21 Things to Do: Go to a 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.

Chart converts cycles per second to Hz

Thanks to Lee, WB6SSW, for posting this link on the Glowbugs mailing list. According to Lee’s website, Emmitt’s Fix-it Shop, this chart comes in handy when working on older equipment. Click on the link to download the full-size chart (PDF file).

Two favicons for your ham radio website

A favicon is the little icon that appears next to your URL in the address box or in a tab next to the page title when someone accesses your website.  When I upgraded to this latest theme, I lost the favicon that I had been using.  In its place was the generic favicon that came with the theme. Well, I don’t know what got into me, but tonight I decided to replace that generic favicon with something more appropriate.

The first thing I tried was to create a graphic with my call in Morse Code. It looked great as a 500×500 image, but when I shrunk it down to 16×16, the standard size for a favicon, it looked terrible. So, I created one with a simple “CQ” and another with a simple “73.” To create them, I cranked up the font size to 400 pixels, then used the Gill Sans font, which is on the narrow side.

As you can see below, they don’t look bad at all as 16×16 images.  Feel free to down load them and use them on your website.

  • CQ favicon  favicon-cq-red
  • 73 favicon  favicon-73-red  favicon-73-red-circ

More ham radio on Twitter and G+

Three more things I found while Twittering and using Google+.

Stay Connected to Your Broadband – an Improved ADSL Filter. I have a DSL line here, and have never had any RFI problems. In Great Britain, however, their broadband lines  seem to be susceptible. This 2010 article shows you how to build a filter that will fix that right up.

Learn circuits and electronics from MIT. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is putting a lot of courses online, and you can take them for free!  This course, Circuits and Electronics, is the core course for all undergraduate electrical engineering (EE) and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) students. Before you jump into this, realize that they say it will require about ten hours per week, and you need to know some basic calculus and linear algebra. This is an academic class, after all.

Open Hardware Journal. From the first page:

Open Hardware means sharing the design of physical or electronic objects with the public, similarly to Open Source software. The right to use, modify, redistribute, and manufacture, commercially or as a non-profit, is granted to everyone without any royalty or fee. Thus, Open Hardware designers hope to enrich society by developing a library of designs for useful objects that everyone can make, use, and improve.

The second issue features an article on the TAPR’s High-Performance Software-Defined Radio (HPSDR) project, which now includes over a dozen building blocks that can be used to assemble a high-grade 100 kHz to 55 MHz software-defined radio.

Ham radio ops playing basketball?

A recent item in a Google Alert titled, “Aranda takes MVP plum of MDX caging.” I clicked on the link and was taken to the website of the Saipan Tribune, where I found a story about a guy named Jack Aranda who “won the coveted MVP award after lifting San Antonio to an 87-72 victory in the winner-take-all title game against As Lito/Chow Queen in the 2011 MDX Amateur Radio Club Inter-Village Friendship League at the Civic Center Basketball Court in Susupe last Sunday.”

After reading that, I’m thinking, are the hams a lot younger in Saipan that they are  in better shape than us hams on the mainland? And, even if they are, how do they get so many to turn out that they can form a league?

I e-mailed the author, and here’s what she said:

Thanks for your email. The members/officials of the radio club organized the league and there are some (not all) members who also played. The rest of the players are youth and B league ranked players.

Mystery solved. While I was on the site, I surfed around a bit and discovered that they play a lot of basketball on Saipan. At least the paper had quite a few stories about games played in a variety of leagues.

Things I found while twittering

Just some things I found while twittering. I found them interesting, so I thought you might, too…….Dan

Tworse Key:  a tweeting Morse key. An open design exercise in interface archaeology, that decodes the input from a classic Morse key to send twitter messages. The source code and hardware schematics are available online http://modin.yuri.at/tworsekey/

Design analog chips. According to the website, this freely downloadable book is “a comprehensive introduction to CMOS and bipolar analog IC design. The book presumes no prior knowledge of linear design, making it comprehensible to engineers with a non-analog background. The emphasis is on practical design, covering the entire field with hundreds of examples to explain the choices. Concepts are presented following the history of their discovery.”

