We Scored 100%!

Not to toot my own horn—at least not too much—but yesterday we scored 100%! That is to say that everyone in our latest One-Day Tech Class at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum passed the test. 17 people attended the class and took the test, including one 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

To be honest, I was concerned about the two teenagers. Kids don’t seem to do well in the one-day class, and neither of them had done much pre-study. The girl, however, only got two questions wrong; I’m not sure what score the boy had.

Several of the students were the sons of amateur radio operators. One of them, Ryan, came all the way from Alma (about two hours away), with his girlfriend, Kathena, to take the class. I just received an e-mail from Ryan:

Just wanted to give a big thanks for offering the class. You definitely helped Kathena and I learn all the technical aspects of ham radio. You definitely helped me feel more confident about passing the test. I have been trying to get around and take it for ten years now. Kathena has only been around ham radio for a week and she loves it!!

Mel, the executive director of the museum, his wife, and his father-in-law, were also part of the class. Since they all passed, two of the museum’s staff now have amateur radio licenses.

Thanks to my co-teachers and especially to VEs who administered the test. This was quite a large group, but they were able to handle the group speedily and efficiently.

Everything is Always More Difficult Than It Seems

Yesterday’s repair of my ICOM PS-125 power supply is a perfect example of the corollary to Murphy’s Law, “Everything is always more difficult than it first seems to be.”

A couple of weeks ago, the fan in my PS-125 started making a real racket. No big deal, I thought, the fan’s gone bad. I e-mailed Icom, and they tell me the part number is 2710000701, and it costs $13.40, plus tax and shipping. (The tax and shipping for this order turned out to be $8.64, which I thought was kind of high, but they did send it second-day FedEx.) The fan sat on my bench for the last week, but yesterday night, I got ambitious ambitious and decided to install it.

This is where the corollary to Murphy’s Law comes in. There are ten screws that hold the outer case to the power supply. I say “outer case” because when I got that off, I found that there was an inner shield around the entire supply.

Removing enough of that to get at the fan required the removal of 15 more screws. Once I got that off, replacing the fan was easy enough, but then I had to to button it all back up again.

My first thought was, “Boy, all this shielding is really overkill.” On second thought, however, I’m sure all that shielding is one reason why the power supply is so quiet. I have never heard any complaints about the PS-125 generating RF noise, something which cannot be said about other switching power supplies meant for ham radio use.

I also noted that there were some serious RF chokes on the AC input. These undoubtedly help prevent any noise from getting in or out via the AC line. So, while the repair was indeed more difficult than it originally appeared, it was worth the effort.

While the PS-125 has been “down,” I’ve been using the Astron 35A supply, and even though the PS-125 is now ready to go. I have that supply connected to a DC distribution strip that uses PowerPoles. When used this way, this supply can power both my IC-746PRO and the VHF/UHF rig and an accessory or two, and I don’t need multiple supplies on the bench.

Getting a License in Uganda

Jack Dunigan, 5X7JD, is my first guest blogger. He is the Senior Management Leader of Aidchild, Inc., a project providing a home for orphans living with AIDS in Uganda. His ham radio blog is called Ham Radio Safari. Thanks, Jack!

5X7JD QSL CardI came to Uganda in October from the the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean where I had earned callsign NP2OR, a U.S. General Class amateur radio license. I made a pre-move trip here in June and began the license process then, filing application and associated paperwork then. It turned out to be a waste of time. When I moved here in October, I checked with the Uganda Communications Commission with whom I had filed and discovered they had lost the paperwork. “Would I mind starting over?”

Well, I didn’t really have any choice and sharp rebukes at those personnel who might have mislaid the application would have only delayed everything. So, I began again. I had to write a cover letter, which must contain the over-the-top courtesies and deferential language most Americans find artificially sweet and out of place in business correspondence. Nonetheless, its goes a long way here to recognize the authority and position of the officers who will expedite your application. They also asked for specifics of the radio gear. So I provided make and model info, a description of the antenna, and the power output requested.

The most difficult part was the requirement to supply geographic coordinates. I had no idea what they might be. I knew I could find it on the Internet, but Internet access is so excruciatingly slow it seemed a daunting task.

No one I could find had GPS and I am doubtful anything other than a very sophisticated sytem will work here anyway. So I logged on and began the search. It was actually harder than I thought. Were I in the U.S. or Europe, I could have nailed it down in a hurry. But Africa is tougher. After some searching I found a website that specified the coordinates for Masaka, the city where I live. It wasn’t precisely on the dot where the station would be but here in Uganda, close enough is close enough. So I wrote them in, filled in the other details, and took in all the paperwork.

The clerk who helped me was very efficient and friendly. He shot a photocopy of my U.S. license and asked what callsign I would like. This took me by surprise. He suggested I could have my initials to which I readily agreed. He told me there would have to be a site inspection of the radio shack and antenna installation. I didn’t actually have the antenna up yet, but figured I could do so before the inspector arrived. I left the paperwork there, and hoped for the best. I hoped I could get a license within a month.

