Sunday, 26 January 2014

6 Metre Net - January 20th

For this week's net we had Charlie VE3SYK, Bob VE3WY, Brian VE3IBW and Chris VE3NRT. Everyone transmitting could hear everyone else this time. Steve, VE3EZ, also heard Chris but not the others (likely before Charlie checked in). Steve VA3SRV could see us on the SDR waterfall and reported by email that he could hear both the USB conversation and Nick on 50.140 FM. This may be an anomaly in Steve's SDR setup as we wouldn't expect to see an FM signal in that part of the band. It appeared to be a repeater input which makes the frequency even less likely. The strong FM is apparent in the image below, along with a much weaker and thinner looking upper sideband signal on 50.175.

Bob is 39km away from Chris which was the longest path of the night, and there are few obstructions between the two locations. Power at both ends was about 100W. Brian increased power from 10 to 50W which improved his signal, and Charlie complained of a higher noise due to a neighbour's activities. City dwellers would be ecstatic to have noise levels as low as Charlie's, mind you.

Frequencies on each radio varied somewhat although all were within about 200Hz, which is a mere 4 parts per million spread. Everyone reported having to tune above net controller Chris VE3NRT,

Paulo VE3RAO reported hearing voices buried in the noise from Richmond Hill, and Steve VE3EZ heard VE3NRT from Uxbridge. Like Steve, VA3SRV, neither had antennas that would allow them to transmit on 6m.

One topic of the night was to try out the FreeDV software for digital voice communications. As not everyone is going to have that set up we plan to test it on a different schedule sometime soon and perhaps put it in play a bit later. It would also be fun to try JT9 to see if the distances can be improved, and PSK, and RTTY, and perhaps some CW.

Six metres is a challenging band, which is why we're giving this net a try, to experiment and test 6m capabilities at our own stations. All amateurs are welcome to participate.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

6 Metre Net Update

Our 6 metre net almost doubled in size this week with 5 stations worked, plus 2 listener reports. As scheduled, we met on 50.175 upper sideband last Monday evening at 8pm. The participants were:

Brian, VE3IBW, with 10 watts horizontally polarized
Brad, VE3HII, with 12 watts into a rotatable dipole
Steve, VE3UT, probably 100 watts into a beam pointed at Aurora/Newmarket
Charlie, VE3SYK, 90 watts into a beam
Chris, VE3NRT, 250 watts to a Butternut vertical at 22'

Charlie was the winner as he could hear all other stations. Chris could hear everyone except Steve, while Brad and Brian could only hear Charlie and Chris. Steve VA3SRV down in Bradford could only hear Charlie on his RTL2832 dongle, while Bob VA3IL could hear Chris and Charlie using an 80M horizontal loop as a receiving antenna from about 20km away.

The longest path was from Charlie to Steve at about 50km. Charlie described the signal as S1. Noise on VE3NRT's vertical was a healthy S5 so while Steve's transmissions were heard, they weren't readable.

At 8:30 VE3IBW and VE3NRT switched over to FM on 52.525MHz to try and raise Don VE3IXJ. Brian thought he heard him but no further contact was made. VE3NRT reported Brian's signal at almost full quieting.

I hope we can get some new participants for this Monday's net. VE3NRT will upload all contacts to LoTW.

Lastly, the January VHF Contest starts today at 2pm. Some local amateurs will be participating in the contest and if you get the chance fire up rig on 6m and give them some contacts.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

