Jun 10 2012

Having a Field Day, 2012 – decisions, decisions

It’s time once again for that wonderful ham radio gathering known as Field Day, which takes place from 8:00 a.m. June 23, 2012 to 8:00 a.m. June 24. Hams from all over the U.S. and other countries will gather on the airwaves to try to make as many contacts with each other as possible. Although there are likely going to be numerous places from which hams will be operating, for hams on Oahu looking for lots of hams to meet and lots of activity, they’ll have some choices to make.

At the invitation of the University of Hawaii, the Emergency Amateur Radio Club will be holding its Field Day activities on the Bachman Hall lawn at UH-Manoa. (Yes, that does mean that visitors to the university and people passing by into Manoa will likely be treated to the sight of tall HF antennas…and what says ham radio more than big antennas?)

For those who prefer a day at the beach, the Koolau Amateur Radio Club will be holding their annual Field Day celebration, as they’ve done in past years, at Kualoa Regional Park on the windward side.

Both events will be open to the public and hams will be available to answer questions. Both clubs will also need people willing to camp out on Friday, June 22, to help setup antennas. Check each club’s website for more information.

For an idea of what happens on Field Day, check out my YouTube video from last year’s combined EARC/KARC Field Day.

Jun 6 2012

CQ Ham Radio, this is Bytemarks Cafe!

Burt Lum and Ryan Ozawa are both well-known among the technology community, and among geeks in general, here in Hawaii. Among other things, on Wednesday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. on 89.3 MHz (HPR-2), they can be heard on the Hawaii Public Radio talk show Bytemarks Cafe, which talks about all things tech. They’ve been doing it for several years now, so these guys do know their way around a radio station (or at least around a mic).

Now, you might be hearing them on 146.88 MHz and other frequencies as well. Today, both Burt and Ryan passed their Technician class exams, and in a couple of weeks they’ll have callsigns of their own. That the ham radio community now has the two alpha geeks (and the best tech evangelists) in Hawaii speaks volumes. Listen to their show so you know their voices. Then keep an ear out for them on our bands, and give them a warm welcome!

Update 6/10/12: One thing about Ryan – he also maintains a lot of Hawaii-related sites, tops among them his Hawaii Blog. In keeping with that, he’s started Hawaii Ham. Thanks, Ryan, for the shout-out. Perhaps you’ll be keeping things more up-to-date than I have been. :)

Update 6/12/12: They’re both official now – Burt is WH6DZJ, Ryan is WH6DZK. (Of course, those calls may be subject to change later on.)

May 31 2012

It takes more than a big-gun station to make a top operator.

I happened across this article this afternoon on the ARRL website. I found it rather timely given a rather regrettable affair between two fellow hams (whose calls I will not name – they know who they are) that should have been kept private, but was unfortunately aired in the rather public forum of the EARC e-mail reflector.

The article is great reading, if rather sad. However, to make my point, I’ll cut to the chase (emphasis is mine).

During my drive home later that night I tried to imagine why any ham would want to ruin the enjoyment of Amateur Radio by anyone else. The ego, selfishness or anger issues that I mulled over as the possible answer reflected so poorly on the other operator that I finally gave up and concluded that his behavior was simply beyond my comprehension. Ham radio is a hobby that should be fun for all participants regardless of their equipment or skill level. If those unwilling to play nicely with others succeed in driving people away, the eventual result will be a few big-gun stations that quickly work each other and then spend the rest of the contest weekend calling CQ endlessly without being answered because the operators who might have replied have quit the hobby.

‘Nuff said.

May 28 2012

Makani Pahili 2012

Every year, at the beginning of hurricane season, the emergency management agencies across the state participate in an annual exercise of emergency preparedness called Makani Pāhili (hurricane or cyclone in Hawaiian), testing the worst-case scenario – what if a category 4 or 5 hurricane made a direct hit on Oahu?

