Holy Hanna!

20151121_072647February is half over and I haven’t posted at all this year so far!

In truth, I haven’t done squat so far this year with regard to radio stuff. Well almost nothing, I have made it to three VE sessing so far this year. The next one is this Saturday.

I really wish I had more to report but I basically had to shut down all of my radio projects because I just don’t have the time right now.

One radio related project I can report is a partial disassembly of the Hillbilly Radio Tower. I pulled the 70 cm and 40 m antennas down leaving only the 2 m antenna in place.

The 70 cm was working fine, I just don’t use it that often and I needed to pull the 40 m down anyway, so I opted to clean up the cabling on the back porch.

The 40 m had to come down, or be adjusted. It was tilted from the high winds of the last storm that blew through. It was still useable, just leaning about 30 degrees off vertical. After cleaning up the mast the 2 m is hardly noticeable, which is a good thing.

Other than the antennas, nothing going on or planned for the near future. I will make an attempt to get back before another 2 months goes by.

73,
~Jon KK6GXG

2015 Wrap Up

20150222_143627As 2015 comes to a close I just wanted to post a quick Happy Holidays and a note on how much got done this year.

From working on a lot of radio projects on the bench, hanging out with the Bay Area Radio Builders Club, and being privileged to be a Volunteer Examiner at 20  amateur radio exam sessions it has all been a lot of fun and very rewarding.

This month I haven’t posted anything because I have been very busy with the day job, home stuff, and planning for next year. Not to mention the holiday season.

I have several major non-radio projects coming up first and second quarter of 2016 and with any luck a move in Q3 so there will mostly be band noise here on the site in the coming months. I will try to get some radio work in here and there, but it will be sporadic.

If you are interested, I do have several other sites I maintain:

FlyBoyJon is my personal aviation pursuits and other interests. There will be mostly be personal stuff here in the coming months.

Wanzer.org is our families burgeoning homesteading site. Here is where I will be posting most frequently as we prepare for the coming relocation.

KK6GXG is my Amateur and Commercial radio site. As you already know. ūüôā

Vintage Aero Works is my business website which at present is in the very early stages of development (as is my business).

Ham-U is dedicated to helping people to get there Amateur Radio license and is also in the very early stages of development.

That’s about all for now.

73,
~Jon KK6GXG

The Future of Amateur Radio

children are the futureGoing through Yahoo group posts this morning I came across something on the Ham Instructors group that caught my attention, a discussion on the demographics of new hams and whether or not the focus for recruiting should continue to be centered on the idea that children are the future of ham radio.

Many hams, maybe even most hams, share a basic story line. They got interested in radio as a pre-teen or teen, usually exposed to radio by family, friends, or social event. Most drift away from radio as they go through various stages of life when they are swamped with the normal stuff life tends to throw at us all, school, marriage, having kids, career, the usual. Later on as things settle down radio creeps back into their life. Some manage to get licensed during that early exposure, some end up waiting several decades before getting a ticket.

In my opinion, providing the young an opportunity to catch the radio bug is the best bet. They may never actually get an amateur radio license and their attention may turn down many different paths. But the likelyhood of that exposure being beneficial to the amateur radio community down the road in some other form is immense. They would at least have some understanding and appreciation for amateur radio and its benefits to the community at large.

While I think the positions presented in the Yahoo group and associated blog posts K0NR and KB6NU are certainly worth looking into in greater depth, I think there is a more pressing matter that may affect the future of amateur radio.

Why is amateur radio experiencing a huge upswing? Basic statistics show the upswing began in 2008 shortly after the FCC dropped the code requirement for all amateur licenses. Wheather or not that decision was good for the service I will leave alone for now.

My ham path followed a derivation the one I described above. I got interested in radio as a teen back in the 80s but didn’t get my license until I was 46, only in part because of the code requirement. My reasons for finally getting my license were centered on personal emergency preparedness, serving the community, and to have fun experimenting and building RF electronics.

As a Volunteer Examiner I participate in license exam sessions and it seems that the predominant reasons for taking the license exams generally follow along with the age ranges:

Retirees & Pre-retirees are either upgrading an existing ¬†license, had a licence but it expired and are getting back into the hobby, or always wanted to but hadn’t gotten around to it till now. Or you could say, the story we are so familiar with.

20s & 30s seem to be engineering students or engineers, Makers who have projects that require a license, or preppers.

Teens and under seem to either be in a social program like a school club or scouting. A few come from dedicated ham families.

Pretty much what you might expect, but there are a couple that might have an effect on the ham future landscape. Two categories that could pose concern.

