Ham Radio Organizations, Revisited

About a month ago, I posted some ideas about how we might change the way ham radio is organized locally.  You can read that post, but basically, I think that we need are “real” nonprofit organizations, with paid staff, to promote ham radio and conduct ham radio activities.

I talk up this idea whenever I can, most recently in an e-mail exchange with my friend, Ralph, AA8RK. He challenged me, “What, in simple terms, would be the mission of this nonprofit? What would the money be used for?”

I replied, “A simple mission statement might be ‘to provide opportunities for people to become amateur radio operators and to become better amateur radio operators.'” Thinking about this some more, I think a good mission statement could be crafted around the five bases of amateur radio as spelled out in Part 97.1, “Basis and Purpose.” Each of those are great goals to strive for.

As for how we would use the money, I came up with the following list off the top of my head:

  • Provide more training than just quarterly one-day Tech classes, such as General and Extra classes, basic electronics and antenna classes, and emergency communication training.
  • Provide leadership training and perhaps other types of support services to ham radio clubs.
  • Operate publicly-accessible ham radio stations and workspaces, such as our station at the Hands-On Museum.
  • Run a “lending library” of equipment, such as beginner transceivers, antenna analyzers, and other test equipment.

These are things that clubs or the sections could do, but rarely do because they’re all-volunteer organizations. All-volunteer organizations can only do so much.

Anyone have any thoughts about this? Anyone good at fund raising that might want to join with me and start raising some dough?



A Downsized Field Day

It seems like everyone (except for maybe Google) is downsizing these days. With that in mind, I thought that I’d downsize my Field Day. Instead of participating in the large 5A ARROW Field Day operation, the guys that hang around WA2HOM, our club station at the Hands-On Museum, decided to set up a much smaller operation.

Our first idea was to set up outside the museum. That seemed like it was going to work out until Quentin, KD8IPF, informed me that he couldn’t attend, as his wife was going to be out of town, and he needed to take care of his kids. I was concerned that without Quentin that we wouldn’t have enough operators to have two people there at all times.

Then, Quentin volunteered his backyard. This turned out to be a great venue. He has a fairly large, with a couple of big trees. Not only that, he lives next door to his mother-in-law, and she’s volunteered her trees as antenna supports. You gotta love a mother-in-law like that!

One of the advantages of downsizing is that you don’t have to spend so much time setting up. Instead of setting up antennas for five HF stations, a GOTA station, and a VHF/UHF station, all we had to do was set up antennas for our two HF stations. And, since we planned on using Quentin’s already-installed, multi-band dipole, we only really had one antenna to worry about.

That being the case, we decided that we really didn’t need to start setting up until noon on Saturday. Jim, K8ELR, and I actually arrived about 11:30 am, and that proved to be more than enough time. Jim brought with him a 40m dipole and a 30m, end-fed half-wave antenna, while I brought my BuddiStick. We quickly decided to put up the 40m dipole, and by 1pm, we were already on the air.

A Tale of Two Antennas
Of course, it wasn’t really as simple as all that. When we started operating, the two stations interfered with one another something terrible. So much so that my KX-1 was even causing Quentin’s LDG autotuner to retune itself when I transmitted.

The problem was that the 40m dipole and the multi-band dipole were running nearly parallel to one another. I should have known that this would occur, having been involved with more than a few Field Days by now, but it never even crossed my mind.

Fortunately, the solution was relatively simple. All we had to do was to take down the multi-band dipole and hang it from two different trees, one of them in the adjoining yard. After we did this, the two antennas were nearly perpendicular to one another, and the interference just went away. The phone station could not hear my little peanut whistle signal at all, and while I could hear the phone station transmit, it really didn’t affect my ability to make contacts.

I really didn’t think that this was going to work, but Ovide, K8EV, was quite confident that it would. I was the one that ate crow.

Did You Really Use a KX-1?
So, I can hear a lot of you asking, “Did you really use a KX-1 for Field Day?” Yes, I did. Our original idea was to run all QRP. The thinking behind this is that if you run all QRP, then you get 5 points for each QSO.

The other reason for doing this is so that we could run off batteries. Quentin had access to two, 66 Ahr batteries, and we’d planned to use these two batteries as our power source. I figured that with the 12V gel cell that I have for my KX-1, that would be plenty of power.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Quentin and Ovide were just not having any luck making any contact at 5W—and consequently not having much fun—so they decided to increase power. That blew our QRP multiplier, but what the heck, it multiplied our fun factor.

