Call Sign Placque Now Available at Oak Originals!

The gift I received months ago from my two great nieces–Addison & Caroline–proudly hangs in my office/ham shack over the roll-top desk and mantel clock I inherited from my namesake Grandfather. It was designed and made by their Mom, our niece, Amy Houston Hunt, as part of her custom design art business in nearby Flowood, MS.

Due to the great feedback I’ve received from blog readers, Amy has now made this type of amateur radio call sign plaque one of her store’s items.

CallSignPlacque

Antique Ham Call Plaque from OAK Originals

Her store, OAK Originals LLC, can be found at: http://www.oakoriginalsms.com. She can do alternate designs and so forth but, ahem, they all will please anyone else inhabiting the space where your amateur radio station is situated (if you know what I mean and I think you do). It’s available for now at the steal of a price for hand-painted custom artwork on cabinet-grade plywood of $42.

OAK Originals LLC, 5352 Mississippi Hwy 25, Suite 1000, Flowood, MS 39232 Phone: 601-919-1682

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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!


Field Day 2013? Not really….

ARRL Field Day 2013

I’d be working on a (cool) setup for this year’s Field Day by now….but I won’t be participating in the ARRL-sponsored Field Day this year. (Please don’t tell Hiram!). It’s not because I’m boycotting or anything. Amateur radio is an important hobby and public service in my life. BUT, having a first grandchild is more important!

Our son and his wife are having a girl scheduled over this year’s Field Day period. We will be at the hospital waiting out her first birth, eager to meet our grand daughter, Sadie Elizabeth Howell, when she chooses to make her entrance into this world and into our lives!

We love being aunt and uncle (and, ahem, great aunt and great uncle) to several younger ones in our large family. But being grandpop will be a new experience, I’m sure.

Like not making it to Dayton, I’ll have to plead “next year” for Field Day too. But this brings up a type of soap-box point.

babygirloutline

I used to play golf in a Faculty League at Mississippi State University. There were Tuesday afternoon sessions and alternate Saturday tournaments during the season. Retired faculty (such as me now) always wanted to play earlier than the officially scheduled 4:30pm time on Tuesday. This was especially the case once the hot sun is a constant and the humidity levels reduced ex-Marines to sitting on the benches at each water stop. We faculty and staff who were still working and had meetings or classes scheduled until late hours would always be either late or absent. The common mantra among those who left work, family, or students “early” to attend an “employer sponsored health maintenance program” was:

You’ve Got to Get Your Priorities Straight!

As we hams see others dropping out of the hobby, taking a siesta, or dropping their podcasts, blogs, or other intensive activities, should we think that they do not have their “priorities straight”? I think not. Hobbies, especially for men, tend to occupy more of a front-and-center place in the daily calendar than for women, who tend to do more of the work at home whether they’re employed or not. (OK, no citation here but I can come up with a reference list that would choke a horse if need be!) Family life can be very stressful— even for one party— if the other has long-term absences from key activities that keep family bonds strong. Think SWR here — you can operate with a high degree of it but the transmissions are losing something which can eventually lead to a component failure. Family ties are not a lot different from this. Not everyone has a ham activity competing with the birth of a first grandchild but hopefully readers get my point. If you’re in amateur radio for the long haul, balance is important. Just ask your family! From this perspective, I believe that I have my priorities straight.

Have a great 2013 Field Day! I’ll be at the hospital, hopefully holding my newborn granddaughter, Sadie. Now how can I get her a baby-sized set of headphones….

73 de GrandPops


And across the Pond….

ICQPodcast

ICQ Podcast

If you haven’t subscribed to the ICQPodcast produced in the United Kingdom by the father and son team of Martin & Colin Butler, you’ve missed a good listen! What I’m about to say may deter your future listening but I hope it won’t!

I’ve joined the team as a U.S. correspondent, reporting on significant happenings in amateur radio from “across the pond” here in the former colonies. It was back in my early 20s when I last created, mixed, and otherwise produced any audio content. As founder of the campus FM radio station at Georgia College, then WXGC, I spent four years, from freshman to senior year, getting the idea of a campus radio station like WREK at Ga Tech in Atlanta or WVVS at Valdosta State in Valdosta, GA across to administrators and fellow students. Milledgeville (GA) had country music on WMVG (AM & FM) but we had little to no rock-and roll. We worked to take over the Student Activities Budget Committee with 7 students and two of the Faculty/Staff members voting with us to get the meager funds. Finally, a 10-watt Harris FM transmitter kicked on with my former roommate Greg Duckworth as the lead DJ. I moved on to help build a local AM commercial daytime station, WXLX, there in Milledgeville. I served as the first News Director for the 1060 News program there until I left for graduate school. While I held a FCC Commercial Broadcast License, I didn’t learn the code. In grad school, forget it! I was lost in the reading just to keep up with classes. But I never forgot the thrill of “lighting the lamp” each morning when I opened and when the red light came on in the news room through the glass from the main control station.

