Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Handiham World for 26 September 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

This week I will get a chance to do something really important:  teach a class for my local radio club.
Pat holding NSL digital cartridge
Photo: Pat, WA0TDA, holds up an NLS digital cartridge, one way that audio lectures can be delivered to Handiham members. 

As you know, I do teach on line every week, using the power of the web to teach Technician, General, and Extra class courses. That is a very effective way to teach, but there is also a demand for teachers willing to work directly in a classroom with potential new hams or those who want to upgrade their licenses.  That is what I will be doing when I teach tomorrow evening at the Stillwater, MN Public Library as my club, the Stillwater Amateur Radio Association (SARA) offers its General Class upgrade course. My job will be to teach the rules and regulations.  Other volunteer instructors teach different topic areas, making it possible to offer the classes for 10 weeks without asking any one instructor to give up time each week.  After the last class in the series we always schedule a VE session for the same evening (usually Thursday) the following week.  We figure that if our students are already blocking out time in their day for the class, the VE session should be held at the same time so as to allow for a convenient, easy to plan to follow up and take the test without a long wait.

The less you wait, the less you forget!

Our SARA classes are always free and open to the public, something that supports our outreach to the greater community. Sessions are always held in an accessible location where people who use wheelchairs or other assistive technology can be accommodated. The VE session is held at an alternate location that is also chosen for its accessibility.

If you have a chance, please consider sharing your knowledge of ham radio with others. Check out your local radio club's education program and ask how to become an instructor. ARRL also has some on line resources for members who want to teach amateur radio classes. If you have never taught before, you will likely need to work alongside an experienced instructor to learn how the classes are handled. Much of just about anything we do boils down to some very practical things:
  • Showing up on time (or arranging for a substitute if you can't make it.)
  • Being prepared in advance (Go over the material the day before class so you can refresh your memory of what needs to be covered the following day.)
  • Bringing your teaching materials (portable computer with presentation software, books, show-and-tell items like electronic components, frequency charts to give away... you get the idea.)
  • Watching the clock and giving your class a mid-session break
  • Having a class calendar handy so that you can tell your students what is coming up the following week and when the VE session will be
  • Staying on message (no long-winded war stories!)
  • Compliment your students for correct answers when you ask questions.  For really tough questions, you can even give out a piece of wrapped candy!
  • Build up your students by having high expectations for them and letting them know.
  • Finishing on time (your students have other things to do!)
I hope you will be part of your club's teaching team. It's one of the most rewarding things you can do in ham radio.

Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Troubleshooting 101:  Unrecognized devices

Cartoon guy with hard hat and toolbag climbing tower
A common problem with our new digital radios and accessories is that they can get fussy about being connected to your computer. Recently I read a web blog by a guy who had bought one of those brand-new iPhones - the iPhone 5 that is in the news following its recent release. His problem was that it wouldn't work when it was connected to his car, which had a digital connector.  There was an error message saying that "the device is unrecognized".
That is a common problem with ham gear, too. Sometimes these digital devices sniff each other out like a pair of dogs in the park, decide they are friendly, and then happily play together.  Other times they decide that they just don't get along. How do we figure out what to do to make the two devices talk to each other and work correctly?
Here are some troubleshooting tips. Check them off your troubleshooting list if you find that your device is not communicating with your computer.  If you have not followed them in the correct order, you may have to back up and begin again.
  • Read the instructions! That HT you just bought may theoretically connect to your computer and be programmable with software, but only if you follow the instructions in the correct sequence. 
  • Confirm that your hardware and operating system are supported by the device driver and software.  This can be a common source of problems. You may have to visit an internet discussion board to find out how other users have made their devices work. 
  • Install any special driver software when instructed to do so. This is important! You may be instructed to install the driver and reboot the computer before you even connect the radio.
  • Connect the device to the computer using the designated interface cable and power it on, according to the instructions. It is normal for the computer's operating system to install the driver software when a device is first connected. However, it can trip you up if you have not installed the device driver software first because the computer may pick an incorrect driver if the device is connected before the correct driver is installed. 
  • Test the device - let's say it is an HT - by running the appropriate software, programming software in this case. Does the software run normally?  Does it give an indication that it has connected to the HT?  If it does, you are now ready to use your new HT with the programming software. 
  • If you cannot make the software recognize the radio, the next thing to check is the communication ports. The software will have some sort of setup or preferences menu, and in it you will find a place to choose communications ports and settings. Follow the instructions in the help file and try different ports. This process can be easy with some software and a trial and error game with others. 
  • Consider unusual problems.  One problem I learned about in an internet forum was one caused by counterfeit chips in Chinese-made USB programming cables. If you think you have done everything right but still can't get the devices to communicate, you do have to consider the possibility of this kind of hardware problem. That is why I recommend internet discussion boards.  I can't tell you the times they have solved troubleshooting mysteries for me, from cranky and mysterious radio problems to software that suddenly decided to hang up.  Use them wisely, looking at several possible answers and being patient - don't jump on the first fix you see and assume it is the right one.
By the way, I recently acquired a brand-new Baofeng UV-5RA HT and had a chance to troubleshoot some of these very problems before finally making the radio play nice with my little Dell Netbook computer. The UV-5RA and the UV-5R both use the same programming software and cable and are similar except for a somewhat differently-designed front. How they might differ under the skin, I don't yet know, but I do thank my lucky stars that the KB5ELV Eyes-Free guide is so well thought out. I used it as a supplement to the instruction book before deciding that Buddy's guide was actually way better than the book and instead used the instruction book as a supplement to the Eyes-Free guide.
Still wondering about the guy who couldn't get the new iPhone to work with his car's audio system?  All he had to do was reboot the phone!

