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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

CQ Radio Rookies!


The Rookie Roundup

The Rookie Roundup is a contest for  amateurs that have received their license within the last 3 years. (2015/14/13) There are different modes at several times of year April = SSB (Phone), August = RTTY and December = CW.

I qualified as a rookie since I was recently licensed and was interested in this contest. After speaking with Brett VE7GM about the Rookie Roundup Contest he said the contesting calendar was slowing down a bit prior to field day but he thought this might be a good chance for me to get some experience.

John VA7XB opened his station for this event and got me setup on N1MM logging software and the layout of his station and equipment. I had previously monitored along with the operators at John’s QTH during the BC QSO party. Also I  had participated briefly on some other contests from my own home so I had some idea of what to expect but had never run assisted mode myself. That’s where the non-rookies really help out, and I was especially lucky to have experienced contesters showing me the ropes.


Jeremy VE7TMY

After some further setup and coaching from John I started search and pounce on QRP (~5watts) on the 15 meter band.  We chose to run QRP as an experiment prior to field day with the results to be used to help decision making later on. I made a few contacts but it was more difficult at low power to be heard among many others running full power in the pileups. It took several minutes to make each contact so the QSO rate was quite low. I went into run mode for a short time on QRP and I did manage to get spotted on 15 meters which was nice.

Contacts were tough going and then Brett arrived  about the time we switched to 20 meters.  Sheldon VA7XNL was heard over me on QRP. I thought I was being called by the station but they heard VA7 not VE7.  What are the odds on that happening?

I had QSOs from all over the US so even with QRP  and on a good antenna system I could be heard.  The idea was that if they could hear me running QRP and responded to my CQ then QSOs would be possible.  The main concerns were that search and pounce was more difficult on QRP and in run mode other stations setup near me might not have heard me running. I did have to repeat myself a few times and switch phonetics slightly to be heard accurately.

Sheldon VA7XNL contacted me while I was running and gave me another multiplier. Thanks Sheldon for my only contact in BC!  It was still moderately slow going and there was a fair bit of QRM around. The last hour of the contest we switched to 100 watts and I got busy in run mode very near the contest recommended frequency (14.250mhz).  I think many US stations wanted to contact me as I may have been an easy multiplier for them.
After the contest ended I calculated my score by counting my rookie and non-rookie QSOs. Rookies are worth 2 points and
Non-rookies 1 point.

Multipliers were given for each unique state and province, and as luck had it I ended up with nearly 50/50 mix of rookie/non-rookies. I also had a very high number of unique states/provinces worked (37) to multiply my score so I ended up with top rookie score in Canada.

I learned lots of tips with regard to contest etiquette and best practices from both John and Brett. I thank them both again for a great day of radio sport. I would highly recommend this contest be put on the calendar for next year’s rookies, and don’t forget the RTTY and CW modes later this year. This contest gave me some confidence I didn’t have before that I could operate a contest station.  I still have much more work to do on my own QTH but look forward to more contesting.

More information at URL: http://www.arrl.org/rookie-roundup/

~ Jeremy VE7TMY





Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Tale Of Two Hams



Radio Ramblings

This story appeared in the May Communicator [page 22] https://tinyurl.com/SARC19-5 and has had a positive response so it is re-published here.

My wife Laura (VE7LPM) and I live in an old house on Smith Avenue in Burnaby.  In fact, I have lived there most of my life.  I came to the house in the summer of 1981 as a renter, and over the next few years was able to convince the owner to sell me the property.  It was expensive for a young police officer, but has turned out to be a good investment.  That aside, the place is centrally located near Boundary and Kingsway, and Laura and I have found it so convenient to practically everywhere that we have never thought too much about moving.  We respected the old place and have tried to keep it up.  

Over the years the house supported all my amateur radio activities, my two towers, and a not insignificant antenna farm.  I participated in contests, deployed dozens of odd antennas, made my first satellite QSO from the back deck, completed DXCC, worked my first EME contacts, and even (literally) blew up my 2 kilowatt 2-metre linear there in 1989.  Ka-boom!

