• [FOAR] The power supply connector dance contest... (9/21)

    From FOAR via rec.radio.info Admin@21:1/5 to All on Mon Jul 18 13:48:30 2022
    [continued from previous message]

    experience and contributing to that community. Reddit alone has at least a dozen amateur related communities, covering electronics, specific radios, amateur software development and more.

    The thing about this hobby is that it's different things to different
    people. For some it's about getting on air and making noise, for others
    it's learning about whatever comes their way. This hobby is so vast because
    it touches so many aspects of life, it innovates, leads and contributes in
    ways that are often invisible and that's why it's so engrossing.

    What's your latest interest in this hobby and what keeps you coming back
    for more?

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB
    This posting includes a media file: http://podcasts.itmaze.com.au/foundations/20210801.foundations-of-amateur-radio.mp3

    How are contests scored?

    Posted: 24 Jul 2021 09:00 AM PDT

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    The essential purpose of an amateur radio contest is to get on air and make noise. Each contest has a set of rules on how they intend to achieve this.
    An integral part of the rules is the idea that you establish a contact, a
    QSO, with another station and exchange some predefined information. Likely
    the callsign, a signal report and often something else, a serial number,
    the age of the operator, a maidenhead locator or the CQ or ITU zone. I'll
    race past the discussion around sending 5 and 9 as a standard signal report
    and move right along.

    To validate your activity, you record this information in a log and after
    the contest has concluded, you share your log with the contest organiser
    who collates and processes the submitted logs to determine a winner. As a participant you look for your callsign on the results page and if you're
    lucky you get some form of trophy, a certificate, a plaque, or more often
    than not, a PDF. An amateur radio contest is not a particularly high stakes competition.

    Recently I asked a group of contesters a question: "How do you learn why a
    QSO was excluded from your score?" I asked because one of the eight
    contacts I managed during a recent contest was disallowed, leaving me with
    an unexplained discrepancy between my log and the results. I will note that this entry didn't affect my ranking, I won my category, mainly because I
    was the only entrant - hah!

    Depending on whom you ask, this is either a simple or a complex question.

    The simple explanation states that if the contact isn't in the log of both stations it's not a valid contact. This interpretation was extremely
    popular in the group I asked.

    It was not the only answer I received.

    When I spoke with individual contesters they came up with different answers
    to my original question.

    For example, if I log everything right, if I'm using a serial number, the number increments each time and my log shows that, then my log entry should
    be valid, even if the other station didn't log it correctly. Note that I
    said log, not copy, as-in, they repeated back what I gave them, but logged
    it incorrectly.

    I also wondered what would happen if I was using a club-station callsign
    and accidentally called CQ with my own callsign and a station logged that callsign instead of the club-station. Should they be penalised because they logged what was actually exchanged?

    There's more.

    For example, what happens if the times are not identical? Based on the
    simple explanation, this would not be a valid contact, so you would not get recognition for this exchange and in some contests an invalid contact will produce a penalty to both stations.

    Another variation to the simple answer occurs if the contest organiser
    doesn't receive a log for every station and as a result, some contests set
    a maximum number of contacts for stations without logs.

    All this came within the context of attempting to discover how log
    validation happens, who decides what's valid and what rules are used.
    During my group conversation, two contest managers shared how they scored
    their particular contests and showed that they attempted to award the
    benefit of doubt to each station. One decided after the discussion to
    change their interpretation to the simple explanation I've already looked

    I wanted to know if there was any standard and other than pointing vaguely
    in the direction of a few large contests, I didn't actually manage to find
    any definitive discussion on how this works, if it's universal, which I
    suspect it isn't, and if it changes over time, which I know it does.

    The largest annual contest is the CQ World-Wide. In a 2012 blog post the contest committee discusses the time window of a contact and explains that
    they allow a 15 minute window, so as long as both contacts agree within 15 minutes, the QSO is allowed. That post also pointed out that if the time
    for one station was out by 45 minutes, none of their contacts would be
    allowed and anyone who made contact with that station would by implication
    get a penalty.

    Clearly there are variations on how this is handled.

    I asked if there is validation software for logs that checks this and if
    that software is open source so others can look at how decisions are made
    and see how these evolve over time. Is there an arbitration that goes
    beyond the standard phrasing in most contests: "The decision of the contest committee is final."

