Why Ham Radio?


Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck into work and people ask me what that big antenna on the back of the truck is for. I explain to them that it is for Ham Radio.  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?  We have cell phones and IM, etc…what do we need Ham Radio for?  So I thought I would put down my thoughts as a relatively new Ham about why I enjoy spending so much of my time with Ham Radio.

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Amateur Radio for Public Service

Public Service

The number one reason we still need Ham Radio along with all the other technology we now have is for public service.  When there is a disaster and cell phones, television, etc are all not working, Ham Radio operators provide the critical communication.

Ham Radio operators help locally to keep hospitals and first responders in contact with each other to help those affected by the disaster.

Hams also use our ability to communicate around the world on HF bands to help family members around the world to get in touch with loved ones affected by a disaster.

Ham Radio operators have been on the scene helping in every disaster from the earthquakes in Nepal to the recent flooding in California.

hamsats

Amateur Radio Cube Satellites

Technology and the Maker Movement

I only became a Ham 5 years ago but many of my fellow Ham Radio operators got their license when they were in their early teens and used what they learned to launch their careers. Many have had very successful careers in STEM fields, all launched by their interest in Ham Radio at a young age.  As technology advances, so does the technology used in our hobby.   We even have a nobel laureate, Joe Taylor K1JT who is a ham. Joe has developed weak signal digital communication modes that let us communicate by bouncing signals off the moon!

As technology has advanced, so has the use of it in Ham Radio.   Most Ham Radio operators have one or more computers in their shack.  Many also have a software designed radio (SDR), where much of the radio functionality is implemented using Software, we use sound cards to run digital modes, which are a lot like texting over the radio, and we use the internet extensively as part of operating.  We can also make contacts through satellites orbiting the earth and even the International Space Station.

Most hams love do-it-yourself technical projects, including building a station, home brewing an antenna, building a radio or other station component.  In my day job, I am a program manager for software development projects, but its been a while since I have built anything. As a Ham I taught myself how to code in Python and about the Raspberry Pi and I built the DX Alarm Clock.

vk6lc

QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

One of the coolest things about being an amateur radio operator is that you can communicate with other hams all over the world. Ham Radio is an international community where we all have something in common to talk about – our stations and why we enjoy ham radio.    The QSL card above is from a memorable QSO with Mal, VK6LC, from Western Australia, who was the last contact that I needed for a Worked All Zones award.  I must have talked to him for 1/2 hour about his town in Australia and his pet kangaroos!

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

I have learned much about geography from being on the air and trying to contact as many countries as I can.  There are 339 DX Entities, which are countries or other geographical entities and I have learned where each one is in order to understand where propagation will allow me make a contact.  I have learned a great deal about world geography. Through exchanging QSL cards often get to see photos from so many areas of the world.

dxcc-challenge-award

DXCC Challenge Award Plaque

Achievement – DXing and Contesting

DXing and Contesting provide a sense of achievement and exciting opportunity for competition. Many Hams work toward operating awards. You can get an operating award for contacting all 50 states, contacting 100 or more countries, contacting Islands, cities in Japan, countries in Asia, or anything else you can imagine.  Each of these operating awards provides a sense of accomplishment and helps to build skills.  Contesting builds skills through competition among Hams to see who can make the most contacts with the most places in 24 or 48 hours. Contesting also improves our operating skills and teaches us to copy callsigns and additional data accurately.

anita-instructor

Teaching a License Class

Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On

Recently I have joined a team of club members who teach license classes to others who want to get licensed or upgrade their existing Amateur Radio licenses.  Teaching provides a way to improve my presentation skills and also helps me to really understand the material that we teach about Amateur Radio.  It is always a thrill at the end of the class to see so many people earn their licenses or upgrades.

There are so many interesting aspects of Ham Radio which is what makes is such a great hobby.  Getting your license can open up a world of possibilities.  Upgrading to a new license class provides more opportunities to communicate over longer distances.  Ham Radio clubs, including our local club, the Nashua Area Radio Club,  provide many resources to help you get your first licenseupgrade to a new license class, and learn about the many aspects of our hobby.

