My First “MAKE:” Posting . . .

MAKE: is a magazine and web site sponsored by MAKE: and Intel. It was started in 2005 by Dale Dougherty and his team, and they are right around the corner from where I work in San Francisco. They sponsor many of the Maker Faires, and also have several publications.

I will be posting a few of my projects on their site to test and see if I attract any interest in Ham Radio.

Makers Seem More Receptive to Hams Than Hams to Makers

The Maker community is a “devil may care” assortment of all ages, cultures and “persuasions”. In a way, you can say they are the “Punk Rockers” of Electronics, or maybe better yet, the “Hackers”.  They are rabid for anything that does something cool, and what I have experienced is that they think the URAT project (stepper motors that tune a remote antenna tuner) is cool.

Makers and Hackers love the “McGuyver Effect” – meaning you can “mash up” different technologies and components to make something new.

I recently submitted an article for consideration for QST, and a companion Pacificon presentation concerning the URAT. It was rejected by both parties. HOWEVER, both parties enthusiastically accepted my Low Band Antennas for a Small Lot presentation, and that makes perfect sense – its very “safe” and very well “known” in ham circles.

The URAT project is 100% a “McGuyver” hack. Yes, it is eccentric for sure, and definitely a bit “weird” for a Ham Radio project. I also received zero interest from any of my blog readers – not even one peep like “that’s a cool idea”. It probably is not relevant to most – but it is cool just because its cool. I guess I am really understanding what makes Makers tick – and seeing the difference between Makers and Hams. I don’t mean to lump everyone in one pile – but this whole “experiment” now has a “social” element to it that I’m finding quite interesting.

The Makers embraced the URAT instantly – and I am sure they did not even understand much (but I’ll bet at least some) about the actual task it performs – they just dig the technology:

I instantly and with great excitement – was featured in the Adafruit blog. One reason is because I used their very cool little OLED device. Yes, the founder and CEO of Adafruit is “Lady Ada” – AC2SN, and who sports a very cool modern look. Adafruit is revered with young Makers, Hackers and IT people.

From there, it was also featured in the “Geeky Gadgets” blog – I believe its because they read the Adafruit blog.

There was just an ARRL Letter sent out that discusses how the IARU President believes that we cannot sustain Ham Radio by trying to just invite people into the fold with our traditional use of technologies. I have read something similar from Tom Gallagher at the ARRL – and I have been very pleased to see that they recognize this. I think Tom even says we have to go out and “socialize” this link.

I honestly think that Ham’s would love to bring Makers into the fold, but that Ham Radio is so “entrenched” in our ways (especially our communication) that maybe we hams don’t really know How to go about this? The modern term is “socialize” a new thought, idea or technology.

I have been doing the same thing at work – making people aware how important a Data Dictionary can be – and believe me its like trying to sell something abstract and also along the lines of the URAT. Its the age old question – if I never knew what it was before, then why would I need it now.

I think I will start pursuing some new avenues. Simon Monk – who basically has the best electronics book I have ever read (yes I’d say even better than the ARRL Handbook), also writes for O’Reilly and I believe gives talks, and I think is big with the MAKE: people.

Holy Smokes! MAKE: is a couple blocks away from where I work! Hmmmmmmm.

Time to do some networking and “socializing”. I think maybe posting the URAT project on the MAKE: web site is a better route. I still think the URAT is cool – just because its cool. And that is the approach that Makers seem to have that Hams don’t have so much these days.

Makers seem to have eyes wide open and aren’t as “entrenhced”. So maybe I should approach this a different way? I’ll try and see what happens and report back.


Welcome October!

Market Street, San Francisco

There’s been a nice “snappiness” in the air, and the Jet Stream has been right over the SF Bay Area.

The fall colors have begun, but way behind last years schedule. I am sure its because of the rain we had this year – and that before – with the really bad drought that we had, the trees were stressed and probably gave up early. I think this year is our “usual normal”, but we had so many years of a bad drought that I almost forgot what normal is/ was.

I’ll keep looking for the beauty in this world – heaven knows 2017 has been full of more daily bad news than I can remember. In heaven there is no beer – but there are also no politicians!


Pacificon 2017

I will be presenting during the Pacificon 2017 Antenna Forum on Friday, October 20, from 3:30 – 4:30, and my topic is “Low Band DXing Antennas”. I will start with a survey of all of the low band antennas that you should consider for DX-ing on the bands 160 – 30M, and I will include transmit as well as special receive antennas.

The presentation will feature the Mod-Bob – including the URAT . . .

And will also cover the DX Engineering DV-40-P 40M array:

I will also go over the results of my year long receiving antenna study . .

I initially was signed up to give a second presentation – on the URAT, but I was bumped off the Saturday schedule. SO, instead of doing a maker-ham presentation, I will simply combine the URAT in my antenna presentation. That works out fine because after trying to submit an article to the ARRL for the URAT for QST – it was rejected because I had emphasized Elecraft’s KPOD and Palstar’s BT-1500A antenna tuner in a way that I guess they felt pushed products too much. They said if I were to re-cast that article using all home brewed parts – then they would be interested. They did say that they were very interested in the Mod-Bob antenna though – and they are considering my article on that topic as we speak. I’ll let you know if they accept that article.

