Apr 1 2011

Bill Orenstein, KH6QX (SK)

I was saddened to hear this morning of the recent passing of Bill Orenstein, KH6QX, after a long illness. Bill was a longtime member of the Emergency Amateur Radio Club and a regular participant in the nightly nets, and came to Hawaii after a long and storied career in broadcast audio engineering. He was one of the night owls on the 146.88 repeater, and I remember hearing him and Ed Watts KA6WVO (SK) in ragchew in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve always kept my radio off at night every since (my shack is in my bedroom – I do need to sleep).

You can read more on Bill’s career in his profile in the July 2007 issue of the EARC’s Wireless Dispatch.

We’ll miss you, King Henry Six Queen X-Ray. RIP.

Mar 23 2011

Interplanetary radio? Now that REALLY would be DX.

We hams pride ourselves on our ability to make contacts, across town, across the country, across the ocean. However, if intercontinental contacts get to be old hat, what about…interplanetary ones? if one wanted to get a message to another world, how would one do it?

An author at Gizmodo asked that question and came up with some possible ways to go about it:

A golden plaque or record has a kind of aesthetic appeal to it, and letting there be light can make one feel nice and biblical, but the best way to transmit messages is using radio waves. Visible light is energetic, but it has a very short wavelength. That short wavelength can get scrambled as it goes out through space. Though the universe is most famous for being a horrible, soul-shattering void, it’s also pretty dusty. Dust in space, or on the planet you’re trying to reach, scatters short wavelengths. Longer wavelengths move through dust clouds without getting splattered all over the place and made unnoticeable.

If you want to try transmitting messages at higher ends of the spectrum, try broadcasting at the frequency 1420 megahertz. This is the frequency at which hydrogen vibrates. Not every society is going to have a base ten number system. Not every civilization is going to use certain frequencies for cell phones, and not every song will sound the same through a different atmosphere. But it’s unlikely that whatever corner of the universe the signal ends up in will have a more basic atom than hydrogen. This is the way to get a civilization to notice you.

Unfortunately, 1420 MHz is not in the amateur bands, at least not in IARU Region 2. The closest you can get is the upper end of the 23 cm band (1240-1300 MHz).

Of course, hams can contact each other via moonbounce, and the article does mention one of the earliest attempts at EME transmission, Project Diana (3 kW at 111.5 MHz with a 24 dB gain antenna). It’s an interesting read nonetheless.

One thing I found interesting is that we may be transmitting less radio waves out into space:

Some astronomers have speculated that, as we move from radio waves to fiber optics and internet connections, we might be currently ‘going quiet’ to alien astronomers. What’s more, the radio waves we do send out are less powerful, because receivers are more accurate. As a planet, we’re shutting up. But at least this means you’ll have little competition.

So could a legal limit signal beamed up to the sky reach a faraway planet? Hey, who knows?

Mar 5 2011

A QSO a day keeps the doctor away?

On the Internet, you’ll find many examples of people trying to do something every day over the course of the 365 days in a year. Probably the most common is to take a picture every day for 365 days, or to write a blog post every day over a year.

How about having a QSO (radio contact) with at least one person over 365 days? One ham in the UK (also named Keith, by the way), is attempting to do just that, by any means necessary. Good luck to you, Keith!

Mar 3 2011

PSK31: Please Say “Kewl,” 31 times

OK, that’s a bit of a stretch in the title there, but I think it expresses my opinion of HF digital modes quite well. :)

Once I was up and running on 20 meters, I had been playing with PSK31 receive, by getting a PSK31 terminal program such as HamScope and hooking the laptop up to the radio with a simple mini-plug to mini-plug audio cable. Last Friday, I received my new RigBlaster Plug and Play from West Mountain Radio, and hooked it up to the laptop. There’s a bit of a learning curve there – besides hooking up the audio cables, you have to hook up the USB, find out where the virtual COM port went, then plug it into the PSK31 program for the PTT.

But after doing that, the contacts just kept rolling in. I got my first two-way contact that evening, with a special event station in Argentina, LT5D. Later, I worked ZL3TRR in Christchurch, New Zealand, and in the short contact we talked a bit about the quake that happened that week.

To give you an idea – I had been up and running for two weekends, and during that time I made about eight voice contacts. (Of those, I was only able to log five of them…the paper on which I wrote the details of the other three went missing.) But in one weekend, I was able to eight DX PSK31 contacts (two each from Russia and Japan; one each from Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia; and one mainland-side), and one more local contact.

And that wasn’t all – I made four more contacts this week as well – one each from Russia, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. So 12 total so far.

Didn’t have much luck tonight on PSK31 – for some reason I was having better luck on voice. Worked a DXpedition (T30AQ), and another station in Australia (VK4VN).

Will go into more detail on my new PSK31 setup in another article, but I’ve been having a great time on the HF bands lately. And the sunspots are on the upswing. Looks like I got into HF at just the right time.

