Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My 2012 Dayton Hamvention Wrap-Up

I've had a few days to wind down after the Dayton Hamvention.  I attended on Friday and Saturday and like years past, I had a great time.  I saw some of my friends that I don't get a chance to see but once a year.  I also saw a number of new and existing products, some of which I will comment on in the following paragraphs.

The Hamvention is a big event and at times the aisles can be quite crowded.  You also have to be patient when trying to catch a glimpse of a new radio or other piece of equipment.  It can get tiring and it is impossible to see everything.  I think that I made it completely through the inside exhibits but on the other hand I probably only saw about a third of the outdoor flea market.  That does correspond to my areas of interest.  The inside exhibits tend to show the latest and greatest equipment, while the outdoor flea market (by its very nature) tends to favor the boat-anchors.  I'm not really interested in gear that is several decades old.

This year I compiled a list of the exhibitors I wanted to visit by using the listing of all exhibitors on the Hamvention website.  I initially worked by memory through the list and then later in the day I pulled the list out to see what I had missed.  As I was working through my list I was also checking out other booths along the way.  It took me until about Saturday afternoon to completely make it through my list.  My list had somewhere between 20 and 30 vendors on it.

I once again was active on the social media sites, but mainly I was active on TwitterGoogle+ just doesn't seem to have a critical mass of amateur radio operators on it yet, and applications/sites such as Facebook and Foursquare aren't really suited to sending out small blurbs of information to the masses.  This year I made sure to turn off the data features on my cellphone and my battery easily lasted all day.  I kept the data features turned on for the Samsung Galaxy Tab and that is the device I used to send and receive tweets.  Its battery status dropped to about 30% by the end of the day, but at least it didn't die on me.

