Maker Festival Ham Radio Info

Welcome Maker Festival:

Here is a brief introduction and links to all things Amateur Radio In Canada.

Hams, are licensed to operate transmitters by their country’s radio regulator (Here it’s Industry Canada.) and can communicate with other licensed Amateurs from around the block to around the world.8

(At the Maker Festival held in Toronto August 1 & 2 the licensed Amateur Radio operators from the Oakville Amateur Radio Club provided just a small glimpse into the world of Amateur Radio Communications and how you can get your license and talk around the world.)

Hams communicate to each other using commercial radios or kits or even build their own Amateur Radio equipment. The little rig in the photo comes from China and costs less than $6 including shipping! It’s a simple transceiver so it can send and receive signals on the Amateur Radio 40-meter band.12

Not limited to voice communications, Hams communicate through Morse code also called CW (continuous wave – a highly efficient mode that uses cheap equipment yet provides global coverage).

Radio teletype (RTTY) is s popular mode and there are scores and scores of new digital modes (again highly efficient and uses regular Ham radios connected into computers and tablets). Local VHF/UHF repeaters (VHF is very-high frequency and UHF is ultra-high frequency.) allow for short, direct communications using hand-held portable radios. New digital interfaces allow for global communications using walkie-talkies into local automated repeaters.482620main_iss024e013395_high

The International Space Station has a Ham Radio station onboard and most (if not all) astronauts and cosmonauts have been licensed Hams. There are Ham Radio satellites orbiting Earth right now and you can communicate through them using simple hand-held radios and small directional antennas.

There are no longer any age or nationality restrictions (section 4.1) on getting your Amateur Radio license in Canada.

So how do you get started?_DSC5231

We recommend joining a local club. Here you will find a group of licensed Amateurs who will be willing to help you pass your examination and setup your station.

Some clubs even offer study courses to help you get your license.adv1-1.150x194

Also study guides are available from Coax Publications.

You can even use Industry Canada’s Amateur Radio Exam Generator app as a learning aid to getting your “ticket”.

Here in Canada RAC Radio Amateurs of Canada is our national association. RAC is going through some interesting times and its website has recently changed and is very incomplete but it is the only national association we have in this country.

A far larger and more active organization that serves Amateurs in the USA and around the world is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

The name of the ARRL comes from the earliest times of radio when Hams relayed messages across the continent from one station to another. This was before the shortwave bands were discovered to support long distance international communications.QST_Cover_August_2015_TILTED

The ARRL publishes QST magazine and its website is a wealth of information about all aspects of Amateur Radio.

While many other countries have national organizations, the Radio Society of Great Britain is one of the oldest and again publishes tons of information of interest to Amateurs everywhere.

The cost involved in setting up your own Amateur Radio station can run from zero dollars to hundreds of thousands for multi-operator contest stations.cco-1-37

When it comes to zero dollar stations, it’s not unheard of for a club to supply an older tube technology rig to a new Ham to get him or her started.

QRP kits (low power) rigs can be purchased and built for well under $100. Connected to a resonant antenna these simple radios can communications stretching out hundreds even thousands of miles using CW. You will need to pass your exam with an 80 per cent or better grade to be given your advanced license which will allow you to build your own equipment.dsc0002

Used equipment can be found locally on the Ontario Swap Shop. Remember you need to have passed the Amateur Radio License Exam and hold a valid Amateur Radio callsign (issued by Industry Canada) before you can buy a transmitter or put one on the air. The penalties for running unlicensed transmitters in Canada are severe and aggressively prosecuted. Kenwood_TS_570_sized.jpg.opt872x394o0,0s872x394

RadioWorld is a retailer of Amateur Radio Equipment located here in Toronto.

Also, during the year there are scores of Amateur Radio flea markets where Hams sell used equipment to each other.

Here’s a blig list of Amateur Radio links thanks to the Ottawa Valley Mobile Radio Club.

Amateur Radio is more popular now (over a million Hams are licensed in Japan and USp6180012 numbers are approaching the million mark as well) and there are new aspects to Ham Radio being developed almost daily.

For more information about Amateur Radio in Canada stay tuned to this blog and hope to work you on the air soon!

HF-2 Installation

Butternut’s 32-foot HF-2 is a pretty nice antenna for 40 and one segment of 80 meters. I say one segment as the 80 meter resonant frequency is about 50 kHz in size which is just fine for CW contests.

