Field Day – what fun!

VE2CWQ Field Day 2013

What’s a little (ok, a lot) rain when having fun?

I participated in my first real Field Day activity this year. In fact, it was the first one for our club, VE2CWQ (Canwarn Quebec). We had lots of fun setting up, learning from each other and operating, and I dare say we’ll probably do this again next year.

Of course, late June weekends in Quebec typically involve rain. We were able to have enough shelter, but we ran lower power (50W), since we didn’t want to run out of battery power. There was enough sun to help maintain the batteries, but more would have been better.

We made over 200 mostly phone contacts, I don’t know if that’s high or not, but I thought that was pretty good. We weren’t going nuts to get numbers, though I think some people may have developed a bit of the contesting bug through this. I expect next year will be much higher.

I’ve put some pictures up here, and here’s a quick video showing the setup and operation.

 

all in all, a blast, and something the core group of us want to do again.

So why didn’t I renew?

I recently bought some gear from an online site, and it turns out the person I bought from was involved in Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC). in the course of the business exchange, he encouraged me to join RAC and I had to explain I once was a member and let it drop. He asked me to comment on why I chose to not renew, with the idea of bringing the information to RAC for consideration. I’ll post it here, so I have something to point to when someone asks why I didn’t renew my RAC membership..

As for comments, I’ve no problem sharing my views, though as a relative newcomer to both amateur radio and RAC I understand that my expectations may not have been accurate, and my desire isn’t to judge or offend. I offer this since you asked, and only from the point of view that RAC didn’t end up meeting my needs.

For me, the disconnect happened as I was under the impression (right or wrong) that I was joining a community. Having been involved in building/maintaining online and “real-life” communities, I was expecting more interaction with and within RAC. The first interaction after payment was an envelope with a certificate in it. Nothing else. It felt rather empty. Then, TCA showed up in my mailbox every few months. Then, an email saying “Time to renew, pay here”. No why, nothing. I even blogged about it I was so surprised ( http://www.bobgoyetche.com/ve2pdt/?p=87 ).

To be honest, it didn’t leave me feeling like a “cherished member” of an organization or community, but much more like a magazine subscriber. Please don’t misunderstand, I think TCA is a great magazine, and I think more people should be reading it, but it’s not worth the price of admission to RAC on its own.

On the other hand, my first QSO with an American ham resulted in the ARRL sending me (at his request) a “First Contact” certificate, highlighting my first HF QSO. That was a thrill and made me want to do more.  Even as a non-resident or member, the ARRL did more to welcome me to Amateur radio than my own national organization to which I’d paid a membership fee.

As a highly-connected guy in his early 40’s, I realize that my expectations wouldn’t line up with someone who spends less time online, but I do think that to thrive (survive?) RAC needs reach out to members, and ideally become something that makes members connect to each other as well.    It’s 2013, new hams like myself will likely never use a QSL bureau. This can’t be the compelling reason to join. The tools today are online, and need to be embraced, and maintained. A quick  look at the main social tools available today  –

   Facebook – the RAC presence is minimal, and consists mostly of other areas of the world announcing their stations.

   Blog – The RAC blog is really a summary of announcements.. No interaction there either.

   Twitter – Doesn’t seem to be much there either.

   Website – it’s a dated design, but the information seems to be there.. the main problem here is that it’s an administrative page more than anything. There’s no compelling reason to spend any time there.

   Discussion Forum – Never found one, don’t think there is one is there? Why not have a place online where members (and elected execs) can discuss issues?

   TCA – great magazine, but a wasted opportunity. There are always 2 ways to get TCA, join RAC, or pick it up for free at a hamfest. Since it’s already being given away, why not make the PDF of it freely available online? That would be a nice set of numbers to show advertisers. The readership would expand beyond Canada, but the links and clicks would still land on Canadian advertisers.. Not to mention a higher profile for the authors, which is a nice perk among others.

   Online is where things happen now, my buying the [..item..] from you is another confirmation of that – Online is where RAC needs to be. Hams are spread far and wide in this country, we now have something that makes the distances smaller — the internet, RAC needs to jump in with both feet or become irrelevant.

 There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get information back into RAC. In fact, I was never asked why I didn’t renew. That’s important information! It should be much easier to get a renewal than a new membership. Someone should care about this. I didn’t see it.

I realize there are some good people who volunteer their time for RAC. I’m equally sure there are more others who would be glad to help a thriving community. That’s the tricky part, a thriving community builds a thriving community… but there needs to be time spent on building/maintaining even moderating the online community. Having done this a few times, I know the effort required, but the alternative is nothing, and that’s not much use to anyone.

Sorry if this sounds like a bit of a rant, I don’t mean it to sound negative, but you asked for my comments! At the end of the day, I think Canada needs a national organization for amateur radio, but equally as important, this organization needs Canadian hams – Canadian hams who want to build and be a part of a community.

I’ll stop there, but I do have more thoughts and ideas and would be fine sharing them if that can be helpful. At the end of the day, I wish for RAC to be not only successful, but useful. Feel free to attribute these comments to me, I see no reason to not stand by my thoughts.

