Happenings

We all like to hear what other hams are up to, and we'd love for you to share some of the fun projects you've been involved in.  That's what the weekly round table discussion is for, but if you've got something noteworthy you'd like to share here too -- especially if you have pictures -- just email me the information.

Also, news of upcoming events is posted to this page.

Feel free to browse this page any time you happen to be on the site, or, better yet, click the link below to subscribe to its RSS feed* to keep abreast of the happenings of your fellow hams.

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Also, comments are only visible after clicking an individual article; they don't appear on this overview page.

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SEA-PAC 2021

posted Jun 2, 2021, 9:17 AM by Charles Boling

SEA-PAC is this Saturday!  No traveling to Seaside, no admission fee, but there are a bunch of free online seminars being presented, and even at this late date, you have a better-than-average of finding a seat!  Register now for the event so you can watch the seminars of your choice!

Note: The webmaster neglected to update the normal "Registration page"; you must use the in-paragraph link on the home page to reach the Zoom registration site.

Rohn 25G for sale

posted May 21, 2021, 11:08 AM by Charles Boling   [ updated May 21, 2021, 11:10 AM ]

A friend tipped me off to a posting of used Rohn 25G tower sections (straight & top) for sale in Longview at a good price. Facebook users can access the want ad at https://www.facebook.com/groups/133201503486168/permalink/2048462655293367/?sale_post_id=2048462655293367. Non-FB users like me can find a FB-using friend to get more info if they can't find the sale posted elsewhere.
phone screenshot of FB post

FCC registration to be required before exams

posted May 9, 2021, 6:48 PM by Charles Boling

The FCC is continuing its push towards automation and the elimination of paper. Taking the exam is no longer the first step in becoming a new ham. Instead, prospective hams should sign up for an FCC account (the system is named "CORES"). Once they do so and receive their FRN (they also need an email address) to put on the paperwork, then they can take the exam.
Here's the URL of the FCC's page that has links and a video explaining the process. https://www.fcc.gov/rofrnhttps://www.fcc.gov/rofrn

(Now that amateurs are making the process easier than ever for the FCC, explain again why they're going to start charging us $35 per application?)

$35 FCC Fee coming soon

posted Mar 20, 2021, 8:06 AM by Charles Boling   [ updated Mar 21, 2021, 5:56 PM ]

As many of you are aware, though FCC licenses for the Amateur service have always been free, the FCC decided to change that and begin charging a $35 service fee for every transaction. They are implementing it sooner than I expected, beginning April 19, 2021. We are therefore down to 30 days to file new licenses, upgrades, and vanity applications without having to pay the new fee.

Mike Ritz, the NW ARRL Div Director, sent the correction below. My previous source was wrong, and I'm sorry for propagating misinformation.
Contrary to what you may have heard or read, the collection of application fees
for the amateur radio service and certain other services will NOT begin on
April 19, 2021.

Although April 19, 2021 is the date the rules in the FCC Report and Order
adopted last December generally take effect – i.e., one month after the R&O
was published in the March 19, 2021 Federal Register – certain parts of those
rules, including collection of the application fees for the amateur radio
service, will NOT begin on that date.

The effective date for new amateur radio fees has not yet been established.
The FCC explicitly states in the published Notice that the fees will not
take effect until:
* the requisite notice has been provided to Congress; AND
* the FCC’s information technology systems and internal procedures have
been updated; AND
* the Commission publishes [FUTURE] notice(s) in the Federal Register
announcing the effective date of such rules.

The League’s counsel for FCC matters estimates that the effective start date
for collecting the fees will be some time this summer, but regardless of the
exact timing we will have advance notice. Stay tuned for further developments
on this.

Keep in mind that one can only renew their amateur license within 90 days in
advance of the expiration date. If you, or a club station license you are
trustee for, are within that 90 day window now, I'd renew as soon as possible
to avoid the new fee.

If you are thinking of switching to a vanity callsign, I'd also seriously
suggest you apply for that special callsign sooner rather than later. (Of
course, if you are an Extra class seeking a new shorter 1X2 or 2X1 callsign,
competition for those calls in the future MIGHT be a bit less due to the new
fees! We'll see...)

