Atlanticon 2007 ...
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My head is still spinning from the
good technical presentations, good camaraderie and fun times experienced during
the main events at this year's Atlanticon weekend, and I thought I'd try to
recap things before the dust settled. As usual I came away much more
fulfilled than I contributed, but that's the nature of these kind of events we
have in the QRP world.
The presentations were just superb and the ordering of them was ideal ... an increasingly-solid foundation was built up that reinforced the remote control theme of the weekend, while there was something in there for everyone.
Joe Everhart N2CX kicked off the day by defining the field of "remote control" as it applies to us hams, and then overviewing the Rookey Kit that everyone received for attending. Joe covered the background and basics, and then zeroed in on some very specific circuits and applications that attendees could implement with their Rookey boards.
Brian Riley, N1BQ picked the ball up and brought some order to the seemingly-chaotic numbers and kinds of microcontrollers that can run BASIC in some fashion. Brian showed us all circuits that he's actually built, and he demonstrated a fully-automated setup for multi-function control of an VHF HT that one could use to sense/activate the home and shack environment.
Jim Everly, K8IKE overviewed the astounding classwork he's been doing as a professor at the University of Cincinnati with his electrical and computer engineering students. Using as a foundation both the PSK31 Beacon (from a previous Atlanticon) and the PSK31 Warbler transceiver, Jim demonstrated how the students developed a 432 MHz remote-control link that transmitted temperature back via PSK31.
Jay Slough, K4ZLE delivered a fascinating overview of his experiments with the R-X noise bridge. Comparing measurements from other analyzers (Micro908, AEA, MFJ, etc.), Jay was able to show the value and benefit of this low-cost, time-proven instrument that has fallen by the wayside in people's minds today. In fact, he says that he would recommend a noise bridge as the second most useful instrument a new ham should get, behind an SWR meter.
Vic Dively, KG4HTT has been a ham only since 2000, but he dazzled the Atlanticon audience with a thorough and quantitative approach to his selection and design of attic antennas. Living in an attached-home complex in northern Virginia, Vic was determined to find the best possible antennas he could use for participating in the various voice and CW contests each year. His collection of loop, end fire, and dipole antennas were pre-designed/modeled with EZNEC and constructed with copper tubing , and then all measured and cataloged such that he could attribute slight changes in angles and elevations of the copper elements to performance achieved. I was blown away by the meticulous attention paid to subtle variations that many of us overlook when erecting an antenna.
Ron Polityka, WB3AAL made an encore appearance as the QRP Ninja, this time overviewing some specific adventures in the highlands of the Appalachian Mountains. Regaled in full hiking attire, including his characteristic red head band, Ron recounted for us the evolution of QRP field operating in his east coast-based years. It was a fascinating show that included some video presentation of the great outdoors.
At Atlanticon, one of the attendees usually give an informal talk while others are munching on the box lunch during the noon hour. This year we were especially blessed to have Cal Cotner, K4JSI give a fireside chat concerning low power VHF operating. His quick review of VHF equipment, antennas, feedline and operating techniques with differing atmospheric/propagation conditions was inspiring, and more than one of us asked Cal to come back next year with a full-blown presentation. Thanks Cal!
Rich Arland, W3OSS (pictured with Jim Larsen, AL7FS) was emcee again for us this year and did a great job in introducing the speakers and keeping the whole show on track. He even had a few minutes along the way to tell us about his interests in vintage military HF gear, and he showed us several PRC-type radios he brought along. One was definitely a clandestine-type 300 mW transceiver that operated 2-8 MHz that included a "whisper mode" for use when operating within range of the enemy. Fascinating!
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: Dave Benson, K1SWL
K1SWL is a QRPer who has been quite prominent in the ham community over the years. Dave Benson has been designing projects for a long time, being really generous with sharing his designs with several clubs, and with one in particular, and allowing them to use them as kits to make some startup money. He's also written a number of QRP article and has been published in QST and ARRL Handbook, and has been a great supporter, and proselytizer of QRP, and just a general all around good guy. It is this preponderance of accomplishments that Dave has achieved over the years that convinced the AmQRP that we wanted to give him a special award, so this year we are providing the Lifetime Achievement Award to Dave Benson, K1SWL. As luck would have it, Dave was unable to make it to Atlanticon this year, so we have mailed his beautiful plaque to Dave's home.