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So I’ve got mine tuned for the low end of 80 and on 40 it’s under 2:1 or at least it will be once I get the tuned radials installed in some sort of permanent configuration across the band.

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SWR is under 2:1 across 40 and dips to 2:1 on 80 around 3540 which is great for CW.

Forty is easy to get working but on 80 the HF-2 wants 66-foot tuned radials and I can do 66 feet just not all in one direction.

For best results the HF-2 wants four radials on 80 and 4 on 40. So I can get two radials per band in on a permanent basis and two more on contest weekends :)

Nice to have a meter to do this work.

Nice to have a meter to do this work.

Here’s hoping we get better conditions. The noise this summer has been extraordinarily awful so the antenna is a hedge on nighttime activity this winter especially on 80 meters where I am pretty deaf and mute at the same time. Also I put the word out yesterday that the Hy-Gain Explorer has a 20-meter trap that’s gone bad. The antenna needs to come down, get fixed and back up.

Now I’m going to find out who my real friends are :)

I’ve heard from most of them already and we’re picking a date (likely a weekday evening). There’s likely going to be food and drink for the volunteers…..

G-land Youth Expedition

This from Bill, VE3CLQ:

The RSGB’s Youth Committee is running a Kenwood-sponsored Youth DXpedition, DX-15, and will be active as MC0RYC from the Brecon Beacons in Wales from 23-30 July.
They’ll be on all HF bands and VHF including satellite operations. Throughout the week they’ll be taking part in a range of activities including operating SOTA summits.
You can support them by following their progress on Twitter @theRSGByouth, working the Youth DXpedition, or listening for the call sign MC0RYC during the IOTA Contest over the weekend of 25 and 26 July.
Please work the young team if you can, so they can experience the full flow of a big contest.

Bill comments that it’s too bad we don’t do this sort of thing here on this side of the Atlantic.

Temporary Tsunami Assembly Area

When I think of the folly of human beings both in the past and in the present I can’t imagine most of the awful things that might befall us.

The Greeks, unless they get their act together (and this is highly unlikely) may wake up one morning to an economic situation so severe that their elderly and disabled may well starve to death while stranded in their own homes.

The new nuclear deal with Iran has probably merely delayed a conventional or perhaps limited nuclear attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Israelis know too well what happens to a people who don’t resist oppression. They aren’t going to fool around with Iran.

So what else could go wrong?article-0-0D924D9F000005DC-785_964x591

John, HK3C sent me this cheery little article from The New Yorker magazine called The Really Big One.

We’re not talking about the really big one that hit Japan in 2011 and described in the article as an enormous magnitude-9 earthquake that killed more than 18,000 people, devastated northern Japan, triggered the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant (where engineers had installed water cooling pumps which were immediately disabled by sea water) and caused an estimated $220-billion dollars damage. abc_promo_before_after_jef_120306_wmain

No, we’re talking about the potential for an equally large earthquake or larger that is well overdue and will cause parts of Canada and most of US west coast to disappear under a mountain of water killing millions perhaps and causing a large area of the continent to be both uninhabitable and, at least for some days if not weeks and months, totally unreachable by anything other than helicopters.

Read the article and think about it the next time you’re thinking maybe our club should form an Amateur Radio Emergency Service group in our town.

When all else fails…and read the article to understand the folly of the headline I’ve used.

Milton Madness and the Maestro

I was told all the tables at the Milton Flea Market hosted by the Burlington Amateur Radio Club were sold but even so it didn’t seem to me to be as busy as last year.

Guess it doesn’t matter if you sell all your stuff. Here’s a couple of contesters staffing their table in the parking lot. Think that SB-200 was once mine LOL. Anyway Tony, VE3RZ and Jim, VE3AJ (left to right) seemed pretty happy with sales early in the day.

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A big treat was a demonstration of FlexRadio’s new Maestro controller which works with any of Flex’s 6000 series transceivers. Greg Jurrens, K5GJ did an excellent job of wowing the crowd at the RadioWorld sponsored demo.

Okay so what’s so special about SDR and especially when it comes to FlexRadio’s 6000 series rigs?

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Well to begin with it’s a single-conversion rig. What???

Yup and that means no mixer images and noise like you get in some other rigs. Here’s a comparison of the Flex 6700, the $15,000 Kiberling, the Elecraft K3 and K3S. An Icom 7800 wasn’t considered competitive when compared to this group of top-notch contesting radios.

