A photo from my collection – taken in the early 80s aboard one of the CN ferries between Bar Harbor Maine and Yarmouth Nova Scotia. I had heard that the shipboard radio op was a ham so I had asked one of the crew if I could visit the radio room. I believe the ship was called the MV Bluenose; I don’t recall the radio operator’s name. You can see they were still using morse for hourly reporting. The call letters on the red plaque just above the operator appears to be C6DZ. If any of the readers can help identify the ship or the operator please let me know. This type of radio room is from an era long gone I suppose, now replaced with satellite communications and no morse code.
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Monday, 22 February 2010
There was an important story on Alan VA3STL’s blog that bears repeating here in the ham blogosphere. Alan and Ernie, VE3EJJ, have added to the ranks of the Amateur Radio fraternity nine (9) new radio amateurs. This event happened yesterday, on a Sunday; these two amateurs have spent hours of their time making sure that these 9 novices understood and had a passing grade to join the ranks of amateur radio operators in Canada. Hopefully we’ll all hear them on the air soon.
On top of these accomplishments Alan will be re-viving the Amateur Radio club at Carleton University here in the National Capital, Ottawa. With Alan and Jim’s help the nine new amateurs, students at Carleton will get the club station VA3CUA back on the air.
I remember the club station at Carleton in the early and mid 80s when it was in operation. It had a wide area repeater atop the Dunton Tower at Carleton. I remember a well equipped HF and packet station in operation at that time.
A job well done and nine new amateurs added to the ranks. Alan and Jim represent the true spirit of Amateur Radio in the National Capital.
And 73 to those nine new amateurs!
Sunday, 21 February 2010
After over two years of owning the FT-950 it’s still a solid performer. In the field, during Field Day 2008 with auxiliary power and a PAR EF-40 End Fed along with a Buddipole it was exemplary. At home in the shack it’s even more fun. The menu system offers lots of settings for personal preferences and I often change parameters if I see something on the Yahoo FT-950 group that I find interesting. I keep copious notes in a small notebook of all the settings I’ve ever tried, with dates and comments. The primary use of the 950 is on psk and cw modes; I rarely run more than 30 watts to my antennas which include the Cushcraft R6000, and several PAR End Fedz dipoles. The PAR antennas have survived two brutal winters with ice storms. The last ice storm a few weeks ago saw the PAR antennas coated with almost 2 centimeters of ice but they held up very well. The EF-40 is over 20meters (66 feet) in length so that’s a lot of ice load to carry. We also get terrific winds out here but the PARs just keep going – a testament to their engineering and design. I have plans to erect a full G5RV and an end fed loop this year on my 2 acre property south of Ottawa. I would like to get back on 160 meters in time for next winter.
Since the release of the FT-950 in the fall of 2007 Yaesu in Japan has released firmware updates – numerous updates called the PEP950-Performance Enhancement Program with updates available for download on the Yaesu website. Each update added features and improved functions – with feedback garnered from the user community and Yaesu’s monitoring of the FT-950 group on Yahoo. Dennis Motschenbacher K7BV, (Yaesu VP of Sales) often drops by the group with information and comments. Dennis was even kind enough to send me a poster of the new Yaesu 5000 transceiver including the Yaesu world map. It’s really great to see a company interacting with users and potential users in this way.
In 2010 it’s hoped that Yaesu will continue to improve and update the firmware in the FT-950. With the release of the new FT-5000 Yaesu will continue to be at the forefront of cutting edge communications gear.
Some of you may be aware of free amateur radio publications such as WorldRadio online magazine available for download. There’s another publication free of charge from the Robert F. Heytow Memorial Radio Club called the KY9A Telegraph. It’s by subscription so an email notification is generated and sent to you when a new issue is ready for donwload. Both of these publications are in the Adobe PDF format. Highly recommended reading during these long winter nights.