73;
Mike
W7VO

--------------------------------------------------------------------
ARRL Northwestern Division
Director: Michael T Ritz, W7VO
w7vo@arrl.org
--------------------------------------------------------------------

Kalama South Propagation Test

posted Mar 8, 2021, 6:22 PM by Charles Boling   [ updated Mar 8, 2021, 6:31 PM ]

As Masen, KF7HVM reported, in January we did a little VHF/UHF propagation testing in the south part of the Kalama area for the Kalama Ward.  Each team worked a maximum of 3 locations, but we tested over 1,200 RF paths altogether, with the plan being for every location during each of the 3 time periods being listened for by all of the other stations, using each of these 6 modes:
  • M = 2m Ham Mobile (50W)
  • H = 2m Ham Handheld (5W)
  • F = Family Radio Service handheld (0.5W)
  • G = General Mobile Radio Service mobile (50W)
  • C / Citizens Band (4W) - note handheld/mobile
That list was pared slightly by these restrictions:
  • Due to lack of gear (and because the exercise was already complex enough), we dropped CB entirely from this round
  • Only 2 of us had GMRS the whole time
  • One team had only FRS
  • One team lost their mobile partway through the exercise
In the 2.5 weeks after the exercise I interpreted & entered data from the log sheets, geocoded the addresses, and prepared summary and detail reports along with a map showing the test sites.

I also wanted to use the data to automatically plot the signal reports on the map, but after looking at what it would take and realizing that I didn't really have time or desire to become a javascript & Google API expert right now (though such a propagation visualization tool would be quite valuable for many such exercises), I put it off.

Now, a little over a month later, I manually plotted lines on the map to illustrate the propagation in a way that's much easier and faster to see overall than the tables. The result is the PDF available below.  I gave the Kalama Ward EmComm specialist 4 additional maps, one showing just the FRS/HT coverage and 3 that split the area by site location to reduce the clutter of lines a bit. (His copy also had names of families living in the homes near our test sites.)

A couple of other ways I reduced clutter on the map:

  • I didn't bother to plot any "poor" connections -- only the paths proven good enough for a reliable conversation.
  • For any path that was able to be used by handheld, I did not show the mobile ham paths.

Not surprisingly, we didn't have very many successful contacts using FRS, though there were a couple of fairly long line-of-sight paths.  I was somewhat surprised that the 2m HTs didn't outperform FRS by a greater margin. I expect that one reason for this is that the testing was done inside vehicles (a/k/a Faraday cages with holes) and the longer wavelength would've been attenuated more (i.e. it's harder to stuff a 200cm wave through a car window than a 65cm wave). It would've been interesting to test outside vehicles, but, again, the exercise was long and complex enough as it was.

I was the only station that didn't move during the exercise; once we left the elementary school where be briefed, I headed up the hill to a spot with a little better view, even though it was outside of the area that our testing was focused on. Since I was directing the exercise, I didn't want that extra distraction, and I did want to be able to talk to everyone directly if possible. I nearly achieved this; I think that there was only one distant site worked by a mobile unit that I didn't log a contact with.

I've never had to do mapping on a test with this many data points. It was a lot of work! 'Twas an informative exercise, though, for all involved, not just the recipient of the results.

Future tests will cover central Kalama and the area north, including the Kalama River and Rose Valley.

Cheap GHz VNAs!

posted Dec 25, 2020, 2:23 PM by Charles Boling

Sorry I didn't post this in time for you to gift yourself one today. Merry Christmas!

One of the pieces of test equipment that many hams would love to have but don't want to spend the money on -- besides an FM deviation meter (Serious? $200 for uncalibrated hunk o' junk from the 70's? Why doesn't one of my cheap Chinese HTs come with one built into it? It shouldn't be that hard, and it would be useful!), perhaps a topic for another time -- is a good Vector Network Analyzer (VNA).

What's that you say, you don't even know what that is, much less that you'd been asking for one? Well, let's take a closer look. What's a network analyzer? The word "network" may conjure images of Ethernet cables & switches, but in this case it refers to LRC networks -- electrical circuits exhibiting inductance, resistance, and capacitance. The tool is often called an "antenna analyzer", because the most popular use for hams is analyzing antenna systems.

