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.

Is Your Website Safe for Kids?

On the ARRL PR mailing list, Woody, K3VSA, writes:

One thing almost all ham radio groups have prided themselves on is that we’re open to all ages, a fact I always stress in my PIO work. In fact, kids have always been a major source of recruitment of new hams. That being the case, we may be cutting ourselves off if our web sites are not specifically rated as being appropriate for all age groups.

I’m not a professional web developer, so forgive me if the information I’m giving here is already old news to everybody but me, but I just found out about this and think it’s important enough to pass along. It’s my understanding that some search engines can be configured to prevent displaying web sites that have not been certified as not containing “objectionable content.”

Such certification is free and easily done. The tool I used to certify the web pages I maintain is called “SafeSurf ” (http://www.safesurf.com/). You answer some questions about your site, and it generates code which you insert into the header section of your page(s). This code lets some search engines know the appropriateness of your site. You can also download an image of their logo to add to your page body. The site gives you urls to several web site listing services that your being registered with might increase your chances of being found.

As a parent myself, I would certainly feel better knowing my daughter is looking at a site that’s been certified as containing no “adult oriented” material. Just FYI, I am not associated with SafeSurf in any capacity other than as a user, and I receive no remuneration from them of any kind.

When I asked if I could post this to my blog, Woody replied:

By all means! If you want to include an example of what it looks like on a website, go to Triangle ATV Association website, which is one of the websites I maintain. At the bottom is the SafeSurf logo (including hot link), and you can look at the source code for the page and see the META statement in the header that the search engines can see.

FD PR

One of the purposes of Field Day is to get some PR for ham radio. As usual, Public Information Officers (PIOs) all across the country worked hard at getting us some attention from media and government. Here are some links:

Governors Show Support for Amateur Radio as ARRL Field Day Approaches
Governors across the United States have shown their support for Amateur Radio, with many proclaiming Amateur Radio Week in their states. Coinciding with ARRL Field Day, these proclamations show citizens that these states value the contributions made by radio amateurs.

A radio dish at Stanford is powerful enough to bounce signals off the moon, a tricky endeavor.
A radio dish at Stanford is powerful enough to bounce signals off the moon, a tricky endeavor.

A Ham Radio Weekend for Talking to the Moon
In a worldwide event, amateur radio operators will talk to each other by bouncing their messages off the craggy face of the moon.

Amateur radio operators sharpen emergency skills
For 24 straight hours on Saturday and Sunday, local ham radio operators are putting their skills on display by communicating with others across the nation under basic emergency type conditions.

Ham operators hone their skills in nationwide radio event
The veteran CBS audio engineer was hunched over a ham radio for hours yesterday, beating out regular rhythms on a Morse code transmitter, trying to help his team win a contest that was more about practice than taking home a trophy.

PRC Radio Club hosts Field Day
HENLEYFIELD — The Pearl River County Amateur Radio Club hosted their annual field day event over the weekend demonstrating their abilities …

Ham radio operators communicate with world
Belen At 17 years old, Phil Shaw of Tierra Grande already has a sprawling network of contacts around the world. Shaw isn’t your typical teenager who is always on his cell phone texting his friends, or on the Internet using Facebook or MySpace to contact his “network.” He’s one of many amateur radio operators, also known as hams, who participated in this year’s National Field Day for Amateur Radio on Saturday.

Ham radio comes to Riverfront Park for a day
For 24 hours at Riverfront Park in River Grove, the gazebo, which normally hosts concerts, resembled an electronics sale. People sat at wood picnic benches speaking into microphones, adjusting dials and writing down codes.

There are many, many more. Go to Google News and search for ‘Field Day.’ You’ll find lots of good PR for ham radio. Thanks to all the PIOs out there that worked so hard to get us in the news.

K0GQ–Raytown Amateur Radio Club–on Fox4 Kansas City
A compilation of various short TV spots on Fox4 News, Kansas City.

Field Day!

Field Day is just two weeks away. Part emergency-preparedness exercise, part contest, part PR opportunity, part club party, this is one of ham radio’s greatest events.

Wednesday evening, my club, ARROW, made its final plans for the event. We’re going to run 4A again this year, with two phone stations, two CW stations, one VHF/UHF station, and a GOTA station. I’m the captain of the GOTA station, but I’m pretty sure that I’ll be operating one or both of CW stations at some point.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Meeting

On the way to the meeting, I passed a car with the license plate “KTZ 73″. The funny thing about this is that my first callsign was WN/WB8KTZ.

