Reflections on Hamvention 2017 by K9ZW

Reflections on Hamvention 2017 by K9ZW

I wanted to wait a week before doing an accounting of my 2017 Hamvention experiences. Needed that long for the wasp sting I somehow got, the impact of the hot weather, the soreness from the long drive and all the mud on my car to all become just memories.

First I cannot overstate how little I miss the nasty old Hara. Though I knew where things were and like an old pair of shoes, there was a certain comfort in familiarity the place simply sucked.

Xenia Fairgrounds is a nicer than typical small town multi-purpose fairgrounds. I happen to love small town America, and personally value the “Norman Rockwell” characteristics of real America.  I’d never been to Xenia but I’ve been a hundred places like Xenia.

This year I traveled with my wife Alison KC9MPL and with friend & neighbor the venerable George Ulm W9EVT. George’s wife Susan had to cancel on short notice as their dog needed special care which was going to go better if one of them stayed back at their farm.

We stayed in a new complex in Miamisburg, Ohio, at the Hilton Garden Hotel that also hosted the FlexRadio System Banquets. The hotel was four years old and basically a better grade traveler’s hotel.  Rates were typical and the surrounding amenities were awesome.  George said he had a couple small problems with his room, but ours was flawless.  The staff was super helpful.

We arrived in time to make the FlexRadio Systems Contester/DXer Banquet on Thursday evening, where the new Flex-6400, Flex-6600, Flex-6400M and Flex-6600M were launched. Very good banquet with lots of news, and with lots of people to talk to.  I was a bit road-weary and did not do my best at talking to all the people I had wanted to meet up with.  Did have a great chat with AB5ED Abed, who is a longtime FRS software engineer.  Abed impressed me asking after my son Winston KC9FVR as they had met at a FRS banquet five years prior.

Friday morning after breakfast in the hotel we set off for Xenia, aiming for the main parking. Unfortunately we were a long time in traffic, due to what we later found out was a traffic accident.  We’d dropped Alison off at the K & G Bicycle Shop where she went off on her own to rent a bike and do the area trails.

Parking went smooth once the accident was cleared (hopefully nobody was hurt) and a fellow with a golf cart came over to help George W9EVT to the Scooter Tent. At 86 years of age George will out lift, carry and outwalk younger hams, but unfortunately not for all day anymore.  So George starts the day using the Scooter to get to the end of a row or to a building/tent and then walks the area, but by lunchtime he needs to ride the Scooter more.  The Scootermobile people are super nice and took care of George.

Now inside the gates we faced having to learn the new layout. I had of course left in the car my annotated “must see” map of exhibitors I wanted to catch up with.  Some things seem to never change when it comes to self-inflicted chaos.

Finding our way into the tents we had a really good long talk with the new owner of TenTec and Alpha Amplifiers. Owner/President Mike N8WFF is a US Navy veteran and we had a really great talk about his plans for the companies.  Talk about a rescue, as both Alpha Amplifiers and TenTec were on their way to disappear having a “can do” fellow like Mike N8WFF pick up the pieces is inspiring.  We did leave with the impression that if Mike N8WFF were to team up with a partner who was marketing & sales orientated the recovery would be quicker.  But that is arm chair quarterbacking at best. BTW the Alpha 4040 Mike says will be finished this year.  Yeah!

On the tents, they were too tight for supersized hams, scooters and people carrying ham sized gear. Hoping the spacing is improved for 2018.

The big exhibition sheds are multipurpose agricultural type metal buildings on concrete slabs. If you live in a Midwestern small town like I do, you’ve been in these sorts of buildings for everything from seeing the FFA (Future Farmers of America) Animal Judging at county fair time, to Craft Beer Brewing events to quilting shows… and everything in between. The lack of Air Conditioning was a bit ugly on Friday, with outside temperatures perhaps getting into the 90’s.  In fairness we’d had bring some outside plants in the house when we left due to frost warnings, so some of temperature complaint was my not being accustomed yet to warm weather this year.

Visited FlexRadio Systems, DX Engineering, Icom, Arlan Communications (RadioSport), RadioWavz, Array Solutions, Amsat, and dozens more that I had marked in my program as “must see.” Spent some time talking with Ranko 4o3a and other celebrity vendors.