So there it is, anyone else feel this way?

The FT-897 Bob-O-Meter

(one of the perks of building something is you get to call it whatever you want)

Last year I picked up my first new HF radio, the Yaesu FT-897D. I wanted a radio that would work well as a base, and in a field situation. Being a new ham, I didn’t want to close any doors early on by getting something too big.

I’ve really been pleased with the radio, it’s done everything I’ve asked, and i’ve yet to find a situation where I say ‘Oh if only it would do _____’.. I work all modes, digital modes and it’s just great. A year later, I’m still very happy with my choice.

BUT, the price to pay to have a small-ish all in one radio is the screen size. The meter, while there, does’t give the level of detail I like to see. So when I read that the radio has a port to connect to an external meter, I set about digging through the junkbox (and google) to see what I could do.

I found a nice writeup by M0MTJ on his meter, and saw how quick this would be to put together. He even includes a meter scale to print and insert into the meter.

Turns out I had everything I needed in the junkbox, but only a 1-inch meter that would do the job. I tried this for a while, then splurged a big $7 on ebay and bought a 4-inch meter. The 897 also has a jack in back that lets you put a ‘tune’ button (sends out a carrier so you can tune your antenna).. So since I was building anyway, I added a tune button on top of the meter housing. What I came up with is this :

FT_Meter_front

 

And here on the back, the meter and tune jacks, and the potentiometer to adjust the meter :

FT_Meter_back

 

In terms of complexity, the project rates about 2 on 10, the toughest part was probably making the opening for the meter in the metal box. In terms of usage and satisfaction though, it’s 10 on 10, and I can’t see myself using the radio without it.

To renew or not renew

Got this email recently –

Dear Robert,

Your membership in Radio Amateurs of Canada will expire on 2012-09-08.  We look forward to having you join us for another year.  You can go to http://www.rac.ca/en/members/myprofile/renew/ to renew your membership now and avoid receiving further notices.

If you would prefer to renew by telephone please call the RAC office at 877-273-8304.  If you prefer to send a cheque we will be sending you a form in the mail in approximately a month with the correct amount.

Radio Amateurs of Canada

 

Ok, no mention of the cost/benefits.. Seems the only benefit to renewing is avoidance of further notifications. Stop it, you’re over-motivating me and flooding me with information. In fact, the way to find out what the cost of renewal, is to click through and stop just before the payment screen, and you find out it’s $54.

What do I get for that $54? What did it get me last year?

I got a nice certificate saying I was a member. And 6 issues of “The Canadian Amateur”, which in all honesty I find to be a good magazine and a fun read, even if it’s been a little light sometimes.

Somehow, I was expecting more from RAC. I’m not sure what I was expecting to be honest, after all, I am a new ham, but I find I get much more out of sites like eham or QRZ than I do from RAC. I also joined RAQI last year (the Quebec provincial club), and I get more out of that then my RAC investment.

So what’s a 2nd year Canadian Ham to do? I don’t see a return on my membership dollar. I won’t bash RAC, I’m sure they are nice folks with good intentions, and I may come back at some point. If they offered a magazine-only subscription for a more reasonable price I’d look into it, but $54 didn’t get me much this year.

For year 2 of my Ham-life though, I think I’ll try an ARRL membership,

 

 

Make your own field day

oh yeah, I have a radio blog.. I should put stuff here..

Family and travel commitments this year mean that I was pretty much unable to do much of anything to do with field day my first year as a ham.  That was rather disappointing, I was looking forward to finding people to connect with and maybe learn a thing or two..

So I’ve been spending what time I can find on putting together a field set up with my FT-897 and such.. I’ve got power, and several untested antenna attempts put together.. now I just need to find a park or field (oh, and some spare time!) where I can go and play with this stuff..

This is where having a local club that’s not into HF is a pain… These would be fun things to try with other hams… at least until I start enjoying the finer points of discussing aged and aching body parts on VHF.  Oh well, at least there’s youtube so I can learn from others’ experience…

A few things I do keep track of to keep the radio passion going –

there’s also an active ham community on Google Plus, I’ve learned some interesting things there..

So the goal before summer ends is to go off the grid and make some QSOs from a field with a wire hanging off a tree or something. Now that I’ve written it down, I’m committed to it 🙂

The Shack

A few posts ago, I promised you a look at the shack. This may be the first of many views, as I realize that the setup is never quite what I want it to be, and will evolve over time…..

It’s tucked away in the corner of the garage, between my workbench and a freezer… Not super comfortable, but fits well with the “man cave” motif….

Here’s how it looks right now

Working clockwise from 12:00, there’s an LG monitor which is connected to the netbook underneath. I tend to use the netbook’s display for the main Ham Radio Deluxe screen, and use the bigger screen on top for web browsing, the log book, and the digital modes screen. Two dollar-store digital clocks show me local time and GMT.

On the right of the screen, is a Kenwood TS-140S, which was my first HF rig. A rather capable old timer that was my main rig for a short period of time. It now plays a backup role, and I may part with it to fund the acquisition of other goodies.

