Bdale KB0G Makes Stuff!

Last week, I had lunch with an old friend, Bdale Garbee (KB0G). Bdale and I had both worked at HP for a number of years and we have been involved in some common ham radio clubs and activities. I followed the test and measurement path with Agilent Technologies when that company was formed, while Bdale stayed with the HP computer business. He is a recognized industry expert in Unix, Linux and all things open source. It is always cool to catch up with him and find out what he has been doing. He recently took early retirement from HP…I am not sure what “retirement” means for Bdale but its not playing shuffleboard at the retirement home!

Coincidentally, a few days later, I came across this video from HamRadioNow of Bdale talking at the ARRL/TAPR Digital Communications Conference. In this talk, Bdale discusses the general theme of making stuff and the satisfaction that is derived from that activity. It is about an hour long so grab a cup of your favorite beverage and take a seat.


By the way, check out the other HamRadioNow videos, especially the videos of the DCC technical talks. Good stuff!

73, Bob K0NR

The Incomplete List of Ham Radio iPhone Apps

It was time to upgrade my Verizon Wireless phone, so I decided to move to a smartphone. After pondering whether to go with Android or Apple, I finally settled on the iPhone 4. I still miss the The Real Keyboard on my old LG EnV3, as it is nearly impossible to type on a shrunken touchscreen. But then there’s those apps…

I have been trying out some of the ham radio related applications on the iPhone, so I thought I’d report out what I have found.

Here are a few utilities that I found. These apps doing something relatively simple:

CallBook (Author: Dog Park Software, Cost: $1.99) Simple ham radio callbook lookup that accesses the WM7D database (or QRZ and Ham Call databases if you are a subscriber).

Maidenhead Converter (Author: Donald Hays, Cost: Free) Handy app that displays your grid locator, uses maps and does lat/lon to grid locator conversions.

Q Codes Reference (Author: fiddlemeragged, Cost: Free) This app displays the definition of the common Q Signals (QRZ, QSL, QTH, …)

UTC Time (Author: Michael Wells, Cost: Free) A simple app that displays UTC time and local time.

Sunspot (Author: Jeff Smith, Cost: Free) A simple app that displays solar data from WWV.

Ham I Am (Author: Storke Brothers, Cost: Free) A handy app that covers some basic amateur radio reference material (Phonetic alphabet, Q Signals, Ham Jargon, Morse Code, RST System, etc.) Although I find the name to be silly, I like the app!

There are a few repeater directory apps out there:

QSL.FM Mobile (Author: Robert Abraham, Cost: $2.99) Geolocation repeater directory and call sign lookup.

iHAM Repeater Database (Author: Garry Gerossie, Cost: $4.99) Geolocation repeater directory. This seems to work a lot better than the QSL.FM app.

If you are an EchoLink user, then you’ll want this app:

EchoLink (Author: Synergenics, Cost: Free) The EchoLink app for the iPhone.

There are quite a few APRS apps out there. I have tried these:

iBCNU (Author: Luceon, Cost: $1.99) The first APRS app I was able to get running. It just turned on and worked. It integrates the mapping into the app, so it is easy to use. I recommend this one for most casual APRS users.

OpenAPRS (Author: Gregory Carter, Cost: $3.99) This APRS app integrates into the server. A bit more complicated to set up but looks to be more flexible, too. You might want to check out before buying this app.

PocketPacket (Author: Koomasi, Cost: $4.99) another APRS app. Seems to work fine but I find the previous 2 apps more useful. Note: This app can function as a packet modem connected to a transceiver (no internet required).

Ham Tracker (Author: Kram, Cost: $2.99) APRS app, works OK, uses external maps such as Google and “Share” feature allows you to send an SMS or email with your location information.

Satellite tracking is another useful app for a smartphone:

ISS Lite (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: Free) A free satellite tracking app for just the International Space Station

ProSat Satellite Tracker (Author: Craig Vosburgh, Cost: $9.99) This app is by the same author as ISS Lite, but is the full-featured “pro” version. Although it is a pricey compared to other apps, I recommend it.

Well, that’s what I have found so far. Any other suggestions?

– 73, Bob K0NR

This is an older posting, see my updated list here:


Yes, Band Plans Do Matter

There was an interesting exchange on the AMSAT-BB email list last week. Dave KB5WIA noted a strange signal on the AO-51 satellite:

I just thought I'd relay a bit of QRM I observed on AO-51 on this
morning's 3/16/2011 1322z pass. The bird was totally quiet (just a
nice carrier) for the first 5 minutes of the pass, but then it sounded
like a repeater was getting into the sat uplink:

3/16  1327z:  "Connected, KD7xxx repeater."
3/16  1328z:  "KD7xxx repeater disconnected."
3/16  1328z:  "hey Stacy did I see you at the corner there by Wendys?"
3/16  1330z:  "...repeater in Middleton, Idaho."