The conclusion was the 6700 overall winner when it came to listening to extremely weak signals. The old K3 was again considered as uncompetitive but the K3S with its new board was terrific. The 6700 was the clear winner on CW.

Which, of course, brings up the old CW lag issue which was mainly caused by the architecture of USB connection in old computers and was limited to early versions of the older FlexRadios.

I’ve got a Flex 1500 and there is no CW lag. Same for my Flex 3000 (which has a lag issue when it comes to the FlexKnob and again caused by USB issues) which still ranks as one of the best radios ever made by Sherwood Engineering. The 1500 is still in the top 20 easily beating out rigs that cost four and five times as much.

The big issue for contesters isn’t necessarily weak signal work. For them, they want a rig that’s dead-drop simple to use and will keep working without issue for 48 hours at a stretch.

Contesters do like the 6000 series (and the 1500 and 3000 for that matter) ability to reject close in loud signals due to the DSP brick wall filtering. Also the single-conversion rigs are much, much easier on the ears. I always got a headache working contests with my old ICOM rig. I don’t any more with the Flex.

But contesters like knobs. There’s a reason. At 2am with the Flex running separate active windows on your computer for the radio and the logging program, it was often the case that a wrong tap on the mouse button could inadvertently cause the radio frequency to change. This is not a good thing. It’s operator error but still unfunny.

So Flex talked to the contesting community and came up with the Maestro. The Flex 6000 series rigs don’t need a separate computer when you’ve got the Maestro and the Maestro has got real knobs.maestro_iso_726x512

But it gets better. The Maestro can work with the 6000 series over the Internet. That means, you can have your Flex 6000 series anywhere…and I mean anywhere in the world (including up your tower in a waterproof box if you can get power up there) controlled by the Maestro (including in your vehicle if you have Internet off your cellphone).

Not only that but early thoughts suggest the Maestro might allow for SO2R without any additional cables, boxes or modifications! The 6000 series is also said to do amazing things when you’re running the new digital modes as well.

Oh did I mention it’s got a touch screen too!

Holy crap Batman it doesn’t get better than this and the Maestro – Flex 6000 series combo may well be a major game changer. And as far as money is concerned, the Flex technology is no more expensive in 2015 dollars than the Heathkit transceiver your dad built in the 70s.

Of course there’s still the AM crowd on 80 who won’t use anything but a tube rig but they’ve been there comparing goitres since I was a kid. The Flex 6000 series isn’t your grandfather’s radio and I am planning on adding one here maybe in a year or so.

Throw Bags

John, VA3BL was asking about throw bags.thr201-group-500

These are canvas bags that arborists use to throw rope or twine lines into trees.

I use mine attached to florescent orange twine to get my Par-EndFedz antennas up about 30 feet or so into nearby trees.

I think I got mine at Universal Field Supplies in Mississauga but I’m not sure. i do remember it was a store catering to arborists.

One trick: Buy two (they’re cheap) of different weights. My heavy one is almost too heavy but I sure can whip the light twine way up if I have to. The lighter bag is easier to control and easily does 30 feet or so when I swing it up into the trees.

Throw bags are much more park and people friendly than a bow and arrow or potato cannon.

Homestyle QRP Field Day

What do you do when you hold a Field Day organization meeting in May and you’re the only one who bothers to show up?IMG_0004

The answer is you hold a one-person Field Day effort from your front porch.

Why the front porch you might ask?

Note in the photo the wet pavement on the right side. Here in southern Ontario we got unrelenting rain, high winds and unseasonably cold weather.

About the only thing that was missing was a plague of frogs. Oh yeah the propagation forecasts predicted rotten conditions with a possibility of solar flares. Lovely.273313314

So with our local club Field Day in disarray, I decided at the last minute (after checking the bands on the Drake 2B and finding some signals) to launch a one-person QRP effort using the Par Mountain Topper tri-band QRP rig and the PAR end-fed QRP 40/20/10 wire antenna.

(Editor’s Note: Got a nice email this morning from the good folks at PAR who remind me they call their antennas PAR Endfedz and said they are coming out with a new 20/30/40 antenna to be called the PAR Endfedz EF-MTR to match their LNR Mountain Topper. Super news!)

