Night of Nights XV: July 12, 2014

From the Point Reyes National park website:

rca-radio-operatr-285x190

July 12th every year
from 3 pm to midnight
at the Historic RCA Coast Station KPH

In the annual “Night of Nights”, historic Morse code radio station KPH returns to the air in commemoration of the closing of commercial Morse operation in the USA.

Frequency and reception report information for all stations appear at the Maritime Radio Historical Society website.

KPH, the ex-RCA coast station located north of San Francisco, returns to the air for commemorative broadcasts every year on July 12 at 5:01 pm PDT (13 July at 0001 GMT). On July 12, 1999, the last commercial Morse transmission in the U.S. was thought to have been broadcast at 5 pm PDT (13 July at 0000 GMT). Now the Maritime Radio Historical Society’s own KSM carries on the tradition of commercial Morse. Transmissions are expected to continue until at least midnight PDT (0700 GMT).

Members of the public are invited to visit the receiving station for this event. The station will be open to visitors beginning at 3 pm PDT. The station is located at 17400 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and is on the route to the Point Reyes lighthouse. Watch for a cypress lined driveway on the right about a mile past the entry to Coast Guard station NMC.
Directions to Bear Valley Visitor Center
Directions from Bear Valley Visitor Center to Historic RCA Coast Station KPH

From the trade magazines: free design tools, DSP, education

Top Free DIY Tools Ever Engineer Needs. We’re seeing a relative explosion in free tools for engineering electronics. Some of those online tools prove to be worthless, and it’s back to blind searching or some paid tool. To help sort out the nonsense from the useful online tools, check out this list.

What Do You Know About DSP? Louis Frenzel, who is a ham by the way, reminisces about his experience with digital signal processing (DSP) and recommends a new book for those just learning about DSP.

Outrageous! Experience is no qualification to teach EEs. This is another column by Louis Frenzel. He writes:

It is obvious that the colleges do not value industry experience when it comes to hiring professors….It seems to me that professors with real world experience could teach the fundamentals in context and to explain what is really important and what is simply nice to know. Experienced teachers would be able to teach students things they ordinarily do not teach in school. They could tell their design war stories and explain that troubleshooting is just as important to know as design. I think that an MSEE with ten good years of experience is more qualified to teach than a no-experience PhD.

Broadband-Hamnet adds Ubiquiti, 5.8 GHz support

broadband-hamnet-logo

BROADBAND-HAMNET™
July 7 2014
Austin, TX/San Diego, CA

Broadband-Hamnet is proud to announce a new firmware release, an update to the original Linksys WRT54G/GL/GS gear, and for the Ubiquiti firmware originally released for the 2.4GHz Ham band this past February.
With this release, Broadband-Hamnet now supports the Ubiquiti M5-series hardware, giving Hams use of the 5.8 GHz band for mesh networking.

Among the release’s many new features are the ability to easily connect collocated nodes into clusters and to span the mesh across both ham bands.

About Broadband-Hamnet™
Broadband-Hamnet™ (formerly called HSMM-Mesh™)  is a high speed, self discovering, self configuring, fault-tolerant, wireless computer network. It uses special firmware that transforms consumer wireless gear to a specialized amateur radio network. For more information and to download the firmware, please visit the Broadband-Hamnet website.

Operating Notes: 7/3/14 – 7/6/14

I’ve had an enjoyable Fourth of July weekend from an operating point of view and thought I’d share it with you.

Thursday, 7/3:
Thursday evening, after considerable internal debate, I got over my laziness and walked down to the Hands-On Museum to work WA2HOM. As it turns out, I was glad I did.

Thursday evenings are usually pretty slow there, meaning that the ambient noise level is such that I can actually hear myself think. I rarely get visitors in shack, but this week, I had two families visit with me for a while.

The first was a complete family: father, mother, two daughters (ages 10 and 12, I’m guessing), and grandma! I don’t know if they were just being polite, or were actually interested, but they endured about 15 mins of my babbling on about amateur radio. I tried to find someone calling CQ, and actually called CQ myself a couple of times, but was unable to make a contact to get the kids on the air. I gave them a WA2HOM QSL card, and they seemed pretty happy about the visit in spite of not being able to talk to someone.

After they left, I struck up a CW QSO with a fellow in Findlay, OH. In the middle of the contact, an older women poked her head over the railing and asked, “Are you talking to someone in outer space?” I told her no, but that we had indeed talked to someone in outer space before and pointed out our QSL card from the International Space Station.

About that time, she was joined by three people that I’m guessing were here daughter and two grandsons, Michael and Vernon, who are eleven-year-old twins. They seemed a little interested in what I was telling them about ham radio, and how I could actually copy Morse Code (I was copying on paper for their benefit), so I told them to come around into the shack.