I obscured the KD7 call sign to protect the guilty innocent. A little searching on the internet by some of the AMSAT folks revealed that there was an EchoLink station that matched the KD7 call sign.

Patrick WD9EWK/VA7EWK wrote (again, I obscured the call signs):

And there is an Echolink system (KD7xxx-R).

What may be more interesting, after some Google searches,
is a series of references I saw where the KC0xxx-L system
had been linked to the KD7xxx-R system.
On now (1839 UTC), I saw
this for KC0xxx-L:

KC0xxx-L        Clay Cntr,KS 145.920 (1)        ON      01:27   367513

In the station description, it shows 145.920 along with the QTH
in Kansas.  This may be the system that's causing the QRM on
AO-51, and the other system is just linked to KC0xxx-L at that

So it turns out that the KD7 call sign heard was linked to the KC0 EchoLink station which was operating on the uplink frequency of AO-51. George, KA3HSW, sent the KC0 operator an email and reported back that the KC0 station “has graciously changed frequencies.”

What can we learn from this?

  • Check the VHF band plans for your area before getting on the air. Be extra careful when setting up stations such as EchoLink or similar system that transmits frequently.
  • Be aware that there are amateur radio modes that you can interfere with even though you don’t hear anything on frequency. In the case of the AO-51 interference, the satellite hears the uplink frequency over a wide geography but never transmits on that frequency. The downlink is on the 70 cm band.
  • Note that the first call sign associated with the interference (KD7xxx) was not at fault. It would have been easy to jump on his case and chew him out for transmitting on the satellite uplink frequency. Showing good judgment, the satellite guys investigated further.
  • The issue was resolved by a polite (I assume) email to the offending radio amateur and he agreed to change the frequency of the EchoLink station. Nicely done.

So check the band plan for your area and follow it. And proceed with caution when interference does occur. It was a rookie error to put an EchoLink station in the satellite sub band and it was quickly resolved.

For more information on 2 Meter band usage, see this Choose your 2 Meter Frequency Wisely.

– 73, Bob K0NR

NASA Amateur Radio Video from ISS

Well, this one has actually been out on the web for several weeks, but I finally got around to viewing it. Col. Doug Wheeler Wheelock (KF5BOC) gives a short tour of the ISS and then demonstrates amateur radio operating (2 Meter FM) from the ISS. Col. Wheeler Wheelock was very active on the ham radio and I heard him on many passes but was not able to work him.

This is one of the best NASA videos concerning amateur radio on board the ISS, so don’t miss it!

Update on the IC-9100

Ham radio VHF enthusiasts have been patiently waiting for the ICOM IC-9100. This HF/VHF/UHF/Satellites covers most or all of the popular amateur bands. Recently, ICOM has posted the specs and brochure on its web site.

The rig has dual receivers that allow monitoring two bands at once and it is set up for full-duplex on satellites. The built-in antenna tuner covers HF and 50 MHz. Operating on 1.2 GHz requires an optional module.

There is an optional DV (D-STAR) option that works on 10M, 6M, 2M, 70 cm and 1.2 GHz. This is the first combo HF+VHF+UHF rig that has DV available.

The 100 Watt output power all the way up to 50 MHz and 144 MHz is a real plus and 75 Watts on 430 MHz is not bad either. The 1.2 GHz option would be nice, too. This would be a great radio for portable VHF contesting. Oh, and I guess it works HF, too. :-)

So everyone was expecting a big ICOM announcement at the Dayton Hamvention. Based on the reports I heard via the D-STAR system in Dayton, one unit was shown “under glass” so attendees could look but not touch. Also, a number of people have reported that the ICOM booth staff are saying that the 9100 will be available later this year (fall timeframe?) at a price of ~$US 4000.

Ouch. Most observers see that as a bit too expensive. I’ll withhold judgment until it is really in stock at a dealer with a real price.

–   73, Bob K0NR

AMSAT Focuses on LEO Cubesat

amsat-logo-semi-officialAMSAT has recognized that they need to get some new hardware flying in space and is now focused on getting a small LEO satellite developed. AO-51 (originally called ECHO) has been a very popular satellite and one of the few clear successes from AMSAT in recent years. It appears that the AMSAT engineering team has recognized this and wants to emulate that success.

October 18, 2009
BID: $ANS-291.01

The Board of Directors has adopted the Engineering Task Force
recommendation that low-cost launch options be immediately pursued.
The AMSAT engineering team will develop a 1U CubeSat design effective
immediately. Tony Monteiro, AA2TX, Vice-President of Engineering said,
"We are recommending an approach that gets AMSAT back up in space with
new satellites by leveraging the skills and technology we have today."

