Radio Skinny-Dipping

I have been working on a homebrew 40 meter CW transceiver for over a year now. It’s a superhet design, with all discrete components built ugly style on copper clad board. I’ve taken various circuit designs I’ve built in the past and added some new ones. The project has been a great opportunity for me to use and learn about the NanoVNA. Every stage I built, tested, and tweaked with the NanoVNA, and recorded results in my lab notebook. The rig features a 4 Mhz IF, mainly due to me having a ton of these crystals. I built wide and narrow filters, just futzing around with various crystal and capacitor combinations, and implemented diode switching of the filters. The filters aren’t commercial grade, but they’re definitely good enough. The final PA uses an IRF510. I had to do several iterations of this before I got something to work. At 12 volts I get 4 or 5 watts, but I normally run it at 24 volts to get 10 watts. I’ve had it up to 36 volts, outputting 20 watts. I’ve been wanting to try 48 volts.

For the longest time the rig was just PC boards on my bench interconnected with alligator clips, but a few months ago I made it a bit more respectable and mounted the PC boards on a pine board and completed some permanent wiring. There are still several alligator clips jumpering things to make it work. I tend to leave the rig on all the time and just listen to it in the background while doing other things in my office/lab/shack. I even leave it on when I’m experimenting with or adding a new circuit, if possible.

I’ve made several contacts here and there when I stumbled upon someone calling CQ for POTA, a contest, or SKCC. I honestly haven’t been doing any logging or any paper code copying. There’s something satisfying about just walking over to the rig, tapping the alligator clip-connected straight key, and having a quick contact. There’s no keyboard, no waterfall, and nothing to navigate with a mouse. It’s just me and a bunch of components communicating over the ether.

Conflict of Interest

The ARRL Ethics and Elections Committee has recused a director for publishing a book that competes with ARRL publications, creating a conflict of interest. I find this strange as ARRL is a non-profit amateur radio advocacy organization, not a for-profit company driven by shareholders’ financial interests. I thought, perhaps naively, the goals of ARRL publications were to promote and enable the hobby, and not primarily be a line of business or product offering that competes in the marketplace.

I find the framing of this really troubling, with the “ongoing conflict of interest” being caused “through the creation and publication of a book which competes with one or more ARRL publications”. If the book was published in the public domain and available for free, it still would compete with ARRL publications, and arguably would still be considered an ethics violation, despite such publication being totally altruistic and compatible with ARRL’s mission of amateur radio advancement. Such competition could perhaps also be claimed for publishing a website of antenna designs, or volunteering for a non-ARRL VE organization.

There is a conflict of interest here, however it’s ARRL’s interest in publication offerings that is in conflict with its primary mission of advancing amateur radio.

This article was originally published on Radio Artisan.

A History and Critique of Field Day Logos

My favorite amateur radio event of the year, by far, is Field Day. Each year ARRL issues a new Field Day logo. Let’s take a look at logos of years past.

First, let’s get the mediocre ones out of the way.

The 1980’s called. They want their logo back.
The 2006 logo was meh. Get ready for more radio waves.
The 2019 logo wasn’t awful, but it was rather unremarkable and low effort. At least replace the yellow with something else. Is that a target or radio waves?

I think the 2015 logo was made with Microsoft Word on someone’s lunch break, another low effort logo. Hey, where’s the ARRL diamond/antenna circuit logo? This is the only logo in the bunch where the ARRL diamond took a hiatus. All you’re getting this year is some radio waves.
The 2018 logo had me scratching my head. The design is actually good in my opinion and took some work, but what is up with Grid Chase and #hashtag #hashtag? This one just feels really contrived and like a commercial or a promotion of some program.
I’m sorry, but the 2022 logo, well, it’s blah. It feels stiff and uncompelling. Why is the ARRL logo wearing headphones? I think an engineer attempted to be a graphic artist. No, just, no.

Now let’s look at some good logos.

2007 and 2013 had cute cartoon logos. Not bad.

2005 and 2014 were yagi antenna years.

I actually like the stylized yagi in the 2014 logo, and On the Air from Anywhere is a rather clever. But what is up with the yellow?

Radio waves are a common theme, as seen in the 2006, 2015, 2019, 2010, and 2022 logos. In 2008 we had Ride the Waves, but with a sine wave representation. (Hey, why are there two of us transmitting on the same frequency?) This logo is nice. It is visually appealing, free-flowing, yet more sophisticated than a lot of the logos. But ditch the yellow. Please.

