OARC New Season Underway

The first meeting of the 2014-2015 season (It was our annual general meeting.) of the Oakville Amateur Radio Club got underway last night at our new home at Abbey Park High School just off Third Line with 12 hams present.

President Rod, VE3RHF, couldn’t make the meeting so director Todd, VE3LMM chaired the meeting.

We elected a new slate of officers (roles to be determined by them at a later date) including Todd; Rod; Bata, VE3EXW; John, VA3BL; and Peter, VE3HG.

Bata gave us the good news about our financial situation. Thanks to several cost-saving cuts the club is solvent and we can move forward with more meetings (thanks to great rates by the school board) and more projects. Bata has really done a fine job of guiding the club through some difficult times.

Speaking of projects, John, gave us an extensive update on all of the work he’s been doing on the repeater. We now have a D-Star repeater up and running in a test mode in Oakville. Also our MESH network is moving forward and we should have a MESH system very soon available to members. Way to go John.

And more breaking news…as I am typing the new Oakville DStar repeater opened up with John, BL, on his way to work. I heard him on my Icom ID-31a while sitting inside the house and not thinking he’d hear me I returned his call and sure enough we had a great QSO on 442.06250 digital!

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Peter (me) gave a presentation on QRP (QRP OARC) and the club has decided to build a CRK-10a which is a Chinese designed enhanced RockMite-type of CW transceiver xtal-controlled with a built-in keyer. I’ve got mine running right now and 7030 is alive with signals at 7am (local) with the CW Operators’ Clubs CWT mini contest. I can hear stations all around the north-east USA.

If you want to join the fun building your own 3-watt 40-meter rig that actually works (the direct conversion receiver is super quiet and sensitive and thanks to filter in the circuit more selective than you might expect. The entire rig slips into a provided aluminum case that’s pretty much bullet-proof making the CRK-10a perfect for portable or vacation use.) and you can carry in a shirt pocket please let me (Peter, VE3HG…ve3hg@cogeco.ca) know and I’ll add your name to the list. The cost of the rig is $55 (US) plus shipping (likely around $10). I’ll order the kits in a few weeks and we can pick a Saturday to assemble the kits at my Oakville QTH at a date to be determined.

This is a members-only project so if you wish to join in the fun membership is $25 per year ($30 for families) and we think we’re going to have a PayPal button working on our website VE3HB very soon.

All in all it seems that this season of Amateur Radio in Oakville is going to be a lot of fun.

CCO 2014 AGM and BBQ

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Well over 100 of the best contesters in Canada attended Contest Club Ontario’s annual general meeting and BBQ at the world-class contest station of John VE3EJ.CCO-1-37

A gathering of some of the most active and IMHO interesting Hams in Ontario (and a few from elsewhere including a YL from SP-land) enjoyed the annual meet and greet.

Donated prizes for the annual fund-raising draw were spectacular with everything from a Peet Bros. weather station to a bunch (9) gift certificates from RigExpert thanks to Yuri, DZ. There were lots of other donations which were announced to club members via the club’s email reflector.

If you’re into contesting, even in a small way, you’ve got to join CCO. The club supports many plaques and award in some of the big contests as well as the ever popular Ontario QSO Party events.

The club’s own sCOOre awards and endorsements for achievement were a highlight of the event and thanks CCO for my 10 million point endorsement. Not all of those points were raised by QRP contesting contacts but I’d say a majority sure were. Inspires me to QRP contest even more this year.CCO-1-56

Photos from the event are available for viewing at my Flickr gallery.

I was lucky enough to be awarded by endorsement by my mentor and friend Tony, VE3RZ (left in photo).This is the guy who moved to the high ground on Guelph Line so he could work the DX I can’t even hear on the lowlands on the north shore of Lake Ontario. That’s Paul, PC, in the background who is another one of the Corbeil Contest Club gang down from North Bay.

Milton Flea Market

Perfect weather for the annual Milton flea market with lots and lots of real bargoons available for the discerning shopper.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For example I picked up a 15 amp Amston power supply for $20 and a Nye straight key on a heavy plastic base for $10.

