Not That I Have the Money But…

It’s a long weekend here in Canada (Canada Day is July 1st) and I’m contemplating my next big rig purchase. This purchase isn’t likely to happen in the near future but it’s nice to dream.Drake2b

Just about any old rig can get you on the air. For example my favourite receiver is my Drake 2B tube set which is delightful and hears everything my Flex 1500 hears (just not as well) and shares with the Flex truly lovely audio coming out of the rig. Many used rigs are great as second rigs or rigs for newcomers but for contesting you want something that can rock and roll with the big boys and their humungous signals 2 kHz away.

So what’s under consideration? K3PanoRightTilt-2_v2_800

  1. K3 by Elecraft. Why a K3? Well I could start with the 10-watt version for $1800. I could add an internal ATU later for $350. And later I could upgrade to the 100-watt version plus add the $2300 500-watt amp. When all is said and done $5K including a panadaptor and you’re on the air.KX3_1920
  2. The 10-watt KX3 at $1,000 looks amazing especially when you add the 100-watt amp for $1200 which will also work with my FlexRadio 1500. Hummm.
  3. Really like what I read about the Kenwood TS-590s which sell for around $2K.. Always liked the audio coming out of Kenwoods (especially when compared to Icoms which I have owned and loved but do have TS-590Sharsher audio in the headphones. Still great rigs and if I’d still consider a Pro III as a nice box radio for contesting.
  4. FlexRadio 3000. Why? It’s the 100-watt version of my beloved 1500 (which at $600 blows the doors off most of the big box contesting radios when it comes F3k_frontto contesting) and therein lies the rub. If I bought a 3000 at around $2K my contesting experience would be identical to what I am experiencing now. It’s just with 100 watts I’d be able to work in less than ideal conditions. The good news is all my accessories would work on this radio and software is all setup.user1_pic3266_1337358910
  5. Finally and I’m not considering buy one but here’s an audio clip of a Flex 6700 on 80 meters during a lightening storm. Watch the noise floor jump and listen to the audio. This is amazing and at $7500 it should do something but this is truly sensational.

Two First Place Certificates Woo Hoo

Love getting this sort of mail from the Editors of CQ Magazine.

Today I received a certificate for First Place QRP CW Single OP Assisted All Bands Canada in the 2012 WW DX Contest. (This placed me #18 in the world and #4 in North America.)SSB

And I got the First Place QRP SSB Single Op Assisted All Band North America certificate as well. (This put me 13th in the world.)

The single-op assisted category is great fun and especially useful when running QRP as I can use my DX spotting net to populate my Writelog band map for multis.CW

I’m already making strategic plans for contesting this season.

The easy way to make more points when running QRP is to operate during contest weekends when there are great conditions. This is not always possible 🙂

The next secret is to create an operating schedule as there’s no way anyone my age can operate for 48 hours without some sleep (actually lots of sleep) so best pick your times and maximize your points.

Also this year, I’ve committed to the contesting group here in Oakville to learn N1MM (I love  Writelog but it appears I’m now a minority of one.) and incorporate the MMTTY RTTY software and the contest memory keyer.

First In Canada

Appears I took first place Canada in the CQ WW DX CW contest QRP Assisted category with 212,635 points and 356 Qs. (My May issue of CQ Magazine just arrived. What’s up with that CQ?)

Based on that number I would have come in second in Canada for QRP and if I’d worked 52 more Qs (roughly) I could have taken first place QRP Canada and been in the top 50 world wide.

Having said that it is apparent that I should be setting some goals for this upcoming season.

For example it’s not out of the question that I could do 500 Qs in this contest which would have placed me (roughly and I say that because multipliers become a big factor in scoring)  somewhere in the top 40 world wide.

So the number one way to radically increase a score without adding power (I pity the poor fool who thinks he needs power to win.) or moving to a better QTH (that’s sort of over my wife’s dead body…..never mind) is to learn how to run.

Search and pounce is the QRP preferred way of contesting but throwing in a quick run on 10 or 15 can sure add to the point total. Guess I’ve got my work cutout for me.

