For the second year in a row, I attended the hamfest in Huntsville, Alabama held at the Von Braun Center. I’m sure there are a lot of ‘fests across the country and the world, for that matter, that are very good. The Huntsville ‘Fest has a great atmosphere: excitement seems to be everywhere. It isn’t just a bone-yard and vendor display. There is active learning and exchange of ideas going on! I included a brief description in my segment Series 6, Episode 17 of the ICQ Podcast (icqpodcast.com) but here’s a fuller description of this trip.
I drove up to Starkville to meeting Jimmy Wooten N5VSB at his home. Mucho space for antennas, etc.! We drove up to Huntsville in his truck. Unfortunately, his FT-857D was down because of a power issue or we’d have worked 40M on the way up. But the conversation was good as we shared ideas about a common Club (the Magnolia ARC) of which we’re both past-Presidents, moon bounce technology that Jimmy’s getting into, and expanding the repeater system in Starkville. Not a bad drive at all (he was driving!).
Got to have a great dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse there are the convention hotel. Tom Diachiara (AC5MR), Mike McKay (KM5GS), Bill White (K5BLL), and Jimmy Wooten (N5VSB) joined me at Tom’s behest. It’s odd but true that if you don’t see home-folks at Walmart, you see them at a convention! Mike is a frequent Net Control for the MS Phone Net (Wednesday nights) so you may have some familiarity with him. Bill is a retired “telephone man” who, like me, just became a grandfather…except his grand child is in TX so he’s mobile very frequently.
Getting to see all of the major vendors–who are definitely there in Huntsville—as well as some of the ham radio media (HamNation, Amateur Logic TV, Ted Randall’s QSO Show, and, of course, Tom Medlin W5KUB who streams it live and interviews various folks from the group)—is always a blast. I didn’t buy much but I did pick up a BaoFeng UV-5r HT from Hub City Amateur Radio Sales as a package deal (had everything in one box to charge it, program it, and put it on the air). The two-bander is going to a very worthy cause. But more about that in a future blog post as it would be a spoiler alert requirement.
The Forums were super (see http://www.hamfest.org/Forums.php) as they were last year. This is why I titled this post, It’s Got a Chance! My opinion is that ‘Fests getter “better” (not necessarily bigger but who can argue with Dayton on this very point?) when there’s more to learn and share about ham radio. Yes, I liked the opportunity to put my grimy little mitts on the Kenwood TS-990..and marveled at simply how large the Yaesu FT-5000MP is! My Kenwood TS-940SAT feels more portable after that! Talking to vendors and learning, for instance, that a huge stockpile of vacuum tubes lies just west of me in Natchez, MS (K5SVC@natchez.net) was way cool. Having listened to the OMISS Net for years but having never checked in, I got a kick out of meeting some members face-to-face and recognizing their SSB voices in my head! (I did promise to check-in soon!) I could go on (as Jimmy could attest) but you get my point.
It was my pleasure to hear the numbers dude, Rob Sherwood NC0B, talk about the “name” transceivers that were announced in 2012 at Dayton and their “numbers review” as of Dayton 2013. I’ve done business with Rob in years past—bought a filter-modded JRC NRD-545 that I convinced myself to sell when I moved from Starkville but have regretted it since, especially since the going price is now 150%-200% of what I paid Rob for it—and always admired his tenacity at searching for some objective truths about rigs. As a statistician, that gets my attention. But I was even more impressed at his closing statement and response to the audience. He said that unless some numbers on a rig are just bad, research them and buy what you think you’ll like. Of course, this can be driven by objective performance but, like cars, there is a subjective experience to this too. Rob’s suggestion is that once you have it but find you don’t like it, try to sell or trade for one you think you will like better, if at all possible. In other words, winnow down based on the numbers but get what you enjoy. When asked what his favorite rig was (and you know he must get asked this often), he only said he had a bias for analog audio. Rob Sherwood and Joe Walsh are both Analog Men!
It was also great to attend part of what’s been called, Two Days in Huntsville, a play on the Dayton Hamvention theme, which focuses on QRP. I’ve not been a full QRPer yet but do some portable ops. I’ve cheated from MS to check into the NOGA QRP Net on 3.975mhz at times (is that net still going?) by running 100 watts into a G5RV up at 125’ in Starkville…heard a 0.5 watt (yep, 1/2 a watt) SSB operator in NC on that Net…but haven’t yet done a lot of QRPing. But I liked what I saw and heard! I’ll tell you why…
The sessions were focused on operating efficiency which plays from QRPing to the CA Kilowatt (or should). One session examined portable antennas for QRP portable ops (which I liked). Doing QRP at a base QTH with an array of beams was also discussed. The session on the Reverse Beacon Net (RBN) was what caught my eye in the program. See http://www.reversebeacon.net. Several ops at this session who had used RBN from across the globe (i.e., some themselves were across the globe!) to identify “propagation bubbles” as periodic openings in a band discussed how this worked.
During the discussion, I mentioned that I had some statistically-based ideas on how to harness both the RBN data and Joe Taylor’s WSPR data—both using origin-destination “nodes” of a contact or reception—to construct a type of “handicapping system” for contests. That is, the class of operation is already broken into similarly competitive classes of operators or operator groups. But the fate of the “ion surfing” really depends upon your location, location, location, right? That’s a bit of a luck of the draw at this time. Craig Behrens NM4T, who was leading the panel session, and I have followed up via e-mail to draw a more complete picture. He’s putting together a group of QRPers to consider this idea, which I had discussed a few years ago at a ‘Fest with Ward Silver N0AX. We’ll see how it goes….but the spatial statistics work right now which models origin-destination “flows” (of transportation, migration, etc.) could come into play here so that the differential “luck of the draw” in ion-surfing contests might be roughly equalized. What impact would this have? Well, it would force the sheer operating ability to shine through instead of having a “lucky” band opening. Okay, I’m not a big-time contester so this is just blue-sky thinking here. Give it time.
Plus, I won a cool door prize at this RBN session: Ham Radio for Arduino and PICAXE (ARRL Books). Hmm…that never made it out of Jimmy’s truck.
Huntsville’s Hamfest has a group that is really working to make it better. I’d like to see it become perhaps the dominant regional hamfest in the South. It’s Huntsville! There are Rocket City Redncks there! It’s a great place for amateur operators to go for such enjoyment. Bringing in a name speaker (like Rob Sherwood) or two is an investment but it will help draw a crowd.
I’d like to see amateur clubs in the region get behind the Huntsville group and help organize Forums, expand the Two Days in Huntsville to Three, include newer technology building parties (Broadband HamNet, Digital computer modes, balloon and buoy construction) and, for goodness sakes, launch a balloon next year! It’s Rocket City! Oh, and get Travis Taylor to speak. I think we could get Roger licensed as a Technician so they could feature amateur radio on their show. Or they could blow up something in the parking lot. But that’s another blog post!