Operating tip: Get on the air at different times, different bands

We’re all creatures of habit. We tend to get up at around the same time each day, work the same hours each day, eat dinner about the same time every day, and if you’re a ham radio operator, you get on the air about the same time every day. I know that’s happened to me. I’m still a working stiff, so by the time I get on the air in the evening, it’s 7pm or later.

If you can, though, see if you can get on the air at different times of the day, and perhaps, on bands that you normally don’t work. One thing that you’ll find is that you’ll meet different people than you do during your normal operating hours.

One reason for this is that they’re creatures of habit, too. If they normally get on in the morning and not in the evening, while you get on in the evening, but not in the morning, you’ll never have a contact with them. If you make an effort to get on the air in the morning (if you’re normally an evening operator), it’s possible that you’ll meet a bunch of new people.

Another reason for this is that propagation is different at different times of the day. In the evening, 40m can get quite long, sometimes easily spanning the Atlantic and opening to Europe. In the daytime, however, skip on 40m can be quite short, sometimes only 100 miles to 200 miles. You’ll work guys that you’ve never worked in the evening just because the skip is different.

You might also consider working different modes, too. If you’re a CW op, get on phone once in a while or fire up the computer and work PSK. Not only will you meet new people, it might be a nice change of pace for you.

Amateur radio in the news: community service, radio prepares for war, end is near for Radio Shack

Floyd County hams talk about their work in the community. A meeting sponsored by the Foundation for Amateur International Radio Services (FAIRS), the Floyd Amateur Radio Society (FARS), and Triad on August 26 was an opportunity to spotlight the work of local ham radio operators.

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1935 National HRO U.S. Navy Receiver. Credit P. Litwinovich collection

Radio prepares for war, Part 1. As the roaring twenties came to a close, radio technology would continue to evolve with significant improvements to consumer sets, particularly in the area of shortwave reception. The price of radios would continue to fall as availability continued to increase. Herbert Hoover could have added “a radio in every home” to his famous “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” campaign slogan. This radio boom would continue right up until December of 1941, when the first bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor. After that, new radios would be a scarcity as almost all production and materials were diverted to the war effort.

For RadioShack, the end is near. Gentlemen and gentlewomen of a certain age harbor fond memories of trips to RadioShack. In days of yore, ham radios and homemade guitar amplifiers would emerge from the mysterious jumble of wires and audio components hawked by this unpretentious electronic retailer. Among younger generations with a much different view, the business enjoys a nickname: “S–t Shack.” Definition as per the Urban Dictionary: “derisive term describing the quality of products, the prices, and the people that go there.” Whatever one’s view of this American institution with about 27,000 employees, it is near death. On Thursday, RadioShack warned that it may file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Is the prepper community fertile ground for amateur radio clubs

This morning I got an e-mail from a reader:

Our local club is trying to attract new members, and to that end we’re contemplating a mass-mailing to licensed hams in our area.  But my thought is, why not include the preppers as well?  Why not reach out to the prepper community to help them learn how to communicate during emergencies?  Granted, ham radio may not be the focus of their lives, but, does that matter?  Plant the seeds of interest via an outreach and see where it goes from there!

I didn’t want to dissuade him from recruiting preppers, but I don’t think that they’re a fertile ground for recruiting amateur radio club members—at least not the kind he really wants. The reason for this is that their primary concern is prepping and not amateur radio.

Most preppers don’t really care about the technology, per se. If they could use tin cans and string, they’d use tin cans and string. That’s not a knock on preppers, but I think in an amateur radio club, you want people that are truly interested in the technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to have preppers in my classes, have them download my study guides, and help them when they have questions. While I don’t have any real numbers, I’d say that my study guides have been used by hundreds, if not thousands of preppers to get their licenses. Many prepper sites link to KB6NU.Com, and when I find those links, I thank them, and in some cases, try to correct some misconceptions that they have about amateur radio. I just don’t think that many preppers are going to go beyond buying an HT and putting it in their “SHTF” kit.

Having said all that, I’d be happy if I was completely off-track here. Has your club had any experience trying to recruit preppers? If so, what’s been your experience?

