Dayton 2015 – Part 1 of ?

I made the trek again to Dayton this year, my second pilgrimage to the largest amateur radio event on this side of the planet.  Realizing there are several other blogs, podcasts, and Internet broadcast shows covering Dayton, I will attempt to limit my observations to those you likely won’t see elsewhere.

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The Hara Arena we all know and love continues to be, well, Hara Arena.  The good news is renovations are in the works.  A Hamvention official told me it’s for real and probably a three to four year project.  Yaaaaaay!IMG_5681

Tower Girl, Back at Dayton!

The differences between the Yaesu, Icom, Kenwood, and Elecraft booths were quite notable.  Yaesu was giving away hats and entering people for prizes drawings.  They often had a line extending well out into the concession area and their System Fusion hats were worn by hamfest goers everywhere.  They had employees stationed at each area of the booth and the booth had a continual number of visitors.  I stopped by and looked at HTs and a friendly Yaesu employee helped me out.

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Yaesu’s New FT2DR HT

Icom’s booth was smaller, but was more high tech and hip-looking.  It was more crowded due to its small size.  Icom was generating a good deal of interest, with visitors often extending out into the aisle area.  Icom should really get a bigger booth next year.

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Icom’s Tower Motif Booth

Elecraft’s booth was very busy, as usual, and was well staffed.  They even had volunteers staffing the booth.  It was difficult to make your way into their booth to see the rigs on display, it was that crowded.   A table on the end had three order takers.  Even one of the founders of the business was busying taking orders.  It goes without saying, but Elecraft essentially has a money-printing machine that is running full tilt with no signs of stopping.

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The Kenwood Booth

Kenwood’s booth was well built and arguably the most spacious, but it was the least visited.  There was much whitespace on the walls.  I looked at their three HTs on display and I couldn’t get any of them to power up.  I looked around thinking maybe someone would notice me and assist.  Behind one podium there were two Kenwood employees talking to each other.  Behind the other podium the two Kenwood employees were talking with visitors, one employee chomping down a candy bar.  No one was out walking in the open booth area, and no one helped me.  This seemed to be the general state of the Kenwood booth each time I walked by.  It’s like no one is really trying and the goal was merely to show up, which they did.  Being a long time Kenwood fan, this really troubles me.

In regards to equipment, two notable announcements were the Elecraft K3S and perhaps the Flex Radio Meastro.  The Elecraft K3S is essentially an update to the now-discontinued K3.  The buzz on the street is that it’s a performance upgrade, mainly to get the platform back up to the top of the performance charts.  Several current K3 owners and recent orderers are reportedly a bit miffed, which is to be expected.  The Flex Radio Maestro is a hardware frontend / remote dashboard unit for the Flex radio 6000 series.  Yaesu did not announce an FT-817 replacement, which salespeople in the booth sheepishly acknowledged.  Yaesu was pushing System Fusion like mad.  Icom had a separate D-STAR booth that was educational and impressive. Kenwood…?

Hiberling was there with their rig you can’t afford.  DZ Kits had an interesting booth with their rigs scattered about, many with the covers off and in various states of assembly or disassembly.  There were several (many?) little DSP rig companies, so many that it’s difficult to differentiate them.  I wonder how many are selling sufficient numbers of rigs to state financially afloat.

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Icom’s Rig You Can’t Afford

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Yaesu’s Rig You Might Be Able to Afford

The flea market had the usual wares, but it’s shrinking.  The parking lot continues to evolve from asphalt to black sand.  I recognized several items for sale that I saw last year at stands.  Folks, if you’re bringing the same stuff back to Dayton each year, it’s probably overpriced.  I don’t care if it was $10K thirty years ago, you’re not going to get $300 for a solid brass ship compass or a gas mask.

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Need a 25 Watt Laser for your World Domination Plan?

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Deals You Can’t Refuse

On four occasions I walked up to flea market stands where gruff-looking, optimism-challenged OFs were talking about politics and one where the single digit IQ attendee was complaining about people speaking Spanish.  I guess if your junk isn’t selling and you’re bored with amateur radio it’s difficult to be positive and talk about the hobby or something other than politics.  I wish these people would just stay home rather than putting their mantras on display at the Hamvention.  Attendees who agree with this OF mindset can get their fill by listening to broadcast AM radio, and those who don’t didn’t come to a hamfest be schooled in political drivel.  But I digress.

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Got Mics?

It was nice to see a few unattended flea market tables with “pay what you want” and honor system payment boxes.  Perhaps the Hamvention could increase flea market occupancy by offering free spots to sellers doing all “pay what you want”, unattended, or all free giveaway tables.  What extra amateur radio stuff I have I would rather give away than sit behind a table for two days, only to garner a few bucks selling half of it and taking the rest home.

