Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bloomington IL Ham Radio Class and Exam

The Randolph Township Fire Department in Heyworth, IL will hold an Amateur (Ham) Radio licensing prep class on Tuesday January 12, 2016 from 6pm to 9pm, with an exam session on Wednesday January 13, 2016 at 7pm. The exam for the Technician class license consists of 35 multiple choice questions. There is no Morse Code requirement! There is no cost for the class; the licensing exam fee is $14. 

Amateur radio is a fun and exciting hobby, giving you the ability to talk around town or around the world, send messages with your computer, a radio, and a wire, or build state of the art wireless networks. 

For more information about the hobby, a free study guide, or to register for the prep class contact Michael Brown at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I found a fox!

I found a fox! No, not a real fox...a QRP fox! I took a break from watching the Packers get whooped by the Lions, and ran up to the shack for a bit of relaxing. I turned on the KX3, and it was still tuned to 3.550 CW. Right away came N0UR calling CQ FOX. I haven't participated in the fox hunts before, but hey, this had to be destiny! Jim in MN picked me up right away...first call! He did have to ask for my power (5W) as in the excitement I forgot to send it!

Thanks Jim for the hunt! If you're interested in giving QRP a try, and you like a bit of a challenge, check out the QRP Fox Hunt page.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cold enough for antenna work

My last big project before winter was getting a wire antenna up for 160m. My HF antenna has been a Carolina Windom up 40' or so, hung below the trees. It has been a fabulous antenna for me, allowing contacts all around the world. But lo, it does not work well down at 160m. The HF gurus in my area continued to remind me that I needed to get down on that project finally bubbled to the top of the list. I would have a two HF antenna QTH!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

My buddy Shannon took his first amateur radio licensing test last Tuesday. We spent weeks trying to find him an exam session, jumping from club to club. We successfully found a VE session 50 miles from him. He passed both the Tech and General exams with flying colors! The VEs told him it would take 7 to 10 days before the FCC would post his license on their website. That was surprising to me, as I had seen the W5YI group get me a club call in two days within the last year. Oh well, technology does change and sometimes not for the better.

And then, 7 days later, Shannon sends me this link this morning: FCC not processing test results

What bum luck he has! Hopefully the fine folks in IT will get the problem solved quickly. A new ham awaits his call!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The long drive

I'll readily admit that I don't mind driving. I've been fortunate to own some pretty nice vehicles. My latest is a Ford F150 that has my Diamond VHF/UHF antenna mounted at the back of the the bed and my ICOM 2820 D-STAR radio nicely tucked into the console. When an impromptu trip came up Tuesday, instead of taking the ultra fuel efficient Honda, I took the truck. The ride is so much more comfortable, I enjoy riding up higher on the road, and of course the radio is much better than any temporary installation I can swing into the Honda.

It's around 9pm and no one is around on the repeaters. This isn't a route I travel very often so maybe I'm not on the active repeaters. I tuned over to 146.52 simplex. A quick call (not a long winded CQ) returns no takers. So wait a few minutes and try again. Just a simple call..."KG9DW mobile on I-39 southbound, listening on 52". And back comes a fine OM - WA9CEG, John in LaSalle. I'm about 20 miles north of LaSalle, so I know John has a fine station. Even in the flat lands of Illinois, working a mobile station 20 miles away does require more than a Ringo Ranger on a 10 foot pole.

Even at highway speeds, our QSO lasted a good 30 minutes. We talked about what we do (or in John's case did) for a living, family, radio, the weather...everything except for medical history! John worked in a steel mill and then owned an ice cream shop before retiring. His 6 kids were spread out about the area, with one living about 10 miles from my home QTH. We spoke of friends, common areas we've traveled, and then of happiness. We talked about things John was proud of, and the impacts he has had on others.

Talking with such a fine man, it was hard not to remember my own grandfather who died last year. The voice was similar, and so were some of the stories and advice. It was even harder not to think of my friend Fred Slayback who passed away earlier in the day after a long health struggle. As I as headed further south, I said my 73s before I ran out of range. John was still running a strong S5 signal as I fell over the hill for the flat run into McLean county. I hope to meet John on the air again someday, but if I don't I'll certainly remember our QSO on a rainy fall night in Illinois.

They say that it's all about the journey and not the destination. Likewise, in ham radio it isn't about the radio or antenna; it isn't about the mode or technology. It's about the conversations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Setting a Baofeng on FIRE!

