Visiting with Swedish Hams

Continuing the visit to Sweden from the previous post

Saturday morning, Kjell pulled his car up to the hotel, and we took off towards the village of Dalarö. Along the way, he showed me his mobile set-up, which included a Kenwood mobile rig set up for ARPS and an associated GPS unit.  As we drove, he gave me a brief run down of the history of the area and what was going on in terms of ham radio activity.

A scan of a business card from the restaurant SaltskutanAfter about fifteen minutes, we arrived at quiet village on the water (I realize “on the water” may not be very informative when it comes to an archipelago). Kjell mentioned that this particular village is popular among the well-off who maintain summer cottages there. One of the stops on our tour of this town was the tiny sea cabin that belonged to Anders Franzen, the archeologist who discovered the 17th Century wooden ship Vasa, preserved in the brackish waters of the Baltic.  For lunch, he took me to a restaurant in the building that at one time has served as the customs house (tullhuset) for ships bring in goods. The meal was very tasty and involved a meat similar to bacon, but thicker, served over what I think was a potato pancake.

A photographic qsl card for club station sk0qoAfter eating, we continued the trip towards the club station, SK0QO. The station is located on the Gålö peninsula, which until fairly recent times was an island. The station has been there for about a year, and the club owns the building, which is on the edge of some farm land. Driving up to the station, I noticed that they had a number of dipole antennas strung up, a vertical, and I think even a discone.

A number of hams were present at the station, some on the air, and others preparing for their annual hamfest, which will occur next week. I learned that the club is among the largest in Sweden, and that they frequently take part in contests.

The club house has a main room with a central table and a corner fireplace. One rig was set up on the table for QRP voice. I could hear some morse code sounds coming from behind the door to a side room. I peeked in a found a few operators on an IC-7000. It turns out that one of the operators was Jonas, with whom I had a CW QSO the previous day. He filled out a QSL card on the spot, and handed it to me, which is about the fastest turn around time I think I will ever have for a “dx” QSL. Afterwards, Kjell snapped a photo of some of us out in front of the station.

Photo with some Swedish hams in front of the SK0QO club stationJonas explained that on the previous day, by the time our qso took place, he had been operating for a few hours, mostly in English, and was relieved to hear a Swedish call — which turned out to be me.  I was relieved to learn that he had, in fact, sent to me in Swedish and that there wasn’t something wrong with my listening skills.

Also in the photo are Olaf, who oversees the station itself, and Carin, who is working on her sea captain’s license, and was also sending morse code that day.

After a nice time chatting with the hams at the stations (all of whom spoke excellent English), Kjell took me to visit his friend Sven, an extraordinary homebrew experimenter who definitely has “the knack”.

Sven is interested in monitoring the planet’s Schuman resonance, an extremely low frequency (i.e., 7 Hz fundamental) signal, and he has gone to extreme lengths to build his own equipment to do so. It is well worth reading Kjell’s excellent article on Sven’s efforts. What is amazing is that Sven has built equipment sensitive enough to isolate these tenuous signals, and that he does it in a populated area, where radiation from power lines, heating systems, and every other domestic electrical device complicates the situation.

This was no small task, and Sven is willing to put in an extreme effort. He has, for example, entirely cut AC power to the second floor of his house, where he has built a magnetic loop antenna the size of an upright piano. The coil itself is suspended by elastic supports and the ceiling and walls are covered in anechoic material to avoid acoustic vibration of the coil. He has gone so far as to “tune” the room itself, by positioning baffles to null out the room’s intrinsic acoustic resonances. No half measures there.

a map showing the route driven earlier in the day as reported by ARPSAfter all of this, I thanked Kjell for being an amazing host and for extending such a warm welcome to a visiting ham. We agreed to set up a sked at some point, and I hope we’re able to meet on the air in the future. Later that evening, Kjell sent me a link to our APRS tracked route from earlier in the day.