When Martin & Colin mentioned the need for a U.S. correspondent a few months ago, I sent along a note with a meager contribution to their ‘cast saying that I would be happy to work with them. The current podcast, Series 6, Episode 9, is my first appearance on their show. They may have other U.S. correspondents as I agreed to do at least a monthly segment….but I’m proud to be one of them!

If you have any news items or things of interest, feel free to send them along to my call sign at arrl.net.

 


ARRL Life Membership….

As a late-in-life ham (my terminology), the price comparison of paying the freight for Life Membership in the American Radio Relay League may not seem like it’s worth it. Financially, at least. But, for various reasons that many late-in-life amateur operators understand, it took me from eight years of age in getting the bug to my late fifties to get licensed (Thanks to Ga Tech’s Bootcamp Program). With life expectancy for men who don’t smoke, drink, or even use bad language (much any more) reaching into the eighties, a 30 year span of Life Membership is more of a financial bargain that it used to be.

But for me, it’s more important to enjoy amateur radio and the League to the fullest. That means different things to different hams. I’m honored to be serving the League through a second appointment as Delta Division Assistant Director under two different Directors. That means a lot to be able to give back to amateur radio. I’m a life member of one of my professional (academic) societies and the Executive Director tells me that the Society loses money on its Life Membership Program but it’s important to have it for symbolic and intangible reasons. That is why I just completed paying for Life Membership in the ARRL: because I wanted to be committed to serving the League “for life,” whatever that means!

Life Membership ID
ARRL Life Membership Card & Pin

When all helicity breaks loose…

skywarn_noaa_trainedI learned a new word last Saturday: helicity. During my Skywarn advanced storm spotter training, Brian Koenecke of the National Weather Service here in Jackson MS taught participants about key elements of meteorology. The “helicity” of a turbulent flow of air—sort of like a bed spring gone awry—was one of the elements that NWS tracks in their radar systems as part of their package to make storm predictions (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbulence). The differential equations describing these fluid dynamics was about the only thing that I knew ahead of time! (Thanks to the former contact with the old NSF-funded Engineering Research Center folks like Don Trotter and others.) Interestingly, one of my statistics home-boys, Andrey Kolmogorov, was a pioneer in developing the Reynolds Numbers to describe the directional complexity of such turbulence!

The two-hour program was hosted at the Mississippi Extension Service in Rankin County which is co-located with the EOC for that county. The Extension Service seldom gets the recognition that they deserve for facilitating public education programs like these.

Brian gave a superb presentation and has a great style for the audience he was trying to reach. These included folks with education levels ranging from less than high school to Ph.D. He’s also pursuing a degree in GIS from my pals at Penn State University. I had a small hand in the MSU Meteorology Program getting into GIS back in the late 1990s when I was the Coordinator of the Mississippi Space Commerce Initiative. It’s a natural blend of scientific fields.

He recommended their smartphone link for use in getting their latest information: http://mobile.weather.gov. It’s a really good link. No mobile phone app yet, just a URL link. I found the RadarScope app for my iPad to be stellar (it’s also available for Android and OS X): http://www.basevelocity.com/RadarScope/. It is really slick and highly educational.

Getting back to hamateur radio, the Skywarn program is a terrific investment of public tax dollars. We learned that while Mississippi does not have the highest frequency of tornadoes, the region from NE Louisiana to western Tennessee has the most dangerous set of tornadoes historically. These are tornadoes which stay touched-down to the ground for 100 miles or more! So when we have them, we tend to have the worst. That means that trained Storm Spotters can have a great, life-saving impact. Especially if they are licensed amateur radio operators who can easily communicate what they accurately see to the National Weather Service.

Right now, the NWS uses their file of trained spotters to make key telephone calls to those located in areas for which their radar systems cannot detect the “micro meteorology” needed to update storm path and intensity predications. Eyes on the ground. They try to utilize live feeds from traffic cameras too but these are not located throughout the state. What would make a better arrangement would be to have the locations of all trained Storm Spotters, especially those with ham licenses, geocoded to lat-lon coordinates into the NWS GIS System so that they could contact key Spotters directly in the locations where they need immediate intelligence. But, alas, they are not currently geocoded.

There are more complete systems to provide this feedback which would be critical to both NWS and radio-television weather meteorologists. APRS and SSTV have been coupled (see http://wa8lmf.net/aprn/index.htm). The digital modes of DSTAR and HSMM-MESH can provide such rich details. Of course, cell phones with picture texting can too—IF cell service isn’t down.

