Sunday, May 31, 2015

Field Day Rising

For those of us in North America, the ARRL Field Day event is right around the corner.  It's my favorite event of the year and the one for which I spend the most time preparing.  Most hams I know who participate do so as part of a club but, with one exception, I've been doing a solo effort for a number of years.  Class 1B Battery is a fun way to participate and allows for an enjoyable day of operating without the roar (or if you're lucky, purr) of a generator in the background.

I've traditionally set up for operation using the antennas I normally use for field operations - ground mounted verticals, end fed wires, and small doublets.  I've found that these just aren't very successful during the Saturday operations but seem to work fine starting Sunday morning once the "big gun" stations have all worked each other.  Unfortunately, that reduces the 24 hours of Field Day down to maybe 6-8 hours of operations.

This year I've decided to try something a bit different to expand my operating time and I plan to use a full size 80/40 meter coax-fed fan dipole.  I hope to also be able to operate on 15 meters via the third harmonic of the 40 meter section.  I'll erect the antenna using a 24 foot painter's pole for the center support and a combination of 20 foot and 12 foot crappie poles at each end.  For 20 meters, I'll put up a full size Buddipole vertical.  Although we're on the down slope of the current solar cycle, I'll occasionally check 10 meters and will quickly reconfigure the Buddipole as a full size vertical for that band if it opens up.

I know there are those who will think I should just put up a single 80 meter dipole fed with ladder line and a tuner for all band coverage, but I've always been intrigued with the idea of a fan dipole ever since I saw an FDIM presentation by L.B. Cebik about his top five backyard multi-band wire antennas.  Here's a LINK to the presentation.  I built the antenna a couple of years ago using the original center tee from my Buddipole but haven't put it to serious use since.  This year will be the test and I'm hoping it allows me to operate for as much of the 24 hours as I'm able to stay awake. LOL

I hope your Field Day plans are in progress and that we'll end up in each other's logs in about a month.  Please feel free to post comments about your planned operations and we can all learn from one another.

72, Jim - K0RGI

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Four Days In May and Hamvention 2015

I had a great time at Dayton this year.  FDIM was superb, as usual, and Hamvention was as good as it can get in the dump known as Hara Arena.  It looked like a few marginal facility improvements were made since last year.  The restrooms seemed a little cleaner and gravel had been dumped in the huge flea market pothole that's been slowly increasing in size the last few years.  Other than that, things were pretty much status quo.  Attendance seems to have stabilized and is maybe even on the upswing, and there were a few more vendors and a few more flea market spaces occupied this year over last.

The weather wasn't as good as it has been the past few years, with rain showers every day.  I got caught in one on Friday afternoon.  I'd made the mistake of thinking I could walk down one more row in the flea market before the rain hit and was pretty far out when the first drops started falling.  I made good time getting to the Arena but there was quite a traffic jam to get past a few inconsiderate people on scooters who had stopped just inside the doors, so I was pretty well soaked by the time I got under cover.  I like to think that most hams are reasonably intelligent people, but apparently there's still a lack of common sense on the part of some.

The speaker lineup for the seminars at FDIM was outstanding!  As you've probably heard by now, Elecraft announced and reviewed their new K3S transceiver at the opening session.  This was only moderately entertaining to me, mostly because I'm in the process of downsizing my shack and I really don't want to start adding new equipment - as if I could afford to just pull out a credit card and purchase one with all the accessories.  That would be classified as a major purchase at my home, subject to much thought and weighing of pros and cons.

Other sessions and speakers showed why low SWR isn't the only antenna measurement to consider, took us on a walk through the history of homebrew printed circuit boards, and showed us how an Arduino can be used to build and enhance our radios.  A bittersweet session was Rev. George Dobbs' final presentation at FDIM.  For a variety of reasons, G3RJV announced that this is his last trip to Dayton.  I've looked forward to his presentations ever since my first FDIM and it won't be quite the same without him.

I also attended a couple of Hamvention forums this year.  One was TAPR's presentation on Broadband Hamnet Mesh Networking.  It's pretty impressive what can be accomplished with an inexpensive router.  Flash the firmware with new code and it becomes capable of joining a high-speed mesh network on amateur frequencies.  They demonstrated its use for live video and voice over IP telephone.  In a disaster scenario, these and others are invaluable capabilities for emergency services teams.  Hamnet Mesh can also be used for a variety of projects in and out of the shack.  I have one of these routers that I was considering selling, but after seeing this forum I plan to hold on to it and see what I can build to use its capabilities.  You can find more information at http://www.broadband-hamnet.org/.

A second forum perhaps of more interest to us QRP aficionados provided information on the Packtenna portable antenna system.  A joint effort of Sierra Radio and Pignology, I'd describe it as a commercial quality linked dipole with accessories and a fiberglass support mast that allows for multiple configurations.  Geared toward backpack field operations, it combines light weight with the performance of full size wire antennas.  More information can be found at http://www.packtenna.com/.  There you'll find a user manual and the presenter encouraged homebrewing for those who wish to go that route.

If you've never attended FDIM or Hamvention, I'd encourage you to make the trip at least once.  I attended my first Hamvention in 2001 and started attending FDIM a few years later.  For those of us within a day's driving distance of Dayton, it's a pretty easy and relatively inexpensive trip.  For others it can be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Whichever it is for you, be warned that it really gets in your blood.  I had planned on my first trip being my only one, but seeing thousands of hams in one place who all share the same interests is a unique experience.  Like most hams, I have a group of ham friends who are active hams and we meet for breakfast most weekends.  Outside of that group and my family, most of my co-workers and others who I come in contact with either don't know or don't understand why anyone would spend time playing with radios.  That's never a problem at Dayton.

Hamvention and FDIM in particular also gives you the opportunity to see and perhaps speak with some of the well known names in the ham community.  I was exceptionally fortunate this year to be able to talk with several celebrities while en route from the FDIM headquarters to the Hara Arena.  On Friday, I sat next to and had a very enjoyable conversation with Dan KB6NU, author of the No-Nonsense Study Guides for those working toward their first or upgraded license.  I've subscribed to his blog for a while but didn't realize who he was until about halfway through the trip.  On Saturday, I had the great pleasure to ride and talk with Craig NM4T and Rex W1REX.  Craig is the force behind the Two Days in Huntsville QRP activities at the Huntsville hamfest and Rex is the owner/operator of QRPme.

And finally, in the "it's a small world" category, on Friday I ran across the ham who previously owned my call.  I met Greg K9QI a few years ago when I stopped to visit my friend Jim WB8HMD at the Motorola ARC tent in the flea market.  When I stopped by this year sporting a K0RGI name tag, one of the other hams there said "hey, you've got Greg's old call".  I knew it had been a club call previously, but I hadn't known that Greg was the trustee of the call.  It turned out that he wanted to get a call for a different club and new FCC rules prohibit being a trustee of more than one club call, so he had to relinquish the K0RGI call.  His loss was my gain, and I think he was pleased to know that it went from one owner of Welsh Corgi dogs to another.