Friday, 19 February 2010
About 10 years ago I acquired a Yaesu FT-707 as a backup radio. My main radio was the Yaesu FT-100 purchased in 1999 new. The 707 was from an estate sale, in pristine condition, with original box and manuals and sales flyers. The radio looked like it had very few hours and came complete with the FP-707 power supply and the matching FC-707 antenna tuner. I used in on digital modes for awhile and then loaned it to a friend who used it on psk and voice for a few years.
A couple of years ago while listening to it in the shack the audio became distorted and then a puff of smoke and then no audio. I knew the radio was built like a tank because I had opened it when I first had it in the shack to tighten all of the circuit boards down; something I do on older rigs just to make sure everything is ship shape and all grounds are working properly.
Taking the cover off the top I noticed a toasted component on the RF board. I couldn’t tell what it was since the cap, resistor or transistor had partially blown up and was blackened. That was 2 years ago and at that time I had removed the board and connectors and slipped all into zip lock baggies including all screws and spacers and other hardware.
Last summer and fall I dug out the blown board and looked at the schematics attempting to trace the burnt and blown up component. I used Q-tips dipped in 90% isopropyl alcohol to clean up the burned mess on the circuit board as each component had a label silk screened onto the board. None of the neighbouring components were damaged and I managed a good cleanup around the component and determined nothing else was damaged. In fact the alcohol removed all of the crud from the board and from neighbouring components and wiring. All that remained of the original component were two legs going through the solder holes and a bit of hard black charcoal like material. I was finally able to see the component type and number on the board. It was a tantalum capacitor – a common value that I was able to find at Active, a local electronics parts store. They sold only in quantities of five for $2.99CDN. That was the easy part.
Here’s a close up – the defective tantalum capacitor has been replaced with a new ROHS compliant 16V 22uF tantalum cap (shiny yellow cap in the center of this photo). All of the area was cleaned after being covered in splattered charred residue from the exploded 30+ year old capacitor. I neglected to take a photo of the charred cap that was there.
The challenge in this repair was de-soldering the remaining legs of the old component – finding the solder point on the reverse of the board – I used a very strong flashlight, shining the light through the board and marking the solder points in black with a marker pen. I then used a 27 watt solder tool to remove the old leads and a solder sucker to clean the holes. While I had to board out and check it completely for cold solder joints and repaired two at jumper J07 (bottom center) in the first picture above. The radio was re-assembled and smoke tested successfully.
The FT-707 is still a venerable old transceiver and it hears very well. It includes all of the WARC bands. It will still be part of my boat anchor collection in the shack along with the TS-520S.
Things to remember when troubleshooting a boat anchor project:
- Scour the net; remember Google is your friend – I discovered that tantalum caps, old tantalum caps do blow like this and it’s not a problem unique to the 707.
- Use your nose and your eyes when troubleshooting. If it smells like smoke or you see discoloration on the circuit boards that’s a clue. In my case it was very apparent what the problem was – even the top lid had exploding tantalum residue.
- Make sure you have schematics – if you don’t they’re available on the net – again use Google.
- Know how your project was taken disassembled and document how it goes back together again (with no spare parts left over!). Use a digital camera to document your progress.
- Use various sizes of Zip lock bags; in this case I kept the circuit board in one bag, new components in a separate bag and hardware like screws and spacers in a another. I often stick small notes inside the bags explaining where the longer or shorter screws go.
- Make sure you have the correct tools on hand ready to go once you settle in to complete your repair – correct wattage solder iron, correct solder and flux – if ROHS compliant boards use ROHS compliant solder.
- Dry fit your components first to assure they fit the old holes in the circuit board and watch the polarity of your new replacement components – again have your schematic on hand and observe the markings on the motherboard. Tantalum caps have one leg longer than the other – the positive (+) leg, and they are marked but in tiny lettering. Double check your work before soldering.
- Use a good workstation – use magnifier and clamps to hold your work.
- Use good lighting – it pays off when working around small components and crowded board inside today’s transceivers.
