Kindess of Strangers

In the closing moments of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Name Desire, Blanche DuBois utters her most memorable line, “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Amateur radio operators are sometimes like that.

hk-5aI recently came into possession of a HamKey HK-5A keyer (see right). HamKey has been out of business for many years, so I had to depend on the kindness of strangers to find any kind of documentation for the unit.

Fortunately, Google and the hams out there came through. I Googled “HamKey HK-5A” and found a thread on an eHam forum. In the thread, N5RDN offered to make a copy of his manual for KW4MM. I emailed Rob, N5RDN, and a PDF of the manual appeared in my inbox this morning.

Thanks, Rob!  I now offer the HK-5A-manual here for anyone who needs it.

FCC to reinstate Morse Code test

This just in…

Washington, D.C. – April 1, 2014 – Today, the Federal Communications Commission (Commission or FCC) approved Report and Order 14-987af which reinstates the Morse Code test for General Class and Amateur Extra Class licensees. “It was a big mistake eliminating the Morse Code test,” admits Dotty Dasher, the FCC’s director of examinations. “We now realize that being able to send and receive Morse Code is an essential skill for radio amateurs. As they say, it really does get through when other modes can’t.”

Not only will new applicants have to take the test, but General Class licensees who have never passed a code test will have one year to pass a 5-wpm code test. Similarly, Amateur Extra class licensees that never passed a code test will have one year to pass a 13-wpm test. Those amateurs that fail to pass the test will face revocation of their operating privileges. Materials for administering the examinations will be distributed to Volunteer Examiner Coordinators by the end of April, so that they can begin the testing on May 1, 2014.

“This isn’t going to be one of those silly multiple-choice type tests,” noted Dasher. “We’re going to be sending five-character random code groups, just like we did in the old days. And, applicants will have to prove that they can send, too, using a poorly adjusted straight key.”

Technician Class licensees will not be required to take a Morse Code test, nor will a test be required for new applicants. “We discussed it,” said Dasher, “but decided that since most Techs can’t even figure out how to program their HTs, requiring them to learn Morse Code seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.”

When asked what other actions we might see from the FCC, Dasher hinted that in the future applicants taking the written exam may be required to draw circuit diagrams, such as Colpitts oscillators and diode ring mixers, once again. “We’re beginning to think that if an applicant passes an amateur radio license exam it  should mean that he or she actually knows something,” she said.

For further information, contact James X. Shorts, Assistant Liaison to the Deputy Chief of Public Relations for the FCC at (202) 555-1212 or jim.shorts@fcc.gov. For more news and information about the FCC, please visit www.fcc.gov.

Station Activities: Paddle repair, Iambic A vs. B, first dipole

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a highly-modified Vibroplex Standard paddle. Apparently, in making the modification, the previous owner had lost one of the trunnion screws and decorative red dots. As you can see in the photo below, the previous owner found a brass screw to use in place of the missing trunnion screw.

While the paddle worked just fine, I wanted to use the correct parts. Fortunately, these parts are still available from Vibroplex, and I purchased them from Vibroplex. Each part cost $5. I can see charging five bucks for the screw, but I think that $5 for the little piece of plastic is a bit much. Not only was it expensive, it doesn’t even match the dot on the other paddle lever.

At any rate, the parts arrived Friday, and it was relatively simple to install the trunnion screw and get it all adjusted and working properly. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about the red dot. At the very least, I’m going to complain to Vibroplex about it.

Iambic A vs Iambic B
After getting the paddle back together, I connected it to my WinKeyer and started playing around with it. I was getting some odd behavior, though. It didn’t occur to me at first, but the problem was that the batteries in the keyer were getting weak. Before I figured that out, I’d done a factory reset and tried reprogramming it. Only when all that didn’t work, did it occur to me that the batteries needed replacement.

Even after I’d replaced the batteries, I was getting some odd behavior. When sending CQ or my callsign, I wasn’t getting the final “dah.” After puzzling about this for a while, I figured out that the problem was that I’d programmed the keyer to operate in iambic mode A, and previously I’d been using mode B.

Chuck Olson, WB9KZY, describes the difference between modes A and B in his article, What’s all this iambic keyer mode A and B stuff, anyhow? He says,

The difference between mode A and B lies in what the keyer does when both paddles are released. The mode A keyer completes the element being sent when the paddles are released. The mode B keyer sends an additional element opposite to the one being sent when the paddles are released.

In mode A, to make the K or Q, you actually have to hold the dah lever down until the dah actually starts being sent. Since I’d been operating in mode B, I guess I got a little sloppy about doing so. In mode B, the keyer automatically sends the dah, but in mode A, it doesn’t, and that’s why that last dah would sometimes get dropped whiles sending a K or Q. I now have the keyer programmed to operate in mode B, and everything is working just fine.

