RADIO AMATEUR NEWS & VIEWS, October, 1999

RADIO AMATEUR

NEWS & VIEWS

October, 1999


IN THIS ISSUE...
Digital Communications
Hosstraders
Fox Hunt
Our Last RANV Meeting
The Prez Sez
Foiled Foxes
Contest Corner
Repeater News
Applied RDF
Halloween Patrols
Erection Party
RANV Reflector




DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS
The October 12th RANV Meeting

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of all the digital buzzwords we hear bandied about in amateur radio? We've all heard about mystical abbreviations such as: AX.25, AMTOR, PACTOR, G-TOR, TCPIP and Clover.

For our October meeting, our guest speaker will be Brian KA2BQE. Brian has been involved in digital communications and packet radio for a long time and is the author of one of the packet BBS programs, PRMBS. He will talk about the state of digital communications in amateur radio, and will also hopefully explain what all those silly abbreviations mean. Who knows, you just might want to get active on the digital modes after hearing about how they work and how much fun they are.

So come join us on October 12th and learn about some interesting technology. The meeting starts at 7pm and is held at the O'Brien Civic Center, 113 Patchen Road, South Burlington. Pre-meeting festivities and eating will take place at Zach's on Williston Road, starting at 5:30.


HOSSTRADERS

Hosstraders is this weekend, October 8-9th. The fest opens at 9am on Friday and runs until early afternoon on Saturday.

To get there, take I-89 to its end at I-93 in New Hampshire and go North about 2 miles to Exit 15, I-393. This is a short spur around Concord which will end on Route 4/9/202. Go east on this road and continue to follow the turn-offs for Route 202 for about 30 miles into Rochester. In Rochester, pass under the Spaulding Turnpike, go 4 blocks to Hoover Street, make a right and follow the fence to the main gate.

Repeater activity will be on 145.15 to Exit 15 in New Hampshire, then 146.88 and 147.00 MHz (official hamfest repeater). At the fest, check in on the local 146.67 repeater where all the troublemakers will be gathered. To find us, look for a fiberglass antenna on a mast with a flashing red light.

Admission is $5. To bring a vehicle into the selling area, it is an extra $10. Before 3pm on Friday, an additional $5 is charged. Official Hosstraders information can be found at: http://www.qsl.net/k1rqg.


FOX HUNT

It's time once again to get out your detective kit and go looking for the Fox. The last RANV Fox Hunt of the millenium will take place Friday evening, October 15th, starting at 7pm on the 145.15 repeater. Listen on the input (144.55 MHz) to find the fox. For safety reasons, all hunters must check in with the Fox before starting out on the hunt.

The fox will be Fred N1ZUK. This is his first stint as a Fox, so we really don't have any idea what diabolical plans he has in store for us. We can say that he will be hidden in a public accessible place in Chittenden County, provide at least an S-1 signal at I-89 Exit 14 and will transmit at least 10 seconds out of every minute.

You can't win if you don't hunt, so please come on out and join us!


OUR LAST RANV MEETING

by Paul AA1SU, Sec'y

The meeting of September 14th provided us with a nice turn out to hear Mitch W1SJ talk about VHF Expeditions. We settled in with the introductions, followed by some club business. Richard WN1HJW proposed that we raise the club meeting snack dollar limit from $10 to $15. We all discussed it and we finally settled on a new limit of $12. We also decided to temporarily move the Steering Wheel meeting to the 3rd Tuesday of October and November, at 7 pm at Cruisers Restaurant, across from Creek Farm Plaza in Colchester.

There was also some conversation on how to encourage more operating on the repeater. After hearing comments on the issue, we decided that we will ask all club members to get on the 145.15 repeater every night at 8 pm to ragchew for a few minutes: up to an hour, if possible. So, please get on the air at this time and throw out your call.