- The internet is a great resource – ham radio operators are only too happy to help if you do run into problems.
YouTube has some excellent soldering tutorials – here are a couple of very good ones:
This repair was my first on a transceiver but I have built a few things an I thought I had some decent soldering skills until watching these videos. I really needed a refresher on how to improve my soldering skills.
My next project is to assemble a Softrock 20 meter Lite II receiver kit and these videos have proved invaluable. Watch this blog for how this Softrock project is progressing.
Some great links about the Yaesu FT-707:
Thursday, 18 February 2010
This cautionary tale from G4ILO’s blog this morning:
A site called Please Rob Me has been created by some website developers in Holland. It claims to provide a list of empty homes based on what people post online. The information is extracted from Twitter feeds when people post their whereabouts. Apparently it's been done to highlight the risks of location-sharing through social networks. That sounds a bit like the justification used by sites that expose software security flaws - and we all know where that has led to. Whatever, the site's existence does have some implications for we radio amateurs.
I know many of the local hams are using Twitter and APRS. I’ve seen blogs where hams post their holiday plans too. Be very careful what you’re posting or twittering – just a security precaution that we should all heed when we’re using social media for messaging and blogging.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
This information comes courtesy of the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club. Needless to say these ‘Best Practices’ can be adopted to everyday usage on the ham bands. I’m not sure if Canadian emergency nets have adopted or use some of these points. I’ve often heard DX stations ask for repeats, several times, of Canadian and American stations. Adopting some of these points should facilitate the non-English DX stations getting the proper information needed for their logs. With the many emergency and traffic nets in operation recently with the Haiti quake and foul weather on the American eastern seabord proper net etiquette is ‘de rigueur.’ The document was authored by Lou Dartanner, N6ZKJ.
Aim to project a professional image with proper operating practices, whether you're a net controller or a field unit.
Keep traffic to a minimum. Say what you have to say then release the frequency. Silence is Golden -- it allows someone else to use the channel when he or she needs it.
Some things to remember to help you be an efficient, professional sounding radio operator include:
- Pitch, tone, and volume of voice. A moderate tone and pitch are desirable. Too high a voice can be irritating, too low can be hard to decipher. While you can't go out and buy a new voice, you should deliberately lower your voice pitch slightly when using the radio unless you have an especially low voice. Try for an even modulation, but not a monotone. Don't trail your voice off at the end of your message -- the last part is just as important as the first! Don’t shout into the microphone.
- Speed. Too slow and your listener may try to anticipate your next words or may not understand you because it's an unnatural speed. Too fast is worse! Make it a point to slow down slightly when talking on the radio. If you normally talk very fast, slow way down! When transmitting call signs, addresses, names, and other items that must be remembered, noted, or written down, be a bit more deliberate. The speed at which you transmit should be such that the listener can easily understand and/or take notes. Sending logical phrases at nearly normal reading speed followed by ample pauses to allow the receiving operator to finish writing and the results will be fast, error-free transmissions. You tend to talk faster when emotions run high and things get exciting, but that's just when your message MUST get through! Take a deep breath, get yourself under control, plan what you're going to say, and say it slowly.
- Enunciation and Pronunciation. Clear, distinct pronunciation is essential to communications, especially over the radio. Enunciate every word you say. Sloppy articulation includes lazy or mush speech, slurring words, and running words together. When transmitting over the radio, use the commonly-used pronunciation. Don't talk with objects or food in your mouth. It makes understanding you very difficult. Of course, someone always calls you just as you take a bite of that sandwich you've been waiting an hour to eat, but take small bites so you can swallow quickly!
- Emotions. It's sometimes difficult to not let your emotions show in your voice, especially when you're tired, angry, or busy. These emotions can be misunderstood by others. You may be very busy, but a curt response could be interpreted as your being surly, sarcastic, or angry, and now you have someone more concerned about your answer and intentions than about the task at hand.
