FCC Reports on OO Activity

From the monthly (?) newsletter of Great Lakes Division Director, Jim Weaver, K8JE:

For many years, FCC did not provide feedback to ARRL on Official Observer (OO) reports it received. This has changed. Because of legal constraints, the feedback isn’t very detailed, but it is being given.

In June there were a total of 692 Official Observers (OOs) in the US. During June, ARRL received 10 recommendations for hams to begin the process to become OOs. OOs are still needed in parts of the Great Lakes Division as well as the country. If you are interested in becoming an OO, please contact your Section Manager, your Official Observer Coordinator or another League official.

A few of the situations OOs reported in June include:

  • Complaints about activities on or near 14.275 MHz; especially about
    the language used.
  • Reports from . . . Michigan regarding unlicensed hunters using 2 meter simplex frequencies. Information has been forwarded to the FCC.
  • Reports of boot-legged calls.
  • A report of “numbers stations” (Spanish speaking stations transmitting numbers) on 30 meters. Another report was of transmissions of 5 letter code groups.

No official actions were added to the FCC listing during June; however, several reports were handled off the record. Summaries of many FCC actions can be found on the FCC website.

The June report concluded, “As always, we thank you all for your time and efforts involved with the Official Observer program and we invite you to let us know of problems you hear on the air and possible resolutions through your regular monthly reports and e-mails.”

I’d like to salute the work that OOs do. One of these days, I’m even going to become one myself.

Don’t Be a Dummy and Spend Too Much for Oil

Tim, N9PUZ writes to the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list:

With new HF rigs being 100% solid state these days, the need for a dummy load in some shacks has gone away. However, if you have an amplifier they are very useful as you can do most of your tuning off-air and avoid causing QRM.

Recently, I bought a used Heathkit Cantenna. It is a dummy load similar to the MFJ-250 1kW “wet” dummy load. It did not come filled with oil due to shipping difficulties.

In many places, such as where I live, genuine transformer oil to fill the load is unobtainium. You can buy a gallon from MFJ but it costs $30 plus shipping.

According to the Heathkit documentation, a good substitute is mineral oil. I checked at the local pharmacy and they wanted $4.25 per PINT still making this an expensive proposition. I wouldn’t classify myself as cheap but I am frugal so I kept searching.

An Internet search led to my discovery that mineral oil is often used as a laxative for horses and other farm animals. A quick trip to our local farm store “Farm and Home” got me a gallon jug for just $15. I imagine any store of this type or even the local Vet would have some.

The amplifier tunes up into the Cantenna very nicely now. Life is good.

Tim, N9PUZ

This is a great tip, but I disagree that “the need for a dummy load in some shacks has gone away.” Every shack should have a dummy load. They are immensely useful, especially in situations where you’re not whether your antenna or your transmitter is what’s causing you not to transmit properly.

Operating Notes

I’ve worked Arun twice this past week, once from home and once from the Hands-On Museum. What’s notable about these contacts? Well, for one thing, Arun is someone I’ve cyber-Elmered. He contacted me by e-mail about getting his Tech license, and after swapping a couple of e-mails, I found out that he passed the test on Saturday, July 11. This was a bit easier for him as he’d held a VU license in the past.

The second notable thing is that both contacts were CW contacts. Again, this was easier for him because he had learned code to get his VU license, but even so, it shows that some Techs do make use of their CW privileges on the low bands.

Arun lives here in Ann Arbor, and I’m sure I’ll meet him face-to-face soon. In fact, I’ve already signed him up to speak to our ham radio club in November.

More stations whose call signs spell words:
Tuesday, while waiting for my XYL, I turned up the volume on the rig and tuned around the phone bands. Who should I hear, but N3ELK! Now, I can say that I bagged an ELK.

Yesterday, on 40m CW, N4AX replied to my CQ. He was a real sharp operator, too!

Cheap Sig Gen Kits

On the qrp-l.org mailing list, someone asked about signal generator/function generator kits. Ken, N9VV, came up with the following list:

As always, there was a lot of back and forth on the topic. One guy noted that none of these were really “good” function generators. My comment was that for such low prices, they might be fun to play with.

A third commented that by looking around at hamfests one could probably purchase something much better for just a little more. He’s right about that. A couple of years ago, I scored a 2 MHz B+K generator for about $120. It even does amplitude modulation.

Of course, another approach is to use your PC’s sound card as a signal generator. This works fine if all you need is audio signals. You could even get fancy and do modulation or other types of arbitrary waveforms. Two software packages that will allow you to do this are Marchand Function Generator Lite (free) and NCH Tone Generator ($20).

Finally, someone suggested using an iPod for audio test waveforms. Using a computer’s sound card, you can generate all kinds of test waveforms, record them on the iPod, then just select the tracks you want when you want them. That’s a neat idea. Someone should prerecord a bunch of commonly used waveforms and make them available on a website somewhere.