The house was built in 1925, and despite its age, it’s in pretty good shape.  See Figure 1.  I had some time in the past couple of months, so thought that I would do some investigative work to find out something of the history of our home as it approaches the end of its first century.  

What I found is the subject of this month’s column.


Figure 1 – Our House Today

House Genealogy

All we knew about our house was that it was built in 1922  and that it had had a few owners before I moved in in 1981.  A retired police colleague had done research on his own house in Victoria, and suggested that a good starting point for finding out more is the “City Directory”.  

City Directories were published annually and date from a simpler time where residents were not worried about financial scams or identity theft, and when privacy was not a significant social issue.  Directory representatives would visit all homes in the Lower Mainland (and the province) annually and gather details of residents, owners, and occupations of those living in the community.  The information was published in a thick large-format book indexed by streets and surnames.  Directories for all of BC going back to 1860 are now available online courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL)  .

I used the VPL site to research our house based first upon its address.  Strangely, I could find records of our home going back to the early 1960s, but for earlier years our address did not show up in the City Directories.  This was odd!

I had to try a different approach.  Each City Directory also indicates street and cross-street, so by looking at the combination of “Smith Avenue” and looking for cross street names, I learned that sometime in the late 1950s the block numbers in Burnaby were all “reset” to match the block numbers used in the City of Vancouver.  I confirmed this renumbering by referring to historical street maps .  I could not find our house prior to about 1960 because the house number had been changed!

Armed with the new block number (the 3800-block rather than the current 5400-block), I was then able to track our home and its owners/residents back to 1925.  Prior to 1925, there were no records.  This too seemed odd.  I discovered through inquiries at Burnaby City Hall that our home had been built not in 1922, as Laura and I had always thought, but rather, in 1925.  This was our first interesting discovery.  City Directory searches confirmed that a new house and new residents showed up at 3854 Smith Avenue in 1926.

By googling our old street address, I was amazed to discover that City of Vancouver Archives  had a photograph of our house in 1931 .  See Figure 2.  I deduced through some online research in the Vancouver Archives and some corresponding VPL information that our home had been photographed as part of an advertising program for a 1930s-era furnace company.  Somehow the photos had been preserved.  Very interesting!


Figure 2 – Our House on July 21, 1931

Back to the City Directories, I was able to track the owners and residents of our house from 1926.  Armed with resident names, I was able to cross-reference from the street index to the directory’s name-based entries and find out about occupations and businesses that the residents had been involved in.  

This was interesting and I was able to build a chronology of owners and residents.  Laura and I are the sixth family to live here.  I googled the past residents, their occupations and businesses and discovered that prior to 1946 the house had been owned by a fellow who was involved in the auto business; and next by a large family who also owned another house on the block.  One of their daughters attended UBC.

I learned that in 1946 the house had been sold to a fellow named Edward James Fowler.  Naturally, I thought I’d do a bit of research on Mr. Fowler as I had on the other owners of our home.  See Figure 3.


Figure 3 – City Directory for 1946, “F. Fowler” 


Serendipity


Googling “E.J. Fowler” and our old address, I discovered that Edward James Fowler was known as “Ted”, and that he was, in fact, VE7VO.  Ted Fowler was a very well-known personality in the local amateur radio community.  He had been in Vancouver since at least the late 1930s .  

A prolific contester and DXer with several awards, he had been written of in QST and “Shortwave Magazine”, another popular radio magazine of the 1930s and 1940s.  This was very interesting!  

See Figure 4 for a photo I found in the BC DX Club Archives of VE7VO and colleagues at the 1958 DX Convention in Vancouver .


Figure 4 - DX Convention, Vancouver 1958

Spurred to do further research, I next discovered that all of the old Radio Amateur Callbooks from the 1920s onwards  have been scanned and made available by the Internet Archive  – an excellent site for information on radio and television history and on old radio technology.  