Here's a rundown of some of the things that I saw or did, or perhaps did not do (but had planned).  This list somewhat mirrors my pre-Hamvention post:
  • AMSAT:  I stopped by their booth on Friday morning and grabbed a printout of the satellite passes that they planned to demo out in the parking lot.  I held on to that sheet until Saturday about noontime when I went out to watch the AMSAT folks show how to track HO-68, a Chinese satellite that today only transmits a telemetry beacon.  I shot video of this and uploaded it to YouTube.  When I stopped by the booth on Friday, I marveled at the proposed size of the Fox satellite.  I didn't measure it, but it is a cube and is probably about six inches per side.
  • AOSC (the All-Ohio Scanner Club):  I stopped and talked to a friend of mine.  He verified that my membership was paid up.
  • Alpha Products:  although I'm not in the market for a linear amplifier or an antenna tuner at the moment, I wanted to check out their amps and I wanted to see their model 4040 antenna tuner.  I was impressed by what I saw.  This was one of the last exhibits I saw during the weekend.
  • ARVN (the Amateur Radio/Video News):  I briefly talked to one of the gentlemen that produce these DVDs.  I indicated how I was looking for some of their new DVDs, but he told me that they are making a shift to distributing their videos on-line and accepting donations on their website.  I will be sure to check out their website soon.  Their videos are well-produced.
  • ARRL:  I actually didn't spend a whole lot of time here.  I had my shopping list and I was able to quickly make my purchase.  I took some pictures in the area and moved on.
  • Argent Data Systems and Byonics:  I literally only spent a minute or two at Argent and couldn't honestly tell you if they had anything new.  At Byonics, it did appear that they have two or three new APRS trackers.  I did not stay very long here either.  I already have a Micro-Track AIO and am pleased with it, so I don't really need a new tracker.
  • Array Solutions and M2 Antennas:  I enjoy checking out the exhibits of both vendors.  In the case of M2, I was just looking at their horizontal loop antennas for 6m, 2m, and 70cm.  In the case of Array Solutions, I already own a couple of pieces of gear that they sell and I didn't see anything new that I couldn't live without.  I enjoyed looking at the one station they had set up featuring the Acom 1500 HF linear amplifier.  That amp was being driven by an Icom IC-7600 it appeared, but there was also a Icom IC-7700 at that station.
  • Begali:  I already have a Begali Signature paddle and I am not in the market for a new key or paddle, but they had at least three new paddles that they were showing off.  It's nice to get to play with them just to see how smooth their action is, and at the same time I can embarrass myself with how poor my code is as it is played aloud over a keyer.
  • DC Power and Radio Works:  I stopped briefly at DC Power, but I decided that I can always purchase a DC power cable from an online vendor.  Sometimes I make decisions such as this (moving on rather quickly) because trying to see things at Hamvention becomes a matter of priority.
  • DX Engineering:  From the looks of their items on display they manufacture and/or sell rather solid items.  I visited DX Engineering rather late on Saturday afternoon, and I decided not to spend too much time there.  Someday I will be in the market for a nice vertical antenna and I will check them out more at that time.
  • EZ Hang:  I also stopped at this booth briefly, but I decided not to purchase one of his slingshot systems for launching antennas into trees.  The only time I have the desire to launch an antenna into a tree is at Field Day and this year I plan to try out a new Buddipole antenna system.  If I ever decide to purchase one of these, I know that they are sold online.
  • Feld Hell Club:  I knew that they were operating a special event station, but I didn't know whether that station was set up indoors or out.  I never saw them inside, and around mid-afternoon on Saturday I sat down, whipped out my tablet and consulted the outdoor flea market vendor list.  I was able to find them listed there.  Then it was just a matter of finding their space.  I found them without too much problem.  I spent about 15 minutes there talking, taking pictures, and shooting a video.
  • Ham Radio Deluxe:  I barely stopped by this exhibit, but I have since come back from Hamvention to make sure that my copy of HRD is up-to-date on both of my computers.  I plan to learn more about the built-in Digital Master 780 component, which works with the digital mode, before next month's Field Day event.
  • Icom:  I'm sure someone will correct me if I am wrong, but I did not see any new radio at their exhibit this year.  The one item that they were showing off is a kit put together for the Boy Scouts of America.  This kit consists of an Icom IC-7200 HF/6m transceiver, a power supply, and mic, and a speaker, all fitted in a Pelican case.  They refer to it as the "Amateur Radio Merit Badge Kit."
  • Kenwood:  They had a large draw to their section of Hara Arena.  They were showing their new TS-990S HF/6m transceiver.  I took the obligatory pictures of it and shot a video, but I was not in the Kenwood booth more than 15 minutes the whole weekend.  The TS-990S appeared to be the only new radio they were introducing.  As far as I can tell, the TS-990S will be offered around November of 2012 and will sell for somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000.  It has a main and a sub receiver.  The sub receiver appears to be lifted from their TS-590 transceiver.  The main receiver will be a down-conversion receiver.  I'm sorry but that is about all I know.  I'm sure we will learn more in the coming months.
  • Northern California DX Association:  I just stopped by here briefly.  It was late on Saturday.