Handiham Net Update: 9008 out of service

IRLP node 9008 is out of service due to a server failure.  When the server is rebuilt, the Vancouver IRLP node 9008 will return to service.  Last week it also went out of service, returned for a couple of days, then went down again. The Radio Reference audio stream has also been down for over a week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Handiham World for 19 September 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

ARRL diamond logo

The Handiham Radio Club is an ARRL affiliate, listed on Are YOU an ARRL member? 

It's hard to believe that the October QST has arrived already in my mailbox and on line at the ARRL website. The hard to believe part is not really the arrival of the magazine in mid-September.  The thing that surprises me is that October is just over the horizon.  October!  The entire ham radio dynamic changes in October, because the seasons are changing, and here in North America we are about ready to jump up and down in anticipation of some really excellent HF band conditions.  

Here's the thing.  By the time October rolls around, the northern hemisphere days are seriously shorter.  Shorter days mean less daylight which also means less solar heating and less convective thunderstorm activity. Fewer thunderstorms mean less radio interference, so we can start using the lower frequency HF bands for even long-distance contacts, even DX.  Every HF band benefits by less thunderstorm-generated interference, though.

If you want to talk DX, the higher frequency HF bands will really be hopping.  The solar cycle is nearing peak, which may happen next year, and that make the coming Autumn and Winter months prime time for DX.  You will have a chance to work stations you have never heard before on bands like 15 meters and 10 meters that may have seemed mostly dead for as long as you can remember. If you are a new ham and have not experienced the fun of DX during a sunspot maximum, you are really in for a treat. When the conditions get really good the bands open up for clear communications with very little power. Even if you have a very modest station with a dipole or vertical antenna and no linear amplifier you can still work DX. A solar maximum levels the playing field and opens up the bands!

There are some special considerations to working DX.  The first rule is to listen, listen, listen.  It is easier to call a DX station than to expect to be called by a DX station, at least if your goal is to work DX. Another reason to listen carefully is that a DX station may be calling on a frequency that is not available to USA stations but listening on another frequency. This kind of split operation is fairly common in working DX.  Learn how to use the split function on your radio ahead of time.  You will also want to listen for whether the DX station is calling for any particular type of station or whether they are calling only for stations in a specific geographic location.  You will not want to return a call to a DX station if that station is calling for contacts in South America but you live in North America, for example.

You can call  for DX yourself if you want.  The way to do it is to call "CQ DX" several times, give your callsign, then listen and tune around a bit. If you are lucky enough to have a beam antenna, point it in the direction of the DX you would like to work. If you are new to the DXing game, you might want to acquaint yourself with beam headings for various parts of the world. It can be confusing if you have learned about the world from flat maps printed on paper instead of with a globe of the world. What appears to be "west" of your station in the USA might really be northwest, along what is called a "great circle" route. That fuzzy notion of where other countries are located comes from way back in your days in elementary school, and it might not be even close to correct. We want to point our antennas toward the DX.  Here's a fun fact:  We are here in Minnesota, and Minnesota is a northern state, sharing a border with Canada.  Did you know that Paris is about as far north in latitude as that Minnesota-Canadian border?  If I fly from Minneapolis to Paris, I will head northeast, over Canada and over the North Atlantic.  If I fly from Minneapolis to Tokyo, I will fly northwest, and my path will be over Alaska!