I came across this video through the forums. K5CLC did some extreme testing of a Baofeng UV-5R, including setting it on FIRE! The results are interesting. Skip to 2:57 to see the flames. I really like my Baofeng HT...not as my primary radio but as the one that is with me when I'm working on the farm, tinkering in the barn, or anytime I'm likely to have dirty hands.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

An Arduino arrived

Monday brought a pleasant surprise in the mailbox...our first Arduino! The $5 board from eBay arrived as promised, and it was just as simple to use as everyone said it would be. My youngest daughter and I quickly had it doing a few minor tasks prior to me running off to a fire department meeting. Our next task is to get it to work with a temperature probe. This looks like a very simple and fun little platform. I'm excited!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The builder bug

It looks like I'm coming down with another case of the "builder bug". That's what I call it when I get the urge to make stuff. For the last couple of years, I've been content playing with digital repeaters I've cobbled together, or wiring up a TNC for a Raspberry pi in recent months. But now, I'm looking at Arduinos. These boards are a little lower level than the full-blown Linux system I've come to love with the pi. The Arduinos have incredible potential because of their simplicity. With very lower power consumption, and nearly instant power up, I can see many uses for these wonders of the 21st century. My youngest daughter is working on a project to provide weather data from the high school's crop test plot 4 miles away. That led us to looking at building a weather station from scratch, which led to Arduinos, which then led to...well you get the point. I've now found at least four other projects that I could accomplish with these little microcontrollers. I placed an order for an $4 UNO last night. Let the fun begin!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Project updates

The last few weeks have been very productive on the ham radio front! I cleaned up the coax routing for my Icom 2820 I had installed in the new pickup. While it was only slightly messy, the extra tie wraps and cable management make me feel better. I also installed a GPS puck antenna so the 2820 now shows my position on every D-STAR transmission I make. I had this setup with the 880 in the previous truck, but never had this setup on the 2820. It was very simple - plug in the antenna, change a few settings, and you're good to go. I used a $10 antenna from Amazon.

I moved the antenna for my ADS-B feed radio to a higher location at the end of the pole barn. This required also moving the ubiquiti 2GHz data radio I use to provide internet access to the radio. Luckily I had enough spare mast clamps and hardware to turn this into a nice afternoon project.

At the WX9WX D-STAR homebrew repeater site, the building owner called and wanted our AREDN mesh antenna moved a bit higher. The initial request was for the antenna to be low enough that it couldn't be seen from the road. Now we needed to move it higher so that workers on the roof wouldn't be at eye level with the transmitter. Having worked in the corporate world for quite some time, changing requirements or expectations is something I'm used to. So up to the roof we went, and up another 6 feet went the antenna!

This week Tom KJ9P and I moved the repeater to its newly coordinated frequency. Changing the frequencies on the Motorola radios was a piece of cake thanks to software and a laptop. Re-tuning the duplexer at the site was more of a challenge. I've tuned quite a few duplexers in the last three years, but never one at a site. I found that without a portable signal generator that could go down in the microvolts, it was difficult to do the precise tuning I normally do on the bench. Luckily a quick phone call to Fred KC9REG, who was 27 miles away, resulted in an EXCELLENT weak signal for final testing!

The next projects involve cleaning up the shack. Does anyone ever finish cleaning up the shack? Maybe I should lower my expectations. Finally, I must get an antenna up for 160m before the winter. Plans for a skywire loop are underway. Now to find 600' of 12 gauge wire and some ladder line...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

FSQCALL for quick messages

In the September 2015 QST magazine, there is an article about FSQCALL. This is an interesting digital mode with some free software to send quick, short messages between other hams. It's meant to be more conversational than PSK - you type a sentence, hit enter, and away it goes. It has some selective calling features that let you address stations individually.

I loaded the software on my Windows 10 desktop, turned on my KX3, and was up and running on 30M with 5 watts in about 5 minutes. The software is pretty simple, especially after watching a couple of videos on YouTube first. I ran into Jim, W1PID, and also talked with Maine, and Texas.

For me, this is a great place to just hang out and see who's around. No expectation of making endless CQs on 14.070, or sharing signal reports on JT65.

The simplest application for FSQCall is that it provides a 'watering hole' for a group of friends who wish to keep in touch and chat occasionally. Experience has shown that leaving your equipment running on 7105 kHz during the day, and 3580 kHz at night, will provide fairly reliable communications over about a 500 - 1000 km range. Depending on propagation, 40m may well work day and night. Only modest power is required. You can leave a message for your friend if they aren't available, and even use one friend to relay a message to another. The software will tell you who is currently available.
I'm going to play with the message store/forward functionality next. If you didn't see the QST article, you can read more  from ZL1BPU. Or, take a look at this video:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Control of Your Transmitter?

Are you really in control of your transmitter? I visited another radio club last night. It was interesting to hear the discussion about two new repeater projects the club is working on, including swapping the RF and control decks out with Yaesu's Fusion offer. I could write a book on the pros and cons of the Fusion's post isn't about that.

What was interesting to me is that the club wasn't concerned that they wouldn't have remote control of their repeater transmitters the way that they do today. They are planning on running the repeaters in analog mode for output, and maybe dual mode for input. The comment that stuck with me is that they didn't see any need for the repeater controllers they have today. The ability to make remote changes to the configuration, or to be able to shut the system down (and turn it back on) were not of interest to any of the members.