The DX Alarm Clock – Part 1: Software


dx-alarm-clock-standalone

The DX Alarm Clock

I have been a Ham for 5 years and my favorite thing to do is chase DX. As a new Ham it was always a thrill to work a new DXCC, but now that I have over 280 DXCCs and over 1000 band points, it is a little more difficult to find a new one. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get a DXCC in 80m and 160m., which are usually open when I am asleep. I created the DX Alarm Clock as a way to get notified that there is something new on the air when I am not down in the shack.  This article will talk about how I developed the software for the DX Alarm Clock.  Part 2 will talk about the building the Raspberry Pi based Hardware and loading the OS.

The DX Alarm Clock is a Python software program running on a Raspberry Pi that gathers data online about my log and what is on the spotting network and uses that data to alert me when there is a “new one” on the air.

architecture

DX Alarm Clock Architecture

The ClubLog website provides a light DX Cluster website called DXLite, which has an XML Interface. The DX Alarm Clock uses this interface to get the current spots. The software uses the Developer API from ClubLog to get a JSON matrix of all DXCC entities by band indicating whether I have worked, confirmed or verified each band-entity. The software loops through all of the spots returned by DXLite and looks each DXCC up in the JSON ClubLog matrix. I also use the QRZ.com XML Interface to get additional information for each callsign that is spotted, like the state.

dxcc-config-screen

DXCC Configuration Screen

The DX Alarm Clock uses tkinter/ttk for the GUI.  I used the Notebook widget to create a multi-tab GUI.  There is a tab for configuring filters for DX Entity. The user can choose all New DXCCs, as well as specific bands and nodes to provide alerts for.

was-config-screen

WAS Configuration Screen

There is another tab for configuring filters for WAS. ClubLog has no log look up capability based on US State so the WAS filter lets you create a list of States and associated bands to provide alerts for.

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Notification Configuration Screen

The Notification tab allows configuration of what notifications the user would like to receive. The user can specify a separate email address for New DXCCs, New Band Points, and New US States. This allows alerts to be sent to email accounts or as SMS texts. You can also configure the sounds the the DX Alarm Clock itself makes to “wake you up” when that ATNO or new Band Point is spotted.

The DXAlarm clock wakes up every 5 minutes and gets the latest spots from the DXLite Cluster. It checks each spot against the ClubLog log and if there is a match based on the configure filters, it sounds the alert, and then speaks the alarm, giving you the Callsign, DXCC Entity, Band and Mode.   A simple text to speech package called flite (festival-lite) was used to implement the speech on the Raspberry Pi.

 

alert-screen

Alert Screen

It also puts a message with these details and the Frequency, UTC Date/Time, Spotter and Comment on the display.

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Text Notification to iPhone

Additionally it sends this information as an email to the configured email address, which results in a text or email.

 

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Apple Watch Alert

I can even get the alert on my Apple Watch.

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Filtered Spots Display

Once all spots are processed, it keeps a running list of all spots that resulted in alerts on the main screen. Spots are aged out if they do not recur over time.

dx-alarm-clock

DX Alarm Clock Hardware

The DX Alarm Clock just alerted me that ZC4SB is on 20m – that’s an ATNO!  Got to go down to the shack and work him!    Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post on the DXAlarm Clock Raspberry Pi based hardware and on setting up the Raspberry Pi OS.

