From my Twitter feed: future of SDR, Dayton review, fritzing

K9ZW
The Future of SDR – Fat-Pipe vs. Thin-Pipehttp://t.co/u6WpGGv6ML

 

ke9v
Dayton in the Rearview Mirror | Smoke Curlshttp://t.co/PI25XUisGR #hamr

 

g6avk
This looks like an interesting and easy to use PCB package - http://t.co/xsL7rY2t7n

Amateur radio in the news: School Roundup in WA, Laporte (IN) hamfest, the magic of ham radio

Middle schoolers in North Bend, WA participate in the School Roundup.

Two Rivers calling: Ham radio roundup connects students with learning moments
After a slow morning of attempting to contact other ham radio operators, middle-schoolers at Two Rivers School in North Bend enjoyed an afternoon chatting with people all over the world, as part of the annual School Club Roundup.

Amateur radio enthusiasts flock to La Porte for annual event
For one man it was the discovery of a nearly 100-year-old radio in his attic. For another, it was a Christmas gift that connected him to voices from around the world. And for a third, it was his father’s military career that led him into the world of amateur radio. Hundreds like them gathered in La Porte on Saturday for the annual Cabin Fever Hamfest at the La Porte Civic Auditorium.

Magic Valley Ham Radio Operators Share the Fun
Video allows Magic Valley (ID) amateurs share the magic of our hobby.

More from Dayton 2012

After going through the materials I brought back from Dayton, I found a few things that I failed to mention in my previous post.

  • Horse fence antennas by KF4BWG. I’ve seen this guy at the last couple of Daytons that I’ve attended, and every time I see his antennas, I think what a great idea this is. Then, I make a mental note to go to Tractor Supply or some such place and get some of this material and make my own. Then, I promptly forget to do it.
    This does seem like a great idea, though. Not only would the antenna be very strong and light, but it should also be very broadband.  KF4BWG claims an SWR less than 1.4:1 across the entire 80m band, less than 1.3:1 across the entire 40m band, and 1.1:1 across the 20m, 15m, and 10m bands.
    When I mentioned to KF4BWG my plans to duplicate his antenna on my own (his cost $85), he told me that the quality of the fencing material that Tractor Supply sells is not as high as the stuff he uses. That may be true, but I’d bet it will  work just fine. Now, I just gotta do it.
KF4BWG Antenna

This antenna made from horse fence material is very broadband.

  • TubeProjects.Com. I think that I may have written about this company/website  before. The website lists three “products:” an audio amp, a benchtop power supply, and a VTVM. I called them products, but all the website is selling is construction manuals…at $35 a pop.  They do mention that they plan to sell chassis for these projects in the future. Once nice feature is that they have a resources page that lists  parts sources, books, and other websites with tube project information.
  • Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA). As if I didn’t have enough going on, I’m tempted to join SARA. According to the website, the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA) is an international society of dedicated enthusiasts who teach, learn, trade technical information, and do their own observations of the radio sky. SARA was organized in 1981, and today has hundreds of members worldwide. The group consists of optical astronomers, ham radio operators, engineers, teachers and non-technical persons.
    At their booth, the SARA people were touting the Radio Jove Project, a “hands-on educational activity that brings the radio sounds of the Sun, Jupiter, and the Milky Way to terrestrial students, teachers, and the general public.” They sell a $190 starter kit that includes a 20m direct-conversion receiver, parts to construct two dipoles, and a CD ROM with SkyPipe software and general information. Since many hams will already have a 20m receiver, and know how to build a 20m dipole, it seems to me that all you’d need is the software.

Dayton 2012: Another great ham radio experience

Dayton 2012 TicketMy Dayton experience started at 3:45 am Thursday morning. That’s when I had to get up so that I could make it to the Fairborn Holiday Inn in time for the first session of this year’s Four Days in May (FDIM). FDIM is a one-day conference put on by the QRP Amateur Radio Club International and is a great way to start the “Dayton experience.”

There were somewhere between 300 and 400 attendees at this year’s event, and we were treated to six very fine presentations. They included talks on using microcontrollers for various projects, software-defined radio, VHF and UHF for QRPers, homebrewing with “hollow state” devices (more commonly known as tubes), using open-source electronic design tools, and operating pedestrian mobile. The two talks that I enjoyed the most were “Hollow State (Thermatron) Homebrewing” by Grayson, TA2ZGE/KJ7UM and “Leveraging Free and Open Source Tools in Homebrewing” by Jason, NT7S.