Anyway, what I learned is that even though the URAT project is a really great “maker ham” story, I can see why it didn’t get the traction I had hoped for. Its a bit too “esoteric”, maybe even a “weird” idea. I don’t think many people think out of the box that way, and I can see both the ARRL and MDARC’s passing on that presentation and article. I also had no one contact me for the URAT code – so in the end – it was just a really superb personal learning experience that I am still very fond of.

But hey – the Mod Bob antenna project has lots of interest, and its a very “approachable” and straight forward low-band DX-ing antenna – and I can see for sure why it would easily get traction and the URAT not so much. Here is my presentation:

Low Band DX Antennas

Anyway – hope to meet you at Pacificon. This year, for the first time ever – I’m presenting at the end of the day and will be at the QA session – which I have never done before since for about 10 Pacificon’s I was usually the first or second speaker and never hung around all day.

Let me know if you plan on attending – maybe we can go out for a few beers afterward.

The Wonderful World of Amateur Radio

After 15 years of continuous DX-ing and almost being a slave to the ARRL’s DXCC program (2001 – 2016), I took a look around and found that amateur radio – as it always has – had grown and advanced in so many ways.

My first “post VK0EK” effort was to dig into Top Band and learn more about receiving antennas. I spent an entire year doing that – even though it started out as just a “summer project”. It was really great to pretty much exhaust that “trail”, and I ended up with three very good RX antennas – Mod-Bob (my design), DX Engineering DV-40-P 40M phased array that rocks on 160M as an RX antenna and the FB Wellbrook ALA1530LNP receiving loop.

This past summer it was all about trying a “Ham Maker” project, and the URAT (Universal Remote Antenna Tuner) delivered big time. Not many others were interested in it as it turns out, but for me, I learned more with that one project than any other project ever. There was the electronic, the code, the product design, the difference between Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Raspberry Pi Zero W and ASUS Tinkerboard, the hacking the Elecraft KPOD and its driver and learning all about antenna tuners and matching components – especially what a “true balanced tuner” is. Can you imagine any other project covering that much ground? It still amazes me . . .

This past weekend was my “FT8-Palooza”. I dove deep into FT8 and WSJT-X and nailed down a full secondary station, which now I can switch to with one antenna switch. I have what Ward, N0AX, calls “ham radio V1” with my K3 and SPE amp station, and then my second ham radio V2 station – which is the KX3 and KXPA-100. Both have their respective PX3 and P3 panadapters.

So, since VK0EK, I have removed my “DXCC Blinders”, and I am glad I did – the wonderful world of amateur radio has a fantastic learning opportunity and so many sub genres and different things to do and try – its a tinkerers dream. The camaraderie in ham radio cannot even compare with the very ugly and time wasting “social media” and “social networks”. They, along with the daily news depress and anger me – whereas Amateur Radio makes my day. In the mid 90’s I got rid of cable TV,  and after this past election got rid of Facebook and Twitter. They turned so negative and nasty and they just are total waste of time anyway.

Somehow hams have figured out how to play well with each other – certainly in a way not seen on the so called “social networks”. Maybe its the barrier to entry? Or that its a hobby with a specific topic – or set of topics – that keep us on track and on point to have a resonable discussion? Sure – there are small pockets of “miscreants” in the hobby, but compared to say Twitter or Facebook – what a major difference. Heck, even the hams I disagree with I can live with peacefully. Thank you fellow hams – you are a good lot!

This past week I was especially proud when I saw the Amateur Radio response and national press coverage of hams providing communications in and out of Puerto Rico. In fact, that was about the only good news it seems.

Ham Radio has been in my life since 1973, with only fits and starts between 1977 and 2001, but I am having more fun with it than ever. The hobby waited for me to come back, and it truly is better than ever. The word Recreation means “Re-Create”, and that is what I do when I participate in ham radio. I re-create and I learn.

An unbeatable combination.


FT8: The “Democratization of DXing and DXpeditioning”

UPDATE: After the VK9MA DXpedition I have changed my tune. FT8 surely is the beginning of something very exciting, but when VK9MA kept switching between FT8 and CW I realized just how much better CW is. On paper, using a mode that could work when CW was too hard to “hear” seemed like magic, but because there still was enough back and forth with FT8, what you gain in being able to decode a weak signal – you lose is the back and forth with QSB. FT8 would be better if it could send CW and just do the 599 TU thing.

I enabled PSK Reporter and am enjoying seeing where my signals are being heard and also tracking the FT8 QSO’s I’ve made. In my blogs I used to manually put together maps and reports of stations along a path, and with FT8 – the first digital mode I actually like  (a lot), there are more tools to map and do propagation studies than anything I have ever experienced before. The 3Y0Z path is of most interest these days.