This sounds like a problem of social organization (or the current lack thereof) rather than a dearth of technology. Joe Speroni (AH0A) and I are currently geo-coding all actively licensed amateurs in the US with the cooperation of the generous company, SmartyStreets (http://smartystreets.com). (More on that in a future blog post.) We could do the same for NOAA-certified Storm Spotters IF the Skywarn program will work with us. A secure website hosting the QTH of Spotters with the additional attributes of those with ham licenses and the repeater frequency used for Skywarn Net in the locale would greatly assist NWS according to Brian. We will see how this works out. But, for now, I’m glad that I got trained to spot danger: look, it’s a bird; it’s a plane;  no, it’s all helicity breaking loose from the Southwest! Let NWS know now.

In a more serious tone, consider getting trained. Contact your local Extension Service Office (one in almost every county; see http://msucares.com/counties/index.html for Mississippi) and ask about Skywarn Training or go to the national Skywarn training site: http://skywarn.org/skywarn-training/. The life you save may be your own…or mine!


Grounding…a heated floor in Mississippi?

Being on the 2nd floor, I was especially concerned about an RF ground. I read and re-read a lot of the current websites on RF grounds, saw folks call one another names, and figured I was going to be out of luck! To make it worse, the builder and electrical contractor had placed my electric service panel where the local code required it: nearest point of entry to the extant buried service point. Unfortunately, this was on the opposite of the house from my shack. No nice tying everything into the service ground as all of my sources insisted was needed. With brick, concrete, and landscaping, there was no way (after the fact) to run a buried ground cable down to the point under my ham shack.

Mississippi Gumbo!

Mississippi Gumbo!

The soil where we built is commonly referred to as Mississippi Gumbo, or Yazoo Clay. Not great for stable, sturdy, and long-term structures being built on it. But hopefully not bad as far as ground conductivity. I’m still searching for a more precise measurement of that for Yazoo Clay. It does tend to stay moist but some Kitty Litter and watering the Hydrangea plant in front of the PVC pipe may help.

At the same time, there are a lot of hams who’ve operated successfully without explicit RF grounds. One is Steve Katz WB2WIK. See his QRZed posts or his appearance on Ham Nation. On the other hand, Tom W8JI, has a masterful website and he operates a contest station on the 2nd floor of a converted barn. Hmm…surely I could come up with something that made sense and would help keep RF out in the ether instead of my lips at the mic or my alarm system or in my neighbor’s stereo.

W8JI’s site shows a grid laid down on the 2nd floor. He suggests copper, of course, and further says that the grid with a pattern of smaller than 2’x2′ doesn’t make much of a difference. I checked Georgia Copper and a host of other copper mesh suppliers so that I could perhaps put a layer of copper mesh down on top of the plywood sub-flooring before the carpet went down. That would have cost about $600! Tom W8JI made a comment about thin copper strips from a hobby store. A trip with my wife to a nearby Hobby Lobby and I was ready to start with the grid! I laid down a 2″ copper strap on the floor to connect a common ground between both sets of built-in cabinets. From this copper strap, the thin copper adhesive strips from the hobby store were run so that  the desired 2’x2′ grid pattern emerged on the sub-flooring. These were all soldered where ever the copper strip connected to another or to the copper connecting strap.

As a humorous aside, the carpenters installing cabinets in the adjacent bathroom had bets on what the hell was going down on the floor in my office. They thought I was another sub-contractor installing a heated floor but what idiot would get a heated floor in Mississippi! To a person, they all gathered to watch as I explained what I was doing and why I was doing it. They said they don’t see that every day in the houses they help build!

Copper Connecting Strap

Copper Connecting Strap

Copper Grid Pattern

Copper Grid Pattern

The PVC pipe that ran from the attic above my shack contained a T-connector for coax and control wire to enter under a shelf on the cabinet. It continued and made an elbow turn to outside the house near the ground. I put three ground rods several feet apart into the Yazoo Clay and connected each one by the 2″ copper strap as shown below. Following W8JI, I connected a master bus under one of the shack cabinet shelves next to the incoming PVC elbow with the outside ground strap and the inside false ground grid to a common ground bus. All of my  powered equipment is connected to this ground bus using tinned copper braid ground strap material.

On the left picture, you can see the exiting copper strap—I’ll paint the white PVC to a rust color to please the XYL—and the right picture is the final ground rod. There is one more to the right of the one beneath the PVC pipe next to the brick chimney not shown in the two pictures.

IMG_1669IMG_1671

George W5JDX, host of Smoke and Solder on Ham Nation and co-host of Amateur Logic TV, said he’d wager that this would solve my ground problem as the potential for the ground strap inside the descending PVC to the ground was less than 10 feet. Thus far, and as far as I can tell, he’s right!

I have an MFJ-931 Artificial Ground device that Martin Jue sells. It it great for portable operations where radials aren’t very easy to lay down. But it’s also a good tool to “see” the differential between what is expected in ground impedance and what is present. I may experiment with this notion to see how the false ground under the carpet operates vs. the strap to the three ground rods outside. For the time being, I’m just glad to feel like I’ve done what I could do with what I have to play with.