Using a throw bag it took 10 seconds to get the Par end-feed antenna up about 30 feet in a front yard pine tree. The end with the feed point was only about eight feet up and I connected a 25-foot section of coax. The SWR on both bands was under 1:1.5 at four watts out of the Mountain Topper.IMG_0012

The Mountain Topper is a fully built QRP rig that runs 2 to 5 watts (or so) depending on the battery. It can operate quite nicely from 6- to 12-volt batteries and can even run for a few hours using a 9-volt battery or small AA battery pack. I used a 12-volt gel-cell which was a bit of overkill.

My YouKits DP-1 QRP watt and SWR meter has a big built-in rechargeable battery which I could have used to power the rig for 24 hours and would have made the simple setup even simpler.

The rig has a built-in memory keyer (although I used the Idiom Press memory keyer as it was easier to just plug into the rig which automatically recognized the mono input and disabled its own keyer) and covers the CW portion of 40, 30 and 20.

I wouldn’t have thought the rig would have enough filtering to run in a contest but the Mountain Topper did just fine in sorting out strong signals. Using its up and down keys to QSY a few kilocycles at a time, running QRP on Field Day was like shooting fish in barrel.

On 40 meters I worked easily out 400 to 500 miles and when 20 was open I was working into Florida and Texas. The rig is stable and simple to use. I can highly recommend it. BTW it can fit in a shirt pocket!IMG_0015

All told I logged 74 Qs and the only reason I quit was I couldn’t get warm or dry enough to continue.

There weren’t too many QSOs where I was asked for a repeat but almost every time I sent “GTA” as my ARRL section there was a long pause and occasionally query. Whoever thought that GTA would make a great section name (the other sections in Ontario are ONN – where there are like two guys, ONS and ONE) should get a visit from the Wouff-Hong. GTA is just awful as a section name. How about ONC? wouff-hong

I’ve advocated a QRP Field Day for a long time but I kept running into opposition so this year’s solo effort shows it can be done.

I’d love to use a KX3 or K3s on CW and maybe the same rig on SSB at 5 watts The Flex 1500 would work as well. Par has a new SSB/CW rig (LD-5) that I’d like to try.

For antennas I’d say a decent all-band dipole or the Par end-feds (They just work!) and an 80-meter dipole for CW plus a two- or three-element beam for the SSB station. The simpler the better when it comes to contesting and I’d bet we’d do very very well but we’d need some folks to show up for the organization meeting in May :)

Maybe next year…

Hams at Farmer’s Market

Ham Radio was at the Farmer’s Market and cultural festivities at Centennial Square at the main library on Navy Street in Oakville.DSCF6354

I ran a NorCal 20 with the AlexLoop and we could easily hear Europe in the morning and I even worked one guy in Rome, GA later in the day.

We had quite few folks stop to ask about Amateur Radio and I had a few handouts about the club which I gave out.

I ran an external speaker from the NorCal so the sound of CW wafted over the market.

I was thinking of showing digital modes but a laptop in bright sunlight isn’t something that’s easy to see so kept the new laptop (Lenovo ThinkPad bought at Dave’s shop on Kerr Street north of Speers on Friday. BTW it runs the Flexradios easily at home!) in the bag.

I would be nice if we had some more guys there to work the equipment and answer questions as we’ve got two more dates when we can setup our display. Also Aug. 1 and 2 we’ve been invited to demonstrate Amateur Radio at the Maker Fair at Toronto’s Reference Library on Yonge Stree.

OPPO PM-3 Headphones

Looking for an exceptional set of audiophile headphones? Consider the OPPO PM-3s which are planar magnetic headphones at $399 which in the audiophile world is considered a bargain basement price. Oppo-pm3

Here’s the review I posted on Head-Fi.org earlier today.

I might give up doing reviews. I keep running into things that change for no good reason. It makes it hard to render a consistent and informed opinion. I end up questioning my own abilities to hear anything let alone report it accurately.

And so we come to the OPPO PM-3 which were sent to me as part of the PM-3 tour now underway. (In the audio world, the equipment goes on tour and the reviewers are responsible for mailing the unit to the next person on the tour list.)

I had just returned from four days at the Dayton Hamvention (with 22,000 of my closest Ham Radio friends) to find the OPPO PM-3s waiting for me. I quickly plugged my Cozoy Astrapi DAC into my IPhone and thought the PM-3s sounded pretty good and maybe a bit darker than what I was used to from my other headphones (Audeze LCD-X, on-ear Sennheiser Momentums, Fostex T-50RPs and a bunch more I didn’t use for this review) but overall pretty nice.HPA8_003

So the next morning I fired up the Fostex HP-A8C DAC and started streaming various artists over Tidal and in comparison… I wasn’t thrilled. In fact, compared to the more modest Momentums I was very unhappy.