What can you do with it?  LOTS of things, but let's start with a big one: a glorified SWR meter. An SWR meter will indicate a degree of impedance mismatch by showing the amount of power that is reflected back to your transmitter. Anything higher than that coveted 1:1 shows that some power isn't being transferred to the antenna and out into the ether where you want it to go. (A 1:1 doesn't guarantee that the power's going where you want it too -- merely that it's not coming back to you -- but that's enough said about that.)  The classic way to adjust an antenna for the band you want to operate on is to use a meter to check SWR at least at the bottom, middle, & top of the band.  Measure it at multiple points and you can connect the dots to produce a more informative graph.  Wouldn't it be convenient if you could be lazy and just press a button, and watch an SWR graph over any range of frequencies appear? Neato! You could instantly see what an antenna was good for and what it wasn't (as well as if you had a broken coax)

In addition to SWR (which is derived by measuring forward & reflected power) the analyzer can compare timing/phase to compute complex impedances, showing resistive, capacitive, and inductive components so you can understand what's going on "behind the scenes" with the circuit represented by the antenna and easily compensate to create a more appropriate match. A dual-port analyzer isn't limited to measuring reflected signals, but can be attached to the "input" and "output" of an electronic circuit to make similar measurements.  Or, how about the equivalent of a TDR (time domain reflectometer -- something that sends an electrical pulse down a wire and then checks the amplitude/time of the returned signal) that compares behavior at different wavelengths to tell you where that damaged section of coaxial cable is? When you have hardware that can generate a precise signal and just as precisely measure what come back, then the rest is all mathematics, i.e. software, so if you can modify the software, you can add features and make it smarter at will.  Open-source it, so that people who are smarter than you in some areas can contribute, and the possibilities grow.

Traditional VNAs were/are the tools of the well-equipped laboratory, and very expensive -- tens of thousands of dollars.  Within the past couple of decades, I've started to see "antenna analyzers" marketed to hams at more affordable prices.  One class of these are simple self-contained handheld devices that are crude and not that big of a step up from an SWR meter.  Another entry into the market was W6BIG's AIM4170 and similar devices, one of which I bought 13 years ago for $500. It has no display, but must be attached via RS-232 to a computer running MS Windows, where its accompanying software works its magic.  It was a fantastic device when it was introduced, but only went up to 180 MHz. Over the years I've wanted to upgrade to a UHF-capable unit, but the prices around $1k are a deterrent. Besides, having to lug a laptop around with it (and keeping a copy of Windows just for that, when all I normally run is Linux) is a pain.

A NanoVNA showing a Smith chart

I was delighted when KF7ZIM sent me a link to a product known as NanoVNA. It combines the basic RF hardware w/ a low-cost mobile computing board powered by a Li-Ion battery and a full color LCD touchscreen, running Linux and an open-source program to implement the VNA functionality and UI.  It's a lot better than the cruder analyzers from MFJ, etc. -- closer to the power of my AIM but w/ the portability that I want, and best of all, it goes over 1GHz, at last granting me access to 70cm & beyond. All this starting at $50!? Wow!

Since the original NanoVNA was produced, there have been hardware and software revisions, and different companies making them using hardware of varying quality. Versions are now available that can use the 9th harmonic of the 300 MHz clock to make useful measurements up to 2.7 GHz.  Alexander & I bought one towards the low end of the market for $54 shipped.  It was a low-risk way to evaluate the platform, and it was exactly what he needed for his employer, who runs a fleet of trucks w/ CB radios.  There was a bit of a learning curve for us (the kid who wrote the software is Japanese, and there's still a lack of detailed high-quality English documentation) but we got it all set up so that all one has to do is turn it on and press the scan button to get an SWR graph of the CB band (and just a little on either side for context). Any dummy can use it to get an instant picture of the health of the antenna system on a truck.

Most pre-made devices come as kits that include the calibration loads and everything else you need to make it work.  We found that if you care about absolute accuracy you really do want to calibrate it over a narrow range of frequencies that you're graphing, but this is helped by its ability to store profiles with calibration parameters to go with the display settings. When used properly, its measurements compared favorably to my more expensive instrument.

Having a device like this is not only convenient, but educational, encouraging experimentation and helping you learn more about antennas. You may be surprised (sometimes pleasantly!) how some of your antennas behave on frequencies that they weren't necessarily designed for, and something like this can definitely aid in quickly validating (or re-validating) an antenna system and assuring you that it's functioning as intended. If you've never played with one before, or if you're looking to upgrade without spending a lot of money, now's a great time!