    I was told that this wasn't necessary and I should focus on more practice.
    I beg to differ. I've been contesting for a decade now, I have plenty of winning certificates on my wall. I'd like to improve my skill and I'd like
    to learn why and how my contacts are disallowed and I'd like others to be
    able to do the same.

    Log checking software is written by humans who interpret the rules and
    write software to conform to those rules. In order to see what rules are in place and to validate that, the source of that software must in my opinion
    be open and transparent.

    As a community we sit at the boundary between professional communications
    and a hobby and we often use the idea and concepts of a contest to argue
    that this is the best way to hone skills and to make you a better operator
    in case of an emergency, but if you cannot actually learn from your
    mistakes, if there is no discussion on how decisions are made, if there's nothing beyond simple answers, then are we really striving for improvement
    or just set in our ways?

    For the record, I think that if a contest log is off by 45 minutes
    throughout the entire log, software should pick that up, award the contacts
    and point out the mistake to the person who didn't set their clock
    correctly, especially since time is not exchanged during any contest I
    know. I also think that if a station logged what was actually said, there
    is room for that to be considered a valid exchange, but then I've only been
    an amateur contester for a decade, so I have plenty to learn.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB
    This posting includes a media file: http://podcasts.itmaze.com.au/foundations/20210725.foundations-of-amateur-radio.mp3

    Share if you care...

    Posted: 17 Jul 2021 09:00 AM PDT

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    When you explore the landscape of amateur radio you'll discover an endless array of innovation. There's websites with photos and descriptions of activities, places discovered and lessons learnt. If you watch the growing collection of YouTube channels you'll discover videos describing what
    people have been up to, commenting on videos they've seen and you'll start
    to notice that people all over the community are pinging off each other.
    Social media does the same.

    If you read an amateur magazine, or a book, you'll unearth references and counter-references, links and credits, descriptions gleaned and tests made,
    all of them interlinking and adding to the knowledge base that underpins
    the amateur radio community and society beyond it.

    The same is true for on-air activity. Look at contesting for example,
    you'll hear descriptions from other contesters, sharing their lessons
    learnt which potentially influence how you do your next contesting
    activity. The same is true for working DX, operating any digital mode,
    running an on-air net, running a SOTA activation, anything.

    The point being that you are influenced by others and everything you do influences somebody somewhere else who in turn influences the next person
    who might then influence you. On and on the chain grows.

    This chain of knowledge goes back to the early science in our hobby, the
    works of James Clerk Maxwell who for the first time brought electricity, magnetism, and light together as different manifestations of the same phenomenon in 1864.

    The reason we know this is because he published his work and without
    needing to leave home to see the original, anyone can read it today from
    the comfort of their living room thanks to the PDF that's on the Royal
    Society web-site.

    The point being that Maxwell documented his work and shared it with the

    In our hobby we've gone through the process of making our equipment from unobtainium, requiring that the actual components were constructed before
    you could actually put them together and use them for their intended
    purpose. We then went on the scrounge for parts from other equipment,
    acquiring surplus gear and through a phase where you could buy new
    components off the shelf and attach them to an etched circuit board. That evolved into being able to design a board, ordering it online, having it
    built for cents and shipped to our door.

    Today an increasing component of our hobby evolves around software with its unique property of transience.

    Unlike physical components, software is intangible. You imagine how
    something might work, you describe it in an imaginary language, convert it
    into something that can be run inside a computer, and if you did it right,
    the outcome gives you the basis for your next experiment.

    When software reaches a certain level of complexity it becomes impossible
    to remember. You tweak something over here and something over there changes
    and unless you can keep all that together inside your brain as a cohesive imaginary model, you quickly run into a brick wall.

    If you're a software developer you've likely heard of tools like CVS, SVN
    and git. They are examples of revision control. They're used extensively in software development, but increasingly they're being used to track changes
    in documents, legislation and places where change is constant.

    As an aside, if you load the various versions of legal requirements of your license into revision control, you'll quickly discover that your license is slowly evolving over time, for better or worse. From personal experience, I know doing that for the Radiocommunications Licence Conditions in Australia
    was very interesting indeed.