Two things about TA2ZGE’s talk stood out for me.  First, was his method for homebrewing tube circuits. What he does is to take a Dremel tool and create pads on a bare piece of circuit board material, including pads that you can solder a tube socket to. Using this breadboard, you can create prototypes “Manhattan” style. Second, was the list of online resources. I’ll post those in another blog post. Grayson’s talk has certainly given me the incentive to use those “tubs of tubes” as I’ve been threatening to do now for several years.

Jason’s talk was about how he used open-source design tools to create his latest kit, the OpenBeacon, a crystal-controlled QRPp beacon transmitter. There are more out there than I realized. I’m thinking of asking Jason if he would be interested in expanding his paper into a small book that I could publish for him.

Thursday evening, they had their normal show and tell and vendor night. At this event, those selling kits and keys set up shop in the ballroom. Jason was selling his kits and the Four States QRP club had some of their kits there, too. I don’t know how much, if anything, they charge the vendors, but perhaps next year, I’ll take some of my books. They’re not exactly the right audience for them, but perhaps they’ll buy them for friends and family.

Friday morning, I got up early again, so that I could make the 7:30am bus to the Hamvention. We arrived about 8:00 am, just as the gates were opening. The first thing that I did was to head to the FAR Circuits tent, which is–as the name implies–at the far end of the flea market. There, I made my first purchases, a board to make a regenerative receiver and one to make an audio breakout box.

The rest of the day was a combination of wandering the aisles of the flea market, fighting the crowds inside the arena, attending the odd seminar, and meeting people that I know. One of the guys I ran into was Dennis, KT8K. He asked me what I thought was this year’s flea market “theme.” Every year, he says, there is always an abundance of one type of equipment or model of radio.

He’s right, too. One year, for example, I saw a dozen or more Icom IC-735s. This year, I saw none. Oddly enough, this year I saw a lot of Swan transceivers and DX-60 transmitters. There were also lots of more modern transceivers for sale, too. I even saw a K3 for sale, although by the time I got to it, it had been sold.

Another fellow that I ran into was Ed, N4EDT. I probably wouldn’t have stopped to speak to him, but he was wearing a shirt with the Rotarians on Amateur Radio (ROAR) logo on it. I introduced myself to him, and we had an interesting discussion about what kind of service project that ROAR might want to start. Since he is the Assistant Director for Education for the ARRL’s Southeastern Division, he was advocating a local project. I, on the other hand, still favor an international project that would promote amateur radio in a developing country. We also talked about possibly having a ROAR booth at Dayton next year.

By the time, 4:30 pm rolled around, I was pretty hot and tired. Temperatures topped 80 degrees, and on the blacktop surface of the flea market, temperatures were undoubtedly higher. I was happy to get on the bus and head back to the hotel.

Saturday, was pretty much the same story, except it was even hotter. The temperature almost hit 90 degrees. I didn’t bring any sunscreen, either, so I got a little rosy.

I ran into some people that I knew that had just come down for the day, or perhaps that I’d missed the day before. One guy I ran into at the Ohio Repeater Council booth, pulled out his new Elecraft KX-3 and gave me a quick demo. It’s actually quite a cool, little radio. I’m still saving up for a K-3, though.

One forum that I attended on Saturday was the Drake forum. The room was packed with people still keeping alive their old Drake equipment. The reason that I attended was I have a friend who recently was given some Drake C-Line equipment. He wants to find a good home for them. After attending this forum, I’m now thinking about buying it from him and using them in my station. I know that if I ever have any trouble, I’ll have plenty of guys out there who can help me.

After the Drake forum, I went to the food court for a slice of pizza and a glass of beer. Seating is catch as catch can, so I shared a table with several other hams. This is great because you get to meet all kinds of different people.

This year, an older gentleman sat down next to me with his beer. We got to chatting, and as it turned out, this was his 55th straight year attending the Dayton Hamvention! He started going before it was even held at Hara Arena, and even after they moved to Hara, they didn’t use the entire facility as they do now. I’m really glad that I got to speak with him.

So, what did you buy?
I didn’t really go down to Dayton with much of a shopping list. My short list included more PowerPole connectors, the circuits boards I mentioned earlier, and I was going to buy a mic boom for WA2HOM. I got the connectors and circuit boards, but decided against the boom.