The Hamvention appears to be continuing to pursue a Maker theme, but there is a dearth of Maker content and products for sale.  I don’t fault the Hamvention team for this, and applaud their efforts.  I think it’s going in the right direction and is going to be crucial to keeping the Hamvention, and other hamfests, sustainable into the future.  (More about this in a future article.)  Rather than just write or complain about this, I am plan to make an effort to help.  I’m going to write a proposal for an Arduino forum and a related activity.  If you’re interested in presenting or participating, send me an email (anthony.good@gmail.com).

More about Dayton 2015 in the next article…

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Thanks Comet and SWODXA!

Friday night at the Dayton DX Dinner I won in a drawing this wonderful antenna analyzer from Comet, the CAA-500.  It features a measurement range of 1.8 to 500 Mhz and displays SWR and impedance.  It is powered with five AA batteries or an external 8 to 16 volt DC supply can be used.

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Thanks Comet and SouthWest Ohio DX Association!  This will really come in handy considering I’m in a new QTH and I’m in the process of putting up antennas and reassembling the radio artisan shack.  I couldn’t have asked for a more useful measurement tool.

(I am back home and I have several reports from Dayton to post in the next few days.  Stay on frequency…)

Dayton!

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Yay!  After a nine hour drive I made it to Dayton.  This year I drove solo so I got to listen to audiobooks and actually did several long business phone calls.  I forgot how flat Ohio is, but at least they have several three and four lane highways which makes the drive go quicker.

I’m in the Dayton Marriott if anyone is around and wants to have an eyeball QSO and a cocktail =)

Are You Going To Dayton?

This is a question I ask of vendors I order equipment and amateur radio goodies from. You should ask the same of your vendors. If your vendors don’t support Dayton, perhaps you should consider supporting different vendors. Why, you ask? Dayton is the largest amateur radio event in the US and perhaps the western hemisphere. It’s struggled over the years.  However, the visual appearance and condition of Hara Arena tends to tarnish the state of the Dayton Hamvention, in my opinion.  I think the Hamvention is actually doing well.  Attendance was up last year.  Looking at the schedule of seminars this morning, it’s a wonderful collection of varied topics, with something for everyone.  The flea market is huge and it’s exhausting to cover the entire area in the three days.  If your vendor is devoted to amateur radio, they should come to the Dayton Hamvention.  If they can’t make a profit attending and selling products or generating sales leads, perhaps something is wrong with their products, marketing, or business model.  If a vendor devotes the time and effort to come to Dayton with products to sell, buy their warez!  The Hamvention is more than a hamfest, it’s a social event, a gathering, a celebration, and an economic ecosystem for amateur radio.  See you at Dayton!

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.

Spurious Emissionz

AMSAT is offering a discounted satellite antenna package to members.  The package consists of two M2 antennas, one for 2m the other for 440, both circularly polarized.  Looks like a nice package at a decent price.  I’m going get this for the new bachelor pad QTH.  If you’re a satellite aficionado and not a member of AMSAT or another organization that launches birds, you should join and support one so we can keep satellites orbiting the globe.

 

Make has an article on how to turn your Raspberry Pi into a “pirate radio”.  This appears to be done all in software by outputting a high frequency bit stream on a GPIO pin.  The software will frequency modulate the carrier and it’s intended mainly to be a short range (i.e. unlicensed FCC Part 15 here in the US) FM broadcast transmitter you can play your tunes through while on the beach.  A more technical article, mentions it has 1 to 250 Mhz capability.  This might make a cool little exciter for QRP CW, with appropriate filtering to clean up what undoubtedly has a lot of odd order harmonics.

 

There’s this cool little Kickstarter project called Tsunami.  It’s an Arduino-based audio signal generator and analyzer.  Undoubtedly this could have some amateur radio applications, like generating and decoding digital modes.

 

One of the original Arduino founders who ran the main firm which manufactured Arduino boards is accused of going rogue and registering the Arduino trademark in Italy.  Arduino.cc is the original, core Arduino team and the Arduino LLC entity, and Arduino.org is Arduino SRL, the rogue manufacturing company.  Arduino SRL is no longer paying Arduino LLC royalty fees and Arduino LLC is now in a legal battle.  Any Arduino board that was purchased in the last year that was made in Italy did not have royalties go to the Arduino team which has been responsible for design, creativity, and energy behind the Arduino project.

 

BFDs

Some things are BFDs and some things just aren’t.  What are BFDs?  Well, son, this video might help you out.  BFDs would include passing healthcare legislation, your first kiss, discovering plutonium, or your parachute not opening.  There are two news items in amateur radio right now that, despite all the hubbub, aren’t BFDs.