On top of the Kenwood, is the MFJ-993B antenna tuner. Besides tuning, it also lets me flip between my half sloper (for 80m-15m) and my Antron 99 (for 12m-10m).

On top of that is an Autek Research QF-1A SSB/CW/AM filter. This was a throw in when I bought the Kenwood, and now I use it pretty much all the time. A tweakable audio filter with adjustable notch and lowpass.. it does a great job of helping to pick weak audio from the noise.

Under the Kenwood is the MC-80 microphone, the netbook, then an older Pyramid power supply.

Last but not least is my Yaesu FT-897D, with a home-made analog meter on top. I wasn’t planning on buying a 2nd rig so soon, but an unexpected trip to sales-tax -free Delaware, USA combined with a strong Canadian dollar kind of nudged things along. Also, I wanted VHF/UHF, and realized this all-in-one unit would fit my needs. I’m a big fan of this radio, and haven’t regretted the purchase at all.

Not visible are the coax switch to let me flip the antennas between the radios, and a RigBlaster interface for the digital modes.

Next time, we’ll take a look at that home-made meter, and how a few bucks and some parts from the junk box made for a nice addition to the shack.

The first QSO

Got this in the mail today!

I was lucky in that my first QSO was with a ham who actually wanted to chat more than just exchange  signal reports. We had a nice conversation and he submitted for ARRL recognition of my “first contact” – a nice gesture he didn’t have to do.

It was a great way to be welcomed into the hobby. Thanks K1EKF!

Listening with both ears

I’ll go into sharing what I’ve set up so far for a shack in a bit..

Other than some antenna/transmitter tests with a local friend who’s also into amateur radio, I’ve yet to contact people using my rig.

When joining any new community, I feel it’s important to observe and understand what’s going on before barging in and bothering the people that were here before me. I’ve seen far too many examples online and off of people who come in and don’t understand why they’re angering the locals, I want to try and not be the cause of that myself.

Some new hams admit to being shy the first times, and while I can’t discount  that entirely for me, it’s really about learning and getting used to the speech patterns unique to this medium. I’ve no problem having many people hear my voice, but I want to be sure I can “talk the talk” when I get on.

There’s lots to learn even at this early stage, being a listener gives me a chance to learn how to use the gear, the antennas, the tuner, all the twiddly-bits. I’m seeing how different bands propagate, and the types of activity on the different frequencies.

It’s also a great chance to see how people behave on the different bands. I was surprised to find that different types of people hang out on different frequencies. Some of them sound very formal, whereas some others almost sound like CB radio, and others still sound like shouldn’t be there at all 🙂   It’ll be interesting to see where I choose to spend my time.

So for now, it’s listening – soon, “joining the conversation” 🙂

Hi, I’m Bob, or VE2PDT to you :)

 

” … a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant.” – Aldo Leopold

 

I’ve always loved and been drawn to radio. I remember being quite young when my dad showed me how at night you could hear AM stations from far away places.

There was magic in the air – listening to WKBW from Buffalo or WABC from New York, they sounded HUGE in my bedroom here in Quebec.. These were the days before cable TV,  here were these big bold authoritative American stations, beaming tunes and DJ-patter at us with such power and energy, yet by dawn, they were gone.

It was literally a portal to another world opening up each night at sunset. I was hooked. Who knew what the magic would bring that night? Baseball games from Boston or St-Louis, tunes from New York or Chicago,  traffic reports for roads I’d never seen. It seemed like there was no end to it.  To this day I still listen for distant stations at night – though many stations sound alike now, the offerings are no where near as exciting as they once were.

One day, my dad showed me another radio in the house, with the strange “SW” (shortwave) band. Here was the whole world! Strange languages, accents, cold-war propaganda, jamming, stations that broadcast nothing but numbers! More magic!!

As I grew,  my passion for radio started to include wanting to understand the technology behind it. I learned about waves and electronics as I built transmitter kits that let me BE a radio station, even if the range was only about 100 feet.

In my late 20’s, my father passed away, and I took some time to reboot. I discovered an old 1940’s radio at a market, and was hooked into antique radio repair/restoration. I’d discovered a new way to feed my radio addiction.

My journey into podcasting is directly related to my love for radio. Here was a transmitter-less, legal way to be radio. Since I had never worked in radio professionally, this was my opportunity to learn some of the craft behind producing radio-like content.

So here we are in 2011, and I’ve found yet another outlet for my radio passion. I’ve studied for and passed my amateur radio certification, and obtained my own call sign:  VE2PDT. Now radio becomes a two-way communication device, and instead of just listening to the world, I’ll be able to interact as well.

Some of you may be thinking, “Dude, you can interact with the world here. It’s 2011 and called email/social networks/cell phones” .. Yes, that’s true, but none of these feed my passion for radio. Also, I still think it’s cool that I can converse with someone in Europe without there being any 3rd party between us. No telecoms, no Apple, no nothing – Just air. There’s magic in that air.

I’ll be blogging about my amateur radio adventures here, as I build out and use my “radio shack” and hopefully sharing useful information along the way.

CQ CQ CQ…