Is the solar flare affecting you at all?

According to an AP report on Wednesday, “A strong solar flare is blasting its way to Earth, but the worst of its power looks like it will barely skim above the planet and not cause many problems.” According to another report on cir.ca, the two coronal mass ejections (CMEs) began hitting Earth today and are causing moderate storming.

I haven’t checked the bands at all today, but last night conditions were pretty good on 20m, 30m, and 40m. Have any of you noticed any effect from this solar storm?

An opportunity for amateur radio operators?

On the local NextDoor BBS, someone posted:

My roof antenna has stopped delivering many of the channels it used to deliver. I can not find any services for such in the phone book and I am looking for someone who can consult with me and repair if neccessary/possible my system. I only want on air service and am reluctant to sign up/pay for pay service. Things were working fine until a month ago. I trimmed some trees back which were over my roof thinking they were blocking the input but that did not work. If anyone knows someone/service which still does this sort of work I would appreciate contact info for them. I am willing to pay a quite fair price (as I did in the past) for this work. A savvy young person/student/fix it person would be fine or an established service business.

My first thought was that I could do this. Ham radio operators do this kind of antenna work all the time. My guess is that there’s a bad connection up at the antenna or that her coax has gone bad.

Of course, you’ll want to get some insurance if you’re going to get into this business. From a technical point of view, though, it’s not very difficult, there are fewer and fewer TV repair shops that do this work, and with the trend towards “cutting the cable,” you should be able to find plenty of customers.  If you already have a full-time job, then you could do this on the side. If you’re currently unemployed, this could be a whole new career for you.

 

QSLs: W6HIP, W0GUY

Here are two new additions to my collection of QSLs from stations whose call signs spell words:

I worked Bob during the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend as K6PV. We had a very nice QSO, during which he let it slip that his own callsign was W6HIP. He's a nice guy and a University of Michigan graduate.

I worked Bob during the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend as K6PV. We had a very nice QSO, during which he let it slip that his own callsign was W6HIP. He’s a nice guy and a University of Michigan graduate.

I worked Bill (whose last name is Guy) during the KS QSO Party.

I worked Bill (whose last name is Guy) during the KS QSO Party.

MI QRP Club 2014 Picnic

On Saturday, I ventured out to the wilds of Oakland County to join 11 other members of the Michigan QRP Club for the annual picnic. It was a lot of fun, and I even returned home with two prizes: one for the high score in the CW copying contest and a door prize–a very nice nice QRP balun kit. Here are some photos taken by K1ND from the picnic:

The whole group. In the front row areKB9YIG, KD8FCB, KU8H, W8XW, WA8THK, KJ8O, K8NWD, and KB8TXZ. In the front row are K1ND, AB8DF, KD8QNZ, and KB6NU.

The whole group. Back row: Bob, KB9IVA; Ned, KD8FCB; Bill, KU8H; Ernie, W8XW; Perry, WA8THK; Joe, KJ8O; Tim, K8NWD; and Jim, KB8TXZ. Front row: Jan, K1ND; Ed, AB8DF; Ric, KD8QNZ; and Dan, KB6NU.

Mike, W8XW, and yours truly. The cap is my prize for winning the CW copying contest.

Mike, W8XW, and yours truly. The cap Mike’s holding is my prize for winning the CW copying contest.

AB8DF at the controls of WQ8RP. KU8H looks on.

AB8DF at the controls of WQ8RP. KU8H and W8XW look on.

I'm not sure what we're all looking at here, but it must have been funny.

I’m not sure what we’re all looking at here, but it must have been funny.

I had a great time at the picnic and plan to attend next year. Maybe I’ll meet you there.

Where did the “1.2” come from?

Recently, a reader asked:

On question E8C06 and E8C07 the formula uses 1.2. Where did the 1.2 come from and what does it represent?

I wasn’t sure what he was referring to since my study doesn’t mention how to calculate that value at all. Instead, it reads:

The bandwidth needed for ASCII digital transmissions increases as the data rate increases. The bandwidth necessary for a 170-hertz shift, 300-baud ASCII transmission is 0.5 kHz. (E8C06) The bandwidth necessary for a 4800-Hz frequency shift, 9600-baud ASCII FM transmission is 15.36 kHz. (E8C07)

I e-mailed him, asking him, “”Is the formula you’re referring to perhaps in another license manual? If so, and if you can send that to me, perhaps I can explain it to you.”

