Crystal-Controlled Toasters

The Phone Losers of America web site champions pranks of all kinds, especially ones associated with technology. One of their standard pranks is taking over the radio communication system used at the drive-up window of fast-food restaurants.

They really out did themselves by creating a video that describes how to mod a CB radio to work on fast food restaurant frequencies. (Hmm, it seems unlikely that a 27 MHz transceiver could be easily modified for VHF.) Oh, I see, they use a special crystal found in modern day toasters. That explains it.

Warning: some adult language

Be sure to look at the comments on the video. The prank keeps on going.

I do not condone nor support modifying radios for out-of-band operation, hassling employees of fast food restaurants or posting hilarious videos on youtube.com :-)

73, Bob K0NR

Observations from Dayton

Here’s a few thoughts and observations from the Dayton Hamvention®:

  • Dayton remains the ultimate ham radio geekfest on planet earth. I am checking with other galaxies….so far, no competition.
  • Attendance, inside booths and flea market activity all seemed to be down a bit this year. I am guessing that $3.85 per gallon gasoline might be a factor.
  • The weather forecast threatened rain for most of the weekend but the actual weather was just fine….not real hot, not real wet.
  • For some reason, this year I really noticed how decrepit Hara Arena has become. I don’t think it has seen more than $5 worth of maintenance in recent years. This is not a new thought, see this string of comments on eham.net
  • The forums that I attended drew large crowds, typically overflowing the available seating. This seems like a problem and an opportunity. (How to expand the size and number of the forums?)
  • Lots of interesting characters walking the flea market (my wife is entertained by the target-rich, people-watching environment.)
  • Yaesu was showing an early unit of the VX-8R. See Universal Radio web site for preliminary data. This handheld has 50 MHz, 146 MHz, 222 MHz and 440 MHz with optional APRS feature.
  • Lots of buzz around D-STAR. Last year, I thought “hmmm, maybe this technology is going to take off.” This year, I think “this technology has taken off.”
  • I bought an ICOM IC-91AD dualband handheld with D-STAR capability.
  • I picked up the usual collection of coaxial connectors/adaptors and cables.
  • I picked up my free Yaesu hat. Thanks, Yaesu! I will put it with my collection of hamfest hats, mostly from Yaesu :-)

See you next year….

73, Bob K0NR

Use that New HF+6m Rig on 6 meters

Colorado just experienced a nice 6M sporadic-e opening. Phil N0KE sent out this article as encouragement to try 6 Meters.

A few years ago we started seeing new HF rigs with 6 meters included, and at the 100 watt level in many cases. At the Central States VHF Conference in July 1998, it was claimed that world wide there are now 30,000 more stations with 6 meter capabilities. In the ARRL June 1998 VHF contest, several stations exceeded 1,000 QSOs on 6m and about half the all time top QSO totals were made this year, which would indicate a lot of these rig owners are using them on 6m.

You may have an existing antenna that will function on 6m. Obviously the best thing to do would be to put up a 6 meter yagi and an advantage is that they are small and light and you may be able to add it on an existing tower. For those who want to try out the band without making the commitment for buying a new antenna, you may be able to use an existing antenna. Most 15 meter antennas will work reasonably well on 6 meters. My TA33 tribander loads well. I’ve also tried the TH6DXX, TH7DXX tribanders and KLM 6 element 15 meter monobanders on 6 meters with reasonable results. You may have to use a tuner to get full power. I’ve found that a HF tuner in the 10 meter position will often work and the auto tunners in many rigs will work too. There are some inexpensive 6 meter antenna tuners made. A multi band vertical that covers 15 meters will also work, except one gentleman told me he fried the 15 meter trap on his R7000 in a matter of seconds at the 100 watt level on 6 meters. I’ve had good luck using a Butternut HF6V and HF9V on 6m. Most HF SWR and power meters are still reasonably accurate at 50 MHz. I’ve also worked some other stations using unusual antennas on 6 meters. I worked a New Zealand station who was using 10 watts to an 80 meter folded dipole. A 2 meter 5/8 wave vertical is very close to a ¼ wave on 6 meters and lots of people have used that mobile or like the guy in Dallas I worked who was using one on a magnetic mount on his bath tub. I never did find out why he was using the bathroom for his ham shack.

Since many of these HF+6 rigs, like the Icom 706 are very small, they are very attractive to take on that contest or vacation trip, especially when coupled with one of the light weight switching power supplies that will convert a wide range of AC voltages to 13.8 VDC. I easily carried my rig, power supply and laptop as carryon luggage on a KH6 trip for the 1997 CQWW SSB. You may end up in a country with little or no resident 6 meter activity and be much more in demand than on any of the HF bands. You can make some 6 meter QSOs even without packing along a 6 meter yagi, but do take the yagi if you can.

On 6 meters 50.000 to 50.100 is reserved for CW and contains many beacons. US beacons are mostly between 50.060 to 50.090. Most DX CW QSOs take place between 50.090 and 50.100. 50.100 to 50.125 is the DX window in the USA with 50.110 being the international DX calling frequency. In Europe the DX window is 50.100 to 50.130. The USA domestic calling frequency is 50.125. In Europe the domestic or inter Europe calling frequency is 50.150. Six meters is like other VHF bands in that SSB and CW are used in the same portions of the bands. Experienced expeditioners like W6JKV will constantly switch back and forth from CW to SSB on the same 6 meter frequency. Cross mode QSOs are also common.

