Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Portable Digital Mode Operation

I've occasionally operated portable digital modes - mostly PSK31 - with an SGC SG-2020 and computers ranging from an old Pentium II laptop to an Asus eeePC.  Besides the added weight and bulk, the main problem has always been power.  The internal batteries on these devices usually only last a few hours before needing to be recharged.  These aren't insurmountable issues when operating short sprints but can really cause problems for a longer field event such as QRP To The Field or Field Day.

When I added an Elecraft KX3 to my radio lineup last year, a significant selling point was that it can send and receive PSK31 and RTTY all by itself without needing a computer.  The decoded signal is displayed where the VFO-B frequency is normally displayed but sending requires a good CW fist - something that I don't always exhibit.  To eliminate that problem, I considered purchasing a Nue-PSK or Ham Central Terminal but never got around to pulling the trigger.  Now a new solution is on the horizon.

A couple of years ago, I got the XYL a Google Nexus 7 tablet for a Christmas present and it eventually became her constant companion.  We recently made the mistake of updating it to the latest version of the Android operating system.  I knew there had been some serious performance issues when it was originally released last November, but I thought the major problems had probably been resolved with a couple of interim dot releases.  Wow, was I wrong!  In a matter of minutes it went from being a good performer to a paperweight.  We tried a number of different workarounds that improved the situation somewhat but she found using it to be frustrating at best.

More research showed that the best solution seemed to be a complete reset to factory settings and then restore her apps and backed up data.  The only stumbling block was that she'd lost confidence in the Nexus 7.  Then I had a brilliant idea - a new iPad for her, and I'd become the new owner of the old tablet.  I figured it would be perfect for ham applications.  A couple of hours later I had a Nexus 7 with reasonable performance.  I've purchased and installed KX3 Companion and HamLog and have a Piglet with a serial cable on its way from Nick at Pignology.  Reviews are very positive and I'm really looking forward to putting this all together and trying it out.  With a little luck and some nice weather, it might get its maiden voyage during the RaDAR Challenge on April 4.  It was looking a bit dicey yesterday with 6 inches of fresh snow and 11 degrees overnight but the forecast is for warmer weather so it won't last long.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

72, Jim - K0RGI

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Rockmite Clones

I've been seeing many posts on QRP-L and other places about various problems hams are having with the Chinese Rockmite knockoffs.  Poor quality boards, incomplete or nonexistent documentation, unworkable internal keyer software, missing or incorrect parts, little or no support, and the list goes on.  I know the price is attractive, but when you factor in the time and frustration to get it to work - if that's even possible according to some posts - the value quickly disappears.   As Ben Franklin said, "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten".

The original Rockmites are no longer available since Dave Benson retired, but an updated version is available from Rex Harper's QRPme.  eHam reviews of the original version were superlative.  The newer version has lesser but still decent scores, and if you have problems there is support available from Rex.  Just in case you're wondering, I have no financial interest in QRPme although I have had the pleasure of briefly chatting with Rex at FDIM.

I've seen many posts lamenting the lack of availability of good quality QRP kits.  One way to ensure that this situation continues is to keep buying some of this junk and reducing the incentive for our small QRP businesses and clubs to produce more kits.  No matter where in the world you live, chance are good that you have local kit producers with well regarded and well supported products.  If you're into scratch building, there are a number of available resources on the Web where you can get help from others.  The bottom line for me is that, until these clone manufacturers get their act together and start marketing quality products, hams are better off avoiding them and instead supporting the reputable companies and clubs that have done much to help our hobby.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bandplans and Reasonable Accommodation

I try to not wade in to controversial issues, but there are a couple of topics floating around in the amateur radio world that all hams should be aware of and then, if so moved, weigh in with their opinions.

The first is the ARRL's request for comments on proposed bandplan changes.  I won't go into detail here as the information is on ARRL's website at this link, but here's the summary:
"The ARRL HF Band Planning Committee requests your input on proposed changes to the voluntary band plans for several HF bands and two suggestions for related changes in the FCC Rules. Band plans do not have the force of law but are voluntary guidelines intended to improve operating effectiveness and enjoyment."
One of the proposed changes that caught my eye is placement of "wide" (>500 Hz bandwidth) data modes from 7115 kHz to 7125 kHz.  This overlays a popular part of the old 40 meter Novice band where there is still a lot of slow speed CW.  I believe a number of small monoband QRP rigs were offered with this frequency range and interference from these wide modes would likely make them essentially unusable.

If this or any of the other proposed changes concern you and you haven't already submitted your comments, you might want to take a few minutes and complete the survey.  It's open until April 19.

The second is introduction of the Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2015 in the U.S. Congress.  This bill, if passed into law, would "direct the FCC to extend its rules relating to reasonable accommodation of Amateur Service communications to private land use restrictions."

Many hams, myself included, have been or will be caught up in HOA antenna restrictions where they live and this bill would provide some relief.  I personally have mixed feelings about it.  While I certainly would like to use something other than a stealth antenna at my future retirement home, I also know that I along with others purchased into a community knowing full well about the restrictions.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I wouldn't be particularly pleased to see a tribander on a 35' tower go up next door to me.  I've heard all of the past arguments about how difficult it is to find a home not covered by HOA covenants, but after the fact invalidation of a private contract that I and others signed just isn't right.

Whichever side of the issue your thoughts lie, you'll want to make your voice heard.