I’ll start with Makers. By in large these are folks who embody the early spirit of amateur radio, they like to build stuff. While they bring to the table that early spirit of radio, how many of them participate in the radio community? Are they here because of one project they might need to be licensed for, or are they going to keep renewing their license and play radio alongside other Maker pursuits? Either way, I am glad they are here now. They do indeed advance the science and art of radio. Down the road however the passing interest MakerHam may drop the Ham part altogether.

The other group is of¬†particular interest, preppers. My hats off to them if they actually get licensed, many more don’t. It is common practice for prepper groups to buy cheap Chinese ham-band radios and use them regularly on FRS/GMRS radio frequencies which is illegal, at least when it is not an emergency, but they are¬†much less likely to get busted for that than using amateur frequencies without a callsign.

One thing to consider is the term prepper. There is a massive range of people who consider themselves preppers that covers the entire spectrum from keeping some extra food and water along with a flashlight, first aid kit, and blanket, something we all should have at a minimum by the way, to the massive underground hords and compounds guarded by paramilitary groups.

Another consideration is, do they further the science and art? Do they participate? If so, welcome aboard.

I mention these two groups of people not to place judgement, but rather to ask if they are a part of the ham community. The reason for asking is, what happens if they don’t renew their licenses? There was concern that the ham community was dwindling away, leading to a loss of tribal knowledge. What happens when non-invested license holders don’t see the benefit of keeping an unused license? Or just forget about it?

Amateure radio has been experiencing an unprecidented growth spurt over the last 8 years. We still have two years to go before the early no-code era hams begin to cycle for renewal. I would imagine the first few years after the start of the second ten-year cycle won’t see much of an effect either way, but what happens in 2020? Will we start to see a roll-off?

In general, we seem to be more focused on recruiting rather than retention. Back in the day, the code requirement acted as a filter. People with only a casual interest in amateur radio were less likely to pursue it. While it worked fairly well as such, it also filtered out people interested in radio, just not cw. Now we have no filter at all. The only impediment to getting licensed is $15 and some time studying the relatively small question pool. You can be a Technician class licensee in short order.

In life, most things are more valuable when you have to pay for them, monetarily or by blood, sweat, and tears. Personal commitment to seeing it through establishes the value. This basic principle would indicate that removal of the code requirement and as some would say, lowering the bar on the knowledge test, the sweat equity has been removed or at least lessened thereby the value, at least the perceived value for the licensee.

So now we have several issues to contend with; keeping the number of licensees up, ensuring that they keep their licenses renewed, and keeping some level of commitment to the hobby and community at large.

Frankly, I have no idea how to accomplish any of these. I don’t think we have enough data. Too many things have changed in the hobby in the last decade and we still don’t have any results from what I think may be the most impacting factor, the dropping of the code requirement. In all honesty, I doubt if we can even begin to answer these questions until 2020 and the effects can be quantified.

In the meantime, we should continue to do as we have always done, inspire and encourage the youth, at any age. Encourage fellowship among the community, Elmer whenever possible, maintain the highest personal standards, and reach out and engage the radio community and the general community at large.

The Amateur Radio preservation mantra,
“Engage, Inspire, Encourage, Educate, Participate”

~Jon KK6GXG

VE Population and Participation Analysis

What’s in a number

While looking at the number of Volunteer Examiner sessions list for California¬†I noticed a whole lot of 0s in the number of sessions column. It seemed like a lot of hams that had signed up to be a VE weren’t following through.

I could think of a number of reasons why it might take a while to get going but the total number of VEs was holding fairly steady so it wasn’t just new people joining the ranks.

At first I was thinking it might be related to the fact that I live in California and after many years of experience in non-profit organizations the flake factor seems to be pretty high here in the Silicon Valley.

Speaking with fellow VEs at several sessions, many possibilities as to why people might not be doing sessions were put on the table. With all of these possibilities  I was developing a curiosity on the national picture of the VE population and its participation levels.

I know statistics can be twisted and manipulated to mean pretty much anything the presenter wants them to say. Qualification, classification, and various selective filtering can certainly skew the apparent meaning of raw data. Even the interpretation of raw data alone can paint a picture far from reality without knowing the real story behind the  acquisition and qualification of said data. All that being said, I am going to present my interpretation of some data.

Sources of data

When it came to the general population, where better to go that US Census Bureau. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but that’s another story. The state populations are the 2014 Estimated populations. Fortunately that data is far less important than the ham population data which is much more reliable.

Ham population data is coming from the FCC, the ARRL, and AH0A.org so I have much more faith in these numbers.