I did pick up a bunch of other little stuff including some strain reliefs, more clamp-on ferrite cores, a paddle pad from Vibroplex ($1) to keep the paddle down at the museum from sliding around, and some tube sockets! One of the vendors there had a box of tube sockets that they were selling for a quarter apiece or five for a dollar. I picked out five and paid the lady, and as I was walking away, I decided that they were such a good deal that I went back and bought five more.

My biggest purchase was NT7S’s OpenBeacon QRSS transmitter. It cost me $40. It looks like a very nice kit, and I’m hoping to be on 30m QRSS shortly with it. The nice thing about this transmitter is that it has a microcontroller that lets it transmit DFCW and Hellschreiber, in addition to CW. It should be fun to both build and operate.

I almost bought a K3. I stopped by the Elecraft booth and picked up an order sheet, but decided against it. If they had been offering more than a $50 show discount (<2%), I might have gone for it, but that just wasn’t enough incentive.

Too rich for my blood
In other news, both Kenwood and FlexRadio both introduced new radios at Dayton. Perhaps the most buzz was around the Kenwood TS-990. Of course, they didn’t really have a working model. There’s not even any information on the Kenwood USA website.

What they did have was a mockup under a Plexiglass cover. In addition to being incredibly expensive, the radio is huge! I heard someone joke that to produce this radio, Kenwood is going to have to corner the market on buttons and knobs. If you’ve seen the photo in QST (which was allegedly produced with Photoshop), you’ll know what I mean.

The other radio with a bit of buzz is the new FlexRadio FLEX-6000. For the past couple of weeks, the FlexRadio website was proclaiming that this radio was going to be a game changer. Perhaps it is, but at $6,000+, this radio is out of my league, and too expensive for the majority of radio amateurs. That being the case, I really don’t know what all the buzz is about.

I’m sure that the TS-990 and the FLEX-6000 are both great radios, but I think that the law of diminishing returns applies here. At some point, are you really getting $6,000 or $12,000 of fun out of the radio? I don’t think that I would.

Well, that’s it. Another Dayton Hamvention is in the bag. It was a lot of fun, and I’m already looking forward to next year. In addition to possibly participating with other Rotary Club members in a ROAR booth, I’m thinking about pushing for an adult education forum. I think that’s something that’s both needed and would be popular. I’ll just have to make sure to leave enough time to hit the flea market and grab some more tube sockets or coax or whatever.

21 Things to Do: Go to a hamfest

Hamfest

You can often buy stuff like power cords and connectors at bargain prices at a hamfest.

When I was a kid in Michigan, we used to call a ham radio swap meet a “swap and shop.” Nowadays, they’re mostly known by the term “hamfest.” Whatever name you know them by, they’re both educational and a lot of fun.

There are a lot of reasons to go to a hamfest, including:

  • You get to see a lot of ham radio gear in one place.
  • You might be able to get a good deal on some used (or new) equipment.
  • You might find something that will be fun to play with.
  • You get to meet hams face-to-face that you’ve only talked to on the air.

You never know what you’ll find at a hamfest. If it’s a decent-sized hamfest, chances are you’ll find equipment ranging from radios made in the 1950s with vacuum tubes to modern computer-controlled transceivers. If nothing else, you’ll get an education on the wide range of amateur radio equipment that’s out there.

Can you get a good deal on a radio? Possibly, although these days so much stuff is sold on EBay and via the online ham classifieds on QRZ.Com, eHam.Net, and other sites, that getting a real “steal” is getting harder and harder. One thing is for sure, if you’re a new ham and don’t really know how to evaluate a particular piece of equipment, get your Elmer to look over a purchase before you hand over your money. What may look like a bargain, may end up costing more than a new radio.

What you can often get a good deal on are small parts, such as connectors, power cords, speakers, etc. You never know when you’ll need a 1/4-in. phone plug to put on the end of a set of headphones. A friend of mine jokes that at every hamfest he always buys a handful of different connectors. Hamfests are good places to stock up on these types of things.

You’ll find more than used equipment at a hamfest, though. Many dealers will bring new equipment to a hamfest, especially if it’s one of the big hamfests. This is your chance to look at a number of different radios that you may have only been able to look at in catalogs and compare different models. In addition, dealers often offer “hamfest prices,” so you may be able to get that radio at a slight discount.

Hamfests are also good places to connect with other hams. Quite often, you’ll meet guys that you’ve only talked to on the air. It’s a lot of fun to connect a name and callsign with a face. Sometimes, different ham groups, such as ARES/RACES groups or QRP clubs, will set up a table to promote their group. You can use this opportunity to find out more about these groups and their activities.

