Amateur Radio Parity Act Reintroduced

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ARRL Bulletin 14  ARLB014US_Capitol
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT  March 9, 2015
To all radio amateurs

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ARLB014

The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2015 Introduced in Congress

“The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2015” – H.R.1301 – has been introduced in the US House of Representatives. The measure would direct the FCC to extend its rules relating to reasonable accommodation of Amateur Service communications to private land use restrictions. US Rep Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) introduced the bill March 4 with 12 original co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle – seven Republicans and five Democrats. Kinzinger also sponsored “The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2014, which died at the end of the 113th Congress. H.R. 1301 is an essentially identical piece of legislation. Continue reading Amateur Radio Parity Act Reintroduced

Adafruit Si5351A 3-Channel Clock Generator

DSC00553_scaledThe other day, I received a breakout board for this critter from Adafruit. I want to experiment with RF applications, in particular an Arduino-controlled VFO. For this purpose, I need to be able to set the PLL and divider parameters in real time on the fly in response to, for instance, the turn of a rotary encoder, or direct keypad entry. The Arduino library provided by Adafruit is good for firm-programed parameters, but not for run-time settings.

I’ve done a pretty-good search through the Silicon Labs site and all I found was their Windows app for calculating those parameters for static programing–not for on-the-fly applications. I was hoping to find some formula or algorithm for determining the parameters given a specific frequency to be generated.

After what Lady Ada (Limor Fried) calls “noodling around,” I found a number of Arduino libraries for the 5351 at GitHub. Except for Adafruit’s own respository there, everything else is RF/Ham radio focused. So far,  I’ve experimented with a library developed by Jason Milldrum NT7S for his IndieGoGo Si5351A breakout-board campaign. I found it works flawlessly with the Adafruit breakout as well.

The nice thing about Jason’s library is that it will calculate the PLL and divider frequencies from an output frequency specified by a variable. This is exactly what I wanted. With a few buttons and a rotary encoder or keypad, I can dial in the frequency I want.

Here’s Jason’s GitHub respository: https://github.com/etherkit/Si5351Arduino

Adafruit Si5351A Breakout Board w/ArduinoI have yet to explore all the features of the library, but so far I’ve used a variable that allows the xtal-load capacitance to be entered–no doubt to fine-tune the calculation of PLL and divider frequencies. According to the Adafuit document, 10pF is the nominal figure. That’s what I used and it got the closest to the specified output frequency of those I tried.

Another feature I’ve noticed but not yet tried is a variable to enter a correction factor to compensate for manufacturing tolerances of the 25MHz reference xtal. Before I try that, I need to setup a GPS-disciplined frequency standard to properly calibrate my gear.

One odd thing I’ve found is that the official Silicon Labs datasheet for the Si5351A/B/C series lacks information on pinouts–by pin number, that is. They show pin names but no numbers. Strange! I finally found them, though, on Lady Ada’s drawing.

The cool thing about the Si5351 is that it can generate both the VFO and the BFO frequencies for a receiver/transceiver at the same time. If the rig needs a digital clock for other purposes, the 5351 can provide that as well.

As you can see from the waveform on the ‘scope screen, it’s not a perfect sine wave. This is to be expected, and a simple low-pass filter (LPF) can clean it right up.

DSC00561

 

Here’s the link to Adfafruit’s page for the breakout board: https://www.adafruit.com/products/2045.

At $7.95USD, it’s an excellent buy, especially considering it includes pull-ups and a LDO regulator so either 5V or 3.3V can be used for power and pin-high levels.

I’ll report more on the Si5351A in general and the Adafruit breakout in particular in subsequent postings.

 

 

!!! THIS JUST IN: I also just received my “perk” for my contribution to NT7S’s IndieGoGo campaign for his Si5351A breakout board. It’s comes as a kit, so I’ll assemble it and post a preliminary report soon.

Antenna Raising Weather is Here!