- Think before you speak. Know what you're going to say before you call Net Control. Always wait a second after you push the mike button before you talk. This will avoid clipping the first word or syllable of your message. This will also allow two or more repeaters which are “linked” together to complete the circuit before you start. Remember “Push-2-Talk.” Push the mike button, count 1-2 (to yourself), then talk. If you have a one-word answer, it's best to add a word or two before it. Instead of "one," you might say, “There is one person here.” Or, “I say again, one.”
- Use expected phrases and words. Anything out of the ordinary may result in confusion and your having to repeat or rephrase. If your message is technical or unusual, slow down and warn your receiver.
- Use common words. Don't try to be funny with some “cutesey” phrase. Avoid slang; not everyone knows your jargon. It's OK and in fact necessary to use specialized terminology, but be sure your listener speaks the same “technical-ese.”
- Speak in whole but brief sentences. That's what your listener expects to hear. Don't speak in shorthand. Don't ramble on and don't repeat your message by rephrasing it unless asked.
- Use plain English and no "10" codes or "Q" signals.
- Pause often: You never know who else might be trying to join the conversation or ask a question. Take a 5- to 10-second pause every few minutes to let other hams speak up. Pausing is especially important if you’re using a repeater: repeaters need to reset after every 2 to 6 minutes of continuous operation, which interrupts your ability to transmit and receive for a few minutes. Every time you pause, the repeater also gets a break, making it less likely that it will have to be reset.
- Remember your ABCs: Accuracy Brevity Clarity
The rest of this good information can be read at the Santa Barbara Amateur Radio Club website here. It’s called “A Handbook For Amateur Radio Operators”. There are other Emergency Preparedness documents located on their site too.
Thursday, 11 February 2010
It was a Wednesday night many years ago, at the Ottawa Amateur Radio Club’s ‘Homebrew Night.’ In 1982 the meetings were held at the National Research Council’s auditorium on Sussex Drive across from External Affairs. I’d only been licensed a couple of years (1980) and was slowly learning the technology of the day. My home station consisted of a Kenwood TS520 with a matching tuner.
Radio Shack was still a pretty good source of parts for the homebrew enthusiast. I had decided to build a digital GMT clock for my shack. Radio Shack carried the clock module – a self contained LCD display that was programmable with the addition of push button on-off switches. The project box and the battery holder and one ‘Extra Life Enercell"’ custom manufactured in Japan for Radio Shack. You can see the simplicity of this small clock below.
I know it looks kind of crude with the Dymo lables stuck on like that. The most interesting part of this homebrew project, and why I’m writing about it today is the it has been running non-stop for 28 years. It’s still on the same battery purchased at Radio Shack in 1982. Here’s a photo of the inside with the battery and holder and 28 year old dust.
The display still lights up using the LMP button on the front and it still keeps good time. It’s not anything to look at really but it has been keeping time, in my shack all of these years. The Energizer Bunny would have a hard time keeping up I bet.
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
It’s been at least a couple of years since I ordered new microcontroller chips for both my LDG Z11 and AT 11MP tuners. It’s a simple upgrade but the board is jam packed near where the new parts need to be soldered. There’s an electrolytic cap and a new microcontroller – the old 1.4 software controller needs to be pulled and the cap has to be installed with one leg soldered to a tiny diode – the other leg to a tiny tantalum cap near the controller.
Here are a couple of close-up macro shots of the area I’ll be working on:
The new microcontroller will upgrade each tuner to version 1.6; you can see these photos show the original 1.4 software that’s at least 9 years old. The new electrolytic cap goes to one leg of C35 shown in the photos to the small adjacent diode – this will require some good steady handed soldering. I use a low wattage iron and work with a magnifier over the work area for this type of work.
The new software controller will add 200 fast memories to the Z11 and the AT-11MP, saving the last tuned position when power is removed (MP only), saves the audio mode setting (MP only), and increased meter accuracy on the AT-11MP. The resolution of the meter driver was doubled and the lower power accuracy was improved on the 11MP.