I've only run repeaters for a couple of years now. It has been quite the adventure. During that time, I had a cheap controller go belly up in such a way that it held the transmitter keyed down. The transmitter would overheat, shut off, cool off, then key down. Rinse and repeat. Over and over. The controller wouldn't respond to any commands. It was a week before I could get to the site to replace the defective board. Since then, I've got a remote controlled power strip like we use in corporate data centers that allows me to power cycle equipment over the internet.

The thought of putting a repeater on the air without being in positive control is crazy. Sure, it's very unlikely that the FCC is going to find you and fine you. That's not the it good practice to throw a system on the air that you can't control? There are plenty of great solutions here that can be used. Put a second radio with a dtmf decoder on receive side of cans that controls the power. Use the internet and a $50 remote control power strip. Whatever solution you choose, please do something!

In this club's case, the repeater guys are all retired and have easy walk-in access to the sites. In my case, the three repeaters I work on all required coordinated access, can't be reached without taking man lifts or elevators, and two can only be accessed during my work day. Remote control - and positive control of the transmitters - is extremely important.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An update on boating

Ah, the difference a good motor makes. When we bought our old (1982) pontoon boat, we knew within a few weeks that the 1992 Evinrude outboard was going to be our nemesis. It didn't work right all the time. After three years of tinkering we got it running great. And then, the gears and clutch started messing up. It would go in forward, but would not go in reverse. Then we got it in reverse, but couldn't get it in forward.

Even with all of the other expenses we have, Regina and I decided that a new outboard was something we wanted to buy.

Watkins Marine in Pekin, IL gave us a great deal on a 150HP Mercury 4-stroke. Wow, it is a beast of a motor. It starts every time. It goes forward. It goes backwards.

Boating is fun. Boating is easy. Boating is enjoyable - all because of having the right motor!

Days of Summer

So many projects, so little time! I have to keep reminding myself that amateur radio is a hobby and not a profession. I've got three main projects in the hopper.

My experimentation with AREDN continues to be quite fun. I was able to join the beta team, and I got to flip roles from my day job in Information Technology. Instead of being the project manager, I was a dreaded software tester! The AREDN team put together a thorough set of test cases. Running these resulted in finding a number of bugs, some minor  and some pretty good ones. There are some really neat new features, the most exciting being the new ham only channels - frequencies that aren't shared with public or commercial users. I'm going to use the software on two $95 off-the-shelf commercial radios to create a 15km link to provide data to a homebrew D-STAR repeater. I really love using amateur radio to solve other amateur radio challenges! If successful, I'm planning on introducing AREDN to our area's emergency management leadership. Being a volunteer firefighter, I've already got an "in" to talk with that team. Bringing them a solution they don't already have, and one that is already working, will be interesting.

On HF, I've got a 160m antenna I need to get up. I keep hearing that I'm missing out by never going below 80m. My buddy Fred, KC9REG, gave me a 160m antenna that I still haven't gotten up. I need to get this done before winter!

Finally I need to get my Icom 2820 installed in a new-to-me truck. I haven't installed a radio in such a new vehicle before. There sure is a lot of plastic molding now! After reading numerous blogs and Ford truck forums, I've got a plan. Surprisingly I found that there is a simple way to get wires from the engine compartment into the cab. And there's just as easy of a way to get coax from the bed into the cab. We've got an upcoming boating vacation, and I'll want the radio for the trip. This is one of those must-do projects!

All in all a fun time for me and ham radio.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Latest on AREDN

The beta test period for the latest release of the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN) firmware is underway. The project released information on the beta that includes details on the new functionality. Some of the new items that are quite exciting include support for 3.4GHz where US hams have no commercial competition, the ability to use low-cost TP-Link hardware, and the ability to use ham-only channels in the 2.4GHz band. For as little as $100 you can have two mesh nodes running to play $50 a piece, you can have a neat little experiment in your neighborhood. If you're at all interested in data networking and digital communications, take a look at the AREDN project.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ID-880H in the jeep

Tonight was a successful ham radio night....the 880 I bought from fellow ham WC9V was installed without incident in my daily driver jeep yj. I'm using a 1/2 wave antenna mounted on the spare tire rack. Finding a suitable antenna mounting position on a jeep is no easy task. My usual plan of drilling a hole and installing an nmo mount was to going to work. It's going to be nice to be back on DSTAR and the local repeaters during my commute!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Don't ask, just do

I was out running errands over lunch and I had my VHF radio scanning the local ham repeaters. It was almost noon, which meant it was time for all of the talking controllers to start telling me the time. It's a bit annoying - some of these systems only transmit to tell the time, as their users have either passed away or moved away. Even more annoying to me was the fact that none of their clocks were synced to an accurate time source. And then one of the repeaters started rebroadcasting the NWS severe weather outlook for this afternoon.