A new ham’s first dipole
Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours helping a new ham set up his first dipole. Last weekend, he actually got the dipole up in the air, but when he connected it to the rig, it just wouldn’t load up. After swapping some e-mail about the problem, we decided that it would be best if I came over and had a first-hand look. So, yesterday morning, I threw my box of antenna goodies into my car and headed over there.

Taking my advice, he’d purchased a spool of coax and crimp-on connectors. I didn’t ask him where he’d purchased the crimper, but the first thing I noticed is that his crimps didn’t look right. They were much too tight. He got out his multimeter, and sure enough, the coax was shorted. We cut off one connector and measured again. The coax was still shorted. We cut off the other one and measured both connectors. Both were shorted.

I had brought my crimper and compared mine to his. His crimper had two dies for crimping coax – .213-in. and .255-in. My crimper also has two dies: .213-in. and .235-in. The instructions say to use the .235-in. die for crimping RG-8X connectors. He had used the .213-in. die, which really squeezed the coax. While I can’t actually see the short, my conclusion is that somewhere along the crimp, the shield became shorted to the center conductor, perhaps aided by the heat of soldering the center conductor to the connectors center pin.

Fortunately, he’d bought spare connectors. We put those on, using the .235-in. die on my crimper, buzzed out the cable, and we were in business. We connected the cable to the antenna, connected my antenna analyzer to the other end, and found that the antenna was resonant at 6.9 MHz. After taking about a foot off either end, we pretty much centered the resonant point of the antenna, and as one former president once said, “Mission Accomplished!”

The moral of the story is that you really need to use the right crimper and the right die for crimping coax connectors. My friend certainly had a quality crimper, but didn’t use the right die. He may have been able to use the .255-in die, but I don’t think that would have made a secure enough crimp. .235-in. is just the right size for RG-8X coax.

From my Twitter feed: Edinburgh Morse, hams hear old spacecraft,

G7AGI's avatarDavid De Silva @G7AGI
I’ve just discovered @edinburghmorse. Looking forward to seeing the new web site go live.

exploreplanets's avatarPlanetary Society @exploreplanets
Amateur radio enthusiasts were able to detect the carrier signal of a decades-old NASA spacecraft: planetary.org/blogs/emily-la…

ke9v's avatarJeff Davis @ke9vObject of Interest: Aereo’s Tiny Antennas newyorker.com/online/blogs/e… via @NewYorker

M0PZT's avatarCharlie – M0PZT @M0PZT
Blog updated: What Makes A Real Ham? m0pzt.com/?blog #hamradio

My new (to me) key

Last Saturday, I added to my collection of Morse Code instruments. I bought a modified Vibroplex Standard from a guy who was selling it from an SK estate sale.

Whoever owned this key took all the parts off a Vibroplex Standard paddle and mounted them on this slab of steel.

Whoever owned this key took all the parts off a Vibroplex Standard paddle and mounted them on this hunk of steel.

It’s amusing for a couple of reasons:

  • Whoever owned it before I did, took all the parts off the original base and mounted them on a hunk of steel. Presumably, this made the base more stable.
  • You can’t really see it in this picture, but the guy who did it, didn’t center the mechanism very well. You have to screw in the contact on the right side much more than you do the contact on the left.
  • When the guy modified the paddle, he must have lost the trunion screw that the left paddle arm pivots on. Instead of buying a new one, he simply used a screw he had around the shack. I didn’t notice this until I purchased it. Oh well.

Fortunately, Vibroplex still sells this part, as they do with the overwhelming majority of parts for their keys, and I’ve already placed an order for one. I just hope that the guy didn’t rethread the hole to make that machine screw fit.

How does it play? Well, like a Vibroplex. I’ve been using the key for the past couple of days, and while I still prefer my Begali Simplex, I do like this key.

Amateur radio in the news: School Club Roundup, Berkeley ARC turns 100, Morse Code wall

For Two Rivers School students, amateur transmission brings a window on a wider world. Two Rivers School in North Bend (WA) became a ham radio station for a day, Feb. 12 during the nationwide School Club Roundup event. Middle school teacher Joe Burgener, with assistance and equipment from parent volunteer Stephen Kangas, introduced students to the world of amateur radio, from the science of radio waves, to the regulations for amateur operators, to the hands-on work of hanging antennae, and finally, to the actual operation of the radio equipment. Students spoke with several operators in California and one at the North Pole during the day.

Students at Two Rivers School in North Bend, WA participate in the School Club Roundup.

UC Berkeley Radio Club going strong at 100The Bay Area might be a hotbed of high technology, but low technology has its fans, too. Just ask the UC Berkeley Amateur Radio Club. It’s been around 100 years, and its members don’t mind a little dust and rust on their tech. “I think the old equipment is really cool and retro,” says club member and electrical-engineering major Andy Hu. “I’m still fascinated by the profundity that an electrical signal can leave the radio in front of me, travel up a wire to an antenna outside, and someone halfway around the world with an antenna outside connected to their radio can hear my voice and talk with me,” says club member Bill Mitchell, a chemistry graduate student.
Union Station Wall Represents Song Lyrics in Morse Code. An interesting-looking bumpy, yellow structure inside Union Station in D.C. represents a lot more than the naked eye might notice. As it turns out, the bumps are morse code representations of the lyrics from Death Cab for Cutie tune “Soul Meets Body.”
 

