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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Boy Scouts rescued using ham radio

Sometimes a test of your emergency preparedness turns into a real-life emergency situation.

Such was the case with some boy scouts in Arizona who needed rescue after becoming lost while on a project to climb different peaks of the Pine Mountain Wilderness and signal one another with mirrors.

At some point during the expedition the team became stranded and one of the scouts fell ill as their water supply ran low. They relayed their predicament via ham radio to a Prescott resident who then called authorities.

After their rescue, none needed hospitalization.

It's good to see ham radio still has a purpose "when all else fails"!

Friday, September 17, 2010

5 tips for reducing radio club in-fighting, or why I don't belong to any local radio clubs

I've not been a club person for many years. In fact, I've steered away from clubs over the last several years because of one thing: politics. In fact, of the last 6 clubs I've been a member of:
  • I quit one in protest over an issue with the state ARES coordinator wanting to change policy demanding the requiring of training that cost money
  • I quit another in protest over a Field Day occurrence
  • I was thrown out of another club (who claimed I was never a member) after I tried to help organize Field Day activities that were not supposed to be club related, yet the President of the club decided he was going to make it a club event and sent me an email (and CC'ed everyone in the club) telling them that I was not a member and would do the world a favor if I went away
  • One club was dissolved after the membership dropped sharply
  • Two clubs simply went dormant due to lack of participation
Almost all of these clubs had one low common denominator: Politics.

I have been dabbling in various hobbies, clubs, and activities of all sorts and never have I seen more political mudslinging, underhandedness, and general douchebaggery than I have in an amateur radio club.

I realize not everyone's going to get along when it comes to being in a large club, but seriously, what do you have to gain from stealing someone else's thunder or makes them look bad? No one gets paid to be a club president (that I know of) and the only perk I've seen from it is that on maybe one occasion you might get thrust into the TV news' camera lenses and maybe some newsprint, and who cares who that person is, unless you're a glory hound (like some people I unfortunately know). I've been interviewed a couple of times for news stories, and it's not that spectacular, believe me. In fact I'm surprised my interview didn't end up a YouTube viral video.

KE5UTN wrote an interesting article on his blog about steps for reducing the politics of conflicts within an amateur radio club. It makes for recommended reading, especially for some of the clubs I've been associated with around here. Maybe more people would actually attend of some of these golden rules were abide by (I especially like #3).

And seriously, whoever "Robert" is, his rules of order suck!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"New" web site address

You can now get to my blog by using the domain

This was a domain I registered a few years ago when it became available. The original intent didn't pan out but I kept the domain name anyway.

I wanted to start up a high-altitude ballooning group using an acronym and came up with "Knoxville High-Altitude Operation System" or "Observation" instead of "Operating". Somethinglikethat...

This was actually a couple of years before UTARC's guys started up their ARHAB efforts and I joined up with them instead.

Hmm, maybe now it can stand for "K4HSM's Ham (Amateur) Operator Service"? still works as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Would you climb THIS tower?

Some of you out there can climb a tower 100-200 feet up, but what about going up 1,768 feet on a TV tower?

Just a warning, watching this video made my palms sweat, my feet sweat, my sweat was sweating, my body tensed up, and I'm sure my blood pressure skyrocketed.

I'm pretty sure that, in addition to the tool bag, he had to haul his BIG BRASS BALLS up to the top.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My 2m tape-measure antenna project

I've never been much of a "do-it-yourself" kind of person. Usually I buy whatever it is I need pre-fabricated, or have someone help me out (which basically employs my standing around getting tools and/or coffee for whomever is doing the actual work) after I buy the parts.

Take my 6m dipole for instance. I had it made for me by my friend Tim, KE4OTZ. Once I saw how simple it was, I sat there wondering why in the hell I didn't just do it myself...but that's the way I am, just too intimidated to try it thinking I'm going to set my equipment on fire if I do try to do it on my own. And chances are, I would...

When it comes to antennas, I just never felt like I was confident enough to do it properly. But last week I was shown a unique type of antenna that can be built with PVC tubing, tape measure tape, and hose clamps. And that made me think, to borrow a tired cliche, that if *I* could do it...