DashToons.Com. Jeff, K1Nss presents the illustrated adventures of Dash!, the dog-faced ham.


Is it easier now to be a hacker / experimenter / DIYer?

In a recent blog post, EE Times editor Bill Schweber notes the passing of Norman Edmund, the founder of Edmund Scientific, and speculates on whether or not it’s easier now to be an experimenter/hacker/DIYer than it was years ago.

Those who say it’s not point out that years ago we had magazines, such as Popular Electronics and Electronics Illustrated, companies like Heathkit. They also point out that it was possible to disassemble TVs and radios for the parts and use them for your own projects.

Schweber, however, thinks that it is easier today for hackers and experimenters. He writes that  those magazines may be out of business, but we now have access to “countless user groups, informal forums, and blogs” on the Internet.

One thing he failed to mention was the hacker/maker groups that have sprouted up around the country. Here in Ann Arbor, for example, we have a group called Go Tech that provides support for hackers and makers of all stripes. You’ll find groups like this all around the U.S.

I tend to agree with Schweber that while the environment has certainly changed for experimenters, it is definitely better. What do you think?

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.

A tale about ham radio, Mitt Romney, Google+, and Twitter

Yesterday, on Google+, I saw a post with a link to a post on the Eastern MA (EMA) Section website that reported that presidential candidate Mitt Romney had “dissed” ham radio. Since I’m not a big fan of Mitt Romney, I immediately sent out a tweet on this. Almost immediately, Brian, N1FIY, replied, asking if I had noticed that this post was more than six years old.

Ooops. I hadn’t noticed that. My bad.

We swapped a few tweets about this, and he noted that not only was this old news, “Within a week, he did a followup that reversed his stance.” Now, I felt really bad about this, especially as other hams had already begun to “re-tweet” my original message.

I suggested that we both contact the EMA Section Manager, Phil Temples, K9HI, and we did. I told K9HI that I thought that leaving this post online was unfair without also posting Romney’s reply. Here’s how K9HI replied:

I can appreciate your point of view. Nevertheless I don’t believe the story should be removed. Romney did say those damning things, and it wasn’t until his office was confronted by the Eastern MA ARES leadership that one of his representatives apologized on Romney’s behalf.

We went though this retraction business with Alan Pitts, W1AGP at ARRL Hq. during the last presidential election/primary. Alan said he was fielding lots of phone calls and inquiries about it. I pointed out to Alan that even *if* I were to remove the story it’s been archived by all of the major search engines like Google and Yahoo and reprinted by many other non-Amateur Radio web sites already.


Phil, K9HI

p.s. — There was a very long reply comment/discussion thread that accompanied the original story. It probably *did* mention the “retraction” by his staffer. But the rhetoric was so heated that a decision was made to remove the entire discussion thread.

In my opinion, that’s really not a very satisfactory answer. I am not a Romney supporter by any stretch, but it’s really not fair to leave that story up on the EMA website without also printing the retraction/apology.

That’s the story from my point of view. My apologies again for being so quick to tweet old news. I will certainly be a lot more cautious about this next time. This was certainly  a lesson for me on how Tweets can take on a life of their own.

Another interesting thing to consider is what impact this flap will really have on the campaign. It did generate a little controversy in the ham radio community, but did it really hurt Romney at all? My guess is no. Those that jumped on this story would probably not have voted for Romney anyway. Even so, I do feel bad about making this mistake, and promise not to do it again.


Hams obey Ohm’s Law

Hams Obey Ohm's Law

I’ve had a donation box on my blog (www.kb6nu.com) for a year or so now.  Every once in a while, I actually do get a donation. Yesterday, for example, someone sent me $20 via PayPal.

This got me thinking that I should find some way to thank these donors. Now, I’m a big NPR fan, so my first thought was to give them a tote bag or a coffee mug. Tote bags and coffee mugs are expensive, though. That’s why you only get them for something like a $100 donation to an NPR station.

Instead, I’m going to send this sticker to anyone who donates $5 or more. They measure 4.25-in. high and 5.75-in. wide and would be perfect for the bumper next to your ham radio license plate or the bulletin board in your shack.