On Being Too Smart by Half – Lessons in D-Star Painfully Acquired

During my ongoing apprenticeship in D-Star, I continue to make mistakes and, mostly learn from them.

My latest:  To “simplify” use of the DR feature of Icom ID-51A+, instead of loading all 750 repeaters the machine can hold, I loaded only those from areas where I expected to travel; i.e., Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and the Carolinas.  Then, I promptly forgot having done that.  Consequently, when I went to New York last weekend, I was dumbstruck that there were “no” D-Star repeaters in all of New York City or its environs.  Flabbergasted, I was.  When I saw the closest showing on my radio was in Ohio, I recollected what I’d done.  So, what to do?

I traveled without my handy-dandy RTS programming cable and also sans computer; bringing only a tablet on this short trip.  But, there is a micro SD card in the ID-51 and one in my tablet, so maybe I download the complete North America repeatercropped-id-51a info from http://www.dstarinfo.com to the tablet, format the tablet’s SD card in the radio, put it back in the tablet, copy the list to the card, put card back in radio and Bob’s Your Uncle I’ll be in business.  I had several hours to kill and was situated in a warm and pleasant Italian restaurant in Briarcliff Manor at lunchtime with no crowd, so I could immerse myself in pizza, beer and ham radio fiddling  with no pressure – perfect!

Well, actually maybe not so perfect; first, getting the SD card out of the tablet was tricky and ultimately required the use of a borrowed lady’s earring post to release the little door (we hams are resourceful!); then, I find out the repeater list will not download to an Android tablet and neither will the needed CS-51 program.  But wait, there’s still hope: the repeater list can be downloaded as a csv spreadsheet file so let’s try that.  By golly, that appeared to work as a download but alas, not as an upload.  Nothing is as simple as it ought to be.  Threw my hands up, downed my beer, and called it a day.

Days later, back home with computer I learned that the CS-51 (or the RTS equivalent) is totally necessary, and also that naming a new icf file has to follow the awkward format exactly, i.e., Set20180114_01 and not a more user-friendly “Jan 14 2018 settings,” even though the Nifty! Mini-Manual says you can.  I did, however, learn how to program the radio using the SD card and not relying on the RTS cable which could be handy next time I’m in survival mode.

So now I have 750 repeaters loaded from all over the United States and Canada in my radio so I can’t run out unless I travel further abroad, and guess what, my HT is barely heavier than it was before!

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.


How Lucky We Hams Are who Speak English

Working hams around the world reminds me how lucky we English-speakers are.  Most hams who work DX or are on D-Star also speak English.  Some are fluent, while others speak only enough English to get through a basic exchange.  But, why don’t more of us Americans speak foreign languages?  It is probably because we don’t have to – English is the most common second language in the world (French is second) so when we travel or do ham radio, we can get by.  I recall a Chinese couple, now married, who were students at Georgia Tech.  One spoke Mandarin and the other, a different dialect of Chinese, so they could not speak to each other except in English.

The most widely-spoken language in the World today is Mandarin and for many years English was second but now Spanish is number two.  But, English is still rated as the most influential language in the World.

It can be handy to know a second language, even as a lucky American.  The number of us who are bilingual is pretty low, around 18 percent, versus some fifty percent in Europe.  I speak enough French to get around, and am studying Italian and Spanish, just for the heck of it.  Speaking some French means I can go to small villages in France where, unlike the bigger cities and tourist spots, English is not available, and still get along.  My crowning achievement though was once in a small B-and-B in Italy where the proprietor spoke only Italian and some French, and me, no Italian and some French.  It was very gratifying to converse and get directions from him in French.  Give it a try – duolingo.com is a very good, and free, website for language learning.  It features three-minute segments, which is perfect for my attention span!

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

On the Fun of D-Star

During my ongoing apprenticeship in D-Star, I’m finding this is a good but of fun once I learned the rudiments, but the learning is an obstacle.  If cars were this hard to drive more people would walk.

The world needs a plain-English guide to getting started with your new D-Star radio: the Icom manuals (I have an ID-51A+ and also an IC-880H) don’t provide that.  The Nifty! Mini-Manual, although better, is not real good either, and, I believe, contains several errors.

But once I got past that, with the help of Elmers and YouTube, I’m having a lot of fun.  Running errands in the car lrecently in Atlanta I talked to hams in California, Texas, and Scotland.  Later same day I heard but did not work two hams in qso – one from Belgium and the other in Jakarta, Indonesia.  Being FM, the audio is much clearer than most HF contacts, and a lot easier to accomplish.  And, being VHF, the antennas are easier to handle on your auto.