To find a hamfest near you, go to the ARRL Hamfests and Conventions Calendar page.

Last weekend a busy one for KB6NU

KB6NU teaching the Jan. 14, 2012 One-Day Tech Class

Me making a point (apparently about SWR) at Saturday's One-Day Tech Class

Last weekend was pretty busy for me, ham radio-wise. It started bright and early Saturday morning with the latest One-Day Tech Class. There were twelve students in the class, and all twelve passed!

This class was a bit odd in that most of them signed up during the week before the class. So few had signed up by Saturday, January 7th, that I was even thinking that I might cancel the class.

On Sunday, January 8, I sent out a reminder to my mailing list, and after that, the class quickly filled up. Many of them were engineering students from the University of Michigan, who are part of a project that sends up weather balloons. They use amateur radio to track the balloons and to find the payloads once they’ve returned to Earth.

Hamfest not so festive
Sunday morning, I was up even earlier to attend the Hazel Park ARC hamfest. Since I was selling some junk, errrrr good stuff, I wanted to get there by 8 am. So, I was up and out of the house by 6:45 am. I needn’t have rushed, though.

Attendance was way down, and while I did sell a little over $100 worth of books and other stuff, I was hoping that I’d sell more. In particular, I thought I’d sell a few of my new “Hams Obey Ohm’s Law” stickers. I didn’t sell a single one, however. One friend of mine offered to purchase one, but I just gave him one.

I think clubs have to think twice about when they schedule these things. Holding them so early on Sunday mornings almost guarantee that only the old farts will show up for these things. And the old farts are a dwindling audience.

No propagation, no glory
Sunday night, I tried to participate in the monthly Run for the Bacon (RTFB). This low-pressure QRP contest, run by the Flying Pigs is usually a fun event. Sunday night, however, the band had gone way long by 9 pm EST, when the contest started. I managed one contact with a station in Idaho, but no one else could hear me.

To be honest, I don’t really know how much power I was running. Instead of hooking up the KX-1, I just cranked down the power on the IC-746PRO until the power out meter was showing just a single bar. I really gotta get that wattmeter kit finished.

Dayton Hamvention Coverage

For those of you, who, like me, were unable to make it to Dayton this year, here are a few reports on the goings-on there:

  • Dayton Daily Reports (day 1, day 2, day 3). These are reports from the ARRL.
  • Vicarious Dayton Hamvention. W4KAZ has put together a great set of links to other reports on Dayton 2011.  It includes links to videos and written reports from other bloggers.

Part of the excitement was a surprise visit from  Julius Genachowski, the current FCC Chairman. The Hamvention put out this press release:

When Bill Curtice, WA8APB, answered the Hamvention information line phone Saturday morning at Hara Arena, he thought he might have a prank caller.  The voice on the other end said, “I am Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC.” Fortunately Bill treated the call as if it was legitimate.  A few minutes later, Chairman Genachowski was entering East Hall of Hara Arena to begin his brief, but welcome, visit to Hamvention. He explained that his plane had been diverted to Dayton Friday night and he was told that it might be difficult to find a motel room because it was Hamvention weekend.

“When I heard that, I knew I had to visit it,” Chairman Genachowski said, “I don’t know a lot about ham radio but I know that it is an important service.” He had a chance to learn a little more as Hamvention Chairman Michael Kalter, W8CI, took him on a brief tour during which he had an opportunity to chat with a number of hams. Unfortunately his rescheduled flight time only provided for about two hours at Hamvention but he described his visit as enjoyable and informative.

Apparently, the flea market got a little “ripe.”  Here’s another bit from a Hamvention press release:

Unfortunately, though rain did not dampen flee market spirits, a different sort of liquid did present a problem for a period Saturday afternoon. A sewer line underneath the center of the flea market broke and its contents bubbled up through the ground. The affected vendors were moved with assistance from Hamvention volunteers and vacuum trucks arrived quickly to clean up the mess. We thank the affected vendors for their patience during the problem and attendees for the cooperation while repairs were made.

Here’s some video. According to a friend of mine, only one restroom was in operation while the sewer line was being fixed. Yikes! They really need to find a better venue.

Fortunately, it appears as if I will be able to make both the bowling tournament and Dayton next year.  The bowling tournament will be moving to the first weekend in May.