I Finally Have a Mini Solder Pot

Two years ago—almost to the day—I wrote about making a min-solder pot to tin toroid leads. Well, now I finally have one.

Sunday, at the museum, Jim, K8ELR, brought down all of the soldering irons he’d ever purchased to try them out in building the little QRP transceiver kit he just bought. The results of that may be the topic of another blog post, but one of the irons he had was a 25 W Weller pencil iron.

“Aha,” I thought, “this would be perfect for the mini-solder pot.” I convinced Jim to let me take the iron home with me and convert it by noting that his kit had several toroids whose leads were going to need stripping and tinning.

I  did that tonight. I carefully hacked off the end of the soldering iron tip and filed it down. Then, I carefully drilled a 5/64-in. hole about 3/16-in. deep. I then widened the hole to 3/16-in. The hole in the tip wasn’t exactly centered, but I didn’t break through the sidewall of the tip.

I plugged in the iron, heated up the tip, and filled it with solder. I dipped a short piece of enameled wire, and a couple of minutes later, I had a perfectly tinned lead! It had worked like a charm. In about 15 minutes, I had eliminated one of the most odious tasks associated with kit building. This is going to be well worth the effort.

iPhone Problems Show Apple Could Use Some Hams!

Some purchasers of the latest Apple iPhone have been experiencing reception problems. Apparently, the band around the phone is the phone’s antenna, and when held in a certain way, the antenna doesn’t function as well as it should.

Well, doh! Any amateur radio operator could tell you that you probably don’t want to touch your antenna while you’re transmitting and probably not while you’re trying to receive, either. I guess there aren’t many hams on Apple’s engineering staff.

For more technical information, listen to this IEEE podcast with antenna engineer Spencer Webb.

Vatican Radio: Study Says RF Levels Are Too High

As I’ve often mentioned, many of us started out as shortwave listeners (SWLs). It’s also true that SW broadcasting isn’t what it used to be. Nearly everyone, except the Chinese, have cut back their broadcasting schedules. Heck, the BBC doesn’t even broadcast to North America anymore.

Vatican Radio

So, it’s hard to report bad news concerning a long-time SW broadcaster. The latest is that a court-ordered study in Italy has warned of “important risks” of dying of  for people who had resided at least 10 years within a nine-kilometre (5.5-mile) radius of the radio station’s antenna towers near Cesano, about 12 miles north of Rome.A Rome judge ordered the report in 2005 as part of an investigation into a complaint filed in 2001 by Cesano residents who alleged health hazards posed by the electromagnetic waves.

“There has been an important, coherent and meaningful correlation between exposure to Vatican Radio’s structures and the risk of leukaemia and lymphoma in children,” the report said, according to the daily La Stampa. The charges are so serious that there’s talk of indicting some Vatican Radio officials on charges of manslaughter.

The Vatican, of course, disputes this study, but it’s hard to say who will win the case. To read more, here are a few links:

Catalog Spurs the Imagination

Back in the day—and by that I mean before we had the World Wide Web—electronics and ham radio companies published catalogs. They were wondrous things. Paging through them, one’s imagination could run wild. As a kid, I would pore over the Allied, Lafayette, and Olson catalogs and just imagine all the cool things I could do with electronics and radio.

Real, printed catalogs have one distinct advantage over their Web counterparts—they can be browsed in a way that you can’t browse a Web catalog. The Web just can’t seem to duplicate the experience of paging through a catalog.  Maybe it takes more mental agility to point and click rather than simply flip pages. I’m not sure. All I know is that paging through a real catalog is a distinct pleasure.

I had such a pleasurable experience just recently when I paged through the <a href=”http://www.universal-radio.com”>Universal Radio</a> catalog. It came packaged with the LDG 4:1 Balun that I’d just purchased. (The reason for that purchase is another story, which I’ll tell soon.)

Just looking at the cover was a pleasure. The cover, as you can see above, is a collage of QSL cards from many different shortwave broadcasters. Like many hams, I got started in the hobby as an SWL, and the cover brought back some nice memories.

Another pleasure was being able to look at a number of products all at once, instead of one-by-one on the Web. In the shortwave receiver section, for example, the catalog has pictures and descriptions of five or six radios per page, so on a spread you can look at and compare up to a dozen different units.

I also enjoyed seeing some products that I didn’t even know existed.The specialty radios section, for example, included several models of “Internet radios,” which are capable of connecting to your home’s wireless network and connect to the digital streams of thousands of radio stations. Sure, you can do this with a computer, but these radios can also function as alarm clocks, and, presumably, have better audio than a laptop computer.

So, even though I’m a big computer and Net geek, I may just have to go request the catalogs of the other ham and electronics retailers and see how they compare to the Universal Radio catalog. With any luck, they’ll also bring back some fond memories and spur my imagination and help me look into the future.

What a Deal!

Get ‘em while they’re hot!………Dan

ARLB019 Vanity Call Sign Fees to Decrease August 17

ARRL Bulletin 19  ARLB019
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT  July 22, 2010

To all radio amateurs

ARLB019 Vanity Call Sign Fees to Decrease August 17

On July 19, the Federal Communications Commission announced via the Federal Register that the cost of an Amateur Radio vanity call sign will decrease 10 cents, from $13.40 to $13.30. The new fees take effect 30 days after publication, making August 17, 2010, the first day the new fee is in effect.

In FY2010, the FCC expects to grant 14,800 vanity call signs, bringing in $196,840 from the vanity call sign program.  Earlier this year, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order (NPRM), seeking to lower the fee for Amateur Radio vanity call signs.

