space program photos. Even if you don’t include all the fun the AMSAT guys are having with ham satellites, there’s no doubt that NASA has had an impact on telecommunications and electronics, and in a broader sense on how we think about our universe and our place in it.

Make a Mini Solder Pot

One of the most unpleasant tasks when making a kit is stripping the leads of a toroid. Well, now the guys at QRPKits.com, have come up with a simple way to turn an old soldering iron into a mini solder pot. This looks like a really neat way to make this task a lot easier.

mini solder pot

Some Wonderful News!

I’ve written before about our work at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, most recently in these posts:

Well, a couple of days ago, we got some great news: WE GOT THE GRANT FROM THE IEEE! They awarded us $10,000 to develop the station and several “tabletop displays.” This is just too cool for words.

Of course, now we have to produce, but this really gives our project a big boost. Next, we’re going to ask the ARRL Foundation for money to put up a tower on the museum roof. Wish us luck!

I’m Running Again

Well, as you can see, I am running again for the ARRL Board of Directors. I ran three years ago, and then I wrote:

Amateur radio and the ARRL face a number of difficult problems. Two of the most urgent are declining membership (currently less than 25% of licensed amateur radio operators are ARRL members) and diminishing clout in Washington, but there are others. I think most of our problems stem-not from the number of licensees-but from the number of active radio amateurs.

While there have not been any scientific surveys, some estimate that up 50% of all licensees are inactive. For whatever reason, these folks lost interest and are amateur radio operators in name only.

This is a shame, if you ask me. Inactive hams don’t show up for public service events or work CW or experiment with circuits or send letters to their Congressmen and Congresswomen.

How can we encourage amateur radio operators to be more active? One thing we can do is develop classes that will teach people not only what they need to know to pass a test, but what they need to know to be successful amateur radio operators. These include how to solder, how to make voltage and current measurements, and how to make simple antennas.

Better support for clubs is also needed. Clubs are where the action is. Good clubs bring hams into the hobby and turn them into active amateur radio operators. Bad clubs turn people away from amateur radio and foster bad stereotypes about amateur radio and amateur radio operators.

And finally, we need to start getting youth into amateur radio again. We must show them how technically challenging ham radio can be, but even more importantly, how much fun it can be.

I’m running for Great Lakes Division Vice Director so that I can work on these issues. With your support, we can make ham radio better.

I think these are all still problems that need some work. ARRL membership is still languishing significantly below 25% of licensed radio amateurs, and we’re either not giving folks enough incentive to join or not making our case strongly enough. We need to draw new blood into the hobby and then provide them with the support they need to become active, engaged amateur radio operators. That’s what I’ll work on if you elect me.

Feel free to e-mail me with any comments or questions.

Mac Logging Programs

Last October, I purchased a used, iBook G4 Mac laptop and promptly started looking for logging programs. I found one that was kind of expensive (MacLoggerDX); one that was free, but didn’t want to work so well (RUMLog); and one that worked OK and cost somewhere in between the first two (Aether).

I ended up purchasing Aether, but was never very happy with it. For one thing, it took forever to do any kind of sort or look up previous QSOs. Another pain was that it carried over none of the information from the previous contact, so you had to enter all of the information from scratch, even if you didn’t change frequencies or bands. It also had an odd way of doing notes about a contact, and I was disappointed to find out that it didn’t import the notes from the ADIF file I created from the N3FJP logging program I used previously. Since I had paid for it, though, I was reluctant to just dump it.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I’d had enough and decided to start searching again. Since RUMLog was still free, I decided to give the new version (v 3.0, March 15, 2008) a go. I’m happy to report that this version likes my computer a lot better, and I like using it a lot!

One of the coolest things is that it did import the notes from my N3FJP ADIF file properly. So, now, when I type in a callsign, the program searches the database, finds all the previous contacts I’ve had with that station, and then displays them in spreadsheet style WITH the notes. If I’ve taken notes about a previous conversation, I can pick up right where I left off. Very cool.