Best of all I grabbed another NorCal20 (and this one with tons of mods) for half the original asking price. While not quite the giveaway I got on my first NorCal 20 bought at Dayton, this one still comes in at a great price.image

The NorCal 20 was hearing all of Europe yesterday afternoon during the IARU contest and surprisingly was pretty much single signal and not prone to overloading in the midst of pileups. Very impressive for a rig that costs way way less than the Bengali paddles I was using.

Interestingly the two NorCal 20s seem to be about the same in A/B testing on the same antenna so think I’ve got a couple of winners here.

The NorCal 40 on the other haOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnd is an entirely different radio. At just under 2 watts this rig on 40 meters is optimized for low power consumption.

You could take this rig to the cottage or camping and depending on your usage get weeks of action on an 8-amp gel cell battery.  The receiver on the NorCal 40 is exceptional.

So all you guys with your 100 rigs might consider a QRP rig just to keep your CW sending and receiving skills up to par.

Back to Milton: Bob Heil of Heil Sound (In photo above) gave several enlightening talks thanks to sponsorship by RadioWorld. Thanks RadioWorld for sponsoring Bob who BTW is a genius when it comes to audio.

There wasn’t the usual food booth this year which was a disappointment as I look forward to a greasy hamburger around 11am with my free coffee.

Also missing in action was the Radio Amateurs of Canada table. Seems there was some issue with the $20/table the organizers wanted. Next year if nobody else can find the cash I’ll fund the $20 out of my pocket.

Radio Amateurs of Canada is our national association (I wore my RAC golf shirt yesterday.) and despite how we may feel about how it’s being run (Why not email your local RAC director and tell them what you think of the current situation!), we need to support it.

The current situation can’t last forever especially as it seems nobody but nobody is stepping in to volunteer and once we’ve got some new thinking installed we’re going to need all hands on deck to turn the worrisome future for Amateur Radio in Canada around.

Getting cheap over a $20 table isn’t the answer and it’s a pretty small gesture :( It also lessened the fun at the Milton event.

QRP Powerhouse

Here’s the new QRP triple threat:image

On top is the 3-watt rock bound on 7030 CRK-10a.

In the middle is my newly acquired 2-watt NorCal 40a.

On the bottom is the 5-watt NorCal 20 at 5-watts.

Stacked in the centre is my Logikit keyer on top and Logikit SCAF-1 filter.

The new Wilderness Radio has amazing ears. Seems to hear signals at the noise floor that my Drake 2B isn’t hearing at all. This needs further exploration.

The NorCal 20 now has been upgraded to include a Tick memory keyer.

The SCAF is a treat on the CRK-10a. The switchable capacitive audio filter has the ability to roll off all frequencies above a certain point. On a direct conversion radio it eliminates a whole lot of interference.

Just worked W1SFR in Vermont on 40 with signals 569 both ways so the NorCal40 is fitting in just fine.

3 Watts Of Joy

Three watts and a dipole make for challenging QRP especially when you’re rock bound on 7030 but I finally did it!

I actually had a whole QSO with Saul running a special event 13 Colonies station WM3PEN from Philadelphia PA where American independence was declared.

How cool is that? And happy Independence Day to our American cousins.

Saul was running an old IC-730 (which was one of my first rigs way back when) and I was running my CRK-10A CW transceiver.CRK10A

Saul, BTW, is a pretty good operator. Due to QRM which I couldn’t move away from due to being crystal controlled signals were okay but QRM was louder. We started the QSO with neither of us getting the other guy’s callsign straight and I missed Saul’s name the first time around. But like I said, Saul seems to be a pretty good op and we pieced our information together.

I’ve been running CW for years in contests and I can copy pretty well but I can’t send with a darn anymore. You see when contesting we use the software logging program to send the reports by pushing a button. I’m real good a button pushing but not so good with a set of paddles. Thus the emphasis on ragchewing with the QRP rig to get my sending back.

Thanks Saul for putting up with my bad fist. It will get better and happy 4th of July OM.

 

Field Day Report

I’ve been going to the ARRL Field Day now for over 50 years and it never gets tired :)

This year the Oakville ARC held its annual Field Day inside the beautiful Bronte Provincial Park just to the west of Oakville.