Anita, AB1QB

Thanksgiving Weekend NPOTA Fun


operating-from-truck

Fred, AB1OC, Operating Mobile in Minuteman National Historical Park, HP27

With only 1 month to go in the ARRL NPOTA event and some free time this Thanksgiving weekend, Fred and I decided to hit the road with our Mobile HF Station to activate some new parks.    We activated two nearby parks, each less than 1 hour away from our home,  Lamprey Wild and Scenic River,  WR23, near Epping, NH, and Minuteman National Historical Park, HP27, near Concord, MA.    There were close to 900K QSOs made overall in the NPOTA program as of Thanksgiving day and we also wanted to help the cause to get to 1 Million NPOTA QSOs by year’s end.

lamprey-river-wsr-map

Map of Lamprey Wild and Scenic River

On Saturday, we drove to Epping, NH, where we activated Lamprey Wild and Scenic River. It was a rainy day, but we still enjoyed the scenic drive along the river. We drove along the river until we found a place by the river to park and operate. The bands were not great, with a K-index of 4 and a high A-index. Despite the conditions, our activation was a success. We operated on both 20m and 40m SSB and made a total of 307 QSOs over 3 hours.

minute-man-area

View of Countryside in Minute Man National Historical Park

I work in Burlington, MA and often travel between Burlington and Waltham, MA for meetings.  Each time I passed by Lexington on I-95 I saw the sign for Minute Man NHP and thought it would be fun to do a NPOTA activation from there.  We activated the park on Saturday. We entered the park from the Concord, MA end and were pleasantly surprised to see some nice countryside in the middle of a suburban area of Massachusetts, not far from Boston.

mobile-logging

AB1QB logging for AB1OC/M during the NPOTA activation.

We operated from a parking lot in the park from mid afternoon until dark.  The bands were a little better on Saturday and we were able to get 239 contacts into the log, mostly US but also worked stations from Spain, Jamaica, Aruba and Puerto Rico.

We have enjoyed activating 8 National Parks so far in the NPOTA event.  We are planning another activation between Christmas and New Years of multiple parks before the end of the event on December 31.

NPOTA Fun – Activating a New Park


River 2

Eastern Branch of the Penobscot River in Katahdin Woods and Waters NM

Ever since we built our Mobile HF Station, we’ve talked about taking it to Acadia National Park in Maine and operating from the top of Cadillac Mountain.  The 2016 ARRL NPOTA event gave us the motivation to plan the trip for the week before Labor Day.    The week before our trip, we saw an article in the ARRL Letter encouraging operation from the newly declared National Monument, Katadhin Woods and Waters in Maine, which had just be designated as NPOTA MN84.  Visiting the NPS website, we learned that the park is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Bar Harbor, where we are staying.  We decided to accept the challenge to be the first to activate the new park.

Mobile HF In Park 1

Our F150 Mobile Station at the entrance to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Tuesday August 30 was our first full day of vacation, we left our hotel room and parked by the Acadia visitor center and called “CQ National Parks”.   We ended up with 76 contacts in the log from NP01.

After that we got on the road and headed toward Katadhin Woods and Waters, activating counties along the way including the county line between Penobscot and Aroostook Counties.

MN84 Map

NPS Map of the Park

As a newly designated National Monument, Katadhin Woods and Waters does not yet have a visitors center or any signs showing you when you enter and exit the park.  We just had the map (above) to determine where the park boundaries were.    All of the roads in black on the map are gravel roads that are also used for logging trucks.

Katahdin Woods Sign 1

Entrance to Kadahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

We entered the park from Swift Brook Road off Rt 11 in the lower right corner of the map.  We drove through the lower section by the entrance and then headed north along the Eastern Branch of the Penobscot River and operated near the Loos camping area.   The sign above confirmed that we were within the park boundaries.

River 3

Scenic View of Katahdin Woods and Waters NM

The scenery along the river was beautiful with views of the mountains in the distance.

Mobile HF In Park 3

Operating at MN84

We started operating on 20m and the pileups were huge!  Everyone was excited to get this new NPOTA into the log.  Fred, AB1OC/M ended up going split on 20m due to the size of the pileups.  After a while, he moved to 40m to give the close in folks a chance at MN84.  We went back and further between 20m and 40m until the pileups thinned out.   We also made 18 QSOs with the club callsign N1FD to also give the club credit for the activation.  We really enjoyed activating the park and the people we talked to were great!  We made a total of 350 QSOs from MN84.

