Hamvention from afar…

I was unable to make it out to Dayton but am enjoying seeing the onsite action through various mediums:

(1) w5kub.com – live streaming. It has been a bit hit and miss on the quality and coverage, but the feed is quite popular and it is a lot of fun seeing all the hams walking around the outdoor market. Lots of hams in front of the live feed cam seem to stand there, stare at the camera, and call home (or a buddy) to have them get on the website to see them on the live feed. At certain times the live feed appears to be an actual video version of hamsexy.com. The best part about amateur radio is the people and it is always great to see what an amazing variety of folks who share a common interest.

(2) Jeff, KE9V, is on the grounds of the Hara Arena and is frequently Tweeting and posting pictures. Jeff had an interesting picture of a vendor called Horse Fence Antennas. The product appears to be a dipole antenna that is built into what we in the Army call a cargo strap. The antenna looks a bit bizzare, but the eHam reviews are 5.0.

(3) D-STARS! I have not hooked up my DVAP and IC-92AD since I returned for Korea, but did so yesterday so I could monitor REF038C. Lots of great hamvention chatter on the reflector.

(4) I am going to look for any HF stations operating from the Hamvention. Often W1AW will setup up a special event station – those are always fun to work.

Hopefully I will be able to go next year…. 2013, Dayton or bust!

Hamfest: Lufkin, TX

I recently took a trip back to the states to attend an exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. I arrived a day early and had a free Saturday. Checking the ARRL website for nearby hamfests, I saw that there was one scheduled in town of Lufkin. Early Saturday morning I hoped in my rental car and sped east along Texas Hwy 7. I arrived around 10am. The hamfest was held at a church and I parked in the front lot along with a healthy population of vehicles bristling with antenna.

Making my way to the rear entrance of the church building, I saw that there was a small group of tailgaters with their wares out. I headed inside to the entrance table where I was told there was no charge to attend. Excellent! Now, this wasn’t a huge hamfest – but what it lacked in size, it made up in spirit and the friendliness of the local hams.

I perused the tables inside, arrayed around an indoor basketball court, not seeing anything that immediately caught my eye. Then again, I really wasn’t in the market for anything. There was a MARS booth – which impressed me that they would be present at a small event like this. In one corner the hamfest organizers were selling Lufkin Hamfest t-shirts. I scooped one of those up. Next I ran across some late 1990s issues of QRPp, the journal of the Northern California QRP Club, which I picked up for 50 cents each.

I always enjoy cruising the parking lot at a hamfest to see the variety of mobile installations. I had never seen such a large HF antenna mounted on a sedan before. The antenna mount was rock solid and I imagine this ham enjoys his mobile HF QSOs.

4th of July

I have been here in Korea for just over two weeks and am settling in at Camp Red Cloud, located north of Seoul. I think I’ve done a poor job in the blog of laying out the last month and half in which there has obviously been some significant changes in what I am doing.

On May 20th, I graduated from the School of Advanced Military Studies, culminating my two years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, knee deep in graduate-level text books and Army field manuals. One of the requirements for graduation was to write a monograph on a military subject. I choose to write on the early history of MARS prior to World War II, when it was known as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). During this years Hamvention at Dayton, I had the opportunity to present the paper and I am pretty happy on how it all came together. No significant research had ever been done on early MARS history so I spent the majority of my research combing through primary sources and even conducting a few interviews with the few remaining former members of the AARS. If you have an interest in MARS, the history of radio in the Army, or the origins and organization of radio emergency communications, the paper is available here at no cost. One facet to the history of the AARS that I found intriguing was the relationship that grew between the AARS and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. The ARRL recently posted a short article I wrote on the subject and you can see it here if you are interested.

My assignment following school was to Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. To actually get there, I elected to take a less typical means of transportation for part of the journey. I decided to take Amtrak from Kansas City to Seattle, where I would board a government contract flight to Seoul. I had ridden trains quite a bit in Europe, but never had taken a train for more than a short distance in the United States. I had also recently read Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, A Year Spent Riding Across America by James McCommons. If you are interested in passenger rail travel, enjoy a good road trip, or would like to know why train travel fell victim to the car culture, you will enjoy this book. The author, James McCommons, travels all the primary Amtrak routes (with mixed experiences) and talks with US rail movers and shakers around the country. Overall, he said Amtrak was good and getting better. I decided to see for myself.

