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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Outdoors With Ham Radio


Get Out Of The Shack And Discover New Opportunities

In this nice summer weather it becomes harder to sit inside at a radio when the sun, blue skies, birds, and blossoming trees, shrubs and flowers are beckoning outside. Fortunately, the outdoors and ham radio make a superb combination, thanks to today’s miniaturized and power-saving technology.

VHF/UHF FM handhelds (HTs) often provide the most available way of taking ham radio outdoors. An HT with a decent whip antenna (something rather better than the usual rubber ducky), an external microphone, and an ear bud can be used for “pedestrian mobile” radio, bringing the old expression “walkie-talkie” to life. (Try this for your next check-ins to the Tuesday night SARC and SEPARS nets!) Alternatively, and with appropriate precautions to avoid collisions and other nasty mishaps, an HT and whip antenna can be secured to a bicycle for “bicycle mobile” radio, perhaps making use of VOX operation with a suitably compact one-sided headset.

A suitable clamp can fasten a whip antenna to a park bench for portable, rather than mobile, operation, allowing the less energetic but peripatetic ham to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and sights and smells of spring in a local park, taken one bench at a time, moving from location to location as fancy dictates.

Even more fun for some of us, at least, is the opportunity to work some HF DX contacts while walking along the beach, following the example of Peter Parker VK3YE (see Peter’s website at http://home.alphalink.com.au/~parkerp/projant.htm or his YouTube channel for some videos of beach pedestrian mobile HF SSB operation using his “Wadetenna”).  HF pedestrian mobile operation makes use of highly compact and light-weight yet high performance QRP (low power, typically 4-5 Watts) transceivers such as the popular Yaesu FT-817 or the highly regarded Elecraft KX3. Even smaller and less expensive (but often lower power and definitely less flexible) rigs are available for pure CW operators.

For even more outdoors adventure, the physically fit ham can take part in the Summits on the Air (SOTA, http://www.sota.org.uk) program. SOTA operation is possible with either HF (and modest antennas) or VHF (with lightweight portable beam antennas) radios, and is a superb way to combine mountain hiking (or even technical climbing) with ham radio.
For hams not yet sufficiently fit to climb mountains, the Islands on the Air (IOTA, http://www.rsgbiota.org) program offers a fun and challenging alternative for HF operations at picturesque locations on coastal islands.

Mt. Seymour, within an hour's drive of Vancouver

More information is available on all of these outdoor activities on the internet by using search terms taken from the above descriptions. All are suitable for either solo or group activities, as your personality dictates.  If you are interested in outdoor radio operations, whether VHF/UHF or HF, but would like more information, contact the club, either at the end of any Tuesday night SARC net, or via email using our email directors@ve7sar.net. If you are ready to try it but are reluctant to go solo, let us know and we’ll put you on a list to see if we can partner up some members.

If enough members would like to take part in joint outdoor radio activities, an Outdoor Radio special interest group (similar to the groups for Contesting, Satellite, and CW groups) could be organized under the SARC umbrella to coordinate partnering and possibly group outings. 

Hoping to work you outdoors, 73



Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Simple Touch 'Code' Keyer


An Inexpensive Circuit With An IC And A Few Parts

Imagine tapping the table to generate Morse Code! This simple code practice oscillator is for those who want to practice Morse Code in a different way, without the Morse key. It can be also used as a touch operated door bell.

The popular timer IC555 is wired as astable multi-vibrator. The frequency (tone) can be changed by varying the 100 K variable resistor between pin 7 and 6 of timer IC555. The volume can be changed by varying the 10 K variable resistor and the sensitivity of touch plate can be controlled by adjusting the 1 K Ohms preset at pin 4 of IC555.


The touch plate is connected to the base of transistor BC147B. In this circuit the length of wire between the base of the transistor and the touch plate is not critical. Typical is a 9 cm wire and a 3 x 6 cm 3mm thick aluminum plate. The addition of a relay or additional circuitry could key your transceiver.




Sunday, August 11, 2019

National Parks On The Air - Fort Langley, BC


NPOTA 


Historic Fort Langley

The Fort Langley National Historic Site (FLNHS) helped make history earlier this summer – for the very first time, amateur radio sent out a call from the Parks Canada location.

For the entire 2019 year, amateur radio groups have been invited to set up in parks all across the country to send broadcasts around the world and make contact with other operators.

NPOTA Fort Langley, BC

The initiative, Canadian National Parks On the Air, is the brainchild of a small group of Ham radio operators from Halifax that wanted to help spread the country’s beauty and get people connecting.  With the support of Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) and Parks Canada, the communications experiment launched in January of this year.