What may be annoying to me is experimentation and fun for others. I'm sure that the repeater builder that did the NWS radio interfacing had a good afternoon, weekend, or even week of experimentation to get it all to work. And the ham that programmed his custom macros into his controller probably had a hoot getting it all setup and customized.

I got to wondering...are all of these automated and retransmissions legal? This led me down one of my favorite rabbit holes - There I found this posting from WA6ILQ, The article is about weather radio interfacing to repeaters....but the fun part is near the bottom where he quotes an old ham about don't asking for permission...just go do it.
> The words were "Don't even (expletive deleted) THINK about it".
> As in don't make that (expletive deleted) phone call, don't write 
> that (expletive deleted) letter. Just build your wondertoy and use 
> it - but do it carefully, and cleanly (as in spectrally clean), and 
> make sure that you have your technical and legal arguments worked 
> out well in advance. Make sure that you aren't doing the A, B, or C 
> that the FCC forbids amateurs to do. If the FCC does't like your 
> brand new wondertoy or it's effects or emmissions they will send a 
> certified and return-receipt-requested cease-and-desist letter telling 
> you to stop doing it. At that point you stop doing it and send a 
> registered and certified and return-receipt-requested letter back  
> the next day (call in sick to work if you have to). In that letter 
> you say "I received  your letter on date (X) and at time (Y) 
> and at time (Y+5 minutes) I shut off the offending transmitter and I am sorry, 
> I didn't realize it was illegal and my thinking was (yadda yadda yadda) 
> and (yadda yadda yadda) and (yadda yadda yadda) and how can we resolve this?".
> (and you thought that those creative writing classes in college and 
> university were a waste of time...)
Words to live by. In ham radio, don't ask, just do. And who am I to complain? I can always update my scan list. I'm glad I'm a part of a hobby that lets this stuff happen!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Skunked at the park

Daughter #3 needed a ride to the big city and then picked up 2 hours later. Rather than adding extra miles to the jeep, I took along the kx3 and end fed portable antenna. A quiet spot was found at Maxwell Park and up went the antenna in a white pine. That was the end of the success for the night though as I got skunked - not a single contact. I did fight with the antenna a bit. I didn't bring the counterpoise wire and so that meant the coax and me were the ground. The bands seemed awful. Maybe everyone was out enjoying the nice weather, or that solar flare yesterday was worse than I thought. Don't worry...I'll be back!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An FM pileup

Last night was a big drill night for us on the Heyworth fire department. We have a large gas terminal located in our fire district. A pipeline runs to a tank farm where fuel products are stored and then loaded onto semi-trailers for transportation to other storage areas, gas stations, or private tanks. We had the terminal owners and three other mutual aid departments participating in the drill.

Communications is almost always a problem when you get that many people on scene. Radio communications become clogged as 10 apparatus arrive on scene. "Where do you want us? Send me this....Can you go here?" These message repeat over and over, all the while the firefighters performing work are unable to get back to command. Why is this a problem? Because everyone wants to hear all traffic, we stay on ONE frequency. You've got 10 trucks and 25+ people all trying to talk on one VHF FM analog frequency.

If only more of our members were hams, maybe we wouldn't have to discuss why talking over other transmissions doesn't work. Or why putting 25 people on a single channel is not a good idea if we expect two-way communications between more than 5 of them! Nothing like a good 'ole FM pileup to make you want to smack your head against the wall. If nothing else, maybe the single command officer trying to work the pileup WHILE managing the event would realize that we need to work differently.

Friday, April 24, 2015

AREDN first site on the air

I've installed the first of what I hope are many AREDN (Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network) mesh nodes. This site is located on a large grain elevator in Heyworth, IL. It's at the 150 foot level, with two yagi antennas. One antenna is pointed north towards Bloomington, and the other is pointed northeast.

I'm still going some testing with the antenna configuration - with guidance from the AREDN group, it looks like I need point both antennas in the same direction to take advantage of how 802.11 works. I wanted to try to reach two distant locations with this node...the better way to do that is to have two nodes with directional antennas - at least that's what I'm going to try next.

The node is made up of a Ubiquiti Rocket M900 node, two RP-SMA to N jumpers, and two yagi antennas. The node is fed with a CAT5E cable that provides Power over Ethernet (POE) up to the node, and data in both directions. This arrangement results in very little loss - there's nearly no coax. 

This site also houses a UHF analog repeater and the KD9AKF D-STAR repeater. Using vlan capable switch, I am able to create a connection to the internet from this mesh node. It isn't meant to be a replacement for personal use internet - but having the ability to route to and from the internet means I can access services from either side of the mesh as allowed by amateur Part 97 rules.