January 7, 2014 - General Meeting Minutes

Meeting held at the Sharon Temperance Hall. Called to order at 19:30. Chaired by Chris VE3NRT.
  1. Introductions completed. 24 members and no guest in attendance
  2. Minutes Dec 3rd Mtng motion by Barry VA3LLT seconded by Steve VE3EZ. Motion carried.
  3. Repeater – Steve VE3EZ
    • VE3YRA has been relocated as noted in the Dec 3rd meeting. As a result, the coverage footprint has shifted to the East.
    • VE3YRC IRLP has been moved but is not working due to a RFI issue which is being investigated
    • VE3YRK; paperwork requested by Trillium has been submitted
  4. Public Service – Richard VE3NSD
    • Richard VE3NSD to follow up with Markham parade committee to see how YRARC can support them in the future
    • Richard would appreciate a list of past events considered or supported by club if anyone has such a list
  5. Property – Rob VE3RQB
    • Rob VE3RQB and Dave VE3DCY will procure the outstanding items needed to complete the go kits
    • Brad VE3HII reported that his 12VDC charger is out of service. If anyone has a 12VDC charger that they can offer to the club please contact Brad
  6. Field Day – Steve VE3UT
    • Steve VE3UT requested that the board assign action to repair the tower trailer to prepare it for field day and emergency response
    • Steve VE3UT would like suggestions from club members on potential improvements to Field Day
    • Steve VE3EZ suggested setting up near the fire hall in Ballantrae (Whitchurch-Stouffville) to improve public and municipal visibility
    • Bob VE3WY suggested placing a geo cache on site to draw in the public
    • General discussion on the readiness of club assets to fulfill emergency communications based on the experience during the ice storm Dec 21st and 22nd
  7. Name Tags - Doug VE3VS reported that the name tags should be available next month
  8. 6 meter SSB net - Mondays, 8pm 50.175 +/- 10 – Chris VE3NRT
    • Chris VE3NRT announced the creation of the 6 m net. First net was held yesterday Jan 6th. Chris encouraged members to join the net each Monday
  9. By laws – Geoff VA3GS
    • Original document has been cleaned up (grammar and spelling)
    • The current plan is to bring the substantive changes to the board with proposed options and then bring this to the club to vote
  10. Splatter Blog – Chris VE3NRT
  11. Steve VE3UT will write an update on Field Day to publish in the blog
  12. Doug VE3VS reported that the solar flux index is over 200
  13. Steve VE3UT requested help from anyone with experience in tracking RF noise interfering with his shack
    • Doug VE3VS suggested the club form an RFI committee to help club members address these types of issues
  14. Break at 20:22 followed by swap meet
Meeting adjourned at 21:00

Friday, 10 January 2014

Field Day 2014

The weather and subsequent hydro outages over the past couple of weeks show us that being prepared for an emergency is vital. Thousands of citizens in York Region, including many members of our club, lost hydro for a number of days. Our primary 2M repeater, VE3YRC, went down because of a lack of backup power. Fortunately our other 2M repeater, VE3YRA, remained available for emergency communications.

One of the purposes of Field Day is emergency preparedness. But we also have a great time - so you might call it serious fun. And while our emergency communications trailer is now operational, our club has another piece of equipment that is not usable in an emergency, our tower trailer. This tower is a very important part of our annual Field Day deployment, so we need to get moving very soon to get our new tower installed on our trailer.

The plans for FD at this time are to stick with the successful formula that has worked so well for the past few years. I am pleased to report that enthusiasm appears to be high, based upon feedback at the January club meeting. Of course, we love new ideas, so please let me know if you'd like to try something different. One suggestion that was made at the meeting was to relocate to a new site not too far from where we have been holding it for a number of years. It is a public location which is
desirable because it achieves one of Field Day's other objectives - publicizing our hobby to the general public.

We already have lots of volunteers for Band Captains already and this includes: Bob VE3WY (6 and 160 metre bands), Chris VA3DZX (20 metre phone), Doug VE3VS (40 metre CW), Geoff VA3GS (Get-On-The-Air station), Chris VE3NRT (Digital). I'm sure there are other members who were not at the last meeting who are willing to help out with 80 metre phone and kitchen. Please let me know at As always we will be looking for lots of help with setup and tear down on Friday and Sunday so please let me know if you are willing to help out.

If you can contribute to the tower trailer rebuild, I would like to hear from you as well. The rebuild is subject to board approval of course but a good work crew would be a good start to this project. June will be here before you know it and we need to be ready for North America's number one ham radio event of the year, Field Day!

Steve VE3UT

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Notes from the Shack - January

Elecraft makes a fine panadapter for my transceiver. Everyone I know who owns one tells me how helpful it is. One day I'll surely plunk down the $1K or more ($700 US as a kit plus shipping and HST, plus another $270 for the hi-res display option not including the additional monitor) to get one, but I thought in the meantime I'd try out the $21 Softrock Lite II IF kit. (Either way you need the KXV3A option on the K3 transceiver to be able to get at the 8.215MHz IF output).

