Tired of QSLs Yet?

You guys are probably tired of looking at my QSL cards from stations whose callsigns spell words, but I’m not tired of posting them. Besides, here are two of the coolest I’ve received to date, from KA9ZAP and KD8ILL:


ARROW’s September Construction Project

Every September, our ham radio club, ARROW, does a construction project. In the past, we’ve done a keyer kit, J-Pole antennas, and other small projects that you can complete in an evening.

Bare Bones BoarduinoThis year, we’ve decided to build a low-cost version of the Arduino microcontroller called the Bare Bones Boarduino, from Modern Device. This is a pretty good introductory soldering project.

What’s an Arduino (or Freeduino)? It’s an open source microcontroller board that is cheap ($11), and fairly easy to program from Linux, a Mac, or even Windows. You program it in “C”, and there are libraries other folks have written to let you do things like run servos, blink LEDs, and so on. The Bare Board Boarduinos use the ATmega328Phave processor and have 32k flash memory and 2k of RAM.

What can you do with an Arduino or Boarduino? Well, you can check out the Arduino website for ideas.

In addition, the September/October 2009 issue of QEX contains a story on how to use the Boarduino to build a keyer. I don’t really need another keyer, but that article, coupled with an idea gleaned from the Ten-Tec-Omni-VII mailing list has given me an interesting use for the Boarduino, I think.

The mailing list thread discussing the 610 got my creative juices flowing is the thread discussing the elusive Ten-Tec 610 Remote Keyer. I say “elusive” because if you search the Ten-Tec website for information on this product, all you’ll find is a press release that says it will cost $169 and that it will be available sometime in 2009. There are no product specifications or photos to be found anywhere.

This dearth of information has, of course, led to a lot of speculation about what it will do and what it won’t do. Carl, N4PY, seems to have the most information on this product. He writes:

This keyer will interface through a USB port and become an additional keyboard for the computer. Paddles will plug into it and operating the paddles will cause the 610 keyboard to send characters to the application that has the focus just as though the characters were typed on a regular keyboard. There will also be a provision to add the Ten-Tec remote tuning pod to this device. Turning the knob left or right will cause certain special characters to be sent to the application that has the focus. The application will realize a right turning or left turning operation from the 610 keyboard and take appropriate action. So all programming will simply look at the receiving characters to figure out what to do.

This all sounds very cool, but $169 seems kind of steep. I’m guessing that I could program the Boarduino ($10 hardware cost, plus the cost of some kind of USB port) to interface to my computer so that I could use paddles instead of a keyboard for text input. Wouldn’t that be cool?

My iMac currently uses a USB keyboard, so I’m guessing (hoping?) that I won’t have to write a driver for the Mac end. Anyone know where I can find interfacing information for the Mac USB port?

Ignore Everybody

There’s a new book out called Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Below, are 38 of the “keys” published on the author’s blog. I don’t know what happened to the other two.

How does this relate to ham radio? Well, if you have to ask….

1. Ignore everybody.
2. The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours.
3. Put the hours in.
4. If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail.
5. You are responsible for your own experience.
6. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.
7. Keep your day job.
8. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.
9. Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.
10. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.
11. Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.
12. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.
13. Never compare your inside with somebody else’s outside.
14. Dying young is overrated.
15. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not.
16. The world is changing.
17. Merit can be bought. Passion can’t.
18. Avoid the Watercooler Gang.
19. Sing in your own voice.
20. The choice of media is irrelevant.
21. Selling out is harder than it looks.
22. Nobody cares. Do it for yourself.
23. Worrying about “Commercial vs. Artistic” is a complete waste of time.
24. Don’t worry about finding inspiration. It comes eventually.
25. You have to find your own schtick.
26. Write from the heart.
27. The best way to get approval is not to need it.
28. Power is never given. Power is taken.
29. Whatever choice you make, The Devil gets his due eventually.
30. The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it.
31. Remain frugal.
32. Allow your work to age with you.
33. Being Poor Sucks.
34. Beware of turning hobbies into jobs.
35. Savor obscurity while it lasts.
36. Start blogging.
37. Meaning Scales, People Don’t.
38. When your dreams become reality, they are no longer your dreams.

Operating Notes: More QSOs With Stations Whose Callsigns Spell Words!