Knowing great circle routes is a good DXing skill. You will also want to pay attention to band conditions that change as daylight and nighttime make their way around the globe. At the edge of the daylight, where day and night meet, there is sometimes an open pathway for DX. Being aware of alternate paths, even long path openings 180 degrees from the way you would expect to point your antenna, will help you rack up the DX contacts.

You will also need to be aware of time differences around the world. There are certain times of day when it may be more likely to hear stations from Europe. As you might expect, when people get off work and are relaxing during the evening hours they will probably have more time to get on the radio. Your opportunity to work European stations will come at a different time of day than when you are likely to hear Asian stations.

Third-party traffic is prohibited in many countries around the world. It is worth reviewing the list of countries with which the USA has third-party agreements if you are contemplating DX operation. The ARRL has a list, which you can locate using the excellent search function at Just put third party into the search field.

Identifying your station is a bit different, too.  You will want to identify at both the beginning and end of a series of transmissions as well as at 10 minute intervals. Many DX contacts are very short, and you will not need to worry about 10 minute intervals. Identifying clearly, using standard phonetics, is important. Non-standard phonetics have no place in DX operation and will do nothing but confuse the other operator, whose first language may not be the same as yours. Remember to identify your station in English if you are speaking another language during the DX exchange.

Sending and receiving paper QSL cards is still a part of DX operating, though less common than in decades past. Now that we have the Internet, Logbook of the World may be your choice. Some radio clubs have active DX managers who will collect your paper QSL cards and send them to the central location of the ARRL QSL Service, or you may use that service yourself.  Awards are also available through ARRL and other groups. DXpeditions to remote places around the planet offer unique opportunities to work stations in really rare locations. DX news from ARRL, CQ, Worldradio, and a variety of other resources can help you stay up to date on what is available.

But back to October and the October QST.  What reminded me about DX was that the October theme is "Special DXing Issue". You will want to be on the lookout for terms like "DX Spotting" and "Radiosport". "Zombie Bands" sure seems intriguing, too.

Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Troubleshooting 101:  Using an SWR meter to tune an antenna

Cartoon guy with hard hat and toolbag climbing tower
As we prepare for the Autumn and Winter operating season, we turn our attention to antennas. Let's not wait until the snow is three feet deep and the wind is howling out of the north to get outdoors and make sure the antennas are working right!

A simple SWR meter, even a really cheap and cheesy one, can be a really helpful tool to help you diagnose antenna problems or to tune an antenna after its initial installation. Instrument-grade meters are not necessary here because we are really looking for relative readings and close is going to be good enough.

Here's a question for you:  Which location is going to yield the most accurate reading when you are sampling SWR for purposes of making adjustments to the antenna?  Is it out in the yard, closer to the feedpoint of the antenna, or is it in the ham shack with a long feedline attached between the SWR meter and the antenna?

The answer is that the less feedline you have between the SWR meter and the antenna, the more accurate the reading. But it is not always practical to have a transmitter and SWR meter outdoors, is it?  Since we are really looking for relative readings anyway, we can still tune the antenna for the lowest SWR at the desired frequency of operation by taking readings with the SWR meter indoors at the ham shack. We must realize that the actual SWR may be somewhat different, but since we are tuning for relative minimum, so what?

The main problem with having the SWR meter indoors with the rig is that you have to make lots of back and forth trips indoors and out, outdoors and back in, as you trim or adjust the antenna then return to take the readings. If you prefer to get less exercise, you can opt for one of those "antenna analyzers" that allows you to generate a tiny low-level signal to determine where the antenna is resonant without the need for a separate transmitter and SWR bridge. These little gadgets are worth the money if you like to experiment with antennas.  If you are an occasional antenna repair enthusiast, you might be able to borrow one from someone in your local club. It's a heck of a lot easier to tune an antenna in the field if you don't have to keep running back indoors to check meter readings.

