This Week in Amateur Radio
This Week in Amateur Radio: North America's Amateur Radio News Magazine. Articles on amateur radio and news stories in the media featured here.
Updated: 57 min 8 sec ago
Radio direction finding is one of those things that most Hackaday readers are likely to be familiar with at least on a conceptual level, but probably without much first-hand experience. After all it’s not everyday that you need to track down a rogue signal, let alone have access to the infrastructure necessary to triangulate its position. But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, at least the latter excuse is now a bit less valid. The RTL-SDR Blog has run a very interesting article wherein they describe how the global network of Internet-connected KiwiSDR radios can be used for worldwide radio direction finding. If you’ve got a target in mind, and the time to fiddle around with the web-based SDR user interface, you now have access to the kind of technology that’s usually reserved for world superpowers. Indeed, the blog post claims this is the first time such capability has been put in the hands of the unwashed masses. Let’s try not to mess this up.
The region of Italy that is home to the birthplace of wireless pioneer Guglielmo Marconi — Bologna, Italy — will host the next World Radiosport Team Championship, WRTC 2022. The official announcement that the Italian host committee’s proposal had been selected came from WRTC Sanctioning Committee Chairman Tine Brajnik, S50A, at the close of WRTC 2018 in Germany. “Thank you for trusting us,” WRTC 2022 Organizing Committee member Carlo De Mari, IK1HJS, told the WRTC 2018 audience. “It will be a very big challenge. Fingers crossed, everybody!” In a formal announcement, Brajnik said the Italian committee’s application “was well prepared, and, knowing their determination, we all expect another outstanding meeting and competition among the world’s best contesters in the Emilia-Romagna region.” Brajnik referred future inquiries for information and details of the WRTC 2022 qualifying process to the new WRTC 2022 Organizing Committee.
[Kerry Wong] comes across the coolest hardware, and always manages to do something interesting with it. His widget du jour is an old demo board for a digital RF attenuator chip, which can pad a signal in discrete steps according to the settings of some DIP switches. [Kerry]’s goal: forget the finger switch-flipping and bring the attenuator under Arduino control. As usual with his videos, [Kerry] gives us a great rundown on the theory behind the hardware he’s working with. The chip in question is an interesting beast, an HMC624LP4E from Hittite, a company that was rolled into Analog Devices in 2014. The now-obsolete device is a monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) built on a gallium arsenide substrate rather than silicon, and attenuates DC to 6-GHz signals in 64 steps down to -31.5 dBm. After a functional check of the board using the DIP switches, he whipped up a quick Arduino project to control the chip with its built-in serial interface. It’s just a prototype for now, but spinning the encoder is a lot handier than flipping switches, and once this is boxed up it’ll make a great addition to [Kerry]’s RF bench. If this video puts you in an RF state of mind, check out some of [Kerry]’s other videos, like this one about temperature-compensated crystal oscillators, or the mysteries of microwave electronics.
Figures published by the BBC show more people are listen directly to World Service English via the internet than by any other method The Global Audience Measure (GAM) figures indicate how many adults the BBC reached weekly with its news and entertainment content in the year 2017/18. The BBC World Service, which has just undertaken its biggest expansion since the 1940s, has seen its audience increase by 10m, to 279m. The total global news audience has risen by a million, to 347m. The shortwave radio audience has virtually disappeared in Pakistan, and is down substantially in Nigeria. Read the BBC report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2018/bbc-global-audience
A team of engineering students at the University of Alabama is one of six selected to compete in an international contest to design a portable radio system capable of locating a hidden radio transmitter in real time. The UA team is competing in the 2018 Annual Student Antenna Design Contest, held by the Antennas and Propagation Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology. The UA team won the contest a year ago. “We are very fortunate because this is a worldwide competition, so we are very happy our students were one of the top six,” said Yang-Ki Hong, team adviser and the E.A. “Larry” Drummond endowed professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the UA College of Engineering. The UA team is made up of students from Hong’s lab including Hoyun Jay Won, a graduate student from Incheon, South Korea; Katelyn Isbell, an undergraduate student from Chesapeake, Virginia; Leo Vanderburgh, an undergraduate student from Dayton, Ohio; Jonathan Platt, an undergraduate student from Lumberton, New Jersey.
