Saturday, 27 October 2018

JOTA 2018 : 9M4SJW Station Master's Journal - Part 2

We woke up at 5am in the morning, took a shower and packed up as we won't be coming back to the hostel. While having our breakfast, 9W2UOA Guo from Klang gave us a call informing us that he had arrived at the school. We met him at the school later and started setting up the radio stations. Flicked the power switch and ensure everything is working as it should. Objective for the day is simple, to have students gaining hands on experience operating a radio station. We set up 3 radio stations to keep group size small.

Base Station - FT8 Digital Mode
ICOM IC-7200 + PAC-12 Portable HF Antenna

Portable Station - Digital / Analog Voice
YAESU FTM-100DR + Diamond X300 Dual Band Antenna

Handheld - Digital Voice
Various Digital Handhelds

It may seem counterintuitive to use FT8 for the purpose of this demonstration but we wanted a sure hit method of making contacts at the bottom peak of the solar cycle. We could CQ away in search for a local 40m contact but we did not took the chance as students may have a short attention span. If we failed to make a contact to attract their attention, their mind might have wandered to Taj Mahal or Saudi Arabia (day-dreaming that is).

Diamond X300 Dual Band Antenna

PAC-12 Portable HF Vertical Antenna

First wave of students arrived at around 10.00AM. It was overwhelming at first as I'm not used to interacting with children. First group has an unusually large crowd size. Fortunately, breaking them into 3 smaller manageable groups worked well. At first, I gave a brief explanation of what amateur radio is. As always, the children would ask funny questions like can we speak to 'aliens' in outer space. We explained that yes, you could communicate with people (not aliens) from outer space as radio waves can travel through space. We also explained that information from space telescopes and satellites could be retrieved via radio waves and no you could not speak to your deceased family members. Before I send them to their respective group, I gave an explanation of the differences between base, portable and handheld stations.

The First Wave - Introduction to Amateur Radio

9W2NNS (Meng Suan) explaining to the children

It was not only students who benefited from the event. Fairly new hams visited the station in search of fresh knowledge. We shared and exchanged ideas related to amateur radio, trying to spark their interest into ham radio at the same time. Students also managed to spoke to AG5DB, Peter from the states through DMR.

Trying Out FT-8 Digital Station

Local 2m Band Contacts

Aaron giving explanation on amateur radio equipment

Senior official trying out amateur radio (speaking to AG5DB)

Special thanks to 9W2CPN for the drinks contribution

Took for pair of hands to revive this broken loading coil

End of JOTA, students assembling for next event

Tent pitching for the night

My favourite, BonFire!

As the students started pitching their tents, that concludes our JOTA station event for year 2018. We packed our belongings and closed down the amateur radio station. We had a splendid dinner with the crew before flying back to Singapore. I would like to thank every single one of you in the team for making this a successful and memorable JOTA event. Till then, 73's and see you next year! Looking forward for the next JOTA event in Singapore.

9M4SJW - 2018 JOTA Station Crew Member - Thank You!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

JOTA 2018 : 9M4SJW Station Master's Journal - Part 1

I'm honoured to have another 2 hams flying with me to Kuala Lumpur to run the special event JOTA station 9M4SJW, taking place at SJK (C) Naam Kheung. It has been an annual affair for me to fly back to KL for this event. I am not a member of the scouts association but I'm doing this in favour of a good old ham friend, Kevin. I will be serving as station master this year and we were given the torch to run the station all on our own. Putting up the radio equipment is only part of the story, our goal is to ensure that the students gain hands on experience operating an amateur station. We would educate them that amateur radio is more than just talking on 'walkie-talkies'. Incidentally, it was great joy working with hams who enjoys the hobby as much as I do.

Danny and myself camped at Aaron's base the night before we flew to Kuala Lumpur. We woke up before dawn to catch an early morning flight. When we landed in KLIA2, we took the train to Bandar Tasik Selatan where our host, Kuan Hoe picked us up and brought us for breakfast. After breakfast, we visited a few ham shops where I got a 90° BNC connector for my FT-818ND. We had a tea break before heading to town.

Tea Break @ Shah Alam

Chinese Dessert Stall

Left - Peanut Paste, Right - Dark Sesame Paste
After checking out some component shops in pasar road, we had delicious Chinese dessert. The Chinese wordings literally says, if it ain't delicious, it's free. Then we checked in to our Airbnb apartment. While my buddies surrendered and went for a nap, I was excited to test the new magnetic loop we ordered online. Kuan Hoe taught me how to put the loop together and tune it. There wasn't much activity on HF and since we couldn't put the loop outdoor we stowed it away and hung a slimjim antenna on a light fixture.

I made two contacts on 2m, one on FM and the other on SSB all with only 5W of power. It got me excited considering the antenna was hung indoor! This FT-818ND is a fun little radio to have. Buddies woke up from nap and we went for dinner. After dinner, we stopped by Kuan Hoe's base to pick up the radio equipment for the JOTA station. We squeezed ourselves in a pool of radio equipment at the passenger seat and it was fun. We met Chin at the school field and started setting up the station for testing.