Surrey Amateur Radio Communications is sponsoring the local event and supplying operating equipment and our 110 foot portable tower. We invite local and visiting Amateurs to come and operate from this National Historic Site. Fort Langley is located at 23433 Mavis Avenue, Fort Langley, B.C. Google Maps link

The program is described in the current issue of The Canadian Amateur (TCA) magazine: https://cnpota.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/July2019_eTCA_CNPOTA-2.pdf

Read the entire article in the Aldergrove Star newspaper:  https://www.aldergrovestar.com/community/coming-to-you-live-from-fort-langley/



Thursday, August 8, 2019

Station Grounding?



It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times …



John VA7XB
With apologies to Charles Dickens, I will start by saying that the Radio Society of Great Britain’s BERU (British Empire) CW contest represents one of the “best of times” in my opinion – strictly for British Commonwealth countries and a new experience for me.  It’s Thursday and I’m getting prepared for the BERU a couple days ahead of time, so the first order of business is to get the new and improved N1MM+ Logger loaded up and configured.  I read the instructions carefully and all goes smoothly.  This software has many new features but has a similar look and feel to the old one, so the transition is quite easy.  Next thing is to bring up the BERU contest file and revise the macros so they fit for this contest.  Done, now let’s try it out.  Here’s where we get to the “worst of times” part.

Thursday evening and I see 7QAA (Malawi) on the cluster for 20m, so this is a good opportunity to give N1MM+ a pre-contest workout.  His signal is strong and he’s working split – let’s see if I can bust the pileup.  The amp is on and tuned so I point the beam to 46 deg and call him. I hit the F4 macro to send my callsign about 2 kHz up from his transmitting frequency.  

All goes as planned the first few times then suddenly everything freezes up.  Repeated pressing of the F4 key with the mouse has the same result – nothing is entered and nothing is sent.  Cripes, I’m glad he didn’t call me back for the exchange.  A few more tries but success appears random.  An hour or so of experimenting with various things makes no difference…there is a problem here and it’s going to have to be resolved before I can make headway.  After a while I give up trying to break the 7QAA pileup as nothing is going right for me, and call it a night.  I wonder if the problem has something to do with the new N1MM+ installation, so will plan to use N1MM Classic in the contest until I can get this sorted out.    

It is 8 am on Saturday and 20 m is starting to open to Europe.  As I turn the computer on, it emits some audible groans and immediately crashes.  On an attempted reboot, the PC automatically goes into “repair” mode and after 15 minutes grinding away, comes back to life, apparently OK after having completed a system restore in the process.  Back to the contest.   I’m on N1MM Classic now. Having succeeded in calling and being heard by a G3, I then hit F2 for the exchange.  Dang, the computer freezes up again.  So I try the mouse instead – same thing.  Then I try the CW paddle to make the exchange manually but it doesn’t respond either. What the heck is going on here?  By this time the G3 Headquarters station (bonus points!) has given up on me and I’m getting perturbed.  This fiasco continues spasmodically for some time until eventually I switch to 15 m.  Now things seem OK again and I log some good Qs.  And so it is with 10 m – no problems for the next couple of hours.  

Later in the day, I’m back to 20m and the gremlin returns.  So is the problem the hardware, the software, the computer or what?  And why only on 20 m? I check the settings on the Microham and N1MM, cable connections, reboot etc and these things all seem normal. It eventually occurs to me that maybe this is an RFI issue, as I’m running 750 watts and have made some cabling changes in recent weeks.  So I round up all the ferrite cores I can lay my hands on and lock them on the computer cables for another try.  This time, things start to hum so it looks like this may be the solution.  

Later in the day the high bands dry up and I decide to QRT for good, after 6 hours off and on.  Despite the frustrations I did log a few satisfying Qs to reduce my torment: VU3KPL and VU2PTT (India), ZS1EL (South Africa), 9J2BO (Zambia), V5/G3TXF (Namibia-2 bands), C5/M1KTA (the Gambia).  93 Qs in all – nothing to boast about and it could have been a lot better without the RFI. 

But, wait, it’s not over yet.  Now it’s a week later and time for the BARTG RTTY contest.  I turn on the system and quickly find the 20 m gremlin is still with me.  So Sheldon and I stick to 15 m for the first day.  Later I am thinking that maybe I have ground loops, as not all the critical gear is connected to a common ground.  I fix that and change out my keyboard as an extra measure of precaution.  A quick test shows that 20 m “seems” OK now, but the bands have dried up (a recent Coronal mass ejection) and there are no further contacts to be made.  So further testing will have to await another opportunity.