 

UPS Cross Border Rip

I know better but in my last order to RT Systems I mistakenly checked the box for UPS instead of USPS when it came to shipping.

You see the US Postal Service hands off shipments to Canada Post who deliver packages from the US to my door charging only for any Canadian HST that’s required.

That’s how I got another shipment from RT Systems (nice people and great software) which arrived two weeks ago for my IC-880.

I don’t mind paying HST. Here in Canada we’ve got socialized medicine. I’m going for an MRI next week (just precautionary to check an existing condition) and it’s going to cost me $0 out of pocket.

Drive through some of the American states and you’ll know why you pay your Canadian taxes as your call falls into potholes or crashes into abrupt differences in the pavement.

I’ll pay my fair share but when it comes to UPS watch out!

The new software I ordered from RT Systems (again nice people who I hope will resend me my order via post. And yes I’ll pay any additional costs to them to resend it.) came via UPS who called me today and had their hands out trying to collect $30+ for brokerage fees to bring the DVD into Canada.

Gee UPS the USPS and Canada Post manage to deliver the first DVD for $12.76 which is what RT System charged to send me the $49 DVD. It arrived safe and sound in about 10 days.

So let’s add this up.The new price is $21 for shipping UPS (my mistake) plus UPS wants another $30 or so for brokerage fees for a total of $51 for a $49 order. I told UPS to send it back to RT Systems.

And the USA wonders why it has an economic crisis on its hands.

Way to go USPS and Canada Post. UPS….not so much.

Dazzled by D-Star

I’ve finally got my new IC-31a portable and IC-880 mobile programmed up thanks to RT Systems database programmer. If you’ve got a multi-memory radio you’ve got to get RT Systems programming disc and cable for your radio. 2200-T

Why?

Because it will save you weeks of typing. Not only that but you can make custom databases for your radio. Let’s say you’re going on car trip or faction. You could create a database of repeaters just for the trip in about a minute or so.

Right now there are new repeaters, especially D-Star repeaters, that are going on the air practically on a weekly basis. How can you keep up?

Well you won’t do it by buying a repeater directory book which is out of date before it leaves the printers. How about an online database?homepageanim

RFinder has just such a database which you can subscribe to via your IPhone or Android device and once registered you can access your account (It’s a $9.95 annual subscription.) and the database via a web browser or your smart phone or several other methods including…wait for it…directly out of RT Systems.

Yes an email to Bob at RFinder and a subsequent phone call from him (talk about service) showed me where in the RT Systems menus there was a direct link to import the RFinder database of repeaters.

The nice thing about the RFinder software is it will allow you to also customize your database info and then when imported into RT Systems it works seamlessly so that when you plug in your rig the two programs combined can program hundreds of memory channels within a minute or two.

Each program comes with its own OMG features like RFinder can build a local customized database by searching for a nearby landmark. RT Systems database software includes columns where things like offset and the CTSS tones and other parameters are added automatically. Very cool.

I’m old enough to remember when the first FM two-meter rigs took a couple of crystals and  could only transmit on one frequency. Then came synthesized rigs and the ability to have more than one frequency available at a time was born.

Now we have rigs that are so complicated to program 500 memory slots that if you’re like me with my old IC-208 all I had running was the two call channels which I programmed for VE3OAK-VHF and VE3OAK-UHF!

Can you imagine it! Here I had a radio with hundreds of memory allocations and I was using two.

Now thanks to RT Systems and RFinder my new D-Star radios are fully programmed and functional.

Now if the operator only knew what he was doing ….but that will come. I am learning more everyday thanks to the guys in town who are on D-Star.

Great fun and get the software. It will save you weeks of typing and months of frustration.

Time For A Change At RAC?

I see the annual general meeting for Radio Amateurs of Canada is coming to Hamilton, Ontario on October 5th. The AGM is being held in conjunction with the Hamilton ARC’s annual hamfest which will be held in the Marritt Hall at the Ancaster Fair Grounds in Ancaster, Ontario.

Perhaps some of us who are unhappy with the way RAC has been managed over the last few years might want to attend the AGM and during the new business session move a motion of non-confidence?