    Each of these tools gives you the ability to tweak something, track it and
    if it doesn't work out, revert to where you started your experiment. It's a little like using a soldering iron and a soldering wick, physical undo for experiments.

    When I talk about Open Source software, I'm not only talking about the
    ability to look inside and add functionality, I'm also talking about
    accessing the history that goes with that.

    Open Source software generally only works if it comes with a revision
    history, a trail of discovery outlined right there on your screen showing
    what worked, why and how it came about. There's often options for showing
    who made what change, which changes happened at the same time and the
    ability to extract that particular change. All essential ingredients for experimentation.

    Closed Source software does all those things, but privately. It too likely
    uses revision control tools, even the same ones as Open Source, but the discoveries are held in-house, behind closed doors, used by a select few.
    The software evolves inside the organisation, but there's no insight for or from the outside world.

    Of course, everyone is entitled to keep their stuff secret, but if you want
    to make a contribution to society outside the life of your walled garden,
    the only way forward is to publish and share your work like scientists have been doing well before the Royal Society held its first meeting on the 28th
    of November 1660.

    Share if you care...

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB
    This posting includes a media file: http://podcasts.itmaze.com.au/foundations/20210718.foundations-of-amateur-radio.mp3

    What Open Source means to our hobby and why it's important.

    Posted: 10 Jul 2021 09:00 AM PDT

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    For much of the past month I've been attempting to articulate what Open
    Source Software is, why it's important, how it's relevant to our hobby, how
    it works, how software is different from hardware and why you should
    consider if the equipment you buy comes with source code or not. I'm
    finding it difficult to separate out the issues since they all hang
    together in a cohesive clump of ideas and concepts.

    So, let me go sideways to set the scene.

    There is a movement that asserts the right to repair our own things and to ensure that manuals and diagnostic tools used by manufacturers are made available to the public.

    For many radio amateurs that might sound quaint and obvious, since for much
    of the hobby that kind of information was not only available, it was
    expected and assumed to be available. You can get the circuit diagram and testing procedures, the alignment process and the list of required test equipment for most if not all amateur transceivers today and truth be told,
    if that testing gear isn't available, we tend to build or scrounge our own.

    Compare a Yaesu FT-857d and an Icom IC-7300. They're radios from different generations, use different technologies, are made by different
    manufacturers and come in different packaging.

    Both radios have user manuals, circuit diagrams and documented testing and alignment processes, but they're not equivalent even if they look the same.

    The 857 is constructed from discrete components and circuits. There's a microprocessor on-board, the source code is not available and updates are issued by the manufacturer if and when it sees fit. Its function is to
    control and sequence things, selecting band filters, switching modes,
    updating the display and control serial communications. While integral to
    the functioning of the radio, the microprocessor itself is used for command
    and control only.

    Inside the 7300 you'll also find discrete components. There are circuits, filters and the like and while individual components have reduced in size
    there are many of the same kinds of functions inside the radio as you'll
    find on an 857. The microprocessor inside the 7300 is more advanced than
    the one inside the 857. The source code is also not available and updates
    are issued by the manufacturer when it sees fit.

    If that was all there was to it, I would not have spent a month attempting
    to capture this. Suffice to say that looks are deceiving.

    The microprocessor inside the 7300 does the exact same things as the 857
    with one minor difference. It now also forms part of the signal input and output chain of the radio itself.

    Let me say that again.

    The computer that is the heart of a modern radio is an integral part of the signal processing of the radio. Where in a traditional radio the
    microprocessor was switching circuits on and off to process the signal, the modern solution is to do all the signal processing using software inside
    the microprocessor itself. If you want to get technical, an FPGA is doing
    much of the signal processing, but that too is driven by software.

    Where previously you had access to the circuit diagram that would show you
    what was being done to the signal, today you have a magic black box that
    does stuff completely outside your control.

    If you want to know how an SSB or FM signal is decoded on the 857, the
    service manual will helpfully point you at two chips which provide those specific functions. It describes how the signal comes into the chip and how
    the signal is processed once it leaves the chip and if you need more, you
    can look online to find the specifications for each chip to see precisely
    what they do and how they work, complete with equivalent circuits and specifications.

