Meeting Rex Harper W1REX at MakerFaire NYC 2014
Today’s Saturday MakerFaire was most excellent indeed with Ham Radio making a good showing with the local Queens club HOSARC manning a booth and attracting a good number of Makers ready to get bitten by the Amateur Radio Bug. There are many reasons that Hams are sort of the original makers and hackers in this country but that is a different story, I was very interested to see at the same booth a QRP legend in the kit making business – Rex Harper W1REX of QRPme.com Rex’s products are known far and wide in the Homebrew/QRP community. I especially recommend using his MePads for Manhattan style building, they are pre-tinned and very good for keeping a neat and organized circuit board.
I briefly discussed the possibility of a DSB kit someday and he indicated that he has that on a back burner. The toughest part of being a success is that Rex doesn’t get enough time to build himself as he is too busy shipping out orders to all parts of the country and the world.
If you’re a new ham, consider building Rex’s Tuna Tin II, it is a very flexible and well put together kit and you’ll learn a lot about radio by building your own equipment.
I love MakerFaire, the Maker Spirit and the variety of things happening in the world of DIY electronics and other types of building. We are see a revival of making things here in the USA and I love that the Faire included people from all over the country, coming to Corona, Queens – once the site of a World’s Fair and a prediction of all that would come in the future. Our future is happening now and it is in the hands of everyman (and woman).
This week I am launching into a homebrew project that was recommended to me by a good friend in Vermont, I am referring to VK3YE’s “Beach 40″ DSB Transceiver. Peter Parker/ VK3YE has put together a very nice little QRP Double Sideband Transceiver with a very modest number of discrete parts. The Beach 40 has been featured in SolderSmoke Podcast and website and is outline in several YouTube Videos done by Parker right from the beaches in Australia!
I haven’t built anything from scratch yet and I am going to do this in Manhattan style building techniques, which is somewhat ironic in a cheeky way as I live in Manhattan. It looks like I am nearing the acquisition of most of my parts, including the copper boards and little square things from the internet.
In building a homebrew rig for the first time. I do have some soldering experience with several kits two CW transceivers from Hendrick’s QRPkits.com and two Rockmite kits from Dave Benson/K1SWL at Small Wonder Labs. Dave has closed Small Wonder Labs, cheers to him for making nice affordable kits that let me cut my teeth so to speak.
I live in Manhattan as I said before and I don’t really have a dedicated bench so we have to see how I do on the dining room table, also I don’t have any sophisticated bench gear. All I have is a multimeter and a soldering iron.
I am very excited by this project because of it’s simplicity and also because I haven’t done a voice transceiver yet, the thing with CW rigs is that you need to know CW to actually enjoy using them. As amazing as Peter Parker has been at creating this rig I think that there are lot’s of gaps that can be filled in terms of documentation and mentoring. This would be an excellent rig to build for the new General class ticket holder that may not have a lot of money to spend on gear and also would like to go portable or even pedestrian as Peter Parker terms his walking excursions.
So may the radio Gods be with us and hopefully we can breath life into our own gear and as Bill says put the “spirit into the machine”.
Antennas always warm my heart
In this age of on-demand, internet/wi-fi and cable services it always warms my heart to see an antenna still above the roof lines. Why you ask? Because antennas now stand for something that we’re moving away from as a society. The lone antenna is all that was once needed to get content into our living rooms. A finite investment of thirty dollars and an afternoon paid us back many times over in free content.
Many antennas now are simply the remnants of old analogue TV, rusted relics of a bygone age. Broadcast networks and the FCC turned their backs on analogue in the name of better service and the modern age. Valuable bandwidth now freed up so the FCC can make some money and the companies vying for these resources can mint money.
What warms my heart are the antennas that are up for other reasons, newer digital antennas for Broadcast TV and ham antennas. What antennas equal are a desire to remain independent of the big block providers like Time Warner Cable or others here in NYC.
I recently took an afternoon to build one of those coat hanger HDTV antennas that you find on YouTube. I wanted to see if we could survive with only broadcast TV if we so desired but my experiment was dashed by poor reception due to the many large skyscrapers in our location that blocked out any possible signals we might receive.
I will continue to think about alternatives to all monopolies in my life because there is something very American about being less connected to all of these metered services that seem to extract more and more of our hard earned cash.
My new "Sixer", the Heathkit HW-29a 6 meter transceiver
I have come to own a fantastic little piece of amateur radio history! The nifty little “Benton Harbor Lunchbox”, a Heathkit HW-29 “Sixer”. It didn’t come with the microphone but hopefully I’ll be able to get one of those as well, if not I guess I can always try and wire something up myself from a different mic.
When I heard this rig was coming in I began to do a bit of reading on Heathkit and they really were an amazing company for the time, talk about DIY… they set a generation on the path to the “Knack” and probably launched more than one engineering degree. The company has changed hands several times and hasn’t made kits since 92′s ( http://goo.gl/hxfbT ) but at their height Heathkit made kits for just about every conceivable kind of electronic gear not the least of which was for ham radio.
There has been speculation that Heathkit may again make kits for the amateur radio enthusiast, I fired off an email to Heathkit’s current director of kits and I will update later if I get a response.
So… the great adventure begins with a new piece of gear, can I get onto six meters and make a contact? Stay tuned for more to come.