Amateur radio operators play an important role in the exercise, and from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on June 2, 2012, hams are asked to participate in the communications exercise by formulating and passing simulated traffic on the ICS-213 form. State RACES coordinator Ron Hashiro, AH6RH, has more details on his website. Also on his site is more information on passing ICS-213 traffic.

Participate, get involved, and be prepared – an emergency is not the time to be learning how to pass traffic.

Mar 4 2012

“Transceiver does not have CB frequencies…”

OK, I admit it. Ham radio has a PR problem. Most people know more about its more free-wheeling cousin, CB. And others tend to mix the two up or think they’re one and the same. However, it’s one thing for someone not to have heard too much about ham radio. It’s another thing altogether for someone to lodge a review about a ham radio, with his review showing to the world just how utterly clueless he is about it.

Malcolm (KH6MSH) forwarded a review to the EARC net control station list written by one Brad Boutan. It was for a Yaesu FT-7900R mobile dual band radio. (I have its older cousin, the FT-7800R – it was my primary radio until my FT-857; it’s now part of my go-kit.) I have to admit, I had a pretty good laugh at first. But reading it again, some of the stuff is just plain false. It basically showed a fundamental lack of knowledge about what ham radio is. So, in case you happen on across this review, I hope this sets the record straight. Let’s address his bullet points one by one:

First the bad news. 1. Transcever [sic] does not have CB frequencies. I was under the false impression that it did…

I have more bad news for you, dude. CB is CB, ham is ham, and on the airwaves, never the twain shall meet…legally, that is. CB has its own FCC band (11 meters), and although it’s a close neighbor to the ham radio 10-meter band, if a ham radio transceiver is legal in the U.S., it cannot include 11 meters. Nor can a type-compliant CB radio transmit on 10 meters. So if you’re looking for a radio that can transmit on CB, look elsewhere. Like, an actual CB radio. Next.

2. Documentation inadequate for proper sellection [sic] of antenna, and power supply.

The documentation for a ham radio presupposes that you have a license. And having a license implies that you passed the Technician class exam, which covers the basics of antennas and DC power in some length. True, some of this stuff comes from learning from other hams, but even then, if you went through the Technician exam, you have the basic knowledge to understand what antenna you need – you’ll have the basics of SWR (and why it’s a bad thing); you’ll understand why your quarter-wave vertical mobile antenna needs a pizza pan to work, and so on. You can even make your own. And you’ll know that you need 12V to run it. So, if you need to be told what kind of an antenna you need – you need to pass the exam first.

3. Inadequate public notice of requirement for U.S. government license.

Oh, come on. Hams put their callsigns on display for the world to see – especially on their cars. Not all radio users have government issued callsigns, which implies that it’s something special, and maybe (gulp) needs government approval? I’ve known for a while that hams needed licenses, and getting one was on my bucket list for a while until I finally got it in 2007.

Now, this criticism could apply to some radio services, such as the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). You wouldn’t know, on reading the packaging on those two-way radios in your local Best Buy or Wal-Mart or what have you, that you need a license. I’m talking about those radios that boast about a 10-15 mile range. (Which, by the way, is only true under ideal conditions – that is, true line of sight or flat ground. Add mountains, obstructions, or buildings, and you’re lucky to get 2 miles at most.) You can use the radio out of the box on the Family Radio Service channels at the FRS power limit of half a watt, but to legally use the full power, you need to apply to the FCC and pay a little-more-than-nominal fee of about $80. (For comparison, with some time and effort, you can get your ham license for as little as the typical exam fee of $14. And if you’re really adventurous, you could run the table, go from zero to Extra in one sitting, and pay as little was $42.)

But ham radio is not one of those. It’s not a secret that hams need licenses. And if it’s news to you…well, what can I say?

4. Again inadequate documentation for proper user friendly operation of all features of Transcever [sic].

OK, I’ll concede that owner’s manuals are not the most user-friendly things in the world. That said, learning all the bells and whistles of any piece of equipment takes work. The most essential function is transmission, and that’s pretty much the same across all radios. But there are essential skills in ham radio that you need to know, but the specifics of doing so may vary from radio to radio. For instance, knowing how to set your radio between repeater/duplex mode and simplex mode. Or memorizing frequently used frequencies. Or learning how to listen on the “reverse” – i.e. the input frequency of a repeater.