Three days later I was in the car on my way out of Kampala, the capital city, driving back to Masaka when my mobile phone rang. The young lady on the line told me I could come in and pick up my license. I wondered about the site inspection, which had not happened, but did not ask. Its better not to confuse things with procedures. I was a licensed Uganda Amatuer Radio operator—callsign 5X7JD!

The promised inspector has never showed up and it is extremely unlikely one ever will. I guess because Masaka is 125 kilometers from the Communications Commission office and no one has a car. The license fee is $63 USD a year so there’s not enough money in that for the commission to pay for transport to the site, so they just won’t bother.

There was one apparent complication with the license. When I received it, there was a specification that I was authorized to use code only. I must confess I do not know Morse code. My license in the States came after the code requirement was dropped and I did not, have not learned it. So, we made another trip to the Commission office to see if it could be changed. I discovered that no one there—not even the Chief Commissioner himself—had any idea that the designation they had entered into my license limited me to code transmissions.

In fact, they weren’t familiar with the idea of emission types. It became a delight to educate those in the office, and they have asked me to return and conduct a seminar for the staff on amateur radio! I will be going to the office this week to set it up. I would like to teach more Ugandans about amateur radio. I have already started corresponding with a local engineering student who saw my blog and has asked for help. I am pleased to offer it. We are all Elmers as we are being Elmered.

New 80m QRP Kit

John, K5JS, posted this to the qrp-l.org mailing list yesterday:

The Arizona ScQRPions are delighted to announce a new 80m QRP CW transceiver kit for 2010! This new transceiver is the creation of Dan Tayloe (N7VE) and kitted by the ScQRPions with invaluable assistance from Doug Hendricks (KI6DS) of QRPKITS.

This kit was first seen in August 2009 at the Fort Tuthill, Arizona, CactusCon 2009 conference in a presentation by Dan on the design and use of distributed active RC filters in receivers. Additional bands will be available later in the spring from QRPKITS.

The present design hardly resembles its simple Unichip+ origin as Dan includes one of his patented low noise mixers and distributed filtering throughout the transceiver to produce one of the best sounding DC receivers anywhere. The transmitter produces a clean 2.5 watts output using a pair of BS-170 FETs as the final amplifier and uses a rock solid VFO covering up to 80KHz of 80m centered where you want it. Complete specifications, pictures, schematics, board layouts, prototypes, Dan’s CactusCon2009 presentation and slides, and other information is now available at the new user’s group email list.

For the rest of the story and to see what you get for your $50+shipping, go to http://www.azscqrpions.org/Introduction_to_FT80.htm. You will also find a link to the user’s email list on this page. The new Fort Tuthill FT80 transceiver should be available about the end of January 2010 in a run limited to 100 kits.

Winter is here and this will be a great little project to introduce you to the magic of 80m QRP!!

Looks like a great kit to me!

Want to Write for KB6NU.Com?

I not only read a lot about amateur radio, but also about freelance writing, blogging, and online journalism. The latest blog post to pass through my browser, “Doing journalism in 2010 is an act of community organizing,” suggests that a successful blog is really an online community, and that the successful blogger serves the needs of that community and listens to the members of that community.

I think the author is right about that, and I think that we have a pretty good community going here.

The next step, the author suggests is to invite members of the community to contribute not only comments, but posts as well. “By inviting guests posters on to your site,” he says, “you show that you are willing to not only listen to other voices in your online community, but to amplify them.”

So, I’m inviting you to contribute. Register as a user of kb6nu.com, then send me an e-mail that you’d like to be a contributor, and I’ll give you the privileges you need to make posts. If you’d rather not be a contributor, then simply e-mail what you want posted, and I’ll do it for you.

If you’re hesitant because you think you may not have the writing skills, don’t be. Before I became a freelance website developer, I was a senior technical editor for Test&Measurement World magazine. Part of my responsibilities were to turn often very poorly-written material from engineers and marketing types into legible English. I will work with you to help you say what you want to say.

Now, I’m going to sit back and watch the contributed posts roll in. :)

Ham Radio IS NOT a Dying Hobby

I really hate it when people ask me, “Ham radio? Do people still do that?” Yes, of course, we still do that. Not only that, ham radio is growing. Below, is the latest press release from the ARRL. Now, granted, this release does hype up the statistics, but the facts are there. Almost double the number of new licenses were issued in 2009 than in 2005, and there are now almost 700,000 licensed radio amateurs in the U.S.

2009 Sees Surge of New Amateur Radio Licensees

Newington, Conn., Jan 7, 2010 – 2009 was a banner year for new people getting Amateur Radio licensees in the US. Amateur Radio, often called “ham radio,” has been growing over recent years, but 2009 was a record. According to the ARRL, the national association for Amateur Radio, the FCC issued more than 30,000 new ham radio licenses in 2009.