I downloaded several callbooks from the late 1940s and 1950s and looked up VE7VO.  See Figure 5 for VE7VO’s entry in the Fall 1947 callbook.  Note his address is that of our house at (then) 3854 Smith Avenue, shown as “New Westminster” rather than in Burnaby.


Figure 5 – VE7VO in the Fall 1947 Radio Amateur’s Callbook

I thought next that I would track VE7VO backwards from his purchase of our house in 1946.  I learned two more interesting things.  First, the VE7 call district did not exist prior to 1939.  This was news to me!  By searching for “Fowler” in the 1939 Callbook  I learned that VE7VO was in fact VE5VO at that time, but that he was already in Vancouver, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6 – VE7VO was VE5VO prior to WW II

The second thing I learned is that Mr. Fowler was a commercial pilot, as I am.  Unlike me, however, he had military flying experience.  I decided to follow this lead.

VE5VO had served with distinction in the Royal Air Force in Britain during the war.  As a pilot he flew several missions over Europe, and then after cessation of the war had been part of the RAF’s mission to disarm the German Luftwaffe.  “Shortwave Magazine” included a story in April 1946 about how Flight Lieutenant Fowler, VE5VO was instrumental in restarting amateur radio in Europe post-war .  He was issued the callsign D2VO.  See Figures 7 and 8.


Figure 7 – Shortwave Magazine, April 1946

Figure 8 – D2VO in Summer 1946 Radio Amateur’s Callbook


Post-war, Mr. Fowler was listed in the City Directory as a pilot and technician for TCA: Trans Canada Airlines, the forerunner of Air Canada.  However, I determined that he had changed careers by the 1950s and was involved in technical management of commercial radio transmitters .  He moved to Surrey in the early 1960s and passed away in 1983.  He was survived by a son, but there is no record of his son having an amateur radio license .


Other Interesting Observations

VE7VO lived in our house for about fifteen years, until about 1960.  He was active in amateur radio at that time.  I started thinking about whether I could find evidence of where his shack was, or perhaps where his antennas had been located.

When I moved into the house in the summer of 1981, I noted that one of the basement window frames had a number of strange large holes drilled in a linear fashion in its bottom frame.  I plugged the holes to keep mice and insects out, and eventually the window itself got replaced.  Now I am thinking that these holes were likely the ingress points for feedlines.  I had had evidence of “hamming” right before my eyes but had missed it!

A few years ago, Laura and I were doing yard work, as couples do.  She was digging up a rough patch in the backyard to smooth it out, and unearthed a large turnbuckle.  It was about a foot long and encased in rust.  She showed me the turnbuckle and I remember thinking “hmmm, when it was new that would’ve been great for securing a tower guy line”.  I didn’t recall losing a turnbuckle for my own towers, which were up at the time, but never really thought more of it.  The turnbuckle got tossed into our metal recycling.  Perhaps this was a leftover from one of VE7VO’s antennas.

The only other further evidence I have of antennas or antenna supports is weak, but I will present it here as it highlights another valuable resource for people doing historical amateur radio research.  Many cities have begun to make archival aerial photos available to the public.  These photos are integrated with modern GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and typically made available online.  Burnaby is no exception.  

I visited the City’s “Burnaby Historical Aerial Photo Viewer”, which contains zoomable orthophotos of Burnaby going back to 1930 .  Heading back in time to 1930, I was able to look at our house and the neighbourhood and watch it develop over the subsequent decades.  In particular, I noted that my then-state-of-the-art “TH6” Yagi antenna was clearly visible in photos from the 1980s to the early 2000s.  See Figure 9a and 9b.  As an aside, note how the quality of these photos has improved due to advances in technology.  

Maybe I could use historical orthophotos to find evidence of an antenna or tower!