He replied, “This was out of the Gordon West Extra Class book page 81.” He attached a copy of the page, and it did indeed refer to the formula:

BW = baud rate + (1.2 x f shift)

Now, I had never run across this particular formula, but I decided to do a little Googling. What I turned up was interesting. It appears that the 1.2 number basically comes from some version of the ARRL Extra Class License Study Guide. Where they got it from I don’t really know.

In my Google search, I turned up one source that simply says that:

BW = baud rate + the frequency shift

Perhaps someone along the line said, “Well, that’s the theoretical value. Practically, if we increase that by 20% to 1.2 times the frequency shift then the signal will definitely fit in that bandwidth.” I’m just guessing here. I’m not really sure.

I told my reader that, for what it’s worth, there’s a lot of this in amateur radio. The formula used to calculate the length of a half-wave dipole antenna is perhaps the biggest example of this. There’s no real science behind the formula length in feet = 468 / frequency in MHz. It’s just a rule of thumb.

While it may be disappointing that the science behind this is perhaps a bit shaky, the good news is that using these rules of thumbs produce circuits and systems that generally work.

Amateur radio in the news: cultural lines, SK, LPFM

Ham radio connects across cultural lines (audio). Amateur radio is a kind of non-commercial broadcasting. Also known as ham radio, the people who do it are known as hams. It’s a popular hobby; there are more than 2 million ham radio clubs around the world, and more than a dozen here in southwest Ohio. Community Voices producer Charlene Edwards, a rookie ham, says every operator has a call sign they use to identify themselves and she has this story about the colorblind quality of ham radio broadcasting.

art_n_iaqunto_0209-300x0SK: Typing teacher became an authority on IT. Maggie Iaquinto came to Australia to start a family, little dreaming that she would make significant contributions as a teacher of information technology, a committee member for the Victorian Information Teachers Association (VITTA) and as a ham radio operator who was able to talk to Russian cosmonauts in their native tongue.

Longtime DJ starts radio station in his home. There’s a “new kid on the block” on the radio waves in Franklin County. WQMR FM-LP (low power) or Q101.3 has been on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted the station a license to broadcast, according to Executive Director Don Mattingly, also know as W3EHF.

It’s nice to see hams getting involved in LPFM….Dan

AG1LE challenges developers to come up with better Morse code reader

AG1LE has set up a Kaggle competition whose goal is to build a machine that learns how to decode audio files containing Morse Code. The Kaggle Morse Challenge was approved a couple of days ago.

Kaggle is actually a very interesting website. According to the website, the Kaggle community includes tens of thousands of PhDs from quantitative fields such as computer science, statistics, econometrics, maths and physics, and industries such as insurance, finance, science, and technology. They come from over 100 countries and 200 universities. In addition to the prize money and data, they use Kaggle to meet, learn, network and collaborate with experts from related fields.

According to AG1LE:

During the competition, the participants build a learning system capable of decoding Morse code. To that end, they get development data consisting of 200 .WAV audio files containing short sequences of randomized Morse code. The data labels are provided for a training set so the participants can self-evaluate their systems. To evaluate their progress and compare themselves with others, they can submit their prediction results on-line to get immediate feedback. A real-time leaderboard shows participants their current standing based on their validation set predictions.

I have also provided  sample Python Morse decoder  to make it easier too get started. While this software is purely experimental version it has some features of the FLDIGI Morse decoder   but implemented using Python instead of C++.

You can of course  leverage the experimental multichannel CW decoder I recently implemented on FLDIGI or the standalone version of Bayesian decoder written in C++.  There is also some new tools I posted to Github.

The competition ends on December 27, which seems kind of short to me, but this is only phase 1. If this competition is successful, a more difficult competition will be set up. This second competition will distortions introduced by normal radio paths and hand-sent code, which can also be more difficult to answer.