What was even more of an amazing coincidence was that when I talked to a ham friend of mine I work with (John, KD4DLU) he told me he made one of these himself and loved it. So, later that evening after work he and I met up and he showed it to me and let me borrow it for the weekend.

Within a few moments of looking at it, I knew this was an antenna I wanted to build, and I wanted to do it myself!

And not only did I do it myself, I did it fast, too. This could be constructed in less than 2 hours, and that's with a trip to the hardware store to get what you need.

So, last Sunday afternoon I went to the store and picked up the PVC connectors I needed, (I already had the right size PVC pipe from a previous project) along with the metal hose clamps and the tape measure. I bought the cheapest 25' roll they had, which was just under $5. I didn't need anything fancy, since the only thing I needed after all was the metal tape itself. And do make sure it is metal tape measure you are buying.

I got home and the first thing I did was to bring up the project's web page (written by Joe, WB2HOL) and got the measurements of the elements I would need. I extracted all 25+ feet of the tape, cut it using ordinary (but expendable) scissors and set the now-empty cartridge aside (you should hear the spring on one when it tries to reel in an empty roll of tape). I then cut the lengths I needed. In fact, I had so much tape measure left over I can actually make 2 of these antennas or add additional elements if I wanted more improved directionality of the yagi.

One note about the tape measure components is that they have sharp edges. I trimmed the edges off at the corners (see picture) and then applied electrical tape to the ends in order to prevent the sharp edges from cutting or stabbing me when handling it.

Next, I cut the PVC pipe into the proper lengths and then connected them together. I didn't need glue to hold the PVC fittings together, but it can be used if you prefer. I took the tape measure pieces for the reflector and director elements and connected them with the hose clamps. The bigger part of the project was getting the driven element parts connected to the array.

I had to use sandpaper to get the heavy paint off the tape measure components so that I could solder the coax and the hairpin match to them. Once I did that I warmed up the soldering iron.

While the soldering gun warmed up I searched for some wire for the "U"-shaped hairpin match, and eventually took some old wiring from an old ATX computer tower's power switch and stripped it to the required length for the hairpin match. Then, I took a string of coax from an old Radio Shack mag-mount antenna and cut about 12" off the end. I would later regret this, to be honest, as I should have cut a much longer length.

I then took some solder to the tape measure pieces before attaching them to the antenna structure. This works best so that when you attach the elements to the PVC pipe, you can then solder the coax and hairpin wire quickly without melting into the PVC underneath.

After I connected the driven element segments to the PVC, I wrapped electrical tape around the bend of the "U" shape in order to hold it in place against the PVC and then soldered the hairpin wire to the tape measure. It was very easy, almost too easy, really. In order to set the proper 3/4" distance between the leads, I took a scrap piece of tape measure cut to 3/4" and used it as a spacer. this was discarded once I had the correct distance between the two driven elements.

I then took the shielding off the RG-58 coax and then twisted it together, then tinned the shielding in advance and then soldered it to the tape measure mounted on the PVC. It was less than 3 seconds for the solder to melt enough for the wire to penetrate. Same with the center conductor. I even applied more solder afterward with no melting of the PVC pipe. The hairpin wire did not move when the solder melted around it as I applied the coax connector.

And just like that, I was done! I could not believe how easy it was, to be honest. I measured the SWR and it was 1.1 to 1.3 on 146.555 MHz. And I didn't have to adjust anything!

I plan to use it for a foxhunting project that the University of Tennessee Amateur Radio Club is putting together in October.

Again, I think I'm going to re-do the coax connector to make the cable much longer than the one I have on there now. Other than that I couldn't be more pleased with myself. In fact, I'm actually thinking of making one of these with more elements in order to narrow the beamwidth down even more, and use on a field day or mountaintop journey.

If you had to buy all the parts, you should not be out more than $25 at the most, I would think. Since I had the PVC pipe already, that trimmed the expense a tad. The most expensive part was the 10-pack of hose clamps, at just under $9. Zip ties or self-tapping screws can also work if you're on a tight budget. I recommend the hose clamps on the driven element at the very least in order to keep the element in place more securely.

Below are some additional pictures if you are so bold to try and take on such an intriguing endeavor. It's certainly an easy project that anyone can do and will not take all day or all your money to invest in the effort. It's a guaranteed confidence-builder.

