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!

AM/FM antenna ICs deliver a variety of integrated features

From EEProductCenter.Com:

An active antenna IC designed for AM/FM car antenna applications, the ATR4252 from Atmel Corporation is a highly integrated device that offers a host of features including automatic gain control (AGC), supply voltage regulator with overvoltage protection and an antenna sensor.

Designers can now develop smaller, high-performance active antenna solutions for applications located in the mirror, bumper, rear or side windows of a car. In addition, the antenna detection functionality is ideal for modern window or glass antennas. The robust IC also addresses other antenna types including window, pole or shark fin antennas with its small 4 x 5 mm footprint.

The chip is designed to provide low-noise and high linearity to ease antenna system design complexity. On-chip voltage regulation is an important feature when un-stabilized phantom feed is used, and 50 Ohm cable support enables more cost-effective cables to be used. Further, on-chip AGC avoids problems with large signals, while maintaining a high sensitivity level.

“Active antenna designs using ICs are becoming more popular since they offer many advantages over discrete solutions,” said Carsten Friedrich, Marketing Manager for Car Radio ICs at Atmel Corporation.

The antenna IC ensures crystal-clear reception without distortion even under extreme difficult and rapidly fluctuating field strength conditions typically found in moving antenna systems. In addition, board design can be extremely small and the ICs provide a rich set of features, including ESD protection.

I scanned the data sheet, and it says,

AM means long wave (LW), medium wave (MW) and short wave (SW) frequency bands (150 kHz to 30 MHz) that are usually used for AM as well as for DRM transmissions, and FM means any of the world wide used frequency bands for FM radio broadcast (70 MHz to 110 MHz).

Sooooo, some enterprising ham could probably design an active receiving antenna for the shortwave bands around this chip.

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.

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.

How to Choose a Replacement Transistor

Electus Distribution has published a short article on how to choose a substitute transistor. According to the article, you need to consider the application and the transistor’s basic characteristics, including:

  • whether it’s germanium (Ge) or silicon (Si);
  • NPN or PNP;
  • high power or low power;
  • designed for linear amplification or switching; and
  • low noise or not.

Also, note its main performance parameters, including:

  • voltage breakdown rating (usually Vcemax or BVceo);
  • current gain (beta or hFE) at the likely collector current; and
  • upper frequency limit (fT or Fmax).

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.

Does Your Club Have an Elmers List?

Whilst looking up information on this Sunday’s hamfest in Monroe (http://www.mcrca.org/hamfest.htm), I came across their Elmer page. On it, they list a variety of topics with the name, call, and phone number of someone who can answer questions on that topic.

My club something similar once, but it was less than successful. I think that the problem was that we asked people to fill out a form on our website if they needed any help. That information was e-mailed to one guy, who then forwarded it to the appropriate Elmer. There was just too much time lag between the time someone asked for help and when they got it. Or, it may have been that filling out the form was just too impersonal.

We are going to try it again, though, using the format that the Monroe club uses. I’m also going to give it more billing on our website, and push it more at meetings and other gatherings.

The topics the Monroe club lists on their website are:

  • Antennas
  • Buying First Radio
  • Code Practice
  • Computers
  • Packet
  • County Hunting
  • DXCC Awards
  • Rag Chewers Club
  • Worked All States
  • DX
  • FM
  • Homebrew
  • Testing
  • Public Service
  • Technical Q&A
  • Traffic
  • Tube Radios

We already have Elmers for several of these topics. I, for example, would be more than happy to volunteer to be the Morse Code/CW Practice Elmer. We have one member who is an avid County Hunter, another who restores vintage gear, and yet another who’s been spearheading a statewide effort to set up a packet network throughout Michigan.

In addition, I think we should add or modify several of the categories. For example, Computers might become “Computers/Software” depending on who volunteers to be the Elmer. We should also have Elmers for VHF/UHF, Contesting, and possibly a bunch of other topics.

We’re now in the middle of discussing what topics we should add to the list and recruiting Elmers. I’ll update this topic when we’ve finalized our list.

Does your club have an Elmer list? If so, does it have topics that I haven’t thought of yet? How do you get newcomers to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of your Elmers? And, finally, what topics have you volunteered to be Elmer for?

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.