Plenty of Power
As it turned out, just one battery provided plenty of power for the phone station, even at 100W. Granted the station was off the air from about midnight Saturday through 9 am Sunday morning, but there was apparently plenty of juice to power that station throughout the entire 24 hours.

Likewise, my little gel cell provided enough power for the KX-1 over the 12 hours that I had it on the air, and I’d guess that the charge would have been good for the entire 24 hours. I have yet to run down that battery so low that it failed to power the radio.

What Did We Learn?
We learned several things from this Field Day:

  1. A downsized Field Day can be as much or more fun than a full-blown operation. Without a big crowd vying for just a few positions, everyone got a chance to operate. Plus, setup and teardown times were a lot shorter.
  2. You still have to pay attention to your antennas. If we’d done a little more planning and thinking about our antennas, we would have avoided the interference we experienced and possibly even been able to run QRP on phone.
    How, you might ask? Well, if I’d thought about rigging up some kind of wire beam or a Moxon beam for the phone station, they may have been able to run QRP and still make contacts. This is certainly something to think about for next year.
  3. The batteries worked great. Not only did they provide enough power for a 100W rig for more than 12  hours, they were quiet. The noise of a gas-powered generator can really get on your nerves over the course of a Field Day.
  4. While I probably wouldn’t want to run the KX-1 in a big DX contest, it worked pretty well for Field Day. I made more than 160 QSOs with it in about 12 hours of contesting.

So, What About Next Year?
Since it’s never too early to plan for next year’s Field Day, we’re already kicking around a few ideas:

  1. Find a campground to have Field Day at next year. The upside is that the scenery might be nicer. The downside is that we might not have the nice antenna supports, errrr trees, that Quentin has in his backyard.
  2. Be more competitive. Joe, N8OY, came by late Saturday evening, and racked up a bunch of points for us on 20m CW. He suggested that we organize some of the local hot-shot CW operators around here and set up a real competitive operation. The upside is that scoring a lot of points is fun. The downside is that being competitive excludes the less-experienced operators.

One thing is for sure. Running a smaller Field Day event in no way diminishes it as the “quintessential” amateur radio event. We still enjoyed all the camaraderie as well as all the technical aspects of  Field Day. Now, I can’t wait until next year.

I Need Some Help…

…with fundraising ideas.

A couple of weeks ago, a guy offered to donate a bunch of stuff to donate “many thousands of dollars worth of 99% new electronic parts” to WA2HOM, our club station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. This almost sounded too good to be true, and as it turned out, it was too good to be true. He did graciously donate quite a few parts, but the current value is nowhere near the thousand dollar mark.

That got Jim, K8ELR, and I thinking about what we might do to raise more funds for our station. One thing I’m going to do is to not just suggest a donation when I teach a class there, but require a $10 donation. Some other things we’ve come up with include:

  • solicit donations directly, on a continuing basis, like that club station in New York or New Jersey does,
  • have more fund-raising kinds of things down at the museum, like kit-building or soldering lessons
  • do a simple “trunk sale” hamfest, charging perhaps $5/car for every seller. I’ve been to one of these, and it seemed to work out pretty well.

At that point, we kind of exhausted our thought process, so I thought I’d throw it out to my blog readers. What other ways have you or your clubs raised funds?

Class Notes – January 9, 2011

This Saturday, I held the latest version of my one-day Tech class. This is the second time I’ve run a class with the new question pool. (The Element 2 question pool was updated on July 1, 2010.) Here are a few observations:

  • There is a bit more material to cover in this version of the question pool, but it’s still doable in a day. My class runs from 9am – 3pm, with a half-hour break for lunch. I’m considering adding a half hour next time, but the problem with that is that is student fatigue. There really is only so much that you can cover no matter how long the class is. After I think about this for about ten minutes, I’ll probably decide not to do it.

    Another option would be to hold two three- or four-hour sessions, say one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Or, just brainstorming a bit, maybe you could do two hours on Friday evening, and then five or six hours on Saturday, followed by the test. That would allow for a more leisurely pace, but require that students make time to attend the class on two separate days. That might not be so easy for some people.