So in brief here’s my take on how it went:

  • Conditions sucked for most of Saturday.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • The weather was perfect.
  • The venue was idyllic.
  • Bronte Prov. Park staff are A+.
  • The GOTA station worked (once we figured out a power issue).
  • The GOTA antenna worked (once we added 50′ of coax on the G5RV-JR).
  • We had the annual grumpiness putting up antennas :)
  • We figured it out.
  • The smaller generators (we had three) were quiet and worked well.
  • Tons of media coverage as our two local newspapers showed up.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • We got some of our bonus points and lost on others.
  • We brown-bagged dinner and that worked.

Next year we need to figure out a way for folks to read their emailed instructions (which we sent multiple times) or take notes during meetings. Too many guys were asking questions which were answered in those emails. HI. While we struggle to erect two antennas, we might ask the guys who setup 27 or more how they do it!

Generally once we got up and running the CW station performed as always (thanks to Harry VA3EC) and the SSB station (thanks to Todd VE3LMM) was staffed most of the time despite some not responding to repeated requests for when they wanted to operate.

Makes it tough to put together a schedule when few reply but that’s a common issue not just relegated to Field Day. Something to do with ageing :)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m starting to think we might want to run a CW-only competitive Field Day operation which we’d likely win and maybe even consider going QRP.

Next to it we setup an SSB station which runs under a different call and is open to all members and non-members, licensed operators and visitors alike as the GOTA station this year proved pretty popular.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I did an educational session on QRP radio that went over fairly well I thought.

Most of the guys had never listened to a direct conversion receiver so the NorCal 20 and CRK-10A’s ability to produce super clean, artifact clear, bell-like tones in the headphones from an almost noiseless background was enlightening. Especially when considering I bought the NorCal 20 (which now has a memory keyer chip in it) for $35 at a flea market and the CRK was $65.

I even managed to do one Q before the contest on 20 with another QRP station setting up for Field Day in Idaho near the Canadian border. Great fun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Field Day is not only an annual exercise in emergency preparedness plus a built-in contest, it’s also an opportunity to work together in a friendly cooperative and supportive way to get things done.

While we might win our category, IMHO we’ve got some room to improve in other areas. But then again I’ve only been doing this for 50 years. I hope I’ve got another 20 or 25 to get it right :)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you haven’t participated in a Field Day event you’re going to have to wait until next year now. Find a club near you and join the fun.

CANWARN

Last night Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meterologist for Environment Canada, spoke to a full house of eager participants in Canada’s CANWARN program.

The meeting was held at the Halton Regional Centre appropriately just hours after a small tornado had touched down just north of Toronto near Tottenham.tornado-wichita-e1373055853734

(Actually as I learned last night, saying a tornado has touched down is a redundancy as by definition a tornado is a rotating funnel cloud that involves swirling winds at ground level.)

I learned more than just that. Coulson’s excellent training session focused on three main points:

First was how to identify a tornado. Second was how to report the sighting of a tornado. Third was how to avoid becoming a casualty during a tornado or thunderstorm.

Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself during a thunderstorm with or without a tornado attached to it.

First seek shelter at the first sound of thunder. All thunder storms involve lightening discharges. Run if necessary to a nearby building and get inside. If your only possible shelter is a car, sit in it with your hands in your lap (so you don’t accidentally touch anything metal). Do not park under a highway overpass as you’re likely going to be struck by flying debris. Motorcyclists take note.

If at all possible avoid shopping malls, arenas or other large open-structure buildings. Coulson showed a security video of a high school gym being utterly destroyed inside of 20 seconds by a tornado in the US. Fortunately all the students and teachers of this mid-American school knew better than to use the gym as shelter and all survived a category 5 (massive destruction) tornado.

If you’re in your house, close all the windows and doors (It’s a myth that you should open windows and doors to equalize air pressure. An open house allows high-speed winds to enter the house and exit usually after removing the roof.) and go to the basement.34_houston_rd_woodbridge_tornado_damage

Finally, and this is important, do not venture outside especially into open spaces (like soccer fields) until 30 minutes after the last sound of thunder.