I was able to get on the air again that evening from the hotel room using a longwire thrown out my 8th floor window. Even with this very suboptimal antenna arrangement, I worked two stations on 20m, one in Wales, and one in the Czech Republic. For kicks, I did try the rockmite on 40m. I didn’t get any replies, but I did at least show up on a Netherlands reverse beacon monitoring station at 8dB above noise.

On Sunday, I again hiked into the woods behind the hotel, spent about two hours on the air, and worked eight stations (in Russia, Germany, Italy, Slovenia and England). I turns out that I was lucky, as not too long afterwards, a series of solar events disturbed the ionosphere for a few days. In all, I worked 14 stations and 9 DXCC entities with my 5w 20m transceiver.



SM0/AI4SV versus the TSA

Last week, I attended the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO) conference in Stockholm. Most of the time, I was either at the conference, or at side meetings that took place between meeting sessions. My schedule was pretty tight, but I packed my QRP bag in case I had some free time.

My plans almost ended at Dulles Airport. The United Airlines baggage clerk gleefully told me that my suitcase was about 500 grams over the limit, and that it would cost an extra $200 to ship it to Europe. I reached in, took out my QRP bag, and brought the suitcase weight back under the limit.  I had hoped to pack the QRP equipment in the checked luggage rather than to carry it through security, but having travelled many times with the same equipement, I wasn’t really worried about it. That was something of a mistake.

A TSA agent adjusts his light blue vinyl examination glovesWhen my QRP bag went through TSA screening, as expected, they wanted to hand-inspect it. They pulled the sealed lead battery out and said that it couldn’t go on the plane — they were unable to get a good image on their x-ray machine. I replied that this made some sense, it was, after all, a lead battery. I suggested they rescan it, rotating it 90 degrees in one axis or the other, so that the lead plates would be parallel to the beam. I got a puzzled expression. I explained that the exact same battery had gone through security many times, including at that same airport on other international flights, and had not been a problem. I wasn’t getting anywhere, though, so finally I let the issue drop, handed the battery to the TSA agent, and said he could keep it. I suppose they must have a nice collection of confiscated electronic gear by now, so they are probably in need of some batteries as well.

On the flight over, I wracked my brains trying to think where I might find a suitable power source, with limited times between meetings. I recalled that batteries were expensive in Belgium, and assumed that the cost would be similar across the EU, related primarily to ecological concerns about battery waste — in fact, I had guessed batteries would be even more costly considering exchange rates and Sweden’s reputation as a green country. One option I considered was visiting the hotel’s business center and borrowing the battery out of a UPS for a day or two, but I’m glad to say it didn’t come to that.

Right before jet lag caught up with me on the first day, Thursday, it occurred to me that no one would know better about where to find a battery than a local ham. A quick Google search led me to the blog of SM0FOB, Kjell Bergqvist. I strongly recommend reading through his blog entries — they’re interesting, even if you’re not headed for Sweden. Anyhow, I noticed that he lived very close to the town in which I was staying, so I shot off an email and turned in for the night.

Kjell's FB QSL card printed on glossy photo paperKjell wrote back the next day and identified two stores within a five minute walk from my hotel, both of which sold a variety of lead acid batteries and chargers. Kjell also suggested that I could just borrow an already charged battery from him, but since I had donated my last battery to the TSA, I thought it better to buy a replacement, plus a smaller charger. The cost was comparable to what I would have paid in the US, so I guess the cost of batteries in Belgium may have been driven more by local taxes or that lead acid batteries are considered more ecologically sound since they are rechargeable and in the end, somewhat recyclable.

Beyond giving me helpful advice about where to buy batteries, Kjell suggested that we go out for lunch on Saturday and visit a couple local hams and their club station. The timing couldn’t have been better, since my first meeting on Saturday was late in the afternoon, so we set a time to meet.