Here are some additional pictures:

This is a shot of my measuring out one of the lengths for the two driven elements to be installed in the center.

Use sandpaper to strip the paint off the tape measure for the center radiators to ensure a good connection with the coax and the "U"-shaped hairpin match.

The hose clamps connected to the D1 driven element. Tie wraps can also be used or perhaps even electrical tape, but they will wear out over time. Self-tapping screws are also a possibility.

Preparing to mount onto the PVC fitting and solder the coax and hairpin match to the center elements.

The "U"-shaped hairpin match is soldered on. I used electrical tape to hold it against the PVC, which helped during soldering of both it and the coax. I took off the tape to show the match, but it can be left on to keep from getting it caught on anything.

To measure the correct 3/4 distance between the hairpin match wires on either side, I simply took a 3/4 inch piece of scrapped tape measure and used it as a spacer between the two leads. This does NOT get attached to the antenna, it is thrown away afterward.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Steve Bozak challenges citation and wins!

Earlier this year I mentioned a ham in New York (Steve Bozak, WB2IQU/HL9VX) who was cited for "talking on a cellular phone while driving" by a cop who apparently can't tell the difference between a ham radio and a cell phone.

Steve challenged the ruling and has won his argument.

The ruling is as follows:
The Vehicle and Traffic Law defines a "Mobile Telephone" as a "device used by subscribers and other users of wireless telephone service to access such service" (VTL §1225-c [1][a]). A "Wireless Telephone Service" is defined as "two-way real time voice tele-communications service that is interconnected to a public switched telephone network and is provided by a commercial mobile radio service, as such term is defined by 47 C.F.R. §20.3 (VTL §1225-c [1][b])(emphasis added). A review of 47 C.F.R.§20.3 reveals that Citizens Band Radio Service is defined under private mobile radio service not commercial mobile radio service. Therefore, the Court finds that the use of an amateur radio device does not fit the definition of a mobile telephone as defined under the Vehicle and Traffic Law and grants the defendant's motion to dismiss.
I sent the link to Steve via Facebook and it was news to him. He hadn't received word until I posted it!

Glad I was able to give him some great news...even if the law lumps ham radio and CB together...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why call for "emergency traffic"?

There are all sorts of nets on local repeaters, from SKYWARN nets to formal traffic nets to roundtable BS sessions.

I've called all sorts of nets since I got my ticket. One of the first net's I ever called was a technical net on English Mountain's 146.730 repeater in the mid-90s. From there I got to calling some of the nets on the Radio Amateur Club of Knoxville's (RACK) repeater, then I was calling nets for the local ARES/RACES group, then for yet another now-defunct radio club (a midnight "night owl net"), and all of this was at the same time!!! And then I began calling nets for SKYWARN.

One thing was always constant, with the exception of the SKYWARN nets, and that was all the other nets I was calling had the call for emergency traffic at the beginning of the net (also known as the preamble).

For example, this would be the beginning of a preamble used for a typical net on any given repeater in the area:
Calling the (NET NAME) net.
Calling the (NET NAME) net.
This is (YOUR NAME) in (LOCATION) and I'll be the net control for tonight's net.
This net meets every (DAY OF WEEK) at

Now, this is going to sound like me being a grammar nazi, but over the last few years I began to ponder the need for asking for emergency traffic. I mean, seriously, if there's an emergency, who's going to wait around until it's asked for? And when is an emergency ever scheduled for that particular time of the net???

And if there was a bona fide emergency, who's going to tell them "wait until emergency traffic is called for!"?

Again, seriously, if there's a legitimate emergency, you stop what you're doing (unless you're already calling an emergency net) and take that traffic first priority.

If I were still calling non-emergency nets (or really any nets for that matter, as I haven't called a SKYWARN net in any official capacity in about 4 years) I would say this for my preamble:
Calling the (NET NAME) net.
This is (YOUR NAME) in (LOCATION) and I'll be the net control for tonight's net.
This net meets every (DAY OF WEEK) at (TIME) on the (REPEATER NAME/FREQUENCY).

If there is any emergency traffic during this net, please alert the net control with your callsign and announce the word "Break" twice, at which time all net activity will be suspended in order to handle the emergency traffic.