The ham I was in contact with said hello to the twins, and they seemed pleased by that. When the contact ended, I sent them away with the paper that I used to copy the code on. Both of these encounters were a lot of fun, even though I wasn’t able to get any kids on the air.

Saturday, 7/5:
On Saturday, I once again headed down to the museum. Around 10:30 am, Ed, KD8OQG, joined me for a bit. He mentioned that he’d been playing around with a website he’d discovered that lets users communicate with one another by Morse Code – morsecode.me.

When you access the website, you’re assigned a random, four-character “callsign.” You can then send code to other users online by using the “.” key or the mouse button as a straight key.  It takes a while to get used to sending, and it’s a bit slow at about 15 wpm, but it’s amusing, and if it gets people interested in Morse Code, I’m all for it.

After we quit playing around with MorseCode.me, we got on 15m, where we heard ER4DX booming in. I put Ed in front of the microphone, and we worked him. It was like working someone local, and after looking at his QRZ.Com page, you’ll see why. He has a serious antenna farm!

This is the ER4DX antenna farm. No wonder he sounded like a local here.

Sunday 7/6:
Sunday, we had guests over for dinner, but after they left, I headed down to the shack to get on the University of Michigan Amateur Radio Club Net. It meets every Sunday at 8pm Eastern time on the 145.23 repeater. You can also check in via W8UM-R on Echolink.

I guess our usual net control, Chris, KA8WFC, was enjoying some holiday festivities, so in his absence I took over as net control. Despite it being a holiday, we had a pretty good turnout, with checkins from KD8OQG, N8PMG, WS8U, W8SRC, WD8DPA, KD8PIJ, WD0BCF, and WA4CJX. Larry, WD0BCF was checking in from Houston, while Bruce, WA4CJX  checked in from Honolulu. Topics of discussion included the 6m opening that day and the upcoming UMARC fox hunt.

After the net, I fired up the HF rig and had some fun on 30m and 40m. I hadn’t been trying to work the Original Thirteen Colonies Special Event this weekend, but nevertheless, I managed to work  K2J, K2C, and K2H in quick succession on 40m CW.

Then, I moved up to 30m. My first contact there was with SN0LOT, a special event station commemorating the flight of two Lithuanian airmen, Steponas Darius and Stasys Gir?nas. They crashed after flying 6,411 kilometers from New York, only 650 km short of their destination, Kaunas. At the time, it was the second longest flight over Atlantic Ocean without landing. 

After that contact, I called CQ and got a reply from W1DIG. How about that? Two QSOs with stations whose callsigns spell words in a row! Not only that, I have neither “LOT” or “DIG” in my collection. That was a great way to end the weekend.

FCC Invokes “Red Light Rule” in K1MAN Situation

fcc-sealFrom the June 3, 2014 issue of The ARRL Letter:

The curious Amateur Radio enforcement case of Glenn Baxter, now ex-K1MAN, of Belgrade Lakes, Maine, may be at an end. The FCC dismissed Baxter’s long-standing license renewal application on June 23, invoking its “Red Light Rule,” which gives the Commission authority to turn down a pending application if the applicant has an unpaid fine on the books. His Amateur Extra class license is now shown as “canceled” in the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS). Baxter was liable for a $10,000 FCC forfeiture stemming from violations over a period extending back several years.

“Anyone filing an application [who] is found to be delinquent in debt owed to the FCC and who fails to pay the debt in full or make other satisfactory arrangements in a timely manner will have their application dismissed,” said the Notice of Dismissal appended to Baxter’s ULS file. “Because you have failed to resolve this matter timely, your application is hereby dismissed.”

The FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau dismissed Baxter’s 2005 renewal application “without prejudice,” which means that if Baxter wants to be licensed again, he must file a new application — and the FCC could again invoke its Red Light Rule. Baxter’s license expired in October 2005, but FCC rules gave him the authority to continue operating while his renewal application was pending. He lost that privilege, effective June 23.

“If you are currently operating under authority provided by the Commission’s rules based on your submission of [a renewal] application, you must immediately cease operation until such time as you come into compliance with the rules,” the dismissal letter said.

The legal history in the case is extensive. In 2011, the FCC issued a Hearing Designation Order to determine, among other things, if Baxter’s Amateur Radio license should be renewed. According to the Order, “Baxter has apparently willfully and repeatedly engaged in unlawful Commission-related activities, including causing interference to ongoing communications of other amateur stations, transmitting communications in which he had a pecuniary interest, failing to file requested information pursuant to an Enforcement Bureau directive, engaging in broadcasting without communicating with any particular station, and failing to exercise control of his station.”

Read more.