Both setups work by analyzing the IF output of the transceiver and displaying a portion of the band. The P3 displays up to a 192KHz-wide segment of the band centred on the tuned frequency. The Softrock will do the same with a 192KHz audio interface, but mine is only 96KHz so that's all I get. Elecraft says that a wider slice is going to be available with a future firmware upgrade but that was more than 16 months ago. Mind you, there's a little device called a RTL 2832u which is wideband VHF/UHF SDR receiver that costs around $20 and doesn't require a sound card. It doesn't tune the HF bands so it's been used along with an upconverter (or with a radio that has its IF on the VHF frequencies) to provide a 2MHz wide display. Maybe the P3 may have to wait a little longer.

Construction and Setup

Building the Softrock took about 10 hours, not including a case for which I still need parts. I'm a relatively slow builder I suppose but it worked first time. There are only two relatively simple toroid transformers to wire up, which compared to the Softrock RX-TX I built a year ago was trivial. There are a bunch of surface mount parts - 10 tiny capacitors and 3 integrated circuits. These were installed with a regular fine-tipped temperature controlled soldering iron with very thin solder. It is fairly simple to do. Just apply a tiny bit of solder to one of the pads and then tack the part onto the PC board on that pad with the iron. Then run around and solder the rest of the pins (quickly!) one at a time. I had to redo a pin here and there after inspection and/or power-on tests.

Once built, there are 3 connections to make. It requires the same ~12v power as the rig, a (well-shielded) connection to the rig's IF output, and a stereo connection to the audio interface. Stereo is an absolute requirement for software defined radio to provide image rejection around the Softrock's local oscillator (LO) frequency. The LO is tuned 23KHz below the K3's IF so that it doesn't feed back into the transceiver. The kit comes with no connectors or box, so right now that's patched together and those parts are on order.

Software Setup

Once the Softrock's audio is getting into your computer, you need software to interpret it. There are tons of options, like PowerSDR (a free version of the Flex Radio software), Rocky, etc., but right now my favourite from my RX-TX operating days is HDSDR, although I might revisit the others to see how well they work with this setup. All of these programs are free downloads. Installation and setup of HDRSDR is relatively easy. It needs to be told about the audio interface, and there is a special setup screen for the receiver front-end. That is where all the main adjustments take place.

The Softrock's oscillator is not going to be exactly 23KHz from the K3's IF frequency. Mine was just under 1300Hz off. Furthermore, there are different offsets for each mode, so CW is different from SSB and AM. The exact numbers were determined by experiment, lining up the sound of the signal with the display. Once this alignment is done, you can identify signals visually on the program's waterfall display, tune them in with a single mouse click, and then use the mouse wheel or direct frequency entry to fine-tune the signal either by ear or with the waterfall display. This is excellent for zero beating a CW station quickly to an accuracy of a few hertz.

Because both the IF and the Softrock frequencies are fixed, HDSDR tunes by changing the transceiver's frequency. How is this done? Well the easy way to run the rig control portion of Ham Radio Deluxe. HDSDR can control the frequency and mode of HRD. It also supports a free library called Omni-Rig which I haven't tried (yet). So tuning the radio becomes a point and click operation on the programs waterfall display.


The tuned frequency appears around 23KHz to the left of the centre on the display for reasons mentioned earlier. So on my setup I see about 1/4 of the display below the radio frequency and 3/4 above it. With a 48KHz (vs. my 96Khz) audio interface it would on the extreme left of the display, which I'd find very annoying. Even with the 96KHz audio it is still a bit frustrating that there's not more displayed below the tuned frequency.

On December 28th I used it for the RAC Canada Winter Contest on SSB. It was very effective. Instead of just scanning across the band with the tuning knob I could QSY directly to any signal, judging strength by the intensity of the display. Often I could see who was calling CQ by the regular timing of signals on the waterfall. Fine tuning can be done either with the mouse or the tuning knob. The other thing that works well is using it to find a free spot to call CQ.