'Sup's that go "Boom"

posted Dec 6, 2020, 7:28 PM by Charles Boling   [ updated Dec 25, 2020, 12:34 PM ]

We like the 'sup's -
The 'sup's that go "Boom".
We're Alex & Chucky
And We like the boom.

(with a nod to the '80s' hit, "Cars That Go Boom" by L'Trimm)











KD7TJR's power supply didn't fare as well. It had previously blown a fuse and damaged a resistor. As it turns out, one of a pair of power transistors failed. Alexander removed the resistor and, after some time examining the schematic, determined that it was likely that doing so would remove the voltage applied to the base and likely reduce the load that the transistor was sinking. I was trying to get "real" work done and not paying too much attention myself, but we decided to power it up briefly and measure the current draw.

Looks like it was the wrong approach; apparently the base was biased from somewhere else and removing the resistor (which would've happened by itself had we powered it up a 2nd time with it still in there, judging from the damage done by the previous run) opened the emitter-collector gate wide, and the resulting current rush violently melted the collector pin.

The good news is that, as you can see, I did catch some good pictures of its final act (which blew a couple more components as well) in spite of the fact that the stupid camera was set for 120fps, but for some reason it merely duplicated each frame 4x, making it effectively 30fps.

If you look carefully at the first picture (click the pictures to see full-size copies), you can see a single streak coming from the collector. It progresses from there. My mini tripod disappeared, so I was holding the camera in my hand, and my involuntary jerk is obvious.  It was a loud crack and a bright flash!

It was interesting watching & listening to the video slowed down 32x (1fps); in the frame before the first one shown, you can hear the initial small "boom" that of that first spark, then you can hear multiple explosions as the fireball builds; it sounds like a barrage of cannon fire. Neato! Sad, though; we decided that it's not worth the effort of buying & replacing multiple parts when we don't even know for sure that the transistor was the root cause, so we're laying the whole thing to rest.

Power Supply Repairs

posted Nov 4, 2020, 11:37 PM by Charles Boling   [ updated Nov 4, 2020, 11:38 PM ]

Something over a decade ago, Ray bought VHF radios for all of the units in the stake and put them in the church buildings with antennas & other things needed to set up a field-expedient radio station. All of the power supplies are the same model, Samlex SEC-1223. In 2014, one of the supplies started making noise, and I determined that the cause was a set of failed capacitors. As I wrote at the time:
for several years around the turn of the century several Taiwanese
manufacturers used some bad formulas for the electrolyte in their caps
that rotted them, and millions were put on the market with severely
shortened life -- in some cases as little as a few months.  It was a
huge deal, w/ computer manufacturers like Dell taking a lot of heat and
losing a ton of money having to replace failed motherboards (I know one
guy who had a board w/ over 30 failed caps on it), and "re-capping"
high-end boards became a lively business.  That pretty much all blew
over after the 1st decade, but I suspect that these caps were part of
that group.
More testing:
Power supply open w/ arrow indicating problem caps

I tested the supply, and the output is still pretty good -- 13.8V drops
to 12.7V under 70W load w/ <1V ripple -- so I don't think any other
components are damaged yet.

I put it on a scope and confirmed that without a load there's a lot of
pseudo-random noise on it; with a slight load it stabilizes to a 2-tone
waveform w/ the primary frequency around 50kHz (I didn't bother to
measure it carefully -- just going from memory of approximate size on
screen and dial settings) and the 2nd an octave up and almost as strong
(any higher harmonics weren't obvious) with ~20% jitter.  Putting a
~60-70W load on it (my radio transmitting on high) made it go bananas,
with a large variance in amplitude and frequency, peaking at over 1V.  I
listened on another radio while transmitting and verified that no lower
frequency components were making it through unfiltered by my rig (an
IC-208H).

These 3 caps just sit across the outputs to stabilize it and work w/ the
chokes to get rid of the last of the ripples, so they don't directly
affect most of the circuit and unless they short instead of open they
shouldn't do catastrophic damage unless the inductors don't choke enough
and allow higher-voltage spikes somewhere that take out something more
important.  Judging from what I saw on the scope, that probably won't
happen, but it's possible that it would throw something upstream off
just enough to destabilize the PWM chip or something so it shouldn't be
used until they're replaced.

