The Curious Case of the Astron RS-35M

In the last week, all of a sudden, when I transmitted with my K3, the radio would turn off. The power supply stayed on, so that was weird. It started out intermittently, but then happened every time I transmitted. I found a forum where someone said that if the radio shuts off and then when you turn it back on the radio goes back to a previous frequency, then its the power supply. Furthermore, several said its probably a regulator chip that I can just unplug and put a new one in the socket.

I purchased a second unit from HRO, and will fix the first one – which is at least 6 years old. I went with linear power supplies after an old switcher started causing hash, and on 160M – that was unacceptable.

Turns out, the forum gave great advice. The behavior had me worried that it was my K3, and I ordered a new RS-35M on Wednesday, and Thursday it was on the doorstep. Swapped out the old with the new and all is well. The best news is that I can fix the old one and then have a backup.

 

The Open Source “u.RAT” Project Repo

I never blogged about my u.RAT code repo on Github because no one (except Elecraft) seemed interested. But if you want to see the code and play with it, here is the Repo:

https://github.com/rholoch/urat

Its written in C = old school Kernighan and Ritchie – hi hi

Paying Homage to Telegraphy

Wheelock Signals Relay – used by Western Union in their Telegraph System

I have a few cool collectibles related to Morse Code, Telegraphy and the “living history” surrounding it. This is because I understand how Amateur Radio is the “keeper of the code” because we are the last group left to keep this art alive.

Having fun with old Telegraph components

I’m working on one special display to rule them all – with just enough stuff to tell the story. A simple but interesting Telegraphy “Altar” of sorts. Whats especially fun is how simple yet beautiful these pieces and parts are. I especially love the use of brass and the electromagnetic coils.

Some of the history is near and dear to my heart – having grown up in New Jersey and very close to where many Telegraph parts were invented (Speedwell Foundry in Morristown, Edison inventions in Menlo Park and Western Union Relay’s in Long Branch). One thing leads to another, and there were also so many computer innovations made at Bell Labs within an hour of where I grew up, and where UNIX System V, C and switching circuits and systems were invented.

I’m celebrating Telegraphy this year by reading about its history and also working on getting my Telegraphy skills up – sending and receiving.

Is DX-ing a Detriment to Telegraphy?

It can be argued that Telegraphy was the one thing that was the gateway between the old world and the new

I’ve only been a DXer since 2001. When I was WA2QHN in NJ back in the early 70’s, I was an NCS “Traffic Man”, and CW was my medium. I have now become semi-addicted to listening to the W1AW Bulletins nightly on 160M – for two reasons – to learn how to copy CW by ear better than when I was a teenager, and because on 160M I also get an instant read on the propagation to EU – which I have yet to crack from my QTH.

One thing that is startling is how rusty my CW was – and a lot of it has to do with DX QSO’s that are nothing but 5N TU and my call. Luckily, my ability to copy has gotten dramatically better in just two days of listening to the bulletin seriously. I’m surprised at how much fun this is (again after more than 40 years of being “dormant”), and I highly recommend it.

I feel that the single most operating aspect about Ham Radio for me is CW. Its more important to me than DXing because it is a heritage where Amateur Radio operators are “The Last Man Standing” who are using CW and keeping it alive.

Think about it – YOU are the last to use Morse Code. YOU are helping to keep it alive!

Fake News in the 1800’s!

One of the better parts of this book was how during the Civil War and thereafter, telegraphic news became something that was revolutionary more than evolutionary. In fact, for the first time in the history of man, people could get news round the world in seconds.

People would wait for up to the minute news, mesmerized at the new communications method and speed

What was really interesting is how some would try to float stories that would cause a Stock Market swing and then they could benefit from the fallout of that. The Associated Press and other press agencies were formed so they could pool resources and pay Western Union for telegraph time and news. This has parallels with today – the control of the news and the manipulation of the news were problems – both from the finance sector and the political sector.

The common man did not walk around with their own news device – like our Smart Phones, but instead, went to public places, (especially hotels where they had telegram news set up to lure customers to their restaurants and bars) to get their daily news. Newspapers had to really hustle to get and print telegraphic news in a timely fashion. Because telegrams were expensive, and Western Union had a stranglehold on this medium, compressed messages were sent, and a new form of writing was devised – the “Inverted Pyramid”, with a terse beginning stating the facts, and then building out a more detailed story. People became addicted to knowing what was happening in such a fast and up to the date manner – its truly was the “Victorian Internet”.

Information is a very powerful thing – as is disinformation, and plenty of this went on in early telegraph times.

REMOTES: DXCC’s “MULLIGANS?”

When I first started participating in the ARRL DXCC program, I was very serious. If there were Remotes in 2001, I probably would have said using one was “cheating”. That is because I was so serious about everyone having to do it from their own back yard (or club or DXpedition or super contest station). At the same time, occasionally, I would play golf with my Dad – because it was one of the few things we could go do together that was an outdoor activity. On the golf course, if you blew a swing, you might take a “Mulligan” – a “do-over”. I did not take golfing very serious, and so taking a Mulligan was OK. If the game were for money or true competition, then it would be cheating. But casually, and if you don’t take yourself too seriously its just part of the game – its just for fun. There were no “Mulligan Police” as far as I knew.