The Big Event on Saturday evening was the Rookey Contest ... a test of how well the attendees could build up their Atlanticon Kit and use it in a fun and challenging way that tested their construction abilities and knowledge of the remote control principles discussed throughout the day. The contest itself was quite simple -- each contestant had to light, in the correct order, three LEDs on their Rookey board , based on finding the corresponding three codes being transmitted in the commercial FM band by our transmitters sitting on the table -- yet it turned out to be both challenging and educational for everyone involved ... including Joe and me! . Everyone had a Rookey with a pre-programmed PICAXE controller that had the "decoder" program, which was connected to an el cheapo FM receiver we got from the Dollar Store. The main Rookey design and boards worked flawlessly, but the transmission "medium" (i.e., the RF link) caused lots of grief and scrambling for everyone involved.
It was quite hilarious in retrospect, but at the time Joe and I were pulling out our hair! The scheme worked well "on the test bench" with single transmitters in a controlled environment, but when the three 100 mW FM transmitters being used to transmit the three codes to everyone's Rookeys were going simultaneously and in close proximity, the cheap FM transmitters we supplied were being overloaded and thus were unable to effectively receive our test signals. Further, the amplitude of our encoders going into the transmitters was low, resulting in low deviation of the FM test signals, and we unwittingly supplied stereo patch cables (instead of mono) for the kits and the contestants' signals were being severely attenuated before even getting into the Rookey. It was quite the scene with everyone running around asking "can you find Tx #1?" "I can hear it but the Rookey is not responding!".
Nevertheless, we worked out the system problems on the fly and ultimately passed around couple of better FM receivers that were indeed able to handle the low deviation transmissions. However, in light of all this mayhem and system-level debugging, there was one-and-only-one intrepid QRPer who diligently followed the instructions and hints we had posted on the wall to find all three transmitters in the proper order. He quietly and calmly sat in the center of the room amidst all the chaos and systematically resolved the problems mentioned above, and he ultimately found all three transmitters in the correct sequence to produce the winning display of rotating LEDs. That guy was Michael Harnage, W1MT; and for the prowess and success demonstrated, he captured first prize (FCC1 and FCC2 kits). Second Place was awarded to Omar Spaulding KW7OS, and Third Place was awarded to 13-yr old Matt Melachrinos KB3JJV , each because they were first to light all three LEDs (but not in the correct order). An honorable mention award was given to Dave Gwillim KB2TQX, who was able to crack the code and getting the Rookey board to display the winning/rotating LED display *before* the weekend itself! He used a classical "brute-force attack" that I wouldn't have thought possible.
We also had a Construction contest, where the homebrewers were able to put their projects, kits and special designs out on display for all to see there on Saturday night. Our two judges, Vince Passione WA2ECP and Jim Fitton W1FMR, carefully reviewed all projects that were out on display and came back with the expected "Man, this was a difficult!" comment because there we so many good entries. They ultimately recommended a First Place award to Bruce Beford N1RX for his gorgeous multiband SoftRock 80/40/30 . Second Place went to Jim Everly K8IKE for the impeccably-crafted and ingeniously-designed PSK31 Beacon Attenuator . Third Place went to Jim Francoeur KC1FB for his QRP Tube Transmitter - well-built and well-documented. Honorable mention awards were given to Jay Slough K4ZLE for his Power Meter , Calibrator and Attenuator, and to Nancy Feeny NJ8B for her Kortge-like beautiful construction of the classic 2N2/20 transceiver .
ODDS & ENDS
Each of those attending Atlanticon were given a CD-ROM containing the presentations and a bunch of additional PICAXE material, tools, and sample code that can be used to augment the learning experience from the weekend. Thanks to Brian Riley N1BQ for disc duplication for us.