  • OARC (Ohio Area Repeater Council):  I stopped by here to pick up a free Ohio repeater directory.
  • Palstar:  This is a booth that I spent some time at.  I was taking pictures of their new HF-AUTO-R, which is a remote control for the HF-AUTO antenna tuner.  The remote is supposed to sit on your radio desk while the autotuner itself can rest up to 1000 feet away.  The two devices communicate over a high-speed RS-232 interface.  I also made an inquiry at Palstar about my AT2K tuner.  The light bulb for the meter had burned out.  After explaning the situation, the person that I was talking to reached into a bag and grabbed a brand-new bulb.  They did not charge me for it.  I was quite surprised that they had brought some light bulbs with them.
  • QRPARCI:  I stopped here for a few minutes and ended up purchasing a DVD-R loaded with 30 years of the QRP Quarterly magazine.
  • RF-Space:  They did not appear to make it to Hamvention
  • RigExpert:  I ended up not stopping by their booth.  I already have a AA-230 Pro antenna analyzer, so I decided I didn't need anything new from them.
  • SuperAntenna:  Since I had spent some money at the Buddipole booth to expand my Buddipole Deluxe Antenna, I didn't spend any real time here.
  • Telepost:  The main item that I am interested here is the LP-500 Digital Station Monitor.  There was a prototype on display but owner and president, Larry Phipps, indicated that it was not quite ready for production.  It seems to be close.  I would not mind adding this accessory to my station.
  • Tokyo Hy-Power:  They had several new models of amplifiers this year, so I spent a few minutes looking at them, but they are rather pricey and frankly are not high on my priority list.  If I were getting one, it would be one designed for 2-meters.  Their amplifiers are all solid-state.
  • Yaesu:  I stopped by their exhibit two or three times over the course of Friday and Saturday.  Naturally, I picked up my Yaesu ball cap like many others did.  While Yaesu had several new handhelds and a newer mobile rig, I was interested in their new FTdx-3000 HF rig and the new FT-1D HT.  I looked over the HF rig a little.  There is not a whole lot I know about it.  I guess I can say the same for the HT as well.  I know that it is a dual-band radio that supports analog and also supports digital.  It is the digital mode that I am a little bit confused about.  The modulation is specifically C4FM FDMA.  I heard some refer to that as APCO25, and some refer to it as DMR.  I'm sure I heard at least one other acronym thrown around.
  • Geo-Hams Meetup:  I happen to be a geocacher as well.  Someone, presumably from the southwest Ohio region decided to organize a meetup of geocachers in the flea market area.  I stopped by for about twenty minutes until I got too warm and had to move on.  I got to meet other geocachers and discuss area geocachers.  Later I was also able to get on the Geocaching.com website and claim credit for the meetup.
  • Buddipole:  I was intrigued by one of their newer products and I made a purchase.  It is a multi-section shock-corded whip antenna that has an adjustable stinger on the end and an adjustable base.  This should allow me to operate a vertical antenna on 30-meters through 10-meters, and by adding a small coil and some counterpoise wires, I should be able to operate 40-meters reliably as well.  I'm looking forward to trying it out at Field Day next month.  As I wrap up this post on May 29th, I received a note from the post office that my new whip, coil, and counterpoise kit have arrived.  They were out of stock at Hamvention.
  • Winradio, Flex Radio Systems and TAPR:  There is a reason that I have lumped all of these companies together.  They all have "black box" radios of some sort.  I'm not sure whether Winradio's receivers are considered software-defined radios or not, but they are computer controlled.  I was interested in purchasing one to use for shortwave listening, and specifically some Digital Radio Mondiale.  I briefly looked at their latest radios, but I never came back a second time.  After I saw the offerings at TAPR and Flex Radio I never looked back.  The TAPR (Tucson Amateur Packet Radio) is showing some of the components of the High Performance Software Defined Radio (HPSDR), and I was really interested in their Hermes radio.  This is a digital down conversion, digital up conversion radio that is built around a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).  I think that the neatest radios were the ones on display at Flex Radio.  They were showing three radios in their FLEX-6000 line.  The FLEX-6500, FLEX-6700, and the FLEX-6700R.  That last one is a receiver, and the other two are transceivers.  All three radios sample the RF essentially right away.  They don't wait for an analog signal to get to the IF stage.  The signals stay in the digital domain until they emanate from the computer speakers.  There will be a new computer application called SmartSDR that will drive these radios.  There are several notable features including the use of Ethernet connectivity, and the use of an OCXO on the -6700 and -6700R models that offers a frequency stability of 0.02ppm.  The oscillators also have the capability to be disciplined by GPS.  The -6500 can support up to four simultaneous receivers and the -6700 and -6700R can support eight simultaneous receivers.  If SmartSDR is like PowerSDR, it supposedly can work with third-party software to decode DRM shortwave broadcasts.  I think a FLEX-6700 might be in my future.  Even though the FLEX-6000 radios won't be out until the end of 2012, I find myself wanting to understand everything there is about digital signal processing, FPGAs, and software-defined radios.  These are some technologies that I would like to stay on top of.
I'm sorry that this post was so long.  To many of you it was probably quite boring.  I'll try to keep future posts shorter.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Looking Forward to the 2012 Dayton Hamvention