The small Z11 tuner is used with my original FT-817 (not the ND) when I’m out in the field or camping. The larger AT-11MP is used with the main station when required. I’ve had them both for over 9 years and they are real performers and will tune a salad fork if need be.
The AT-11MP includes a meter on the front panel and can be used with 100 watt radios.
Sunday, 7 February 2010
After visiting the Winter Field Day operations last weekend the ops could certainly have used some hi-tech clothing. In –20C weather prevalent here in Ottawa and the actual temperatures measured at the winter field day site, this clothing would have been a boon to the operators’ endurance. I see Martin VA3SIE has been on another arctic trek with Roy VA3CKD operating portable yesterday during the Arizona ScQRPions QRP Club 2010 FYBO (Freeze Your B___s Off QRP contest). Temperatures and wind are always issues to be taken seriously in these northern climes.
Here’s an excerpt about this winter gear:
The heat is on
From the "why didn't I think of that" files, Mountain Hardwear (mountainhardwear.com/ardica) has just introduced the first pre-wired winter sportjacket that not only provides heat on demand but also powers and recharges your iPhone and other hand-held gadgets. Called the Refugium (for men) and Radiance (for women), these stylish, insulated jackets are designed to accommodate the optional Ardica Moshi power system to generate heat (up to 37 C) via integrated circuitry woven throughout the jacket. Toss in the $60 Tech Connector Kit for iPhones (or MP3 players, GPS units or cameras) and you're ready to rock 'n' talk while braving the Canadian winter.
Now I’m not sure if the power pack could be re-wired to power the KX1 or the FT-817 but I’m sure hams can find a way.
Saturday, 6 February 2010
Got up this morning and checked VE3EN, Kevin’s SolarCycle24.com site and the sun is alive a well. Kevin has called them “popcorn” sunspots – they are popping up all over the north quadrant of the sun. There’s even an aurora watch for this evening and tomorrow. Here are a couple of images courtesy of SolarCycle24.com .
“C-Class flare activity - C-Class flares are now taking place around rapidly growing Sunspot 1045. There is some polarity mixing within this region and there could be a chance for M-Class flares. Any earth directed CME's could trigger Geomagnetic Storming and Aurora.
Sunspots are now starting to pop up in many areas on the visible solar disk including a fast growing cluster which is now producing C-Class flares. This region will probably be numbered 1045 on Saturday.”
Dust off those 10 meter antennas – conditions are improving.
Friday, 5 February 2010
We all grew up with Radio Shack even here in Canada. Radio Shack has been in business since 1921, over 90 years. Radio Shack started in 1921 in Boston, Mass., by London-born Bostonian brothers Theodore and Milton Deutschmann. For most of those 90 years Radio Shack published some great catalogs. As a young boy and teenager living just across the river from Detroit, the best of both worlds existed. Lafayette Electronics had a huge store in Detroit’s downtown core. Windsor had a couple of Radio Shacks and both companies had some great catalogs.
From the website “Radio Shack Catalogs” -
But the growth of the Radio Shack chain was short-lived as management made a mistake: The stores began selling on credit and soon had a pile of uncollected receivables. And in the late 1960s, with the bank on their back, the company was practically bankrupt.
Enter Charles David Tandy. Tandy, owner of the leather goods company, Tandy Corporation, saw the potential of Radio Shack and the future of retail consumer electronics. In 1963, seeing an opportunity, he bought the company for $300,000.
And here’s the neat part of this story – a website about everything you’d ever want to know about Radio Shack, and copies of years of original the Radio Shack catalogs. What's unique about this website is that the catalogs are presented as a VIRTUAL catalog, in a “page-flipping” format. This gives you the experience of paging-through an actual Radio Shack catalog.
This should bring back some memories of our early years as budding amateur radio operators.
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
The tragedy still unfolds in Haiti. In my previous post I stated that it would take up to ten years to repair and rebuild the island. Newspapers, the internet and news services were saturated with constant news of rescue, survival and death in the days and weeks after the first quake.
