Ham Radio’s Technical Culture

Kristen Haring's book "Ham Radio's Technical Culture"
Kristen Haring’s book “Ham Radio’s Technical Culture”
Kristen Haring’s book “Ham Radio’s Technical Culture” is a fascinating coverage of an activity that gets precious little coverage in the mainstream.

“”Although approximately one million Americans operated ham radios in the course of the 20th century, very little has been written about this thriving technical culture in our midst. Kristen Haring offers a deeply sympathetic history of this under-appreciated technical community and their role in contributing to American advances in science and technology, especially the electronics industry. In the process she reveals how technical tinkering has defined manhood in the United States and has powerfully constituted ‘technical identities’ with often utopian, even, at times, revolutionary, notions about the social uses of technology.”
—Susan Douglas, Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan, and author of “Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination”.

QOTD straight vs paddle

Quote of the Day from David N1EA in an exchange on the CW list about the merits of a CW newbie starting with a straight key or jumping straight onto a bug or paddle:

“A paddle and speed key in the hand of someone who has no feel for Morse sounds pretty ugly when they start sending with no spaces or extra dots and dashes. Kind of like running a rotary floor buffer the first time!”

David argues “with a straight key – especially on the lower frequencies – 1.8, 3,5 and 7.0 MHz – you can customize your sending to match the conditions. Sometimes sending “fatter” dashes gets the message through.”

Another adds:

“…do yourself a favor, and learn with a straight key. Learning to be proficient in sending and receiving “good” code, is not magic. It takes a little dedication, and lots of practice on a regular basis. Check out youtube and you will see more than one “cw op” who thinks he is the cat’s meow on a bug or paddle, little does he know that what he is sending is considered “poop fist” material. By learning slowly with a hand key, you will learn proper spacing between characters and words. When you get to the point where you can set the gap on your hand key at a “hairs width” and send with it perfectly at 15 to 20 wpm, you might then give a paddle a try.”

K3WWP’s site

I’ve only just discovered K3WWP’s CW and QRP site via NW7US’ http://cw.hfradio.org/.

Amazed at the continuous record of publishing online since 1996 and the simple but powerful commitment to have at least one CW QRP QSO every day (a little like the necessary resolution of any half serious blogger!). What a model!

And what a wealth of good info there is online for the CW and QRP fan. Which makes the challenge of actually getting on the air and operating even greater!

Looking forward to exploring the K3WWP site further.

‘Buddipole in the Field’ by Scott NE1RD

This is a great US$15 value! Only downside I can see so far is that after reading it you come out with a new wishlist of Buddipole accessories such as the 9.5ft whips, the shockcord mast, the longest shockcord whip and other bits and pieces.

'Buddipole in the Field' by Scott Anderson NE1RD
‘Buddipole in the Field’ by Scott Anderson NE1RD

Scott is great at explaining the most efficient ways to use the Buddipole system. Along the way you learn a lot about the behaviour of small HF antennas at low heights and this informs the configurations most likely to succeed in QSOs.

While some of the info may already be available via the files on the BUG list site, the book pulls it all together and presents it so you have a clear idea of how it’s likely to perform. Some of the 10/12m beams and the VHF beams look very interesting. And further reason to hit the Buddipole accessories page which is another place you can order the book. It’s also available as a free download – in added colour – from the BUG Yahoo group page but if you’re like me you’ll find the printed book a useful companion.

Scott is also active on the BUG fielding queries about the book and the Buddipole system. He brings a time-saving degree of order and logic to using the Buddipole. And the book is very practical. The info he presents helps you decide whether to deploy the Buddipole or try a dipole high in a tree – assuming the location offers you that choice. There’s a wealth of information about how best to use the Buddipole and the Buddistick as verticals. And no surprises here – more metal and fewer turns of coil loading needed, yield a bigger useable bandwidth.

Now I’m hunting for some basic info about how best to use my new MFJ-269 Antenna Analyser with the Buddipole. Youtube, here I come!