We are in the spring sporadic E season that runs from mid May to late July or early August. Whether you are doing E mail or watching TV etc turn the rig to 50.125, turn up the squelch. If anything is happening, you will most likely hear it first on 50.125. Once the band is open move above the calling frequency for QSOs. I’ve found activity up above 50.250 on good openings. Another clue is if you are hearing very strong E (short) skip on 10m, chances are very good that 6m is open in the same direction. E skip is typically between 700 and 1400 miles per hop. Double hop is fairly common and multi hop propagation of 4 or more hops is much less common. Last June I worked 27 JA stations one evening and two days later I worked 7 European stations. both of these openings were probably 4 or 5 hops. Generally you need a good gain antenna and power but a few Colorado stations did work the JAs and Europeans with 100w to good antennas last summer.

73 Phil N0KE

Twitter: Yet Another Web Thing

I was just starting to play around with Twitter, mostly to understand what it does. I have been reading about it in the PC magazines and hearing about it via various tech podcasts. About the same time, I noticed that Jeff KE9V mentioned it on his blog.

Twitter is another form of Internet communication commonly referred to as “social networking.” Back before the Internet was invented, our social network consisted of actually talking with people, usually face-to-face or maybe on the telephone. For many amateur radio enthusiasts, we also used wireless radio technology to chat. (Remember when “wireless” meant big iron radios that only qualified experts could use?) Of course, mostly we chat about our radios, so some people question the meaningfulness of that particular social network.

Then the Internet and email came along. Your email address book quickly becomes the definition of your email social network. Email distribution lists popped up for many topics and interests groups (“social networks”). More recently, Yahoo! Groups has attracted hundreds of different ham radio groups to that system. Yahoo! Groups provides file sharing and other features, in addition to the usual email list.

Somewhere along the line, sites such as AOL popularized the Instant Messaging (IM) concept. This was initially just text messaging but more recent versions of IM include voice messaging and file sharing.

Real social networking sites combine a wide range of features such as chat, email, video, file sharing and blogging to allow you to “keep in touch” with people and issues you care about. The most popular social network sites in the US are Facebook and MySpace. These sites let you define who you are connected to and who you want within your inner circle. Like most college-age students, my kids have latched onto Facebook as the way to connect with their friends and share photos and information. (I recently got a Facebook account but my daughters are not sure that this is a good idea….they said something about parents stalking their kids.)

Enter Twitter. Twitter is basically a microblog that lets you spit out the latest thing on your mind….what you are doing, what you are thinking, what you just discovered. It is a random flow of consciousness….or drivel….up to 140 characters at a time. Anyone interested can “follow” you and your comments. It has the flavor of a social network because you define who you want to see comments from (presumably related to people / issues you are interested in). See this video for a quick tutorial on Twitter.

OK, so what does this have to do with ham radio? Every one of these systems, from email to Yahoo! groups to twitter, have ham radio enthusiasts using them. In other words, there are communities, I mean “social networks”, that relate to amateur radio. The problem is that most of them are struggling to reach critical mass. Yahoo! Groups, which is fairly limited and has a number of issues, has gotten over this hurdle. The others are a bit hit and miss.

I am not sure where this leads and how useful this stuff is. For me personally….I am overstimulated. There are too many systems, too many emails, too many logins/profiles to create and maintain.

Now let me get back to twittering.
http://twitter.com/robtwitte

73, Bob K0NR


Posted in Web

More News on BPL

The Dallas Morning News reported that Broadband Over Power Lines Plan is Dead in Dallas because Current Communications is bailing out of its plan to offer internet service via BPL. However, Oncor is going to buy the equipment from Current and use it to help manage the power grid. This is consistent with recent trends in the BPL industry that are emphasizing using BPL as part of a “smart grid” strategy and deemphasizing operating as an Internet Service Provider.

An ARRL news article points out BPL is not going away in Dallas but (more importantly) the BPL technology from Current is believed to be “ham friendly.” The reason for this is that Current uses the Homeplug standard on the power lines that go into a residence, which notches out the HF amateur bands, not including 60 Meters. (By the way, the ARRL lab….which basically means Ed Hare W1RFI….got involved with the Homeplug standard early and influenced them to implement this notching.) Where Current equipment is in use, there have been no amateur radio interference complaints.

An article at itbusinessedge.com poses the question “Is it Lights Out for BPL?” Very likely.

In the mean time, the FCC got its hand slapped by the U.S. Court of Appeals for their mishandling of the BPL rulemaking process.

Closer to home in Colorado, Xcel Energy made this announcement:

Xcel Energy announces intended site of Smart Grid City: Boulder, Colo. to become first fully integrated “smart” city in the nation

The current electric grid has served us well for the last half century. But the future requires a technology revolution.

The next-generation electricity grid will allow our company to better meet growing demands, address environmental challenges, maximize available resources and optimize the entire energy system. Ultimately, a “smarter” grid helps us serve our customers by creating more options for managing personal energy use, habits and costs.

Their list of partners in the Smart Grid Consortium includes Current Group, which seems to imply that BPL may be part of the system deployment. It is not clear from their press release that Xcel will be offering internet service to the general public. However, I have heard from a reliable source that Xcel has been telling customers in Boulder that broadband internet service is part of their plan.

You can see the appeal of a Smart Grid approach with all of the focus on “being green.” Managing the power grid and energy demand is one way to get the most out of an electric utility. If a utility can gain some extra revenue by selling broadband internet, that’s even better.

The good news is that the Current Group technology seems to be OK from a ham radio point of view. Other users of the HF spectrum may see things differently.

73, Bob K0NR

Girls, Ham Radio and Diet Dew

I just stumbled onto this video where three of my favorite things come together: girls, ham radio and Diet Mountain Dew.

Let me explain. When I say girls, I mean the three women that have let me live in the same house with them for decades (my wife and two daughters). You know about the ham radio part and Diet Mountain Dew is the low cal version of the sugar-plus-caffeine overload drink.
Anyway, take a look at this video:

73, Bob K0NR