More QSLS: WA6YOU, WA1HEW

More QSLs for my collection of QSLs from stations whose callsigns spell words. These are the first “YOU” and “HEW” cards.

wa6you-qsl

To hew is to “chop or cut (something, esp. wood) with an ax, pick, or other tool,” according to dictionary on my Mac. A second definition is “(hew to) conform or adhere to: some artists took photographs that hewed to more traditional ideas of art.”

wa1hew-qsl

Use VLF to detect lightning

Yesterday, my friend Ed, KD8OQG tweeeted:

vielmetti's avatarEdward Vielmetti @vielmetti
a lightning detector, picking up lightning signals on VLF (!) blitzortung.org/Documents/TOA_… @kb6nu @hoopycat #hamr

Ed is a bit of a severe weather geek, and is often Tweeting when severe weather rolls through the Ann Arbor area. So, it’s only natural that he would be interested in the Blitzortung project. The Blitzortung website describes the project this way:

Blitzortung.org is a lightning detection network for the location of electromagnetic discharges in the atmosphere (lightning discharges) based on the time of arrival (TOA) and time of group arrival (TOGA) method. It consists of several lightning receivers and one central processing server. The stations transmit their data in short time intervals over the Internet to our server. Every data sentence contains the precise time of arrival of the received lightning discharge impulse (“sferic”) and the exact geographic position of the receiver. With this information from all stations the exact positions of the discharges are computed. The aim of the project is to establish a low budget lightning location network with a high number of stations. The price for the hardware used is less than 200 Euro. The sferic positions are free accessible in raw format to all stations that transmit their data to our server. The station owner can use the raw data for all non-commercial purposes. The lightning activity of the last two hours is additionally displayed on several public maps recomputed every minute.

Blitzortung.org is a community of station operators who transmit their data to the central server, programmers who develop and/or implement algorithms for the location or visualization of sferic positions, and people who assist anyway to keep the system running. There is no restriction on membership. All people who keep the network in operation are volunteers. There is no fee and no contract. If a station stops pooling its data, the server stops providing the access to the archive of sferics positions for the user of that station. A detailed description about how to participate to the network and how to setup an own receiver can be found in the following document.

The website doesn’t say how much a setup costs, but does says, “If you are interested to setup an own station then you can get the latest printed circuit boards and the programmed micro controller from us. If you are not from Germany, Austria, or Switzerland you can even get a complete controller kit, a complete amplifier kit, ferrite rod antennas, and a GPS module for cost price, if desired.”

The Cloud is an interactive lamp and speaker system, designed to mimic a thundercloud in both appearance and entertainment. Using motion sensors the cloud detects a user's presence and creates a unique lightning and thunder show dictated by their movement.

The Cloud is an interactive lamp and speaker system, designed to mimic a thundercloud in both appearance and entertainment. Using motion sensors the cloud detects a user’s presence and creates a unique lightning and thunder show dictated by their movement.

Ryan Burns, one of Ed’s followers and head of A2 Geeks, suggested that he get a Cloud and hook it to the detector. According to the Cloud’s website, “The Cloud is an interactive lamp and speaker system, designed to mimic a thundercloud in both appearance and entertainment. Using motion sensors the cloud detects a user’s presence and creates a unique lightning and thunder show dictated by their movement.” We would, of course, have to get a version without the motion sensors so that we could interface our lightning detector.

I volunteered that we could mount the detector’s antenna to the tower at the Hands-On Museum. Ironically, I think that we’d have to use a lightning arrestor on the feedline should we actually mount it outside.

Field Day 2014: Smaller, but funner

This year, the two local clubs, ARROW and the University of Michigan ARC, once again joined forces to do Field Day. It was smaller than Field Days we’ve done in the past—we were 2A this year instead of 4A or 5A—but it was a lot of fun, nonetheless.

Our club banner hanging on the public information tent at the entrance to our Field Day site.

Our club banner hanging on the public information tent at the entrance to our Field Day site.

For a while there, it almost looked as though Field Day wasn’t going to get off the ground. One of the reasons was that we had to find a new venue. For some reason, which I never quite understood, and to be honest, didn’t want to get too involved in, our old venue didn’t want us back.

An alternate site was suggested, and seemed like a good idea, until someone pointed out the controversial nature of the conservative political views of the owner, the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization. After some heated debate on the club mailing list, this choice was nixed.

Finally, someone suggested the Ann Arbor Airport. In addition to hangars and runways for the local general aviation crowd, it’s home to a couple of soccer fields, and since the soccer season is over here, they were available for our use.

The administrators were at first somewhat hesitant to give their permission, thinking that our operations might cause interference to the airport’s radio communications. Dave, N8SBE, this year’s Field Day coordinator, allayed their fears, however, by working with their technical people. They sent Dave a spreadsheet that they use for evaluating the possibility that a radio system will cause interference to their radio system.