Across the land, the scanners are going dark. Several law enforcement agencies in Virginia have moved recently to encrypt the messages they send over the radio, leaving dead air for listeners of police scanners — long the source of information for the news media and titillation for thrill-seekers. On Monday, police in Richmond and surrounding Henrico and Chesterfield counties encoded their radio signals. Virginia Beach has proposed a nearly $5 million encryption project. And soon, police and firefighters in Roanoke County and Salem will encrypt radio traffic, both as part of a shift to new technology and as a reflection of trends nationwide. Law enforcement agencies in Nevada, Ohio, Iowa and elsewhere have already encoded channels. Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers struck down a bill that would have banned departments from encrypting radio signals. The move toward encryption is setting up a debate over who should control the flow of information, and when.
According to the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia, a California man has been arrested and charged with threatening to kill the family of FCC chairman Ajit Pai last fall because the man was angry over the repeal of network neutrality rules. Makara Man, 33, of Norwalk, Calif., allegedly sent three emails to Pai Dec. 19 and 20, 2017, the first claiming a child had committed suicide because of the repeal, the second threatening to kill Pai's family members, and the third included an image of Pai with a framed photo of his family. Federal agents tracked the emails and confronted Man, who admitted to writing the emails because he wanted to "scare" Pai.
Amateur radio operators communicated with countries as far as Russia as they transmitted from the Medway Queen. The amateur radio operation, which was set up at Gillingham Pier, Pier Road, Gillingham, was designed to spread awareness of museums worldwide as part of International Museums Week. The Medway-based operation was one of many around the UK to set up a small ham radio station and communicate with other radio amateurs around the world.
Reading an article about the first transistorized Hi-Fi amplifier, [Netzener] got the itch to make one. But what to use for the starting point? Enter an old Radio Shack P-Box stereo amplifier kit. After a few modernizations and tweaks, the result is an 8-transistor stereo amplifier that’s aesthetically pleasing, sounds great, and is fully documented. The Radio Shack kit used germanium transistors, but with their high leakage current and low thermal conductivity, he decided to convert it to work with silicon transistors. He also made some improvements to the push-pull bias circuit and limited the high-frequency response. As for the finished product, in true [Netzener] style, he assembled it all to look like the original completed Radio Shack amplifier. He even wrote up a manual which you’d think, as we did at first, was the original one, giving that old, comfortable feeling of reading quality Radio Shack documentation. Check out the video below where he uses a 9 V battery and half a watt per channel to fill a room with clear, stereo sound.
If you search through an electrical engineering textbook, you probably aren’t going to find the phrase “gimmick capacitor” but every old ham radio operator knows about them. They come in handy when you need a very small capacitor of unknown value. For example, if you are trying to balance the stray capacitance in a circuit, you might not know exactly what value you need, but you know it won’t be very much. That’s when you want a gimmick capacitor. A gimmick capacitor is made by taking two strands of insulated wire and twisting them together; the length and the tightness of the twist determine the capacitance. Tightening or loosening the twist, or trimming some of the wire off, makes it tunable. These are most commonly found in RF equipment or high-speed logic because of the small capacitance involved — usually about 1 to 2 pF per inch of twist or so. The thicker the insulation, the less capacitance you’ll get, so it is common to use magnet wire or something else with a thin insulating layer. You can take this one step further and decrease the spacing by stripping down one wire as long as it isn’t going to touch anything else. Obviously, the insulation needs to be good enough for the voltage on them, an important consideration in tube circuits, for instance. But other than that, a gimmick capacitor is a straightforward tool to have in your box of design tricks. Can we take this further?
Ahmed Al Amshawi was just 17-years-old when he first discovered the underground world of ham radio in his native Baghdad in 1996. A brotherhood of Iraqi men from all walks of life united by a common, clandestine passion: amateur radio communication. One of Iraq’s first ham radio operators is thought to have been King Ghazi in the late 1930s, paving the way for the rest of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was in power when Ahmed first picked up the crackling microphone that would connect him to the outside world. The adrenaline rush he felt lives on with him today. So too does the hobby and its enthusiasts. “It’s like a drug in the system, once you take it you can’t leave it,” says Ahmed, now 40, sitting at a coffee shop in Baghdad’s Mansour neighbourhood. At the time, Saddam’s regime had prohibited ham radio operators from using their equipment – typically a transmitter and a receiver – at home. Instead, licensed operators were made to gather in government-sanctioned communal rooms where they each took turns having conversations with fellow ham radio operators. Meanwhile, the government listened in.
Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) has reiterated a call to Canadian radio amateurs to keep a close watch on Hurricane Chris. The storm was just upgraded from Tropical Storm to hurricane status and has gained considerable forward motion as it bears down on the Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland-Labrador with winds of 155 kilometers per hour (100 MPH). The storm is moving to the northeast at 37 kilometers per hour (22 MPH). Hurricane Chris is expected to make landfall on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula late on July 5 as a post-tropical depression. Rainfall in the affected area could amount to 50 to 70 millimeters, with 80 to 100 kilometer per hour winds and heavy surf. Environment Canada issued a Tropical Cyclone Information Statement on July 11. Amateur Radio operators are encouraged to monitor local repeaters and IARU Center of Activity frequencies, and in the affected area, to provide updates to the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) on 14.325 MHz. The HWN has not activated and remains in Alert Level 2 — monitoring mode.
ARRL wants the FCC to facilitate bona fide Amateur Satellite experimentation by educational institutions under Part 97 Amateur Service rules, while precluding the exploitation of amateur spectrum by commercial, small-satellite users authorized under Part 5 Experimental rules. In comments filed on July 9 in an FCC proceeding to streamline licensing procedures for small satellites, ARRL suggested that the FCC adopt a “a bright line test” to define and distinguish satellites that should be permitted to operate under Amateur-Satellite rules, as opposed to non-amateur satellites that could be authorized under Part 5 Experimental rules. “Specifically, it is possible to clarify which types of satellite operations are properly considered amateur experiments conducted pursuant to a Part 97 Amateur Radio license, and [those] which should be considered experimental, non-amateur facilities, properly authorized by a Part 5 authorization.” ARRL said it views as “incorrect and overly strict’ the standard the FCC has applied since 2013 to define what constitutes an Amateur Satellite, forcing academic projects that once would have been operated in the Amateur Satellite Service to apply for a Part 5 Experimental authorization instead. This approach was based, ARRL said, on “the false rationale” that a satellite launched by an educational institution must be “non-amateur” because instructors were being compensated and would thus have a “pecuniary interest” in the satellite project. ARRL said well-established Commission jurisprudence contradicts this view.
Telephone answering machines were almost a fad. They were hindered for years by not being allowed to connect to the phone lines. Then a mix of cell phones and the phone company offering voicemail made the machines all but obsolete. Unless you are really young, you probably had one at some point though. Some had digital outgoing messages and a tape to record. Some had two tapes. But did you ever have one that didn’t connect to the phone line at all? Remember, there was a time when they couldn’t. My family had one of these growing up and after doing enough research to find it in an old catalog, I decided you might like to know how it really worked. Even if you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, it is hard to imagine how little technology there was in an average person’s home at that time. You probably had one TV and one wired telephone. You probably had a radio or two and maybe even a record or tape player. If you were very fancy, you had a big piece of furniture that had a TV, a turntable, a radio, and a tape player in it. No cell phones, no computers, no digital assistant, and appliances were electro-mechanical and didn’t have displays. So when you saw a new piece of tech — especially if you were a kid who didn’t know what a hacker was, but still wanted to be one — it made an impression. I still remember the first time I even saw a tape recorder. I was amazed! But a tape recorder is a far cry from a telephone answering machine.
Japan’s space agency JAXA has announced that nine CubeSats will be deployed from the International Space Station on July 13. Three of the satellites — EnduroSat AD, EQUISat, and MemSat — will transmit telemetry in the 70-centimeter Amateur Radio band. EnduroSat AD will transmit on 437.050 MHz (CW, 9.6 kB GFSK); EQUISat will transmit on 435.550 MHz (CW, 9.6 kB FSK), and MemSat will transmit on 437.350 MHz (9.6 kB BPSK).
We understand that a poorly-worded online message has been circulating, purportedly from the ARRL, seeking donations supposedly to cover the medical expenses of a poorly child, ‘Dawn’. The ARRL has confirmed that this email is a scam, and describes as “despicable” the attempt to prey on the willingness of amateurs to help others in need. If the ARRL, RSGB or any other responsible organisation launches an appeal it will normally be announced on their websites, which you should NOT access by clicking on a link in an email.