An extremely important distinction here is that the VE data is ONLY from the ARRL-VEC. There are other VECs, 13 others to be precise. (FCC VEC List) It is however fair to say that the ARRL-VEC does represent well over half of the VEs in the country. It is for this reason, I believe that the percentages will be fairly accurate, if not the total numbers.

In March 2015 the ARRL posted a report on the number of amateur radio operators along with some other demographic information. At that time the ham population in total was over 727,000 (727,354 according to AH0A.org) and the current total, according to the FCC is 733,626 as of November 14, 2015.

How it all breaks down

To put these numbers in context, the estimated 2014 US population is 322,675,314 people. That means that the 733,626 licensed hams make up only 0.23% of the national population. Of all the licensed hams in the country only 28,532 or 4.16% make up the VE population. Just for fun, this also means VEs make up 0.0088% of the national population.

Another small qualifier is in order here. District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Island, and “other” are included in the total population, total hams, and the total number of VEs. They are however excluded from upper and lower limits in the following paragraphs mainly because of extenuating geographic circumstances, also they are not statistically representative individually when compared to states. Combined they make up 4,447,151 (1.37%) of the general population, 5,774 (0.78%) of hams and 53 (0.18%) VEs.

Looking at number of hams living in each state, Oregon and Washington share the top slot by having 0.44% each of the general population holding Amateur Radio licenses, well above the national average. Louisiana and New York share the fewest number of hams in their general populations at 0.14% each well below the national average.

When it comes to the distribution of VEs by state Wyoming comes on strong with a whopping 7.9% of their hams being credentialed examiners while Utah takes the lower end of the scale at 1.8% of its ham population credentialed.

Let’s take a look at¬†the session counts. The national average¬†of the VEs credentialed that are listed as not having participated in a test session is 25.48%. Alaska comes in at 69.33% of its VEs having no sessions under the belt while South Dakota has only 13.04%.

In the 1-4 session category three states are in a tight cluster, Kansas at 27.65%, Montana at 27.40%, and Louisiana at 27.14%. Alaska makes a huge drop here to only 10.67% of its VEs having fewer than 5 sessions.

I didn’t go into the state totals with the 5-9 session counts because the average here drops to only 13.7%.

When we look at the overall nationwide average of VEs having participated in less than 10 sessions it is 60.07%. Alaskan VEs are at 88% under 10 and North Dakota and only 46.59% under 10.

So what does this all mean?

Well, first off it means that hams are a rare breed among our fellow citizens. We make up only one quarter of one percent of the population, and less than five percent of hams volunteered to be examiners. Of that small volunteer group, less than forty percent are actively participating as examiners.

About 11,239 people, 1.5% of hams, 0.00348% of the general population, are active VEs who have participated in 10 or more sessions.

This also means my initial response to all those zeros was not only incorrect, my whole perception of those zeros was cynical, uncharitable, and a poorly constructed knee-jerk response. Wow, what a jerk.

The fact that this tiny group of people held a desire to serve their fellow hams at all is admirable and commendable. There are so many reasons why someone might have signed up and not been able to participate. Not the least of which is there may just not be a VE group nearby.

If you live in an area that only has 1 or 2 exam sessions a year and you just happened to have a previous commitment or something happens to delay or cancel one or both of those sessions or your ability to attend them, that’s another year of 0. Even if all went well, that 10 session bar, the one I arbitrarily set, could take 5 or 10 years.

It’s easy to forget that ham radio is a hobby sometimes. Even easier to forget that we are all volunteers. I live in a very active area, in a state that has the largest ham population in the country, 14.14% of hams in the US. Which interestingly enough still only makes up 0.27% of the state’s population.

It was never a matter of thinking badly of the individuals with 0s. The thought I had was “Why bother volunteering if you’re not going to get out and do it.” I should have thought that through more clearly. Even with all the advantages I mentioned, I sent in my VE application in December of 2014 and it wasn’t¬†until April of 2015 that¬†I worked¬†my first session.

In conclusion

I have been fortunate enough to have participated in 18 exam sessions in the last 8 months, and I still have at least 2 more sessions before the year is up. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to regularly participate in exam sessions and look forward to continuing the trend.

I would encourage those not as fortunate, to keep the faith and make a little extra effort to find a VE group, or start one of your own. There are few things more rewarding than handing an examinee their CSCE and congratulating them on their achievement. Young or old, new hams or upgrades, there is a spark in their eyes of all the good things to come. I am very happy and humbled to be a small part of that.

73,
~Jon KK6GXG

Antennas & More

20150507_192446Today was a good antenna day. I finally got the PVC cover on the 40 meter helically-wound antenna¬†I started back in April. I have been using the antenna without the cover as a test antenna next to the bench but it’s time to get it up on the roofline for some actual use.