  • The key to success with this format is getting the students to at least read through the study guide a couple of times and take some online practice tests before coming to class. I stress this in every e-mail that I send students and prospective students. In nine out of ten cases, those that fail the test after the class do so because they came to the class cold. It’s just too much to absorb all at once. If they pre-study, it’s more of a review session than a class.
  • 20 people pre-registered for the class, but only 14 showed up. I was very disappointed with this turnout, especially as I e-mailed folks a couple of days before the class and asked them to tell me if they couldn’t make it. I don’t mind if they have to cancel for some reason, but it’s just good manners to actually cancel.

    Anyone have any ideas as to how to encourage people to actually show up? I’ve thought about requiring payment beforehand, but that might discourage people from even signing up. Maybe I could require the payment and then have coffee and donuts when they arrive

  • 11 students passed the test. When I asked if they had read through the study guide, those that failed said that they hadn’t had time to do that. Well, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing that I can do about that. They can’t say that they weren’t warned.
  • Two of the students that failed the test were kids—one 10 or 11, the other 13. What I find is that kids have a harder time with this format than do adults. Heck, it’s hard enough getting adults to sit still for six hours, much less kids. :) On the other hand, some kids have successfully taken the class and passed the test. Maybe it’s a question of motivation. Some kids are there because their parents want them to get a license, not necessarily because they want to get a license.

One more thing. One of the students told me that he got serious about getting his license about a month or so ago. He went to the ARRL website and searched for clubs in this area. The search returned 22 clubs within a 25-mile radius of his zip code. He said that he tried contacting every single one of them, but I was the only one who replied to his inquiry.

I think you’ll agree that it doesn’t say much for amateur radio. Your club is hopefully a better job of responding to inquiries from non-hams, but it might be worth checking on the procedure just to make sure.

The Michigan QRP Club is What the Hobby is All About

Saturday morning, I had the good fortune to have breakfast with members of the Michigan QRP Club.

I’d always meant to get to one of their monthly breakfasts (held the first Saturday of each month), but they normally take place in Flint, which is about an hour away. Only when they decided to hold one here in Ann Arbor did I actually make it. Now, I’m sorry I didn’t make one earlier. A great time was had by all.

One aspect of the breakfast that I enjoyed was the “show and tell.” One of the things that sets most QRPers apart is that they’re builders, and the breakfast gives them a chance to show off their handiwork. This Saturday, there was a fellow who had built a sideswiper key and another who brought in his end-fed, halfwave antenna tuner. A couple of other folks also brought in things they’d been working on, but I don’t remember them.

After eating, there was the “junk box swap.” Everyone brings stuff from their junk boxes to swap for stuff from others’ junk boxes. I brought some GE222 light bulbs that I doubt I’ll ever use, some relays, and a bunch of pots. In return, I got some crimp terminals, a bunch of 10 uF electrolytics, and a half dozen or so panel-mount BNC connectors. Everyone was very generous, and I felt a little guilty about leaving with more than I brought.

The Michigan QRP Club is what ham radio is all about. I had so much fun at breakfast that I joined the club! It’s only $10/year ($12 for new members for the first year), and that includes a quarterly newsletter. They also sponsor several CW sprints each year.

I’m looking forward to going to breakfast again sometime soon, meeting more members, and showing off some of my projects. If you’re in Michigan, you might want to consider joining, too.

Why you should join an amateur radio club

Tom, W3ROK, has compiled the reasons one should join an amateur radio club and posted them to the Mason County Amateur Radio Club website. Some of the reasons include:

  • It provides contact with local radio amateurs.
  • You can get help building a station.
  • Clubs often sponsor license exam classes.
  • Clubs make ham radio more visible in the community.
  • Clubs organize activities such as hamfests, scout radio merit badge sessions, and Field Day.
  • You can often borrow infrequently used test equipment instead of buying it.
  • It’s fun!

Website Aims to Unite College Clubs

CollegeARC.Com is a place for college clubs to share information and get ideas for new projects and activities. It looks like it was started by two brothers: Bryce Salmi, KB1LQC, and Brent Salmi, KB1LQD. Currently, the site has articles on repeaters, installing a vertical antenna, and the club competition feature of the November Sweepstakes.