What's next? I'm working on two more nodes - one is a portable setup that I'm still experimenting with. I'm going to try a 12 mile link to the top of a parking garage sometime. What's interesting to me is playing in the 900MHz ham allocation. So far, 900MHz for this application behaves much more like microwaves than UHF - it does penetrate some structures and obstructions. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

A getting started guide for AREDN

I'm enjoying experimentation with AREDN. Using off-the-shelf equipment, you can build a mesh IP network running in ham frequency allocations. Getting started is a bit tricky at the moment...I've joined the project team to help with some documentation and to do some release testing. Here's a link to a Getting Started guide I'm working on.

If you're interested in playing with mesh networks, take a look at the guide and let me know what you think!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Getting Started with AREDN

This is a work in progress....some pictures still need to be added. Let me know your feedback!

You've read enough of the documentation about AREDN that you're ready to give amateur radio mesh networking a shot! Well welcome aboard! This guide will give you some basic information about getting your first nodes up and running. There are a number of links in the contents below. Please read them all...they are all important!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Using COTS with AREDN

I've always been fascinated with wireless communications. I'm the kid that had all of the CB radio walkie-talkies torn apart on the toy room floor. Last year I really got hooked on QRP...I've made a number of 5W CW contacts, along with tons of 5W PSK31 QSOs. My latest adventure involves these two new acronyms - COTS and AREDN.

COTS stands for Commercial Off-the-Shelf equipment. And AREDN stands for Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network. I'm taking network equipment that was designed for commercial use in the 900MHz, 2.4GHz, and 5GHz bands and using it with a different firmware set on our US amateur radio frequency allocations. 

AREDN is the new kid on the block in this arena...a group of developers that had been working the the Broadband-Hamnet/HSMM-Mesh team started off on their own. They are developing some features that aimed at improving the manageability, stability, and flexibility of a mesh data network built using Ubiquity Networks COTS gear. 

My fellow Central IL ham friends and I have just completed a successful installation of the WX9WX Raspberry PI based D-STAR repeater. While doing this install, I found two very large 800-900MHZ antennas abandoned by Nextel. I have this disease...I can't let an antenna lay around unterminated. So I'm off on my next quest to build a data network using the AREDN firmware, focused initially on a 900MHz backbone. 

So far? So good. Flashing the first device was a piece of cake. Another ebay purchase yielded some nice 900MHz yagi antennas, and another has another device on the way. This should be fun! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

K1N - The ham stuff was easy

I'm not a big gun DXer at all. My HF station consists of a KX3 and a windom up 40 feet in the trees. But when Craig, K9CT and Jerry, WB9Z from the K1N Navassa Island DXpedition came to town I made sure to clear my calendar. I was fortunate enough to work them on ssb from KE9UA's house and then again on CW with 10W when my replacement KX3 arrived. Meeting them in person was a treat, and hearing about their adventure was inspiring.

There were just under 40 hams in attendance at the local steakhouse in Normal, IL last night, ready to swap stories and hear all about K1N. I knew we were in for fun when Craig started the evening with audio from their side of the pile-up. I'd listened to some audio from DXpeditions before...but nothing like this. It was just a wall of noise...and every once and a while a few letters could be heard. CW was just as bad - like a continuous tone with a few blips - nothing sounded like letters to me. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What happens to your gear when you die?

How's that for a title? I'm helping a widow sell her late husband's ham gear. Things are going quickly as a local ham bought most of the newer gear based on recent sale prices from eBay and the swapmeet forum. Had she not reached out to the local club, it's likely she would have sold thousands of dollars of gear at a yard sale for pennies, or simply sent it to recycling.

This got me to thinking...does my wife know who to call to dispose of my gear should something happen to me? While probably not high on the things to do list if I pass suddenly, it sure would be a good idea to have a list of hams I trust in a folder for her.

There are some great hams out there - I met another one over email this week who spends hundreds of dollars a year to provide data services for other hams. But there are also crooks and thieves that would rob a widow blind. Do your significant other a favor...leave behind a list of hams you trust.

Friday, February 27, 2015

When Good Caps Go Bad

I've been helping out the guys in Springfield, IL get the W9DUA DSTAR gateway back up and running. We were successful reviving it after some Linux magic and Google-foo I performed a few weeks ago. We did notice that the server would reboot occasionally. Weird, but hey this is amateur radio not public safety.

After a few more hiccups it was time to investigate. Steve, K9CZ brought the server to me to take a closer look. After putting it on the bench and doing some more testing, I got to the point where I could scare it into a reboot on demand. Nothing in the logs, memory was properly seated, Dell diagnostics all passed, and reverting the last OS patch didn't help.

Hmmm....looking around some more...I found these four capacitors on this Dell SC440 motherboard. Yep, they are toast. Something bad has happened in this server's past. I yanked the hard drive and have it in a new machine now...after some more testing it should be back up and running by the weekend.

When capacitors go bad, bad things happen.

Monday, February 23, 2015

WAS most wanted?