By “actual use” I am referring to the Beach 40 project that is back in motion now that I have a VXO that pulls more than 1.8 kHz of selectivity. Yay 148 kHz selectivity! Now all I need to do is get the Tx/Rx switching working for the transceiver to be operational.

20140430_131323Another antenna project completed today is the 2 meter twin-lead J-Pole. This one was also waiting for a PVC cover so it could be mounted on a pole. The original design was intended as a portable antenna but the twin-lead J-Pole on any frequency above 50 MHz lends itself well to mounted vertical use, it just needs a housing to keep it in the vertical position.

This little antenna works really well. On numerous occasions I have been unable to ping the local repeaters with my HT with the stock or aftermarket antennas for handhelds. If I attach the twin-lead J-Pole I can actually get out and participate in the nets. With this antenna up in the air at roofline I should have no problems working any of the local repeaters including the packet and Winlink towers.

Speaking of which, I want to get into digital modes once I get the antennas up in the air. I’m not quite up to building a TNC from scratch so I need to save up a hundred and fifty bucks to get digital rolling. Soon…

20151111_145644The other antenna project today was a new-start. When the 2 and 40 meter antennas go up I also plan on attaching a 70 cm half-wave vertical with counterpoise. This one is an experiment. I originally planned on building a 70 cm full-wave twin-lead J-Pole, and I likely still will, but I wanted to see if I could make a vertical with counterpoise that works well. I may even mod this one into a full-wave vertical with half-wave counterpoise radials. Dunno. Like I said, this is an experiment.

Another near-term antenna project, as-of-yet not started, is an aviation band twin-lead J-Pole set up like the 2 meter one. Being a pilot and mechanic, at some point I would like to have either a hangar at a local airport or a small strip at home to work on restorations, so it would make sense to have an AvBand radio in the shop. I have a Vertex Standard (Yaesu) HT for aviation VHF, it just needs an external antenna. I also have a few old radios salvaged from aircraft that would never make it back into an aircraft, but may be suitable for base station operations.

I have a number of other antenna experiment/projects in various configurations, in particular 2 m and 70 cm yagi and/or helical beam antennas suitable for satellite and moon bounce communication. But these are for the future. I also want to build some highly directional antennas for radio orienteering and high-gain narrow-beam antennas for really low power communications.

As for the “More” in the title, once I finish the 40 m transceiver I plan on building a 20 and 10 meter versions. I also have an idea for¬†simple low power¬†beacon transmitters I want to play with. I also want to get set up for QRSS, WSPR, and APRS.

Lots to do. One step at a time.

Till next time, 73,
~Jon KK6GXG

40 Meter Ceramic Oscillator

The Beach 40 saga continues. My original VXO design, well… it stunk. I’m not sure why, but the best selectivity I could get out of it was only a couple of kilohertz, very annoying.

20151104_161508I have been working on a VFO design to get full band selectivity but in the meantime I came into some ceramic oscillators for 7.2 and 3.68 MHz. The best part is that I replaced the entire Super VXO section with a 140ŌĀF variable capacitor and two ceramic resonators.

20151104_161541By placing the¬†140ŌĀF var cap in series with the two paralleled resonators¬†and feeding the output directly into the local oscillator buffer… Ta da!¬†A working ¬†VXO.

This time, instead of a few kilohertz the VXO pulls a full 148 kHz, from 7.173 MHz down to 7.025 MHz. It is certainly not the full band but it is a useable range. Over a five minute period I noticed a about a slow 50 kHz drift that eventually settled out to a point where it continued to float ¬Ī10 kHz.

20151104_161453This is not a final solution, but it will work well enough to get this QRP DSB transceiver on the air for testing.

Of course now that I have a working VXO attached to the local oscillator buffer, it’s time to hook it up to the product detector/balanced modulator… success! With the VXO, buffer, product detector chain attached to an antenna it was time for a little listen.

20151104_163742The audio amp still has some issues as far as power drain off when power is disconnected, but it does fine as an amp. I plugged everything together and plugged the audio out into an external amp so I could tune around without headphones.

Not much on the band, but my frequency generator with a small antenna plugged into it put out enough RF for the receiver chain of the Beach 40 with the temporary VXO to pick up its 400 Hz signal and cross reference the VXO frequency displayed on the oscilloscope with that of the frequency counter connected to the frequency generator. So one could say I have a working receiver, mostly anyway.

Next up: First and foremost I need to get my documentation in order. In particular, I need to get the schematics in conformance with the actual circuits.  After I get the documentation in place I need to get to work on the audio amp.