But, is it really “ham radio” or just an amped-up version of Echolink?  I mean, you don’t even have to have a radio if you have a DVAP or other hot spot on your phone or computer.  Does not really needing a radio assign and confine D-Star to the novelty category or is it still ham radio?  And if the latter, is Echolink and IRLP also really ham radio?  I’m haven’t made up my mind.

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

Why’s this Black Box called a Brick?

So that’s why they call this a brick amplifier; just a black box, no on-off switch, no lamp to tell you it’s on, nuttin’ but a 30-watt, 30 dollar brick!  Tested it in my car by driving some distance away from friend Steve, KA4RSZ, on simplex and lowered the power on my HT to the point that he could tell I was weak, then plugged in the amp for a good signal report.  Brick 2m amp

Park Activation, Florida, December 2017

K4WK on deserved vacation activating DuBois Park in Jupiter, Fla Dec 2 and trying out my “new” used radio: Icom 706.

Four qso’s – Fla, Ga, SC and Va on 40m. Lots of noise. Didn’t realize till later I could’ve participated in BOTA (yes, another *OTA program), Beaches on the Air.  Think of the pileup I missed!  DuBois Park Dec 2

Tried two antennas: first was an End Fedz and it worked pretty poorly for me; then I hooked my old reliable Link Dipole as a sort of inverted vee that worked some better but overall, results were disappointing.  Need to try to get it higher.  This time was maybe 15-18 feet at the apex, in a wooded area.  In an area of Palm Trees, not a lot of branches to throw a line over, but there were a few oaks to use.

Antenna Problem, Solved

It’s a winter day abalun-with-snapped-off-connectornd finally the weather’s dry enough and mild enough to work outside so, let’s get up on the roof for a closer look at the pesky wire antenna with ridiculously high SWR.

I noticed that condition when my Kenwood HF refused to tune up on 80m

(although curiously, it would tune on 40m).  Loosening the center halyard dropped the balun within reach and the problem easily spotted: the wire on the shorter leg of the OCF Dipole had snapped off (see picture).  No wonder I had lousy SWR.  My junk box contained the proper lug connector that was easily crimped into place and dipole rehoisted.  New SWR’s are as low as 1.1 on 17m up to 2.6 on 15m and 3.5 on 30m.  The biggest improvement was on 80m; it is now 1.9 versus 5 or 6 before.  Unfortunately, propogation’s no better so I’m am still qso-challenged.

Signing off for now, de k4wk, www.hamdon.com.  Thanks for listening; you’re in the log.

Copper J-Pole for 2m

Am going to build a copper J-Pole antenna for two meters tomorrow at something called Second Sunday Tech Session.  Actually, I’ll build two – one for home and one for cabin QTH.

Question: So what is a J-Pole antenna?  Answer: According to my most-recent (1994) ARRL Antenna Book (I know I am chancing it that physics may have changed in past 17 years), a J-Pole is a “vertical antenna (that) doesn’t have stringent grounding requirements and can be made from easy to find parts.”  I know my parts will be easy to find tomorrow as I have pre-purchased kits from the project organizer Jim Reed, N4BFR, whom I look forward to meeting.

Question: why copper; why not aluminum like normal antennas?  Answer: I dunno.  Copper’s a better conductor than aluminum so maybe it’s a better radiator too?  Maybe it’s because copper is more attractive when it is properly aged and will enhance your property values more than mill-finish aluminum.  Maybe Mr. Reed has a supply of copper tubing left over from a plumbing project he wants to get rid of.  I’ll find out why tomorrow.

This edition of the ARRL Antenna Book was not all that helpful as it had plans for a mobile J-Pole (not for  me; I just bought a trim-looking black dual band whip for my car for almost $100 so now I have to protect my investment) and a maritime J-Pole (only boat I have is a canoe and as we know, there is very little repeater coverage in valleys where you find the rivers), so I looked elsewhere for info.

Aerials by Kurt N. Sterba & Lil Paddle is fun to read but not organized, and has no table of contents nor index so looking up anything is impossible.  W1FB’s Antenna Notebook and the 2011 ARRL Handbook do sport indices and TOC, but neither even mentions J-Poles.  What am I getting into?

Come back later for pics and a report.