It's been a little while since I've published anything to this blog, but I just wanted to talk about the Dayton Hamvention a little bit.  In less than 12 hours, I'll be heading over to Dayton, Ohio with a friend and fellow amateur radio operator to enjoy the show.  I plan on being there for most of the show on Friday and Saturday, but I won't make it over on Sunday.  The Sunday portion of the show comes to a close by 1:00pm making it not worth the 90 mile drive from Columbus.

This will be the third year that I will be using several social media tools.  I feel that the social media websites add a dimension to the show and help to increase my awareness of what's there.  Don't get me wrong:  I walk all over the Hara Arena complex, and I also walk around a fair portion of the flea market.  However, it is still possible to miss things.  Sometime in 2009, I started using the Twitter website in a general way, but it was at the 2010 Dayton Hamvention that I began to use Twitter to connect to other hams and anyone else who was interested.  I enjoyed posting pictures and tweeting the little details about various interesting items.  I remember a few people (presumably those that could not make it to the show) to check on specifications or prices.  I did so willingly, because it added to my knowledge of the particular equipment.  Last year was more of the same as I continued to use Twitter to post and to respond to requests.  This year I plan to ramp up the use of Twitter, but I also plan to use Google+ (a tool I was not using last year).  I will also use Foursquare and Facebook to a small degree.  Foursquare will be used to announce my presence at the show as that is what it is designed for, and I will use Facebook to see what some of my other amateur radio friends are saying.  As I indicated, I will ramping up my use of social media in general at the Hamvention.  This should be possible in part due to the fact that I have added a Samsung Galaxy Tab (a Verizon 3G tablet) to my arsenal.  I will be easier to type out my tweets, and it will be a spare device to my 3G cellphone.  Last year, I was struggling with the battery life on my Droid X and it was about halfway through the first day that I figured out how to temporarily turn off the data features.  Of course, while it saves the battery, it makes it more of a hassle to post things or see what is up on the web sites, since I have to turn on data each time.  This year, I should be able to keep the cellphone in its "data off" configuration, while I use the tablet for most data purposes.

Here are some of the exhibitors that I plan on checking out this year and the reason or reasons why:

  • AMSAT:  Each year they demonstrate the making of a contact through the amateur satellites.  In year's past they have used AO-51 and VO-52, but AO-51 (Echo) no longer functions, so I'm not sure what they will demo
  • AOSC:  I'll be stopping by to say hello to Tom Swisher (WA8PYR), a friend of mine 
  • ARVN:  Over the years, the Amateur Radio/Video News has shot video during the Hamvention and others events and subsequently sold the videos on DVD.  I'm planning to stop by to see what they are shooting and what they are selling
  • ARRL:  I'll mainly be stopping by the American Radio Relay League area to purchase a Field Day T-shirt, and a pin, but also to purchase a couple of desktop edition repeater directories.  I'll probably visit this area for a while and check out their various displays, including the Volunteer Examiner area.
  • Argent Data Systems and Byonics:  If I'm not mistaken, these companies sell APRS trackers and other gadgets.  I want to see what new things they have to offer
  • Begali:  I know that Begali has introduced at least two new keys/paddles in the past year.  I want to check them out
  • Buddipole:  I'm pretty well set for Buddipole equipment, but I'm still interested in how I can make 6-meter and 2-meter beams
  • DC Power LLC and Radio Works Inc:  If I am not wrong, both of these companies sell DC power accessories.  I will need to install an Icom mobile in my 2011 Ford Escape.  If a new Icom power cord is not long enough, I may need to run a longer cable and at a larger gauge
  • DX Engineering:  At some point, I may decide to set up an outdoor vertical antenna that can work 80m through 10m.  I know that they sell a number of vertical antennas
  • EZ Hang:  I believe that this is the company that sells slingshot systems for launching wire antennas into trees.  Field Day is coming up soon.
  • Feld Hell Club:  I'm still trying to figure out where they will be located, but I've exchanged tweets with someone who says they will be operating a special event station.  I've operated the Feld Hell mode a couple of times, so it should be an interesting demonstration
  • Flexradio Systems:  I'll admit that their new advertisement has enticed me.  Apparently they have a new radio to debut
  • Ham Radio Deluxe/W4PC Software:  Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) was recently sold to W4PC Software.  Since HRD is my digital-mode application of choice, I plan to stop by and possibly learn a few things.
  • Icom:  It would not surprise me if Icom had a new radio to show off, but I'm also interested in the ID-31A, and the ID-80A.  Both of the latter radios are handie-talkies that are D-Star compatible.  Besides, I'm helping my friend, Jonnie (KD8BUP), get into D-Star
  • Kenwood:  I would stop by Kenwood anyway, but they will be displaying a prototype of their new high-end TS-990S HF/6m rig, and I just have to check it out.
  • OARC:  The Ohio Area Repeater Council will probably have some new Ohio repeater directories for sale for a nominal price.  I may pick up a couple.
  • Palstar:  At some point, I will probably purchase the HF-Auto tuner to replace my Palstar AT2K tuner, so I will definitely be examining this tuner closely, but I also have a question about my existing AT2K tuner.  From some reading on the web, it appears that the AT2K uses an LED for the meter's backlight.  Perhaps that is for new models, because my backlight no longer functions and I suspect it uses an incandescent bulb.  I want to find out if there is a retrofit for my tuner.
  • QRPARCI:  I've operated QRP a few times, particular with the digital modes, so the aspect of low-power operating intrigues me.  I am a member of the QRP Amateur Radio Club International, so I'm planning to stop by and say hello, and see what they have to sell
  • RF Space:  RF-Space manufactures several software defined receivers.  I definitely want to see what they have to offer
  • RigExpert:  I have one of their antenna analyzers, but that doesn't stop me from wanted to see what else they have.
  • SuperAntenna:  I've seen YouTube videos of people using this portable antenna for operating from the field.  I want to see what these antennas are alll about
  • TAPR:  Mainly I will stop by the Tucson Amateur Packet Radio exhibit to renew my membership, but I will also be checking to see what projects are popular these days.  I'll admit that I haven't kept up with their work.
  • Telepost:  Telepost has a station monitor (think, oscilloscope) accessory that I would really love to add to my station.  I'm not sure if it is for sale yet, but I want to check it out
  • Tokyo Hi-Power:  This company manufactures a number of linear amplifiers, and I believe that they are all solid-state.  I'm interested in their VHF amplifiers 
  • Winradio:  At some point, I would like to add a computer-controlled Winradio receiver to my station to listen to shortwave broadcasts, including the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) ones
  • Yaesu:  Just like Kenwood, Yaesu is an exhibit that I would stop at anyway, but this year they have a new handie-talkie, the FT-1D.  It apparently is an analog and digital mode radio, but they haven't mentioned what digital mode or modes it uses.  Some have speculated that it uses APCO25.  And, just today I learned that Yaesu has a new HF/6m rig which carries the model number of FTdx-3000.  Apparently it is a radio for someone on a budget, but still offers high performance.  I'll have to see what that's about.
    I hope you enjoy the Dayton Hamvention as much as I do, and I've you can't attend, I hope that you enjoy the "coverage" that I provide.