National Park Yes!

Friendly Sign at Katahdin Woods and Waters NM

We also plan to activate Acadia National Park NP01 again from Cadillac Mountain this week. We will also activate Saint Croix Island, HS01 and Roosevelt Campbello International Park, AA21 in Canada (as AB1OC/VE9 and AB1QB/VE9).

Activating MN84 for the first time was truly a memorable experience.  We enjoyed it so much we will be back on Saturday to give more NPOTA chasers a chance at MN84!  Hope to talk to you on the air!

You can read more about our Mobile HF station and Mobile HF operations here on our Blog.

73,

Anita, AB1QB

Dayton Hamvention 2016


Anita Preseting in Contest ForumFred, AB1OC and I just returned from the 2016 Hamvention in Dayton, OH.

Our first day in Dayton was spent at Contest University – this was our 5th year in attendance but each year we learn more from the contesting experts. This year, we attended two presentations from Frank Donovan, W3LPL on operating techniques for the declining solar cycle and on 80m and 160m antennas.   We also heard a talk from Val NV9L from Ham Nation on Log Analysis tools and another session on SO2R (Single Operator 2 Radio) Operating.

W3LPL Solar Cycle 5

Slide from W3LPL Contest University Presentation

Friday was the first day of the Hamvention and we spent most of the day visiting all of the vendor exhibits.   We visited the Icom booth, where we looked at the new Icom 7851. It has an incredible display as well as one of the best receivers on the market.

7851

Icom IC-7851 Display on a Large Screen TV

We also saw the new KX2 Transceiver at the Elecraft booth. It is even smaller than the KX3 and is perfect for SOTA and other portable operations. I would expect to hear some NPOTA activations using this radio.

KX2

Elecraft Kx2 on Right, next to a KX3

Friday evening was the Top Band dinner where we learned all about “Top Band Disease” from Larry “Tree” Tyree N6TR.   Hams with this disease are nocturnal, love the bottom of the sunspot cycle. They are constantly improving their 160m antennas – when you upgrade your receive antenna, then there are people who can’t hear you, so then you need to improve your transmit antenna – and the cycle continues…

Top Band

Top Band Dinner Presentation by N6TR

After the dinner, we were treated to a concert from the Spurious Emissions Band (N0AXKX9XK4ROW4PA), with hits like “On The Cover of the NCJ” and “Sittin on the Edge of the Band”. They were so funny! You can watch their performances on YouTube http://bit.ly/DaytonSpurs2016.

Spurious Emissions

The Spurious Emissions Band Performs at Dayton 2016

On Saturday, Fred, AB1OC and I presented our Station Building talk to around 250 people as part of the Dayton Contest Forum. It was a great honor to be selected to speak there by Doug Grant K1DG, who has been organizing the Contest Forum for many years.

Fred in Antenna Forum

Fred, AB1OC Speaks at the Contest Forum

We also continued to tour the vendor booths, visiting our fellow Nashua Area Radio Club Member Bill Barber, NE1B, at the DMR-MARC booth.

Bill Barber NE1B

Bill Barber, NE1B at the DMR-MARC Booth

After that, we stopped by Gordon West’s Ham Instructor booth where we spoke to him about the success of our Club’s License classes.  Here is a picture of Gordon, WB6NOA and Fred sharing the secrets of how the Hilbert Transform and the Flux Capacitor make Single Sideband and Time Travel Possible.

AB1OC with Gordo

Gordon West, WB6NOA with Fred, AB1OC

We also visited the AMSAT booth, where we met Burns Fisher,  W2BFJ,   who currently lives in Brookline, NH and is moving to Hollis.    They had a cube sat on display – you can see how small it is below.  It’s amazing that AMSAT builds and arranges to launch them into orbit so that we can make QSOs through them!

Cube Sat

Anita, AB1QB Holds a Cube Sat

Fred could not resist a visit to Begali Keys where we purchased a neat travel key. It should be great for operating mobile and for Field Day.

