Category Archives: Magnolia ARC

Huntsville HamFest: It’s Got a Chance!

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.

Mike & Bill

Mike McKay & Bill White

VBC

Von Braun Center grounds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Mike, Frank, and Tom

Giga fun…in front of GigaParts!

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!

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Oh My! You’ve Asked Me to Do What?

I must say, two recent opportunities have made me wonder about the state of leadership in amateur radio. OK, that’s tongue-in-cheek and I hope to keep it that way!

My local amateur club, the Magnolia ARC, here in Starkville, MS asked me to serve as President for this year. On top of that, I have been appointed Assistant Director of the Delta Region for the Amateur Radio Relay League. I am humbled on both counts but it means that I’ve got to focus on the organizational aspects of ham radio which will take some operating time away, I am sure.

The Magnolia ARC now has a website (www.magarc.org) that I’ve assembled using Google Sites. It’s working and giving us a means to communicate and be visible to others. I took the FCC ULS data and extracted licenses to clubs and individuals in MS. It was easy to process them using SPSS software to a workable number of data fields, geocode them to their location, and embed an interactive Google Map into the Club website. Now, visitors can click and find out what clubs are nearby as well as where licensed hams are located. I found two others in my neighborhood alone, along with one who recently let his license expire due to age and infirmity. As we get more pictures of members and an agenda of programs to be presented each month, the Magnolia ARC will be in good shape.

The Club has maintained two repeaters; one on 2 meters and one of 70cm. Both are “down” and have been for a number of months. Without repeaters, nets, and good old rag-chewing, the life of a club tends to ebb away. After being a member of the Atlanta Radio Club—and still am—I learned the value of the informal group that emerges on VHF especially. The ARC repeater system is a very active one but it’s based on much larger number of hams. The MARC group has over the past few months passed the hat to raise funds for a new 2M rig, a Vertex 9000, and, last week, an Icom FR4000 for 440 mhz. These two rigs replace venerable GE Mastr II machines converted over to the respective ham bands. RF leaching tends to win over time and it’s more difficult, I’m told, to find the replacement transistors than it is to buy another similar rig on eBay. So, MARC decided to modernize a bit and donated the 2M GE Mastr II to our neighbor, W5YD at Mississippi State University. They plan to repair it and convert it into a digipeater for local APRS activity. Alas, the old CAT-1000 (not “B”) controller will not work with the Vertex 9000 so we’ve donated it to W5YD. We both win!

The 2M repeater is located on top of the Oktibbeha County Hospital on the north side of town in Starkville. One MARC member, Mark Carruth KC5AKY, used his MFJ 269 Antenna Analyzer to detect a short in the coax about 10 feed out. We will replace that coax cable with actual hard-line after testing it with a replacement length of coax. The Vertex 9000 will have to be reprogrammed to use the internal controller with a CW ID until we can purchase a new controller board. The OCH emergency response folks (Mike Shelton) are very glad to have us located there as they have a new command center and want to get a few staff members licensed as Technicians to work with us. We replaced the power supply for the Vertex with an MFJ model known for it’s stability. The 2M repeater should be back on the air, at least in rudimentary form, once we reprogram the Vertex to use the internal controller with our CW ID and replace the shorted coax.

The 70 cm machine was purchased via eBay from Dick WA6NSR who had it for three years on a project that never materialized. He had Emmett WA6COT program it for us to our 440 mhz frequency pair and tone, shipping it from California in fine shape. It arrived last Friday. Our 440 mhz repeater is located a the main tower facility of the Starkville Metrocast Cable Television company. MARC Past-President Audie Hughes KE5EXK and I recently inspected the old GE rig in the secured cabinet. We’ll just remove the power supply, repeater, and older (I mean ancient) controller board, leaving the duplexers. We’ll get a local technician to check and re-tune them if they’re off frequency. With that, we will install the Icom FR4000 440 mhz rig with it’s internal controller to get back on the air.

Job One on MARC activity is almost completed thanks to the great spirit of the Magnolia ARC membership! I am not a repeater expert but I’ve learned a bunch over this past month. I suspect that I will learn a lot more before we are on the air.

On the Delta Division ARRL activity, working with Mickey Cox K5MC, Division Director, has been super. I am helping design this year’s survey of Delta Division amateur radio members. More on that in a later post.