The 2021 logo isn’t too shabby, though I feel it could have used some refinement. This is the only logo in the group depicting modulation. Looks like AM to me.

I can tell a lot of effort went into the 2011 logo. It’s the only logo of this style, and is quite different from other years. I get the feeling I’m in Arizona or New Mexico. Yellow is OK here. We’re in the desert. Hey, why aren’t we on top of that mountain? Man, it’s hot out here. I need a cold drink.

2016 and 2017 had monochrome style designs. I like both of these as they have a simple, yet cool feeling. 2017 was another yagi year, though we got stacked yagis as a bonus. Are those more radio waves, and emanating from a boot? In any case, I give FD16 an A+ for the outdoorsy color choice and the hiking boot footprint. Well done.

2009 is hands-down my favorite logo, however, I won’t declare it the best logo. Hang tight. This logo has it all. I adore the forest green color. I love the font choice (the same logo was used in 2005). We have a person and their dog. (Who doesn’t love a friendly dog?) You have evergreens, and an old school wall tent for camping. You got a yagi and a dipole. Is that the sun or the moon? Don’t know, don’t care. This logo illustrates the perfect FD setup for me.

2012, in my opinion, is another great logo, though I may be biased due to its theme being similar to the 2009 logo. Note that the 2014 logo has a similar yagi. I like this stylized depiction of a FD site. Good job.

And now for the best logo, evar…

The 2020 logo is like no other. It’s cool, it’s hip. (Perhaps even chill ?) Someone at HQ thought out of the box and nailed it. You got an old VW bus, ARRL logo stealthily yet stylishly placed on the front of the vehicle (and not plastered clumsily on the side like other year’s logos), whip on the side. Business in the front, party in the back. As if that wasn’t enough, we got your radio waves and a groovy font. Can we get more of this in coming years?

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.

I Lost My Logbook and I Feel Fine

Late last year I applied an operating system update to my Macbook and my solid state hard drive peed all over itself. Long story short, I was unable to boot from the drive or read it and I had to start all over with a different hard drive and a fresh OS installation. I was able to recover all my files from the cloud except a recent backup of my logbook. It appears backups of my logbook, which MacLogger DX apparently stored in a hidden directory not in the Documents folder, was not being backed up to the cloud. The last logbook backup I can locate is from 2015.

But honestly, I don’t care. I’m declaring logbook bankruptcy and starting over. I already have some plaques on the wall for DXCC and WAS. I’m not in any race or competition. I’m not contributing any more to the radio art if I’ve made 10,000 QSOs rather than 500.

It’s a new day, and a fresh new logbook. It’s rather refreshing.

This article originally appeared on Radio Artisan.

GHz and GigaDollars

ARRL reported on continuing efforts to “counter the continuing threat to Amateur Radio’s secondary use of the 3 GHz band” in response to a “provision in the $3.5 Billion Budget Reconciliation Bill that would have required approximately 200 MHz of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band be reallocated to the use of 5G vendors.”

Meanwhile, FCC Auction 110, which has for sale 100 MHz of spectrum from the neighboring 3.45 to 3.55 GHz band, in the first round of bidding has generated $1B in bids. The total minimum reserve price for Auction 110 is $14.7B.

Why People Hate FT8

Let’s just be real for a moment. A lot of people hate FT8. You all have seen it in social media and on the air. It’s a popular mode, so popular in fact that one report citing Club Log data recently showed that 80% of HF contacts in their tracking nowadays are FT8. This increase has come at the expense of other mode activity, especially CW. What’s worse in the minds of some, is that accomplishments like DXCC which used to take several to many years to reach is being significantly shortened with the use of FT8.

I’ve often thought it’s a fait accompli achieving DXCC, one just needs to sit in a chair long enough.  FT8 has given a means to bypass a lot of that chair-sitting.  I think FT8 just exposed an inconvenient truth that there really wasn’t a whole lot of skill involved in DXCC.  Skill may lessen the amount of time it takes.  FT8 just automated the process and significantly reduced the time needed and totally removed any skill advantage.