Suppose you have installed a dipole antenna in the back yard and you have mounted it in an inverted vee configuration.  This kind of antenna is tuned to roughly 1/2 wavelength on the frequency where it is to be used and fed with coaxial cable in the center.  The feedpoint in the very center is elevated to the highest point and the two "legs' of the dipole trail down at an angle, each terminating at an end insulator and tied off high enough above ground to be out of the way and not be a tripping hazard. The inverted vee is nice for city lots because it only requires one really high point for mounting and the ends can be easily reached for tuning the antenna. It also takes up less space than a "flat-top" dipole antenna and will fit into city lots quite nicely. Once you have gotten the antenna more or less in place, you will find that it will likely not be resonant at the frequency you expected. It doesn't matter that you followed a formula.  If you cut the antenna wires as is typically recommended, you allowed for a little extra wire on each leg of the antenna so that you would not come up short.  Believe me, I have learned from experience that it is harder to lengthen an antenna that is cut too short than to carefully trim down one that is a little too long!

A symptom of an antenna that is cut too long is that the resonant point will be too low, perhaps even below the bottom of the CW portion of the band. This is a normal and expected thing to encounter when putting up a wire antenna for the first time, since you have allowed a bit of extra wire so that you could safely trim the antenna while doing the final tuning. When you "trim", you don't actually have cut any wire. Experienced antenna experimenters simply thread the end of each wire through one hole in the end insulator and fold it back onto the main wire, twisting it loosely on itself so that it can be undone and adjusted one way or the other after each meter reading. You don't need to actually wrap the end wire tightly or use wire clamps until you have satisfied yourself that the antenna is tuned the way you want it to be, with your favorite frequency at the point of resonance.

Sometimes you want to be able to move around the band, perhaps operating CW one day, then phone the next.  A half-wave dipole will sometimes be usable with SWR readings of 2:1 or less across the entire band, and you may decide that the best strategy is to pick a frequency near the center of the band as you target a resonant frequency while you do your initial trimming.  If you have an antenna tuner in your shack, you can lower the SWR enough  to operate with your rig's full power even near the band edges.

The important thing to know about using an SWR meter or antenna analyzer is how to interpret your measurements. The shorter the antenna, the higher in frequency the resonant point will be.  The longer the antenna, the lower in frequency the resonant point will be. When you take measurements at intervals from the CW end of the band through the middle and up into the phone band, you can plot a curve of SWR values. The bottom of the curve is the resonant point.

If you do this and find out that the resonant point is at the low end of the CW band and you are interested in operating SSB phone in the General Class portion of the band, you should say to yourself, "The wire is too long because the frequency of resonance is lower than it should be. Therefore, I will need to trim the antenna and then take another set of measurements."

By the way, don't even THINK about only trimming one leg of the dipole.  Try your best to trim exactly the same amount on each leg, so as to avoid ending up with the feedpoint off center, which will mess up the tuning! (Remember that the predicted feedpoint impedance of a dipole is only going to be what you expected if the feedpoint is in the center!)

When you have satisfied yourself that everything is properly tuned, you can try hooking up the feedline to the rig in the ham shack and confirming your readings from inside. If that goes okay, return to the antenna site and finalize the installation, securing the ends and making sure everything is out of the way of anyone walking through the yard and making sure the entire antenna is solid enough to withstand those winter winds.

Happy DXing!

Handiham Net Update: The long-vacant position of Handiham Net Manager has finally been filled.

Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, (right) rides the bucket lift during an antenna project.
Photo:  Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, (right) rides the bucket lift during an antenna project.
Congratulations and a big thank you to Handiham volunteer Matt Arthur, KA0PQW, for accepting this position. Our Net Advisory Group and Club President Ken, KB3LLA, agree that Matt will do a good job because he understands the technical workings of the nets, repeater, links, and nodes and has many years of experience that includes a wide variety of on the air operations, emergency operations, nets, repeater ownership, and volunteer work as an instructor at Handiham Radio Camps.
Matt is committed to working with our net control volunteers to keep the nets on the air, maintaining good technical standards and keeping them a place where we can check in and have fun talking with our friends. He likes the idea of net controls being able to shape their net sessions and finding their own ways of keeping the Handiham nets a welcoming experience for all who want to join us for the hour. This will continue our openness to a mostly informal and friendly net, but one with high standards that shows the Handiham Radio Club in a good light. It also keeps the door open for us to quickly respond to an emergency, should the frequency be needed.