I think the combination of KX3, PX3 and KXPA100 is perfect for FT8. The “fins” on the KXPA100 are awesome, and seem to be perfectly suited for FT8 and continuous mode use. I could even add a tiny fan if need be, but even after hours of FT8 fun, the fins were warm, but not hot. I also could keep the KX3 power way down to just a couple of watts, and didn’t have to waste $100+ dollars on an after market add on heat sink for the KX3. You ctually wouldn’t even need the PX3 . . .

I think the modular design of the KX3 and KXPA100 are perfect for an FT8 DXpedition. In fact, while I’m still overloaded and “wowed” by FT8, here are some thoughts on why FT8 is such a big deal:

  1. DXpeditions can work the world using a laptop, KX3 and KXPA100 – and it all fits in a smallish Pelican case – hand carried on a plane. In fact, the laptop could easily be replaced by an ASUS Tinkerboard for many thousands less cost to the DXpedition. The radio and amplifier also could be MUCH cheaper than what has been the traditional case
  2. Simple verticals or wire antennas can be used. I wouldn’t compromise on antennas though . . .
  3. Since WSJTX logs to ADIF – automatic uploads are easily done using a very simple script
  4. Instead of using satellite, a DXpedition could upload their log in chunks (packets) once a minute using HF point to point
  5. Others have already created log uploading software for Raspberry Pi’s – so your logging “gateway” is the size of a credit card – in keeping with the “small station” ethos
  6. As much as I think DXA was a cool thing – WSJTX in combination with PSK Reporter or other mapping solutions mean anyone can “play along” just like DXA, and without the administrative overhead, and in a more “open source” way
  7. After I make Top of Honor Roll and 160M DXCC, I might get rid of my “full gallon” amplifier for good. Low power and great antennas combined with FT8 are my future – and yes, CW and SSB will always be used here, but I have dreamed of using no more than 100 watts for a very long time. After getting to where I am in DXCC, going the full steam / full gallon / brute force route is very tiring and not interesting at all. Its lost its juice and so FT8 has me thinking of so many possibilities – which is where I was at in 2001 when I started DXing
  8. Younger people with a tight budget can get in on the fun
  9. People who want a “modern day” mode that fits with today’s technology and computing platforms will be interested in this – in a way they would not get on HF if it were still just the old CW, SSB and RTTY modes
  10. People with HOA’s can have a station now. Same goes for those in a managed care facility . . . or an apartment . . . or a dorm . . or a tent
  11. Mike, KJ4Z’s DX-podition is realized and the whole shebang has a tiny foot print

I am convinced that 3Y0Z should dedicate two stations to FT8 – one on 20M and one on 40M. This will pick up many little pistols and relieve the CW, SSB and RTTY operating positions. In fact, I really wish FT8 were fully automated and that 3Y0Z used a couple “robot stations” this way. They get 2 extra operators 24×7 who wouldn’t need to sleep!

I haven’t tried much yet, but also understand that FT8 can be set with WSJTX to look for the weakest signal meaning little pistols will be guaranteed a place at the DXpedition table. This “democratization” of DXing might be the most important aspect of all of this.


FT8: MAJOR Game Changer for DXPeditions

UPDATE: After the VK9MA DXpedition I have changed my tune. FT8 surely is the beginning of something very exciting, but when VK9MA kept switching between FT8 and CW I realized just how much better CW is. On paper, using a mode that could work when CW was too hard to “hear” seemed like magic, but because there still was enough back and forth with FT8, what you gain in being able to decode a weak signal – you lose is the back and forth with QSB. FT8 would be better if it could send CW and just do the 599 TU thing.

I sure hope 3Y0Z is paying attention (and I am sure they are – hi hi). FT8 – for sure – can guarantee that almost any DXer can get into the log. I’ve been watching the LU path – which is _exactly_ the 3Y0Z path, and while an SSN of 39 is actually pretty awesome for this part of the sunspot cycle – I am 100% sure that we on the West Coast can work 3Y0Z even though they will be setting up on Slakhallet in an area that is really bad for the West Coast.

Sure – I have expected that higher angles would get West Coasters in the log – but the openings would be like 10 – 20 minutes. With FT8 – I am sure that this opens up possibilities for hours that wouldn’t have previously been open before.

You know – controversial as it might sound – I really like what 3Y0I (the very “mysterious” and possibly non DXpedition) has announced an idea to have them call you – if you are a donor.

I see nothing wrong with that at all. Lets skip the BS that its “paying for a QSO” – because that already exists in so many ways anyway. If someone is a sponsor (at any level), the least a DXpedition can do is make a little effort to ensure one ATNO.

I say this because I truly believe that if get all pious about this you might as well expect DXing, DXCC and DXpeditions to go the way of the dinosaur. I would bet good money on this.

And you know what – FT8 can actually save DXing and DXCC, because the “little guy” might donate $20 knowing that s/he has a fighting chance – even if his/ her station is not a top gun. And even more importantly, any Maker who even looks at an FT8 Waterfall display will instantly be interested in ham radio and DXing.

We live in an age of ADHD and “eye candy” – well – this is it!