    Ned, N8OIF

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    My Icom IC-7600 HF Transceiver

    About five months ago, my newlywed wife was nice enough to tell me that she did not have a problem with me purchasing my dream radio, the Icom IC-7600.  It sits alongside my Kenwood TS-2000X in my shack.  Now I know that many people own several HF rigs, but I do not see the point in that.  HF radios can be quite expensive.  I would rather concentrate on one or two radios in terms of the radios that I keep on hand.  I've owned a number of radios in the past from mobile radios, to HTs, to HF radios.  The IC-7600 is actually only my third HF radio.  The problem with having too many radios is that all of those radios need to be taken care of and used.  For example, firmware may need to be updated regularly, or the memories need tended to.  I don't have the time like I used to set up multiple radios.  I indicated that the IC-7600 is my third HF radio.  I've had the Kenwood the longest, but at one point I owned a Yaesu FT-897D.  The Yaesu was a decent radio, but I sold it to another ham when I thought she was ready to get on the air.  I am keeping the TS-2000X because I believe that some of its features complement the Icom.  Specifically, repeater operation is available as well as a satellite mode, and it operates on 2-meters, 70-cm, and 1.2 GHz, whereas the Icom does not.

    I absolutely love the 7600.  Of course, it has the beautiful LCD screen and that screen contains the spectrum scope, but the screen contains a lot of other useful information.  However, the radio is much more than just the awesome LCD screen.  Shortly after acquiring the 7600, I participated in the IARU HF Championship, and made 23 contacts using the radio, including confirmed (with Logbook of the World) contacts with TM0HQ and NU1AW/5.  I felt that was pretty impressive given my limited operating time, and my rather limited antenna--an indoor Buddipole.  I only spent about two or three hours operating during the contest.  I had the radio on for a couple of hours on Saturday evening, and I had it on for about an hour on Sunday.  About half of my contacts were on 20-meters and the other half were on 40-meters.  I was operating in the search and pounce (S&P) mode, and most stations heard me on the first or second call.  I don't recall having that kind of success with my TS-2000X, but I may be comparing apples to oranges.  The bands did not seem as crowded for the IARU HF contest as they were during Field Day (which is the last contest I operated the TS-2000X in), and the pile-ups were not very deep for the IARU contest, or were completely non-existent.  I really am looking forward to using the 7600 during the next Field Day when the bands are typically very crowded.  I think it has a number of features on the receiving side that will make it easier for me or guest operators to pick out (more on this later) the individual stations.  For much of the operating that I do, however, the bands are not crowded at all.  I'm also looking forward to getting back on the digital modes after a two- or three-year hiatus.  In particular, I want to expand my operating skills to RTTY, and I think that the 7600 should be able to handle it quite well.  I would like to add that my first opportunity to operate split on the HF bands occurred shortly after I purchased the 7600.  I was tuning around the bands--probably on 40-meters--and ran into N4S.  N4S was the special event station commemorating the final flight of a space shuttle.  Although, I never got through, I was able to figure out how to program the 7600 to operate in split mode.  I got to hear first-hand the handful of stations that had not copied N4S stating that he was operating split, as they tried to call on N4S transmitting frequency.

