July 9, 2008Editor: Ward Silver, NØAX
NEW HF OPERATORS - THINGS TO DO
Summertime HF operating is a lot different than other times of the year. Absorption and illumination are working against each other, creating rapidly changing conditions. The IARU HF Championship is a good contest to evaluate world-wide propagation at midsummer.
Ticking off another milestone, the Contest Update passed 18,000 subscribers with the last issue. Welcome, new readers!
What HQ stations will be active in the IARU HF Championship this year? Bernie W3UR has published a constantly-updating list of HQ stations that let him know they'll be active. If you know of any HQ stations not on this list, send the info to the Daily DX or ask the station operators to do so.
RadioShack has issued a recall of certain 13.8 Vdc power supplies that might be used in our shacks. You can visit the RadioShack Web site or contact the company at 800-843-7422 for more information about model numbers and recall procedures. You can also view the Consumer Product Safety Commission announcement online which includes pictures of the affected equipment.
Rules follow Commentary section
NEWS, PRESS RELEASES, AND GENERAL INTEREST
The July 19 Russian Radio Team Championship is the prototype for the World Radiosport Team Championship in 2010, which will be hosted by a Russian WRTC committee. Harry RA3AUU says, " The rules of RRTC are very similar to IARU ones. We have special modules for WriteLog, TR and UA1AAF contesting software to run the contest but we also wish more contest software people (to) get their software adapted. By the way, there will be (a) special series of call signs used for this event like R33AA - R33FZ !!! So, look for these ones."
Don't forget about the Southern California Contest Club's regional WRTC-style competition that will take place within this weekend's IARU contest. These stations will be usiing 1x1 calls with the prefix "W6."
After being rescued from bankruptcy by a purchaser, Rohn Tower has re-emerged under its own name. That's quite a story and a testimonial to the telecommunications turmoil over the past few years. (Thanks, Mark AA6DX and Ralph N5RZ)
Looking behind our computer and radio desks, what do we see? Wall warts! Sometimes lots of them! Each one powering a small appliance or gadget at 3 or 7.5 or 15 or some other non-12 V voltage. These eat up a lot of watts and are generally a pain in the behind to lug around on for portable operation. A Slashdot story points to one possible solution - the Universal Power Adapter. A kind of intelligent power supply, the UPA or something like it may be showing up in ham shacks before too long.
We all hear atmospheric and even ionospheric noise "down here" on our planet's surface, but what does Earth sound like "out there" in space? It turns out that Auroral Kilometric Radiation (AKR) does its own form of broadcasting, sending out radio waves in a narrow plane whose alignment is determined by the Earth's magnetic. Perhaps the astronomers will re-discover Shortwave Listening as a means of detecting other planets?
Solar disturbances affect a lot more than radio propagation. For example, a big solar flare in March 1989 disrupted a sizeable chunk of the Quebec power grid. In order to pay closer attention to what's going on Sol-ward, the Solar Shield experiment has been devised by NASA and the Electric Power Research Institute to provide advance warning of significant events on the Sun. The same information should also be of use to HF and VHF propagation forecasters.
Another interesting story about our geomagnetic environment comes from National Geographic. Hams are aware that the North Geomagnetic Pole is located a significant distance from the geographic North Pole - it's in northern Canada and slowly moving south. This story about Earth's magnetic field intensity also changing points out that there's more to it than just a reorientation of the field. Nothing to worry about immediately as the process takes a long time (we think) in human terms, but another aspect of the complex system in which we conduct our radio business. (Thanks, Diane NH6HE)
Chris G3VBL points out that on 1 July 1908, 100 years ago just recently, 'SOS' was adopted as the globally recognized distress call for ships at sea.
Toby EA4/DH1TW made a presentation about "SDR & Contesting" at the hamfest in Friedrichshafen. The slides are now available online. He also reports that DL6MHW also made a presentation about his interesting
experiments with CW-Skimmer and anticipates those slides being online available soon, as well.