“The best and most expensive transmitter is but a useless toy if it is connected to a poor antenna.”                                                                               

Bill Orr, W6SAI, S-9 Signals (1959)

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Green grass, mild days, and blue skies are sure signs it’s time to climb towers, string wire, and get up on rooftops in the never-satisfied quest for a few more dB of gain.

It’s also time for contest pallor and seasonal-affective disorder to give way to tanned skin and spring fever. IOTA, SOTA, and POTA (Islands, Summits, and Parks on the Air, respectively) activations seem alluring again. Two-meter radio direction finding and foxhunting offer fresh air and at least a little exercise.

It’s good weather to grab your QRP field bag and head to the local park or lake, toss a EFHW antenna up in a tree, and attract both QSOs and curious onlookers. You can boast how many hundreds of miles per watt you get from that little cigarette-pack sized rig.

Hunting for the source of that new and pesky S7 noise floor in your otherwise-quite neighborhood now takes on the grim-yet-determined character of a military campaign.

Marred only momentarily by the tax-filing deadline, Spring is always something of a happy surprise.

Radio Crystals Developed during War

Here’s a very cool Hackaday.com post on the development of radio-crystal manufacturing during the Second World War. Xtals had been used experimentally before the war, but the need for reliable communication transformed amateur radio based mostly on coil and capacitor oscillators to the widespread use of much-more stable crystal ones.

http://hackaday.com/2015/03/03/retrotechtacular-crystals-go-to-war/#more-147734

grade-a-crystal

 

Revolution

Around the su1873_A._and_C._Black_Map_or_Chart_of_the_Solar_System_-_Geographicus_-_SolarSystem-black-1873n, that is. One revolution a year. Once thought a mere satellite of Earth–the geocentric view–it turned out we’re the satellite ellipsing about in a heliocentric system. At some point in our egocentric lives-somewhere between eight and eighty–we each learn we’re not the center of the universe either.

This time of year, we’re fast approaching perihelion–closest to the sun in spite of the gathering cold. As Hams, we’re S-meter and Sun watchers. Greater activity of the latter leads to higher numbers on the former. Recent sun-spot and solar flux numbers have been some of the best this solar cycle. So far, every predicted (and lamented) downturn in solar activity this cycle has been followed by a flurry of good activity. It has to start declining sometime, so enjoy it while you can.

Obsolete?

Obsolete?

At our local club’s annual swap meet in September, the technology of all but the first few decades of amateur radio was on display. Vacuum tubes, transmitting coils, high-voltage variable capacitors, quartz crystals, and “boat-anchor” rigs from the 1950s were juxtaposed with software-defined radios, with everything in between in various hybrid combinations. But isn’t all that older stuff “obsolete”? Not on your grandfather’s spark gap!

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Is the tuned LC “tank” circuit obsolete?

The thing is, all that earlier technology still works as well as it always has, except I suppose if you think that reducing VFO drift down to 1 ppm over 60 minutes is something you can’t live without. With good ol’ ovenized oscillators and other forms of thermal stabilization, I’m satisfied enough to get on the air without concern over some good, honest drift. If some Barney-Fife operator wants to complain my signal drifts 10Hz per hour, he can kiss my plate chokes, and he’d get what’s coming to him, too.

Not until the twentieth century did “obsolete” enter the everyday talk of ordinary people. Within the scope of what we all call “technology’—all dependent on electricity–change has come at a dizzying pace. In some cases, new developments result in real value added to the human condition, while others only serve to foster dissatisfaction and discontent. And always there’s something else to buy. I’m as fond of technology as the next radio amateur, but I’m more fond of contentment and peace of mind, especially when the proffered advances seem—to me at least—less than compelling.

In gaining some insight into this march into perpetual obsolescence, it’s worthwhile to look at other technologies that have survived the onslaught of the “new and improved.” Painting did not disappear upon the introduction of photography in the middle of the nineteenth century. It’s still alive and well in the art world, and materials for it are available, even at “big-box” superstores. Though typewriters have been mostly supplanted by desk- or laptop computers, pen, pencil, and paper have not. Synthetic textiles are superior (easier to maintain) in most respects to those made of cotton or wool, but natural fibers used before recorded history are still very-much in use. And so on.