It was hot enough that the Beer Garden was of more interest than eating. There was a Steel Drummer playing and an endless choice of foods vendors. Of course huge rain storm had to move in, so we retreated to the sheds. In the end we waited to have a late lunch in the hipster village of Yellow Springs, as Alison had put in their hiding from the rain & lightning while bicycling.  The area trails are really excellent she reports, having done about 40 miles in her casual ride.

While our exit from the fairgrounds had been smooth and quick, I hadn’t let myself get caught in the wrong lane leaving Xenia requiring a 2-3 mile backtrack as a result, nonetheless our ride back to the hotel was quick if very wet.

Friday evening we dressed up and took in the Collins Collectors Association Banquet held at the Miami Valley Country Club. The country club is about 4 miles south of the old remote parking at the former Salem Mall and is a wonderful retro-swank old style club.  At the table I was sat next to Mike March K4QU of Morse key making renown.  He does some keys in conjunction with a master engraver, and once she is done these are fantastic works of art that also rock for sending code.  https://sites.google.com/site/marchmagneticpaddles/ is his website.

Saturday saw George W9EVT and myself off to the show early, meeting with my cousin Dale N6JSX for a final morning of looking around. Heavy rains dampened out enthusiasm and we headed back to the hotel early than planned.  Alison spent the day touring with Dale’s wife Becky N9KUV.

George W9EVT bowed out for our third banquet of Hamvention 2017, the general audience targeted FlexRadio System Banquet. This was an excellent event as Mac W4AX did an outstanding presentation on use of the USB control from your Flex-6000 to automate your station – https://community.flexradio.com/flexradio/topics/flexradio-usb-configuration-possibilities has some of his charts.  Basically a Flex-6000 has a programmable interface by USB that can control about every aspect of your station, right down to an “On the Air” sign!

We had a really good chat with fellow NEWDXA member Jerry K9USN. Again I think I missed talking to quite a few people I had intended to catch up with, but that happens when your XYL’s feelings need to be taken into consideration.

Very early Sunday we hit the road, and dove first home, then with another of my sons Victor KC9NWB drove George W9EVT the last 115 miles up to the ferry that takes him to his Island.

Was Hamvention 2017 better for all the changes? Resoundingly YES.

Was it all worked out and perfect? No but it wasn’t bad either.

The swap mart got all muddy – that isn’t bad compared to sewage volcanos bubbling up in the swap meet area like at the Hara. The exhibition sheds were hot – but they were despite claims of A/C at the Hara. The beer garden was outside compared to the ice cold bar room at the Hara, but also it was possible to get a beer instantly compared to the Hara 20 minutes in line.

Different Hamvention – some stuff better, some stuff worse, and all things Ham!

What are our 2018 plans? Undecided, but not for Hamvention reasons, but because of other travel opportunity reasons.

Glad we went, good time had by all and a tip of the hat to the DARA team for making a difficult transition work out.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Adding Ethernet Lightning Protection to the K9ZW Shack

Adding Ethernet Lightning Protection to the K9ZW Shack

 

Based largely on FlexRadio System Community web posts and an a web-article by Al NN4ZZ (http://www.nn4zz.com/FLEX6700.htm#Ethernet_Lightning_Protection) I’ve added an Ethernet FiberOptic Isolation for my hardwired Flex-6700 at the home QTH.  The Island QTH is on a WiFi extender so it is using that wireless break in cabling to achieve the same benefits, though I do expect to use FiberOptic Ethernet from the main station to the tower service shed for remote operation of equipment at the tower base.

The whole idea with isolation is to reduce the vulnerability of the on-board Flex-6700’s Ethernet adapter to stray static or electrical charge energizing a CAT6e cable, and as an added benefit decreasing the possibility of that cable picking up any stray RF or somehow coupling.

Basically there are three parts, an Ethernet Cable to Fiber box, a Fiber cable, and a second Fiber to Ethernet Cable box at the other end of the Fiber.