    On the other hand if you wanted to know the same information for the 7300
    you'd be out of luck because if you dig deep enough, following the signal
    path, eventually you'd end up inside the microprocessor where software is making that happen. There's no description on how this works, what the
    circuit equivalent characteristics are, there's no way to change how it
    works, no way to set parameters, no way to see inside and no way to

    This is a problem because it means that you've got a solution that's no
    longer operating in the spirit of amateur radio. It's not open for experimentation, it's not subject to review, there's no way to test, no
    means to improve, no way to do anything other than what the manufacturer decided was appropriate.

    For example, if I wanted to modify the FM pass-band width on an 857, I
    could update the FM demodulation circuit by replacing a couple of
    components. On a 7300, I could not because there is no circuit. The FM demodulator is described in software that I don't have access to and Icom
    has decided that the FM pass-band is fixed.

    If the software was open however, I could add this function and make it available to anyone who would like to experiment.

    At this point I'd also like to observe that the Icom user manual states
    that inside the IC-7300 it uses open source "CMSIS-RTOS RTX", "zlib"
    and "libpng" software, so Icom is benefiting from open source efforts, but
    not sharing their own.

    This is not an Icom only problem, this is a specific issue around open
    source versus closed source and while you might think that the right to
    repair and open source is something that's not relevant to you, I'd like to invite you to consider what the implications are for our hobby. Are we
    going to go down the road of button pushers, or are we continuing our role
    as inventors and experimenters?

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB
    This posting includes a media file: http://podcasts.itmaze.com.au/foundations/20210711.foundations-of-amateur-radio.mp3

    What mode is that?

    Posted: 03 Jul 2021 09:00 AM PDT

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    The hobby of amateur radio is about communication. When you go on-air and
    make noise, you initiate a communications channel, sending information out
    into the world and hoping for another station to receive and decode what
    you sent. The channel itself can be used in an infinite number of ways and
    each one is called a modulation mode, or mode for short. The popular ones
    come with most radios, CW, AM, SSB and FM.

    Those few are not the only ones available. In fact as computers are being integrated into the radio at an increasing pace, signal processing is
    becoming part and parcel of the definition of a mode and new modes are
    being introduced at break neck speed. I've talked about WSPR as an example
    of one such mode, but there are many, each with their own particular take
    on how to get information between two stations.

    As you listen on the bands you'll increasingly find yourself hearing a bewildering litany of beeps, pops and clicks. Some of those are due to ionospheric conditions, but many are different modes that are being experimented with across our spectrum.

    If you have access to a band scope, a way of visualising radio spectrum,
    you can actually see the shapes and patterns of such signals over time and getting to that point can be as easy as feeding your radio audio into your computer and launching a copy of fldigi or WSJT-X.

    Every mode requires a specific tool to decode it and with practice you'll discover that there is often a particular look or sound associated with a
    mode. Over time you'll confidently select the correct decoder, using your
    brain for the process of signal identification.

    Of course if you don't have access to the library in your brain yet, since you've only just started, or if the mode you've come across is new, you'll
    need another library to discover what you found. There is such a library,
    the Signal Identification Wiki. It's a web-site that hosts a list of
    submitted signals, grouped by usage type, including one for our community.

    On the amateur radio page of the Signal Identification Wiki there are over
    70 different modes listed, complete with a description, an audio file and a spectrogram. With that you can begin to match what you've discovered on
    your radio to what the web-site has in the library and determine if you can decode the incoming information.

    I will mention at this point that the Signal Identification Wiki is far
    from complete. For example, the Olivia mode has 40 so-called sub-modes of
    which about 8 are in common use. Each of those sub-modes looks and sounds different. The wiki shows only a single line for Olivia.

    I'm pointing this out because the wiki allows you to submit a mode for
    others to use. If you have a signal, either by recording it off-air, or
    better still, recording it directly from the source, consider submitting it
    to the wiki so others can benefit from your experience.

    If you've come across a signal and you cannot figure out what it is, there
    are other places you can go for help. The four and a half thousand members
    of the /r/signalidentification sub on reddit will happily look at and
    listen to your signal and try to help. Make sure you contribute some meta
    data like the time, frequency and location to accompany the spectrogram and audio.