This weekend I finally snagged Nevada. Not one of the smallest states in the US, but certainly one that has been elusive to me since getting back into HF in 2013. I had worked a ham in Nevada earlier last year, but my multiple requests for LoTW or a paper card fell into the noise. But this weekend I worked a Nevada station that promised a paper card straight away.

This got me to thinking...with the magic list of DXCC most wanted, is there a WAS most wanted list? I worked every state and received quick confirmations in short order except for Delaware and Nevada. And watching the psk streams go by, I sure see a lot of people asking for NV, and DE. Of course, it depends on where you're located.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Raspberry Pi Sales > 5 Million

This is pretty huge. With a goal of selling a few thousand computers....this UK group has now surpassed 5M in sales of the Raspberry Pi. This is a very small, fully functioning computer. I've got 4 of these doing various tasks around town. They are amazing little things.

KN0WCW - working the FISTS USA Club

I'm back up and running on HF after getting purchasing a very lightly used KX3 from Elecraft to replace my smoked radio! The radio arrived last Wednesday and I was back on the air that night. I've made a few casual contacts using various digital modes. I even worked K1N late in the week with 12 watts with CW on 20M. While not truly QRP, it does show that you don't need a kilowatt to bust a pileup!

Also a notable contact was with KN0WCW/2 - that's KNOW CW - the club call for the FISTS CW Club NA Chapter. Cody was the operator of the night from 2 land. I was slightly embarrassed even answering his CW is rookie level at best, even with the great keyer on the KX3. I couldn't get the /2 to come out right no matter what I did! Cody hung in there with me and we had a nice QSO. I didn't keep him too long so he could log some more. Good job there Cody!

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Fun Weekend

The weekend started with a great surprise on Friday at lunchtime. My good friend Dennis KE9UA invited me over to his QTH to try to work K1N. Dennis is a serious DXer. The picture above shows the gorgeous SteppIR in his backyard. This picture was taken as I headed out after working K1N on my first call. Yep, barefoot at 100 watts on 20m. What a hoot! I smiled the rest of the weekend, and I'm smiling now writing this three days later.

Saturday morning brought me back to the big city to take a look at the WX9WX dstar machine. Coverage wasn't as good as expected, and because of the great logging of the G4KLX software I could see that we had a problem. The duplexer we were using wasn't providing enough isolation, resulting in receiver desense. I usually check this when building a new system but somehow forgot this step this time. A quick swap to a much better duplexer and the problem was solved.

Sunday was a day of then grilling of steaks, took a nap, then tinkered in the barn until it was too cold to be outside. A nice 2M net with friends on the Clinton IL repeater rounded out a fun weekend. I love this hobby!

Friday, February 6, 2015

It's dead, Jim.

My "first" KX3 during its early days at KG9DW.

I heard back from Elecraft yesterday, and my KX3 is officially toast. You see, it wasn't ever designed to have 120VAC applied to the external power connector. As I feared, the current transitioned through the control board, wiped out some components, traveled across the leads to the RF board, took out multiple components, and then exited through the well grounded antenna connection.

Talking through the options, fixing it is cost prohibitive. The guys at Elecraft are working on an option for me, so I'm hopeful I'll have a working KX3 back in the shack in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, I've got a loaner radio from a buddy in the shack. It transmits fine but its receiver is so, so deaf compared to the KX3. It's like going from an iPad Air to a Palm Pilot.

In the comments of my last post about this mistake, the suggestion of fusing along with a diode was brought up. I'll definitely be putting more thought into my power supply cables after this costly error.

Monday, February 2, 2015

K1N is Busy

With my KX3 on the fritz (boxed up, ships out tomorrow) I won't be able to join in on the fun in chasing K1N on Navassa Island. But I did manage to sneak in some time this evening on K2SDR's internet enabled software defined radio station. Just listening to the CW pileup makes you wonder if you'll ever be good enough to pick them out of the pile! Here's a view of what 20M CW is like....K1N is the station on the left...the rest to the right are in the pile!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Magic Smoke

There's two ways I learn best - studying other people's mistakes, or making my own mistakes. Today I was the subject of the mistake. My Astron power supply has two meters on the for voltage and one for amperage. I noticed a few weeks ago that the ammeter was reading way too high. I rechecked the voltage, and all was fine. My loads hadn't changed, and my other ammeter wasn't showing anything amiss. I cracked open the case and found the simple pot to adjust. Since I needed to put a load on the supply to set the ammeter I left the AC plugged in. Just as I was connecting up the load, I dropped a lead. Well crud, that wasn't a nice snap or crackle. I blew the AC fuse, which was quickly replaced. I went on with the procedure, buttoned everything back up, and went to check out the radios. Unfortunately it wasn't just a fuse that gave up its magic smoke. My Elecraft KX3 refused to power on. Sitting back a few minutes and thinking through what had happened, I realized I had just exposed my beloved radio to 120V across its DC input. I opened up the KX3 but didn't see anything obvious that I was up to servicing - but I did sniff the board and caught a whiff of magic smoke. A few google searches, a visit to the yahoo group, and the KX3 is packed in a box readied for a trip back to Elecraft. Another mistake, another learning opportunity. And did you know that magic smoke comes from $100 bills? It must, because that's what it costs when I have to have other people put it back in my radios.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Radio clubs or why hams shouldn't meet

You've probably heard of group think. It's what happens when you put a bunch of people together in a room and try to discuss an issue. Pretty soon all logic leaves and you're left with opinions, half-facts, fighting, chaos, cats and dogs living together.