Windows soundcard software

Via the new SDR list heard about RV3APM’s page listing a very wide range of ‘Windows software via Soundcard’. It’s a comprehensive, detailed and at the moment very up-to-date listing.

Also includes handy information about frequencies for different modes, discussion groups and other background info about soundcard modes.

I wonder if there’s a comparable listing of Mac applications… But that’s probably this page!

Digging out useful info on gear

Spent a bit of time visiting WW2PT’s site and reading the thread of messages tagged with ‘K3’. It’s great when you discover someone who has followed a similar path to the one you’re on and can write about with a combo of wisdom and wit.

A key post is this one ‘Concerning computers’ about getting his K3 to talk with his MacBook Pro.

This has to be the great difference to doing ham radio now compared to when I first got the bug back in the 1960s and 70s. The sheer volume of experience and overwhelmingly good will that’s materialised on the net has created an always available knowledge bank that’s transformed the most enjoyable part of hamming for me at least – troubleshooting. Sure there’s nonsense out there but it’s not too hard to discern. And then there’s the user communities!

Elecraft's trail-friendly KX1
Elecraft’s trail-friendly KX1

I bought the KX1 and K3 partly due to the solid community of users on the main reflector, lead in the best way by gurus like Don W3FPR who are so generous with their experience and don’t hesitate to share it, as well as the active involvement of Elecraft principals, Eric WA6HHQ & Wayne N6KR and others. Other purchases are informed as much as possible by getting a taste of the user community – aside for the occasional eBay impulse of course. Buddipole’s BUG has a similar shared spirit. It’s probably no accident that both lists are well moderated.

As an example of what I’m talking about here’s an excerpt from Don’s reply to a recent query about whether or not to build the 80/30m option kit as part of the initial build of the KX1 or to do it later:

“…there are pieces of the KXB3080 that can be installed during the initial build so you do not have to remove any more than 2 toroids. At one time, I created a “cheat-sheet” telling a couple of builders how to do it – I can try to find that email if you would like to try. I would only recommend doing that to an expert and confident builder. OTOH, an expert and confident builder would have no problem removing components from the PC board without damaging the board or burning the relay cases either.

The KXB3080 is difficult to install because of the small space available in the KX1, and the instructions must be followed exactly, particularly the LPF board – if not done exactly like the instructions, it will interfere with the tuner.”

Maybe this impresses me so much because I never was lucky enough to have an Elmer when I started out!

Buddipole set up videos

I’ve only just discovered the set of video tutorials on YouTube featuring Chris W6HFP of Buddipole. They’re clear and well shot and edited, I suspect by Steve WG0AT. And they’ve been online for over a year!

In this one Chris explains setting up a Buddipole Versatee Vertical.


European keying

Attention drawn by a post to the SKCC email list to video on the GHD keys site illustrating the ‘European’ style of keying, demonstrated appropriately enough in this video by a Japanese operator. On this page it’s described as the ‘Reaction Method’.

Also saw an interesting exchange of comments on the SKCC list about this style.

Also found the GHD catalogue an eye-opener. Some very sophisticated keys and paddles there. Again these keys are also available from Morse Express.


CW and the missing link

Animation showing how the Palm mini paddle can stow away - perfect for portable operation.
How the Palm mini paddle can stow away – perfect for portable operation.

I’ve been keen on finding out more about the Palm mini paddle. I like the look – and the size – of the paddle. I haven’t worked out yet if there’s a way to strap it onto your leg, but it certainly doesn’t seem to require too much in the way of real estate.
I also like the design style of this line including the modular keyer, the “code cube”.
Most impressive of all is the Infra Red link technology they’ve incorporated into the line. It looks like you can purchase an IR enabled Code Cube to plug into an existing Mini Paddle so you can link up via an IR receiver connected to your transceiver, or even a tiny sensor within the txrx – up to 5 metres away.
Marshall Emm’s Morse Express seems to be the most accessible distributor. The site hosts extensive info including the pdf manuals, which can also be found on the German site.