Monday, June 3, 2013

Hamvention 2013: FDIM, Awards, and a Distinct Lack of Sewage

Here we are, one week removed from the 2013 Dayton Hamvention.  The Mecca of amateur radio.  The annual once in a lifetime trip.

This was my 2nd trip (first in 2011).  After sitting on the sidelines last year, watching FDIM and Contest University presentations from my computer at work, I vowed to not miss another one, the group I hang with just has too much fun.  I go with the guys from my "contest club", N0MA.

Like last time, a curious turn of events made it possible to provide my wife with something to do while I was gone for a few days.  In 2011, she went to Florida for a family vacation while I was basking in poop fountains in the flea market, and this year she had a friend getting married back in her hometown which is only slightly out of the way from our normal route to Dayton.

In 2011 I did not go to FDIM but was able to watch most of the presentations from the car which was pretty cool, but this year I planned ahead and made it possible to attend in person.  We left Cedar Rapids on Wednesday morning and joined the caravan with NY0V, KC0VKN, and W0LJK.  We split up after Indianapolis where I dropped off my wife and joined the rest of the early comers at Smokey Bones BBQ in Dayton.  If you've never been there, they have really great food.  I got this awesome steak salad.

On Thursday, while everybody else went to the Air Force museum, I went over to FDIM.  The speakers were amazing!  Rev. George Dobbs, G3RJV, gave a great talk about...well not really about anything in particular.  He just waxed poetic about his history as a ham and the rigs he wishes he had kept and that kind of stuff.  It was really enjoyable to hear him speak.  The funniest part of his talk was when he mentioned Dave AA7EE's cat, Sprat the QRP cat:


Next up was another UK native talking about his experience being a radio tech on a pirate radio ship in The Netherlands.  That was also really interesting.  I think the people from the UK are better story tellers than us "colonists".

All of the other speakers were very entertaining and enlightening as well.

I enjoyed meeting a few of my twitter friends at FDIM too, Sterling N0SSC, Dan KB6NU, Ron W8VZM.

Thusrday night for dinner, our group goes to Young's Dairy outside of Dayton.  They have some great super fresh burgers and ice cream.  They've also got some goats.

Thursday night at FDIM was "Vendor Night".  I actually went to vendor night in 2011 so I knew what to expect but I was actually kind of surprised there were not more vendors set up this time.  Elecraft wasn't there, and the LED guy wasn't either.  Still, I made my first purchase of some QRPme.com MeSquares for manhattan style construction.

I also got a glimpse of the new Ten Tec QRP radio, the Rebel.

Run by Arduino type code, the Rebel is a 40/20m transceiver.  I'm not quite sure what all the benefits of having an open source CW rig is, but I'm sure some of the more innovative guys will think of something really useful.

Other QRP celebrity at FDIM Vendor Night: 
KK7P Lyle from Elecraft

wG0AT Steve
NM0S Dave Cripe from 4SQRP Club fame
That was a fun night indeed!

On Friday, we woke up a little later than planned and headed to the Brunch Club restaurant for the traditional pre-hamvention breakfast.  When we go there, they were slammed.  The only open place to sit was at the bar but luckily a couple gave up their table for 2 and left right when we got there.  Someone must have called in because there was only one waitress working, and she was earning her tips that morning.  Needless to say, our breakfast took a lot longer than we had planned (it was absolutely delicious though) and we didn't get to our flea market space until about 10 before 9 AM.  I had hoped to attend the QRP forum at 9 but I just couldn't bring myself to ignore the acres of junk for an hour.  I quickly set off to comb the flea market for treasures.  

I was expecting to find lots of stuff I couldn't live without but for some reason, I was not extremely interested in anything.  Sure, I saw some cool stuff, but nothing that I couldn't live without.  It was a strange feeling.  I had a pocket full of money to spend, but I just couldn't do it.  Maybe it was that hex beam I bought right before we left that was making me think straighter than normal... More on that one later!

Friday for lunch, I met up with the guys from the QRP Fox Hunt group at Rick NK9G's flea market space.  It goes without saying, I was probably the youngest guy there but it was cool to be at least somewhat recognized by my call sign.  We had some amazingly good barbecue pork chops and some cold adult beverages.  I found a great circle map on Rick's for sale pile and he was kind enough to gift it to me, it now hangs prominently in my shack!  Soviet Russia is still Soviet Russia, but it does the job.  

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and wandering.  In the back of my mind I knew I'd have to pace myself or suffer on Saturday, when I planned on spending more time on the inside vendors.