You do need to read your manual. I hope our reviewer friend knows how.

5. Non disclosure of Manufacturer (ie. is it from a Hostile nation with computor [sic] circuitry designed to malfunction or other harmfull [sic] acts.)

The manufacturer is pretty clear – it’s Yaesu. They’re a well-known name in radio communication and particularly among hams. All the radios I use are made by Yaesu. They’re not the only one out there (their competitors, ICOM and Kenwood, come immediately to mind), but they’re well respected. By the way, they’re a Japanese company, so I don’t think they’re going to harm anyone, unless you really, sincerely think that Pearl Harbor will ever happen again.

6. Has permenant [sic] auto shut off of Transmitting capability if FCC detects ANY operator transmitting without a license. Even if a one time, 5 second transmission is made, results in auto shut off. Even on very obscure frequencies. … Unite [sic] must be taken to Ham shop to reset trip.

OK, here’s what I picture – the FCC constantly monitoring 2 meters, and seeing if anyone is transmitting unlicensed so that – BOOM – they can send some weird signal that short-circuits their radio and turns it into an expensive paperweight.

And if you believe that, can I interest you in some prime land on the slopes of Kilauea?

<sarcasm>I’m sure the FCC can tell if someone has a license just by listening to their transmission for a mere five seconds.</sarcasm>

I’m also sure the FCC has better things to do than to do that. And I’m sure that they’re not going to fine you $5,000 if you momentarily lapse and drop your callsign after 10 minutes and 2 seconds.  They’re not THAT strict. However, if you habitually forget to ID, or do other things that are no-nos, the FCC can take complaints and take action. Hams will defend their frequencies against abuse.

The whole licencing scheme is a scam of Freedom of Speech Right, and Right to Public Access.

Freedom of speech has never been absolute. You’ve heard of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, right? (The ham bands have an equivalent: falsely declaring an emergency on the air.) And right of public access? The roads are publicly available, but you still need your driver’s license to operate a motorized vehicle on them. Safety, safety, safety. I talk about the hows and whys of ham radio licensing at length here, but suffice it to say that if you transmit unlicensed and break some of the rules in the process, you’re going to sound like a total fool, you’re going to have quite a few hams ticked off at you if your transmission causes interference, and you’ll probably attract the attention of the friendly neighborhood FCC.

In the end, dude, no one is forcing you to go into ham radio. If CB is more your speed, more power to you (up to 12 watts, of course). And next time, you might want to read up on ham radio before actually purchasing one. And yes, I know you actually purchased it. Amazon says so.

Oct 19 2011

I should have kept my big mouth shut.

Since getting on HF, I’ve dabbled a bit in contesting. Not seriously, of course. There’s only so much I can do on 100 watts and with only a 20 meter antenna. But I try to work the stations I can by tuning up and down the band, and send in my Cabrillo file afterward to get credit.

This past August was the first time I participated in the Hawaii QSO Party. That weekend on Saturday, I paid the QTH of Randy KH6IB a visit, where members of the Emergency Amateur Radio Club were hanging out for the next band opening. I got on the mic for a little while and worked a few stations for KH6CE, so I got credit as an operator. Then once conditions started improving, I headed back home, fired up fldigi, and got ready to work some stations that afternoon. As you probably know, I’m a big fan of PSK31, and have made most of my contacts that way.  And the HQP is one of the relatively rare contests that not only allow PSK31, but actively encourage it by giving you triple the QSO points.

All told, I got 13 PSK31 contacts and 4 SSB contacts, 688 points total. Of course, I didn’t believe that I would win anything with that measly amount. The stereotypical contester puts out a kilowatt of power so just about anyone around the world can hear him. So was I surprised when Joe AH0A gave me this at the last meeting:

3rd place certificate for Honolulu County

Yep, third place in Honolulu County for single operator low power (less than 150 W). The first place op had around 17,000 points, and the second place op had 2,000 points. So I was about two orders of magnitude below them. Still, third place is third place.