Thank you, Matt for stepping up to the plate!
Handiham Podcast Audio

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Handiham World for 12 September 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

Outdoor swapmeet tables showing the Connectors by George inventory with PJ in the photo, hiding under the table in the lower right corner.
George, N0SBU, writes: "PJ and I had a quiet weekend. We went to the Rush City swap meet. I looked around and PJ sold connectors or something like that."
The picture George sent me shows the Rush City swap meet parking lot, where the outdoor event participants enjoyed a perfect Minnesota Saturday. George sells connectors, so his tables are neatly organized with plastic bins of all sorts of electronic connectors and related accessories. The N0SBU license plate can be spotted on George's SUV in the background. Can you spot PJ, his helper?  She is a sweet as can be little puppy and a good guard dog and sales associate for "Connectors by George". Blind users can find her by reading the alt-text in the photo field. Where is George, N0SBU?  He is behind the camera, taking the picture!
George mentioned to me that he didn't see me at the swap meet.  That is certainly true, because I went to my local radio club meeting that day. The Stillwater (MN) Amateur Radio Association (SARA), a Handiham affiliated club, kicked off its new ham radio meeting season with an excellent program on digital modes. The meeting was full of operating news - two special events that the club would be running, plus an on the air experimental digital net using PSK-125.
Sometimes it seems there is nothing going on and then the ham radio calendar gets so busy that one has a hard time picking and choosing between the events!
But September is the traditional month for radio clubs in North America to end their summer hiatus and get back to business, so I guess it is not surprising that there will be much more activity, both at the clubs and on the air from this point on. Check out the usual sources to get an idea of where the action might be, then plan to have fun on the air. The QST and CQ magazines both list events.  The ARRL website has an excellent radio club locator resource that allows you to find a club near you. Several ham radio websites have news and information announcements, and club websites post club events and news. 
This special edition of your Handiham World looks at a few troubleshooting issues with antennas and feedlines to help you get back in the running for some great on the air fun this ham radio season!
Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Troubleshooting 101: Keeping an open mind.

