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.

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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.

Morse code activity

Though my skills with Morse code are not as strong as they used to be, it doesn’t stop me from leveraging it with my other hobbies:

Every once in a while, I have the opportunity to play World of Warships — sometimes with my son who lives many states away. Besides being a challenging, multi-player naval simulation, WoW often provides some history on the ships and men it is based on.

Their latest background post had just a bit on the background of Morse code and its use by the various Navys of the world  – Squall line: Morse code.

It can be strange how various parts of your life can intersect.

QSO Morse practice app for Android

Over the Thanksgiving break I sat down an wrote a small application for Android to help individuals brush up on their Morse code. There are many apps already out there to teach Morse code but this one is aimed improving your ability to receive the interactions you’re likely to encounter over the air.

It is called QSOSender3, since it is the third iteration I’ve worked on. It generates QSOs based on the speed you’d like to receive. For 5-10 WPM, the simulated QSOs are fairly short but a realistic representation of what you’d likely see on the air. For 10-15, the QSOs are slightly longer and for 15 WPM and higher (see the picture below) they can become quite involved.

I used a grammar based generator to create the simulated QSO, so they can be very different from one to the next. In fact for the highest speed (longest), it is incredibly unlikely that any to generated QSOs will be the same. Have fun… here is a representative screenshot:

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#amateurradio #hamradio

Finally, portable and digital

This weekend, I tackled the last functionality I normally would use in the field: logging and the use of digital modes.

Out of the box, the 7100 support ASFK keying for RTTY and PSK, but I hadn’t gotten that functionality working yet. So early in the AM in the JARTS RTTY contest I decided that now is the time.

I dusted off an HP Stream 7 tablet running windows that I bought back when I worked for HP and dug out a USB mini cable and plugged it in. The Stream 7 will run 32 bit Windows 10 and has enough horsepower to do the decoding of the digital signals. It is also very small and cheap. I downloaded the drivers from the ICOM site and quickly was able to get the receive and rig controls working (bringing up the radio’s filters and centering signals…) I was using an old copy of MixW, I bought about a decade ago. I fall back on this program since it handles contests great and you can manipulate any of the rig control codes directly in that program, if they are not directly supported.

But when I went to transmit, the rig keyed up but no power output?! It took a bit of digging but I soon realized there was a setting that had to be changed to make the single sideband digital mode (USB-D) pull the transmit sound off the USB cable. They setting can be found at: Set-> Connectors ->Data MOD -> USB. The default is to have the data signal come from the ACC connector in the back of the rig. Once that was done: voila – a portable digital contest station.

Here is a picture of the PC, the radio head and a folding Bluetooth keyboard, operating outside my house. If you look close, you’ll see a RTTY signal on the MixW display.

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#amateurradio #hamradio

The portable ‘shack’ in the field — and the need for a keyer

I took the completed portable shack that I’ve been working on into the field last weekend. It was all setup and working in about 15 minutes. I was on for about 4 hours on 17 meters and talked to about 15 contacts across 3 countries on SSB. I was focused more on playing with the settings and options than actually making contacts so I was pleased with the performance, overall.

I did realize there was one thing I wished I had and that was a disposable iambic keyer. I have a nice keyer at home for sending Morse code, but there was no way I was leaving it in my portable shack box or (more likely) forgetting it at home so it wasn’t there when I need it. Once again, it was time to call on the 3D printer.

keyI came up with a design fairly quickly that used about a dollar’s worth of spare parts I had lying around and half a hacksaw blade. I printed out a couple of samples to refine the model. By the time I had the second one done, I declared victory and now have a small iambic keyer. It is a simple keyer without squeeze functionality, though there are some designs out there that do that. The only real refinement I’d make is to create a tunnel in the base to run the wire through, rather than using a zip tie on the post where I screw down the hacksaw blade. We’ll see if it is ‘good enough’ in the field, next time. I’ll likely screw it into my clipboard.

If you are interested in the iambic keyer design, I uploaded it to: thingiverse

Some people probably find it hard to believe that there are still folks that operate CW, but it has its own challenges and can get the message through when little else can. I used to operate CW a great deal, but am a bit rusty now. We’ll see if having a keyer like this helps.

#amateurradio #hamradio