Saskatchewan is first in tornados in Canada closely followed by southern Ontario. Hundreds of tornados form across Canada but many, if not most, go unreported as they take place in non-populated areas.

And for those amateur photographers out there don’t think first of grabbing a camera. Think first of finding shelter.  Coulson showed videos of people naively filming dangerous tornados as they approached and then when the tornado encroached on their property they continued shooting from inside behind windows or glass doors.li-ontario-weather-watch-62

A shot from the category 3 storm that ripped up downtown Goderich in 2011 showed a pickup truck that looked like a pin cushion with multiple tree limbs and other debris that had punctured the body.

Flying debris is deadly, especially so if it’s crashed through your glass door with you standing there an open target.

But so is lightening as a group of photographers almost found out as they had setup their cameras on tripods to shoot images of a storm on the horizon a few kilometres away.

Coulson’s video showed a lightening bolt, literally out of the blue, which struck a tree a few meters away from the photographers who kept shooting rather than having the sense to run away as fast as they could.They were lucky the bolt hit a tree rather than their metal tripods.

BTW ARES groups from around the region were well represented at the training session.

QRP On The Cheap

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get onto the shortwave bands after you’ve passed your exam and got your ticket is to buy a used rig (often referred to as a boat anchor) for somewhere between $500 and $1,000 put up an antenna and get on the air.FT101B (Medium)

But not everyone can drop that much cash so quickly on an HF rig especially if they shelled out $100 to $500 on a VHF/UHF hand held.

So I would offer that going QRP (5 watts or less) isn’t a bad thing.DSCF2052

You’ll hear a lot of the old sparkies say that newcomers should avoid QRP as trying to talk to other guys at five watts or less is too frustrating. I’m here to say to that “Nutz!”

I regularly contest with my FlexRadio 1500. True at $500 used it’s not dirt cheap but this software defined radio (which needs a fairly robust computer to make it work) runs circles around rigs costing ten times as much. (See Sherwood Engineering’s Receiver Data site.)

Besides the difference from running 100 watts compared to 5 watts is an S9 signal compared to an S7 signal. That’s it. Two S units. If you weren’t watching your S meter your ears would never be able to tell the difference.

As I am typing this post I again am listening to 40 meters alive with signals on 7030. My rig? It’s the Chinese-made CRK-10a CW transceiver that runs a staggering 3 watts and costs $65 new! crk10a_front

Now this isn’t necessarily a rig I’d recommend as your first rig but it’s a contender even though it doesn’t have any controls and is fixed on one frequency only (thus the low price). But it does have a built-in keyer and honestly there is something very nice about listening to a direct conversion radio. There are none of the artifacts generated by radios that use IFs to change the frequency of the radio or even SDR rigs that used a computer’s soundboard and tons of processing.

So where do we start when it comes to QRP?

First many if not most QRP rigs come as kits. You’ll need a soldering station and some basic tools but these will last you a lifetime.IF

When it comes to really simple kits you can’t get much simpler than a Tuna Tin 2.

This transmitter only runs 330 milliwatts (1/3 watt) and needs a receiver and an antenna to make lots of contacts on 7030 kHz the QRP watering hole on 40 meters, I’ve got one and it actually works. Takes an hour or so to assemble.

Next up there’s the slightly more sophisticated rig I really like which is my HB1A (aka the Ten Tec 8263R4020). This 5-watt dual-band (40 and 20 meters) vfo controlled rig has a built-in keyer (it can also take a straight key) and runs off internal or external batteries or a 12-volt power supply. It has a variable filter and can hear sideband as well as CW although it only transmits CW. It originally cost around $200 and there’s a new four-band model at $300 but used you might find a used HB1A around $100 or so. Really good rig for the $ but early versions had reliability issues as it was made in China.

Just about any rig from Elecraft (if you can afford it) or Wilderness Radio or Oak Hills Research (which sells a very nice QRP wattmeter. See photo.).

DSCF1187Some of the new radios coming out of China are dirt cheap but as I said reliability has been an issue in the past so you take your chances.

A new all-band CW/SSB rig out of China, the X1M Pro is about to be replaced by a seven-band version.