What we didn’t hear about was how Google Earth quietly slipped in some high resolution images a scant 24 to 48 hours after the initial damage. The first announcement indicated that an image overlay of the Port-au-Prince harbour area was available and later in the week a high resolution image was made permanently available of the damaged area. There was rumour that it was a fly-over image instead of a satellite acquisition image. Resolution is extremely good – down to a few meters.
If you’re interested to learn more about Google Earth join the Google Earth Community here. There’s a slew of information on the Haiti crisis in the current events section including layers showing the epicentre, current airports, medical rescue locations, the Israeli field hospital location, well you get the idea. A particularly good layer map is a Damage Assessment of Major Buildings / Infrastructure – UNOSAT – from January 16, 2010 available in the current event section of the Google Earth Community. Once you log into the Google Earth community you’ll be able to find information on how to use Google Earth and especially the layers and add-ons mentioned here. If you’re really stuck post a query in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond. Responders and logistical groups have been using the services of Google Earth’s high resolution images to assess and inventory damage and show areas where people are congregating and sleeping out in the open and in tent cities, collections of people living under tarps and canopies.
K5EHX, Tom White, has created a repeater layer for Google Earth. It happens to cover Haiti and once you get Tom’s layer installed and working you will be able to see two repeaters on Haiti, both near Port-au-Prince. Tom’s repeater layer can be downloaded from here. Have a look at your respective areas in Google Earth to see your local repeaters too. Both Haitian repeaters were sponsored and financed by DERA - The Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response Association. DERA set up the repeaters in 2004 to meet that Caribbean country's present and future disaster communication needs. There’s no information about repair or reactivation of these repeaters. The layer map shows general coverage for the repeaters and their frequencies.
And to close this blog entry - an airborne AM radio station broadcasting to the Haitian nation. I found this buried on CNN.
An U.S. Air Force C-130 flies over Haiti dangling a 264 foot long antenna from its belly – the longwire is kept vertical by a 500lb lead weight. It’s transmitting to the Haitian people. Four other antenna on the wings and fuselage are sending FM signals.
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
I apologize to my readers for my long hiatus away from my blog. Other priorities and interests took me away from my beloved ham radio blog. My passion for ham radio has not diminished. I do have some new material that I hope you will enjoy. I’ve had to moderate the comments to eliminate spam – there seems to be more than usual these days and I’ve had to erase several spam comments lately. Note that all comments pertaining to this blog will be published; that includes positive and negative feedback. I figure if you have taken the time to write a comment then you deserve to be published.
G4ILO sums it up nicely here:
“It probably goes without saying that someone who has a blog has opinions they have a burning desire to tell the world about. And if you have opinions, you have to be prepared for people to disagree with you. As a blog owner, you have the right to allow or delete comments. However I have always believed that you should allow the dissenting voices to have their say as well as those that support you. The only comments I have ever deleted from this blog have been ones that appeared to be spam and did not relate to the subject of the posting. I think deleting comments from people who have taken the trouble to reply after reading your blog is pretty insulting.”
If you’re a ham and connected to the internet or have been on the air in the last few weeks you’ve all been reading about or heard of the Haiti quake and the resulting heroic efforts of various agencies, military, search and rescue and hams who have volunteered their time, effort and equipment. This is still a huge undertaking requiring manpower and money. From what I’ve been reading it will require a ten year effort to rebuild Haiti and to heal the populace of this poor Caribbean nation. Only good can come of it as the island is rebuilt with a better infrastructure of quake resistant buildings and communications network.
The next blog article will be about Haiti and some of the behind the scenes efforts of a large software organization – and ham radio is part of it.
I wish you all the best for 2010 – with the sunspots making a regular appearance now, better band conditions encourage more activity on the bands.
The picture at the top is of my FT-707 – a story about restoring this excellent old transceiver coming up in a new blog post.