Cartoon guy with hard hat and toolbag climbing tower
Okay, here's the scenario:  I have not been on the HF bands in a while - been busy with summer stuff, you know - and now I am all jazzed up about getting on the air after hearing about contesting and DX at my first local ham club meeting of the season. I dust off the radio and turn it on, tuning to 20 meters and I hear... Nothing except a little hiss.  This is a major bummer, because I was so excited to get on the air!  Now I will have to go out and weed the garden as my wife suggested.
Ha, ha, of course I am not going to do that!  I will troubleshoot the problem instead because that is better than digging out weeds with roots that go to China.
Consider that a problem like this one can have many causes. The radio is not receiving any signals but I know that it is turned on and there is some noise coming from the speaker.  Keeping an open mind when approaching a troubleshooting project is not just a good idea - it may be essential to actually locating and resolving the issue!
Let me illustrate this concept by visiting two guys who have the exact same receiving problem. These guys are both imaginary and are not based on any real person, but if either one sounds like it might be you, well... What can I say? Learn from your experience.
Ham Guy 1: Buster finds his station as just described. He has seen this problem before, so he knows that he is in for a day of antenna work. He switches off the radio and heads out to the garage to collect the climbing gear and all the necessary tools, including the safety harness and a hard hat. With a neighbor performing the spotting duty of being watchful in case Buster should need help, up the tower he goes. The first step is to cut away the sealant and the tie wraps securing the balun near the top of the tower.  This allows the balun to be disconnected from the feedline and the antenna.  Buster then places the balun in the carry pouch he has on his safety belt and begins the climb back down the tower.  Back on the ground, he can open up the balun to solder the broken wire that he knows caused a problem several years ago. The balun is tightly sealed, so he takes it down the basement to his well-lighted workbench to get the case off.  Those screws are really tight!  Finally the balun case yields and it is possible to get at the wiring.  But wait!  Everything looks just fine. An ohmmeter check shows that all of the balun's circuitry is intact! Nothing seems to be wrong, and there is certainly no hint of any damage from overloading or a lightning strike. Still, better safe than sorry, so Buster gets into the car and drives to his nearest ham radio store to purchase a new balun.
"There is no point in climbing that tower again with a bad balun", he thinks.
With the new balun in hand and the helpful neighbor once again recruited to act as a spotter during the tower climb, Buster heads on up. The new balun is easy to install, but the coax sealant is kind of a mess to work with, so he decides that it might be better to come back down the tower and run a test on the repaired system before sealing the connectors - just in case.
Ham Guy 2: Dexter finds his station as described above.  He sits down to think about it for a minute.
"There could be one or more things wrong here", he thinks to himself. "Might as well check the easy stuff first."
After checking the rig's attenuator setting (off) and the RF gain control (100%), Dexter reached around the back of the rig and felt the disconnected PL-259 plug.  That's when he recalled that a few weeks ago he had disconnected the antenna when thunderstorms had been forecast and because his summer had been quite busy he had not been on the radio since.
"I'm getting a bit forgetful", he thought to himself as he reconnected the antenna, after which he proceeded to get on the air and make a dozen DX contacts.
Meanwhile, back at Buster's house:  Buster fired up the radio and the band was still dead. It was only then that he discovered the coax that he had also disconnected when the thunderstorms rolled through several weeks ago. He connected the feedline and the band came alive.  The patient neighbor spotted for him again when he climbed the tower to seal the coax and replace all the tie wraps, completing the antenna project.  By then it was much to late to get on the air.
Which ham radio troubleshooter are you?  Do you open your mind up to all the possibilities? Or do you simply know what to do because you are sure you are right?
This is not a rhetorical question. It is a serious matter when working out real-world issues. Not only can a closed mindset send you down the garden path in a completely wrong direction, it can be part of a thinking pattern that can actually cause safety issues. Let's take a look at what caused Buster to waste an entire day replacing a perfectly good balun.
Mistake 1: Assuming that history predicts the future. 
Buster had experienced antenna problems before.  In fact, the memory of replacing a bad balun was still pretty fresh in his mind. The symptoms of the problem had been exactly the same. He made the mistake of assuming that history (the balun that had really gone bad a few years ago) had repeated itself this year. That was not the case.  The problem with assuming that the future can be predicted by a past event is that the future has not yet happened! New things happen for the first time every day. None of these things could be predicted by a past event in history. Consider the case of a dead radio. One time it may be a tripped circuit breaker and nothing more. Another time the breaker may be tripped because of a shorted transistor that has caused the excess current draw. Another time the power supply may have gone bad.  Maybe the power switch has failed. The radio may be unplugged from the power supply. Maybe the power is off to the entire neighborhood because a tree has fallen on the power lines. Don't assume that just because one of these events caused the problem last week it must be the same thing this week!
Mistake 2:  Failing to consider alternatives.
Buster assumed that he knew what the problem was right from the outset. He did not take a few minutes to think about other possibilities. Nothing could change his mind at that point because he was so sure he knew the answer. He proceeded to waste time and resources chasing down the wrong "problem".
Mistake 3: Failing to understand probabilities.
As we have learned, one must consider alternatives when deciding what path to take with troubleshooting.  Dexter considered several possible conditions that could cause the problem, but he wisely thought about probabilities and did not consider the less likely possibilities - at least at first.  Although the problem was simply a disconnected feedline, it could have been a bad balun.  But how often do baluns actually fail?  The probability of that kind of failure is relatively low compared to leaving the RF gain control in the wrong position or forgetting to reconnect a feedline after a thunderstorm. To press the point, it is also possible that a passing meteor zinged right through your feedline and you never noticed a thing.  Some things are so improbable that they are not worth considering until the easy and much more probable stuff has been exhausted. It is way more likely that some simple thing is amiss, so take a few minutes to think things through before wasting time on the least likely scenarios!
Mistake 4: Giving up.
To the credit of both Buster and Dexter, neither one gave up on the problem. They both eventually found a fix and their stations were both back in service. Had they given up, they would have abandoned a valuable tradition in amateur radio - working on one's own equipment. Even if a problem is too puzzling or requires extra hands on deck, it is always acceptable to ask for help. The amateur radio club in your area is a good place to start.
Sometimes it is fun - and always satisfying - to work our way through the troubleshooting process, learning as we go.