In the last eight days, I’ve worked three more stations whose call signs spell words. What’s more these were all great QSOs:

  • KA9ZAP. Art mentioned that one of his first contacts was with VU2ZAP, but he hadn’t been “ZAPped” since then.
  • K3DEN. Denny was operating from from a senior center, using an IC-703 running 10 W into a Hustler antenna mounted on his car. He emailed me after our contact and said, “I thought you wouldn’t be able to hear me due to low power and and conditions.” He wasn’t very strong here, but I enjoy a relatively low ambient noise level here, so he was solid copy.
  • W2RIP. Despite his call, Ron lives in GA. During our 40-minute QSO, we discovered that we’d both been trained as EEs and lived in CA, first in Northern CA, then in Southern CA. Ron also mentioned that he’s had a lot of fun with his callsign.

All three QSLs are going to be great additions to my collection.

Is It Work?

Ned, WB4BKO, writes, “Why do we say that we’ve ‘worked’ someone when we have contacted them? For me, making contacts is a pleasure, not work. I think that we should change this bit of ham radio jargon.”

I think that Ned has a point. While it’s true that working some guys is a strain, for the most part, it’s a lot of fun.

What do you think? Should we change our terminology or leave well enough alone? How did making contacts come to be called ‘working’ in the first place?

Back to the Future?

Back in the old days, the really good radios used mechanical filters. Now, according to this item, we could see a whole new type of mechanical filter, this time built with a microelectromechanical (MEMS) device.

Tiny ‘MEMS’ Devices to Filter, Amplify Electronic Signals
Purdue University News (08/10/09) Venere, Emil

Purdue University researchers are developing a new class of microelectromechanical (MEMS) devices called resonators that contain vibrating, hair-thin structures and could be used to filter electronic signals. Resonators vibrate in specific patterns, so they can cancel out signals that contain certain frequencies while allowing others to pass, making these devices useful for applications such as refining cell phone signals. The devices have led to a new type of band-pass filter, which is used in electronics to allow some signals to pass while blocking others, says Purdue professor Jeffrey Rhoads. This new class of resonators represents a potential way to further the miniaturization of band-pass filters while improving their performance and power efficiency. Incoming signals generate voltage that creates an electrostatic force, causing the MEMS filters to vibrate. In addition to their potential use as cell phone filters, resonators also could be used for advanced chemical and biological sensors for medical and homeland security applications, and possibly as a new type of mechanical memory element that uses vibration patterns to store data. “The potential computer-memory application is the most long term and challenging,” Rhoads says. He says the band-pass filter design promises to create better performance than previous MEMS technology because it more strictly defines which frequencies can pass and which are blocked.

View Full Article

Surplus Sources

From the qrp-l.org mailing list, here’s a list of places that sell surplus electronics and other stuff that might be of interest to ham radio operators:

In trying to verify these links, I also ran across the Web page, Surplus Electronics and Equipment for Amateur Scientists. It has quite a bit of stuff, and looks relatively up-to-date.

Upgrade Your Old Radio

Hank, K8DD, posted this information (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) to the Second Class Operator’s Club:

Now is the time to upgrade your old radio.

In an effort to further revive the weak economy, the government announced that it started a new Cash for Radio Clunkers program on August 3. The program is aimed at members of the Amateur Radio Service, also known as ham radio operators. Operators with transceivers with less than 80 db Blocking Dynamic Range (2 kHz spacing) will be eligible to trade in their old units (which must be crushed) for new transceivers and will receive a credit based upon the improved BDR. Improvements of 20 dB are eligible for $100 credit and 40dB or better are eligible for $200.

Operators must be currently licensed and must show proof of purchase of the old transceiver, which must be in working order. Tube transceivers are deemed to be museum pieces and not eligible for this program. See your retailer for further details.

This program will expire April 1, 2010

Passing the Tech Test

As many of you know, I teach One-Day Tech classes. At the start of each class, I go over the following to help focus students on what to keep in mind when taking the test.

Technical Topics
For the Tech test, the focus is on rules and safety. It is not very technical. Having said that, there are three technical topics that you need to know:

  • Ohm’s Law,
  • how to calculate power, and
  • the relationship between frequency and wavelength.

Ohm’s Law
The basic formula for Ohm’s Law is voltage (E) equals current (I) times resistance (R), or E = I x R. On the test, there are several questions where they give you two of the values and ask you to calculate the third. If you’re asked to calculate the current, you use the formula, I = E / R. If you need to calculate the resistance, use the formula R = E / I.