These rigs are coming in around $500 to $700 which is a bit of gamble but sure attractive based on price.hand-v3

QRP is an excellent solution to finding a nice rig for very little cash outlay. Have fun and hope to hear you on the bands.

 

How To Get Your Ticket

This post is the virtual part of my real information table I am setting up for the Oakville Amateur Radio Club’s Field Day which takes place Saturday, June 28 and Sunday, June 29 at Bronte Provincial Park just outside of Oakville, Ontario.7439940598_04eee7e719_z

One of the reasons I am posting this bit follows a talk I had last weekend at the ARES Day at RadioWorld with a Burlington, Ontario guy who had just got his Amateur Radio certificate. He had his ticket now but knew just about nothing about Ham Radio. So this post is for you my friend.

If you’re wondering where to start, allow me to suggest finding a local club. There are hundreds of Amateur Radio clubs across Canada and the U.S. so finding one nearby shouldn’t be a challenge.barc1

Finding one that is active and doing interesting things might take some looking around.

Next see if the club is offering classes this fall. Some do and that’s the easiest way to get your ticket. Getting on the air may take some more effort but we’ll come to that in a minute.

Checkout the Industry Canada website for information on how to get started.

VE3EP Amateur Radio website has a very good guide on what’s involved and how to proceed. i’d recommend you check out the site.hamstudycover

The Hamstudy Basic guide found at this website is a great help as well as is the Canadian Amateur Radio Basic Qualification Study Guide found here.

Seriously consider learning the Morse code!

Even though you can get licensed without it, Morse code is an art form all in itself. Knowing Morse code and practicing until you can run around 10 to 12 words per minute working your way up to 20 wpm or more allows you to access a whole new world of communications.

CW rigs can be exceptionally inexpensive yet provide efficient, dependable communications even at QRP (5 watts or less) levels. It’s not all that hard to learn but does take practice (best done in small groups).IMGA0007

Finally ask someone who is active in your area if you could visit their station. Most hams will be flattered and proud to show off their equipment and offer explanations of how it works.

Once you’ve got your ticket getting on the air is the next challenge. You can get on the air for next to nothing or spend $10K easily. For your first rig, consider buying used to save some money. The Ontario Swap Shop or your local club members can be very helpful in locating a suitable rig. Don’t limit yourself to a VHF/UHF FM hand held. There’s so much more to Amateur Radio (digital modes, satellites, contesting, building, experimenting, public service work, club activities, TV, SDR and the list goes on and on).

Welcome to the hobby.

Crimping vs Soldering

For a couple of years now I’ve been somewhat suspicious of a coaxial connection at the base of the tower. My auto tuners often covered up any issues and SWR checks often didn’t spot anything amiss.images-2

And then in the middle of a contest usually in the midst of a winter blizzard around midnight I’d get wonky SWR readings. Dawning boots over pyjamas I’d trudge out to the tower with two vice grips in hand and give the coaxial fittings another crank and all would be well.

Knowing this was not a solution, I bought a crimping kit at Dayton this year. It’s sat in a drawer now for a month. Well last night I thought I was having issues with the connection to the beam again so I dragged out my antenna analyzer and sure enough there was a 4:1 SWR showing up.

Thinking I’d just checkout what was needed to do a crimp job I opened my crimping tool box, went online to get a page of instructions and marched out to the tower base.crimping_tool_kit.161134148

I won’t bore you with the details but folks crimping is the solution especially when you’re working on LMR-400 which has a mylar inner shield which melts under the heat of a soldering iron.

The whole crimping job took a 1/10th of the time it would have taken to solder the joint.

Normally I’d have to drag 75′ of heavy-duty extension cord out to the tower. I’ve got a massive roofing soldering iron which takes 20 minutes to heat and almost an hour to cool off. Using a knife to prepare the coax is both inefficient and dangerous as there’s a lot of force needed to cut some coax cables.images

The crimping kit I bought for $100 rips though coax like it was string. The cutters are very good and the crimper is easy to use.

Went back to the shack and the SWR is now 1:1.5 or so at 7030 dropping to a low point at 7080 or so. very cool.