I'm a member of a radio club that's one of the oldest in the state. In my 40's, I'm one of the youngest members. And boy, it tries my patience every time I attend a meeting. You see, my day job as an IT manager is all about not having meetings. Meetings are just about useless - you put 30 people in a room and you're guaranteed to not get anything accomplished. So all day long I solve complex problems by putting the right people together, usually without a meeting.

Now comes the fourth Wednesday of the month...time for the radio club meeting. After the typical reading of the minutes, treasurer report, and updates on our nearly non-existent ARES group comes discussion about the local repeater. It's been around since FM was invented, sits on 146.94 and at 200ft AGL on a high-point still only has about a 8 mile range. It is in terrible need of some TLC. But it isn't because of the RF's because the feedline is shot, the 20 bay antenna is broke in the middle, and no one wants to climb the tower. Not to mention, the owner of the tower has no other tenants and could decide to tear the thing down any day. So what are we talking about tonight? Buying a Yaesu Fusion machine.

This is when the engineer in me just about loses it. You've got a problem - poor repeater performance. And you know the cause - bad feedline and a broken antenna. So you decide to spend what limited funds you have on a new RF deck. Geez.

KB6NU once wrote (and I'm paraphrasing) that if you don't like the radio club you're in, start your own. I'm lucky enough to be in another club that meets virtually either on the air or over email. No big group-think meetings, great technical discussions, and a shared interest in new technologies. For all that ham radio gives us, meeting in a room with a bunch of hams is the last thing we should be doing. Swapping stories on the air, helping each other out, rallying to solve a problem, meeting for coffee...those are great things. Meeting just to meet because that's what we do every 4th Wednesday is not ham radio.

In the end, some wiser club members decide that spending the limited funds on Fusion isn't the right thing to do. Instead, they will solicit some donations on the side. Will that solve the performance problems? Nope, not in the least. But hey, that's not why this club meets.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

St. Louis/Collinsville IL Winterfest 2015

I wasn't planning on going to a hamfest in January. Oh, I've thought long and hard about making the flight down to Orlando in February, but that's just not going to happen this year. You see, I'm one of those middle-aged ham radio operators that still has a day job to support my family AND my hobby! 
But my "buddy" Fred KC9REG convinced me that I just had to go to Collinsville this weekend.

So early this morning (4am!) I was up and getting out the door to meet Fred and two of our other co-hearts in crime as we took the 2.5 hour drive from Central Illinois down to just this side of St. Louis. And boy, was I glad I went! Winterfest is put on by the St. Louis & Suburban Radio Club and is proclaimed as the biggest, oldest, and most successful hamfest in the Midwest. All indoors in the Gateway Center, the fest offers a little bit of something for everyone. There were the typical vendors, lots of flea market tables, and displays by various organizations.

I spent some time at the Missouri Digital Group booth talking with George WB0IIS about their work with D-Star. We swapped stories and talked about the growth of this technology in both Missouri and Illinois. George had a working Icom stack on display. I showed them pictures of our homebrew repeaters to which they pointed out that in 2005 they didn't have access to the open source software and alternative hardware that we do today.

I escaped the fest with only a few minor purchases...some powerpoles, a speaker, a rocker switch for a project, and a $5 bread box sized vhf duplexer. Anyone that knows duplexers for VHF will tell you that you don't find them for $5. This one was a small unit that had been used for some Civil Air Patrol work. If nothing else, it will make a good enclosure for a random project.

All in all, it was a great adventure. I wouldn't be able to guess at attendance, but it was definitely worth the trip. Anytime you get to spend time with friends and get to make new ones is time well spent.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A quick sprint

I was very time limited this evening, so I only spent a few minutes on the NAQCC cw sprint for January. I worked AA7VW Vern in Oregon, and KD3CA Don in Pennsylvania. My last two sprints had quite a few more contacts, but I also worked all two hours then. Work ran long, and then after a late dinner I found myself in the shack working on two fixit projects that I didn't want to put off another day! I turned on the KX3 and listened to the melody of cw while soldering a new connector on a mic and fixing a fussy (but new) power supply. If you're looking for a fun little contest, I'd recommend trying the NAQCC monthly sprints. Even if you're not a member, you're always welcome to join in.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

So you want to build a DSTAR repeater...