Distracted driving reminder

Cartoon couple driving in convertable
Driving the car is your first responsibility!
Yesterday I spent the afternoon in one of those 55+ defensive driving refresher courses. You save money on your car insurance premium if you complete an initial 8 hour class, then you have 4 hour refreshers every three years or so. One of the hottest topics in driving safety these days is distracted driving. I remember my very first ham radio mentor telling me about how he just couldn't get on the two meter radio when he was driving because every time he did so he would end up concentrating on the radio and forgetting about watching his speed. Finally he got a speeding ticket and just quit using the radio in the car. That, of course, was long before the days of smart phones with their touch screen interfaces.
I've never had a huge problem using the VHF radio while driving, but that doesn't mean you can't still be distracted. The 2 meter rig can't even come close to the distraction potential of a modern smartphone!  The phone has a touch screen that demands your close attention if you want to input information correctly. It does multiple things, often requiring its user to go through several screens while paying close attention to touching the exactly correct spot on the screen to move the process forward. Experts tell us that even hands-free smartphones cause considerable brainpower to be diverted from the primary task of driving the car.
How is it that ham radio operation is different?
Bumper sticker on SUV at Dayton: As a matter of fact I don't have enough antennas on my car.
Well, for one thing it is considerably easier to simply turn on a radio and use an existing repeater channel that is already stored in the transceiver's memory. The conversation is not full duplex, so you can talk or listen, but only one person has the repeater's transmitter at a time. Most everyone using the repeater understands that the conversation may be interrupted by a driving situation that demands the driver's full attention. Repeater conversations often go into a standby mode while traffic (car traffic) clears. All I have to do is let the person I am talking to know that I must concentrate on driving.
Emergency responders and police officers use the radio all the time. It is a skill that can be learned, but that still does not mean that the radio comes first. Your first job is ALWAYS to drive the car. To that end, you must be honest with yourself about how distracting you find the radio. If you only use it while the car is parked, you will be safe and can concentrate on your conversation. If you are on an empty freeway at noon on a sunny day, you may find the radio's use to be easy and safe. It all depends on you and the situation. What these periodic driving refresher course do is remind me that distracted driving can be a killer.  Better be safe than sorry. Know your limitations and use the radio only when it will be safe to do so.

Don't forget about the new Tech Net!

TMV71A transceiver
We have heard lots of positive comments about our new Handiham Tech Net, a place to discuss technology related to amateur radio. The Tech Net is on the air at 19:00 hours USA Central Time each Thursday. The regular Handiham Radio Club Wednesday evening net is at the same 19:00 hour, just one day earlier.  Daily nets are at 11:00 hours USA Central Time. 
Frequency in the local Minnesota repeater coverage zone: 145.45 FM, negative offset with no tone and 444.65 MHz with 114.8 Hz tone in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota. The UHF repeater will be heard more easily in the Eastern Twin Cities.
EchoLink nodes:
HANDIHAM conference server Node 494492 (Our preferred high-capacity node.)
KA0PQW-R, node 267582
KA0PQW-L, node 538131
N0BVE-R, node 89680
Other ways to connect:
IRLP node 9008 (Vancouver BC reflector)
WIRES system number 1427

A dip in the pool

It's time to test our knowledge by taking a dip in the pool - the question pool, that is!

Let's go to a question from the Extra Class pool:

E5D07 asks, "What determines the strength of a magnetic field around a conductor?"
Possible answers are:
A. The resistance divided by the current
B. The ratio of the current to the resistance
C. The diameter of the conductor
D. The amount of current
This question is really sort of easy, isn't it? Of course you have to know beforehand that a magnetic field is created by the flow of current through a conductor. It stands to reason that the more current that flows, the higher the strength of the magnetic field that it creates. I am not going to stick my neck out and say that it is exactly proportional, because you can arrange the conductor in such a way as to concentrate the magnetic lines of force. I'm thinking of the case where you wind the conducting wire to form a coil, thus concentrating the magnetic field. The important thing to remember for your Extra Class exam is that a conductor carrying a current does create a magnetic field, and that a conductor moving through a magnetic field creates a current, because the two are physically related.
Please e-mail to comment.

Remote Base health report: W0EQO is on line. W0ZSW is on line.

Notice to users of W0ZSW: At this time we are recommending caution if you plan to transmit using W0ZSW. We have noticed an irregularity in the station's behavior where the station will receive normally for an indefinite period of time, but lock up and become unresponsive after the operator transmits two or three times. Your client software may show that you are still connected even when you try disconnecting. If this happens to you, please send an email to immediately so that the station can be disconnected. Then close the w4mq software on your computer and reopen it, and use w0eqo instead. W0ZSW is available for receive use via Echolink, a feature which is working well.
Solar activity is expected to be low with a chance for an isolated M-class flare for the first day (12 September). M-class probability is expected to decrease for the second and third days (13-14 September) as Region 1564 rotates out of view.
Geophysical Activity Forecast: Geomagnetic activity is expected to be quiet with a slight chance for unsettled levels on days 1 and 2 (12-13 September). An increase to quiet to unsettled levels with a slight chance for an active period is expected on the third day (14 September) due to a favorably positioned coronal hole.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Handiham World for 05 September 2012

Welcome to Handiham World.