One of the countries more historic and picturesque routes is that travelled by the California Zephyr. Originating in Chicago, the train traces its way west, climbing through the Rockies west of Denver and on to the Sierra Nevada’s an into California, terminating near San Francisco. My folks still live where I grew up near San Jose, so California was great for a stop over. I could then take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from San Jose through Northern California, central Oregon through Eugene and Portland, then on to Seattle.

The train ride west was wonderful and I did write a post about it. The stop over in California was a lot of fun. Arriving during the early evening of Thursday, June 10th, I was able to get some sleep and meet my dad for some QRP portable field operations. We headed up to the Santa Cruz Mountains, above Saratoga, strung up a 40m dipole and had fun playing with my FT-817 and KX1. Although we didn’t achieve any great DX contacts, it was a great time. Saturday morning we headed over to a local monthly hamfest known as the Electronics Flea Market @ De Anza College. De Anza College is a little known junior college which has overseen the growth of Silicon Valley. Although I did not find anything I couldn’t live without, I enjoyed roaming around and seeing what the vendors had.

Before lunch, we headed over to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Founded in 1999, the museum opened long after I had left the Bay Area. Very cool museum!

Then it was back to the train station in San Jose and I hopped on the Coast Starlight and headed north. The train ride was relaxing with some amazing scenery.

I spent Sunday night in Seattle and caught a shuttle bus on Monday to SEATAC. Flying with AMC can be an experience and differs from a commercial flight. The AMC counter was located at the far end of the international terminal and I joined a long line of guys with short haircuts and heavy, canvas green bags. Although I had to check in at 7:00pm, the flight wasn’t scheduled to board until 1am. They didn’t pack the flight, so there was a little elbow room. Instead of flying directly to Korea, our route would take us to Anchorage, followed by Yakota (near Tokyo) and then Osan Airbase in Korea. We got to Anchorage, deplaned for fueling, reboarded and then sat for three hours. Apparently the weather was bad over Japan, so we were held over for about 24 hours in Anchorage. I had been stationed in Alaska during 1993-1994 and it was nice to see that midnight sun again (sunset at 11:30pm with sunrise at 4:30am).

From Anchorage to Japan with a short layover and then on to Korea. The rest of the story is here.

And on the amateur radio side of things… My equipment is here. I shipped over my Icom IC-7000 for HF and a Kenwood TM-D710A to use with my EchoIRLP node. Also on the way is a Davis Vantage Vue weather station that I hope to get on line and on APRS. I need to get my Korean license and have all the necessary paperwork. Just need to get it turned in now. There is a monthly hamfest in Seoul next Sunday that I am going to try an attend – that should be an experience and I will have to bring my camera.

Have you been enjoying Jeff’s new podcast at KE9V.net? Cornbread Road is a Jeff at his best, weaving a tale of mystery and amateur radio in the heartland.

I will endeavor to keep my blog up to date with posts about my experiences here in Korea.

The Dayton Hamvention…. through the eyes of a first timer

This was my first ever attendance of the Dayton Hamvention and it was an awesome experience.

I began planning the trip back in February and thought it would be great to attend as well as convince my dad to come out from California so we could enjoy it together, as he had never attended either. Due to commitments at school, I could not get to Dayton until Friday in the late afternoon, too late to take advantage of the opening day. As I drove my rental car away from the airport, I started to see all the ham-laden vehicles, dripping with antennas and sporting callsign license plates. Linking up with my dad at the hotel, we headed to Smokey Bones for dinner and a chance to strategize our plan for Saturday.