99% of my operation has been using the audio from the radio and HDSDR as a tuning aid, but HDSDR can also be used to demodulate the signals, which can then be listened to directly or fed into some type of digital program. I didn't find this necessary but for something like Digital Radio Mondiale where the bandwidth required exceeds the capability of the transceiver it would work fine. I used it a bit for the alignment of frequency offsets in the various modes and you can really notice the delay going through the computer.


There are some quirks that take some getting used to. The biggest was the effect of changing the filter settings on the K3. On CW for instance the filter centre frequency is 600Hz. Changing this shifts the entire waterfall on HDSDR by the same amount, as the K3 actually changes its local oscillator frequency rather than moving the filter frequency, which makes sense because it uses fixed-frequency crystal filters. So I've found that it is best just not to change the centre frequency of the filters.

One thing that is going to drive me crazy is the radio control. Don't get me wrong it works great, but the big challenge is getting all my favourite software to work with it. As long as I can go through Ham Radio Deluxe or Omni-Rig everything is fine, but not everything works with HRD or Omni-Rig. In particular, I wanted to try the N1MM logger because the HRD logger just doesn't cut it for my style of operating. The N1MM logger wants to control the transceiver directly but it doesn't share. Some hams are using LP-Bridge to allow multiple controllers for the K3 which looks promising but it has prohibitive licence terms (even though it is free) and several additional layers of complexity. It also crashed my computer when I tried it with Ham Radio Deluxe.

In summary

This little project has cost me about $40 so far ($15 was for a cable at the local music store) and I will need to invest another $15 or so in putting it in a case. Naturally it would have cost more if I'd needed to buy a sound card to go with it. For that small investment this is definitely a keeper, but it won't be long before I try the RTL 2832u with an upconverter.

Chris VE3NRT.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Informal 6-Metre Net

Bob VE3WY, Steve VE3UT and I got together on 6 metres on Monday night to test the feasibility of having a an informal experimental weekly simplex net on 6 metre upper sideband. Unfortunately for Steve, there was a strong noise source on the frequency we chose - 50.160. Bob and I had a nice long conversation despite some extra noise at my end which was probably the result of my antenna not liking the extreme cold - and I logged my first ever 6 metre QSO which was confirmed with a hand-delivered VE3WY QSL card. Bob and I were also running different antenna polarisations as he was using a Yagi and me my old Butternut HF6V vertical, which theoretically costs about 20db. We are about 30km apart although there are few obstructions.

At last night's club meeting there seemed to be several members interested in participating. Most modern HF rigs have 6 metres, as do many multiband antennas (especially verticals). If you don't have a suitable antenna you still might be able to get some RF out using a tuner, or as 6 metre antennas are relatively small, try putting something together yourself. You will get lots of advice from club members on how to do that.

So for the foreseeable future we will meet on Mondays, at let's say 50.175 MHz USB for now, at 8pm Eastern Time. This is not an EmComm exercise and I expect it will mostly be an exchange of signal reports by and for each station, followed by a discussion about whatever we'd like to talk about. The experience we get with 6 metre simplex may help EmComm down the road, of course. With respect to the possibility of interference with DX'ers, should the band actually be open I expect we'd have a quick exchange and all go DX hunting ourselves. One desirable outcome of the net would be to get some enhanced propagation which is the exciting aspect of this band. The net is a great opportunity to shake down your 6 metre setup with on-air testing, and as Bob pointed out at last night's meeting, any level of amateur radio operator's certificate is allowed to use the band.

All contacts with VE3NRT will be uploaded to LoTW on my regular Sunday pm upload. I've published this on the blog first to encourage comments and to give blog readers a bit of an edge. If you're not a member of the club we'd still be happy to hear from you.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

