Amateur radio in the news: emergency communications in FL, Museum Ships Weekend

This TV report highlights the emergency preparedness of hams in Tampa Bay, FL.

This TV report highlights the emergency preparedness of hams in Tampa Bay, FL.

Amateur radio operators ‘vital’ to emergency response. They’re some of the most critical people for a hurricane response, but you may be surprised, even concerned, when you first hear who they are: amateurs. 10 News looked at the people our rescuers rely on when the power goes out and the phones go silent.

Master of the airwaves. John Sluymer has been social networking since 1972. There was no Twitter or Facebook when the Grassie resident first picked up a radio unit a little more than four decades ago. Instead of hashtags and status updates, Sluymer would either talk into his mic or tap out his message in Morse code. Just like today’s social networks offer users a chance to interact with people on all sides of the world, Sluymer’s hobby has allowed him to reach — both physically and through radio waves — even the most remote areas of the planet.

Museum Ships Radio Weekend USS Lexington (video). They say its like finding a needle in a hay stack. All weekend long volunteers on board the USS Lexington are reaching out and talking to other museum ships around the world.  Its part of the annual Museum Ships Weekend. It’s a competition where the point is to make contact with at least fifteen other Museum ships by using a ham radio.  Those museum ships who are actually able to contact at least 15 other ships by using a Ham radio receive a certificate.

New hams are different

This is going to be a bit of a ramble, but I need to get some thoughts down about new hams, and maybe get some feedback on these ideas from both new hams and guys that have been around for a while.

On Thursday evening, I visited the All Hands Active (AHA) makerspace here in Ann Arbor. Many of them have recently gotten their ham licenses—most of them in one of my one-day Tech classes. I was down there trying to get them interested in attending Field Day, and in particular, in operating the GOTA station.

AHA is one of Ann Arbor's cool makerspaces.

AHA is one of Ann Arbor’s cool makerspaces.

There were four of us sitting around, talking about amateur radio, the projects they were working on, Field Day, and other stuff. They have expressed an interest in doing something with WA2HOM, our station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. While it was a great discussion, it was apparent to me that selling them on Field Day was going to be a stretch.

It dawned on me that these new radio amateurs were just not interested in the “old” amateur radio. Sitting in front of shortwave radios and exchanging fake signal reports with other guys sitting in front of shortwave radios is just not their idea of a good time. I think that if you take a step back and try to look at it through their eyes, you’ll see where they’re coming from.

What are they interested in? Well, one guy is having a blast playing around with RTL SDR dongles. He’s also trying to figure out a way to rig up wireless link to light a light at bus stops around his house when a bus is approaching.

Another is working on a Hinternet-type project. I helped him out a little bit last summer setting up a wireless node at his house.

This is perhaps one reason why there are so many more licensed radio amateurs these days, but yet there seems to be less activity on the HF bands these days. HF is just not where it’s at for these new guys.

One consequence of this is that the old amateur radio clubs don’t have much to offer the new guys. In fact, one of them told me that the one time that he attended the local club meeting, he got such a hostile response that he decided not to return.

I’m finding this all quite interesting. I do intend to pursue some kind of joint activities between AHA and WA2HOM and see where that goes. They may not be interested in working DX on 20m, but they did seem to be interested in the IRLP node that we’re in the process of installing there.

I’m not sure where this is all headed, but what I do know is that these folks have a lot of energy and creativity. If we can couple that with our knowledge and experience, then I think that we’ll be a good fit for one another. It’s going to take open minds all around, though.

2215 problem found

A couple of days ago I reported that I’d let the magic smoke out of my Tek 2215 oscilloscope. I was playing around with it last Friday evening, heard some arcing, and then saw a puff of smoke exit the back of the instrument. Oddly enough, the scope still seemed to work, though.

To get some help, I joined the TekScopes Yahoo Group and described my problem. Almost immediately, I got a couple of responses. One guy suggested:

I would take a look at surge suppressor VR901 and line to neutral capacitor C901 at the AC input before the preregulator. Either could have failed without significantly affecting operation of the oscilloscope.