Our hotel rooms included the free breakfast (which was actually pretty good) and started serving at 7am. We quickly polished off our meals and headed to the shuttle bus parking lot at the old Salemn Mall behind Sears. Arriving at 7:30am, only a few dozens cars had filled the parking lot, but a line off modern green city transit buses awaited eager hams looking to make their way to Hara Arena. I’d ordered both of our tickets and bus passes ahead of time and we proceeded to the first bus in line with our Hamvention programs. Flipping through I eyed the forum’s listing and saw that my name was there for my presentation on the history of the Army Amateur Radio System. I hadn’t told my dad I was presenting, so I asked him to look on page 43 and tell me if that program looked interesting. His eyes got a bit big and he said, “That’s you! No wonder you were interested in attending the MARS forum.” I was glad I was able to pull off my surprise.

The bus dropped us off at the entrance to the flea market with about 20 minutes prior to the gate opening. I was immediately struck by the massive size of this event, the hard planning that went into its orchestration, and the army of folks running it. Through my entire experience at the Hamvention, those individuals who made everything happen were professional, competent, and made the entire visit that much better.

As we made our way into the flea market, the hardest decision became where to start. We began wandering around the various rows taking in the immensity of the outside vendors. A few of the stalls actually resembled my basement collection of radio gear and I was reminded once again I need to complete some long delayed Spring cleaning. I wasn’t in the market for anything, I just wanted to poke around and see what was there. I truly believe that if what you need isn’t being sold at the flea market, then you probably don’t need it. I also have an idea for a kind of amateur radio triathlon. It would work as follows: (1) Interested hams would be presented schematics for a monoband HF transceiver once they arrived at the flea market entrance, which would start their time; (2) The hams would then have scour the flea market for all the requisite pieces and parts (including an antenna); (3) Next, the hams would assemble their rigs a solder station tent; (4) … and then move to an open area to erect their antenna and make a contact; (4) Scores would be determined for speed in accumulation of parts and building, least amount of money spent for parts, and the overall aesthetic presentation of the rig built. There would have to be different classes of competitors: those moving under the power of their own two legs, the scooter crowd, and the golf cart folks.

After getting a feel for the flea market, we headed for the main indoor arena to see what was what. The place was packed and it was hard to move around.

We soon moved to one of the side halls and began to cruise the indoor vendors. The Begali stall, in my opinion, was the coolest. Elecraft was packed three deep. Dad had to rest his heels for a bit while I cruised around and saw the Wire Man, Davis Instruments, the ARRL’s spread, Tarheel, and even the Linux in the Ham Shack folks… who were also swarmed with folks. Dad needed a breather and it sounded like a good opportunity for lunch. As a forum speaker, I got a parking pass for the front lot, so with a quick ride to back on the shuttle, I was able to retrieve the rental car, pick up Dad, and head out for lunch. For me, the Hamvention was a marathon, not a sprint… so we were setting a good pace.

After lunch, I was able to change into a bit more respectable clothes for my upcoming forum presentation back at the hotel and then we headed back, taking advantage of the parking pass access to the front lot. On our way back in we passed the HFPack crowd, sporting their radios and posing for pics. What a great looking group!

Prior to the MARS forum was a gentleman talking about his SSTV setup. Incredible! He operates SSTV while mobile with an elaborate setup that combines APRS with SSTV. His entire installation was top notch and extremely professional.

The MARS forum was well attended. MAJ Ron Jakubowski chaired the event and it began with an overview by each of the services MARS chief. I then had the opportunity to give my presentation on the history of the Army Amateur Radio System. I was followed by Jim Aylward who gave an awesome brief on how MARS can best posture itself for its future role of providing emergency communications. He also gave an excellent overview of his Go Kit and had some great overall suggestions for tips and techniques to use in the field. After the forum I had the opportunity to talk with some of the audience and then I turned and saw Jeff Hammer! I’d last seen Jeff in Taji, Iraq in 2008 as I was packing up to head home and he was just arriving. I handed over to Jeff the Baghdad Amateur Radio Society’s footlocker of equipment and my Cushcraft MA5B mini-beam. Jeff is a true MARS professional, having set up the first MARS station in Afghanistan back in 2004. After I left Iraq, Jeff continued to push the capabilities of MARS in Iraq as well as showing some of his fellow soldiers the excitement of operating a DX station on the amateur bands.