Figure 9a – VE7ZD’s (VE7CPT’s) TH6 Yagi in 1985
Figure 9b – VE7ZD’s (VE7CPT’s) TH6 Yagi in 2004

  

























I turned next to orthophotos from the VE7VO period, 1946 to approximately 1960.  While I could not find obvious evidence of an antenna, I did note, however, the presence of an odd structure in the backyard of the house that cast a long shadow relative to other elements in the picture.  The photo is quite grainy, but you can make things out.  See Figure 10.


Figure 10 – House and Possible Antenna Support Structure in 1950

A tower or antenna support pole?  I will likely never know, but the structure’s location and characteristics do not look like a fountain, table, or other common garden element.  There is no evidence of the structure in our backyard today.

Interestingly, the structure was within about two metres of where I placed my own tower base in late 1981 after I moved into the house.  If the structure in the 1950 orthophoto was a tower or antenna support, it shows that hams even across time think alike!

Conclusion

This was an interesting journey into amateur radio history, and the history of one radio amateur, and his residence in the period from 1946 through about 1960.  I found out a lot about the history of our home, and located a fantastic 1931 photo of our house, showing it to be in essentially the same condition as it was nearly ninety years ago.  

It was amazing to think that another ham, and such a prominent one, had lived in the same house as Laura and I, and that VE7VO and I have both enjoyed the challenges and thrills of amateur radio from this location.  I wonder if we chose the same room for our shack?

An ongoing project for me is to try and find an old QSL card from VE7VO, or even VE5VO .  QSLs usually give the op’s address and often list station details and other information which would be of great interest to me.  It would be really neat if VE7VO’s QSL included a photo of his QTH, or of his shack!

One final point.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was extremely active on the bands, and was a member of a couple of local radio clubs, including the “Fraser Valley DX Club”, FVDXC.  We met in Surrey and Langley on a monthly basis.  I do not recall ever meeting Ted Fowler, VE7VO, but it is possible that, as a prominent DXer (then with decades of experience) and a then-Surrey resident, that he might have been a member of the FVDXC as well.  If he was, then I wish I had met him, and that the fact that serendipity had led me to live in his old home had come to light.  We would have had a lot in common, and meeting him would have been a really interesting experience!

That’s it for this month!  Feedback can be directed to the Editor, or directly to me at mcquiggi@sfu.ca.  Have a great month and 73,

~ Kevin VE7ZD / K7MCQ


Follow Kevin's "Radio Ramblings" monthly column in The Communicator

This article first appeared in the May 2019 SARC Communicator newsletter https://ve7sar.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-may-2019-communicator.html 





Thursday, August 22, 2019

Bringing Order To Chaos



One Ham’s Answer

I readily admit that I have a modest station compared to the local big guns in our club. I have been fortunate to work at some of them over the years including stations at Fred’s VE7IO, John’s VA7XB and Jim’s VE7FO. I’m always amazed at the number of contacts during a session, how a thousand Watts pushes through a pile-up and the variety of countries, some of which I have never even heard on my home station, let alone work them. 

Over the past year or so I have written several articles for the Communicator and the RAC TCA magazine on my efforts to put together a better station. First there was “Refinishing a Tower” in the January 2014 Communicator, then rebuilding a rotor in the December 2014 issue, and my next installment was to be refurbishing a 3-element HF beam… but that’s another chapter, as yet unfinished.

My shack is part of a home office I share with my wife, and is somewhat cramped in comparison to other home stations I have worked. My transceivers have to share desk space with a computer and various other work and hobby related equipment. It became clear some time ago that I had two options… significantly reduce my radio footprint by divesting assets or find a way to bring organization to the clutter. Well, actually it was more like chaos when I worked a contest. Up to three transceivers, a tuner, a power supply, voltage monitor, SWR meter, rotator control box, SignaLink digital interface, audio patch panel and the wires that held it all together, on my desk.  I’d have included a ‘before’ photo but it would be embarrassing.