On the ON4KST Chat, I have seen quite a few regulars lament that the DXCC program is now meaningless because of Remotes. Some even “name and shame”. Just yesterday, I heard an IZ8 with a 20 over S9 signal calling a Caribbean station – obviously he was using a US Remote. I very much understand their lament, but I guess I just don’t take it that serious any more. If I cheat – I only cheat myself. I guess I feel like I’ve made so many QSO’s from my own back yard – there’s nothing left to prove. And who else cares what my scores are if I don’t compete with anyone else? If I’m technically within the rules, then the plaque on my wall is valid, even if I don’t do it the “old fashioned way”. They have added and deleted entities along my journey – and I had to follow those rules – so if they allow Remotes and they don’t have a location or distance rule attached to that, then that’s just another rule that changed just like the others that changed.

The rules say that its OK to use a remote anywhere from your own entity. Interestingly, your LOTW award records have a certificate with a log that is set with a location. This means if you are a purist, you would use a different awards log for your home station and your remote station (but if I remember right, the recent DXCC rule change took away the distance rule, so its probably kosher to make QSO’s from anywhere within the same entity). I remember Wayne, N7NG blogging and saying that like the QRP DXCC Award – no one can prove where they transmitted from – so the old distance rules were not enforceable. I think for those chasing DXCC Challenge or trying to top others on a Leaderboard, then playing strictly by the rules and not taking any “Mulligans” makes sense. But some of this really comes down to the promises you make to yourself – and no one on the outside really matters.

Recently I posted #98 and #100 QSO’s for DXCC on 160M. I left #99 as an open slot that I “owe” because it was made with a remote. I also worked the first Z60A QSO with a remote. These are the only 2 QSO’s I have ever made with a remote, and I did it to see how I would feel about using a remote while chasing an award. Because it is very sure that I will make #99 and work Z60A from my home station, its a matter of days before I “Get right with the Lord” . . . . The experience was AWESOME. I just couldn’t believe how much the East Coast could hear and work that the West Coast could not. It confirmed my hypothesis that chasing DXCC Challenge from your own back yard on the West Coast is a total waste of time (if you are trying to become #1). It just isn’t going to happen – 160M and 6M will prevent you from getting anywhere near the count that someone in EU or the East Coast can get to. Along with this, the Leaderboard thing is also a joke.

Here’s the funny thing – I do NOT want to run to that remote and use it as a crutch, but since I missed 3Y0E and FT5GA, when Bouvet and Glorioso come around – if a Remote is the only way I can work them – then so be it. But I will mention this as a caveat on my QRZ.COM page. It will be a public naming of my “Mulligans” . . . . I do want every QSO for DXCC Honor Roll #1 and 9BDXCC / DXCC on 160M to be from my own back yard – and in weeks I will make good on this. Here’s an irony – I have made a handful of QSO’s where I was logged into the ON4KST Chat. It gets murky – the same guys calling others out for using Remotes also use the Chat to make “assisted” QSO’s. Some said that Packet Cluster Spots and Internet Clusters are cheating. Technically they are not – they are new tools that you can use – or not. You be the judge.

I am so looking forward to ending my DXCC chase – because I am stuck with the promise to myself that I would only make QSO’s from my own back yard. I made this promise in 2001 – and I want to stay true to my promise to myself – because yes, there is some guilt with me using a Remote. That promise has me feeling very much stifled – like I am living in the past and not taking advantage of new and very exciting technologies that I know will be just pure fun. After all – this is a hobby, and we are supposed to have fun, right?

And again – I felt like I “made the grade” in 2013 when I made Honor Roll in 11 years 100% from my own back yard. Only DXCC on 160 and 9BDXCC also need that “rule” – nothing else matters to me.

After I make my final last couple of DXCC goals (per my personal promise), I will use Remotes to compare East Coast with West Coast propagation. Maybe I will see about doing radio direction finding using several remotes. Its an area that could prove to be quite fascinating.

 

Morse Code: Copying CW by Ear

Last night – and this morning, 160M sounds great. I listened to a propagation report in the W1AW Bulletin by ear, and am starting to get a lot better copying CW by ear. I’m starting to “listen ahead”, which helps me hear full words rather than single letters – which is the case when I copy using pen and paper.

I always did well on my CW tests at the FCC office, when I failed the written General class exam twice in NYC on Varick Street in 1975, and then passed it that same year in Seattle while on a West Coast vacation (I guess my Father was actually on a job interview with Lockheed but did not decide to make the big move until 1979). And yes, I sat for the test with Finkelstein!

So, listening to the W1AW Bulletin nightly now – when there is nothing for me to work gives me purpose to stay in the shack. It just clicked (bad pun intended) on how I should listen to the code. Anticipate the word being completed is the trick, and also know where you are in a full sentence. Its a “stretching out of the brain” so to speak.

CW is the coolest. I seriously doubt I would have gotten back into the hobby without CW – its a timeless skill, and I feel like its a very unique skill that is steeped in “living history”.