Flex upgrade

FlexRadio released a new software update to the FlexRadio 1500 and now I have what is essentially a brand-new, improved contest radio.

The new software upgrade is a significant upgrade and those who have tested it say it makes CW out of the $600 radio a breeze.

A poorly functioning CW mode was one of the earliest failings of the radio but now appears to be a thing of the past. The second issue is more difficult to solve.

Reading the Flex reflector it soon becomes apparent that most of the issues newcomers have is actually with their computers and not the radio (although they confuse the two). I know this to be true as I struggled with my dual-core underpowered Best Buy midnight special computers to run the 1500.

Both computers used to show a CPU running around 30 per cent. I could receive without issue but occasionally the CW would drop a character when the computer went off to do something else. Turning off everything I could in Task Manager helped and if the CPU was less than 25 per cent all was well.

With the new upgrade the CPU is running around 20 per cent and the CW if flawless. If I want to make certain there is sufficient CPU available I can turn off the panoramic display (a $600 option on some competitive radios) and my CPU drops to under 10 per cent.

Of course the answer is run SDR stations with a decent computer. Obviously the computer doesn’t need to be much better than the two old beaters I have so a quad-core name brand computer should do.

BTW I wouldn’t recommend a laptop and some guys are using Mac Minis with a Windows 7 emulator. Macs approach issues like interrupts differently from PCs.

I used the 1500 on the ARRL DX CW contest on the weekend (using the old software. I’m not changing anything 48 hours prior to a contest.) and had a ball. I worked everything I could hear (and a few I couldn’t) and can’t wait to see how the new upgraded software works in the ARRL DX SSB.

Here’s the review I wrote on E-Ham Reviews.

Up in the air with QST

March is my favourite month because it means it’s QST’s annual antenna issue.

No matter how sophisticated our equipment gets, it still needs a piece of wire to radiate the signal and there’s no reason whatsoever not to be on the air from anywhere.

For example, one of the articles is about a 20-meter flagpole antenna. Now in the USA citizens are much more likely to erect (and be allowed in restricted covenant situations) to wave the flag but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it here. The height of a flagpole for 20 meters is just 16.5 feet. The antenna needs to be set into a base that isolates it from ground (the author used a 30″ piece of 2″ PVC pipe. Underneath the ground the author installed six 18-foot ground radials.

Now this antenna will also work with a tuner on 10 meters and with Cycle 23 said to be gathering steam, you could be working DX on a 24-hour basis.

Want more bands? And almost zero visibility? I used to run a B & W AP-10 (think it’s still in a box in the basement) from an apartment balcony on 40-10 meters. At 20 to 30 watts out (The antenna will handle 100 watts but I didn’t want to chance getting into the neighbour’s cheap stereo, TV or telephone) I could work around the world when the bands were open especially on 10 and 15 meters.

When I was renting half a house in Brampton back in the 70s, I had a full-size trapped 80-40 dipole hung 30′ up in a tree in the backyard. The RG-8X coax was buried from the base of the tree all the way to a kitchen window. I could work the world from the kitchen table.

MFJ also sells a Hi-Q loop antenna that actually works 40 to 10 meters. You need to retune every time you move in frequency but it will work and it can work DX especially if it’s mounted in the clear. I’ve heard of them being used in attics but with all the electrical wiring and other pieces of metal this is not a guaranteed solution.

One thing to consider is if you can only get on the air on one band, in time, you will become an expert on how that band works and how propagation affects getting out.

Not a bad thing at all and it beats not being on the air at all. One more thought: Avoid QRP rigs when using these compromise antenna setups. Five watt will work well into a full-size dipole at a 1/4 wavelength or higher but it’s tough when the antenna isn’t full size. I’ve found running 5-watts into my verticals (R-5 and Butternut) less effective than into the beam (of course) or the various dipoles and slopers (I especially like the G5RV-JR – 40-10 meters – for installations where there’s room but not much room for an antenna.

The March issue also has an article on a roof-mounted 160-meter receiving loop. Now we’re talking.

RAC – Bill 118 – And Stuff

Even after I resigned my post of vice-president of public relations for Radio Amateurs of Canada last year, I still get emails and the occasional calls from concerned amateurs wondering what is going or not going on with our national association.

I direct them to the current RAC president Geoff Bawden.

Here’s an example:

I got an email recently reporting back on the efforts by individuals from one of the oldest and biggest clubs in Ontario to talk with their MPP about Ontario’s distracted driving legislation Bill 118 which grants Ontario hams a soon-to-be-expired time-exemption from the law.

Our correspondent sent some information to their local MPP with a covering letter and then heard nothing back. No surprise. I suggested not leaving our successful lobbying in the hands of the MPP’s underpaid staff but to followup with phone call and book an appointment.

This is what RAC should be recommending every club and Amateur Radio group in Ontario do right now. Why this is not happening is beyond me. Very soon, it will be too late to do anything.

When I was attempting to garner support for a much needed RAC membership campaign, I suggested we make membership personal and that every existing member go ask at least 10 of their friends to join. I did it and so did a bunch of other guys. If you went to one club meeting or one flea market in the year you could easily reach 10 guys.

Not everybody was so enthusiastic. I actually got an email from one RAC member who said because they were involved in RAC doing public service they didn’t see why it should be their job to recruit new members.

I hope this guy and the many like him enjoy the camaraderie they now have in RAC because I guarantee you with this sort of an attitude RAC won’t be around much longer and none of us in Ontario will be using a hand–held microphone while we drive*.

Finally I noticed on the RAC Blog of Jan. 21 posting from Ontario STM VE3GNA/VA3OPN where among other questionable comments in a lengthy piece lifted from the Brass Pounders Quarterly a writer makes an allegation about the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) .

Ah guys:

Reckless allegations of this nature could be considered legally actionable and have no place being republished on the RAC Blog. American and Canadian law differs when it comes to slander, libel and defamation of character.(These are the big three that any publisher must understand before the print, post or broadcast anything.) Just because it originates somewhere else doesn’t mean it should be republished by RAC here in Canada.


*To those hams who wrongly claim the Ontario government can’t pass legislation that affects our federally licensed hobby. Wake UP! It’s over. The legislation passed. It’s law. We lost.

Now if you really want to do something worthwhile write your MPP. Follow up that letter (not an email) with the telephone call and book an appointment to talk about why hams should be exempt from Bill 118. Get your facts straight (find a list of provinces and states that have exempted Amateur Radio from their distracted driving laws) and make a compelling argument based on information and not emotion. Don’t wait for RAC to get involved. And wear a tie 🙂 and leave the baseball cap with your call sign at home. (BTW I love my call-sign baseball cap. I just don’t wear it to business meetings….anymore.)