In Canadian law the passing of a vote of non-confidence in an organization governed by Robert’s Rules of Order like RAC usually means the governing body must resign. But that won’t happen at RAC’s AGM because the AGM at RAC is just a sham and not to be taken seriously.

You see the RAC Constitution makes no provision for direct input from the members at the AGM and no direct input from the overall membership unless there is a demand for a special general meeting by not less than one-tenth of the total number of full and full life members.

Of course since no one at RAC has released the actual membership number how can we know what a tenth is? This is Alice in Wonderland stuff folks. I can’t make it up.

North Korean politics is easier to understand.

So let’s be clear. The way RAC is setup is very traditional and legal. But when it comes to the way it is run things like transparency become murky to the point of obscure and there is no engagement of the overall membership in the day-to-day activities of their own organization.

This is Big Brother stuff.

We don’t know the number of members in our association. We don’t know the actual financials (The annual financial report does not reveal the numbers below the surface.). We have no real way to offer complaint or criticism.

On top of that we have elected a group of directors who have appointed an executive team and neither group understands the concept of serving the membership as opposed to governing the association.

What RAC needs right now is much less governing and true serving by dedicated leaders who understand that the power of any organization rests in the hands of the members and not the directors.

This is a simple concept that has failed to take hold at RAC and our national hobby is suffering as a result.

Here’s an example:

Contrary to what some directors have stated in public a reading of the “Objectives of the Organization” in RAC’s Constitution says that RAC’s  objectives are:

  1. To represent and act as a liaison and coordinating body for Canadian amateur radio associations, societies, organizations and individual radio amateurs.
  2. To act as a liaison organization between its members and other amateur radio organizations within and beyond Canada.
  3. To represent Canadian radio amateurs in policy decisions regarding international issues and regulations that affect amateur radio within the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and at meetings and conferences of the international amateur radio community including the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU).
  4. To act as a liaison organization and consultative body to municipal, provincial and federal governments in matters concerning the Amateur Service.
  5. To promote excellence, the state of the art, and the interests of amateur radio’s many varied activities through a program of technical, regulatory and general information within the amateur radio community and to the Canadian public.
  6. To maintain a tangible presence in the amateur radio community in the form of a corporate office and address.
  7. To maintain a “Field Organization” for public service.

Notice if you will that it is only in section two where our Constitution talks about representing the “members” when we are dealing with other Amateur Radio organizations.

In all other sections the Consitution clearly states that RAC is to represent all Canadian Amateur Radio operators.

I take this to mean whether or not they are paid-up members they get RAC representation. 

A few of our RAC directors should read their constitution and get on with representing all Canadians who are licensed Amateur Radio operators and stop behaving like they’re running an exclusive club only for those who paid their $50 dues.

This is the type of behaviour that gives RAC a bad name and prompts some to claim it’s “an old boy’s club.” It does nothing to attract new members and retain existing ones.

D-Star Programming

Thanks to the nice folks at RT Systems my Windows cloning software DVD arrived for the Icom ID-880.id-880h_main

Using a really neat built-in D-Star calculator I downloaded a bunch of Canadian D-Star repeaters and D-Star reflectors into a database on my PC which, thanks to a proprietary USB cable, loaded into my ID-880.

Okay so this is cool. I’m now on D-Star. sort of, from the mobile.

At least I think I am. There’s still work to do so I went to the RT Systems’s site to checkout what help might be available and I found a 250-page PDF help guide. This is terrific and RT Systems (a husband and wife team out of the USA) should be thanked.

I’m pretty sure in a couple of weeks I am going to be a D-Star expert but right now everyday brings new challenges and thankfully new information.

D-Star is definitely not plug and play so be forewarned but if you you’re willing to read the manuals (Horrors!), do some exploring and don’t hesitate to ask for help (thanks to John VA3BL and Rod VE3RHF) you too can be on D-Star!

Considering my IC-208 (the dedicated FM-only predecessor to the ID-880) only had two channels programmed into it (Oakville VHF and UHF) I can’t lose once I figure out how to program my tone squelch in the new radio.

Oh well back to the manual!