New Net Schedule Begins This Week!

VOM with coax and clip lead

Tonight we begin the Handiham Wednesday evening net at 7:00 PM USA Central Time, or 24:00 GMT. Thursday marks the debut of the brand-new Handiham Tech Net. The official start date is on Thursday, 6 September 2012. The net will meet at 7:00 PM each Thursday United States Central Time and will remain true to local time throughout the year. We will be discussing technical topics and answering technical questions in a moderated net format. This will not be a "check in for the count" net, and only stations with technical questions and comments should check in for the discussion.  Everyone is welcome to listen along.
Over the Labor Day holiday I took a mini-vacation with my wife as we celebrated our anniversary. It is great to be able to travel and still enjoy an occasional ham radio contact using some of the new technologies that are available to us today. The remote base stations were working fine over the weekend, and Echolink was mostly useful, depending on whether an internet connection was available.  The was a wide area repeater system that was solid copy. Because our driving route took us through the north woods of Wisconsin on our way to Lake Superior, my T-Mobile cell service was sometimes poor to downright unavailable, which meant that there was no Echolink on long stretches of the route. At other times cellular service was available, but with additional charges for data roaming. Some restaurants and coffee shops have free wi-fi, but it was pretty clear that good old RF was still necessary. The VHF and UHF repeater systems operated by groups and individuals still provide a valuable and necessary service, and are going to be available when cell service fails. Although I have never had anything approaching a real HF mobile installation, it is worth considering if you travel a lot by car. You will inevitably drive through long stretches where repeaters and cell service are unavailable. HF would be nice to have as an alternative means of communication.
My problem has always been that I wouldn't use HF enough to make such an installation worthwhile. The HF antenna system would have to be removed or otherwise folded in order to get the car into the garage. The radio might get stolen if I left it in the car while out and about. It wouldn't be of much use on short trips.  I would get more use out of the spare HF radio (an IC-706M2G) in the main ham shack. All these things conspired to make a permanent HF mobile installation unattractive.
Is there any alternative?
One of our Handiham volunteers, Dave Glas, W0OXB, not only operates HF mobile, but also promotes a nice alternative which I will call "HF portable". The idea is to bring along HF gear, then deploy a temporary antenna system once you are safely parked. Sometimes this allows you to get up a wire antenna when there are trees around, assuming you are good with a slingshot antenna launcher. Alternatively, you can put a vertical antenna up next to or on the vehicle. One vertical antenna mount has a metal plate that you drive one wheel of the car on, and the weight of the car secures the plate, which is attached to an antenna mount. This makes a solid base for a vertical. The idea is to get up a better temporary antenna system that will be more effective on the air than a simple mobile antenna. Even if the stop is just for a short time you can quickly deploy a mag mount single band HF "stick" antenna on the roof of your vehicle.  It's easy and quick, both to set up and take down. This is one method I have used in the past, and while it is not as good as a wire antenna, it does provide a way to get on the air. When you are finished operating, you pack everything back up and do not operate while the car is in motion. This is not as convenient as a permanent mobile HF installation, but it does work better for those of us who don't want to bother with mounting a rig in the car. In any case, this method of HF operation dovetails nicely with emergency preparedness, in that one can set up an HF "go-kit" that can serve to operate portable while you are on car trips. 
Email me at with your questions & comments.   
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Handiham Manager

Handiham remote base station report

Jose, KK4JZX, has developed a new test version of the rig control software this week. Our thanks to Lyle, K0LR, for his work with Jose in testing the software. This is not a public software release.

Status check screen showing w0zsw offline.
W0EQO at Courage North is in service. W0ZSW is in service. 
Solar Activity Forecast: Solar activity is expected to be low through the period (05 - 07 September) with a chance for an isolated M-class flare.
Geophysical Activity Forecast: Geomagnetic field activity is expected to be at quiet to unsettled levels during days 1 - 2 (05 - 06 September) with a chance for active levels. This is due to the arrival of CMEs observed on 02 September along with a co-rotating interaction region in advance of a coronal hole high-speed stream (CH HSS). The CMEs are expected to arrive around midday on day 1. The CH HSS is expected to commence on day 2. Field activity is expected to be at quiet to unsettled levels on day 3 (07 September) as CH HSS effects subside.
Credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
Please contact me directly at if you have a remote base comment.