I was cleaning house last fall and as part of the process listed some stuff on Craigslist that I no longer needed. One of these items was a legal size file rack, the type that rolls around with hanging file folders [photo above]. The thing wouldn’t sell despite a very competitive price, not even a single inquiry. I was about to haul it to the metal salvage when it struck me! I could transform this into a compact rack to hold my Ham gear. A 19-inch rack is a standardized frame or enclosure for mounting multiple equipment modules. Each module has a front panel that is 19 inches (482.6 mm) wide, including edges or ears that protrude on each side which allow the module to be fastened to the rack frame with screws. Equipment designed to be placed in a rack is typically described as rack-mount. The height of the electronic modules is also standardized as multiples of 1.752 inches (44.50 mm) or one rack unit or ‘U’. The industry standard rack cabinet is 42U tall [http://www.rackmountmart.com/html/sPt.htm]. There are usually ads for this stuff, and in used condition, often sells  for the price of the scrap metal. My file rack was 21 inches wide, lots of room. Using the standard 19 inches for the front width I dug out some used blank IT panels from commercial racks that I had been saving. 



I started work on it earlier this month. I pictured my gear accessible from the front and my connections for power, antennas and audio at the side. I removed the casters from the file rack—I could see that sucker rolling off the desk in my excitement during a pile-up! I added some channel aluminum to enclose one side as well. I already had a section of standard rack mounting channel that I mounted on either side of the front opening. 

I should clarify that I was not attempting to create a Grab ‘n Go Kit though the end result looks a bit like the excellent SEPAR kits, as seen in the April Communicator [video at https://youtu.be/E-a0yC--k6Q]. My rack can be lifted by one person but it was meant to stay in one place. I also wanted it to be flexible enough to shift gear around if my inventory changed and be accessible to wiring and the inevitable equipment re-configurations over time.

I cut several pieces of the panels to fit the openings for my transceivers, painted them black and edged them with black automotive door moulding from Canadian Tire. I added a panel mount LED voltmeter and a car 12 volt accessory outlet (I guess we don’t call them cigarette lighters anymore). I have a USB 5 volt plug-in for this outlet that I can use for charging my iPhone or for a USB LED light to softly light the front of the unit at night.

On the side I added a speaker, four PL-259 UHF feed through connectors. My feedlines enter here and I can use a patch panel approach to connect them to the transceiver of choice. I have a PowerPole 12 volt distribution panel which supplies fused protection and powers the gear, and I added two PowerPoles to an external side outlet. I don’t have a use for them yet but I plan for the future J. All wires are bundled and routed to the side and rear of the chassis.

Because I also use the gear while mobile and travelling, I needed an easy method to remove and replace it. The units are held in by heavy duty releasable zip ties which are inexpensive, strong and secure. 

My audio enters and exits through a ProCo PM-148 patch bay. This is another rack mount surplus item and allows me to feed anything that takes a ¼ inch phone plug and connect it to anything else. There are 24 pairs of jacks on the front and a matching 24 pairs on the back of the ProCo. Audio from the devices goes into the rear jacks and I can patch them at the front so that I can hook up multiple headsets, mics or foot switches in any combination. I also added a built-in mobile transceiver speaker to the side as an additional listening option.  I have since added a Xenix 802 2-bus mixer to handle my inputs and output levels after a segment on HamNation that convinced me that it was a needed station accessory.

I have used it for several years now and what a treat! I have sufficient space on my desk for my coffee cup and a snack and all my gear is less than an arms length away. I have ordered a new panel volt meter because I found one on eBay for $6 that does triple duty, adding a clock and thermometer—built-in overheating protection and UTC at a glance! 

So far I haven’t experienced any interference or noise issues but I have a supply of ferrites available should the need arise. I even have some rack space left in the event I need to add another ‘toy’.

Because I had all the parts and connectors already, the only cost was a can of semi-gloss black spray paint. That plus my time; not a bad investment for a functional [and portable] station.

~ John VE7TI




Sunday, August 18, 2019

Outdoors With Ham Radio


Get Out Of The Shack And Discover New Opportunities

In this nice August 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



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