In a way, though, I’m kicking myself a bit about those four SSB contacts so I could get the multipliers for Kauai and Ford Island. Without them I would have lost just four QSO points and two multipliers, leaving me with 546 points. That still would have been the best performance on PSK31 statewide. D’oh!

Still, I had a lot of fun at the HQP. Any contest that allows PSK gets a gold star in my book. Next year at the Hawaii QSO Party, I think I’ll keep my big mouth shut and let my fingers do the talking. :)

Aug 25 2011

Five hams to activate Kalawao County on DX-pedition

It’s hard to get there. There’s a very small airport, and the only other way in by land is a mule trail down sheer sea cliffs. Access to the peninsula, strictly controlled by the Hawaii Department of Health, is possible only via invitation, special arrangement, or by organized tour. It’s also one of the hardest places to reach by radio waves. But five amateur radio operators from Honolulu plan, for a weekend at least, to put Kalawao County on the map.

Kalawao County, Hawaii, home to the former Hansen’s disease settlement on Kalaupapa, is one of the smallest counties in the United States, both by population and by land area – according to the 2010 census, only 90 people live on the 13 square miles on the northern tip of Molokai. There are only eleven patients left in the settlement and about 25 staff members living there as well. The small population also makes the county one of the most sought-after spots in the United States. Until very recently there were no hams in Kalawao County (two new Technicians passed their exam about a month ago), and there have been no hams capable of doing HF (shortwave) communications since the 1960s.

Five amateur radio operators are now in Kalaupapa preparing to work other stations around the United States and abroad as part of the Hawaii QSO Party this weekend. (QSO is amateur radio speak for a two-way radio contact.) These operators are Joe Speroni (AH0A), Jim Yuen (WH6GS), Bev Yuen (AH6NF), Kimo Chun (KH7U), and Ron Hashiro (AH6RH).

For more information on the Kalawao County DX-pedition, visit Ron Hashiro’s page.

Jul 30 2011

A time to be brief, a time to be polite…

So there I was, on a lazy summer afternoon at home in Hawaii, surfing the ionosphere for PSK31 contacts. One of the first things I say on my waterfall was a very strong booming signal:

CQ CQ CQ de <other guy> <other guy> <other guy> k

I’m not picky about who I work on PSK31, so I responded using my macro:

<other guy> <other guy> de WH7GG WH7GG WH7GG kn

The response caught me off guard a bit:

WH7GG DE <other guy> UR 599 k

Normally at this point one would see a bunch of pleasantries in addition to the signal report: the station’s QTH, his name, his grid. And usually it’s via a macro on the digital software that automatically sends this info, and one would respond in kind. Still, this response in this situation came across like walking up to someone at a party and saying, “Hi, whatever-your-name-is, I hear you.”

I had to check for a minute. There are no PSK31 contests I know of, not that I’ve seen on the waterfall. This guy is not on a DXpedition or working a special event sign. Still, I sorta got the message that he wanted just the REAL basics, so I responded, free-typing:

<other guy> de WH7GG ur 599 in Hawaii also k

Then came his response back.

WH7GG TU QSO <other guy> QRZ? k

Ummmm…OK, so you don’t care about my name or where I’m from. In fact, I’m not even a human to you. All I am to you is a call and a signal report. I got the message, loud and clear.

I later looked up his info on QRZ.com, and saw this note at the bottom:

Quick note : sorry guys looking for a ragchew etc (especially digital modes) I just need call and report (min. required for a valid QSO)

I am always doing other stuff when on the radio (working on the side), unless when I’m contesting.

So no need for name, qth, antenna, pet’s name, grid, club number, favorite color, year when born, month when conceived, etc.etcetc I dont even read that

Thanks a bunch !!

