1000

The Radio Artisan group reached a milestone recently, surpassing 1000 members.  While I acknowledge some of these 1000 are undoubtedly inactive or spammer accounts, I consider this an accomplishment after starting this discussion group three years ago.  Originally intended as a support group for my Arduino open source amateur radio projects, I’m hoping to continuing expanding the group into general discussions involving DIY projects involving amateur radio and software code, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, and open source, and in cutting edge areas such as satellites and DSP.  I’m seeing more discussions in areas like this, especially with using Arduinos to automate shack functions.  My ultimate goal is to have this group continue regardless of my projects or participation.

I’m pleased that I’ve been able to keep the group friendly, civilized and free of mode wars, politics, and other nasties that tend to pollute some amateur radio forums.  There are a lot of smart and creative people from all around the world.  It’s great when we can all share in this great hobby.  (What is a radio artisan?)

Heathkit Announces Acquisition of Radio Shack

Heathkit announced today they have reached an agreement to acquire the assets of Radio Shack for $300M, blocking efforts from mobile wireless carrier Sprint to acquire a large portion of the struggling and now bankrupt North American consumer electronics retailer.  No further details were mentioned by Heathkit other than they “had big plans” and “everyone should stay tuned to the website for details.”

Radio Shack CEO Joseph Magnacca was quoted in a press release as saying “We are very happy and excited about the pending transaction with Heathkit.  The Heathkit team has shown us they have a more viable business plan than Sprint, and our creditors agree that the Heathkit team brings a higher level of management, leadership, and strategy to Radio Shack, more than the company has ever had.”

Immediately after the announcement amateur radio online forums were alive with discussions and speculation on when closed stores would reopen.  Several commenters reminisced about the days when Radio Shack offered amateur radios and components.  One person noted how difficult it is to get good 68k ohm resistors and Radio Shack could chart a course to profitability if they just stocked these resistors.  Others bemoaned Radio Shack’s practice of asking for customer addresses, claiming it was a front for NSA information-gathering efforts.  Several commenters agreed that Radio Shack should offer a vacuum tube code practice oscillator kit.

Obligatory New Years Post

Greetings and Happy New Year!  Our celebration last night was one that married 40-somethings with kids often have — a night spent at home watching Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve.

On the amateur radio front, this past weekend I participated in the Stew Perry Challenge, a 160m all CW contest.  I debated whether to go QRP or 100 watts and decided to go with 100 watts.  Although I can’t brag about the amazing performance that QRP and a rather modest inverted L would have given, I certainly had as much if not more fun than last year’s event.  I netted over 180 contacts in my casual operating effort, even bagging about six west coast stations.  I think the Stew Perry Challenge is a cool little contest, perhaps underrated.  Its uncommon exchange for an HF contest, grid squares, and its unique scoring that takes into account distance and worked station transmitter power makes for an interesting contest.  I wrote in my notes for 2013 that I have make a serious effort and do all 14 hours in the test next year.

I can’t say I have any hardcore amateur radio News Years resolutions, other than “do what I like and like what I do”.  I started following this mantra three years ago and it has served me well. I tend to avoid getting into rituals but one I do want to start after authoring one last year is getting at least one amateur radio article published each year in a mainstream magazine (i.e. QST or CQ). I also tend to avoid competition, but I want to “up my game” in the PA QSO Party and also make more than a casual effort in one of the big contests.

In the Radio Artisan lab there are two main projects in progress. I have a working prototype of the Arduino based balanced antenna tuner. It’s been a technically challenging project, but very interesting. I still need to improve the SWR sensor performance and develop some shortcuts in the tuning algorithm to lessen the tune time. The other project is learning KiCad, an open source EDA program for developing schematics and PC boards. In the next week or two I will publish a post on my experiences. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely a viable replacement for the venerable and popular Eagle program.

Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2013. Work, eat, sleep, and play radio.

Lucky

Last night was a rather sleepless night.  As Larry W2LJ mentioned, the rain wasn’t so bad, but the wind was downright scary.  Up until about midnight I periodically went outside and walked around the house looking for damage, keeping my back and weight to the wind in order to not get pelted in the face or get blown over.  The wind sounded like a freight train coming over the ridge.  I was so glad I put temporary guy lines on the tower.  Other than some siding on corners popping out, there was no permanent damage occurring, however I noticed my HF tribander and 6 meter beam misaligned on the tower.  Under the force of the wind the tribander was beginning to turn and go off azimuth.  I rotated the antennas in an attempt to use the wind to true up the tribander.

About 3 AM I awoke to metal banging against the house.  I got dressed, went outside and found a 10 foot piece of aluminum flashing or trim dangling from the roof eave which shortly fell to the ground.  Other than that, no more damage.  Amazingly we still had electricity.

This morning when I awoke it was still quite windy and blowing the rain sideways, though not as violent as last night.  There was no further damage to the house, but the antennas were more misaligned than before.  So we were lucky here in Pennsylvania, and are thankful for having power and a home.  A lot of people in New York, New Jersey, and to the south and west of us in PA did not fare so well.