For the main event, Mitch spoke about his VHF Expeditions. Mitch goes to Mount Equinox for the VHF QSO Parties because of its great height and view to the southwest. As it turned out, Mitch also came to talk about Murphy's Law, or as we hams say, the visit from Murphy. WB1GQR operates in the limited multi-op category, which means they operate on the lower 4 VHF bands. On site are 7 radios, 7 antennas and 3 computers. During the setup for the September event, several things started to go wrong. First, several 2-meter amplifiers died prior to the event. Then, the 8 operators that they thought they would have were reduced to 2. Soon, the six-meter rotator crapped out, followed later by the 2-meter rotator. Still, they operated at a pretty brisk pace. When things settled down on Sunday afternoon, they repaired the 2-meter antenna, and the other one seemed to cure itself. As this wasn't enough, the 222 MHz radio started emitting smoke while nobody was using it. Mitch improvised and made a few contacts keying the mike on an FM radio. It all paid off though, and later that night, they worked an aurora and E-skip. The final score was about 800 contacts and 120 grids. Not bad, considering. The other operator on site was Fred N1ZUK who was having a blast with the pileups.

Along with Mitch's usual good humor, we were treated to several videos of some of these events, including the 1999 September VHF Party, followed by the '90 September Party, the '96 June event, and the '93 June contest. The last one also featured the Mount Equinox Hill Climb event. This is another contest event that features antique racecars racing up the mountain. Thanks go out to Mitch for a very nice presentation.


THE PREZ SEZ

by Eric N1SRC, President

We have some great meeting topics lined up for this Fall and we are still working on Spring topics. Planning for Milton and Field Day are already starting. Actually, they never stop! Please keep the ideas coming. We have located candidates for all three club officer positions. We still need all the help we can get at Steering Wheel. If you are trying anything new, or would be willing to share even a small nugget of wisdom please send it in to the newsletter or come in person. Just knowing that somebody else is trying something can help inspire others to try as well. It does not even have to be expensive. I found a couple more articles on how to make cheap beam antennas. There is no shortage of fun stuff to try.

I have managed to get on the repeater at 8pm on a few nights. Please don't be discouraged if this on-air activity does not take off right away. We are more likely to hear each other if we at least aim for a common time. I have been hearing more activity on the repeater. There is a school group that often shows up mid-morning. Their operating technique is a bit tentative, but they are on the air.

We had a crisis in our household this month which resulted in a raid on the wallet. Our kids wanted their radios with them. This left us with no rig suitable for the car and no reliable handheld. This caused some concern. I therefore checked some prices and discovered that they are lower than I expected. An ICOM 2100 is now $200, even less than what Radio Shack asks for theirs. We also got an HT.

This left the problem of programming them. There are no more function keys. They use poke or hold to get 2 functions. I find this easier than the old ways. I remember our old IC2GAT that took a 3-finger pinch to get into scan mode.

I got frustrated that the VHF side on my old ICOM 2710 would only receive a 10 MHz segment. After a little research I found the right jumper to clip and now it can receive aircraft band (very useful for timing arrival at the airport) and UHF public service.

On the new HT there was a key combination that opened up the 800MHz public service band. I am curious why they don't mention this stuff in the manual. I realize the sensitivity is likely to be unreliable in the far-flung bands, but that has been true for many broadband receivers on the advertised bands. On the bright side, I'm very happy to avoid having to deal with the ever-smaller innards of an HT.

I am also gratified that our new house foundation did not leak a drop during the recent break in the drought. We still have an ocean of work to do to get our house livable, but it will be a real rush to have a dry, level floor. We even got about 200 extra square feet of space because the cellar walls are now vertical instead of a caving in pile of stone. That's enough room for a nice radio shack.


THE FOILED FOXES

by Vince WA2AUY

I was the president of the Motorola Amateur Radio Club in Ft. Lauderdale (yes, the builders of the first ham station in space), and as such, was expected to participate in club activities, including foxhunts. The thought of driving around in crazy Florida traffic in the middle of a hot, humid August day didn't sound like my idea of fun. Neither did running around in cactus and sandspur infested fields looking for something that probably didn't exist.

After convincing myself that this insane activity could somehow be fun, I signed up for the next foxhunt, which was scheduled for a Saturday. After staying up most of the night, uh...studying, it was a bit difficult to wake up for the scheduled 7am start. My friend John came over to pick me up, and we started out in his car. Once I woke up and realized what was going on, it was too late to escape. John was a driven foxhunter, but enjoyed hunting with a minimum of fuss - he would simply wait for the fox to transmit, and then jump out of the car while holding his unsquelched handheld close to his chest, using his body as a shield while turning around to get an audible null reading. After looking at the map, we were off and running again.