Phil VS6DO recently perished in an automobile accident in Northern California. His was a powerful signal from Hong Kong, now VR2, for many years. Bill W4ZV wrote an article about Phil in Radiosporting magazine that has been made available online as a PDF document. Phil wasn't active in recent years, but he'll be missed nonetheless. His family asks that memorial donations be made to a charity of your choice. (Thanks, Bill W4ZV and Terry N4TZ)
The larger state QSO party sponsors often make quite an effort to insure that all of the rarer counties or parishes are active. For example, the California QSO Party organizers are starting to collect activation plans. If you are a county hunter or just like making a big score in these stimulating small contests, check the contest Web site on a regular basis to get in on the advance information! (Thanks, Bob N6TV)
Here's how to find some of those active in-state stations. Scott W5WZ uses a collection of tools and databases to make a nice map showing active calls in a state. "First, we extract all call signs with Louisiana mailing addresses from the FCC database as a list of LA CALLS. Second, we compare the LA CALLS list with K5ZD's SCP database to get LA CONTESTERS. Third, we geocode LA CONTESTERS using a tool for batch geocoding. Fourth, we create KML output files as described on Google Earth. When Google Earth is run and the KML file opened, there you have it! 136 Louisiana hams were found in SCP as of 10 May and are now mapped on Google Earth in the "Contesting Links" section. Zoom in on them, mouse over the place marks to see their calls.
And while you're roving and geocoding and DF-ing around, you might find errors in the various databases used by GPS companies. Bob N6TV relays that to report errors in the Navteq database, click on "Map Reporter" on the home page. For Tele Atlas has a similar function,click on "Report Map Changes."
Ed N4II writes, "The mention of heliographs in the previous issue reminded me of the Modulated Light Web page by VK3AML, VK7MJ,
VK7MO and KA7OEI. It's a primary source for info on long-distance atmospheric optical communications. The whole site is a great read, but perhaps the best pages are the description of the 104-mile Tasmanian optical DX record by VK3AML, VK7MJ, VK7JG, VK7JJ, VK7ZJA, VK6YA/7 and VK7TW in 2005, using Luxeon LEDs, and the description of "Operation Red Line," establishing the 118-mile laser DX record in 1963.
Web Site of the Week - If you ever thought that rovers should get an award for activating all those grids, you're not alone. The Central States VHF Society has created a Reverse VUCC award. The Honor Roll page is out of date, but you don't have to be a CSVHFS member or even be in the "central" states to participate. (Thanks, KC0IYT/R)
WORD TO THE WISE
Hired Gun - A more evocative form of "guest operator", the Hired Gun is a top-flight operator that is invited by the station owner specifically to increase competitiveness of a single- or multi-operator entry.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
W1AW was activated during Field Day by Joe Carcia NJ1Q, Bill Moore NC1L, Katie Breen W1KRB, Carol Michaud KB1QAW (and her daughter Lexi), George Woodward W1RN, and KX9X. The team managed over 1,100 QSOs on 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6 and 2 meters, including CW, SSB and RTTY. For more of the story, you can visit the Field Day 2008 Blog. (Thanks, ARRL Contest Branch Manager, Sean KX9X)
Here's a pair of short videos featuring frequently heard but rarely seen K7SS operating an impromptu solar-powered QRP Field Day station on SSB and CW from West Seattle. When you see a picture of Seattle across the water on TV, this is the park the video crews go to for the shot! No word is available on whether the dog or the solar panel was the more efficient collector of photons. (Thanks, John K7HV)
One more Field Day photo set. Well, maybe two? We've all worked the big signal of Chas K3WW, but he was awfully weak in Field Day. Why? He was operating QRP, but still made a big score. Take a look at this pair of Field Day albums from 2007 and 2008 to find out how.
CQ DX Hall of Famer, Nigel G3TXF, has posted a fine collection of photos from the recent Frederichschafen hamfest. And while you're visiting, take a look at his home page for more links to great photographs. (Thanks, Glenn K6RA)
Speaking of Hall of Famers, Doug KR2Q extends his historical (some might say hysterical) look back with a before and after set of photos featuring many faces and calls of operators you may recognize. He also provides some background about the CQ Contesting Hall of Fame that will explain why these photos are noteworthy.
