USB on Ham Radio Gear?

One of the really well-done and useful technologies available today is the Universal Serial Bus (USB). If you don’t know what this is, you have been living under a rock or simply refuse to own a computer. The first revision of the USB spec (USB 1.0) was released in January of 1996. The standard has been revised and improved over time and USB ports are now standard on virtually all computers today.

USB has become the preferred and standard method for connecting electronic devices to a computer. Yes, there are some applications that might require a different connection such as IEEE-1334 (AKA Firewire), but for the most part the world has embraced USB.

In my collection of electronic stuff, I have quite a few devices that use USB. Let’s see. The computer mice that I use with notebook computers all use USB. My Garmin GPS, my digital camera, my Apple iPod, my external hard disk and my keychain Flash memory drive all have USB. The really cool thing is that I can just plug these devices in and they pretty much work. Sometimes the first time you use a device, you may have to load the right driver. On subsequent connections, it just works.

Then there is my ham radio equipment: all stuck in the archaic world of RS-232. You remember RS-232….it’s that 9-pin D connector that might still be on your computer. My newer computers don’t even have it anymore but some of my other ones do…which is the problem. If a manufacturer wants to be backward compatible with older computers (like the ones that many of us hams still have lurking in the basement), you need to support the “old” serial port.

If you have a newer computer without an RS-232 port, you can’t connect it to brand new ham equipment. Now, the good news is that there are adapters that convert the new USB port to connect to older RS-232 equipment. See an example of one here. My experience is that these converters really do work but they require some setup to get it right. Instead of the device self-identifying (like a USB device would), you have to specify the right COM port, the right serial speed, the right parity bits and so forth. Why did we ever have to set parity? Why couldn’t it just always default to a common setting?

USB is also very fast, with USB 2.0 running at 480 Mbit/s, compared to maybe 115kbit/s for RS-232. USB also supports hubs and addressing of multiple devices connected to one USB port. RS-232 was pretty much a “hook up one thing at a time” bus.

The point here is that it is time to move on. Come on, ham radio manufacturers, forget the old RS-232 ports and give us USB. Bring ham gear into the 21st century.

73, Bob K0NR

Humboldt Peak – 2006 Colorado 14er Event

Humboldt Peak – 2006 14er Event
Bob KØNR and Joyce KØJJW

The Colorado 14er Event is a fun mountaintop ham radio event. See my previous posting of the event announcement. Joyce and I decided to hike up Humboldt Peak in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. Humboldt is the 37th highest peak in Colorado with an elevation of 14,064 feet.

We drove the Jeep up South Colony Lakes Road to within about 1.5 miles of the end of the road. Yes, the road is dang rough. We backpacked in to just past the trailhead and camped out Saturday night. There was heavy rain on Saturday afternoon that delayed us some and it rained a little through the night. On Sunday morning, we hit the trail at 7 AM and made the summit around 11 AM, about an hour later than expected. The trail is easy to follow until the end, where there is a bit of rock scrambling.

Our equipment was two dualband (2M / 70 cm) Kenwood handheld rigs with 1/2-wave vertical antennas. We both made a bunch of contacts on 2M FM. I also tried 446.0 MHz but didn’t work anyone on that band. After operating about 45 minutes, the clouds moved in and we headed back down. The rain held off until about the last mile or so of hiking. We got back to the Jeep and bounced our way back down the 4WD road.

It was good to see some radio operators on non-14er high spots (Mosquito Pass and Sante Fe Peak). The log is a bit sketchy due to serious brain-fade at 14,000 feet. Any corrections would be appreciated. Thanks to everyone we worked…sorry we missed a bunch of you.

K0JJW Log [ Time ~11:00 AM to 11:45 AM MDT]

Call Frequency Name Location
K6?? 147.42 Mike / Pikes Peak
KC0TXK 147.42 Nathaniel / Mt Princeton
W0NX 147.42 Keith / Shavano
K0CAO 147.45 Chris / Belford
N0XGC 147.42 Mike / Pikes Peak
W6OAL 147.42 Dave / Parker
AC7SX 147.42 Joe / Uncompahgre Peak

K0NR Log:

K7MWD 147.42 Matt / Belford
KC0SZO Sherman
WB0RRU Dave / Colorado Springs
KC0YAF Pikes Peak
AC7SX Joe / Uncompahgre Peak
N0XDW Jeff / Mount Bross
N0WAE Santa Fe Peak
W6OAL Dave / Parker
K0CAO Chris / Belford

73, Bob KØNR

Colorado 14er Event

Amateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun Sunday, August 13th 2006 and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. The prime operating hours are from approximately 9 AM to noon local time (1500 to 1800 UTC), but activity may occur at other times during the day. Most mountaintop stations will be running low power handheld radios. Stations running high power need to keep in mind that they can interfere with stations they cannot hear.

Two awards to encourage mountaintop operating throughout the year are available. The Summit Award is given to radio amateurs that contact 10 or more peaks and the Pinnacle Award is for operating from 5 or more peaks.

Radio operators with 14er climbing experience who plan to climb a 14er should log their name and intended peak at the HAM 14er Yahoo group.

QRP Quarterly – Summer 2006

The Summer 2006 issue of QRP Quarterly showed up in my mail box today with my VHF QRP column on page 36. It looks like a few Internet references got edited out of the article, so I will list those here.

Colorado 14er Event web site:
QST article on the Colorado 14er Event:
Ham14er Yahoo! Group (Colorado 14er Event):

73, Bob K0NR