You Can’t Tell the Digital Modes Without a Scorecard

Unless you work the digital modes a lot, how do you tell which signal is PSK 31 and which is Feld Hell? By going to K2NCC’s YouTube page, of course! Frank has posted examples of nine different modes, including Domino, Feld Hell, SSTV, and MFSK16. What’s cool about these posts is that you not only hear what they modes sound like, but what they look like on a waterfall display.

Here’s what Domino EX16 sounds like and looks like:

Frank says, “Stay tuned for more!”

An Extra Class “No-Nonsense” Study Guide

Last summer, we had some discussion about doing an Extra Class study guide, similar to my No-Nonsense Tech and General Class study guides. I kinda dropped the ball on that, being really busy with other things. I’m sorry about that.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing some thinking about how to approach this, and I’m going to try to do this as a wiki (think Wikipedia). A wiki will allow this to be a real community effort, with many different contributors. I’ve set up a new website for this effort – HamRadioUniversity.Com. I’ve gotten the ball rolling by doing section E1A, and Richards, K8JHR, has volunteered to do sections E1B and E1C.

The style is to reword the questions as statements, group related questions, and add just enough text to give the question some context. That is the style I used in both the Tech and General Class study guides, and it seems to work real well. K8JHR suggested adding a
reference to the actual question. I’ve done that in section E1A. I’ve also created a page with the actual questions and linked to it.

If you’d like to help out and have some time to do so, let me know, and I’ll create a login for you. Many wikis (like Wikipedia) allow anyone to create and edit pages, but I’m going to restrict that access on this website. Anyone will be able to read the study guide, but those who can write and edit will be limited.

If you have any other questions, e-mail or phone me. Ideally, I’d like to get about a dozen authors for this project.

WD8DAS Searches for Heathkit

While his family went to the beach, WD8DAS visited the sites of the old and new Heathkit plants in St. Joseph, Michigan.

My “Mac in the Shack” Days May Be Over

Yesterday, when I went down to the shack, the hard drive in the Mac iBook G4 that I’d been using in my shack for logging and PSK31 was making a terrible noise. I turned off the computer and turned it back on, but just more of the same.

This wasn’t totally unexpected. A couple of months ago, I had some hard drive problems, and I had to get somone to “repair” it with some heavy-duty software. Although the hard drive seemed to be work OK, I always suspected that it was just waiting to go. Yesterday, it went.

I called the shop where I bought the thing (I bought it used), and asked what it would cost for them to put in a new one. They told me “$80 for the drive, $120 for the labor.” Yikes! I don’t think the computer is even worth that much, even with a new hard drive. For one thing, the battery is probably going as well, and since the computer is only a G4, it can’t run the latest Mac OSX.

I Googled around for some guidance on perhaps replacing the drive myself. After all, $80 for a new hard drive isn’t such a bad deal. I came across the page, “Installing iBook G4 12″ 800 MHz-1.2 GHz Hard Drive Replacement.”

Now, I see why it costs $120. This Web page describes 42 different steps— and that’s just to get the drive out. You have to repeat those 42 steps in reverse to get the computer back together again! None of them seem really hard, but I’m not sure that I want to spend the two or three hours to do this.

So, my “Mac in the shack” days may be over for now.

CQ Serenade

I thought this YouTube video was kind of cute. It’s a collage of ham radio photos accompanied by the tune “CQ Serenade.” There’s even a French version.

Is Your Website Safe for Kids?

On the ARRL PR mailing list, Woody, K3VSA, writes:

One thing almost all ham radio groups have prided themselves on is that we’re open to all ages, a fact I always stress in my PIO work. In fact, kids have always been a major source of recruitment of new hams. That being the case, we may be cutting ourselves off if our web sites are not specifically rated as being appropriate for all age groups.

I’m not a professional web developer, so forgive me if the information I’m giving here is already old news to everybody but me, but I just found out about this and think it’s important enough to pass along. It’s my understanding that some search engines can be configured to prevent displaying web sites that have not been certified as not containing “objectionable content.”

Such certification is free and easily done. The tool I used to certify the web pages I maintain is called “SafeSurf ” (http://www.safesurf.com/). You answer some questions about your site, and it generates code which you insert into the header section of your page(s). This code lets some search engines know the appropriateness of your site. You can also download an image of their logo to add to your page body. The site gives you urls to several web site listing services that your being registered with might increase your chances of being found.

As a parent myself, I would certainly feel better knowing my daughter is looking at a site that’s been certified as containing no “adult oriented” material. Just FYI, I am not associated with SafeSurf in any capacity other than as a user, and I receive no remuneration from them of any kind.

When I asked if I could post this to my blog, Woody replied:

By all means! If you want to include an example of what it looks like on a website, go to Triangle ATV Association website, which is one of the websites I maintain. At the bottom is the SafeSurf logo (including hot link), and you can look at the source code for the page and see the META statement in the header that the search engines can see.