From my Twitter feed: lightning, HackRF, Arduino Morse

va7vm's avatarMerrick Grieder @va7vm
” So, yes, lightning could strike, but it just doesn’t strike like it used to.” theatlantic.com/technology/arc…

 

dangerousproto's avatarDangerous Prototypes @dangerousproto
DCC/TAPR video: HackRF – A Low Cost SDR Platform goo.gl/f4hkJs

 

hackaday's avatar

hackaday @hackaday
New post: Magic Morse Arduino Trainer bit.ly/LhxZ3J

Operating Notes: SKN, LOTW, 10m

Here are a few comments on my latest operations:

Bunnel #9

I used a Bunnel #9 key like this one on Straight Key Night.

SKN. I worked SKN this year, making eight contacts overall. I used my Bunnel #9 key the whole time. I was going to pull out the J37 with leg clamp, but then remembered how much it hurt, so passed on it.

The eight contacts include a couple of Europeans on 10m: F6HLQ and IZ0CHC. I’m not sure that they were really working SKN, but I’m going to count them. F6HLQ was using a straight key for sure.

My first contact was K1PUB, a station whose callsign spells a word. This is not the first time that I’ve worked him, but it doesn’t look like I requested a QSL from him the previous two times.

New LOTW stats. Prompted by a Tweet by @jilly, who gave her LOTW stats, I decided to upload my QSOs. I hadn’t uploaded them since 11/18/13, and had nearly 300 to upload. The upload and QSL processing went very fast.

I now have 14, 234 QSOs records and 2,735 QSL records for a QSL percentage of 19.2%. My overall DXCC count is 132, with 130 on CW. The band that I’m closest to working 100 countries on is 30m, where I have 98 countries confirmed. I’m thinking that once I hit 100 on 30m, I’ll apply for the DXCC award.

10 meters. 10m has been in great shape lately. The band was in good shape for the 10m contest a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday morning it was gangbusters to Europe, too.

Later in the day, it was open to South America. I copied an LU calling CQ, but unfortunately he couldn’t hear me. A little later, I worked CX1JJ, a very good YL operator in Uruguay.

Take a break from DXing and contests with these two operating events

I'll be using a Bunnel #9 key like this one on Straight Key Night.

I’ll be using a Bunnel #9 key like this one on Straight Key Night.

There are two operating events coming up in the next couple of weeks that I’d like to suggest that you participate in – Straight Key Night (January 1) and Kid’s Day (January 5). Straight Key Night, or SKN, runs from 0000Z – 2359Z on January 1. First started to promote the use of straight keys, its charter has been expanded to include the use of bugs and vintage radio gear.

As you probably know, I’m not a big fan of straight keys, but in the spirit of the day, I’ll be using one on January 1, probably my Bunnel Nr. 9, shown at right. When I purchased it, it did not have a knob, but thanks to the machining skills of Lake, AL7N, it’s now back in service. There’s not much on the Internet about this key, but the Bunnell Company history page notes that the #9 key was made by several different companies.

I like using it more than any other straight key that I own. It has a nice light feel to it.

Kid’s Day
The winter version of Kids Day, sponsored by the ARRL and The Boring (Oregon) Amateur Radio Club (which, oddly enough, doesn’t seem to have a website), will be Sunday, January 5, from 1800 to 2359 UTC. The suggested HF frequencies are 28.350 to 28.400 MHz, 24.960 to 24.980 MHz, 21.360 to 21.400 MHz, 18.140 to 18.145 MHz, 14.270 to 14.300 MHz, 7.270 to 7.290 MHz, and 3.740 to 3.940 MHz. Of course, you can operate the repeaters or even EchoLink, whatever it takes to give kids a taste of amateur radio.

I will, of course, be operating this event from WA2HOM, our club station at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. We’ll probably operate mostly on 20m phone, but you can look for us via EchoLink, too, via W8UM-R, the University of Michigan Amateur Radio Club’s repeater.

We’d be happy to set up a sked with you, if you’d like. E-mail me and we can arrange this. Unfortunately, we will only be operating until 2200Z, as that’s when the museum closes.

Say “HI” to Juno recap

On October 9, thousands of amateurs said “HI to Juno. Now, there are stories about the event on websites all over. I think the best is this video produced by NASA:

AMSAT-UK also ran a story about Say HI to Juno. I like this story because it includes a waterfall display of the 10m band showing all the signals.

Physics.Org ran the story, “Juno spacecraft hears amateur radio operators say ‘Hi.’”  This story features a photo of a smiling Tony Rogers, the president of the University of Iowa ham radio club, as he mans the equipment used to send the message to the Juno spacecraft.