RESULTS AND RECORDS
All gavels for Club Competition in numerous ARRL contests going back to late 2006 will at long last have been shipped on June 30. Thus, the Club Gavel program is completely caught up! (Thanks, ARRL Contest Branch Manager, Sean KX9X)
CQ WW SSB 2007 public logs and post log checking scores are now available online. (Thanks, Matt IZ3EYZ)
How good were the conditions on 6 meters in the recent ARRL June VHF QSO Party? Well, out of the 24 stations to break the 1000-QSO barrier on Magic Band, a full half-dozen of them made the grade this year and five of those are the highest QSO totals ever made in that contest! The combination of propagation and participation is a powerful thing. Let's hear it for those all-band rigs! (Thanks, Curt K9AKS)
Results for the 2008 Wisconsin QSO Party results are now available on the contest's Web site. (Thanks, Lynn K9KR)
To stay fresh after long periods of operating, try operating standing up or change chairs. Change the shack temperature. Change clothes. (Please!) Anything to give your body a new set of muscle stimulation that keeps your brain from reminding you how tired you are!
TECHNICAL TIPS AND INFORMATION
Roger K8RI suggests the use of a "snatch block" at the bottom of a tower when hoisting an antenna to the top. A snatch block is a second pulley mounted at the bottom of the tower so that the rope runs along the tower, through the pulley, and then parallel to the ground. "The snatch block allows your helper (who really does the work of lifting the antenna) to walk out away from the tower where it's safer and iteliminates putting a side force on the top mast or gin pole." You can see a photo on Roger's Web site about half-way down that big page. A tram line is even better, since the antenna will not have to be rotated around the guy wires.
I happen to see a variety of international ham radio magazines from time to time. The Wireless Institute of Australia's "Amateur Radio" is one of my favorites. The October 2007 issue included the article, "A precision sheet metal bender for around $40" that I thought very nice, indeed. All it uses is basic steel and chipboard. If you're handy with a drill press, tap and die, and angle grinder, see if you can find someone with a copy of this article and get bent!
Dynamic range is not only important in receiver design, but in spectrum analyzer specifications, too. After all, they are a receiver! The May 29, 2008 issue of EDN magazine has a good article on the subject, titled "Unraveling the dynamic-range specification in modern spectrum analyzers". The article goes into detail about testing transmitters and how the analyzer design affects its dynamic range.
Another good reference article on noise and logarithmic amplifiers (sometimes used in AGC circuits) from the archives of Analog Dialog is available online. These articles are great intermediate-level engineering tutorials and would be a good read for advanced amateur builders and designers.
Dennis N6KI found this neat article about how to troubleshoot common problems of antenna traps. Originally written assuming the use of a grid-dip meter, it has been recently updated to apply to the use of antenna analyzers, as well.
From the Instructables Web site comes a great slide-out vehicle bed idea that clearly has lots of applications, such as portable operating or creating a work surface in the back of an SUV or station wagon. Add a couple of legs to the slide-out panel and you would have a very nice table for setting up a station.
Another great tip from Roger K8RI involves storing the Liquid Electrical Tape (LET) cans in a small fruit jar (Mason Jar). He says it extends the life of the material almost indefinitely, presumably by preventing slow evaporation of the solvents that keep it fluid. He also keeps tubes of RTV sealant in plastic food storage containers. The idea here is also to prevent the curing process from proceeding by limiting exposure to air. Doug VE5RA has noted that adding a few ml each of methyl ketone and xylene to a compromised can of LET (in a WELL-ventilated area) and working it into the goo.
Evaluating Q of coils for matching networks and the like can be difficult. Mike W4EF found an article in EDN magazine describing a method the uses a resistive divider technique that appears sound and claims to be good for inductors with Q's up to 400. Jim K9YC has some cautions about measuring Q and recommends studying the test setup and discussion about it in the PDF articles on his Web site about RFI for Hams and Coaxial Chokes. He notes that stray capacitance and input resistance of the test setup or instrument can greatly affect the measurement. There are more detailed discussions on the topic in the Topband reflector archives - look for the subject "Measuring Inductor Q".
Chuck W5USJ reports that Mouser Electronics sells Fair-Rite beads that make nice baluns at a nice price. "The beads are 1.125 in long, so it doesn't take many. They are available in two sizes that fit RG-8X and RG-213 size cables. The impedance spec for 43 material is 250 Ohms at 100 MHz. For type 61 material the Z is 225 at 100 MHz, 310 at 250 MHz and 275 at 1 GHz.