Begali Travel Key

Begali Travel Key

On Sunday, we headed back to New Hampshire, sad that the weekend had come to an end but full of great memories from the trip.

2016 ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB


ARRL Rookie Roundup Ops

ARRL Rookie Roundup Ops

A team of newly licensed members of our club, the Nashua Area Radio Club, came together to enter the 2016 ARRL Rookie Round SSB Contest, using our club callsign, N1FD. We held a training session at our QTH the weekend before the contest to allow our operators to learn about contesting and to become familiar with our station. We put together a training package to introduce the operator team to contesting in general and to the ARRL Rookie RoundupYou can view the training package here..

Station setup for the Contest

Station Setup for the Contest

We entered the ARRL Rookie Roundup in the Multi-Op, Single Transmitter category using the club’s N1FD call sign. This gave everyone a chance to operate in the contest and to contribute to the team’s final score. Fred, AB1OC spent some time setting up and checking out our station ahead of time. Our operators used the N1MM+ logger and operated using 100w of power on the 20m and 40m bands.

We had a total of 13 Nashua Area Radio Club members who attended the preparation session and/or operated in the contest. Folks worked as teams during the contest with one person operating while another person logged. Our operators had nice pileups to work for a good portion of the contest. All of our Operators did really well. As you can see and hear from the linked video, we definitely have some future contest stars in our club!

2016 RR SSB Score

The table above shows the results of our operations during the 6 hour contest period. Our team did really well! Of particular note is that they were able to work 45 of the 70 available multipliers. It will take some time for the ARRL to put together the results for everyone in the contest but we believe that our team did very well.

Abby and Her Dad Jamey Operating in the ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB

Abby and her Dad Jamey Operating in the ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB

The results are in and N1FD took first place in the recent ARRL Rookie Roundup SSB in the Multi-op Category. The N1FD team was also #1 in area one and #5 overall in the contest. Congratulations to all of our operators – the did a great job operating in the contest. You can find all of the scores for the contest here.

2016-ARRL-RR-N1FD

We are planning to host recently licensed club members again for the ARRL Rookie Roundup RTTY and the ARRL Rookie Roundup CW contests later this year. We hope to see many of our operators back again for these contests.

Do you have a contest station?  If so, we’d like to encourage to host and Elmer some new hams and challenge us in the ARRL Rookie Roundup RTTY on August 21.

2013 Contest University At The Dayton Hamvention


Contest University Session

Contest University Session

One of our favorite things to do at the Dayton Hamvention is to attend Contest University.   Fred (AB1OC) and Anita (AB1QB) attended Contest University for the first time in 2012 and found this to be a great learning experience about Amateur Radio in general and Contesting specifically.  The instructors are the same people who consistently place highest in contests. They share their knowledge with the rest of us at Contest University.

Here are some of the sessions that I attended at Contest University 2013:

  • Radio Sport Contesting, It’s More Than Rules – K5GN – The message from this presentation is that with contesting, everyone is under the honor system – there is no referee in your shack making sure that you follow the rules.  Technology has brought even more innovative ways to cheat than in the past.  But the best contesters do not cheat – your time is better spent learning to improve your skills.
  • Tips on Being a Better Single Operator – K5ZD – Randy Thompson is the director of the CQ WW contest and is an excellent speaker.  In this presentation he shares many tips on improving your contesting skills based on his experience contesting and analyzing logs.  I would highly recommend this presentation, which can be viewed from Icom’s YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc .   Some items that I learned are:
    1. Automate as much as you can – band changes from your software, rotator control, PTT output to the radios, etc.  It is possible to set up your station so that you can click on a spot and your rotor will turn your antenna, your radio will tune, and the entry window of your logger will open with the callsign filled in.
    2. Station layout is imortant – make it easy to reach the items you go to most and difficult to reach the ones that you should not (eg. don’t accidentally switch antennas while transmitting)
    3. Have a strategy – look at your past logs and the logs of your peers (Logs are public for some contests, like the CQ WW contest).
    4. Understand the rules and use this information to determine when to change bands, when to run, when to hunt for multipliers
    5. Get your station ready 1 week before the contest and get a good night’s sleep the night before.
    6. There is a real time score reporting website – cqcontest.ru – See below for an example showing AB1OC’s score midway through the CQ WPX CW contest.
    7. Don’t give up if its not going well – keep pushing – the next QSO could make the difference.
AB1OC CQ WPX CW Real Time Score Display