That should suffice, don't you think?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"We have nothing in common, kid..."

Sometimes I wonder what drives people to become a ham operator. I'm sure there are many reasons, such as the technology, the curiosity, the public service, the comraderie, etc.

When you're an adult, like I am half the time, you enjoy talking with your peers about a plethora of subjects. Some subjects that I hear hams discuss at length on local repeaters are aviation, motorcycles, hiking, travel, politics, religion, family, and health. All of these things can be interesting, especially to someone who has shared in that same passion along with ham radio.

For kids, however, well, there's not necessarily a whole lot they can share in some of these areas. Imagine a 30-something ham who's a pilot talking aviation with a 10-year old. There's not a lot of ground to be covered, figuritively speaking.

My daughter's been licensed for almost a year. In that time I can count the number of QSO's she's had on one hand. It's not that she's not interested in ham radio, far from it. But one issue she's raised with me is that there's not a lot of kids her age that she can talk to in the area.

And it isn't for lack of trying, either. We have friends that live in Bristol (some 90 miles away from home) and they have 2 sons who are licensed hams. Earlier this Spring we tried to check in on a new "Youth net" they'd started up. Problem is, there wasn't a net. Apparently, they forgot to call one. We've tried to schedule the kids to have a QSO, but the schedules just don't come together.

But I wonder if more kids are not getting on the air due to intimidation by those who are much older.

A couple of cases in point. I met with George Bowen (W2XBS) a few weeks back and we were talking about our kids getting on the air (his daughter Jessica and my daughter Lauren are both recently licensed youth) and he told me the story of how one radio club near his home was trying to encourage youth into getting licensed, yet when they (the kids) try to talk on a local repeater, the "old guys" who were club members would weasel their way into the kids' QSO and then just continue their QSO with one another with the kids left out in the background. Not very encouraging when all is said and done.

Here in Knoxville, I haven't heard of that occurring, but I overheard something that got me equally riled. I'm surprised I didn't jump in and chew the guy out, but I knew discretion was the better part of valor in this instance.

This ham (I won't give him the pleasure of the publicity) is one of those folks who probably is on your local repeater. He's the kind of person who can grate on you with just their manner, their inflection, or their pomposity. He says one thing, then does another, and has an excuse for being the exception to his rule no matter what. I've not talked to him but a handful of times. But I've heard him more than I've talked to him.

A few weeks back, he was having a QSO with another ham and the subject came up about a young ham who's from Chattanooga. The kid has been licensed for a short while, but his enthusiasm was one to be appreciated. I was one of his first contacts if I recall.

Apparently the kid's enthusiasm for being a new ham got on this guy's nerves.

He began bragging about how he chased this kid off the repeater. Saying he wasn't the kid's babysitter. He boasted about how he and the kid "have nothing in common" and that he wasn't going to talk to him anymore.

I don't know how long ago this QSO he spoke of took place, other than to say that I've not heard this kid on the repeater for several months now.

Is this how our current generation is to indoctrinate the next, by telling the next generation of hams to kiss off???

I seem to recall talking to hams who've been in amateur radio longer than I've been alive about how they would "elmer" new hams, young and old, and be their inspiration for staying in ham radio. Now I'm hearing about how we can scare them off and ensure they won't return to the airwaves anytime soon. And these are hams who have not been in the hobby less than half the years I have.

Kids are impressionable. They'll want to do something until someone gives them a bad experience involving something they feel they've done wrong. Even if it's the other person who's had a bad day, or misunderstood the intent of what the kid might've said, one bad ham's attitude will run a kid off the radio real fast.

In this ever-changing world we live in, where Facebook and Twitter are on the minds of kids more than the dits and dahs of ham radio, we need to all remember that they are the future of ham radio. No one's asking us to babysit the young hams, but we should be mindful that they are the ones that will carry ham radio into the future.

Nevertheless, I reported him to the repeater owner, who was pretty passive. Not much he could do really, but I felt I had to tell him in order to put it out there that we have a few jerks running around.

I'd rather not say what I would do if he said anything of the sort to my daughter...let's just say it will probably violate some or all of Part 97's rules...