After the planning session, Tim, KT8K, our Field Day Chair for many years, walked us through a slide show presented at Daytonby a couple of the top Field Day clubs. One of the presentations was by the Rochester DX Association. They were #1 in classification 3A and #4 overall in 2008, scoring 17,978 points.

Part of the secret to their success is that they review everything, including station allocation (bands and modes worked), station setup, and antenna layout. They also noted that an active GOTA station was key to their success. They maxed out the bonus points earned by their GOTA station in 2008. Page through the PDF if you want to get a feel for how a real top-notch club does it.

Suggestions Abound
As you might expect, the mailing lists have been abuzz with talk about Field Day. Subscribers to the PR mailing list have been especially forthcoming with suggestions. Here are a couple:

  • Jim, KB9LEI, suggests printing out some “first QSO certificates” and awarding them to anyone making their first contact.
  • Susan, AF4FO, says, “One thing I believe to be very helpful, particularly for the larger, more well-attended field day operations, is to have a supply of stick-on name tags at the welcome table. Club members should wear their usual name badges or club shirts with name and call sign, if possible, but if not, they get one of those stick-ons (whether they like it or not)!

    To differentiate members from visitors, tags for non-members can be of a different color. This paves the way for club members to easily identify visitors ( and former or inactive club members) so they can make an extra effort to make all visitors feel welcome…. i.e. be public relations ambassadors for amateur radio, in general, and for the hosting club, in particular.

    Also, the sign-in sheet have space for folks to write in their mailing addresses. Following field day, the hosting club can follow-up by sending a thank you card to each of the visitors… and invite them to come to the club meetings, join club nets, participate in club activities, etc. If the visitor is a non-ham, information can be sent to them about possible upcoming classes, as well. This “personal touch” goes a long way toward promoting good will and increasing club membership.

  • Angel, WP3GW, suggested having a video playing on a spare laptop for visitors to watch. He created one by combining a .jpg with an audio public service announcement available from the ARRL website.
  • Walt, W4ALT, suggests.” Google ‘famous hams’ to find a number of sites displaying names and calls of Kings, actors, heroes, inventors, astronauts, famous, infamous, politicians, musicians…. a list of real names from all walks of life. Makes a nice display especially if you add some eye candy photos of a few of the notables.

Operating Notes

Here are some miscellaneous observations from my operations over the past week or so:

  • W1MX Turns 100. The MIT Radio Society, whose callsign is W1MX turned 100 on April 30, 2009. There was a great article on the history of the club in the April 2009 issue of QST. I had just read that article last Sunday, when I got an e-mail from KA8WFC, saying that he was going to be operating W1MX that evening. I got him on his cellphone around 8:30, and we made contact a short time later.

    It was a great thrill to work a station with such a cool history. And to think that I used to live in Somerville, MA, probably only five miles from W1MX, and never thought to visit the station.

  • Short Skip. I’ve noticed lately that the skip on 40m can be very short right around sundown. A week ago, I worked WA8JNM, near Cleveland, less than 150 miles away from me at 8:30pm (0030Z). Tonight, I worked KZ9H, near Indianapolis, not more than 230 miles away, at 9:00pm (0100Z). Both stations were 599 here. Can any of you propagation experts explain this to me?
  • Long Skip. I’m also working DX on 40m. Last night, I got on just after 10pm (0200Z). The band was kind of quiet, so I started calling CQ on 7033 kHz. After a couple of CQs, Alex, SP8ERY called. I quickly looked him up on QRZ.Com, and found a very interesting Web page that included a picture of his grandfather (right). Alex writes, “He was a radio operator during I World War. He worked on simple crystal RX and spark TX and in 1960′s when I was a young boy, he taught me first few letters of Morse code.” Since it was apparent that he knew quite a bit of English, we had a nice chat, not the usual 599/599 TU kind of DX contact.
    After working Alex, I heard IY8GM booming at 10 dB over S9. He was an easy catch. I then tuned upband again and called CQ around 7027. There, I got a call from another SP station. When we finished our short QSO, I got a call from OM3CDR. Juraj, as it turned out, also knew some English, so I was able to tell him that I am Slovak-American and had visited his home town, Bratislava.
    All in all, it was quite a good night for DX