AB1OC CQ WPX CW Real Time Score Display

  • Setting Up for RTTY Contesting/Operating a RTTY Contest – W0YK – The presenter, Ed Muns, operates as P49X from Aruba in the major RTTY contests and consistently has stop scores.  I attended this talk last year, but with some RTTY contests under my belt, I was able to get much more out of the presentation this year.  He provides alot of good technical information about how RTTY works, how to set up RTTY, comparisons of hardware and software for RTTY, and what the various program options do.  Some learnings:
    1. Using multiple decoders for a given signal helps to get a good copy on at least one.  The new 2Tone decoder from G3YYD can decode signals under some conditions where other decoders (MMTTY, etc.) cannot.  This avoids asking for repeats and increases your QSO rate.
    2. Using Super Check Partial, a database of active contester callsigns, can also help to accurately  pick out call signs
    3. Callsign stacking  – waiting for 2-3 callsigns after calling CQ and then working them in sequence can speed up your QSO rate.
    4. RTTY is easier than other modes, since the callsign is already decoded for you on your screen.  Take advantage of this to multi-task to increase your rate.  Use Single Operator Two VFO (SO2V) to find stations via search and pounce while running.  Or do search and pounce on one VFO and while you are waiting for your chance to respond to a CQ, look for another station on the other VFO.  If you have 2 radios, and are good at multi-tasking – use SO2R to increase your QSO rate even more.  This is how the best RTTY contesters win.
  • Post-Contest Log Analyzers – K6MM – As mentioned by K5ZD in his talk, analyzing your contest log (or your peers’ logs) is a good way to improve your score in the next contest.  This presentation was about several software packages that can help you to do this.  The most full featured of these is SH5 , which provides 50 different reports on your log.  Some of the reports include QSO rates per hour, number of hours operated, QSO break down by band, and number of countries worked.  It even provides a Google map plot of the QSOs that you worked!  I ran SH5 on my log from the 2013 BARTG HF RTTY contest and a couple of reports are shown below.
AB1QB QSOs from 2012 BARTG HF RTTY Contest

AB1QB QSOs from 2012 BARTG HF RTTY Contest – from SH5 generated KML file

AB1QB QSOs per Hour 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest - from SH5

AB1QB QSOs Per Hour 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest – From SH5

Some other topics presented at Contest University included Contest Antennas and Coaxial Cables, Propagation Trends, RFI and Ham Radio, VHF Contesting, Design and Maintenance of Antennas, Towers and Rotators.  There is so much good information, I wish I could have attended multiple sessions at once!

We also attended the RTTY contesting forum at the Dayton Hamvention where we learned about the Reverse Beacon Network and CW Skimmer . These tools are beginning to be available for RTTY.  The CW Skimmer works with participating stations running software that decodes and collects information from received CW traffic.  That data is collected by the Reverse Beacon Network website and displayed like spots from a spotting network.

AB1OC Spots on Reverse Beacon Network (CW Skimmer)

AB1OC Spots On Reverse Beacon Network (CW Skimmer)

Next year, Contest University will be held around the ARRL Centennial which will be held July 17-20, 2014 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.   Contest University has also been held in Germany, Italy and Australia.

Several of the contest university sessions were recorded and can be found on Icom’s YouTube Site:  http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc .  The Hamvention RTTY Contesting Slides and Videos can be found at W0YK’s website.

There is also some good contesting information at http://www.rttycontesting.com, and the CQ-Contest and RTTY email mailing lists at contesting.com.

– Anita (AB1QB)