After the RX stage is all dandy, my attention will turn to the TX/RX switching. I can’t do anything more with the TX side until I get the TX/RX switching squared away.

Anyway, that’s all for now.

Until next time,
~Jon KK6GXG

UPDATE: As promised, the conformed schematic for the VXO/Buffer section…

Ceramic Resonator VXO

Blue ESR Meter

20151103_114924Something great showed up in the post, a package from Anatek with the Blue ESR meter kit.

I have been trying to get an LCD/LED TV set working. I was running into some problems in the diagnostics. Everyone I came across online that does TV work says the ¬†best tool for basic electronics diagnostics is an ESR meter, and the Blue ESR is an affordable ESR solution.¬†As a kit, it’s $80 and worth its weight in gold.

20151103_122349There aren’t a lot of parts, so the kit is fairly simple to assemble. The assembly order is based on parts types, first the 1% resistors, then the 5% resistors, followed by capacitors then semiconductors and so on.

Getting the parts on the board goes quickly. My best recommendation to anyone building the kit is to take your time and be sure of each part and it’s placement.

20151104_095312Once all of the parts are are on the board it’s time to calibrate the meter. Calibration is easiest if you have a variable power supply for testing the low battery indicator, but you can get away without one. The assembly instructions include a simple circuit you can build for this test.

20151104_100108Calibrating the meter itself only requires the two resistors included with the kit for this purpose and the turning of two trim pots. I decided to take the calibration resistors and keep them stashed in the battery compartment for possible recalibration at a later date.

20151104_101648With everything calibrated and running well it’s time to button it all up. After buttoning it all up, it’s time to get back to that TV project.

Although the TV project is still pending, the Blue ESR is done.  More to come on the TV in a future post.

~Jon KK6GXG

Commercial Element 3

Well it took almost a month to get to it, but today I took and passed the Element 3 exam. I may now exercise the privileges of a General Radiotelephone Operators License, well at least for 90 days or until the FCC processes my application and issues me a call sign.

Not much else to report right now, but I wanted to post this right away. After my commercial call sign is issued I will start moving forward with Element 8 study for my RADAR endorsement.

Until next time,
~Jon KK6GXG/commercial license pending

ETA Commercial license no longer pending ūüėČ PG00049804

Commercial Element 1

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeOne Commercial Element done!

I completed Element on of the commercial radio exams on Tuesday. If I sent in an application to the FCC this would qualify me for a Marine Radio Operator Permit. Since that is not a needed step for my goals I am holding on to the exam result sheet so I can turn it in with my Element 3 results after I take it and applying for the General Radio Operator Licence.  I should be ready for E3 in less than two weeks, maybe even next week. It all comes down to how much study I can get in.

Things are really busy at the day-job right now but my motivation is back up after doing well on Element 1, so I want to ride that wave as it were for as long as I can.  Once I finish E3 I plan on filing for the GROL and after that shows up in the database I will add the E8 exam and file for the RADAR rating.

The only other thing going on right now in radio for me is participation in ham radio license exam sessions as a VE (Volunteer Examiner.) Yesterday was my 13th session this year. I am hoping to pick up 6 extra sessions outside the normal 2 a month I have been doing since April when I started with the Silicon Valley VE group. I would like to complete 24 sessions this year.

That’s all for now, 73,

~Jon KK6GXG

 

2 Months? Really?

Yes, indeed it has been a long time since my last post.

No excuses, I have been distract by all sorts of things, mostly work though. As of yet I have not taken any of my commercial radio tests.

ARRL-VEC VEJust about the only thing I have managed to keep up with in radio is my regular attendance at the VE sessions. I am now up to 12 for the year with another one coming up next Saturday. This is one of those commitments that just takes precedence for me. It’s less than 4 hours, usually 3, two times a month. I can find time for this.

Tomorrow marks a shift in workload and a re-commitment to getting my commercial tests done. It looks like I will take them one at a time so I can focus more clearly on the task at hand rather than trying to shotgun them all at once.

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeIt has been about 2 months since I was ready to take the Element 1 test so I need a few days to get back up to snuff on the material but I believe I can get back to consistently passing practice tests before the end of the week. This means I should be ready for a Friday or Monday test (other commitments on Saturday and Sunday).

Once E1 is out of the way I will cram on E3 and try to knock that one out of the park by October 2nd giving me 2 weeks to get it together for that test. As for Element 8, I will make plans for that once I am done with E3 and have been assigned a call for my GROL. It will just need to be an add-on.

Amateur Radio, Emergency Communications, Traffic Handling and more