The second generation of CubeSats in the BIRDS constellation now is on board the International Space Station (ISS) and set for deployment in early August using the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) module’s remote manipulator arm. The June 29 SpaceX Falcon 9 launch carried the BIRDS-2 CubeSats — MAYA-1, BHUTAN-1, and UiTMSAT-1, built by students from Malaysia, Bhutan, and the Philippines at the hosting Kyushu Institute of Technology in Japan. All CubeSats have identical designs and utilize the same frequencies. While independently made, operation and control of the three CubeSats will be shared by three teams after the spacecraft are released into space. All three CubeSats will transmit a CW beacon on 437.375 MHz. They will be operational for 6 months. “The three will form a constellation, orbiting the Earth from different places. This will provide the countries more opportunities to make measurements and run experiments than just with using one CubeSat,” explained Joel Joseph Marciano, Jr., manager of the PHL-Microsat program in the Philippines. The primary mission of BIRDS-2 CubeSat constellation is to provide digital message relay service to the Amateur Radio community by means of an onboard APRS digipeater on a frequency of 145.825 MHz. Another mission of the BIRDS-2 CubeSat constellation is to demonstrate a store-and-forward system, investigating technical challenges through experiments on appropriate data format, multiple access scheme, and file-handling protocol while complying with limited operational time and power constraints.
ARRL Volunteer Examiner Team in Australia Holds First Technician Test Session under New Element 2 Question Pool
An ARRL VEC Volunteer Examiner (VE) team in Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia, conducted the first Technician test session under the new Element 2 Question Pool that went into effect on July 1. The newly revised pool, released in January 2018 (and subsequently updated and re-released in February) by the Question Pool Committee (QPC) of the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC), which must now be in use. Three graphics are required for this pool, which includes 423 questions — down slightly from 426 in the previous pool. In the Australian session, two candidates passed the Technician exam “comfortably” and then went on to pass the General class exam, Australian VE (OzVE) team spokesperson Brad Granger, VK2QQ/AK2QQ, said. They struck out on the Amateur Extra exam, however, although neither had really prepared for it, and both promised to come back and try again later in the year. “The OzVE team has been growing steadily since our first exam session held in 2016, with teams now active in Queensland (VK4), Victoria (VK3), and New South Wales (VK2),” Granger said.
The US Department of Justice and the FCC have reached a settlement with Brian Crow, K3VR, of North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, to resolve allegations that Crow intentionally interfered with the communications of other Amateur Radio operators and failed to properly identify. The core component of the settlement calls on Crow to pay $7,000 to the US Treasury, the FCC and US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott W. Brady announced in separate July 3 news releases. In addition, Crow’s Amateur Extra class license will be restricted to Technician class privileges for 6 months, and he has agreed to discontinue contact with the individuals involved in this case. Crow’s Amateur Extra privileges will be restored after 6 months, “if no new violations have been found,” the FCC said. “Amateur Radio licensees know that the rules require them to share the airwaves, which means that bad actors cannot plead ignorance,” FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Rosemary Harold said in the FCC release. “This settlement is a significant payment for an individual operator, and it sends a serious message: Play by the rules in the Amateur Radio band[s] or face real consequences. We thank the US Attorney’s Office for understanding the importance of this type of case and pushing it forward to ensure a resolution that included strong penalties for substantial violations of the law.”
UK radio amateur John Hey, G3TDZ (SK), was the original designer of special low-frequency radio equipment — the HeyPhone — used in the recent cave rescue in Thailand. Al Williams, WD5GNR, reported in Hackaday that the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC) was asked for its help and equipped the rescuers with HeyPhones. The HeyPhone is “now considered obsolete, but is still in service with some teams,” Williams wrote. The radio transmits on USB at 87 kHz, which can penetrate deep into the ground, typically via electrodes driven into the ground. In a 2018 update, the British Cave Research Association (BCRA) Cave Radio & Electronics Group (CREG) HeyPhone Cave Rescue Communication page called the HeyPhone “a pioneering development in cave radio” that “can no longer be recommended for construction.” Several successor products — including the Nicola Mark III, which has been tested by the BCRC — have been developed.