    You might have come to this point wondering why I'm encouraging you to use
    and contribute to the wiki and ask for help on reddit. Amateur radio is
    about experimentation. We love to do that and as we make signal processing easier and easier, more people are making new modes to play with.

    The speed at which this is happening is increasing and as an operator you
    can expect to come across new signals. I remember not that long ago, it was last month, tuning to an FT8 frequency and the person I was with asking
    what that sound was. They'd heard it before but never discovered its
    purpose, even though FT8 has been with us since the 29th of June 2017.

    What interesting signals have you come across and how did you go with
    decoding them?

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB
    This posting includes a media file: http://podcasts.itmaze.com.au/foundations/20210704.foundations-of-amateur-radio.mp3

    When you share the hobby grows ...

    Posted: 26 Jun 2021 09:00 AM PDT

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    Recently I received a lovely email from Simon G0EIY, who reminded me that
    there is a voice-keyer that fits into a microphone. It was designed by Olli DH8BQA as a replacement for a standard Yaesu MH-31 microphone. I'd come
    across this a while ago and for several reasons put off actually ordering
    one, but Simon's encouragement tipped me over the fence and I've placed my order.

    What I'm expecting to arrive at some point is a kit that has the minuscule surface mount components already soldered to a circuit board, leaving a
    couple of individual components ready for my soldering iron abuse. I'll let
    you know how it goes.

    This little experience reminded me that I've been stumbling across
    solutions like this for years, an amateur with an itch to scratch and the
    drive to do something about it.

    For example, Paul KE0PBR likes to operate satellites and in doing so
    amassed a collection of frequencies. Since the Doppler effect alters the
    actual frequency depending on the satellite coming towards you or moving
    away from you, there are corrections that need to be done. If you're in the field, this is something that you might struggle with, so Paul created a Frequency Cheat Sheet.

    If you're looking into magnetic loop antennas, you'll quickly encounter a spreadsheet made by Steve AA5TB that will get you started with the
    parameters for designing and building your own magnetic loop.

    The popular VK Contest Logger, known colloquially as VKCL was built by Mike VK3AVV. It's a simple to use logging tool that has a large collection of
    rules for different contests and Mike often brings out a new version to incorporate the latest rule changes just before a contest. It even
    incorporates a station log.

    If you've come across apps like DroidPSK, DroidSSTV and DroidRTTY, they're
    the brain children of Wolfgang W8DA. The increasingly popular Repeaterbook maintained by a global community of volunteers is the work of Garrett

    I've lost count of the number of radio amateurs running an online shop
    where you can buy gear, or kits, or circuit boards, components, antennas, software and the like, not to mention an astonishing collection of professionally built tools like antenna analysers, filters, amplifiers and more.

    It's said that amateurs are notorious for their short arms and deep
    pockets. I like to think of it as a discerning and informed customer. It's
    easy to sell snake-oil to the masses, it's been going on for centuries,
    it's much harder to do that when the person you're selling to knows how the thing you're selling works and knows how to read a data-sheet, let alone
    ask awkward questions when the need arises.

    Before I go on I will mention that the people I've named here are unaware
    of me doing so. I've not been approached by any of them to mention their
    name and I have no relationship, other than being a happy customer. I'm
    saying this out loud because this podcast goes out on amateur radio
    repeaters all over the world and commercial use of amateur radio is
    strictly prohibited.

    You might have gotten to this point wondering why I'm even taking the time
    to highlight some of the efforts I've come across and the reason is very simple. This activity is everywhere, you just have to look. It's not like
    Olli, Paul, Steve, Mike, Garrett or Wolfgang shouted their involvement from
    the rooftops, it's just that the information is available if you care to
    look. Remember, these people are radio amateurs just like you and I.

    That's important because the difference between a tool that you're using
    that you built, sitting in your shack or on your computer and that of the people I've named is that they took an extra step and shared their efforts
    with the community. Some amateurs are making a living from this hobby and I applaud their efforts, for the rest of us, me included, that's often not
    the point.

    Invention is happening all over the world, right now. You are doing it,
    despite your protestations to the contrary. You might have made a PDF that
    you carry around during a contest, or it might be a calculator you knocked
    up to figure out how to build something. It might be a circuit diagram, an
    app, a how to guide, a map or a video. All of these things are creations
    that can be shared to increase the amount of innovation that happens by
    people bouncing ideas off other ideas.