Likewise, the technology of the codex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex) was a true advance over the book scroll since a scroll can be accessed only in a fixed sequence, while any page of a codex can be accessed immediately. A synoptic skimming of a codex is no more difficult than flipping through its pages. Not so with a scroll. Well, though our tablets and notebook computers are right up to date, we’re now back to scrolling. Not everything new is unassailably better.

I admit this may be much ‘ado about nothing, and in fact it may be only slightly more meaningful than any other garden-variety navel-gazing and pseudo-intellectual self indulgence. But the old boat anchors and hollow-state gear is still around, the coils and capacitors are still used by some to create tuned circuits, and it can all live side-by-side in anyone’s radio shack. It does in mine. It’s one of the “cool” things about Ham Radio.

 

Not exactly heaven, but . . .

BancorpmthoodAs I write this I’m upstate in Portland (Oregon). I’ve been here for more than a week, so I’ve had a chance to window shop at some local radio-related suppliers.

For component-level stuff, there’s Fry’s. It’s a chain similar to BestBuy except it caters to both the consumer as well as the professional repair and amateur electronics markets. They carry the full NTE line and *lots* of other components and materials (including enclosures).

Except for hollowstate projects, one could pretty much be supplied for serious work just from there. Back home, Medford is growing big enough that Fry’s ought to open a store there.

Frys_wilsonville_pic1Focusing entirely at the component level is Oregon Electronics, a reincarnation of Norvac. They have a store in Eugene, too. The full NTE line can be found here, too, along with the best selection of connectors of all types one could imagine.

They have a better selection of Arduino and other microcontroller-related items than Fry’s, including a huge array of break-out boards for devices available only in surface mount. These include sensors of various sorts such as temp and humidity, gas ionization, ultrasonic range finding, multi-axis accelerometers, and WiFi connectivity.

OE stands out by having their full inventory (i.e., what they actually have in stock) searchable online. There are enough goose chases in life already so this is great.Oregon_Electronics

http://www.yelp.com/biz/oregonelectronics-beaverton.

The most fun supplier up here is Surplus Gizmos. It’s a warehouse-sized wonderland of almost anything having to do with electricity. Some is surplus and some is salvage. I’d say some was obtained by dumpster diving, but I don’t have smoking-gun evidence for it.

If you can’t find something elsewhere in town, the chance is SG will have it. They had the RG-174 I was looking for! The guys at HRO (see below) sent me there. Much of what Surplus Gizmos has is also available from their online store.

http:// www.surplusgizmos.com/

 

Nice_storefront_2013_smallerThough useful for lots of ham-related paraphernalia, Ham Radio Outlet on Hwy 99W does not cater to the DIY or homebrew community. They do carry a good selection of the latest and greatest rigs; they’re all set up along one wall and one of several antennas on the roof can be used for a test drive. They also have a good stock of MFJ accessories, a nice selection of antennas and antenna-related gear by several manufacturers, the full Heil line of mics and boom sets, and a decent stock of coax and ladder line. cn85ok-hro-0926

HRO is definitely the place to go for “plug n’ play” or “turn-key” ham radio. The folks behind the counter are real Hams, and they’re easy to deal with, too.

http://www.hamradio.com/ locations.cfm?storeid=11.

There are more suppliers up here that I’ve not visited yet. I’ll give you a report on those on the club reflector. If you’re going to be up this way, plan some time to check-out these suppliers. I’ll leave it to you whether or not you leave your wallet back at the hotel.

Cycles

SineWaveA cultural critique one sometimes hears is that modern life is too “linear.” That is, too concerned with the one-way-only passage of time and effect. To my way of thinking, though, almost everything we experience comes in cycles, and they are not linear. They come, again and again.

Each calendar day is a cycle, as is a week, the month, the seasons. As of this writing, I’ve experienced those 20622, 2938, 678, and 226 times respectively.