Here’s what the About page has to say:

College Amateur Radio Club Association provides a unique opportunity to the amateur radio community. We have been established to provide a way for the college amateur radio community to interact not just as individual college clubs, but as a community of campus stations who interact and support each other in many ways. In recent years there has talk of a decline in amateur radio but there have been successes too! CollegeARC.com is here to show that amateur radio is still growing strong. We are also here to showcase how amateur radio is used for fun and as a way to experiment with today’s cutting-edge technology. While some college clubs have seen a diminishing amount of activity, others have enjoyed a surge in members and activity. We believe that by providing a way for clubs to interact with each other, a strong foundation for amateur radio activity on college campuses can be poured for years to come!

I like the recent upsurge in college clubs, and I think we should do what we can to support it.

How to Give a Lousy Presentation

Part of what makes ham radio so special is the spirit of sharing. Unfortunately, many hams are hesitant to share because they’re not confident in their presentation skills. This article, “How to Give a Lousy Presentation,” on BusinessWeek.Com just might help. Communications skills coach Carmine Gallo lists 15 of the worst things to do when giving a presentation. Here are the eight that I found the most appropriate:

  • Misspell words.
  • Create distracting color combinations.
  • Use a really small font size.
  • Look completely and totally disinterested.
  • Look disheveled.
  • Read every word of each slide.
  • Don’t practice.
  • Open with an offensive or off-color joke.

Make your next club presentation a really good one. Read the complete article on the BusinessWeek.com website.

Stuart’s First Kit

Many of you are familiar with Stuart, KD8LWR, my newest Elmeree. Since visiting us at Field Day, he’s gotten his ticket and made many contacts on 2m FM and EchoLink, and we’re working on how to get him on HF CW.

Well, yesterday was another milestone. He attended his first ham club meeting and built his first kit. Yesterday, we built things at the ARROW meeting.

We started Stuart out with a Wee Blinky kit from DaleWheat.Com. This is a great little kit for beginners. It consists of 11 components—two LEDs, four resistors, two capacitors, two transistors, and a 9-V battery snap. There are only 24 solder joints to make.

I had to show Stuart how to form the leads and insert the components, and I also showed him how to solder them to the board. These steps were a bit awkward because I didn’t think about providing some kind of fixture for holding the board. That really would have been a help for someone building his first kit.

Even so, Stuart did a great job, and when we connected the battery, it worked! That’s more then I can say about the first kit I built.

Plug for Dale Wheat
Since Dale Wheat donated a bunch of the Wee Blinky kits to the recently-held A2 MiniMaker Faire, and ARROW benefited by getting passed a few of the extra kits, I thought I’d give Dale a plug here. Thanks, Dale!

Dale has another kit that may be of interest to radio amateurs. His Smart Battery Meter “measures the ‘state of charge’ of a 12 volt or 24 volt sealed, lead-acid battery system. It uses a multi-color array of LEDs to give an instant visual indicator of the remaining charge, sort of like a gas gauge.”

Another FB Construction Project

RevEBreadboard800Last night, my ham radio club, ARROW, held its annual construction night. As reported earlier, we built Bare Bones Board Arduinos, the cute, little microcontroller shown at right.

A dozen guys built one, and all but one got them working. I’m not sure why, but he decided to troubleshoot his Arduino at home.

Perhaps the most challenging part about building the kit was mounting the surface-mount inductor. The technique that I, and most of the other guys used, was to tin the pads, hold down the component with either a tweezers or needle nose pliers, and then reflow the solder. One guy had a heckuva time doing this as the component markings were slightly misprinted on his board, with the ink covering those pads. Carefully scraping off the ink with an X-acto knife remedied that situation.

Several people commented, “They’re cute, but what can you do with one of those things”? Well, the latest issue of QEX has an article that uses the Arduino as a keyer. As I noted in the previous blog post, I have an idea to use mine to interface a paddle to my computer, so that I can send code to the computer instead of typing on a keyboard. Another crazy idea I had was to hook a solenoid up to one of the outputs and key a straight key connected to a rig.

Of course, there are a bunch of other possible uses, including controlling a remote antenna switch and monitoring power supply or battery outputs. There are dozens of other applications outside the shack as well.

Of course, being ever vigilant for topics for future club meetings, the answer to the question, “What can you do with an Arduino”?, is now on our schedule. Next January or February, we’ll have a talk about a) how to program the Arduino and b) what one ham did with his.