How to Calculate Power
The formula for calculating power is power (P) = voltage (E) times current (I), or P = E x I. To calculate the current drawn, when given the power being consumed and the voltage applied to the circuit, use the formula I = P / E.

Relationship Between Frequency and Wavelength
There are several questions that require you to calculate the wavelength of a signal or some fraction of the wavelength. The reason for this is that antennas are often a fraction of a wavelength.

The formula that describes the relationship between frequency and wavelenght is wavelength in meters = 300 / frequency in MHz. One question asks for the approximate length of a quarter-wavelength vertical antenna for 146 MHz. To figure that out, you first calculate the wavelength:

wavelength = 300/146 = 2.05 m or about 80 inches

One quarter of 80 inches is 20 inches, and the antenna will actually be a little bit shorter than that because radio travels more slowly in wire than it does in free space. The correct answer to this question is 19 inches.

That’s all there is to the technical part of the test!

There are lots of questions on the test about operating safely and being safe when working on antennas. My advice when answering these questions is to always choose the most conservative answer. The two exceptions are when asked what is the lowest voltage and current that can hurt you. For these questions, the correct answer is the second lowest choices.

There are lots of questions about what to do in emergencies. There are two things to keep in mind when answering these questions:

  • You should do whatever you can to help someone who is in an emergency situation.
  • You can even break the rules to help someone in an emergency situation. This includes operating on frequencies you are normally not allowed to operate on and communicating with other stations in other radio services.

Miscellaneous Tips
Here are a couple of other miscellaneous tips:

  • The answer is ‘D.’ If one of the answers to a question is, “D. All of these answers are correct,” chances are that is the correct answer. There are 18 questions with this option, and of those 18 questions, there are only two questions–T3B06 and T5B03–where that is not the correct answer.
  • Long-Answer Rule. Where one answer is a lot longer than the other options, chances are that this is the correct answer. I haven’t done an exhaustive study of this, but when one answer is very long, take a good, hard look at it.

That’s all I have. What tips do you have for passing the Tech test?

Operating from “Up North”

When people in southern Michigan want to get away from it all, they go “up north,” which means the northern part of Michigan’s lower penninsula and Michigan’s upper penninsula. For at least the last ten years, my family—including my brothers and sisters (but mostly my sisters, and their kids and now grandkids)—have been renting a set of cottages on Elk Lake.

For the last three years, I’ve been taking my Elecraft KX-1 and operating from up there. I have a really idyllic operating location. I operate from the screened-in porch of one of the cottages. From my operating position, I have a great view of the lake.

This year was the best in terms of amateur radio, anyway. The first year, I used the 28-ft. random wire vertical antenna described in the Elecraft manual. It loaded up just fine, but I had trouble making contacts with it.

Last year, I used the portable dipole I made with 30-ga. wire and twisted pair feedline. This antenna definitely works better than the 28-ft. vertical, but I still had trouble making solid contacts.

This year, I used the same antenna, and had much better success. For example, where last year, my contacts were mostly short ones with mediocre signal reports, this year’s contacts were much longer with generally good to very good signal reports. For example, the very first contact I made was with W3ANX. He gave me a 579 signal report, and we talked for 40 minutes. One of my other contacts lasted for 30 minutes.

I attribute this mostly to band conditions. When band conditions are poor, low-power signals tend to drift in and out of the noise, making copy rough. When band conditions are good, low-power signals stay above the noise and are easier to copy. When your signal is easier to copy, station you’re in contact with stay with you longer, and longer contacts, in my opinion, are more enjoyable, than short ones.

Another thing I noticed is that I heard stations that I never hear from home. Part of it is the difference in location, but it’s probably also due to the difference in antenna pattern. What I take away from this is that it’s probably a good idea to have more than one antenna per band, if you can swing it. Having two or more antennas with different antenna patters will allow you to talk to more people than if have just one antenna.

I also learned that my iPod earbuds have more output than the earbuds I had been using. While lately I’ve been using an amplified speaker on the output of my KX-1, when I pulled it out of my toolbox, I found that I’d forgotten to turn it off last time and the battery was dead. Not having a ready source of 9-V batteries, I plugged in the earbuds. Then, just for kicks, I decided to try my iPod earbuds. They were noticeably louder, so I used them exclusively.

All in all, it was a great vacation. The scenery was beautiful, weather was mostly nice, the food was great (we take turns preparing dinner), and the company fantastic. Add in the good band conditions, and you have an almost ideal vacation.