Remote operation from anywhere is now allowed for DXCC awards.  ARRL will now allow contacts from remotely-operated stations to be submitted for DXCC awards, regardless of where the control point is located.  This seems to be a BFD for many people because of instead of buying a multi-giga dollar megastation, which was the previously accepted way to buy your way to DXCC, today with modern technology and better living through chemistry you can rent a megastation with a credit card and operate it with your favorite computing device from the comfort of your meager home station, hotel room, or police station drunk tank.  Why is it not a BFD?  Remote operation contacts were allowed for DXCC credit before, the only thing that has changed is where the control point is allowed.  The contact is still made over the air.  This isn’t like Echolink computer-to-computer contacts.  The remote station must be located within your home DXCC entity.  If you still want to get your DXCC the old fashioned way, you can.  DXCC is about personal achievement, and how you got it is a BFD to you, not anyone else.

The FCC will no longer issue paper licenses.  Why is this not a BFD?  There are several reasons.  The online ULS record is considered your official credential.  If you want a paper license, you can go to the ULS, download a PDF, and print it out.  One can also request the FCC send them a paper copy.  What is BFD is that the FCC will save $304K a year with this change.

Taking the Plunge

I’ve been considering getting a Raspberry Pi for awhile.  Several folks have asked me if I would port my Arduino Keyer code to it.  So I decided to take the plunge and acquire a Pi from Newark / Element 14, along with some “fixins”.  I got the Model A Pi, along with a WiFi dongle, and a cute little enclosure. IMG_4055

Big Things Come in Small Packages

I didn’t realize just how small the Pi was until I held one in my hand.  It’s just amazing this is a full blown computer.  It’s quite a leap from the VIC 20, the first computer I used 30 years ago as a teenager. IMG_4058

Raspbian Installation

The Raspberry Pi was surprisingly easy to fire up.  I bought a 16 GB SD card locally and burned a copy or Raspian on it.  After plumbing up a monitor to the HDMI port and connecting a USB keyboard and mouse, the unit booted right up, displaying messages familiar to anyone who runs Linux.  A few minutes later I entered startx and I was in XWindows.  Of course I just had to bring up a terminal window and verify this was really a ‘nix box and run top. IMG_4061

Nifty Little Pi Enclosure

Now that I have my Pi humming away, what projects should I do?  As I’ve mentioned a few folks have inquired about porting my keyer code to the Pi.  Googling around I found someone has ported the Wiring development platform , which is the basis for the Arduino environment, to the Raspberry Pi and aptly called it Wiring Pi.  Naturally it’s not 100% compatible and it’s not as easy as just plugging in the Arduino IDE and uploading compiled code.  I’m debating whether to take this approach of getting the keyer code to run under Wiring Pi, or just start from scratch with good old C and gcc for the compiler. I could get the core functionality going and then port over parts of the code from the Arduino for ancillary functions, if it makes sense.  Certain things don’t make sense to port, like the CW memories code.  On the Pi you don’t have to deal with EEPROM like you do on the Arduino.  Anything that needs to be persistent across reboots can just be written to a good old file on the file system.  While certain things like persistent memory and sound support are easier on a Pi, deterministic and precise timing, which is needed for CW timing, is challenging on a multi-tasking environment like Linux.  This realtime kernel may be just the ticket.

Compared to the Arduino, there aren’t a whole lot of interfacing pins on the Pi.  To really get the power of this board you need to do I2C.  I’m thinking about what it would take to port my antenna tuner to the Pi.  That project uses I2C for controlling many relays, but there is also a need to monitor the voltages of the SWR bridge.  The Pi doesn’t have this capability natively, so an I2C device would be needed to supply this functionality.

All in all the Raspberry Pi is a versatile and powerful little board.  To get my feet wet I think I’m going to write a little bare bones C and see if I can get a basic keyer working and see where this takes me.  This is going to be fun.

 

WRTC Radio and Software Data

wrtcThe World Radiosport Team Championship 2014 team has posted data on the radio equipment and software used by the teams.  There are a few interesting take-aways for me:

The top two radios used are no surprise, the Elecraft K3 by a wide margin at 64%, and the Yaesu FTdx5000 at 7%. The third choice surprisingly was the modest Kenwood TS-590 at 6% usage.  I’ve often thought this rig is one of the best in amateur radio today based on the price, features, performance, and value.  Despite Kenwood getting the number 3 spot with the TS-590, there was only one other Kenwood rig used, a single TS-850.  Ten Tec had a meager showing with two Orion II rigs.  Various other Icom and Yaesu rigs rounded out the statistics.  I find it sad that Kenwood doesn’t have more product offerings in these statistics.  The data suggests that there’s an opportunity in the market for another high performance $2.5K to $3K USD compact rig.

For software I expected the N1MM contest program to be the most popular choice, however Win-Test was used in 68% of the stations and N1MM garnered only 25% usage.  Perhaps it’s time I try Win-Test.  Despite the price of the N1MM program being attractive, the lack of source code for this freeware program has concerned me.  Win-Test costs 50 Euros or about $67 USD, however with the features listed it may be worth it.  There must be some “secret sauce” in the program that hardcore contesters like.