Friday morning, I visited the conference, caught up on email, and picked up a battery. The battery was fully charged when I received it, and since I had some time before an afternoon teleconference, I took my QRP bag and went for a hike.  The hotel is just east of the Handen commuter rail (pendeltåg) station, and just across the railway tracks is a park and a lake. I took a footbridge over the tracks and then followed some trails in the park. I assume that in the winter, these trails are for cross-country skiing. I followed the trail that looked like it led to the greatest elevation, and walked more or less parallel to the lake front. Eventually, I found a nice rocky area to one side of the path, and threw an antenna into a tree.

radio, tuner, earphones on a moss-covered rockThe location was perfect: a rock to sit on and a few other rocks at just the right distance to serve as a desk. The rocks were coated with moss, and the whole area was so undisturbed that I was a bit worried that perhaps people weren’t allowed off the trails. I tried not to bruise the moss and brushed pine needles over my footprints on the way out.

Once set up, I realized that I had not packed an RCA phono cable to go from the keyer to the rig. Luckily, I had some wire leads with alligator clips in the bag. I opened up  both the keyer and the rig and made the connection directly (that’s why the keyer is open in the photo). The rig was the usual — my TenTec 1320 and a longwire antenna tuned with a Hendricks SLT+.

I spent about an hour there and worked four stations: two in Russia, and one each in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sweden. I didn’t realize that the final station, SK0QO, was Swedish at first. I thought the SK prefix was in Eastern Europe. After a while, I realized that the station was sending to me in Swedish, though, assuming from my “SM0” prefix that I was a Swedish operator. I copied the name of the operator, Jonas, wished him a vy 73, and figured I would look it up when I got back to the hotel room.

When I got back, I did search it on, and realized that SK0QO is the same station that Kjell had mentioned in his blog, and that we would be visiting the following day. While I was at the computer, I checked the reverse beacon network, which showed that my 5w signal had made it as far as Canada.

More on that and the rest of the Swedish QRP adventure in the next entry

The Pink Princess Laser Modulator

The pink laser princess box projects a red beam on the receiver boxLast weekend, a bunch of us from the Vienna Wireless Society set up a table for a Sally Ride Science Festival held at George Mason University. This is annual event, which promotes science, math, and engineering for girls in grades 5 to 8. Part of the fair takes place outdoors in the morning and early afternoon, with seminars held indoors in the afternoon.

Since it was drizzly, we set up on three plastic folding tables under tarps.  We brought a smattering of equipment for show-and-tell including a portable satellite station, an HF station, an electronics demonstration, and some of the equipment from our most recent high altitude balloon launch.

My instructions on the event were to bring stuff that would be attractive to kids, so I asked with my kids about what kind of presentation would catch their interest. They suggested demos that would either make noise or “be shiny”. They also suggested candy.

To cover the noise angle, I brought a few morse code keys and paddles hooked to a code practice oscillator. I made a little cheat sheet for sending morse code and handed them out. For the demo, I printed a few sheets of five letter words, chopped them up, and put them in a tupperware bowl. I put another bowl right behind it full of candy and a sign: “send code. get candy. 5 letters = 5 Calories”. I ended up handing out 75 pieces of candy, and some of the kids had good fists. A couple used the paddles in addition to the key.

While I was shopping for the candy at the store “Five Below”, which caters to girls of just this age bracket, I noticed that they were selling laser pointers for $2 each. I figured the little batteries were probably worth that much alone, so I bought four lasers to play with. It occurred to me that I could cover the “shiny” criterion with some sort of laser project.

I had seen on the net a description of simple circuits for amplitude modulation of a laser by an audio signal, so that’s what I put together. Line level output enters through 1000:8 ohm transformer and directly modulates the supply voltage to the laser. A couple diodes are thrown in to protect the laser diode from spikes, but that’s about it. A couple months back, the Dollar store had been selling overruns of Disney Princess puzzles in nice tins, a dollar each, so I had bought a bunch of them for projects that didn’t quite fit the Altoids form factor.

The day before the event, I recorded the audio from my radio tuned to 14.070 USB, to capture USB conversations. I had the 2.4 kHz filter on, so there were quite a few PSK31 conversations in the audio band pass. I saved the sound as a *.wav and transferred it to my ipod. The ipod then plugged into the Pink Princess Laser Modulator.