I found someone else who had the same problem
and learned from his mistake to measure the physical size of my caps
instead of believing the 16x25mm specs.  Sure enough, with the change in
board layout (ours is 3 in a straight line, but all the official pics
show one offset w/ inductors in the corner where it might otherwise be)
they tightened the spacing, and the 16mm won't fit!

Equivalent caps are about $1 each:

It was a good education for Alexander as I led him through the process of testing and fixing it.

Apparently, that radio was used more than the others.  Fast forward 6 years to last Sunday...
It was pretty funny today. Remember during the exercise when the Castle
Alexander &amp; Steven working on the PS

Rock radio wasn't working right?  Bp Morkert brought it to me at the
stake ctr today so I could inspect & test it, trading parts (e.g.
microphone) w/ another radio if needed. I pulled the stake radio out to
use as a receiver, turned on its power supply, and poof! Smoke began
pouring out. "Not worries -- I have another one!" I pulled out the
Longview 3rd radio, turned it on, and a few seconds later *it* began
producing smoke!  All 3 supplies were emitting a complex sound that,
well, sounded like a classic failing switching supply.

CR's supply isn't smoking yet, but it's putting out bad power. The radio
can transmit @ 5W w/o noticeable artifacts on the received audio, but as
the power draw goes up it gets worse. Needless to say, Bro. Morkert
didn't return with a radio...

I'm going to open them up and inspect them, and assuming that it's what
I think it is, I'll order enough caps to do all the radios in the stake.
 Once these are back in operation, I'll start pulling the remaining
working radios and replace the caps *before* the supplies fail....
My middle boys are going to get a lot of soldering
practice, and Alexander's going to be doing a lot of teaching.

I ordered 30 more capacitors, and Alexander & Steven fixed those 3 radios this evening. That's a total of 4 down and 6 to go! A good education for Steven; I think I'll have William help with the next few that come in.

Thurs Jul 30 Simplex Exercise

posted Jun 28, 2020, 12:23 PM by Charles Boling   [ updated Jul 30, 2020, 6:32 PM ]

OTVARC Mascot

The Oregon Tualatin Valley Amateur Radio Club has invited us to participate in their 5th Thursday Simplex Contest (previously the Fifth Wednesday Simplex Contest) starting July 30th @ 7PM (don't be late!) on 147.54 MHz FM.

This opportunity to participate with OTVARC will replace this quarter's regional ERC simplex exercise, and I encourage everyone who's free that evening to join us! Each station should keep a log of who they hear (there's a log sheet on the page linked to above), and submit it afterwards so we can see who can talk to whom. Paul Gerke, KF7SKD from Vanc. West Stake, has volunteered to sift through the reports; please email your results to both otvarc@gmail.com and kf7skd@qsl.net. When Paul's finished with his analysis, we'll see that all participants get a copy.

ERC Goals

  • Exercise your skills (esp. listening)
  • Test your equipment (emergency power, anyone?)
  • Map all the propagation paths -- who can hear whom

Operating Hints

  • Open your squelch so that you can hear weaker stations
  • Make sure you're in simplex mode (no TX shift)
  • Listen so you can get a feel for the protocol, but don't be afraid to transmit!
  • Get on early, if possible, so you don't miss anything

Logging

  • In the notes, please include a 2-digit "RS" signal report for each station heard
    • 1st digit = Readability
      • 1 = Detected but 100% unreadable
      • 2 = Occasional words understood
      • 3 = Readable w/ considerable difficulty
      • 4 = Easy copy
      • 5 = Perfect (full quieting)
    • 2nd digit - Strength
      • 1-9 (use your S-meter if possible)
      • 1 = Barely detectable
      • 9 - Extremely strong
      • If you submit a reading outside 1-9 (e.g. "0" or "S9+60") we'll probably clamp it to the 1-9 range when we aggregate the statistics.

Update:
I added an alternate log sheet, in OpenDocument Spreadsheet and PDF formats. You may find the spreadsheet a lot more convenient to use.
When done, you could export it to PDF and attach both formats so Paul and OTVARC can choose which they want to work with depending on what they're doing (printing/viewing vs. extracting data)

Simplex Nets canceled

posted May 24, 2020, 10:27 AM by Charles Boling

The Thursday & Sunday simplex nets, a/k/a "The Charles, Lloyd & Kevin net", has been canceled for lack of participation. It was a fun experiment, and I did enjoy getting to talk to my two net buddies more than once a week!

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