December 2013 Board Meeting - Minutes

Meeting held in the multipurpose room of the Magna Centre. Called to order at 19:04. Chaired by Chris VE3NRT
  • Board members attending; Chris VE3NRT, Rob VE3RQB, Steve VE3EZ, Geoff VA3GS, Barry VA3LLT, Richard VE3NSD, John VA3JI, Publius VE3XS
  • Board members absent; Eric VE3OIC, Chris VA3DXZ
  • Club members attending; None
  1. Agenda
    • Amendment to Agenda. Add to Item 11, 11a motion to complete Go Kits
    • Motion 2013-12-17-03 by Richard VE3NSD to amend Agenda Item changing Markham Santa Parade to Newmarket Santa Parade and to reimburse Richard VE3NSD the $50 entry fee for the Newmarket Parade, seconded by Barry VA3LLT. Motion carried.
    • Motion 2013-12-17-01 by Geoff VA3GS to adopt agenda as amended, seconded by Rob VE3RQB. Motion carried.
  2. Adoption of Nov 19th board meeting minutes
    • Motion 2013-12-17-02 by John VA3JI to adopt the minutes of the Nov 19th board meeting seconded by Geoff VA3GS. Motion carried.
  3. Finance and budget report.
    • Report by John VA3JI. Current balance [Available to members from Secretary on request].
    • Members wishing to receive the report should advise John.
  4. Audit report
      Report to Trillium foundation has been completed, delivered and receipt acknowledged.
    • Financial reports were completed by the accountant but were not submitted as they were not specifically requested.
  5. Meeting with Red Cross.
    • See notes at bottom of meeting agenda.
    • The local Red Cross is waiting for more information regarding GTA-wide repeaters (Ham frequencies?).
    • For Trillium purposes, it is a positive point that we are expanding our contacts with this NGO.
  6. General Meetings for 2014 - As listed below:
    • January: "Junk in the Trunk"
    • February: Keith Goobie on IRLP, Echolink, All-Star, etc.
    • March: open - some possibilities discussed.
    • April: open - Bob Morton? Maybe on spiral magnetic loop antennas.
    • May: open - possibility of Professor Delaney? (Richard to research and contact)
    • June: Annual General Meeting
  7. 2014 Field Day.
    • Red Cross has expressed desire to be present at our Field Day.
    • Steve (UT) to be approached to run the event.
    • Chris (NRT) has volunteered to be Digital Band Captain.
    • Discussion regarding present uncertainty of location.
    • May require change of site. Suggestion to research possibility of locating to the Ballantrae Fire Station on Hwy 48.
  8. Future of the Splatter.
    • Chris (NRT) suggests creating a blog instead of newsletter: easily searchable on Google
    • Meeting notes could be embedded and easily extracted,
    • The Splatter name would be maintained
    • Items could be submitted to an editor with author privileges.
    • Chris plans to publish Splatter in its present form in January but with notification of the change to a blog for the following publication date.
  9. Membership Status.
    • Current Members 68
    • Possibility of 4-5 more successful students of the most recent Ham course this past fall.
    • Animated discussion regarding how to boost interest. Suggestion by John VA3JI about how we could approach past members.
    • Steve suggested downloading RAC database to identify all current Ham operators in the York Region to contact and survey them. Steve has volunteered to undertake this task.
    • Some discussion regarding the possibility of using Club QSL cards and shipping via RAC bulk mailing.
  10. President's Advisory Committee.
    • Club by-laws state that the Committee "shall form a Presidential Advisory Committee consisting of not more than 3 members to advise the President regarding Club business, i.e. direction." There are no volunteers to date. Chris will present this opportunity again at the next General meeting.
  11. Discussion regarding the remaining items to be purchased to complete the Go Kits
    • Motion 2013-11-19-04 by Geoff VA3GS to authorize David VE3DCY to spend up to $500.00 on purchase of material to complete Go Kits. Seconded by John VA3JI. Motion carried.
    • Rob to send Go Kit list with anomalies noted to all BoD members.
    • It is understood that these funds will be charged against the present
    • EmComm funds as these will be capital expenditures for club equipment designated for use by EmComm.
  12. Other Business
    • Presentation and discussion by Steve VE3EZ of the standard lease (Peckover) for repeater locations.
    • Lease to be scanned and reviewed by Steve VE3EZ and Chris VE3NRT.
    • Report by Steve VE3EZ regarding YRP representative, and his discussion regarding antenna relocation once the tower has been rebuilt. (We are still on the radar).
    • Report by Geoff VA3GS regarding Wynsorc registration. Completed.
    • Report by John VA3JI on status of IRLP repeater and difficulties with feedback and subsequent difficulty disengaging.
  13. Motion 2013-12-17-05 by Geoff VA3GS to adjourn meeting, seconded by Rob VE3RQB. Motion carried at 20:53