On the receiving end, the circuit was even simpler, all that stood between a 1.5v battery and the audio output jack was a photoresistor. I knew that I had one kicking around, but couldn’t put my finger on it for most of the day, until I remembered that a CdS photoresistor is included with the Arduino experimenter kit as an optical sensor.  The receiver went in an Altoids box, and the output ran into an audio breakout box that allowed me to split the signal to a speaker and to a computer. I duct taped the speaker to the awning of the demonstration booth and let visitors click on individual psk31 streams to decode them.

Attic Antennas Are Go

Last week, I stuck a RCS-8V remote switch in the attic, and ran some RG-213 and a CAT5 control cable down to the shack in the basement. The switch has five ports (plus the common feed port), so there is lots of room for experimentation. Just in time for the Vienna Wireless Society 10m net on Thursday of last week, I got a 10m dipole in place, peaking near the center of the roof, with the arms following the sloping contours of the roof, running South to North, roughly in the center of the attic. The next day, I put up the Alpha Delta DX-EE multiband dipole, although the ends had to bend a little to fit. In principle, the dipole should tune 10/15/20 and 40m. The DX-EE runs flat from East to West.

I haven’t run an antenna analyzer over the whole set up yet, but I did try everything out in a trial by fire this weekend with the some contests. Before the contests, I did a quick comparisons between antennas.

For most purposes, the 10m inverted dipole and the 10m element in the DX-EE behave the same. The main difference in them is that I cut the inverted V to resonate near the voice segment and our local net, versus the DX-EE favoring the lower portion of the band and CW. Since most of the local net antennas are vertically polarized, I figured that having some vertical component in the local net signal would not be a bad idea. I’ve heard South America on both of them, and they seem comparable.

Comparing the DX-EE to the ground-mounted vertical out back, the dipole shines on the higher frequency bands. For the comparison, the DX-EE is tuned (if needed) via the radio’s internal tuner, and the vertical is tuned through the LDG AT100proII in the shack.  10m (and 12m) are barely tunable on the vertical. They *do* tune, but very little power is radiated. As for 15m, I tried calling CQ and watched the reverse beacon network.  The signal detected by K3MM was 18dB and 36dB above background for the vertical and dipole, respectively. For N7TR, the difference was less marked at 19 vs 22 dB. For 20m, I got similar results for WA7LNW 9 vs 17dB and for W0MU 7 versus 18dB. A number of stations received only the dipole signal.

On 40m, the vertical definitely wins. I am not sure if I can trim the dipole adequately to make it work on 40m, as the ends approach the sides of the attic, one of which is covered in aluminum siding, and the other of which is the concrete wall (rebar?) between our townhouse and the next one. The ends of the antenna take a jog right around the 40m traps, and the right angle turn may be too sharp. When it comes to lower frequency bands, the vertical is my only choice right now. I think this means that some sort of loop antenna is in the cards.

I took park in a few of the weekend contests. The WAE SSB contest ran all weekend, but was made difficult by two periods of unsettled solar conditions. Nonetheless, I made contacts with a bunch of countries including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, the Ukraine, and Wales.  Not too bad for voice. Most of the contacts were on 20m, but some were on 40m, so both the attic and external antennas got a work out. I’m not sure if it  was the propagation, my antenna or just the nature of the contest, but I didn’t work stations on 15m.

While WAE was running in N1MM, I used my regular logging program to keep track of the other contests and events  going on over the weekend. I worked a fair number of stations in the Arkansas QSO party by voice and CW, and even a few parks on the air in Ohio and Indiana.

I had some firsts as well: I ran across a station calling CQ from Guyana, so that’s now in the log book. I also randomly dialed over to 60m and found that my tuner can match the vertical. I’ve never heard a QSO on 60m, so I tried calling and got a response from Chuck, KD8NLL. So, I guess that band does work after all.