Another said:

I’ll wager that your Tek 2215 has a failing AC-inlet filter. Visit the following site: http://www.vintage-radio.net/forum/showthread.php?t=88137, which discusses failures of Schaffner AC-inlet EMI filters due to a certain type of capacitor manufactured by Rifa…http://www.vintage-radio.net/forum/showthread.php?t=69128

One commentator mentions incompatible rates of expansion between the epoxy encapsulant and the capacitor innards. Another explanation (which I like better) is that microcracks in the encapsulant allow moisture to get into the metallized paper that forms the capacitor’s innards. The innards expand, which applies stress and makes more cracks, and the deposited metallization corrodes and forms conductive compounds with the moisture. Before long…pffffft!

Neither was completely correct, but they both were close. See the photo and schematic below:

2215-problem

2215-problem-schematic

It looks like the problem is indeed a capacitor in the filter section, but my scope does not have a Schaffner AC filter, like they used on some of the earlier (and more expensive) scopes. Instead, this filter is right on the main board. I’m guessing that the 0.068 uF cap shorted out,which led to the resistor burning out.

One odd thing about troubleshooting this problem is that while it looks pretty obvious from the photo, it wasn’t that obvious right off the bat. As you can see from the schematic L925 is not on the board. Instead, it’s mounted in a little housing that sits right above these two components. I had to remove that housing before I could see them.

At any rate, now I just have to find a suitable replacement capacitor and solder it all back together.

FCC Okays Changes to Amateur Radio Exam Credit, Test Administration, Emission Type Rules

FCC LogoIf you ask me, it’s kind of bizarre, that the FCC will now only require lapsed Generals and Extras to pass the Tech exam to get their licenses back, but hey, who am I to judge?…Dan

ZCZC AG12
QST de W1AW
ARRL Bulletin 12 ARLB012
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT June 11, 2014
To all radio amateurs

SB QST ARL ARLB012
ARLB012 FCC Okays Changes to Amateur Radio Exam Credit, Test Administration, Emission Type Rules

In a wide-ranging Report and Order (R&O) released June 9 that takes various proceedings into consideration, the FCC has revised the Amateur Service Part 97 rules to grant credit for written examination elements 3 (General) and 4 (Amateur Extra) to holders of “expired licenses that required passage of those elements.” The FCC will require former licensees – those falling outside the 2-year grace period – to pass Element 2 (Technician) in order to be relicensed, however. The Commission declined to give examination credit to the holder of an expired Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination (CSCE) or to extend its validity to the holder’s lifetime.

The Report and Order may be found on the web in PDF format at, http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2014/db0609/FCC-14-74A1.pdf .

“Our decision to grant credit for written examination Elements 3 and 4 for expired licenses that required passage [of those elements] will provide some relief for former General, Advanced, and Amateur Extra class licensees,” the FCC said, “and is consistent with how we treat expired pre-1987 Technician class licensees who want to reenter the Amateur Service.” Pre-1987 Techs can get Element 3 credit, since the Technician and General class written examinations in that era were identical. The Commission said current rules and procedures that apply to expired pre-1987 Technician licenses “are sufficient to verify that an individual is a former licensee under our new rules.”

The Commission said that requiring applicants holding expired licenses to pass Element 2 in order to relicense “will address commenters’ concerns about lost proficiency and knowledge, because a former licensee will have to demonstrate that he or she has retained knowledge of technical and regulatory matters.” The FCC said the Element 2 requirement also would deter any attempts by someone with the same name as a former licensee to obtain a ham ticket without examination.

In 1997 the FCC, in the face of opposition, dropped a proposal that would have generally allowed examination element credit for expired amateur operator licenses. In the past, the FCC has maintained that its procedures “provide ample notification and opportunity for license renewal” and that retesting did not impose an unreasonable burden. The issue arose again in 2011, with a request from the Anchorage Volunteer Examiner Coordinator.

The FCC pulled back from its own proposal to reduce from three to two the minimum number of volunteer examiners required to proctor an Amateur Radio examination session. The ARRL, the W5YI-VEC and “a clear majority of commenters” opposed the change, the FCC said. The FCC said it found commenters’ arguments persuasive that that the use of three VEs “results in higher accuracy and lower fraud that would be the case with two VEs.” In a related matter, though, the Commission embraced the use of remote testing methods.