So you've played with DSTAR enough that you've decided you want to host your own repeater. Well congratulations! Welcome to one of the most challenging and satisfying activities in your ham radio "career"!

Here's what you'll need if you want to build a DSTAR repeater.

1. Antenna
2. Feedline
3. Lightening protection (suppressor, in addition to a proper ground system)
4. Duplexer (a flat-pack mobile unit will work if you're in a low RF environment. If there are other transmitters around, you'll want larger cavities - a band-pass/band-reject unit.)
5. A repeater site - as high as you can get, with easy access for maintenance
6. Internet access - including a public facing ip address so users can route directly to you from other repeaters
7. Power supply - 12V at whatever amps you'll need
8. Miscellaneous cables...all good quality!

As a quick side note, all of the principles for analog repeaters applies to digital systems. Checkout for tons of good information.

Phew. Now that you're done with the antenna system and internet access, you'll need to make a decision. Are you going to go with the ICOM system, or a home-brew system?

For an ICOM system:
1. Radio module for the band you want to be on ($700 for UHF)
2. Controller module ($850)
3. Computer running Linux to run the gateway software (figure $300 for a solid system)

That's $1850 in addition to items 1 through 8 above.

The other option is a home-brew system. I've built two of these already - one from Kenwood radios, and one from Motorola radios. Either of these requires access to programming gear/software, so you may have other costs you need to consider.

For a home-brew system built on Motorola radios:
1. 2 CDM 1550 UHF radios (one for TX, one for RX) - $300 from eBay
2. Raspberry Pi with SD Card to run the G4KLX gateway software ($50)
3. DVRPTR modem - ($120)

For the CDM radios, you can't run them at 100% power - these are mobile radios, and they are rated at 50% duty cycle or lower at full power. I'm using 30 watt radios at 10 watts. The transmitter doesn't seem to mind this power setting, even when run for 2 hours continuously. Because of the acknowledgement packets that are sent after user transmissions, duty cycles easily get 100% during normal DSTAR use. Hold a net, or a long QSO, and you'll find your transmitter melted if you try to run it at too high of a power setting.

You can add a power amplifier after the transmitter if you need more power. I've not found this to be necessary with the proper antenna and site. If I can hear the remote units, they can hear me. More power hasn't been necessary.

I've also had success with a Kenwood TKR-820 repeater. But....programming these for me is harder. Alignment is a bunch of coils and takes some time. They have a built-in power supply. You really need to narrow-band the units, as that's what the users' radios are expecting. It will work wide-band, but it won't work as well. The system needs to be narrow on both the repeater and user side.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Climate Change

One of my many hobbies is the watching of weather. I really started to get involved with weather while I was in college, working for WTHI AM and FM. Watching the weather was important while I was on the air...but was even more important when I was "playing engineer". I needed to know if the tower was likely to get hit by that big thunderstorm rolling across Illinois!

So when we moved to the flatlands of Illinois, I bought a weather station. It's a Davis Vantage Pro...wireless from the sensor to the main unit. I hooked it up to share the information via Weather Underground. Pretty neat stuff - they store the data, and I can go look at it from anywhere I want.

Recently I've got all of the information being forwarded via the weewx program on a Raspberry pi. Very minimal power utilization by the I'm reducing my carbon footprint. :-)

But here's the rub. The Weather Underground guys are full-on climate change proponents. It's in your face, how could you possibly doubt, we're the scientists and you're dumb doubters... It is yucky.

I'm a doubter. I'm with my oldest daughter that believes that the climate is changing, but by how much and because of what is in doubt. As she goes through college that may change. I'm a strong believer in God. He has a plan, and he controls the universe. That's in conflict with a lot of climate change, and most scientists in general.

Regardless, the KILHEYWO1 weather station will continue to send its data to Weather Underground. It's a good site, great availability, and free to use. I'm glad I live where anyone can have any idea they want, and capitalism wins.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Remote access to Raspberry pi

Just wanted to share a service I'm using to manage my raspberry Pi(s) remotely. I don't have any financial interest in this service....It's called and is focused on the Internet of Things. If you have your Pi exposed to the internet, and you're allowing incoming connections to ssh, you probably don't need this. But if you don't want to do port forwarding on your router or you can't (don't have control of the router, don't have a public IP on your router) then take a look at Weaved. 

I've set my two dstar pi repeaters up so that I can use WebSSH, ssh, and VNC. It's pretty simple to setup, and is free for a limited number of devices/ports.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A new Temporary home for WX9WX

In our continued experimentation with DSTAR in Central Illinois, we've moved the WX9WX repeater to a new temporary home. It's attached to a business band antenna at Hill Radio in Normal. This site provides really good mobile coverage throughout the county, and good handheld coverage around Bloomington-Normal. Check out the coverage plot!