I have the usual collection of amateur radio books to help me with learning the technical side of the hobby, I recently purchased Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre’s delightful book ” Hello World/ A Life in Ham Radio”. As someone with a graphic design background I was chuffed that the production and the layout of the book was so beautiful and interesting. The book centers around the Ham Radio hobby of one Jerry Powell from Hackensack, NJ. One of the authors stumbled across Mr. Powell’s QSL card collection at a flee market and bought the whole lot, they didn’t even know what they were but they looked interesting to them.
The book is written in a breezy style that fits the visual layout and introduces the readers to Ham Radio vocabulary and basic operation as well as an overview of all of Jerry’s QSL cards and the ham’s that he contacted.
The book is more poignant when you are aware that Jerry Powell has been deceased for quite awhile and when many of the call signs are searched (I did) the calls come up inactive which probably indicates silent keys. Regardless, the book is really nice to have by my station as the styles and format of the QSL cards are so interesting. Much of the charm of correspondence of this type is that it is not done so much anymore with email, SMS and software.
The authors have put together a nice archeology dig of a ham’s life and it is wonderful to behold for us newer hams to behold, we can fall in love with all of our digital modes or technology but it is undeniable that the older guys have something we don’t… memories of a simple time when the hobby was the only “wireless”.
So, anyone out there still use QSL cards? I’d love to design one of my own if only someone would still exchange with me!
Testing at ABC World Headquarters
I’m thrilled to announce that I tested and passed my Amateur Extra exam last Wednesday night at the BEARS testing session at ABC Headquarters here in NYC. The BEARS VE’s were all terrific guys and the session was pretty heavily subscribed, by my rough count and feeble memory there were 5 Tech tickets given out two Generals and two Extra licenses.
I really enjoyed the venue, entering the ABC Headquarters in Manhattan I felt like it was kind of cool to be going into a major broadcasting company on official radio business!
If you not an EE you can be kind of intimidated to be going for Extra with the math portions of the test. I studied all kinds of equations, some I had down and some are still a bit of a stretch for an “artist type” like myself. So I laid out my trusty old TI-82 which I dusted off and put in new batteries for, my sharpened pencils and prepared for a little figuring and calculating. Ha! not one question that needed a calculator, I didn’t know weather to be grateful or a little disappointed that I didn’t get to use my new found skills. But that is the nature of a test, you learn more by testing than by just reading or studying.
There has been a lot said about “no code extras” and I guess I will feel the brunt of some old crusty codgers but the group of experienced hams from the BEARS group were nothing but polite, professional and courteous… the embodiment of the Amateur’s Code.
The BEARS club also offered free membership, I am looking forward to getting involved with them and contributing to that great club. As I strolled out into the cool night air I fist pumped a little and also steeled my resolve to go on and master the code (morse) so that I could connect to what I consider the primary roots and history of this great hobby. 73
As Kenny Rogers sang “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, when to fold them… ” etc. So when my good friend Lou / KB1UYS from Vermont made me an offer I couldn’t refuse I came into the possession of a working Ten-Tec Century 21. Now as I go forward I am enjoying the sweet sounds of the double direct conversion receiver!
I can now concentrate on my antenna, and my morse code practice.
Someday I can repay the kindness my fellow hams have shown me by paying it forward so to speak. But I am reminded of the great community I became a member of when I passed my first license exam.
Several years back I got my amateur radio license about the same time that I was applying to a top design school, NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. At the time I really didn’t connect the hobby that much with my aspirations to create new interactive products and experiences for a living.
Since that time I’ve learned more about inventions and technology than I’ve ever known in my adult live and it is in no small part from my hobby AND my vocation.
I was therefore very interested in a thesis project by Joshua Clayton, a graduating ITP’er. “What hath God wrought” is an interesting look back at Morse’s invention, language as encoded in Morse Code and the mysticism of the times that telegraphy was established as a new communication medium.
You can read more of Joshua Clayton’s thoughts here:
Be sure to find a video of his thesis presentation of last week in the video archives section on the left sidebar.
I think it is nice that a technology that was invented 167 years ago still can inspire a new generation of inventors and interactive artists. Morse was a painting teacher at NYU many years ago and he still has a strong connection to New York City.
Well… I started working on the Ten Tec Century 21 again this week with the help of my new friend Lou/KB1UYS, I started with disconnecting the secondary leads that connect to the power supply board and measuring the voltage. With the unit plugged in and the power switch pulled out I wasn’t getting anything in the way of voltage.
Today with a few minutes to spend on working on this I went ahead and pulled the transformer out for replacement and I contacted Ten Tec for information on their parts supply, perhaps they can sell me a new transformer and I can put it in and my Ten Tec Century 21 will spring into life!
I am not looking back now that I have it out and feel fully committed to troubleshooting my rig until I get to the bottom of this. When I have fixed this and I will, I will truly own this rig and have the pride of learning about my rig in a more complete way.
I am walking to the grocery store in my upper east side neighborhood, which incidentally is in the Grid Square with the highest number of Hams in the U.S. and I look up and spot what looks like a Beam Antenna, a Vertical Antenna and maybe even a directional Yagi!
Now you might say this is not such a big deal, but in a section of Manhattan where Coop and Condo restrictions allow no antennas this is like spotting a rainbow! Now I’ve got to track down this Ham and ask him how he managed to talk his building into this. Did he use the Emergency Preparedness angle, did he bribe the super into telling residents that it is just a TV antenna?
Well, it’s good to know that someone has a good antenna farm to use! And here I thought I might be doing well to have a BuddiStick antenna on my balcony, and only while operating.