After the forums for Saturday, Hara started to clear out and my dad and I followed suit. We enjoyed a nice dinner at the Olive Garden near our hotel and then settled down for a good night’s sleep.

Sunday morning we were up, breakfasted, checked-out, and back in action. I cruised what was left of the outdoor flea market. There really wasn’t too much left but I enjoyed poking around what was there. I picked up an old Signal Corps field manual covering techniques for field operations that looked interesting. Then I saw the 2600 van! A gentleman nearby said that they had been selling a high-end energy drink and he observed that the 2600 guys were pretty weird looking – which is saying something for the hamvention crowd. On Sunday, those who were scooter-bound seemed to obey no speed limits as they used the thinning of crowds to dart from seller to seller.

At 9:00am I moved inside. The crowds were much thinner and I could actually move around. My dad headed to the forums to hear Dan Van Hoy talk about his adventures of hamming in Hong Kong. I hit the main arena: Icom, Kenwood, MFJ, Buddipole, and Idiom Press were my favorites. Buddipole was selling a book by B. Scott Andersen, NE1RD on his use of the Buddipole in pursuit of his 100lbs DXpeditions. Kenwood had a D710 hooked up and I was able to see my APRS icon (I was walking around with my VX-8GR strapped to my backpack, emitting a low-watt APRS beacon).

Over in the side hall I was finally able to get close to Elecraft. I talked to the Turbo Tuner guy about a few problems I’ve been having with my mobile ops. I picked up my obligatory free Yaesu ball cap and took in their impressive display of rigs. I bought the Wireman’s book, which is a treasure trove of knowledge. From the ARRL area, I scored a 2010 Hamvention button and saw that they were starting to tear stuff down. I got to talk to the Linux in the Ham Shack guru Richard, K5TUX.

Over in the adjacent hall was Pietro Begali, I2RTF, and his daughter with perhaps the coolest booth. Pietro was chatting with everybody and having a great time.

I made my way back to the forum rooms and found my dad as well as catching the end of Dan Van Hoy’s adventures in Hong Kong. When he was complete, we worked our way to room number one to hear Jim Stafford, W4QO, Wes Lamboley, W3WL and Hal Kennedy, N4GG. These gentlemen had, far and away, the coolest presentation at the hamvention. They had a spark gap transmitter! That actually worked! Before the team demonstrated the transmitter, they gave a great brief on the early history of amateur radio. Then they truly electrified the crowd with “Blue Lightening”, the spark gap device. At the end, they allowed folks from the audience to come up and send their calls – but only after a long safety brief.

And that was it. We had a nice lunch and made our way to the Dayton Airport to head back home.

Overall – What an experience! My dad and I had a wonderful time. I don’t know when conditions will allow me to attend again, but I hope it is soon. If you have never been, I encourage you to go next year. Just to take in the sights, it is worth the trip.

Grandview, MO Hamfest

I headed out to the Grandview, MO Hamfest (aka the South Side Amateur Radio Club’s Octoberfest) this morning – about an hour’s drive. It was a smallish hamfest hosted at a middle school. The main floor was in the gymnasium’s basketball court with a spill over section in the adjacent cafeteria. What I noticed most of all was everyone eating… biscuits and gravy with eggs was quite popular. The doors opened at 0900 but I arrived around 1030 and it seemed by this time the hamfest was starting to wind down. Most of the tables were filled and the two big vendors there was the local ham store (Associated Radio) and WB0W. The oddest thing I saw was a gentlemen trying to sell golf clubs. One general criticism (and I’ve seen this at a few hamfests) is not publicizing the forums ahead of time. If you are going to host one or more forums – put the forum name, the subject matter, and start times on the hamfest’s webpage. It may create a larger draw for your event. Also had an eyeball QSO with WE0Z who I have bumped into on APRS a few times. One last comment – while I think it is cool that you connect Oktoberfest with a hamfest, the real Oktoberfest happens in September and only a day or two in October… plus if you call your event Oktoberfest you probably need to have some beer present. I am not sure how sales of beer would be at a middle school on a Saturday morning with a bunch of ham geezers in attendance, but it would be interesting to see… and nothing goes better with biscuits and gravy than a nice beer. Both on my drive there and back I listened to K1G on 20M, a special event station near Boston commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Coast Guard Axillary. On the way there he was working all over Europe and on the way back he was working state-side stations. I was one of many who were able to get him in the log.