Needless to say, he looked like an idiot while doing this, but I had to admit that it really worked! Soon, I too was spinning like a whirling dervish, just to confirm his readings. People driving by actually sped up to get away, as they probably didn't know what we were going to do next, which could've been anything as far as they were concerned. Before long, I was looking forward to the next transmission and set of clues, or non-clues as they often turned out to be. I realized I was actually having fun!

As was often the case, John found the fox first. He always enjoyed tormenting the other hunters who straggled in much later with yagis and other high-tech contraptions. High tech? That's right, hams from a company that made RDF gear would participate, and John would typically beat them. He would proudly proclaim, "No tech beats high tech once again!" On that particular day, we really had fun with a team that had rigged up a yagi on a mast that was somehow swivel-mounted to their front bumper. Wrapped around the mast was a length of rope that passed into the passenger compartment through the side windows. This allowed them to rotate the antenna to get readings without stopping, theoretically giving them a big edge.

As soon as they saw us at the fox's lair, they accused us of speeding, which was not allowed under the rules due to the potential dangers involved. They claimed they saw us on I-95 doing 65 miles an hour. As anyone who has ever driven on I-95 in Ft. Lauderdale can attest, driving only 65 is indeed very dangerous, as it foments road rage in all other drivers. We immediately countered with accusations of "sour grapes," and were re-declared the bona fide winners.

I now had the pleasure of being the fox, which was really quite appealing. Since every fox up to that point had been hiding at the far reaches of the allowable hunt area, we decided to throw everyone a curve by hiding in a patch of dense woods along a canal right next to the Motorola facility, which was the reference point for minimum signal strength: "The fox must transmit at least an S3 signal into the Motorola parking lot," or something similar.

To make the signal appear weak, we transmitted with low power into a dummy load. To further confuse matters, we hid directly under a high tension line that we hoped would completely skew radiation patterns. And, in the event that some hunters would get lucky and stumble upon our lair, we also had a lunch bucket radio that we adjusted for maximum power, which we hoped would wipe out any nulls, especially when we transmitted into a big yagi pointed directly into the power lines.

On the appointed day, we were feeling pretty smug. We thought we had it all figured out. We had the radios, nice picnic lunches, and plenty of ice cold 807s. To top it off, we had fishing poles to help while away the time in what we fully expected to be a long wait. To avoid being seen by other hunters who typically gathered at the Motorola facility for the startup, we decided to arrive an hour ahead of time. Everything was going as planned, and it clearly was going to be a great day.

That is until we spotted the Blazer. Much to our horror, just as we turned onto the access road to the canal, Bruce, an avid foxhunter and dedicated worker, sped by on his way to the office to get some work done before the foxhunt. We saw his brake lights come on as he passed, and knew we'd been caught. It was all over even before it began. Talk about rotten luck. Needless to say, when 7am rolled around, Bruce nonchalantly walked to the access road and found us in an embarrassing, record smashing 45 seconds. However, he was sport enough not to attract the attention of the other hunters and kept quiet on the radio. To add to our disgust, our dirty little trick worked fine, and many hunters had to be practically talked in.

Bruce rode roughshod over us at the post-hunt gathering, but it was all in fun. Predictably, he claimed that his well-developed hunting instincts got us into trouble. However, we did get to cry "what if" because so many of the hunters had problems finding us. In the end, we learned a valuable lesson: If you're going to pull a stunt such as ours, make sure you borrow a friend's car. This is a good idea under any circumstances, but in our case, it was a requirement. We were simply overconfident and blew it, but nevertheless, the incident has become one of my favorite ham memories. I hope that someday you'll be able to say the same about one of your foxhunting misadventures!


CONTEST CORNER

by Paul AA1SU

The results of some of the big DX Contests are in, and except for me, I don't see any RANV member call signs. But, that should change as more of you are contesting this year. We are coming into what is called contest season, although for me the season seems to last all year. I hope that some of you got on for the California QSO Party.

If you are not going to Hosstraders, you could try out the Ten-Ten Day Sprint. A good one for Tech Plus', the exchange is call, name, state, and 10-10 number (if member), and runs from 8pm Saturday to 8pm Sunday. Wonder how they picked that date. Also on this weekend, is the PA QSO Party with a complicated scoring system. 80 meters at night should be easy pickings for this one. The weekend of the 16th features the Illinois QSO Party, followed by the RI QSO Party on the 23rd. As some of you know, I mention these smaller state QSO parties to encourage newcomers to practice contesting. It's also a nice way to earn a certificate and new QSL cards for the shack. I've won first place VT with only 2 logged QSOs. As always, complete details are in October QST, page 86.