Ethernet CAT6e Cable to Fiber Isolation Setup

Ethernet CAT6e Cable to Fiber Isolation Setup

There are lots of sources for the gear to make the jump, and I selected an eBay vendor recommended to me for the Ethernet CAT6e to Fiber full duplex interfaces. With the variety I selected you need a properly configured pair (one an “A” and the other a “B”) to work.

Cables I picked from Amazon, as the original eBay cable vendor never delivered the cables ordered, which is okay (except they charged me) as I made a mistake ordering Siamese-Paired Fiber Cables which fits a different type of gear. What I needed was single cables.

I picked http://www.ebay.com/itm/151827507443 which is a matched A & B pair “10/100Mbps Ethernet to Single mode Fiber Optic Media Converter Transceiver- 25KM” set.

The cables are https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E6OMK68 “Gino brand, 2 Pcs Simplex Single Mode SC to SC Male Fiber Optic Patch Jump Cable Yellow 2M” cables.  You only need one cable per pair of Ethernet to Single mode Fiber Optic Media Converter Transceivers.

(I bought two cables and two pairs of transceivers, as I usually buy a second set of components for projects like this as backups).  One setup cost me $45.50 (or $91.00 if you consider the spare set as true backups).

Seems a very low cost to do both the RFI mitigation and EMP/ESD protection adding Fiber gives.

There are a lot of other vendors and possible components. Though I have NOT been able to find one, I have wondered if a dedicated all-in-one isolation unit exists?  Maybe one of our hobby’s network gurus knows?

[EDIT – as a reader reminded medon’t forget to protect the power supply inputs to the radio end of the transceiver pair, as it presents a way to energize the cable CAT6e jumper that plugs into your radio!  I have small items like this somewhat protected by a small UPS and further by a protected power strip, but maybe that isn’t even enough?   Thanks David for the reminder!]

73

Steve
K9ZW

Evolution to the Flex-6400/6600 and Revolution to the Flex M-models – why we should expect innovation

Perhaps some of us have missed how important new models are to an organization, as the new products predictably will not only incorporate enhancements that may better fit end client expectations but as importantly they will hone & optimize production.

The production per unit advantages are important to capture both to enhance revenues, but as critically to avoid non-value-added production costs (waste) that increases vulnerability to more efficiently produced competition.

This is more true when the new products replace existing production rather than expand the product line produced.

I’d argue the Flex-6400 and Flex-6600 are updates to leverage everything FRS has learned and cost optimize for both production cost and marketplace sell price reasons.

Further the M-models (Flex-6440M and Flex-6600M) are the true product line expansion models, as they leverage the Maestro product through update & integration with the otherwise needed new 6400 and 6600.  The M-models brilliantly expand product line appeal at a much lower cost (or resource drain) than a completely new product would have used.

In the transformation to a software defined company the hardware still must be state of the art in effectiveness on both performance and cost-value.

Remembering that there are industrial dynamics that simply require an effective producer to innovate or risk being replaced in the marketplace by more effective competitors we cannot be “High-Tech Luddites” expecting innovation to stagnate because we imagine we can artificially maintain marketplace supremacy for our purchase through stagnation.

Kudos to FRS for redesigning a few models to better fit the marketplace’s needs and improve margin on a unit production cost basis.

And more kudos due for combining developed products with enough enhancement to carve out new marketplace positions with what arguably are largely already amoritized product development costs in the merged products.

Hope I haven’t bored too many of you as I wanted to wait until the usual emotional stuff started to settle before explaining why FRS needed to innovate core models, and how brilliant the M-models are from the product expansion aspects.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Updated after Hamvention 2017 review of my FlexRadio Systems SmartSDR Product Launch Predictions!

Okay here is what I’ve gotten right/wrong in my  2017 new product predictions:

Partially correct – (Some of) SmartSDR for Windows v2.0 will be shown, and anticipate at least a few weeks delay for public beta or a limited release  (later June ) . The WAN Feature is being called SmartLink (TM) and will be shown at Hamvention.  The Multi-User/Simultaneous User GUI feature does not have an announced name and will NOT be shown at Hamvention.  A general release of SmartSDR Version 2.0 will first happen some point AFTER Hamvention – when it is ready.