Hey, I just thought of something…the ground for my shack is about ¼ wavelength long at 20 m so would that be  affecting the equipment?  I’ll have to experiment with that.  Somehow I think the “worst of times” are not yet over.

~ John VA7XB




Sunday, August 4, 2019

Amateur Radio 'Elmers'


ˈmenˌtôr,ˈmenˌtær/

verb
Gerund or present participle: mentoring
1.    advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague)
Bill VE7XS

There is a lot of talk today, particularly in business, about the value of mentoring.  More experienced, and typically older individuals in a field providing support and direction to help less experienced, and usually, younger individuals.  This can be valuable to both parties, and also benefits the organizations that they belong to.


Let’s take this into our Amateur Radio world.  I’ve heard comments for longer than I have been licensed, that the exam requirements are being ‘dumbed down’.  Many courses have been shortened, some now being under two days – a single weekend and you can be licensed  as an Amateur Radio Operator.  What we are finding is that you might be licensed, but you may also know absolutely nothing about how to be a Ham.

I’ve been fortunate to have a station that has a very low noise floor, decent antennas, and we ‘get out’ well.  Myself and a few others with equipment there, have had a great time helping others improve their operating skills, polish their “pileup busting” techniques, and become a lot more comfortable with handling their own pileups in a contest.  These individuals who we have helped have become better operators, and we are better people because we helped them in their quest.

It is a pleasure to see a new Ham grow their skills – week over week – and start to be much more comfortable working the world on HF.   For some, it started out simple. They don’t have HF equipment in their home, or are recently licensed and want to grow their skill sets.  A few visits to the shack, a lot of listening to other operators, and then the encouragement and support as they take the mike and start to work DX – catch the nuances of the other operator, responding automatically to the DX station coming back with “the Echo 7 station, again, again” and they respond quickly and clearly giving their call and putting the contact in the log.  Awesome!

It takes practice, and patience and the willingness for both parties to keep trying to improve.  There will be setbacks – laugh them off, talk over what happened (or didn’t) and practice how the QSO should have gone.  Provide support, a positive environment and the occasional high five as your guest operator bags a good one, or works a great run during a contest.

Finally, remember that we all benefit from mentoring.  Our hobby is broad and there are many aspects that we may not have explored yet.  If you plan on trying something new, look around for someone who is doing it already, and see if they can help get you started or are willing to help you improve your skills.

We can all learn something from each other.  Keep an open mind, listen and learn – teach when you can, and remember, it is a good day when you learn something new. 

~ Bill VE7XS



Thursday, August 1, 2019

Norm's Ramblings


Thoughts on my first exposure to Ham Radio:

Norm VE7IIT
I had just graduated from high school, and was heading for higher education at UBC, and one of the early events at that campus was the annual drive for new memberships at the various clubs that exist at that locale… everything from Public Speaking courses, to Decorative Basket Weaving!

As I went around, talking to the various promoters of their clubs, I came across the UBC Ham Radio Club…  I had always liked to play around with electrons of some type, and the idea of getting into the club piqued my interest.    I was advised that there was a course being offered on the Theory of Radio, and classes were available in learning the International Morse Code (a requirement, in those days, to get one’s ham licence).
Within a few weeks, I found myself constantly being drawn to the Ham Shack (rather than spending time at the University Library…  where I should have been studying!), but I found the Theory of Ham Radio drawing my every free moment.   That is, until the results of the Mid-Term exams came out…  just before the Christmas recess.

My dad, a high school teacher, brought it forcibly to my attention that something had to be done about my marks…  and my first dalliance with radio had to come to an end.    However, that first infection with ham radio had taken its toll: over subsequent years, I started to build various HeathKits… first a multi-meter, and even many years later of building the venerable HW-101 transceiver.

I recall vividly spending many evening hours with the smell of solder wafting through my nostrils…  my wife being a registered nurse, worked a lot of shift work…  and my constant companion was the enjoyment of making marks on the kitchen counter with a hot soldering pencil.  By that time, I had made friends with a local ham (Mike Heritage, now a Silent Key) was my mentor (or, more correctly, my “Elmer” who encouraged me with my affliction of Ham Radio).