Type 43 beads
Type 61 beads
A couple of these beads placed right at the feed point or as close as possible do a nice job of minimizing common mode currents."
Power line noise can be hard to track down, so a 2006 QST article by W1TRC describes an Ultrasonic Power Line noise detector. It is touted to be able to pinpoint specific insulators on poles. (Thanks, Gene K1NR)
Dave AB7E has found a program called "atlc" (arbitrary transmission line calculator). If you can wade through how to use it, it supposedly will calculate the transmission line impedance of any geometry that you can draw. The program is downloadable, too.
Where *did* that manual go? Cushcraft has made available most of their manuals on their Web site. Just the thing for that used antenna bargain! (Thanks, Sebastian W4AS)
Planning on working at the top of a tubular crankup tower? Here's how Dick WC1M gets up there safely. "Instead of leaning the ladder up against the tower, I extend it to 20 feet and strap it to the tower with heavy duty cargo straps every 4-5 feet. Then I can climb the ladder straight up, just as I would climb a guyed lattice tower (using my safety harness, of course.) When strapping the ladder to the tower, I start with a strap at the bottom, and another as high as I can reach from the ground. I usually add a third strap in between just to make sure the bottom of the ladder is very securely fastened to the bottom tower section before I start climbing. Then I climb the ladder, adding straps as I go up. I prefer this method over leaning the ladder against the tower because when you lean the ladder there's no good way to securely fasten the top to the tower until you get there."
Technical Web Site of the Week - Where to find all those great, old Motorola Application notes? Freescale Semiconductor (the spun-off Motorola Semiconductor) saves them all in their online archive. At the entry page, select "Application Note" and "active plus archive" to see the older literature, some of which is classic stuff. (Thanks, Chris N7ZWY)
What's With Knobs, Anyway?
Somewhat lost in all the hue and cry about software-defined radio (SDR), CW decoding, and robotic contest stations is the gradual change of a radio's "front panel in the mind". As technology changes the way a radio operates, so, too will it change the way we interact with the radio and even the way we think about the radio spectrum and signals that occupy it.
For example, the first radio receiver we owned strongly colors our imaginations. Depending on whether that first receiver had a dial whose numbers increased clockwise or counterclockwise, you may imagine signals higher in frequency as being to the "left" or "right" of your signal. My first rig was an HW-16, so I turned the tuning knob clockwise to make the frequency increase and the dial rotated counterclockwise. To this day, signals higher in frequency I imagine as being off to my left. All four combinations of knob turning and dial direction exist somewhere in historical radios, so there are probably four populations of us that think about the spectrum in different ways.
Even deeper, almost all HF operators rotate a circular knob to tune the radio. Keyboard frequency entry is possible, but not commonly. What this means is that we think of the spectrum as a linear object. To get from frequency to frequency, we have to visit all of the intervening frequencies sequentially. Oh sure, we can hop around, but our basic conception is of a big ruler with the various frequencies ticked off along it.
These basic concepts have held sway since the 1920's. Radios have knobs. A big one changes the frequency (to the left or right) and little ones change the characteristics of the signals received. The model is very, very hard to change. Yet it is changing.
What if a ham learned to use a radio without using a tuning knob - like VHF FM users do? Perhaps they were trained in the military or commercial channelized services and don't think of the spectrum as continuous, but rather discrete, disconnected channels. How do they imagine their radios - as directionless lists of frequencies or users?
The new types of displays that are becoming common - especially the waterfall - have the potential to erode the linear model's dominance. The Digipan PSK31 display simultaneously shows all the contacts within its received bandwidth - in parallel! SDR displays can show an entire band and when coupled with Skimmer software, the station call signs, too. Freed from the linear model, operators are free to simply "click around the band", instead of tuning from one station to the next.
What does that mean for hams and radio in general? This reminds me of an old joke: When the horse was asked, "When you walk, do you move both legs on one side or the diagonally opposing legs, front and back?" The horse thought for a minute and said, "I'll never walk again!" This can get awfully deep when our goal is simply to fool around on the radio, but it does have implications.