Dreaming of D-Star

Digital radio is the future of Ham Radio.d_star_diagram

Whether it be software-defined radios (which have been kicking the butts of old-fashion “big box” rigs) or the new D-Star system, digital is here to stay.

Now before the amplitude modulation (A.M.) crowd gets their 813s all aglow let us remember that after continuos wave (C.W.) displaced spark (which created a very broad noisy inefficient signal) I don’t think we’ve had another technology that totally replaced its predecessor.

A.M. was king on the bands back in the 50s and was subsequently replaced by single-side band (SSB) but we still hear A.M.ers on the bands. Exotic PSK-31 and other digital modes co-exist with C.W. and so it goes.

So D-Star isn’t going to replace the good ole two-meter F.M. rig Sparky. (For proof just listen on the high end of 160 meters and you’ll hear the same old guys talking into the night as have been talking on 160 since the days following the sinking of the Titanic.)

When it comes to D-Star the digital format that is sweeping the Amateur Radio world there are some real advantages and some challenges but overall it’s a pretty neat new way of communicating that merges the R.F. and computer worlds by using the Internet.

For D-Star to really take off local amateur radio clubs need to install a D-Star repeater with Internet capabilities for the use of their members.

While a D-Star hotspot can allow for access into the D-Star system (in much the same way as the D-Star capable DV Dongle), a hotspot allows for connection into the remote D-Star world but isn’t particularly helpful for communicating across town.

A D-Star repeater (with or without Internet capability) allows club members with D-Star enabled handhelds and mobile rigs to communicate with each other on their local repeater just like a regular F.M. repeater but using a digital mode on a second repeater frequency.

Since most D-Star radios offer F.M. as well as the digital mode adding a D-Star repeater allows D-Star enabled radios to scan and transmit on either the existing F.M. or the new D-Star repeater.id-1_main

One of big advantages of a full D-Star system (with modules for two meters, 440 and 1.2 gigs) is the Icom ID-1 which only runs on 1.2 gigs and can run high-speed data underneath the digital voice communications. This capability means ARES or other public service groups could send completed traffic forms over the air and print them locally for the use of say Red Cross officials.id-880h_main

With an entry-level D-Star capable handheld selling for under $300 (this is for the Icom ID-31a UHF digital/F.M. handheld which was selling for $279 at Dayton) and mobile rigs under $500 (for the dual-band IC-880) D-Star is going to grow in popularity.

Digital communications uses half the band-width of standard F.M. so it’s a very efficient way of communicating.

In the D-Star world the digital signal is wrapped inside of a narrow-band F.M. carrier and actually goes farther than F.M. using less power. The digital signal also doesn’t deteriorate in the same manner as FM as it’s either there or it’s not there. And D-Star repeaters don’t have a tail which can be very disconcerting for newcomers like me.2200-T

D-Star radios also need to be programmed. Horrors! But wait! There’s software that can do this for you.

I’m waiting for a third-party programming disc from RT Systems that is going to make this really easy. (I hope.)

Of course this means you’ve got to know how to use a computer but now that almost everyone uses software logging programs most Ham Radio shacks include a computer these days unless of course you’re still on A.M. (Just kidding.)

If you’re local club is thinking about D-Star, this might be a great time to jump in.

Best Contest Rigs

Bob Sherwood, NC0B, has been breaking contester’s hearts for several years now with his assessment of the top of the line rigs.

Contest rigs are evaluated by Bob pretty much for one thing and one thing only and that’s how well the rig can received very weak signals in the presence of very strong signals.hilberling-pt-8000

This scenario of listening to weak guys while tuning through kilowatt alley takes a receiver with the ability to separate the weak from the strong and the men from the boys. Some of the boys bought pretty expensive and well-known rigs which Sherwood Engineering’s Data Sheet found wanting.

Some of the newer designed radios (including all versions of FlexRadio and Elecraft) have scored pretty well without necessarily breaking the bank.

Having said that the top radio is a Hiberling from German for $18,000 (yes you read that right) and is likely the last pure analog rig to be designed and sold.

Before you buy your next contest-quality rig you might want to spend an hour and watch Bob’s presentation to Contesting U at Dayton 2013.