Correct but too obvious to be a winning prediction – SmartSDR for iOS v2.0 will follow suite with an implementation of the Windows v2.0 product and possibly will work with both SmartSDR v1.x and v2.x servers.

Got this wrong – SmartSDR for Windows v1.1x will also get an update, mostly to make upgrade/downgrade between v1.x and v2.x products possible and so everything else on the hamshack computer doesn’t breakdown when switching between versions.

Nailed it YES – PowerGenius XL – a close to production configuration of the joint 4o3a/FlexRadio System solid state amp will be shown and a start of shipping date will be announced. I’m guessing beginning of Q3 (July) if product hasn’t already arrived & cleared customs.

Partially correct as  YES it was shown, but more it will be included for preorders and other 2017 orders – TunerGenius S XL – will be shown in preproduction form, and likely will be available at the same time as the amps. A version that can be added to pair & controlled from the PowerGeniusXL is happening is a possibility.

Sort of Right, as they are working to do this – SmartSDR/4o3a Control Pad Software – hoping to see a significantly better integrated offering intended to run on a pad (iPad or WinBook type) alongside a Maestro or PC running SmartSDR

Sort or Right, but not Shown – RotorGenius/StationGenius/AntennaGenius and other 4o3a products will likely have upgrades to work better with the SmartSDR/Flex-6000 product line. (NOTE:  Aa a reminder, all of the 4o3a gear works in a non-FRS station too.)

YES but not Ready for ordersthough a headset to work for this use is ready – RadioSport iPod SmartSDR for iOS Dock – will be shown in a Mark II prototype. They showed an early prototype with a new headset design, so that may be a package at the Hamvention too.

Couldn’t Find them, but was “told it is in the works” – DogPark may have/show their SmartSDR v2.x compatible DogparkSDR upgraded version

No, got this wrong replaced by other developments – FlexRadio Systems SO2R box may reappear intended for the Flex-6500/6300 making those radios SO2R while the Flex-6700 as produced is already SO2R (actually SOnR).

Yes on new models to replace the old Flex-6300/6500, come in server and with faceplate (not removable) configurations and have more options. – EDIT:  A premature product datasheet release shows several new models of radio – Flex-6400, Flex-6400M, Flex-6600 and Flex-6600M.  The context didn’t give any insight into what these new models are and my guess is the Flex-6300 and Flex-6500 are being replaced, and that the “M” models are mobile optimized. Whether a new feature/price slot Flex-6×00 radio launches is doubtful beyond the 6400/6600 products.

Didn’t Find them, but keep hearing these are “in the works” – Several Antennas will be shown optimized for the characteristics of the Flex-6000. Most will be based on the Log-Periodic or mixed Log/Yagi designs.

No got this half wrong – Table talk only unless you are Uncle Sam as FRS does this for them but at a very non-Ham price point, but a ham version could be readied for the right price – There will be discussion of a many-SCU (Spectral Capture Unit) radio (Flex-14000 with six or eight SCUs) or a way to slave several Flex-6700’s together to bring larger scale multi-antenna diversity to the shack.

Didn’t Find Them – Possible accessories – a single unit Ethernet-fiber-Ethernet network isolation box to electrically decouple a Flex-6000 but not require the ham to roll their own isolation doesn’t sound like it is being shown yet.

Couldn’t Find them, but was “told it is in the works” – But some simpler Ethernet and SmartSDR/DDUtil aware antenna switches may be at the show.

Couldn’t Find them, but was “told it is in the works” – Possibly we may hear of a 4-square or K9AY style SmartSDR aware receiving array.  There may be software to add-on around SmartSDR to manage things like Shared-Use Flex-6000 Stations, Logging/Spots, Digital Modes, maybe even slice-sharing for RX now that the time stamping of packets has started.

Heard confirmations, but not really a firm commitment – Thinking more software will be announced over the net after FRS clarifies its forward direction and timing.