Someday soon, a developer will release a radio display that doesn't need a knob or keypad at all. The operator-cum-user will enter a visual world in which signals appear in different colors, different sounds, in different directions. They may be spikes, icons, photos, patterns - anything that contains the necessary information for us to accomplish our goals of using the radio. Perhaps you'll even be able to see other stations that are "tuning". This will be a brave new world of radio, enabling a whole new way of interacting with the RF spectrum. It won't be long before operators will be asking, "What was with the knobs, anyway?"
9 July through 22 July 2008
An expanded, downloadable version of QST's Contest Corral in PDF format is available. Check the sponsor's Web site for information on operating time restrictions and other instructions.
FISTS Summer Sprint--CW, from Jul 11 2000Z to Jul 11 2400Z. Bands (MHz): 3.5-28. Exchange: RST, S/P/C, name, FISTS number or pwr. Logs due: 30 days. Rules
IARU HF World Championship--Phone,CW, from Jul 12 1200Z to Jul 13 1200Z. Bands (MHz): 1.8-28. Exchange: RST and IARU zone. Logs due: 30 days. Rules
West Coast Regional Challenge--Phone,CW, from Jul 12 1200Z to Jul 13 1200Z. Bands (MHz): 1.8-28. Exchange: see IARU HF rules. Logs due: 24 hours. Rules
QRP ARCI Summer Homebrew Sprint--CW, from Jul 13 2000Z to Jul 13 2400Z. Bands (MHz): 1.8-28. Exchange: RST, S/P/C, QRP number or power. Logs due: Aug 13. Rules
Russian Radio Team Championship--Phone,CW, from Jul 19 0700Z to Jul 19 1459Z. Bands (MHz): 7-28. Exchange: RS(T) and ITU zone or 3-letter code. Logs due: Jul 19. Rules (Cyrillic only)
DMC RTTY Contest--Digital, from Jul 19 1200Z to Jul 20 1200Z. Bands (MHz): 3.5-28. Exchange: RST and serial. Logs due: Aug 22. Rules
Feld-Hell Monthly Sprint--Digital, from Jul 19 1500Z to Jul 19 1700Z. Bands (MHz): 1.8-28. Exchange: RST, S/P/C, Feld-Hell member nr or age. Logs due: Aug 10. Rules
NA RTTY QSO Party--Digital, from Jul 19 1800Z to Jul 20 0600Z. Bands (MHz): 3.5-28. Exchange: Name and S/P/C. Logs due: 14 days. Rules
CQC Great Colorado Gold Rush--CW, from Jul 20 2000Z to Jul 20 2159Z. Bands (MHz): 14. Exchange: RST, serial, category, CQC member nr. Logs due: 30 days. Rules
CQ WW VHF Contest--Phone,CW,Digital, from Jul 19 1800Z to Jul 20 2100Z. Bands (MHz): 50,144. Exchange: 4-digit grid square. Logs due: Sep 1. Rules
LOG DUE DATES
9 July through 22 July 2008
July 9 - BCC QSO Party, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: (none). Rules
July 10 - SBMS 2 GHz and Up WW Club Contest, email logs to: (none), paper logs and diskettes to: SBMS Contest Committee, Pat Coker, N6RMJ, 40916 179th Street, Lancaster CA 93535, USA. Rules
July 14 - All Asian DX Contest, CW, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: JARL, All Asian DX Contest, CW, 170-8073, Japan. Rules
July 15 - ARRL June VHF QSO Party, email logs to: JuneVHF@arrl.org, paper logs and diskettes to: June VHF, ARRL, 225 Main St, Newington, CT 06111, USA. Rules
July 15 - His Maj. King of Spain Contest, SSB, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: URE HF Contests, PO Box 220, 28080 Madrid, Spain. Rules
July 15 - REF DDFM 6m Contest, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: F6IIT, Patrick Vermote, 175 chemin des Meuniers, F-86130 Dissay, France. Rules
July 20 - West Virginia QSO Party, email logs to: K8VE@arrl.net, paper logs and diskettes to: Richard Dillon, K8VE, PO Box 1177, Buckhannon WV 26201, USA. Rules
July 21 - Kid's Day Contest, email logs to: (none), paper logs and diskettes to: (see rules). Rules