We had a boatload of great door prizes and contest prizes! Joe and I give heartfelt thanks to each of the QRP clubs, companies and individuals donating goods for this use at Atlanticon ... W8DIZ of Parts and Kits, Elecraft, NorCal QRP Club, Hendricks QRP Kits, Small Wonder Labs, W1REX and QRPMe, NE QRP Club, Ed Hare W1RFI and ARRL, Bill Kelsey K8ET and KangaUS, James Bennett KA5DVS and Pacific Antennas, and the NoVaQRP Club. It wouldn't have been possible to have such a successful event without your generosity - thank you!
It's so good to see friends at these events and I wanted especially to note how wonderful it was seeing Jim Larsen, AL7FS, Jim Kortge, K8IYQ and Mike Czuhajewski, WA8MCQ. Sometimes it takes major QRP events like this to bring together distance friendships that help endure the test of time.
We had a wonderful and hard working staff this year. "Pit Boss" David Willmore, N0YMV had everyone marching in-sync, as well as keeping constant touch with the hotel management to handle all the infrastructure details that normally go unnoticed -- an ever-full coffee pot, good microphones, light control, lunch boxes arriving on time, easel paper for posters, extra tables for vendors, and more. Only a few of us out there realize what it takes to put on such an event, and Dave's staff did quite a seamless job. The team included Michael Bower N4MNR, Ed Lyon N4LRR, Bryan Williams AA3WM, John DeGood NU3E, Tom Feeny W8KOX, Nancy Feeny NJ8B, and Denis Albisser AB2PD. Joe and I offer a sincere "thank you", as well as on the behalf of all attendees.
Thanks to all you who attended and participated in this 9th Atlanticon ... we are all looking forward to the big 10th year in 2008!
73, George N2APB
I'd like to add a couple comments to what has already been said.
First off we had a fantastic response to our request for donations for door prizes. I won't repeat the list in the prior reports but I do want to issue a special thanks to them all. We had folks looking over the prize table all through the day and eagerly awaiting prize drawings at each speaker break. Please be sure to patronize our supporters and thank them for their support.
The Rookey (Remote On Off KEYing)competition was "interesting" as most things like this turn out to be. In spite of prior testing by the developers, things turned out to be quite challenging when we ran the event.
We ran three small FM broadcast "modulators" fed by special encoders we developed. In isoloation these worked fine but we did not reckon with the problems associated with running three of them in close proximity. Exacerbating the situation was the "dollar store" FM receivers we provided with the project kits. The receivers had too little audio output to begin with and having three co-located signal sources transmitters "desensed" the receivers resulting in even less available audio. On top of that, the headphone jack on the radios had non-standard wiring so the cables to the Rookey decoders had to be plugged in only part way or the audio was partially shorted giving even less audio. However we were able to use some higher quality receivers and go around plugging in some of the contestant's Rookeys to let them properly decode the secret messages.
We hinted at some future applications for the Rookey circuits in our talks during the regular program of talks. The idea is that it can form the basis of simple but very useful homebrew remote control projects for the hamshack. We will likely add a resource page to the NJQRP website with details on the encoders we used along with the encoder and decoder software. Also we intend to augment this info with much more application info for the PICAXE processors and the Rookey circuits.
Along with info on the Rookey we hope to provide more info on a related project spearheaded by Dave Gwillim, KB2TQX. When we ordered the first round of Rookey pc boards the ground plane on the bottom of the board was missing. Faced with several hundred useless pc boards we undertaook the "lemonade" project. (When all you have is lemons, you make lemonade.)
Our fabulous kitters, Tom and Nancy Feeny drew first blood by rewiring one of the boards to make a Rookey encoder with switch-selectable code generation. The Dave got in the act and in rapid succession came up with a Random Morse Generator, a Koch Morse Trainer, an iambic keyer and a binary readout thermometer. Some simple board rewiring was necessary along with the software Dave wrote. Dave showed this all off in the evening hospitality suite and we sold a complete kit with mod instructions, all parts and a preprogrammed PICAXE 08M chip. The kit was sold at our cost to make use of the "lemonade" boards. We intend to post this info on the web page and perhaps add even more projects that can use the boards.
Stay tuned for further developments.
73, Joe N2CX
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Last Modified: April 11, 2007