Still, I was not On the Air, and decades passed before I decided to attempt to write the multiple-question Industry of Canada ‘test of proficiency’ exam.    By this time, my late wife was fighting a battle with her cancers, and at the time of one her many surgeries, I had booked myself to write the exam, but suddenly she was in for more surgery, and the first of that month suddenly presented itself unexpectedly…  I decided the evening before that I should write the exam…  just to get the ‘feel’ of the exam...  it didn’t matter to me whether I passed it or not… 

But being former College Boy, I had some insight into how to handle a multiple-question exam, and I found myself leaving my fellow candidates in just over half hour, much to the surprise my fellow would-be-hams.  To my great surprise, the examiner placed the ‘stencil’ over my answers and seemed to be noting my answers…  suddenly looking up at me and asking me if I had $12 in my pocket.    My response was, “I thought the examination was free…”,  to which he remarked, “… well, you’ve just passed the exam…”  

I quickly dug into my wallet and found the necessary funds, and received the call sign VE7IIT, which I have to this day.   

Since the original contact with Ham Radio 1948, many times I found myself purchasing magazines that had the theme of Radio…  everything from “Popular Science” to Hugo Gernsback’s “Modern Electronics”…  occasionally even to purchasing the annual copy of “Radio Amateur’s Handbook”, as my funds would allow (I can recall it rising to a whopping $8.00 a copy !).   In 1942, the Handbook  was available from the ARRL for $1.00 (postpaid $1.50, outside of Continental U.S.A.). 

The big names in radio technology in the early days included, National, Hallicrafters, Hammarlund, Eimac, most of which are now just memories.  Hams, in the 40’s and 50’s were largely solder enthusiasts, but if a ham built his own transceiver, it had to be examined by a federally-appointed inspector before  turning on a key.

At U.B.C. Ham Club, we were running largely war-surplus 250 watts of AM radio transmission equipment that was crystal-controlled frequency…  a few hams had graduated to VFO control at that time, but were required to be as stable as a crystal.   The transmitter stood as tall as a home refrigerator, including the power supply.   The transmitting tubes were as large as a milk bottle, and one could put one’s hand the transmitter to fondle the tubes (also war-surplus, available for a few pennies on the dollar).

I recall being able to hear a few local (Vancouver-based) hams on the 2-meter band…  these were the true edge-of-Space experimenters, in 1948!   Side-band reception was that funny Donald Duck sounding voice on a few of the bands, again using home-brew equipment.  It was an un-written law at the Club to leave the transmitter turned ‘on’ to allow the crystals to stabilize to the frequency that we were transmitting.   

And, yeah…  by utilizing the Club call… in those days VE7ACS, every novice, student, and unlicenced enthusiast used the transmitter.  We had a sked with a university club down in Texas, and we also hopped over to Australia, as the winter ‘skip’ came alive.
  
These are but a few of the early memories of my early days ‘in the shack’… 

~ Norm VE7IIT



Sunday, July 28, 2019

Ham Radio's Patron Saint


SP3RN

A Polish priest, Father Maximilian was fascinated by mass media in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He established large printing plants in Poland and Japan for his Franciscan Order publications. When he was on a mission to Japan (as well as China and India), he got acquainted with broadcasting and amateur-radio stations. That medium could reach those who were unable to read in those years.

Upon arrival back in Poland, he applied for a broadcasting license.  The radio was a strategic medium in the 1930’s and only the Polish Radio (1925) and a military radio station were permitted to broadcast. Besides, the amateur radio movement was thriving in Poland; clubs were already established in Lvov, Warsaw, Poznan, Kraków, Lodz and other cities.

He is the only canonized saint to have held an amateur radio license 

Father Maximilian was permitted to broadcast test transmissions close to the 40m amateur radio band in 1938. His interest in amateur radio has been confirmed by quotations from his writings. He chose the SP3RN callsign for his test transmissions (spelt in Polish: Stacja Polska 3 Radio Niepokalanów).
Father Maximilian was murdered in the German Nazi Auschwitz Concentration Camp after he had volunteered his life for the life of another inmate, randomly selected for execution.

Beatified by Pope Paul VI on 17.10.1971. Canonized as St. Maximilian Apostle of Consecration to Mary and declared Martyr of Charity by Pope John Paul II on 10.10.1982.

Considered a Patron of journalists, families, prisoners, the pro-life movement and the chemically addicted and Patron Saint of amateur radio operators.

January 8th is the birthday of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe (SP3RN),  To mark the date of the Anniversary of the Radio Niepo-kalanów founded by St. Maximilian, several special event stations operate from Poland and Italy.

A Polish and an Italian Award is awarded for working the special event and other associated stations.



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Outdoors With Ham Radio

Get Out Of The Shack And Discover New Opportunities In this nice summer weather it becomes harder to sit inside at a radio when the sun, ...

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