No I got this one Wrong – Maestro II as the M models have integral faceplates and production delays were technical – What I don’t think we will see is a sub $800 SmartSDR unit (a Flex-1500 direct replacement) or a Maestro-II (see comments below, I have changed my prediction to that we will see new Maestro II launched) as some folk have suggested. Unlikely that we would see a Flex-6000 with a permanently attached Maestro front-plate (like the TenTec Pegasus -> Pegasus FP -> Jupiter metamorphous years ago) though there would be no reason to not have a removable faceplate unit (like the old Kenwood 2000 did).  Not very certain that we will see a “SmartSDR for Linux” given the costs of doing that port.

One thing I really missed was the Emotive Outbursts from FlexRadio Owners who somehow (one or many of these):

  • Never Imagined New/Improved Hardware could happen.
  • Feel FRS owes them forever upgrades/support at no cost.
  • Feel FRS owed them to protect their purchase price by artificially pricing higher than mark for new radio models.
  • Somehow think that they would be better at running FRS for no obvious reason that they can share.
  • Forget they several dozen SmartSDR releases since the first version widely shared, claiming SmartSDR has been stagnant since 2013.
  • Attribute successful/better/more-advanced actions/communications/prices/features to other SDR manufacturers where they either are limited instances or simple are not reality.  
  • Don’t even own a Flex-6000 but feel they are experienced in operating one.
  • Feel their Flex-5000, Flex-3000, Flex-1500, Flex SDR-1000 were the penultimate SDR and nothing newer is any good.
  • Haven’t seen the new products in the flesh, but know all about them.
  • Say FRS taking reservations and deposits is BAD, but other manufacturers doing the same – some without even a price commitment – is somehow OK.

A lot of these folk need to get on the air more, or at least read the spec sheets…. more on this phenomena in a later post.

I’ll also have a Dayton Wrap-Up from my view point in a couple days.  Put on cover 700 miles (1100 KM) today driving home and running George W9EVT to the Washington Island ferry dock, so off to catch up on chores.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Updated after the Banquet- Hamvention 2017 – FlexRadio Systems SmartSDR Product Launch Predictions!

Okay here is what I’ve gotten right/wrong in my  2017 new product predictions:

Partially correct – (Some of) SmartSDR for Windows v2.0 will be shown, and anticipate at least a few weeks delay for public beta or a limited release ( later June ) .

SmartSDR for Windows v1.1x will also get an update, mostly to make upgrade/downgrade between v1.x and v2.x products possible and so everything else on the hamshack computer doesn’t breakdown when switching between versions.

The WAN Feature is being called SmartLink (TM) and will be shown at Hamvention.  The Multi-User/Simultaneous User GUI feature does not have an announced name and will NOT be shown at Hamvention.  A general release of SmartSDR Version 2.0 will first happen some point AFTER Hamvention – when it is ready.

SmartSDR for iOS v2.0 will follow suite with an implementation of the Widows v2.0 product and possibly will work with both SmartSDR v1.x and v2.x servers.

YES – PowerGenius XL – a close to production configuration of the joint 4o3a/FlexRadio System solid state amp will be shown and a start of shipping date will be announced. I’m guessing beginning of Q3 (July) if product hasn’t already arrived & cleared customs.

YES and will be included for preorders and other 2017 orders – TunerGenius XL – will be shown in preproduction form, and likely will be available at the same time as the amps. A version that can be added to the PowerGeniusXL is a possibility.

SmartSDR/4o3a Control Pad Software – hoping to see a significantly better integrated offering intended to run on a pad (iPad or WinBook type) alongside a Maestro or PC running SmartSDR

RotorGenius/StationGenius/AntennaGenius and other 4o3a products will likely have upgrades to work better with the SmartSDR/Flex-6000 product line. (NOTE:  Aa a reminder, all of the 4o3a gear works in a non-FRS station too.)

RadioSport iPod SmartSDR for iOS Dock – will be shown in a Mark II prototype. They showed an early prototype with a new headset design, so that may be a package at the Hamvention too.

DogPark may have/show their SmartSDR v2.x compatible DogparkSDR upgraded version

No – replaced by other developments – FlexRadio Systems SO2R box may reappear intended for the Flex-6500/6300 making those radios SO2R while the Flex-6700 as produced is already SO2R (actually SOnR).