The sound from the PM-3s didn’t have the bass punch of the LCD-X or the brightness of the Momentums. The Audeze’s can hit you like a sledgehammer while the PM-3s felt more like getting hit with a plastic bat. The Momentums livelier and more interesting presentation was obvious. What the heck was going on?ak120II

I really thought the PM-3s weren’t going to make it. So, in desperation I plugged them into my Astell and Kern AK-100 II DAP and they sounded wonderful.

So what happened?

I don’t know. Could it have been a better impedance match between the PM-3s and the AK-100? Is it possible I didn’t have a cable plugged in fully (and this after swapping out headphones over and over again I doubt it but I’m searching for answers here)?

I don’t know but everything now seemed to have changed. The PM-3s sounded much, much better. The bass was near perfect and the treble was more focused and the overall clarity was terrific just as I’d expect from planar magnetics. The soundstage isn’t as wide as some headphones but the sound is more compact and intimate. (Play Norah Jones and you’ll immediately understand what I’m trying to say here.) These aren’t toe-tapping headphones but something more serious and worthy of your attention.

Let me explain it this way:Audeze-LCD-X-Leather-SeatedL-01-600x600

If we use the Fostex T-50RPs (at $99 and bought so I could have a low-price reference headphone), the Momentums (at $140 which I had to buy on sale at this price) and the Audeze’s (at $1800 again bought so I could have a top-notch reference headphone. Shown in photo.) as comparison headphones we could place the PM-3s very near the relatively flat sound (with a rather delightful presence midrange) of the T-50RPs the first time and then, after the change, the sound was much closer to the excellent – near perfect – Audeze’s. There was that much of a difference.
I tried adding amplifiers to the AK-100s (Cypher Picollo and Fiio E-11) and they made no appreciable difference to the now excellent sound. With everything going so well, I went back to the Fostex and PM-3s and everything sounded very good. I plugged in the PM-3s directly into my IPhone and again I was very impressed. I have no idea how to explain this anomaly.

So let’s move on.

With our new more enjoyable sound let’s look at the other attributes of the PM-3. They are comfortable as heck and when it comes to planar magnetics which are usually really heavy, these guys are lightweights yet really well built. The ear pads are okay but might get hot outside in the summer heat. But they look pretty good. The PM-3s come with a variety of cords (iPhone, Android and a really long 3m cable) and a carrying case and bag. All in all a nice package.

Sound isolation is very good and important to me as my wife works right behind me in our home office and the PM-3s block out her phone conversations. The closed headphones also don’t leak as much as the Audeze’s which are way too loud for our tiny office space when it comes to keeping family peace.

I am going back to being mystified as to why I had such a poor experience earlier today so I put the PM-3s into my cheap and cheerful Fiio E-10K DAC which is USB out of my MacBook Pro. Again going back to Tidal and I’m listening to Lucinda Williams whose voice I know as well as anyone else’s and Lucinda sounds very very good. It’s not the bright happy sound of the Momentums.

It’s darker, fuller bass that rumbles sometimes like thunder far far away (likely a sub bass sound) and again the magnetic planar sound really enhances vocals when it comes to presence but there is a slight lack of brightness when compared to the Momentums (but if you weren’t comparing you’d never know). I think it safe to say the sound is more rounded, mature and serious compared to the Momentums and some of the other less expensive headphones. Nothing compares to the Audeze’s but I can clearly hear a family resemble coming from the PM-3s. Not bad at a quarter the cost.

So now we’ve gone from a set of headphones I was thinking I was going to pan – badly – to reviewing a set of headphones I am considering buying for myself as I’ve got a big bunch of headphones at under $200 and the Audeze’s at $1800 and nothing in between. I was considering Mad Dogs (especially now they’re at close out prices) but the OPPO PM-3s are more what I’d expect to pay around $600 to $800 for sound this good.

So let’s put this all into perspective: If you’ve wanted the planar magnetic sound (and I do) and the Fostex T-50RPs just don’t cut it as your only headphones, then I can fully recommend you consider the OPPO PM-3s. Aside from a few quick swaps I’ve been wearing and listening to the PM-3s for over 8 hours now and my ears (and neck) are not complaining.

Comfortable, even stylish, great build, with great sound without the need of extra amplification right out of your IPhone I think a lot of people are going to be very happy with their PM-3s.