    Most likely the next time that I operate this radio during crowded band conditions will be the 2012 Field Day.  This radio will replace the TS-2000X during Field Day.  I may pack the Kenwood, but the Icom will be the primary radio that I use.  I'm looking forward to using several of its features that should really help pull stations out.  I suspect that it won't have any problem being heard.  Some of the features that I have used that will be helpful are:

    • Adjustable IF digital filters:  Each mode has three filters that can be quickly selected with the Filter button.  For example, on SSB, I normally am using FIL2, which has a 2.4 kHz bandwidth.  This is a decent bandwidth that allows for an intelligible signal, but at the same time, does not allow too much noise.  My SSB filter FIL1 is currently set at 1.6 kHz, and FIL3 is 3.0 kHz.  As suspected, FIL1 is a little tight and the conversations are slightly harder to copy, but noise is lessened, and the tight filter helps keep out adjacent channel interference.  FIL3 makes for easy copy on strong signals, but with weaker signals, the wider bandwidth lets in more noise, which in turn makes the signal harder to copy.  Although I'm not a CW operator, the digital IF filters can be adjusted quite tight.  The really neat thing is that each of these three selectable filters (keep in mind that these filters are implemented with digital signal processing) can be fine-tuned.  You can adjust the roll-off of the filter skirts, the bandwidth, and the roofing filter used.  The roofing filter is in the first IF stage and is the radio's first line of defense against interference from adjacent channels.  I'm assuming that my Kenwood TS-2000X has just one roofing filter and it is probably about 15 kHz wide.  A passband that wide just lets in too much signal.  With the Icom, I can choose a 15-kHz roofing filter, or a 6-, or a 3-kHz one.  I suspect that being able to select the tighter roofing filters will greatly help during the crowded band conditions of Field Day.
    The filter adjustment screen on the Icom IC-7600
    • Twin passband tuning (Twin PBT):  I'm still trying to understand this feature, and I don't often use it because I don't fully understand it, but I think it allows me to adjust the lower and upper skirts of the IF filter.  So in that regard it does alter the bandwidth of the filter, which may affect the intelligibility of the signal, or the amount of noise.  The main feature of the twin passband tuning is its ability to filter out an offending signal.  For example if there is an interfering signal above the desired signal, you just adjust one of the Twin PBT controls and the undesired signal is filtered out.  I suspect that I will experiment with this feature quite a bit during Field Day, or the next contest that I participate in. 
    • The Twin Passband Tuning control
    • Noise reduction:  The noise reduction is implemented digitally and unlike the TS-2000X it is actually quite effective.  Although it is best to leave it off with strong signals, it can helpful with weaker signals.
    Noise reduction and noise blanker buttons and controls
    •  1/4-Speed Tuning:  I know that this feature is available in the CW mode.  It allows more precise tuning with the main knob.
    • Auto Tune:  Again, I believe that this is strictly a CW feature, but with a push of the button during CW reception, the receiver zero-beats with the signal.
    • Auto Notch:  I've used this before, and I normally leave it turned on.  It clamps down really quick on a carrier.  People tuning up on the band during Field Day, or other contests is quite common.
    • Audio Peak Filter:  This filter is applied to the CW sidetone during reception and definitely makes hearing the Morse Code easier to hear.  I may not use some of these CW-related features that much, but guest operators at my station may.
    There are plenty of other features that will help with copying stations during Field Day or another crowded-band contest.  I make every effort to understand all of the controls on a radio and maximize my use of them.  I paid quite a bit for this radio and I need to get my money's worth.  If I don't, I might as well use the TS-2000X.

    The Icom IC-7600 HF/50-MHz transceiver, LDG AT-200 Pro II autotuner, and the Power Master II wattmeter
     I'll probably have more to say about this radio in the future, but I do need to get more time on the air before I write more.