FT8 or another similar mode was going to happen sometime.  It’s like the concept of steam engine time.  The idea or theory is that the steam engine would have been invented at probably the same time in history by anyone or several people simultaneously in the world, even if many inventors were isolated and not in contact with each other.  It was just bound to happen at some point given the progression of technology and the availability of materials and know-how to do it.  We all knew (well, those of us with engineering know-how) that a semi-synchronous extremely low baud rate, low signal-to-noise ratio mode would work and be quite robust.  It’s Shannon’s Theorem applied. What is at issue is the way Joe Taylor packaged it.  We could do great things with low baud rate/low S/N modes.  How about a TCP/IP link to a BBS on the moon or an open global resilient messaging network that works on every band in the lowest of the low sunspot cycles? Instead, it was packaged as a low effort point-and-click QSO slot machine, unable to convey anything intelligent.

There are fully automated FT8 stations out there where the operator just clicks a button and the station makes contacts all day. We all know it, we just don’t know the extent of it. This I think is the crux of the problem. FT8 has become something akin to Bitcoin-mining, but it’s QSO-mining, and FT8 with automation which is undoubtedly happening has devolved pursuit of accomplishments into a virtual QSO Battlebots competition.

Personally, I’ve become indifferent to the whole FT8 debate, and frankly anything that involves DXing, DXCC, contesting, or collecting wallpaper. I don’t hate FT8, but I get the discontent about it that is expressed in amateur radio circles. I have always been one to tell others to not be mode bigots, or put down other modes. The FT8 mode itself is not bad technology, or detrimental to amateur radio. The mindless fashion in which it is in use I’m not so sure about.

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.

Amateur Radio License Plates

Since the pandemic started up over a year ago, I haven’t done any air travel and have been driving to all business functions. Luckily all my work has been in The Northeast and within a reasonable driving distance of my home, though I often have six to eight hours of driving in a day. So, needless to say, I’ve had a lot of windshield time on interstates the last 12 months.

In this past year, I think I’ve counted perhaps three or four amateur radio license plates on vehicles, total. I’ve identified maybe three other vehicles that didn’t have amateur radio license plates, but looking at the antennas on the vehicles and deducing from bumper stickers and the driver, it was an amateur radio operator.

A decade or two ago I can remember seeing perhaps four or five amateur radio plates on a single eight hour trip alone. I know some people don’t get amateur radio license plates these days because of the relative ease of identifying the owner using a web search. I think you see this with the younger generation who is very Internet savvy and aware of the dangers of self-doxing by providing to much identifying information to the public. We still have a majority of older radio amateurs and with increasing numbers of licensees one would think we would see more amateur radio license plates on the road today.

Has anyone else noticed a decline in amateur radio plates in their neck of the woods?

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.

Not Getting It

ARRL announced today that they have filed comments with the FCC requesting a dismissal of the Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed by New York University (NYU) regarding digital encoding and encryption.  This petition basically claims that proprietary and closed protocols like PACTOR violate current FCC rules, an opinion I’ve had for several years.  I think the AMBI vocoder used in D-STAR and other digital voice modes falls into the same category as well as it’s not openly documented, like the rules require.  Due to the lack of documentation and openness, such encoding is de facto encryption, which is prohibited.

ARRL’s filing has me smacking my head.  Rather than openly addressing the issue of protocols in amateur radio that are closed and proprietary, they attack the language proposed by the Petition.  Furthermore, they pull CW into this, stating,

The proposed prohibition arguably could include, presumably unintentionally, CW (Morse Code), which is a longstanding means of encoding transmissions. The very fact that messages sent in CW are “encoded” by any definition of the term starkly demonstrates the problem with this proposal.

I’m not sure if ARRL is intentionally being obtuse or just doesn’t understand the crux of the issue with “un-openly” documented digital protocols.  CW, while technically encoding, is 100% openly documented, and has been for a century or more.  It doesn’t require proprietary hardware, software, or algorithms to decode.  PACTOR until most recently could only be decrypted with proprietary hardware.  AMBI and others continue to be closed protocols.  That’s the problem, not semantics over the proposed language in the petition snagging CW as encoding, and encryption.

A few weeks ago I started writing comments to file with the FCC, but I quite honestly lost interest.  I don’t have a horse in this race, other than wanting to see amateur radio continue on well into the future.  I’m just disappointed ARRL doesn’t get what the real problem is, doesn’t make an effort to correct it, and fails to even acknowledge that closed digital protocols are antithetical to the openness and historical foundation of amateur radio.

This article originally appeared on Radio Artisan.