It also has a very nice way of showing you what countries you’ve worked, on what bands you’ve worked them, and whether or not you’ve QSLed that country or not. Not only that, it shows what type of QSL you have, either a paper QSL or a Logbook of the World (LOTW) QSL. To get it to show LOTW QSLs, you have to somehow feed it information that you download from LOTW. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

According to RUMLog, I have 142 countries worked, but only 69 confirmed. After getting this report, I pawed through my QSL file and found cards from 18 countries that weren’t QSLed via LOTW, so I’m still 13 short for DXCC.  I guess I’m going to have to generate some more paper to get that certificate.

Don’t Throw Away Your Analog Cell Phone!

Dr. Arnie Coro, of Radio Havana’s DXers Unlimited, noted on his July 22/23, 2008 show:

The top quality microphones used by cellphone manufacturers are ideal for amateur radio use. A broken down, or an obsolete cellphone is a low cost source of two highly valuable devices… a nice high quality electret microphone element, and an also high quality optimized for voice communications earphone… So, follow your friend ARNIE CORO´S advice and don´t let your friends throw away the old analog cellphones before removing the microphone element and the earphone capsule…

For your information, my amateur radio two meters band handie talkie, a recycled unit itself, now has a much better microphone element than the original one, thanks to that simple surgical electronic transplant operation…The microphone from a Nokia analog cellphone has proven to receive much better audio reports than those that I got with my factory installed handy talkie built in microphone, an it took just about an hour to extract the analog Nokia cellphone microphone element and then install it on the old 1991 vintage YAESU FT 411 two meters band handie talkie… Reports received on the local 145.190 Havana Metropolitan Area repeater were very encouraging, with several of my friends telling me that the Nokia microphone element from the cellphone was sounding much better than the original element used by YAESU… And of course that as soon as I am able to get a hold of another broken down cellphone I will use it to replace the active element on an very old 6 meters band transceiver that has received some not very nice audio quality reports recently…

Not being a cellphone user myself, I don’t know how many of these are still available, but you might want to keep your eyes open for them.

Ads You May Have Missed in QST

I was looking through the ads in the back of the August QST, and I was reminded of how I used to do this as a kid. I would scour the ads, looking for some company or product I hadn’t seen before, then circling the appropriate number on the reader service card. Of course, now that we have the Web, there’s no need for reader service cards!

The first ad to catch my eye was a 1/16-page ad on page 144 for Liu & DB Enterprises, the “proud distributor of LDB brand electronics testing & measurement instruments.” They sell an eclectic mix of things including an analog audio generator, analog RF generator, five digital multimeters, a couple of frequency counters, and some soldering/desoldering stations. They even have a couple of ion air cleaners!

Just below the LDB ad, is an ad for Kintronics Labs, Inc. It’s a little bit unclear as to why they’re advertising in QST. Their ad shows a “49m, 10kW HF Balun” and their website notes, ” From concept to on air, Kintronic Labs, Inc. is ready to serve your AM/Medium Wave radio broadcast facility needs in a timely, efficient, and cost effective manner.” I suppose that if you have a lot of money, you could get them to design a custom antenna for you.

Finally, check out the ad on page 140 for Odyssey of an Eavesdropper. This book, written by Marty Kaiser, W3VCG, is subtitled “My life in electronics countermeasures and my battle against the FBI.” Check out his website to get an idea how an early interest in ham radio can get you in trouble. <grin>

Trunk-Fest

This morning, I drove over to Utica, MI to attend the General Motors ARC “Trunk Swap.” They charged $5/car, whether you were selling anything or not. They were also selling donuts for a buck apiece. the thing started at 7am and ended at 10am.

I didn’t count exactly, but I’m guessing that there were maybe 15 or 20 sellers and approximately 50 buyers. I’m also going to guess that they took in about $125. It wasn’t a big event, but it wasn’t hard to organize, and it was fun.

I liked it so much that I’m thinking of trying it here in Ann Arbor. We could commandeer part of a parking lot–perhaps the Pioneer High School lot or maybe a grocery store lot and run our own “trunk-fest.”

Have you attended one of these where you are? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like?