The notice in the July 19, 2010 edition of the Federal Register — entitled “Assessment and Collection of Regulatory Fees for Fiscal Year 2010; Final Rule” — includes all FCC regulatory fees; these fees are expected to recover a total of $336,712,213 during FY2010, encompassing all the Services the FCC regulates.

The FCC is authorized by the Communications Act of 1934, As Amended, to collect vanity call sign fees to recover the costs associated with that program. The vanity call sign regulatory fee is payable not only when applying for a new vanity call sign, but also upon renewing a vanity call sign for a new 10 year term.


New Theme!

I’m experimenting with a new WordPress theme. Please feel free to comment here or e-mail me with any comments. The first thing that’s going to go are the nature scenes. They’re nice photos, but they’re not about ham radio. :)


Back on the Air

I was off the air for nearly a week. I had to take down my antennas so that some tree guys could come in and take down a couple of elm trees that finally succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease.

Before I could even do that, I had to hack a path through the undergrowth to the tree supporting the far end of my 40m/30m fan dipole. I had been negligent about clearing the buckthorn and honeysuckle, and it took me about a half hour just to get enough of that out of the way to take down the antenna.

I also had to take down the 80m random wire. To do that, I had to get to the mulberry tree that was supporting the far end of the wire. This was a chore as in the past year or so, several thick strands of poison ivy had climbed up the trunk. It took a fair amount of time to carefully pry the vines from the trunk and carefully them.

It took the tree guys three days—Wednesday through Friday—to take down the two trees. On Saturday, I had other things to do, and besides it’s been very hot here, so I wasn’t motivated to do a lot of work outside. On Sunday, though, I decided to finish the job of clearing the buckthorn and honeysuckle and then get the antenna back in the air.

I seriously misjudged the amount of work. I worked from 9 am until noon cutting branches, digging out saplings, and bundling it all up for pickup. By the time noon rolled around, I still hadn’t finished the bundling, but it was already quite warm, so I retreated inside and turned on the air conditioning. Just before dinner, I went back out and finished the bundling, but had other plans for the evening, so once again put off setting up the antenna.

Yesterday, I did go out and finish the job. This time, instead of running the 30m legs at an angle to the 40m legs, I decided to run them along the same plane. The antenna seems to like this orientation for some reason. To do this, I simply connected a 12-ft. piece of cord to the end of the 30m legs and tied the other end to the end insulators of the 40m legs. With this arrangment, the 30m legs droop down below the 40m wires.

I hooked it all up and everything seems to work just fine. I made four contacts last night, including two DX contacts: DL7UKA on 30m and PY3XAT on 40m.

I do have a couple of observations on how the antenna has weathered the elements:

  • The splice in one of the 40m legs that I made three years ago seems to be holding up quite well. I expected it to fail by now.
  • The fancy, UL-resistant dacron rope that I bought when I first put up the antenna is weathering quite well, but so is the cheap nylon rope I used on the 30m legs.
  • This spring I noticed that the adapter in the PL-259 that plugs into the balun had somehow worked its way out and had slid a couple of feet down the coax. I thought that was kind of amusing. I screwed it back in before I hoisted the antenna up again.

So, I’m back on the air now, but it really is time to do some more antenna tinkering. I really need something better for 80m, and I do want to try 17m. I just have to get off my butt and do it.

18,270 New Licenses Issued Through June 2010

From the July 15, 2010 issue of the ARRL Letter:

With more than 18,000 new Amateur Radio licenses issued in the first half of this year — 18,270 to be exact — 2010 is shaping up to be a banner year for Amateur Radio. So far, the number of new licenses issued by the FCC in 2010 is outpacing the January-June 2009 totals by almost 8.5 percent; at this time last year, the FCC had issued 16,844 new licenses. As of June 30, 2010, there are 694,346 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the US, an almost 1 percent rise over all of calendar year 2009. Broken down by license class at the end of June 2010, there were 16,299 Novices, 342,064 Technicians, 154,284 Generals, 60,059 Advanced and 121,640 Amateur Extra licensees .

Read complete article.

I still think we’re not doing enough to help new hams get involvedin the hobby and really learn ham radio, but I suppose that having more hams is a good thing. Despite my rant five years about leaving no ham behind, I’ve found that many new hams are either reluctant to ask for help or just want to make their own way. I haven’t figured out which it is, but I do know that few of the students in my one-day class ever take me up on my offer of help.

What do you think?

I’m Now a VE

A little over a month ago I decided to bite the bullet and get my VE certification. It wasn’t difficult to become ARRL-certified. You simply get the VE Manual (free download), read through it, then take an open-book test (the ARRL calls it an “open-book review”). It took me about an hour and a half to complete the “review.”

You then e-mail, fax, or snail mail the forms to the ARRL. Jim, K8ELR, who also recently applied for his certification, got his in three weeks. It took them almost five weeks to process my application. They send you the nice certificate (shown above) and a badge identifying you as a VE.

One reason I wanted to be certified is to help out with the testing of my One-Day Tech Class students. I’m also thinking of setting up a Laurel VEC team. The Laurel teams don’t charge a dime for the test. Finally, being an “official” VE allows me to participate more directly in the question-pool development process.

Three New Web Resources

Here are a couple of new web resources that I have found out about recently:

  1. The Portable Antenna.This is John, KC8ZTJ’s new blog on his experiments with QRP operation and portable antennas.
  2. W1PID.Com. Jim, W1PID, operates a lot of QRP mobile. This website chronicles many of his adventures, and include a lot of nice pictures, like the one below.
  3. Clip.Com. Break the belt clip on your HT or buy a used one without a clip? Try this website. If they don’t have an exact replacement, you might be able to use one of the generic clips that they sell.