A total of 30,144 new licenses were granted in 2009, an increase of almost 7.5 percent from 2008. In 2005, 16,368 new hams joined Amateur Radio’s ranks; just five years later, that number had increased by almost 14,000 — a whopping 84 percent! The ARRL is the largest of several organizations trusted by the FCC to administer Amateur Radio license exams in the US.

“When looking at the statistics over the last 10 years, these are some the highest numbers we’ve seen,” explained Maria Somma, manager of the ARRL testing programs. “The total number of US amateurs has grown each year.” Currently there are 682,500 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the USA, an almost 3 percent rise over 2008. In 2008, there were 663,500 licensed amateurs; there were 655,800 in 2007. There are approximately 2.5 million Amateur Radio enthusiasts worldwide. It was also noted that a much higher percentage of licensees are going far beyond an entry-level license and earning higher class (and much more difficult) FCC Amateur Radio licenses. Despite the predictions of some commentators that Amateur Radio would be dying with the development of cell phones and the Internet, hams instead have taken and incorporated those digital and computer technologies into their wireless hobby, creating many new developments in the process.

Somma applauded all the volunteers whose “hard work and contribution of countless hours of time helps to ensure the future of Amateur Radio. I am delighted by these important achievements. 2009 was a very good year for Amateur Radio and I am excited by the promise of 2010.” For more information see http://www.Hello-Radio.org.

Operating Notes – 1/6/10

Last night was a fun one on 80m, even though the only antenna I still have for this band is a low, 85-ft. random wire.

My first contact of the evening was with K4ZDH. The call was vaguely familiar to me, but when I typed it into my logging program, it didn’t find any previous QSOs.

Only when he said his name was Riley, and his QTH Gettysburg, PA, did it strike me. This was Riley Hollingsworth, the former head of amateur radio enforcement for the FCC! (Gettysburg has long been the home of the FCC, at least it’s amateur radio operations.) We had only a short QSO, but I was able to tell him that I’d enjoyed hearing him speak and to thank him for his service with the FCC.

A little bit later, I worked Steve, WA1HUD. Steve is the chief engineer and holder of license for WNE Coast Radio and president of the New England Historical Radio Society. WNE is currently under construction and wil be a CW maritime station designed to help preserve marine CW.

As you can imagine, building a station like this isn’t for the faint-hearted. As an example, just take a look at the pictures of the loading-coil construction project. WNE will operate on 500 kHz, meaning that the antennas will be very big. The loading coil will be pretty big, too.

I couldn’t find a way to join the NEHRS on their site, but if you have a couple extra bucks, I’d bet they would appreciate the donation. I plan to become a “member” one way or another.

What the Heck is Phase Noise, Anyway?

Hams sometimes bandy about the term “phase noise,” but few hams really understand it. Most of us can figure out that less phase noise is better than more phase noise, but that’s about as far as our knowledge goes.

To help you understand the concepts, there is a paper about phase noise on www.rfic.co.uk. While there is a lot of complicated, engineering math in the paper (this is complicated stuff, after all), the first two pages offer a simple explanation of the basic concepts. In explaining how phase noise affects a system, the paper notes:

In transmitters local oscillator noise is amplified by the subsequent amplifier stages and is eventually fed to the antenna together with the wanted signal. The wanted signal is therefore surrounded by a band of noise originating from the phase noise of the local oscillator. Therefore the noise generated can spread over several kHz masking nearby lower power stations as shown in figure 3 (shown below).

To relate this to a common example in ham radio, this is why you want rigs with low phase noise at your Field Day operation. Rigs that have poor phase noise performance will seriously raise the noise floor, affecting all of the other radios, especially those attempting to operate on the same band. For example, a 40m phone station running a rig with relatively high phase noise might swamp a station running 40m CW.

New Tech Question Pool Released

From arrl.org:

NCVECNCVEC Releases New Technician Class Question Pool (Jan 4, 2010) — The Question Pool Committee (QPC) of the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) released the new Technician class (Element 2) question pool on Monday, January 4. This new question pool will become effective for all examinations administered on or after July 1, 2010; it will remain valid until June 30, 2014. The current Technician question pool that became effective July 1, 2006 will expire June 30, 2010. The new Technician pool contains approximately 400 questions, from which 35 are selected for an Element 2 examination; it will contain graphics and diagrams, something new for this element. The current General class question pool was effective July 1, 2007 and is valid through June 30, 2011. The current Amateur Extra class pool was effective July 1, 2008 and is valid until June 30, 2012.

There are 392 questions in the current pool, so there aren’t that many additional questions, but there are some diagrams in this pool, which is a change. My first impression is that they’ve made this pool a little more technical than the previous pool, which is probably a good thing.

Now it’s time to update my study guide. I’ll know more once I’ve done this.