On Friday night I was back at FDIM with Brian KA0YSQ and Danny W0LJK.  Friday was Club Night/Homebrew Contest night.  NM0S and I had considered setting up a table for the IA QRP Club but since we're really a non-club, we decided not to and he worked the 4SQRP club booth and I caved in and brought my best homebrew project for the competition.  Yeah, I brought a 100w amplifier to a QRP homebrew contest.  Call me crazy, but lots of people thought it was pretty cool I think.  I sat next to a guy who designed and coded a GPS shack clock.  It was pretty cool.  Other entries included a Paraset QRP rig, a 40m transceiver built in an old AV Receiver case (very sexy radio) and the Best In Show winner, a mechanical clock that solves differential equations.  Yeah.  
Showing off the amp
It was fun to talk to people about my amp, even though I don't think it is all that great.  Eh.  Friday night went late, we left the Holiday Inn and headed back to Dayton University at about 10:30.  

We took our time getting up on Saturday and stopped at Panera for breakfast before heading to Hara.  Saturday would be an inside day and luckily so, since the rain came sometime in the early afternoon and I missed all of it while I was inside.  Not having anything in particular to look for, I mostly wandered again, with regular trips back to our flea market space to relax.  Highlights included visiting the Begali booth... I played with a Leonessa but was happy (or sad?) to find that I didn't really care for the feel of it, I guess I don't have to buy one now!  Of course, I played with the Intrepid and fell in love all over again.  That is one helluva key.  The Dayton special on one was $550!  My wife said if I saved up this year I could buy one next year...  We'll just have to see about that!

The Intrepid
Of course I visited the Elecraft booth and said hello to Eric.  They were VERY busy the whole weekend as usual.  Eric gave me one of their new embroidered hats too, which I later got my call sign embroidered on.
Eric WA6HHQ


Again, not having anything in particular to look for, I guess I didn't find anything too exciting.  LNR Precision is going to have a new 4 band QRP rig for sale soon, which is pretty cool.  It is almost the same size as the MTR but has way more features (i.e. SSB, DSP filters).  It'll be interesting to see how it performs when it is actually released.  It could become a new standard in SOTA setups!
New FX-4 due out soon for ~$450
Overall, Friday was another fun day, lots of shooting the poop with others in our group and just a lot of enjoyment from people watching.  Since I was driving myself I thought I might come back on Sunday morning but since I had spent the rest of my money buying rope for guying my hex beam, I only had $11 to spend and not a lot of interest in spending it, so I helped pack up our spaces and got ready for the FDIM Banquet.

Normally on Saturday night, the Radio Farm guys I go with have a pizza and ice cream party with a big show and tell session and lots of story telling, but I'd be missing most of it at the Banquet.  The food at the banquet was fantastic.  The guys I sat with were from a crystal radio group that I forget the name of now.  Nice guys.  I actually sat right next to Don Wilhelm W3FPR of Elecraft fame.  Just about everybody at my table won something in the drawings which was pretty cool!  After we'd eaten and all the drawings were done, as I was  getting ready to leave, Rick Campbell, KK7B, came up to me with the Ten Tec enclosure he had won.  He told me how impressed he was by my amplifier and that he wanted to give me the enclosure he had won since he couldn't take it with him on his flight back to Oregon.   I was shocked an honored that he'd do that, it was a pretty cool gesture.  Rick gave a talk during the seminars about hardware defined radio.  He builds stuff in discrete boxes that can be interchanged to modify the parameters of the system.  It was a really cool talk. 

Overall, while the food was REALLY good, I don't think I'll be going to the FDIM Banquet next year.  I guess I expected more speaking but it was mostly just eating and talking to the people at your table.  Luckily it got over pretty early so I actually got back to the dorms in time to see some of the show and tell from my group.  

Rod K0DAS was standing at the front of the room holding the QRO Man of the Year trophy he received the year before from the group.  It started as a joke - someone found this giant tube and made a base for it to give to Rod since he is always fixing amps and going all over the country to help people get old Collins stuff running.  It has quickly evolved to a nearly legitimate award.  This year I was surprised to receive the award as a big time QRP guy, for having the gall to take a 100w amplifier to a QRP homebrew contest!

I gracefully accepted this great award and it now has a prominent place under the TV in the living room.  The stipulation is that I add some LEDs or something to make it light up for next year and I get to pick the next winner.  We'll see if anybody steps up to the challenge!

And with that, my trip mostly drew to an end.  I got up early on Sunday and set on my way back to Bloomington, IN to pick up my wife and get home early.  It was a very enjoyable time for me.  I can't wait to see what next year brings.