    In 1675, Sir Isaac Newton said: "If I have seen further it is by standing
    on the shoulders of Giants."

    You are one of those giants and the person who uses your contribution to
    make their own is standing on your shoulders.

    What are you waiting for?

    Publish, share, document, photograph and make available, it's how society
    makes progress and it's how amateur radio stays at the forefront of

    Get on air and make noise is not purely restricted to the RF spectrum.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB
    This posting includes a media file: http://podcasts.itmaze.com.au/foundations/20210627.foundations-of-amateur-radio.mp3

    Here be Dragons, venturing into uncharted territory ...

    Posted: 19 Jun 2021 09:00 AM PDT

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    Sometimes when you head into uncharted territory, you gotta laugh at
    yourself from time to time. Last weekend I participated in a contest,
    something I enjoy doing as you might recall. To simplify the process of
    setting up in a vehicle I'd proposed a bold plan to save space and reduce complexity. I was anxious about reducing the amount of technology because
    I'd come up with a plan to use a paper log to track my contest contacts.

    I had visions of operating for the best part of 24 hours and making
    hundreds of contacts. This was based on the fact that in 2016 I'd done this same contest on my own and made a 138 contacts and scored 18221 points,
    having moved 17 times.

    I'd also done the contest in 2018 and for reasons I don't recall, I made
    one contact over 8 hours.

    That right there should have been a warning sign that I might not quite get
    the result I'd been fearful of.

    Blissfully unaware of the adventure that was unfolding, after driving to
    the first location, I called CQ for the better part of an hour. Then I
    called some more. When I was done with that, I called CQ more. 90 minutes
    in, I made my first contact.

    That pretty much set the pattern for the next nine hours. At one point we feared that the radio had packed up, but then I made a 2900 km contact with
    the other side of the country between me in Perth in VK6 and Catherine
    VK7GH in Tasmania.

    Around five pm we packed up, having moved location six times, making eight contacts and claiming 64 points, having worked three of the six states I

    Talk about overblown fears.

    Looking back, even documenting 138 contacts on paper doesn't seem nearly as daunting after the fact, but that's for another day. I did learn some other things too.

    I was worried about logging the band correctly, since using a computer
    that's not connected to the radio requires an extra step when you change
    band. Using paper the issue wasn't the band, it was remembering to record
    the time.

    We didn't have the opportunity to test all the gear before the contest. I
    was bringing in some extra audio splitters, which didn't work with the
    set-up we had, testing before hand would have revealed that. We knew that
    there was a risk associated with not testing before and decided that in the scheme of things it didn't matter and we were right. It didn't.

    We hadn't much planned for food and pit-stops, but having a GPS and an
    internet connection solved all those issues almost invisibly. Of course
    that wouldn't work in an unpopulated area, but we were well inside the metropolitan area of a big city, well, Perth.

    Using a head-set worked great, though it didn't have a monitoring feature,
    so my voice got louder and louder and Thomas VK6VCR who took on the tasks
    of navigating and driving became deafer and deafer as the day progressed.

    I keep coming back to wanting a portable voice-keyer, a device that you can record your CQ call into and then at the press of a button, play it back so
    you don't lose your voice whilst calling CQ hour after hour. The challenge seems to be that you need to find a way to incorporate it into the existing audio chain so it doesn't introduce interference.

    Winning a contest requires contacts and that can only happen if there are
    other participants. This time around there didn't seem to be that many on
    air making noise. I think I heard a grand total of 13 stations. Some of
    that was due to propagation conditions which were nothing like I've ever
    heard before, but perhaps if I stick around for another solar cycle, that
    too will become familiar. Atrocious is one word that comes to mind.

    Continuing our learning, the weather, not just space-weather, actual earth weather, snow, rain, hail and in our case sun. Neither of us thought to
    bring a hat since the forecast was for intermittent rain. We had no rain, instead had the opportunity to bask in the winter sun. Yes, it's winter
    here in Oz when it's Summer in Europe. As it happens, our winter
    temperatures are like your summer ones, but I'll leave it to you to confirm that for yourself.

    Finally, we have a local phenomenon in VK6. When the sun goes down, the 40m

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