Joplin Hamfest

This morning I, along with my oldest harmonic, headed down to a hamfest in Joplin, Missouri. The hamfest was at Joplin’s Holiday Inn convention center, not a huge venue but plenty of room for a medium-seized hamfest. I purchased my ticket at the door (my daughter got in free) and with each door ticket came 6 raffle tickets which I deposited into the ticket tumbler. Cruising the tables here is what I saw:

I enjoyed the Tarheel antenna table – they had a see-thru screwdriver antenna that allowed you to watch the motor spin while the coil moved up and down. Pretty cool.

Associated Radio is the local Kansas City candy store and it is nice to see they made the trip down to Joplin.

Some interesting tubes.

Looks like tubes won’t be going away for quite a while.

Here’s a short video clip:

I didn’t make any purchases, but had a good time. I enjoyed seeing some of the cars in the parking lot:

Ham Radio – Alive & Well In America’s Heartland

For me the past few days have been busy with amateur radio activity of one kind or another. I spent some time last weekend fine tuning my horizontal loop antenna; spreading it out the loop a bit and raising it higher. I am still impressed by the antenna’s performance and look forward to using it for the remaining year I am here in Kansas.

I delivered my presentation on the history of Army hams operating abroad (WWII to OIF) and my own experiences operating amateur radio and MARS while recently serving over in Iraq to three different Kansas City area clubs this week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). In April, I gave the presentation to three other clubs – two in Missouri and one in Kansas. Overall, what impressed me the most concerning the club meetings I visited was the diversity and vibrancy of amateur radio in the Kansas City area. It is not just a bunch of OMs or converted CBers or EMCOMM devotees.

Last night I attended a meeting at the Johnson County Amateur Radio Club in Overland Park, KS. Not only was the meeting well attended (and we are talking about a Friday night before a major holiday weekend) but their were not only a number of YLs but also four teen-aged hams… one of which was Duncan MacLachlan, KU0DM, who is the ARRL’s Youth Editor and was featured prominently at last weeks Hamvention in Dayton on the ARRL weblog. Duncan had just concluded a years service to the club as its vice-president. This club also meets twice a month and has a 10M weekly net in addition to its 2M net.

On Tuesday I attended the meeting of the Heart of America Radio Club. The club conducts its operations out of the Red Cross headquarters in Kansas City. They had not only a wonderful club station on the top floor of the building with a impressive antenna farm on the roof but also operated 1 of the 12 Red Cross national communications support vehicles. The vehicle is a modified Ford Excursion with so many antennas on it I couldn’t count. It provides one stop shopping for any communication requirement from providing internet, VOIP phone, long-haul HF comms, phone patching, video, and an on-board cross-band repeater, as well as a generator that can power a medium-sized command post.

Thursday night I was out at the Jayhawk Amateur Radio Society meeting. Another vibrant club with a large turnout… in part due to the coffee and delicious cake offered up during the meeting’s intermission but also the true shared interest in amateur radio. The Jayhawkers gave me a super cool coffee mug with their logo on it at the conclusion of the meeting which will now become the official mug of my ham shack.

Bottom line (… and quickly becoming an often heard refrain), ham radio is alive and well.

Launching The Loop Skywire

Back in early October I finally strung an HF antenna here at the Kansas QTH. The antenna was a RadioWavz End Fed Zep. The performance was mixed and I never did get it to load on 75M. I am a believer in the magic of a dipole (132′ fed with ladderline). But the geography of the Kansas QTH would really only support a dipole running east/west and radiating north/south… not what I wanted. The End Fed Zep was a compromise allowing me to make the antenna run north/south and radiating east/west. As I said, the performance was lacking. In comes the Loop Skywire. A past QST article talks about setting up a horizontal loop: The Skywire Loop, November 1985.