“Allowing VEs and VECs the option of administering examinations at locations remote from the VEs is warranted,” the FCC said. The National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) in 2002 endorsed experimental use of videoconferencing technology to conduct Amateur Radio testing in remote areas of Alaska. The Anchorage VEC has long pushed for the change, citing the expense to provide Amateur Radio test sessions to Alaska residents living in remote areas.

The FCC declined to address “the mechanics” of remote testing, which, it said, “will vary from location to location and session to session.” The Commission said specific rules spelling out how to administer exam sessions remotely “could limit the flexibility of VEs and VECs.” The FCC stressed the obligation on the part of VECs and VEs “to administer examinations responsibly” applies “in full” to remote testing.

The FCC amended the rules to provide that VEs administering examinations remotely be required to grade such examinations “at the earliest practical opportunity,” rather than “immediately,” as the rule for conventional exam sessions requires.

Finally, the FCC has adopted an ARRL proposal to authorize certain Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) emissions in the Amateur Service. The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau in 2013 granted an ARRL request for a temporary blanket waiver to permit radio amateurs to transmit emissions with designators FXD, FXE, and F7E, pending resolution of the rulemaking petition.

“Commenters strongly support amendment of the rules to permit these additional emission types,” the FCC noted. “The commenters assert that the proposed rule change ‘is consistent with the basis and purpose of the Amateur Service,’” and will allow repurposing surplus mobile relay equipment from other radio services in the Amateur Service, the Commission added.

The FCC said it also will make “certain minor, non-substantive amendments to the Amateur Service rules.” It is amending Part 97 “to reflect that the Commission amended its rules to eliminate the requirement that certain Amateur Radio Service licensees pass a Morse code examination,” the FCC said in the R&O. It also said it was correcting “certain typographical or other errors” in Part 97.

The new rules become effective 30 days after their publication in The Federal Register, which is expected to happen this week.
NNNN
/EX

Station Notes: June 6 – June 9, 2014

While going through some boxes last Friday, I came across a Heathkit IG-102 signal generator. It was in pretty good shape, so I thought I’d fire it up and see if it was still working. I fired up my Tek 2215 scope and connected to to the IG-102. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting any output.

I pulled the cover off the signal generator, and was going to start poking around, when I heard some arcing, and then saw a puff of smoke come out the back of the scope. I quickly pulled the scope plug, but of course, the damage had probably already been done.

Today, I finally got around to getting the Torx screwdriver that I needed to take the covers off the Tek. After removing more than a half dozen screws, I was finally able to get the power supply shield off to look for damage. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find any obvious signs of arcing or burnt components, and the scope seems to power up and work.

Even so, I’m hesitant to just button it up and start using it again. There must be a problem in there that’s just waiting to happen. If you have any experience with Tek 2215s, I’d love to hear from you.

Museum ships ahoy!
On Saturday, I operated the Museum Ships Weekend special event. This was a lot of fun. In a couple of hours, I worked 15 of the museum stations, which qualifies me for some kind of certificate.

One of the more interesting contacts was with AC0TX, operating from the SS Grandcamp Memorial. This ship was the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in the U.S. The Grandcamp had docked in Texas City to pick up a load of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

Just before the longshoremen finished loading the fertilizer, a fire broke out aboard ship. It eventually got so hot that the ammonium nitrate exploded. Hundreds of employees, pedestrians and bystanders were killed. This was truly a disaster.

Alabama QSO Party
Kind of surprisingly, I was the high scorer from Michigan in the 2013 Alabama QSO Party. I don’t think I’m going to repeat this year. Last year, I scored over 2,000 points. This year, I barely broke 200. I guess I spent too much time working the museum ships.

Need a job? Need some techs?

This morning, I got the following e-mail:

Hi Dan,

I came across you website as we are in search of a Two-Way Radio Repair Technician at our Carlsbad, CA facility. Do you have any sources in the San Diego area that might be interested or even you perhaps for that matter? Job posting listed below…

http://www.twowaydirect.com/careers/

Thanks for your time!