There is a really nice DX Contest on at the end of the month, the phone CQ WW DX Contest. It runs from 0000Z Oct 30 to 2400Z Oct 31st. It starts at 8pm Friday, but be careful, as the clocks change that weekend. The exchange is RS (59) & CQ Zone (05). This is a little harder to work than the QSO parties. A station in a rare zone may have some big guns calling him, and the little guys have trouble breaking through the pileups. There are exceptions however, and I've been able to get my call through on the first try, but I don't know why. It's on 10 through 160 meters and you can almost forget about 40 and 80 meters, unless you can work split and want to call CQ. I can't even get USA zones for multipliers because the stations rarely listen on their own calling frequency. If this sounds complicated, it is. Just stick to 10, 15, and 20 meters for the best fun. By the way, you YCCC guys in the club are obligated to get on for this one.

For you CW guys, we have the ARRL November Sweepstakes on November 6-7th. Details are on page 88 of the October QST, and there is a new precedence exchange that the old contest programs will not support. I recommend that you turn on the practice feature of your favorite contesting program and practice for 15 minutes a day or so, in the days leading up to the contest. It's a long exchange, and the practice will help.

For just plain operating fun, there are always the Special Event Stations. If you thought W1B celebrated an unusual event, check out page 85 of QST, and you will see all kinds of strange celebrations. Everything, from the celebration of the birth of DDE, to W1AW's original Tuna Tin 2, to mine and Ed N1PEA's favorite, the Transylvania County ARC transmitting from the Devil's Courthouse in Brevard, NC on Halloween. Believe it or not, some of my cards for my 5BWAS will be from such stations.

Next month: What is the precedence anyway?


REPEATER NEWS

by Mitch W1SJ

Finally, after a year and a half of thinking about it, the intrepid RANV climbing team reached the summit location of Hot 515 for some much needed repair and maintenance. By the time of the climb, there were a whole lot of things needing tending to. We already knew that falling ice over last winter smashed the antenna upper support arm. We also knew that corrosion around the antenna and supports caused that industrial strength noise we heard all last winter. Add to this incessant paging noises and that fact that the tone decoder, the very thing which would provide sanity, was also busted. The clincher was the remnants of hurricane Floyd which packed gusts of over 60 miles an hour on the mountain. After an evening of that, all sorts of interesting noises were heard and the output signal wavered in the breeze. I suspected that the antenna was hanging down diagonally from the remaining mount. As it turned out, I wasn't that far off.

The good news was that we were promised a ride up the mountain on a utility vehicle. The bad news was that the aforementioned hurricane Floyd knocked over the storage shed which had the vehicle in it. So, Paul and I hoofed it up the 2 mile trail to the summit.

When we arrived on top, 1 hours later, we found that the repeater antenna was hanging horizontally from the lower support, with half its guts pulled out. Fortunately, I brought along a replacement antenna, which was quickly prepared for mounting. A new upper support arm was crafted out of 1-inch thick solid fiberglass, which will hopefully stand up to heavy falling ice. Corroded hardware was replaced and the antenna and feedline system was carefully grounded. All of this activity took place with a 40-MPH breeze coming out of the north. It wasn't exactly pleasant. Finally the tone decoder was replaced and everything was shipshape.

The repeater works a lot better. A lot of the noise trashing the receiver is gone. Unfortunately, the repeater is still plagued by short bursts of interference from the paging transmitter on site. It has been determined that this is caused by their dirty transmitter and there are plans to address this. If the interference gets worse, we can turn on the tone decoder to cover this up. All users should be prepared to transmit a 100 Hz tone to access the repeater when tone access is enabled.

The long, hard day of work was very fruitful. For the future, there are two things planned. I am looking towards changing the antenna from a collinear to phased dipoles. Dipoles are much more robust and operate over a wider frequency range. This will keep the SWR low during all types of ice loading. The second plan is to set up a second receiver on a lower antenna, situated off of the tower. This will give some redundancy and hopefully some relief from the noise and static found on the tower. There is no timetable for completion of these items, so stay tuned here for news on the latest developments.