The author, Dave Fischer (W7FB) avoids theory and talks about just the specifics of construction and antenna performance. The basic principles of setting up the horizontal loop include its horizontal position over ground and maximizing the enclosed area within the loop. Ideally, the loop is installed as a circle – but reality tends to make it look more like a square… a compromise between number of skyhooks/antenna wire supports and maximum enclosed area. Ideal height above ground is 40 feet, but the higher the better. Like most wire antennas that you try to use beyond their fundamental harmonic, it is recommended you feed the loop with ladderline to minimize feedline loss. To determine the length of wire required for the loop divide 1005 by your fundamental frequency in MHz. If you set up a loop for 80M, it should also provide good performance from 80M up to 10M. The loop should radiate omnidirectionally and greatly minimize local RF noise. It’s low take off angle also supports good DX performance.

At the recent hamfest I went to in Kansas City, I purchased two 150′ rolls of #14 flex-weave copper antenna wire as well as a few 100′ rolls 3/32″ black Dacron rope. From MFJ I had a 6-pack of ceramic insulators. I had about 75′ of 300-omh ladderline as well as a ladderline feedpoint insulator. Along with my CVS19 Pneumatic Antenna Launcher – I was ready to fly this skywire.

Installation took all afternoon, but the weather was great and I took my time. I ended up with 6 antenna supports, trying my best to make it as circular as possible. My CVS19 Launcher continues to perform well. My bicycle pump broke so I switched to the 12v roadside tire pump in the XYL’s emergency auto kit. This made for a quick turn around for prepping the CSV19 for successive antenna wie support lines. Setting up most of the ceramic insulators as “floating” allowed me to apportion the copper wire as needed around the loop. In the end, my loop was a bit less than 300′ and had the shape of a long oval rather than a square (or circle).

After connecting a 4:1 voltage balun to the ladderline and running coax to my LDG AT-200 Pro tuner I was on the air. My first observation was that the antenna was very quiet. Were previously I had S3 to S5 background noise, the noise floor dropped to S1 or in some cases was completely gone. The loop tunes easily from 80M to 10M.

Another indicator of success – a 20M QSO with my dad, KD6EUG, in California. A goal that has been on my list for almost a year. I was also able to work stations in British Columbia, Maine, Michigan, and Oklahoma. There are still a few more adjustments I want to make on the loop, but so far I am pretty happy with it and look forward to seeing what more it can do.

I guess now I need to make a QSL card for the Leavenworth, KS QTH so I can send one to KD6EUG.

Lots of little stuff going on…

I went to the HAMBASH in Kansas City this morning. Pretty big venue, most all of the tables were filled – also some quality vendors around the periphery. Lots of old-time rigs that looked like they were in good shape. Only saw one table were there was a guy selling DVDs (that had nothing to do with ham radio). They had an XYL Lounge upstairs, with coffee and cookies. There were a few city/county EOC radio shelters setup outside but by the time I got out there, my daughter had hit the meltdown stage and so we headed back home for her nap.

Did I buy anything? Of course. I got some antenna wire for a horizontal loop antenna project that I want to complete soon. Also some black Dacron line to use to help raise the loop. There was also a mini-hamfest near the parking lot were I found an old dummy load for $15 and a bunch of old Motorola gear that included these plastic wedge radio/phone stands that I think would be perfect for placing a mobile radio on when you are using as a base to better allow you to see the front of the rig (I bought two for $1 each). HAMBASH was quite crowded, despite the rainy weather outside.

Yesterday, the weather was great and I got a chance to take my daughter out on a bicycle ride again. Wanting to improve the TX capability of my bike-mounted TH-D7A for APRS, I built an HT Tigertail. I did notice significant improvement on my ability to get out on APRS when using the Tigertail (still with the power set at 500mW).

Tomorrow I want to try to launch my horizontal sky loop. I’ve got plenty of antenna wire and support line. I have ladderline for the feedline. I should be set. I hope the weather cooperates.