    Thursday, July 01, 2010

    My Field Day Report

    I was reviewing my Amateur Radio blog and realized it has been almost a year since my last post. I will have to work on improving that frequency.

    Over the past weekend, I was involved with Field Day. It is an event that I look forward to every year. If you are not aware, Field Day is sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). It is a communications exercise that involves amateur radio operators in the United States and Canada. Its purpose is to test the operator's ability to set up a station and conduct communications under conditions that are perhaps less than ideal.

    Typically, a given Field Day event may involve a ham radio club, an emergency operations center, or just an individual operator. I participated in Field Day with the West Central Ohio Amateur Radio Association (WCOARA). The club's callsign is WC8OH. We operated with the classification of 5A. The "5" indicates that we had (or intended to have) five simultaneous stations on the air. The "A" indicates that we were operating separate from the AC mains. In our case, we were using deep-cycle industrial size 12-volt batteries. These batteries are more than adequate to power a 100-watt station, plus accessories for the entire event. The event itself lasts for 24 hours. I'm not sure what to think about our classification of 5A. Of course, I agree that we operated on battery power, but I don't think we ever had five stations going at once. The only downside that I can think of with regards to misrepresenting our class is that it puts us in a league that we can't possibly compete with, if you look at Field Day as a contest.

    Our Field Day was located in Fairborn, Ohio on or near the campus of Wright State University and just south of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We were lucky to not have rain or storms until it was time to tear things down on Sunday afternoon. At that time, we just had a few brief rain showers that really did not impede us from tearing the equipment down. Sometimes, Field Day weekend is very comfortable and sometimes it is miserable. This year was miserable.  The temperature was certainly in the mid to upper 80's, and the humidity was high.  Dewpoints were in the 75 degree range.  It didn't take long to get sweaty.  I had brought two cases worth of Diet Pepsi to share, however, I probably drank at least a case myself over the 27 or so hours I was there.  Since I travel from Columbus to attend this Field Day, I have to find a place to sleep.  In the past, I have stayed with old friends from the area.  I have also slept in my car several times, and starting last year, I have slept in a tent.  My tent is a little over a year old.  It is classified as a three-person tent, and is quite easy to set up alone.  After I finished setting the tent up, I wondered why I had two tent pegs left.  I just assumed they were extras.  This year when I was setting up the tent, I suspected it might rain because several of us had seen lightning in the distance and had seen storms on the radar, therefore I added the rain fly.  The rain fly clips to the rest of the tent in four corners.  When I went to the tent at about 1:00am, I noticed that I was not getting hardly any airflow through the tent.  After consulting the web on Monday morning, I noticed that you are supposed to use those extra two tent pegs to secure the flaps of the rain fly to the ground at a distance from the tent.  This allows the air to flow.  I'll know that next year, and hopefully I will be much more comfortable.

    Now on the radio stuff.  The primary stations that I observed at our Field Day consisted of my Kenwood TS-2000X where I mainly operated 20-meter and 15-meter phone.  Another TS-2000 at a different table was used solely for PSK31, on 20-meters, I believe.  One station was centered around an old Drake transceiver.  And the other station that I noticed used an Icom IC-706 variant of some sort.  The antenna that I used was my Buddipole Deluxe.  It was set up as a loaded dipole at was at a height of about eight feet on its tripod.  The PSK31 station initially used a Buddipole as well, but later switched to a G5RV type of antenna.  That Buddipole was converted to a 2-meter J-pole antenna for talk-in.  The Drake TR7A was strictly on 10-meter CW and used some sort of MFJ active or loaded whip antenna.  I believe that the Icom IC-706-variant also used the G5RV when it wasn't being used for PSK31, but the Icom was also used to make 2-meter and 6-meter contacts.  Beam antennas horizontally-polarized were used at a height of about 25 feet using an Army surplus type of mast.  That mast was guyed and was also lashed to our picnic shelter.  We used the N3FJP Field Day Network software for logging our contacts.  Our total number of QSOs was only about 160.  I don't know if it was the heat that was getting to us or the fact that our core group of operators was down from last year, but we just didn't operate as much.  I used the search and pounce technique for contacting stations.  Those contacts did not seem any more difficult to make this year than last.  I guess our hearts just weren't into it as much.

    I have posted 98 pictures from our Field Day on my Picasa site.  I have also posted three high-definition videos from our Field Day on my YouTube site.