Feb 25 2011

He’s been a ham for longer than most people are alive

Via QRZ.com:

George Bollas, VK3LA of Melbourne, Australia has this year achieved a remarkable milestone. First licensed in April 1931 he has marked 2011 as his 80th year of continuous amateur radio operation. That is surprising in itself but as well, at 95 years of age, George is still regularly on the air and actively home constructing.

His latest project just completed was the building of a batch of three 23cm 2C39 valve amplifiers to compliment his already comprehensive home built ATV station. He can still be heard on 20M working his old friends overseas using his beloved Collins “S”-line. As always he is ready with advice and encouragement to younger hams both in club activities and individually. If ever a voice has echoed through the generations of amateur radio it is that of our friend George Bollas VK3LA. http://www.qrz.com/db/vk3la


Feb 25 2011

Mind your Ps and Qs. Well, your Qs at least.

Building on our look at CQ and 73 a few posts ago, let’s continue with the those weird three letter abbreviations that all start with the letter Q.  For a new ham, it might take a while to get used to, as quite a few of them are used in ham speak: “Q are what?” or “Q is what?”

The Q code, as it’s called, also came from telegraphy.  It’s not surprising that a lot of ham radio speak comes from telegraphy, as radio was once known as the “wireless telegraph,” and the first radio experimenters transmitted by using Morse code on spark-gap transmitters.  Even today, they are used extensively on CW and digital modes, but they do also work their way into voice transmissions as well. It’s worth knowing what they mean.

Q codes can be used in three ways.  By themselves, they can be used as statements, or when followed by a question mark or said with a rising intonation, as questions.  They can also be used as an expression, in place of certain words or phrases.

Here are some of the most common codes you’ll hear on the air:


As a question: “Do you have interference?”
As a statement: “I have interference.”
As a expression: Interference
Voice example: “I hear you clearly, but there’s some QRM from a nearby station.”


As a question: “Shall I decrease power?”
As a statement: “Decrease power.”
As an expression: Operation at low power, in particular operation at 5 watts or below.
Voice example: “You’re sending a great signal for a QRP station.”


As a question: “Shall I stop sending?”
As a statement: “Stop sending.”
As an expression: Used when you intend to “shut down” your station.
Voice example: “Well, I have to go someplace else, so I’m going to go QRT.”


As a question: “Who is calling me?”
As a statement: “You are being called by _______.”
Note: Often pronounced in Commonwealth fashion as Q-R-Zed, even by American operators.
Voice example: “This is WH7GG.  QRZ?”


As a question: “Are my signals fading?”
As a statement: “Your signals are fading.”
As an expression:  Signal fading
Voice example: “I copy you 5 by 9, with some QSB from time to time.”


As a question: “Can you communicate with _______ direct or by relay?”
As a statement: “I can communicate with ______ direct or by relay.”
As an expression: Any two-way contact between amateurs.
Voice example: “Thanks for the QSO. Good talking with you.”


As a statement: “Here is a broadcast message to all amateurs.”
Voice example: “QST QST. This is net control calling the EARC Net.”


As a question: “What is your position in latitude and longitude?”
As a statement: “My position is ____ latitude, _____ longitude.”
As an expression:  An amateur’s present location, or location of his/her base station.
Voice example: “My QTH is Honolulu.”

Interestingly, one thing you may notice on the air when you work international stations is that no radio call sign in the world starts with the letter Q, in order to avoid confusion with the Q code.

Feb 23 2011

Calendar of Hawaii ham events

Lots of stuff on tap for Hawaii hams. Hat tip to Ron AH6RH for the information.

Date Event
Sat January 22, 2011+ ARRL VHF Sweepstakes
Fri February 18, 2011+ ARRL DX Contest – CW
Fri March 6, 2011+ ARRL DX Contest – Phone
Sun March 13, 2011 EARC Swapmeet
Fri March 25, 2011+ CW WPX Contest – Phone
Sun April 17, 2011 Geek Meet IV
Fri May 27, 2011+ CW WPX Contest – CW
Sat May 28, 2011 Makani Pahili – Annual Hurricane Exercise
Sat June 11, 2011+ ARRL VHF QSO Party
Sat June 25, 2011+ ARRL Field Day
Sat August 27, 2011+ Hawaii QSO Party
Sat September 2011 Big Island International Hamfest
Sat October 1, 2011 ARRL Simulated Emergency Test
Fri October 28, 2011+ CW World Wide Contest – Phone
Fri November 4, 2011+ ARRL Sweepstakes Contest – CW
Fri November 18, 2011+ ARRL Sweepstakes Contest – Phone
Fri November 25, 2011+ CW World Wide Contest – CW
Feb 22 2011

Care and feeding of new hams

If someone gets a call sign and no one hears it…

Last Saturday, I spent an enjoyable morning with Kevin AH6QO, Ron AH6RH, Tom WH6DJF, and Darrell KH6XL, as Kevin held a new ham workshop at Kakaako Waterfront Park for the new hams who passed at the last test session. About 25 passed in that session, and we were fortunate enough to have six hams join us: Fred WH6DQY, Dwayne WH6DRC, Ophemia WH6DRH, Elba WH6DRI, Richard WH6DRO, Leland WH6DRR. (A whole lot of DRs in this bunch, and Kevin had made up mnemonics for some of them, all of which had some form of “down right…” They worked, though, as I was able to remember most of them.)