The new AMSAT CubeSat's initial capability is planned to add to the
popular low-earth orbit FM transponder fleet allowing hams to continue
to use their existing handheld and portable antenna systems. This also
allows an accessible entry path for new satellite operators to get
started. The existing FM satellites are starting to show their age.

The flight version of ARISSat-1 has been developed to fit into the
CubeSat model. AMSAT's flexible Software Defined Transponder (SDX),
simplified IHU, power control subsystem, external interfaces to ex-
perimental payloads and cameras will now allow a modular approach to
mission design using proven subsystems and components. The ARISSat-1
mission planned in 2010 will be the initial flight test of AMSAT's
modular satellite.

Here are some of the highlights ...

+ AMSAT will develop comparable AO-51 level of performance packaged
  into a 1U CubeSat. This includes a U-V transponder, V telemetry,
  U command receiver, IHU, power control. This can be done with our
  modular design.

+ This will be a U/V FM Transponder, not done before in a 1U CubeSat,
  which can be worked with a HT and a simple antenna. CubeSat power
  limitations are planned to be addressed through research and devel-
  opment of deployable solar-cells.

+ AMSAT will make our open-design satellite modules and technology
  available for other satellite teams to build into their missions.

+ This new approach will provide a reliable radio link for future
  CubeSats allowing university teams to concentrate on their scientific

+ The modular nature of the AMSAT CubeSat system will allow add-on
  missions utilizing several different types of modulation and band-
  width. These can be pursued with future low-cost CubeSat launch

AMSAT President, Barry Baines, WD4ASW Annual Meeting Powerpoint
Presentation has been posted at

[ANS thanks the AMSAT Board of Directors for the above information]


AMSAT has often struggled with where to focus its energy, having a strong desire to get a High Earth Orbit (HEO) satellite deployed, but failing to pull it off. Also, there is considerable tension between doing something relatively simple (like an FM bird) and more advanced capability (linear transponder and advanced digital modes). Many of the techies in AMSAT want to do the next cool thing technically, and I do appreciate that. That desire sometimes drives things a bit too hard and has generated some very complex satellite designs. I am an AMSAT member but I am not in the loop on all the internal AMSAT politics.  (Be thankful for that, I think.)

I have had a lot of fun with the FM LEO satellites, activating and chasing grids. It is like a scheduled DX opening… you know when the “band” is going to open (for about 10 minutes) and you better work them fast. It has some of the same problems as working DX in that the single channel pile ups on the satellite can be very frustrating. I managed to check the box on Satellite VUCC and I activated a number of rare grids (e.g., FK52 as PJ4/K0NR).

Would I rather have a super whizzy HEO bird that sits overhead for hours supporting a wide swath of frequencies and all kinds of neat digital modes?  You betcha. But it seems that we don’t have the capability to pull that off.

What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #8

0511-0701-3118-0930I am trying out a new twitter ap called DestroyTwitter. There are many to choose from, so as I reloaded my PC I decided to give this one a try. So far it seems to be good, which means compact, not too fancy and easy-to-use.

John C. Dvorak wrote that Twitter is the New CB Radio. I think he is right. My enthusiasm for twitter drops about 1 dB per week.

The VHF/UHF crowd is excited about the new ICOM IC-9100 that was shown recently at a Japanese ham radio show. This is basically an HF + 6 Meters + 2 Meters + 70 cm transceiver set up for satellite and (optional) D-STAR. Kind of does everything.

I am very much in favor of a Cash for Clunkers program for amateur radio gear and computer gear more than 5 years old. It seems like the gubment is handing out money to everyone else (without much logic applied), so why can’t we get a piece of that?

Interesting piece from the ARRL about power line companies and their responsibilities concerning radiated interference. Despite all of the concern about Broadband Over Powerline messing up the ham bands, there are far more incidents of good old power line noise causing trouble for ham radio operators. I have been involved in several of these cases and it is generally a real mess….especially if the utility is incompetent.

AMSAT has rejiggered its Suitsat program to fly without the spacesuit. I always wondered why they needed a spacesuit to make this work anyway. It turns out they don’t. The new suitless name is ARISSat-1.

There has been plenty of bickering on the AMSAT-bb email list as various people have complained about this project or that project AMSAT is pursuing. For some reason Suitsat-2 has become a target for complaints. My philosophy? Anything that involves amateur radio in space that works is OK by me.

I continue to play around with D-STAR now that the repeater is up and running in Monument. I was sitting there last night fiddling with the radio when VK2LOB from Sydney, Australia comes on the frequency looking to demonstrate D-STAR. We had a nice, short chat — what a pleasant surprise!

73, Bob K0NR