    Now, I would like to make some random observations:
    • I brought my W3NQN-type 200-watt bandpass filters to Field Day this year.  Despite mentioning that fact to the rest of the group, they did not get used.  However, this year we had very little station-to-station interference.  At one point, I was on 20-meter phone.  We also had a 20-meter PSK31 going at the time.  I would get interference but only when both the PSK31 station was transmitting, and when the 10-meter CW station was keyed down.
    • A couple of weeks before Field Day, I visited my Verizon Wireless store and traded-up my USB-based "air card" with their MiFi 2200.  That device bridges Verizon's 3G network with a WiFi network that supports up to five simultaneous users.  It worked extremely well.  I did not have a copy of Field Day Network on my laptop, so the MiFi came to the rescue.  I also used it for checking the radar screens and for downloading other software.  After checking Verizon's website I also realized that I did not get anywhere near my five gigabyte quota.  The MiFi also allowed my iPod Touch to get on the Internet.
    • We had somewhat of a delay in getting the Field Day logging program going.  Of course, it was no problem to actually start the program, but it was troublesome for the "client" computers to see the logging database on the "server" computer.  We used different combinations of domain names, settings on Norton Internet Security, and settings with the router before one of those combinations worked.  Field Day Network is a pretty decent program.  It does dupe checking, it interfaces with the radio and can poll the radio for frequency and mode information.  When interfaced with the rig and networked to other copies of Field Day Network, the application will let you know if two stations are on the same band and mode.
    • I enjoyed using the social-networking site Twitter a few times over the weekend.  I was accessing Twitter from my laptop computer and using my Verizon MiFi 2200 3G modem.  I have approximately 200 followers, so it is neat to be able to share with them what we are up to, and to also read their tweets.
    • I also enjoyed a little D-Star on Field Day weekend.  Although, D-Star contacts through a repeater or through the Internet wouldn't qualify for points in the contest, it is something that I can demonstrate to fellow ham radio operators.  This year I was using a DV Access Point Dongle along with my Icom IC-92AD handheld, and the Verizon MiFi 2200.  I made contact with WG8I using this set-up.  The DV Access Point Dongle contains the AMBE vocoder, but also contains a frequency-agile 2-meter 10mW transceiver.  This allows you to walk around with the HT on super-low power and communicate with any other D-Star user.  I played around a little with my DV Dongle as well.  The DV Dongle does not involve a radio at all, but still interfaces with the D-Star network.  I used a Logitech headset and recorded my audio as processed through the AMBE chip.  I was not pleased with the results, so I still have some work to do before I get on the air with it.
    • My microHAM Micro Keyer II worked very well.  I bought it shortly after last year's Field Day.  This year I strictly used it for rig control, or more precisely, to read the frequency and mode in Field Day Network.  Before next year's event, I hope to fully utilize it and use the sound card features and do some low-band digital modes using Ham Radio Deluxe.  For those not familiar with the Micro Keyer II, it is a rig interface for control, for audio, for keying, and so on.
    • I realized even more so this year that my DC-to-daylight rig, the Kenwood TS-2000, is only an average radio with regards to HF performance.  I realize that my Buddipole antenna is a seriously-compromised antenna compared to a full-length dipole for example, but if I can hear them nice and loud, then I would think they would be able to hear me.  I do realize that I have to bust pileups, but it shouldn't be that difficult.  Also, the receiver performance of the TS-2000 means that it is going to be tough to work one station right next door to another strong station.  That's why I am hoping to save up for and buy an Icom IC-7600 before next year's Field Day.  That radio has really decent specifications.
    • For about a half-hour I was involved with mentoring one of the club member's grandsons.  We continued to operate on 20-meters and I would let him know what to say and at what time to say.  During that half hour we only added one contact to the log, but it was fun.
    • I enjoyed the food over the weekend.  I brought ice cold Diet Pepsi, and a couple of bags of potato chips.  We had the disposal of a couple of Coleman-type stoves, and for dinner on Saturday we had a sweet-and-sour chicken stir fry, hamburgers, hot dogs, fruit, and other miscellaneous food.  On Sunday morning, we had pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon.
    • I mentioned earlier that I would like to work the lower bands next year.  In order to effectively operate down there, I'm probably going to need to set aside my Buddipole, and string up a dipole as high as possible in some of the tall pine trees there.  In order to do that, I'm going to probably need a slingshot system.  That's something to buy between now and next year. 
    Hopefully, you will hear from my again sooner than a year from now.