Dave took that spreadsheet, and by plugging in numbers from the data sheets of the radios that we were planning to use and making some assumptions regarding the antenna layouts, he was able to show them that interference wasn’t going to be a problem. He even went so far as to make some spurious emission measurements on the IC-746PRO that we used for the GOTA station. Overall, it was quite an interesting exercise, worthy of its own blog post.

2A, plus GOTA
We operated 2A, with one SSB station, one CW station, and the GOTA station. Going to 2A, instead of trying to operate 4A, meant that we could man each of the stations continuously for the entire 24 hours.

The CW was captained by Tim KT8K. The other operators included Stuart W8SRC, Arun W8ARU, and yours truly. I’m not sure if we set a club record or not, but we easily surpassed 1,000 QSOs.

The SSB station captain was Jim, WD8RWI. I won’t try to list all of the operators that worked that station, but stalwarts included Jameson, KD8PIJ, our lone University of Michigan ARC participant and Mark, W8FSA. I think that they made over 600 QSOs this year.

That's me on the right coaching the first of eight newcomers in the GOTA station.

That’s me on the right coaching the first of eight newcomers in the GOTA station.
Photo: Dinesh, AB3DC.

I captained the GOTA station. While we only managed about 30 QSOs this year, I was quite happy with the turnout. I was able to get eight newbies on the air, including one fellow who showed up Sunday morning. After making a couple of contacts, he said that he had to try to get his son to come out and try it.

It took some cajoling, but eventually he did. The son wasn’t quite so thrilled as the father, though, once he got in front of the radio, and he shortly took off to walk their dog. The father stuck with it right up until 2 pm. I even got him to call CQ FD and run a frequency. We weren’t real successful doing this, but we did manage to get one station to reply to our CQ.

Burgers and hotdogs
The food was handled this year by John, WA8TON. He did a fine job, serving up hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch and dinners and bagels, donuts and coffee for breakfast on Sunday. For dinner on Saturday, we asked everyone to bring a salad or dessert, and that worked out pretty well, too. Certainly no one left hungry.

I’ve left out a lot, but there aren’t really any stories that stand out like in year’s past. We didn’t get a hotshot kid CW operator to show up like we did five years ago, nor did I run over any laptops like I did seven years ago. It was just a lot of fun.

Field Day media hits

Here are some Field Day “media hits,” i.e. coverage of Field Day from different media around the country as reported on the ARRL Public Relations mailing list.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Radio operators can be a big help in a serious emergency. This weekend, HAM radio operators showed just how much of an impact they can have when disaster strikes. The Austin Amateur Radio club held a field day this weekend at the Central Texas American Red Cross, training people how to get emergency messages out when cell phones are down and power is out.

WISCONSIN RAPIDS (WSAW) Wisconsin Rapids HAMS are ready to prove, once again, they’re prepared for a national emergency. Today, the Amateur Radio Relay League sponsored the annual U.S. and Canada Amateur Radio Field Day Contest.

When all else fails, we rely on ham radio. “Amateur radio operators don’t need an infrastructure because we have antennas,” said Mary Joseph, a member of the Ak-Sar-Ben Amateur Radio Club. “If everyone picks up the phone at the same time, the cell towers are overwhelmed and you cannot communicate, but we can.” Joseph and her husband, Pat, were among about 25 club members participating Sunday in the annual American Radio Relay League Field Day. They joined thousands of ham radio enthusiasts all across North America in attempting to contact as many other operators as possible.

Hams that write books

www.amazon.comwww.amazon.comLots of amateur radio operators have written books. Gordon West, WB6NOA, has his line of license study guides, Ward Silver, N0AX, has written a number of different books, most notably Ham Radio for Dummies, and Dave Ingram, K4TWJ, wrote many books.

There are some hams who have written about topics other than amateur radio, though. Recently, I worked Jack Sanders, K1IFJ. During the course of our QSO, I discovered that he had been the editor of the Ridgefield Press, a newspaper in Connecticut and the author of The Secrets of Wildflowers. I enjoy wildflowers, so I purchased Jack’s book, and am enjoying it a lot.

Another ham who has written a book unrelated to amateur radio is Jim McCulloch, WD7H. His book, Fracture Gradient, is about the technology of “fracking.” The cover describes it as “a heroic tale of discovery and greed that fractures a critical economic paradigm, threatens the international balance of power and challenges the concept of rugged individualism.”

Of course, there is also Art Bell, W6OBB. He’s penned a number of titles on paranormal phenomena. The latest appears to be The Coming Global Superstorm, which was published in 2001. I haven’t actually read any of his books, but I would imagine that they are as entertaining as his radio show.

Now, I’m curious about other hams who have written books. If you know of any please let me know by commenting below or by e-mailing me. Thanks!