9M4SJW (2018) Crew Members

Claypot Chicken Rice

Meng Suan and Keng joined the crew later that night. We worked together setting up the 2m (Diamond X300) and HF antenna (PAC12). The 2m antenna was securely guyed down with 3 guying ropes. Next, we set up the radio equipment and turned on the switch. Great, nothing caught on fire and the radios came alive. The individual sub-station operator tested their radio. Under the 9M4SJW callsign, we established 3 sub-stations. Firstly, we have an ICOM IC-7200 HF base station. Secondly, a YAESU FTM-100DR VHF station with the assistance of 9M2RKL fusion repeater. Lastly, we have various digital voice handhelds backed by mmdvm hotspots. We aim for small workgroups so the students had all the chance to get on air and lesser opportunity to day dream at the back, hey you come here!

Once the crew is satisfied that everything is operating as it should, we left the X300 antenna as it is and stowed away the rest in a classroom. The crew had supper nearby before going to bed for a good night's rest.

Stay tuned as we cover the actual day event in Part 2.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Pasir Ris Park - Ham Radio Camping Adventure

Campsite 1 @ Pasir Ris Park
Long overdue on my ham radio to-do list is to go on a camping adventure while operating a portable off-the-grid ham radio station. The challenge is to operate the station without relying on any mains electrical supply. The setup has to be practically light and portable for ease of deployment. Operating off-the-grid will sharpen your skills as a ham radio operator in emergency and disaster preparedness, keeping amateur radio on when the grid is gone.

Roughly a week ago, we applied for a camping permit using one of the AXS station near our HDB block. Then, we went shopping at Decathlon for essential camping gears. The Deer Creek Monsoon 4-man tent was bought in Malaysia and every other thing was from Decathlon. Okay, first thing first when arriving at the campsite is to establish a shelter and that is to erect the tent. The camping mallet (which I contemplated to buy at first) made driving stakes into ground an easy task.

With help from the XYL (wife in ham radio terminology), the shelter is up. Next, I will work on the antenna section. The rubber mallet did not help much driving the antenna's stake into hard ground, furthermore there was many roots beneath the grass patch. I looked around and found another sandy patch, using body weight as driving force the stake went right into the ground. Ribbon cables beneath the antenna feed section serves as counterpoises or also loosely known as 'ground'.

The antenna was set up close to the shoreline near seawater. I supposed ground conductivity is excellent giving the vertical antenna a low take off angle, perfect for reaching out to far away DX stations. Ideally, you could attach a piece of ground wire and dip the other end into salty seawater to enhance the vertical antenna's ground performance. In my setup, I should split the ribbon cables into individual wires and lay them evenly on the ground but it will look like a bunch of private hair scattered on the ground, no thanks.

Beautiful Seaview by the Campsite

Before going on HF, I operated 2m band for a short while. I removed the PAC-12 antenna feed section and attached the black aluminium poles directly on the ground stake. Then I attached the tee section with two telescopic whips and configured it into a J-pole antenna. To be a responsible ham and for the safety of other park users, the antenna was supported by 3 guy ropes anchored into the ground as risk control measure. Hence, likelihood of the antenna collapsing has been reduced to nil.

Black Aluminium Poles as J-Pole Support

The J-pole configuration tunes pretty easily. The long section is connected to the center conductor and the short section is connected to the coax shield. First, the long section's length is adjusted for lowest SWR. Then you may further fine tune for best SWR by varying the length of the shorter section. As you can see from the MFJ-259 antenna analyser below, a perfect match was achievable.

Unfortunately I couldn't reach any local stations on 2m simplex, not even SARTS 2m repeater. However, I was able to access MARTS national link through their Gunung Pulai repeater. After making contact with two 9V1 stations, I prepare the station for HF. I wish to showcase (uniHAM) UNI-715 portable CW paddle made specially for FT-817/818 series. If you glue a few strong magnets at the bottom, you could also use it with any other portable radio. It does not have the premium feel of Begali but it's cheap and gets the job done, period. My only complain is that a tool is required to attach and detach the key. A magnetic attachment would be great!

Portable Station Setup
2. MX-P50M HF Amplifier
3. LiPO Battery Pack x2
4. Tigertronics SignaLink USB
5. SOTAbeams Speech Compressor
6. uniHAM UNI-715 CW Paddle
7. Portable Fan for Amplifier cooling
8. Lenovo Miix 320 Laptop
9. MFJ-259B Antenna Analyser
10. PAC-12 Portable Vertical Antenna Kit

Chicken Rice for Lunch Break
Short Break zzz..
PAC-12 Portable HF Antenna

I worked a handful of cw stations. Furtherest was a station from Russia. Despite having difficulty receiving my signal, he kept returning my call and eventually the contact was successfully logged. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed every DX contact made using cw mode and the satisfaction was incomprehensible. It felt as if work was actually done to make each contact a success. I was calling CQ at a much lower speed, 16wpm and it felt warm at heart when stations return the call with the same slow speed just so you could understand. Such enjoyment was missing on voice and digital modes.

When the tide went out, I felt a drop in antenna performance. My calls no longer appear on reverse beacon network. Perhaps the seawater played an important role in reflecting radio waves. Took a break for shower and dinner before jumping over to FT8. As the seawater returns, the band got lively once again. Canada and USA came in strong on the waterfall. Europe was missing on the waterfall for some reasons not known to me but no complains as I logged a few US station one after another. Admittedly, FT8 is still the go-to mode when it comes to working weak signals during the bottom pit of a 11-year solar cycle.

Shortly an hour past midnight, I decided to call it a day and close down the station. Woke up the next morning before sunrise, took a shower and begun tearing down the tent. It was fun operating off the grid and I certainly enjoyed every moment at the campsite. Perhaps, my next objective is to give the low-bands a try.

Block Diagram for Nerds

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