Yes new models replace old6300/6500, come in server and with faceplate (not removable) configurations and have more options. – EDIT:  A premature product datasheet release shows several new models of radio – Flex-6400, Flex-6400M, Flex-6600 and Flex-6600M.  The context didn’t give any insight into what these new models are and my guess is the Flex-6300 and Flex-6500 are being replaced, and that the “M” models are mobile optimized. Whether a new feature/price slot Flex-6×00 radio launches is doubtful beyond the 6400/6600 products.

Several Antennas will be shown optimized for the characteristics of the Flex-6000. Most will be based on the Log-Periodic or mixed Log/Yagi designs.

No – Table talk only – There will be discussion of a many-SCU (Spectral Capture Unit) radio (Flex-14000 with six or eight SCUs) or a way to slave several Flex-6700’s together to bring larger scale multi-antenna diversity to the shack.

Possible accessories – a single unit Ethernet-fiber-Ethernet network isolation box to electrically decouple a Flex-6000 but not require the ham to roll their own isolation doesn’t sound like it is being shown yet.

But some simpler Ethernet and SmartSDR/DDUtil aware antenna switches may be at the show.

Possibly we may hear of a 4-square or K9AY style SmartSDR aware receiving array.  There may be software to add-on around SmartSDR to manage things like Shared-Use Flex-6000 Stations, Logging/Spots, Digital Modes, maybe even slice-sharing for RX now that the time stamping of packets has started.

Thinking more software will be announced over the net after FRS clarifies its forward direction and timing.

No Maestro II as the M models have integral faceplates – What I don’t think we will see is a sub $800 SmartSDR unit (a Flex-1500 direct replacement) or a Maestro-II (see comments below, I have changed my prediction to that we will see new Maestro II launched) as some folk have suggested. Unlikely that we would see a Flex-6000 with a permanently attached Maestro front-plate (like the TenTec Pegasus -> Pegasus FP -> Jupiter metamorphous years ago) though there would be no reason to not have a removable faceplate unit (like the old Kenwood 2000 did).  Not very certain that we will see a “SmartSDR for Linux” given the costs of doing that port.

 

I will update once the show opens and I meet with other vendors.

73

Steve K9ZW

Roadtrip to Hamvention 2017

Roadtrip to Hamvention 2017

I’m having my usual “Dayton Doubts” about leaving early tomorrow for the Hamvention. Pretty busy at work, youngest son is doing the end of semester apartment move, the new Xenia site is a huge number of unknowns, the forecast is for very hot and rainy weather, between the Wisconsin and Illinois DOTs they have a lot of the route under construction…. Yup I can make them up and stack them even higher.

Actual fact is I could stay home and perhaps learn everything I will learn at Xenia but with live streaming & live blogging perhaps delayed an hour or two.
But then I would miss out on the eye-ball QSOs (face to face time) with old & new friends, with vendors and educators, and most of all I’d miss seeing the relatives we’ve made plans with while in Dayton.

With generous stops, decent traffic and modest construction delays it is only an 8 hour trip each way. With XYL along this trip we can share driving, so I’ll get at least a couple hours rest in route.

If the Hamvention itself is a problem – overwhelmed by gridlock, difficulties parking/getting there, overcome by weather (they say there is only one air conditioned building this year), or overtaken by the horde of hams said to be 40% more than last year! – well then I can swing to “Plan-B” which does other Dayton area things while attending ham related banquets each evening.

Speaking of Banquets circumstances are such that George W9EVT’s wife needs to stay back at Greengate Farm to nurse a sick dog, and I have an extra ticket for each of the two FlexRadio System’s Banquets.

Here is our Banquet schedule:
• Thursday Evening – FlexRadio Systems Contester/DXer Banquet (have one extra ticket)
• Friday Evening – Collins Collectors Association Banquet (also have one extra ticket)
• Saturday Evening – FlexRadio Systems General Radio Amateurs’ Banquet (again have one extra ticket)

Other than a few specific items of information or pricing friends asked me to check out for them, I would only likely blog in the evenings or on my return. There are enough live-bloggers, micro-bloggers (Tweeters & such) and live-streaming project groups that I don’t need to do the same thing.

Hope to see you there!

73
Steve
K9ZW