Frankenstorm

Here in the US we usually have a “storm of the century” every few years, but this coming week we’re having a “storm of a lifetime”.  Dubbed by the media as “Frankenstorm”, Hurricane Sandy is projected to hit the east coast somewhere between the North Carolina/Virginia border and New York City sometime on Monday.  A few hours ago the models were putting the path right over my QTH, and now they’re projecting the path south of the Radio Artisan lab.  Either way we’re going to get a bunch of rain, probably 6 to 10 inches.  Earlier in the week it was looking like the hurricane would collide with a high pressure system from Canada that would turn it into a monster snowstorm, essentially a “noreaster”  snow hurricane!

So today I’m busy getting gas for the generator, stockpiling water, putting away anything that isn’t tied down, and installing some temporary guy lines on my modest 40 foot tower.  In addition to the generator, I have 150 Ah of solar-charged battery to run rigs.  Since we live in the country we’re pretty well stocked up on food, ammo, and liquor should things get ugly.  The only bad thing is that I work at home, so there’s no excuse to not get to work next week.

Show and Tell

This week I conducted a presentation on amateur radio for a neighborhood historical group.  I was a bit nervous going into this as it was my first attempt at explaining our hobby in a presentation to the general public.  For me it’s a challenge to capture the full essence of amateur radio in 45 minutes and not use too much lingo or go off on tangents.  However, the presentation seemed to be pretty well received and I even got some laughs from the audience when talking about things like big antennas in backyards, interference, drinking beer at Field Day, and the 6 meter “magic band.”

This isn’t your grandfather’s amateur radio….

Explaining how radio waves bounce off the ionosphere

After the presentation we had wine, cheese, and various homemade dips and deserts.  I fielded a lot of questions and several folks told me stories about relatives who were shortwave listeners, hams, or radiomen in the war.  A good time was had by all, as they say….

What’s Going On?

For the past several weeks I’ve been using my keyboard tapping, when not working on IT projects, mainly for coding, so my blogging has suffered a bit.  Here’s what I’ve been up to in the Radio Artisan laboratory recently:

My Arduino CW Keyer code now supports six separate transmitter keying and PTT outputs and it’s no longer necessary to use PTT lines for transmitter keying line multiplexing.  K1EL Winkey emulation mode has been enhanced to support Winkey 2 commands and has been tested successfully for SO2R operation.  I’m currently working on LCD display code that will use the Adafruit RGB LCD Shield.  This unit is really sharp looking and uses only two I/O pins for interfacing using the I2C protocol.  I’m planning to use I2C a lot more in all of my projects in the future.

I have added to my Arduino Rotator Controller software brake control and “slow start” capability, and rotators with any starting azimuth and rotations of up to 719 degrees can be configured.  If you’re not familiar with this project, you can interface nearly any rotator to any logging or control program.  Experimental code for using the HMC5883L digital compass and ADXL345 accelerometer is included if you want to homebrew your own rotator and not use pots for reading azimuth and elevation.  On the roadmap is support for the LSM303DLHC combination digital compass and accelerometer and the Adafruit RGB LCD Shield.

I’m currently working on an Arduino controlled balanced antenna tuner.  I won’t go into all of the gory details here, but needless to say it’s going to be commercial grade, very configurable, and have QRP and QRO versions.  No stepper motors or expensive roller inductors.  This is going to be fun.

If you subscribe to CQ magazine, be sure to check out my article in the June 2012 issue entitled “Summit Expeditions – Outdoor Radio Adventure Close to Home“.  I talk about operating from Summits On The Air (SOTA) locations and give some thoughts on equipment choices and the benefits of outdoor operating.  If anyone wants to invite me to a big time DXpedition in a cold, high latitude QTH, please send me an email :-)

So that’s what’s been going on here.  Keep your software updated, your beverages cold, and your rig warm.  73

Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture

Today the FCC release a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) regarding Deployable Aerial Communications Architecture (DACA).  In a nutshell, this technology involves deploying a light aircraft containing communications equipment over a disaster area to provide emergency communications.  Those familiar with mobile wireless will recognize this as somewhat analogous to a COW (cellsite on wheels), and the military has been using similar technology for years.

A whitepaper on DACA describes the potential for this technology:

The DACA vision for disasters involves an aerial capability that is deployable within the first 12-18 hours after a catastrophic event to temporarily restore critical communications, including broadband, for a period of 72-96 hours. This capability would be useful in situations where the power grid may be inoperable for 5-7 days, depleting back-up power supplies and resulting in an almost complete failure of landline, cellular, land mobile radio, broadcast, and cable transmissions, as well as Wi-Fi and Internet services. In such circumstances, access roads and bridges may be impassable, preventing communications repair crews and fuel suppliers for generators from entering the area. If DACA systems were available, users on the ground could continue to rely on their day-to-day communications devices in a transparent manner.

While DACA technology does not involve amateur radio, nor does amateur radio have a horse in this race, amateurs may find DACA technology interesting, as the recent interest in unmanned balloon experiments with amateur radio payloads would suggest.  The FCC in the NOI is seeking comment from industry on logistical, regulatory, and technological questions.  I imagine it will be several years before we see DACA technology ready for prime time and probably only in major metropolitan areas.