We were able to get all six of them on the air, whether it was just a simplex contact on 146.52 from 50 feet away, or some contacts off the 146.88 repeater (thanks to Cedric KH6CPU, Lovell AH6LL, and Cyndi WH7JA for the help, and I’m sure there were others.)

Kevin went over the basics for the new Techs – the basics of on-air behavior and ID’ing, repeater and net behavior, and the basics of walkies, mobile radios, and antennas, with the experienced hams there chiming in when needed. All in all, we had a very productive session and we hope to hear these new hams on the air soon.

That workshop addresses a larger problem we see with new licensees. Ron and I were talking after the EARC general membership meeting and he mentioned how we tend to lose newly licensed hams. Out of every 10 hams we license, nine never get on the air – never get a radio, never check into a net.

If I get a call sign and no one hears it…am I really a ham?

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t met Ron at work and if I hadn’t had his support as I passed my Technician exam. I probably would have been one of those 90% of licensees who have callsigns but no radio. And I certainly wouldn’t have gotten this far.

I’m glad to see that we’re making a greater effort toward reaching these new Technicians. Ron is doing a presentation for the Emergency Amateur Radio Club directed toward the new Techs, called “Now you have a ham license; what can you do with it?” after the EARC’s testing session on Saturday.

The session will be from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm at the Fleet Reserve Association, 891 Valkenburgh St. If you’ve recently gotten a license, I hope you’ll make it out.

Feb 18 2011

CQ, 73, and other related abbreviations

It’s not surprising that most communities have their own brand of slang. But then, ham radio has its own brand of English that one needs to get used to when you get into the hobby. And some of it is abbreviated – hams have been doing that before text messaging and Twitter was even conceived.

Take, for instance: if I were to initiate a contact on the HF band, or on two-meter sideband, or even on FM simplex (but not on a repeater), I would say, “CQ CQ CQ…” One would think, “Why those two letters, C and Q? Why not something more understandable, like ‘NE1, NE1, NE1…’”

It turns out that CQ, like much of ham lingo, has its roots in good old fashioned wired telegraphy. English telegraph operators used the CQ signal to call attention to all operators along a wire (much as the current Q-code QST does today…more on that in another article). The letters CQ come from the first two syllables of the French word sécurité, meaning security, safety, or in this case, “pay attention.” When British operators, many of whom were former landline telegraphers, went to sea, their codes went with them, and CQ became a general call to all ships. It, however, lacked the sound of urgency needed of a distress call (back in those days, in the crowded bands of the early 20th century, a CQ would have gotten lost in the noise), and it was eventually replaced with SOS for distress calls, with CQ remaining a general purpose call.

Today, on the air, CQ still retains its original meaning of “attention,” but according to the ARRL, quoting Thomas Raddell, its meaning has evolved into something like “yelling ‘Hey Mac!’ down a drain pipe.”

Getting back to the contact, I call CQ, you answer, we have a nice ragchew, and when you sign off, you say to me, “Well, it’s been great talking with you, Keith. 73.” Why 73? Why not some other number? Why not 43 or 103?

(If hams were fans of Douglas Adams’ novels, maybe they might be partial to 42. But I digress…)

Again, we’re back to the days of landline telegraphs. In 1859, Western Union standardized what came to be known as the 92 code, in which the numbers from 1 to 92 were assigned meanings. Most of them fell into disuse, although we occasionally see a few remnants. Code 30, for instance, was the standard code for “no more;” this code is still used occasionally at the end of press releases.

Code 73 itself was first used in 1857, with the meaning “My love to you!” But within a short time its meaning evolved from the romantic to strictly platonic – “from a Valentine-type sentiment to a vague sign of fraternalism.” It was used as a “friendly word between operators.” In early versions of the 92 code, 73 became “accept my compliments.” To make a long story short, the meaning of 73 further evolved until by 1908 it acquired its current meaning of “best regards,” and came nearly full circle in its use as a friendly word between operators.

Two sidenotes: 73’s original meaning of “My love to you” is preserved in the current code 88, meaning “Hugs and kisses.” Incidentally, because their meanings are plural, 73 and 88 are always used in the singular. Saying “73s” is like saying “best regardses.”

For more information, check out the history page on the ARRL website.

(edit 2/28/12: I’ve been learning French on the side, and I found that I totally forgot to include the acute accents on sécurité. C’est corrigé. Désolé.)

Feb 18 2011

Pardon the dust…

Now that I’m actually populating this blog after so long, I figured it was time for a facelift. Unfortunately, the scars are still showing. Will continue playing with the CSS and graphics over the next week or so. Apologies if you go blind.

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