As radio amateurs, the eleven-year solar sunspot cycles are always somewhere on our minds as they determine the coin of our realm: propagation. I was born during the solar minimum between Cycle 18 and 19. My life-insurance company is probably figuring I’ll ionize away sometime during Cycle 27.

As Hams, we have some special cycles of our own. The sweepstakes, QSO parties, and the hamfests come around every year, and so does Field Day. The latter is always held during the last full weekend of June. This year’s FD will be only my second of actual participation. We have club members who’ve been through almost seventy. The event began in 1933, the very bottom of the Great Depression (part of another cycle?). Some of our members were born before that, and some of them participate in Field Day every year.

For most of its history, the stated purpose of Field Day has been to practice setting up and operating under emergency conditions. It was clear from the beginning of Ham radio that amateur operators could play vital roles in establishing or supplementing communication during the myriad of natural disasters that come around every year (hey, more cycles!).

Since September 11th, 2001, though, responses to emergency situations have been organized at the national level under the Department of Homeland Security, and a uniform system of command, control, and resource deployment has changed the nature of Ham involvement in EmComm-emergency communication. It is now necessary for amateurs to receive prescribed training and certification, including a criminal-background check, to be deployed and used by local officials during emergencies.

The training is not difficult nor terribly time-consuming, but it does mean that non-certified Hams won’t be used by local emergency and public-safety officials. In fact, they may be asked to stay off the air–certainly the repeaters–to keep the bands free for EmComm.

This development has changed the stated purpose of Field Day, at least officially. But it continues also to be mostly the same as from the beginning: a great time for all Hams. Though not really a contest, it still has a friendly competitive edge that adds interest. It’s an opportunity for teamwork, problem solving, teaching new members, exercising technical skills, and just plain fun in the company of other Hams.

It’s also a public event to let people know about amateur radio. Public relations opportunities such as FD may seem oblique, but favorable public perceptions of ham radio will help to minimize complaints from neighbors, and therefore also to keep municipal authorities on our side in antenna-related disputes and policy. It could help to soften the hard line usually taken by homeowners associations and in deed covenants.

Is ham radio just a goofy, geeky, idiosyncratic obsession of techno-nerds, or is it educational and service-oriented? It might be both, of course, but Field Day and good public relations helps to accentuate the latter and render the former harmless . . . or even charming.

Good Public Relations

Without the long-standing presumption that the radio-amateur service (that’s what the FCC calls it) is vital to the safety and security interests of the American public, little would be left of the spectrum we Hams now enjoy. Pressure to privatize the bands now used for amateur radio is constant. Counter-pressure, in the form of ARRL lobbying efforts and individual Ham activism, is just as constantly required to protect what we have. Wouldn’t it be nice to have as many non-Ham members of the public as possible on our side?

Adopt-A-Highway

In the ongoing antenna wars, the FCC’s PRB-1 ruling officially enjoins states and municipalities from unnecessarily restricting the erection of amateur antennas, but the burden of enforcement is on the individual Ham, often with the added weight of opposition from his neighbors whose taste for the beauty of a tri-bander on a fifty-foot tower is . . . underdeveloped.

Should H.R. 4969, the “Amateur Radio Parity Act,” pass during this Congressional session, it is far from certain its preemption of private-contractual prohibitions against outdoor antennas in deed covenants and HOA agreements can be made retroactive to such contracts already in force. For good reasons, federal courts are reluctant to set aside agreements and contracts voluntarily made by persons who knew what they were agreeing to in the first place. The law would unquestionably apply to new covenants and to new HOA agreements, but to existing ones?

The ambiguities and the burdens of both the PRB-1 and the proposed Amateur Radio Parity Act require that radio amateurs take public opinion and sentiment into careful consideration, and to bring awareness of the value of Ham-radio activities to their friends and neighbors as much as possible. Making friends is less burdensome than fighting enemies. Having the law or the FCC on your side may be comforting, but neither your neighbors nor your municipality will fall at your feet and beg for mercy. So, if you want to minimize hassles, get them on your side.