Field Day 2018 #ARRLFD

2018ARRLFieldDayLogoDOWNLOADJune 23rd- 24th (starting at 2PM Eastern) is the annual Amateur Radio event called Field Day, where radio operators from around North America exercise their emergency response skills. It is also a contest to contact as many stations as possible in 24 hours, following a well defined set of rules for exchanging information. One thing different this year will be the exchange of more detailed geographic information than in the past.

Field Day is also ham radio’s open house, where groups of radio operators come together in a very visible way and interact with the public. Every June, more than 40,000 hams throughout North America set up temporary transmitting stations in public places demonstrating ham radio’s science, skill and service to our communities and nation. It combines public service, emergency preparedness, community outreach, and technical skills all in a single event. Field Day has been an annual event since 1933 and remains the most popular event in ham radio in the Americas.

This year I will be operating with the KE4HAM group at Sun City Hilton Head. We are planning to be running on all battery or generator power and string up a number of temporary antennas. I hope to be operating mainly FT8 (a relatively new digital mode).

You should be able to see a live update on the Internet of both those hearing KE4HAM as well as those I am hearing via PSKReporter.


Update to Morse Code training for Android

antennaI wrote a program that simulated conversations between hams (QSOs) to help improve Morse code skillsQSOSender3. Believe it or not, Morse code is as popular now as it has ever been, in amateur radio.

QSOSender3 has a 5 out of 5 rating in the Play Store and has been installed on almost a thousand Android devices. It’s useful, since the code you hear on the air is usually quite different than what practice programs provide.

I received a request the other day to support the Farnsworth method, so something close to that has now been added and the program released on the Google Play store. If you find any other features you’d like to see added, let me know.

It will not help with field day this year, but may improve your skills for the future.



Operating FT8 out of South Carolina

I recently (finally) put up a stealth antenna on my new home in South Carolina. Due to home owners association rules… it is not as easy as it used to be for hams to have an outside antenna. Thanks to an MFJ automatic remote antenna tuner I mounted on my roof and a long wire, I have an antenna – not a great antenna but any antenna is better than no antenna, when you’re a ham.

One thing that has changed in the last year that I’ve been in the process of moving to SC is the innovation of FT8, a weak-signal mode that came on the ham scene in a big way during the latter half of 2017. This mode, combined with some signal tracking (PSKreporter), provides a good mechanism for identifying how well your antenna is working.

Usually, this time of year, the 20 meter band closes up a few hours after sunset – if it opens up at all based on the sunspot cycle. Last night (May 17th), at about 8PM Eastern, I made a few contacts with FT8 on 20 meters and then left the radio tracking the stations it heard overnight. I tracked 539 transmitters in 31 countries – most of them between 8PM and 10PM.

A visual of what was heard looks like:

stations heard

I was also interested in how well I was heard between 8 and 9PM when I was transmitting, using about 25 watts. The stations that heard me looked like:

stations the heard me

That was 247 stations in 31 countries.

Not too bad considering the house has techshield radiant barrier, turning the inside of the house into a Faraday cage. I am going to continue experimenting with bands and times of day and hope to compare it against other local hams that have ‘real’ antennas.

One of the great things about this hobby is that even those that are resource constrained can still have fun and experiment.

Windows to Go – a forgotten Windows OS feature?

forgotten featureI have some older ham gear that uses an ICOM OPC-478UC cable with an imbedded Prolific USB-to-Serial cable for setup. When I moved, I needed to re-program the radio but discovered I no longer had any machines with an OS old enough to load the drivers. This is a very common occurrence, since Prolific chips are imbedded in cables for amateur radio, GPS devices…, just about anything that had a serial port.

I tried all the tricks I could find on the Internet (using old drivers, patches and even using unsigned drivers… something that should definitely be avoided) but to no avail — I could not get those old drivers to work.

That was when I remembered Windows to Go. This feature that has been around since Windows 8 allows you to create a bootable USB drive. The normal Microsoft implementation is VERY picky about the USB drives that it allows you to use, but fortunately there are other tools that will help create a Windows to Go instance that are a bit less particular. Since none of the other workarounds for this particular issue mentioned it, I thought that others may have forgotten Windows To Go’s capabilities too.

I now have a USB thumb drive that boots into Windows 7 32 bit. Since my needs only require setting using the cable to program the radio that option should work for me, though it does take a while to boot (especially the first time, which took almost a day to load up all the drivers on a fairly old computer).

World Amateur Radio Day

Every April 18, radio amateurs worldwide take to the airwaves in celebration of World Amateur Radio Day. It was on that day in 1925 that the International Amateur Radio Union was formed in Paris.

From the 25 countries that formed the IARU in 1925, the IARU has grown to include 160 member-societies in three regions. IARU Region 1 includes Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Northern Asia. Region 2 covers the Americas, and Region 3 is comprised of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific island nations, and most of Asia. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has recognized the IARU as representing the interests of Amateur Radio.

Though some may wonder about the value of Amateur Radio in this age of the Internet, there are actually more ham radio operators in the US (graph from 2014) than at any time in the past — thanks to interests in disaster preparedness, the maker movement and a variety of service functions that the hobby provides.

It was all goin’ to hail down in Texas last night

Just last week I posted about preparing for spring weather.

Yesterday, we were pummeled by a hail storm and the tornado sirens went off.  Nothing like a spring storm to bring a day to an end quickly. This is what it looked like off our back porch.

During the late afternoon, I was listening into the Denton repeater, running a Skywarn net and it was clear that there were a number of tornadoes in the area. Near Justin they had baseball size hail, so our golf ball hail was not that bad.

Spring Weather Safety Preparedness

tornadoGrowing up in Indiana, spring always brought with it once thing – tornados. Indiana is ranked as the number one state to die from a tornado. Growing up we used to call them trailer magnets, since tornadoes through them around like straw, when they came through.

Since I now live in Texas, it’s clear I haven’t learned. Tornados are scary.

Although most people don’t know it Raytheon does quite a bit with NOAA. Most of the weather information you see every day came through Raytheon, one way or another. One of these efforts is the Weather Ready Nation project where they have safety modules to share what do to for certain kinds of natural disasters. Spring safety is one of the areas of focus in this NOAA post of last year. For some reason, the CDC also has a focus on Spring Weather – that really makes me wonder about the underlying meaning of spring fever though.

In any case, it is a good time to think about what might happen and prepare. Dealing with Indiana weather was one of the things that kept me involved in Amateur Radio growing up.