Brandon Ocampo
Two Way Direct
P: 888-742-5893
F: 877-694-6603
3262 Grey Hawk Court
Carlsbad, CA 92010
www.TwoWayDirect.com

I suggested a couple of approaches to Brandon. The first was to contact the military. There are a number of military bases in the San Diego, and I’d guess that he might be able to find some electronics techs getting out of the service. I don’t know how much “real” electronics training the military techs get these days, though.

I also suggested that he contact the amateur radio clubs in the area. I know that guys in our club are sometimes looking for work, and I always post things like this to our club mailing list, if the job is local.

So, if you’re looking for a job, you might want to get in touch with Brandon. If not, perhaps you have some other ideas as to how he can recruit qualified techs.

More QSLs: WA4FAT, N9GUN

Here are two QSLs for my collection that came to me as a direct result of being on Twitter. Bill, WA4FAT, and I set up a sked via Twitter, and we actually made on on-air contact. I haven’t yet worked Tom, N9GUN, but when I mentioned that I’d like to so that I could add his QSL, he fired one off to me. Thanks, guys!

wa4fat-qsl

n9gun-qsl

From my Twitter feed: open source laptop, fritzing, audiophool product

dsantosh_'s avatarSantosh Dahal @dsantosh_
World’s First Open Source Laptop Gets Wideband Software-Defined Radio linux.com/news/hardware/… #SDR #amateurradio

 

DigilentInc's avatarDigilent Inc. @DigilentInc
How to use @FritzingOrg tutorial on our blog with the new Digilent Parts Bin! blog.digilentinc.com/index.php/usin… pic.twitter.com/rXX739iwtn

 

eevblog's avatarDave Jones @eevblog
Audiophool product of the week: futureshop.co.uk/audioquest-dia…

It never fails to amaze me how cheap hams are

So, this morning, I loaded up the Freestyle and took some junk great stuff to the Chelsea Amateur Radio Club hamfest. Now, this is a small hamfest, so I guess that I didn’t really expect much, but I was rather disappointed that I didn’t sell even $150 worth of stuff. What really got me, though, is how cheap some guys are, even after I explain that a lot of what I had for sale was donated to the Hands-On Museum and that the proceeds would go to funding our station there.

For example, I had a small speaker with a small bracket for mounting underneath a shelf or underneath a dashboard. I purchased it for $11-12 bucks at Purchase Radio not long before they went out of business. I had put a $5 sticker on it.

Two guys walk up, and the first one offers me $2 for it. What an insult! When his buddy offered me four bucks for it, though, I accepted.

I couldn't even get $50 for this paddle and keyer.

I couldn’t even get $50 for this paddle and keyer.

The other item that I had for sale was a HamKey paddle and keyer combination, like the units shown at right. I was asking $40 for the paddle, $25 for the keyer, and $60 for the combination. One guy said something, “I can’t go more than $40 for them.” When I politely declined, he said he’d come back later.

When he did come back, I offered to give it to him for $50, but he stuck to his $40 offer. Needless to say, he went home without them.

There’s another hamfest–the Monroe Hamfest–in a couple of weeks, and I’ll try my luck down there. There will be more attendees down there, and hopefully more people ready to buy.

Apparently, I was not alone this morning. When I complained to a friend of mine that I had sold relatively few items, he said that several of the other sellers had told him the same thing. I guess the cheap hams had cheaped themselves out of some good deals.

Press release: RF Test Blog

From time to time, I get press releases that might be of interest to radio amateurs. Here’s one.

Making RF measurements can be difficult, especially if you need to make high-precision measurements. Fortunately, most amateur radio operators don’t need to make such measurements, but you can always learn something by reading articles by those who do it for a living…Dan

Agilent Technologies Announces Availablity of RF Test Blog – A Resource for Making Better Measurements

The RF Test Blog is a resource for finding ways to make better RF measurements. With over 10,000 visits since 2013, this popular blog includes information on equipment and measurement techniques that improve accuracy, measurement speed, dynamic range, sensitivity, repeatability, and more. Ben Zarlingo, an applications specialist for Agilent Technologies, shares what he has learned through several decades of working as an electrical engineer in test and measurement.