APPLIED RDF

by Eric, N1SRC

A few weeks ago I was out for a walk with AA1SK and we encountered some folks engaging in flagrant direction finding activities. They were tracking wildlife. This prompted a trip to the web and a little listening. The listening was unproductive. The radio tag signals are weak and our poor old FM rig can't pick up a carrier that weak.

The tags are frequency coordinated. Imagine coordinating for wandering repeaters, particularly for migratory creatures. There are tags for elephants, crocodiles, seals, whales, dogs, cats (all kinds), deer, songbirds, game birds, and even bats. I'm not sure that anyone has done butterflies yet. They run as very low power and often share with other services. Sometimes this is unintentional. I found an article describing the fun of trying to track coastal goats which shared a frequency with the Mexican fishing trawlers. We are not the only ones who have to worry about interference.

Several years ago the government had a multi-year backlog on tracking frequency allocations. This caused many Ph.D. students to bootleg, since many of them could not wait that long. In one case some tagged critter was on the input of the main commercial repeater for the Yellowstone area. The repeater owners were very upset. The problem was quite intermittent and hard to track. As a result the Fish and Wildlife service arranged a larger allocation in federal rather than civilian bands and they now handle the allocations. They use insterstitial frequencies stuck in between various FM channels. They are much more responsive, since many of the studies are sponsored by them or benefit their work. The tracking receivers must be quite good because they are often trying to dig out a weak signal that is located between some 250-watt repeaters. Many biologists are secretive about their allocations because others could use them to track and kill their study animals.

Typical tags are set up for about a mile range, varying with the tradeoff between size, battery life, and ability to find the creature. Some larger animals now carry GPS units than can be queried via radio. In this way large migratory animals in hostile terrain can be tracked with much less staff and fewer disturbances. This can be important if the creature is a polar bear, or a jungle tiger. They sometimes object forcefully to unwanted attention. The tigers often live in the same areas as elephants. Even a truck is poor protection from an angry elephant. The first year's production of these units is sold out.

Other tricks are to use a Loran or Omega receiver in the collar and to have it broadcast its location as telemetry. Then it is only necessary to listen to each unit to locate it. No multipath worries.

The radio tags are identified primarily by frequency. Telemetry on small ones is usually pulse rate. They come in various types that monitor motion, temperature and other things. Some are designed to tell when an animal dies. Each tag is sealed and is turned off or reset using magnets. The lightest one I saw advertised is 300mg. Typical power out is 10mW.

Studies have been done and accuracy of location from aircraft DF work is about 100 meters. This was tested using herds of graduate students who marked their positions carefully on topographic maps.

The Burrowing Owls tracking probject has asked for Midwest volunteers. I doubt we would of any use to them but the equipment information might be interest. They are at http://members.aol.com/joemoell/owl.html.


HALLOWEEN PATROLS

RANV will once again be helping the Essex Police with patrols on Cabbage Night (Saturday, October 30th) and Halloween (Sunday, October 31st). Volunteers are needed to watch areas of town to inform police of illegal activity to keep vandalism down to a minimum. Activity will start around 8pm and run until midnight. If you are interested in helping out, please contact Mitch W1SJ.


ERECTION PARTY

Thanks to a tower erection party last weekend, Ted K1HD is sporting a new yagi. A crew which included the likes of N1JEZ, N1MEZ, N1ZUK, KM1Z, AA1SU, N2EA and W1SJ managed to get 40 feet of Rohn 25 in the air and then capped it off with a vintage Hy-Gain TH6DXX. We had some shaky moments as the gin pole started to bend under the weight of the yagi (70lbs.), but we finally wrestled it into position. A quick test down in the shack netted a bunch of DX in short order. The antenna can be seen all over Ted's neighborhood, although we have not been able to confirm that all TV reception in the North End of Burlington has been wiped out.


RANV REFLECTOR

The RANV Reflector is a Listserve feature in which E-mail sent to a particular address goes to all people who chose to subscribe. To subscribe to the reflector, send E-mail to ranv-request@wpi.edu, and type the word 'Subscribe' in the body of the note. Anything sent to ranv@wpi.edu will go to all subscribed addresses. The reflector is invaluable for all sorts of information exchange between club members.



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