That didn’t sit well with me. Of course, he does have the right to make contacts however he darn well pleases. And yes, during contests, DXpeditions, and such, brevity is key. The point of those is to make as many contacts as possible, bam bam bam bam bam. In the short time I’ve been on HF, I’ve worked contests before on voice and on PSK31, and know the drill. Exchange calls, signal reports (in a contest you’re always 59 to the other guy and vice versa), and your required other piece of info, and move on.

Still, not all of ham radio is a contest. Not all situations call for a QSO stripped down to its bare essentials. Especially on HF, where you’ll run into hams from all walks of life and all countries and cultures of the world, it’s good to be open.

And it is worth noting that there ARE humans on the other end.

Truth be told, even on voice I have yet to master the art of the ragchew. In my case it’s more of a rag-nibble. I’ll exchange signal report, name, QTH, maybe weather, maybe talk about my rig, maybe another comment or two, but then I’ll let the other station go. I’m not very talkative in real life, and ham radio is no different. Still, when I’m working someone, he or she has my full attention, as it should be even in face-to-face conversation. And I’m polite as I can possibly be. After all, I understand that his impression of me is based how I conduct myself on the air.

I often find that being from Hawaii and having a KH6-region call sign opens up a lot of conversation possibilities. On voice and PSK, I often find that saying I’m from Hawaii elicits fond memories of a visit here, or if not, a desire to do same. Similarly, say you’re from Oregon, and I’ll wax poetic about the natural beauty of the Northwest, my time at Lewis & Clark College, and my many trips since then.

I really wonder what this guy is like in person. I wonder what sort of impression people get of him when they work him on the air. Sure, he must be a contester extraordinaire, with skills as polished as that. But it must be REALLY boring to have a conversation with him, if his ham persona outside contesting reflects real life. Does he have a life outside ham radio? I wonder, too.

Jul 20 2011

A chance encouter on the airwaves in PDX

Portland, Oregon, has been my second hometown for many years. More recently, it’s become my favorite vacation spot. Even more so since there’s a Ham Radio Outlet located there. I bought both of my base station rigs there – my FT-7800 in 2007, and my FT-857D in July 2010, and whenever I’m in town I pay them a visit.

Still, I find that, what with all the other things I do on vacation, sometimes I hardly touch the HT. Today is my last day in Portland for this trip, so I decided just to check out the bands on the HT. While scanning up and down the 2 meter band I happened across 146.70 (pl 100), and caught the tail end of a “YL net.” YL, in ham speak, means woman (“young lady”).

Yes, I know, I’m no YL, but when I heard two OMs (“old men”) check in, I figured it would be OK for this OM to check in. (In ham speak, men are always old regardless of age, and women are forever young.) So I called, “whiskey hotel seven golf golf, portable whiskey seven.”

I must have caught net control off guard since she asked for my call again. Maybe she was wondering why a 7 station is signing portable W7. I did get a nice warm welcome once I said that I was visiting from Hawaii.

Anyway, it was nice to be able to use the radio on vacation. I really should make it a habit to use it more often when I’m out and about on the mainland. Maybe next trip.

Jul 8 2011

Having a Field Day

Most people are familiar with the phrase “to have a field day” in various contexts – in some cases meaning experiencing freedom from responsibility, in other contexts referring to criticism, but in all cases to appear to enjoy oneself doing it.

However, when ham radio operators in the United States and Canada have a Field Day, it actually has a more specific meaning. It refers to the ARRL and RAC Field Day, held every year on the last full weekend of June (June 25 and 26 in 2011). On that day, thousands of amateur radio operators get out from their home locations (hence the name – getting out “into the field”), set up stations running on emergency power, and operate for a 24 hour period. In its basic form it’s an emergency communication exercise – you never know where you’ll be setup in a communications emergency; you probably will not have commercial power readily available; and you want to be able to operate for as long as possible with the equipment you have.

But while Field Day serves an important role in preparation for emergencies, hams have a whole lot of fun as well. Here are some clips of the last Field Day the Emergency Amateur Radio Club had with their sister club, the Koolau Amateur Radio Club.

EARC/KARC Field Day 2011 on YouTube


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