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